Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On The Wrong Side of History

Real talk from David Mixner. Fairly epic as far as rants go:

The extreme right record of utter and total failure to stop the march to progress is the reason we should not have to bear their craziness anymore. The record is numbingly clear: They were wrong about Social Security. They were wrong on integrating the military forces under President Truman. They were wrong about McCarthyism in the early 1950's. They were wrong about passing civil rights legislation in the 1960's. They were wrong on Medicare. They were wrong about women rights. They were wrong about 'trickle down economics.' They were wrong about tax breaks for the rich. They were wrong about the war in Iraq. They were wrong about climate change. They were wrong about LGBT rights and they are wrong about healthcare reform.

Can you imagine our world if they had been successful in stopping any of the forces for change above? We would have a world with our seniors poor and unable to have healthcare. We would have African-Americans unable to vote. We would see women relegated to being housewives and not leading our nation. All homosexuals would still be in the closet with many having lobotomies, committing suicide and being arrested. The world has become and is still becoming a better place because of progressive legislation and ignoring the calls, shouts and anger to protect the narrow-minded status quo.

Fact is, they can't have their country back. Their country is moving forward into a greatness with a richly diverse and exciting population. Their country is still a place that still believes individual freedom and equality for all its people no matter if they are popular or not. As Frank Rich pointed out in his column this week in the New York Times, their country now has an African-American President, a woman as Speaker of the House, a Hispanic on the Supreme Court and a gay man as head of the Banking Committee in the House. Those who seek to end this march into the 21st century simply can't turn back the tides of time.

All they can do is make us more divided, pay a higher price to protect the people of this nation, fill the air with anger and make the march of progress a heavier burden. Time for them to realize that for the last 100 years they have been on the wrong side of history.
It really says something about the conservative movement that no current politician can publicly advocate for the majority of the stuff they've supported over the last 50 years. Just look at how most sane Republicans don't openly advocate gutting medicare even though it's something that their ideology clearly supports(Heroes like Paul Ryan aside).

While there is much nuance in politics, pointing out the history of the conservative movement in black and white is something that isn't done nearly enough. They've been wrong, they've been overcome, and our country is a better place because of it.

Public Option Passes!

For Student Loans, that is. This may not be the public option we wanted, but it is a very good thing:
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – President Obama signed legislation Tuesday to expand college access for millions of young Americans by revamping the federal student loan program in what he called “one of the most significant investments in higher education since the G.I. Bill.”
. . .
The new law will eliminate fees paid to private banks to act as intermediaries in providing loans to college students and use much of the nearly $68 billion in savings over 11 years to expand Pell Grants and make it easier for students to repay outstanding loans after graduating. The law also invests $2 billion in community colleges over the next four years to provide education and career training programs to workers eligible for Trade Adjustment aid.

The law will increase Pell Grant grants along with inflation in the next few years, which should raise the maximum grant to $5,975 from $5,550 by 2017, according to the White House, and it will also provide 820,000 more grants by 2020. Including money from last year’s stimulus program and regular budget increases, the White House said Mr. Obama has now doubled spending on Pell Grants.

Students who borrow money starting in July 2014 will be allowed to cap their repayments at 10 percent of their income above basic living requirements, instead of 15 percent. Moreover, if they keep up their payments, they will have any remaining debt forgiven after 20 years instead of 25 years – or after 10 years if they are in public service, such as teaching, nursing or serving in the military.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Poll: Americans Have No Idea What's Up

A USA Today/Gallup poll has revealed that Americans basically have no idea what's going on, and aren't afraid to base conclusions on their admittedly confused notions of the healthcare reform endgame. From the poll:

-50% said passing the bill was a "bad thing"
-47% said it was a good thing

Regarding the recent violence:

-49% said the "Democratic tactics" are a "major reason" for the violent incidents
-46% said conservative media is responsible
-43% blamed the attacks on Republican political leaders


-53% called passage of HCR "an abuse of power" by the majority Democrats
-65% said the bill "will expand the government's role too much"
-51% said "it doesn't go far enough in regulating the health care industry"
-58% said it should have included a public option.

Cool, looks like the conservative disinformation campaign is unfolding perfectly. I think my favorite part is the notion that passing a bill with a majority of both houses is somehow an abuse of power by the Democrats- what's yours?

Michael Steele Photoshop Contest

Monday was not a fun day for the RNC:
According to two knowledgeable sources, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele once raised the possibility of using party money to buy a private jet for his travel.

“I know that … regular ongoing use of planes was something that was looked at,” says one person with direct knowledge. “I can’t speak to how serious those inquiries were.” Both sources say Steele considered purchasing a plane outright, or buying fractional ownership in one, through a company such as NetJets.
. . .
Once on the ground, FEC filings suggest, Steele travels in style. A February RNC trip to California, for example, included a $9,099 stop at the Beverly Hills Hotel, $6,596 dropped at the nearby Four Seasons, and $1,620.71 spent [update: the amount is actually $1,946.25] at Voyeur West Hollywood, a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex.
This news presented even more problems for everyone's favorite RNC Chairman, Michael Steele, and most worrisome of all, the distinct possibility that he could resign.

We figured the only way to cope the news is to have a photoshop contest that we've been planning
since the day the pictures of Steele with his RNC interns leaked to the internetfor some time now.

Here's a link to the full set of pictures (17 total), and a preview for those who somehow haven't seen them:

A few thousand dollars at a lesbian bondage club might have cost Michael Steele his job, but they'll never take our pictures away.

Send in your submissions to thetrainofthought @ by next Tuesday, and we'll post the results on the blog. And if his resignation rumors come true, we'll also forward the best ones over to the RNC to make sure they understand what a terrible mistake they're making. We should also probably forward some to Jon Ziegler too, just because.

Good Luck!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Levi Johnston: American Hero

Has Levi officially pledged to spend the rest of his life trolling Sarah Palin yet?
Levi Johnston, Sarah Palin's grandbaby-daddy and the bane of her existence, is pitching his own docu-series in which HE will introduce viewers to Alaska.

The news comes just days after Discovery Networks announced that its TLC network would air "Sarah Palin's Alaska" in which SHE would introduce us to Alaska.
I'll take that as a yes. "Sarah Palin's Alaska" already sounded pretty entertaining ("Here's where I come to be alone, and here's where I go to shoot animals from a helicopter"), but if she can't even wander around Alaska without Levi declaring TV war and pitching his own tent* in the next field, I might actually watch an episode or two. I wonder what kind of show he's going to make...
Levi's show, tentatively titled "Levi Johnston's Final Frontier," is 'Jersey Shore' on ice," Krasnow said.
Hahahaha, Grandma Palin has to be so proud...


In February 2009 Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese human rights lawyer who had constantly challenged official corruption, disappeared. His disappearance wasn't entirely out of the blue- in the last few years he had been detained and tortured repeatedly and survived what may have been an assassination attempt. In 2006 he had loudly denounced the Communist Party of China and ended his CPC membership. Clients he worked with included people evicted from their homes by government development, persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, and factory workers who were being exploited by their employers.

Early last year his family escaped the country and took up residence in America. Just weeks later Gao disappeared, leading to fears that he had been placed in a gulag or possibly killed. The only clues from the government were a cryptic statement months later saying that Gao is "where he should be."

Until yesterday, when he reappeared!
Gao Zhisheng resurfaced suddenly Sunday, saying he is now living in northern China, but it was not clear under what conditions. Since he went missing on Feb. 4, 2009, from his hometown in central China, the government has given vague explanations about Gao's whereabouts, heightening worries he had been jailed or tortured as he was previously.

Before being jailed and otherwise muzzled four years ago, Gao was the most dauntless of a new group of civil liberties lawyers.
Gao has been the subject of countless campaigns by human rights groups across the world over the last year, and I think it's safe to say that this pressure probably played some part in his reappearance. He isn't quite out of the woods yet, though:
Li Heping, a Beijing-based human rights lawyer and friend of Gao's, said he also spoke briefly with Gao on his cell phone and believed Gao was being followed by authorities.

"I believe he does not have freedom," Li said. "First, when we were speaking, he sounded like he wanted to hang up. He told me that he had friends around him. I'm sure that the people around him are limiting what he can say."

"Secondly, he would not tell me exactly where he is when I suggested visiting him," Li said. "We are very concerned about his situation."

The Freedom Now statement said: "It is assumed that he is under close surveillance, if not de facto house arrest."
If Beijing doesn't want him hanging out in China and making a mess of their one-party state then hopefully they'll allow him to rejoin his family in the States. Losing him would be a real setback for the Chinese people, but at least he isn't dead. Score one for human rights, kinda?

Steps Toward a Functioning Government

A functional Labor Board! Recess appointments that didn't include Republicans! Man, David Broader is going to be pissed:
Today President Obama announced a series of recess appointments, including – count ‘em – two seats on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Both appointees, Craig Becker and Mark Pearce, are Democrats nominees. A third nominee, Brian Hayes, a staffer for Senator Mike Enzi, was left behind to be voted on by the Senate.

The NLRB is the federal agency that oversees the laws relating to union organizing, and for more than two years, the NLRB has had just two of its five members. Those two members – one Democrat, one Republican – have had to set aside hundreds of cases on which they could not agree in anticipation of at least a third member. On the cases the two NLRB members have decided, anti-worker advocates contested the validity of those decisions all the way up to the Supreme Court this week. While discussing the extended NLRB vacancies, Chief Justice Roberts asked, “And the recess appointment power doesn’t work why?”

I didn't have my hopes up that this would go through only because Obama seems to care a lot more about the optics of things like recess appointments than I do. Thrilled to be wrong.

It should also be that both nominees are extremely qualified, and were only blocked because of their belief that unions had a right to exist, making them card carrying Marxists in the eyes of the modern day Republican party. There's simply no middle ground with these people, and it's nice to see Obama acknowledge this fact with some hardball every now and then.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Train Theater Presents: ResistNet

A few days ago JJ gave me a heads up about a hilarious battle being waged over at ResistNet, where nutcases of all stripes congregate to shoot the shit and dream about overthrowing the US government. It looks like the administrators have been getting worried about drawing heat for all the "Civil War 2" talk, so they've gone through the trouble of posting enormous warnings all over the site commanding users to refrain from posting about secession or acts of violence against the government. It says a lot about the site that they have to put up statements like that, eh?

I took a few quotes from the main thread on the subject, and put it to video. Enjoy the first episode of Train Theater!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Idiot With A Megaphone Wants To Be Heard

Apparently transcribing the rantings of a crazy person is worthy of front page coverage in the Washington Post:
IOWA CITY, IOWA -- He had no plans to throw bricks, issue death threats, spit in faces or scream racial slurs. But Randy Millam, 52, intended to make a scene, so he woke up early Thursday morning to prepare for President Obama's visit.

Millam sat at his kitchen table in Lowden, Iowa, with 14 Sharpie markers and a piece of foam board, working to condense a year of frustration into a 3-by-3-foot catchphrase. "Chains We Can Believe In," he wrote, drawing the communist hammer and sickle on the poster's top left corner. Then he grabbed an American flag, inserted batteries into a megaphone bought on the cheap for $25 and guzzled a 24-hour energy drink. Just as Obama took off in Air Force One for Iowa City, Millam loaded into his muddy Ford Fusion and drove 50 miles across the cornfields of eastern Iowa.

"The president just about declared war against the American people last weekend," he said. And it is a war Millam intends to fight.

Millam's resolve Thursday was reinforced by the sense that he was taking part in a movement -- a rising tide of anger, fear and vitriol in the wake of the health-care overhaul signed into law by Obama this week. Millam joined a chorus of discontent surrounding the president's visit: a warm-up protest Wednesday night, a greeting party of protesters waiting at the airport and hundreds more with plans to chant outside the downtown arena while Obama spoke. In the hours before he left for Iowa City, Millam watched reports on Fox News Channel about vandalism at Democratic offices and visited a Web site of the conservative "tea party" movement, where he was inspired by a Thomas Jefferson quote about how bloodshed might be necessary to protect a country from tyranny.

"I'm not ready for outright violence yet. We have to be civil for as long as we can," Millam said. But, he added, "we are watching the infrastructure of this country crumble under our feet. The government doesn't want to hear us. We have to make them listen."
. . .
He walked to the front of the protest crowd and lifted the megaphone to his mouth.

"Fellow patriots," he bellowed. "We are standing outside the arena right now because the president controls the crowd, controls the message, controls the people of this country. That is not freedom! That is not democracy! That is not the America I grew up in!"
. . .
Another: "It's communism!"

Another: "Obamunism!"
. . .
Millam rested the megaphone on his stomach. His voice was getting hoarse, and his legs ached. He'd been shouting for almost two hours now, and some protesters were beginning to leave. "Where is Obama?" he asked. Another demonstrator told him that the president had finished his speech, entering and exiting the arena through a different entrance, and Millam snorted in disgust.

"Why does the president of the United States have to sneak in the back door to avoid seeing the real people in this country?" he shouted into the megaphone. "That's not right. That's just not right."

His words died out. The rally was over. He turned off the megaphone and walked to his car. While the president flew back to Washington, Millam drove home on the rural highways of Iowa. He wondered: What would it take to be heard, and what would he try next?
Other than one sentence that describes a college student mocking them, the piece never once brings up the fact that this man is living in a fantasy world. Nothing that he states in the article has even the slightest bearing on reality. Instead, it glorifies him as a downtrodden political activist, wondering if his voice will ever be heard. He's portrayed as the average American, compared to the unfair caricatures of teabaggers that have dogged their movement (they're so reasonable that he said it's not time for outright violence, yet).

What is the purpose of publishing this man's thoughts, unedited? To paraphrase atrios, what is their goal? They clearly aren't interested in educating their readers, so what is it?

The real value of the article is marking another milestone on the post's path towards irrelevance: The day the published a teabagger's rantings as front page news.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Indepedent Record Stores Still Exist?!

Apparently they do, and they're trying to get people to walk into stores and buy physical media again. To that end they asked Josh Homme from QOTSA/Them Crooked Vultures/The Eagles of Death Metal to put together a little video explaining 'independent record store day.' Here's what he gave them:

"... and bacteria" kills me. Hopefully other groups will see this and decide to try their luck with a Homme endorsement video.

Feeding the Beast

Mike Vanderboegh of Pinson, Ala., former leader of the Alabama Constitutional Militia, put out a call on Friday for modern “Sons of Liberty” to break the windows of Democratic Party offices nationwide in opposition to health care reform.
. . .
Vanderboegh posted the call for action Friday on his blog, “Sipsey Street Irregulars.” Referring to the health care reform bill as “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act,” he told followers to send a message to Democrats.

“We can break their windows,” he said. “Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.”

-Early on the morning of March 19, someone threw a brick through the window of Rep. Louise Slaughter's office in Niagara Falls, New York, doing $350 of damage, the Buffalo News reported. Slaughter (D-NY) briefly attracted the ire of conservatives over the "Slaughter Solution," a procedural maneuver that was considered (but, ultimately, not used) to pass health reform.

-Also in Slaughter's district, a brick was thrown through the glass doors of the Monroe County Democratic Committee office in Rochester, NY, over the weekend, the Democrat and Chronicle reported. A note attached to the brick bore the Barry Goldwater quote, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," a spokesman for the committee told the newspaper.

-In the early hours of the morning on Monday just after the House health care vote, someone smashed the glass front door of the Tucson office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), the Arizona Daily Star reported. "The perpetrator likely had to hop the gated fence to get access to the door, since it's not viewable from the parking lot," the paper reported.

-On Friday night or Saturday morning, a brick bearing unspecified "anti-Obama and anti-health care messages" was thrown through a floor-to-ceiling window at the Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, CNN and the Kansas City Start reported.

-After the passage of the bill Sunday night, a "fist-sized" rock was thrown at a window at the Hamilton County Democratic Party in Cincinnati, in the district of Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), the Enquirer reports.

U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello’s brother received a threatening letter in the mail on the same day that someone apparently severed a gas line at the home in Ivy.

Two conservative Tea Party activists posted the address of the home on the Internet on Monday, mistakenly believing it was the home of the congressman. One of the activists urged others to “drop by” and “express their thanks” for Perriello’s vote in favor of health care reform.

Law enforcement officials say a package with white powder was sent to Congressman Weiner's Queens office today.

A preliminary review shows the letter in part complained about the historic health care legislation passed by Congress this week, according to the source.

This is nothing new, and it sure as hell isn't surprising. The right created monster, we all live with the consequences.

The Train of Thought Lounge – Nujabes

Greetings friends.  This week we have seen America acting at its worse, had our hearts ripped out while witnessing the end of an era for local sports, and witnessed the historic passage of President Obama’s health care plan.

Tired?  Exhausted?  Just need to chill and relax?

I give to you the Train of Thought Lounge, in honor of Japanese hip-hop producer and DJ Jun Seba, who recently passed away in a car accident.  Seba worked under the name Nujabes, and may be best known for his work in the Samurai Champloo series. 

This track comes off his Modal Soul Classics album, which contains songs that inspired Nujabes’ work. The lounge presents Scott Matelic’s To Impress the Empress.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Google Saga, Part 83459

The latest on China/Google, beneath the fold.

Click here to reveal the rest of this post, which was written with invisible ink directly on your monitor!

Teabaggers Continue to be Teabaggers

Fresh off the heels of their last incredible misadventure, the teabagging crowd does not disappoint:
Federal and local authorities are investigating a severed gas line at the home of U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello’s brother, discovered the day after Tea Party activists posted the address online so opponents could “drop by” and “express their thanks” for Perriello’s vote in favor of health care reform.
No better way to gain mainstream acceptance than by trying to kill the brother of a U.S. Representative, that's what I always say!

Fair Use, Intellectual Property and Corporate Whoredom in Viacom vs. Youtube

Last week, the opening briefs of the upcoming Viacom v. Youtube lawsuit were made public. In essence, Viacom alleges that because Youtube allows people to upload video to the internet (?!), they have taken insufficient action to protect Viacom's intellectual property online.

Naturally, Youtube will not be taking this one lying down. Their chief counsel's initial statement strikes back hard at Viacom's own practices, including their dishonest use of Youtube itself:

For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately "roughed up" the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko's to upload clips from computers that couldn't be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users. Executives as high up as the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks felt "very strongly" that clips from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should remain on YouTube.

Viacom's efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site. As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement. In fact, some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself.

Given Viacom’s own actions, there is no way YouTube could ever have known which Viacom content was and was not authorized to be on the site. But Viacom thinks YouTube should somehow have figured it out. The legal rule that Viacom seeks would require YouTube -- and every Web platform -- to investigate and police all content users upload, and would subject those web sites to crushing liability if they get it wrong.

Viacom’s brief misconstrues isolated lines from a handful of emails produced in this case to try to show that YouTube was founded with bad intentions, and asks the judge to believe that, even though Viacom tried repeatedly to buy YouTube, YouTube is like Napster or Grokster.

That's right: after a company repeatedly attempts to purchase another company, the first company is suing the second over a problem that is largely the fault of the first company. If this were anything but an argument about internet intellectual property law, it would get laughed out of the room.

But obsessive corporate control over what they perceive as their rights to intellectual property has gotten completely out of control, so we have to take ridiculous claims like Viacom's very seriously: the ruling they are asking for would effectively end – or at least severely hamper – free video uploading on the internet.

Of course, the very disorganization with which Viacom pursues intellectual property claims is indicative of the sad state of education about intellectual property issues in general. Although all video works are automatically copyrighted by their creators, in many cases that ownership does not entail the right to demand that their content be removed from view. It is for this reason, and because of the provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (which, although it's regressive and annoying piece of legislation, is at least quite clear about instances like this), that I don't expect Viacom to get anywhere.

But despite its insanity, the absolutist view of intellectual property control seems to be prevailing over time - even among people who should know better. Just to cite a personal example, I got into a number of arguments with friends (even one former teacher) over my use of copyrighted material in this video, despite the fact that it conforms to the textbook definition of fair use:

I shouldn't complain, of course: that was the point of making the video in the first place. The thing is, fair use is really very straightforward: so long as you don't use the entire work to make profit for yourself (the acceptable percentage depends on the medium), and particularly if you're adding your own content (ie, remixing a video), it's okay to share whatever content you want. (For more info, check out the Center for Social Media's Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video.)

In other words: YOU CAN LEGALLY POST CLIPS FROM VIACOM SHOWS ON THE INTERNET, so long as you're respectful about it. I'm sure that some of the uploads Viacom will cite violated these principles, but constrained as they are by the DMCA, Youtube is actually extremely overzealous about taking down videos that it has any doubt about, to the detriment of thousands of artists and well-intentioned bloggers.

Even if it wasn't mostly their fault to begin with, I have very little sympathy for the view of intellectual property control that Viacom's case rests on. It would be unconscionable if they brought Youtube down over this; and even more unconscionable if the case ruling damaged the fair use doctrine more generally.

Israel Doubles Down on New Settlements

Netanyahu is fairly out in the open about telling us to fuck off these days:
The Jerusalem municipality's representative on the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee, Yair Gabai, said Wednesday that all committee deliberations over expansion of construction have been frozen following the recent tensions between Israel and the United States over construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

"Unfortunately, since [U.S. Vice President] Biden's visit all the committee's sessions have been put on hold until further notice," Gabai said.

The Interior Ministry confirmed Gabai's statements, saying that "the prime minister has decided to form a committee of chairmen to improve the coordination between the various government offices over all matters relating to construction and building permits."

Despite this, the Jerusalem municipality has given final approval to a group of settlers to construct 20 apartments in the compound of the Shepherd Hotel - a controversial hotel in east Jerusalem - Haaretz learned on Tuesday.

The announcement came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington smoothing over ties with the United States over the latest settlement-related tensions, and hours before the premier was to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington.
It should be made clear that this isn't just them quietly ignoring our wishes and building settlements anyway... this type of thing is done specifically to show up the Obama and let him know who calls the shots.

If only we had some way to counter their bullshit...
The third "ask" that AIPAC supporters will make of Congress on Tuesday is to once again pass the $3 billion in U.S. aid provided annually to Israel. "It's a very tough ask this year," Aserkoff admitted, noting the U.S. domestic budgetary and economic challenges. Among other major purchases, the Israeli government has announced plans to replace its aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets with new, American-made F-35 fighters, a major cost that Israel hopes will be substantially borne by American taxpayers.
Yeah, I think we could do some good things with that 3 billion dollars, and they could do without a new fleet of F-35s. A slightly lesser quality fighter plane doesn't make make you less able to dump chemical weapons on civilians, so I'm sure their government won't mind.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fierce Bipartisan Log-jamming!!!

For the sake of unintentional comedy and to keep my blood pressure at steadily high levels, I follow John Boehner, Blanche Lincoln and other morons on twitter. There are days when John Boehner's picture is just too orange and I wonder if following them is worth it... and then there are the days when Blanche Lincoln's staff links to a letter to the editor written in support of her candidacy.

Wanting to understand what type of real live human would go out of their way to show their support of such a worthless politician, I clicked through and checked it out:
LTE: Senate needs Lincoln
Arkansas Democrat Gazette

I am the granddaughter and great granddaughter of Arkansans and I currently teach fifth and sixth grade in the KIPP schools in Helena-West Helena. I write to suggest that the integrity, honesty and straightforward approach that Blanche Lincoln brings to the U.S. Senate is exactly what the Senate needs right now.

In the face of fierce bipartisanship that is log-jamming all attempts at a health care bill, Lincoln has voted the sentiments of the people of Arkansas. I have known her through my Arkansas family for all of my 24 years. And now, as a new resident of the state, I am proud to claim her as my senator and urge my fellow Arkansans to join me in keeping her in Washington as she is the very best candidate to represent our rural, agricultural, educational and family interests.

Jordan Butler
Helena-West Helena
While there is plenty to like about the letter, such as the fact that the writer hasn't lived in Arkansas until now or that they don't name any examples of actual things Blanche has done... nothing, and I mean nothing, tops this sentence:
In the face of fierce bipartisanship that is log-jamming all attempts at a health care bill, Lincoln has voted the sentiments of the people of Arkansas.
A few thoughts on that sentence:
- Isn't fierce Bipartisanship something that Blanche Lincoln would support?

- Wouldn't log-jamming the health care bill be a good thing, considering Lincoln was fairly successful at log-jamming anything meaningful out of the bill?

- Does this person support or oppose health care reform, because after she log-jammed the shit out of it, Blanche ended up voting yes...

- Are there really so few logical letters supporting Blanche Lincoln that she had to highlight this one?

Bill Halter for Senate!

Government Run Obama-care Socialism is Now Law

Joe Biden never disappoints:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Reform Passes the House

Last night, health care reform passed the house, and will be taken up by the Senate later this week.

In the end, I was glad to see it pass. As crappy as much of it is policy wise (as we've discussed over the months), giving health care to 30 million people who didn't have it is an impressive achievement. With further organizing such as Grayson's medicare buy-in bill and Harry Reid's talk of a future vote on the public option, there is hope that we can turn this bill into real reform going forward.

My feeling on the bill is just about summed up by JN's line that this improves the status quo, but in the worst way possible. That may hardly sound like an endorsement, but that's about where I'm at mentally after watching 11 months of a Democratic president and a Democratic congress trying to pass Mitt Romney's health care bill.

If you'd like to delve into the debate a bit further, here are two additional pieces that make the cases for and against the bill.

Jane Hamsher's statement against the bill makes a very good case, and brings up some often ignored points about choice:
The country turned an important corner last night when Congress affirmed the moral imperative of providing quality health care to more Americans and passed the President’s sweeping health insurance reform bill. It is to President Obama’s credit that he was willing to commit his office to such a challenge when others before him had failed.

But this is not health care reform, and the task of providing health care that Americans can afford is still before us. Too much was sacrificed to corporate interests in the sausage-making process. Rather than address the fundamental flaws in our health care system, we applied a giant band-aid. This health care bill does not come close to doing all that needs to be done to meet the needs of our citizens and our businesses as we retool our economy for the 21st century.

There are many good and praise-worthy things in this health care bill: help for those with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed coverage for children, money for community health centers, and expansion of Medicaid and SCHIP. But there is also cause for serious concern. Never before has the government mandated that its citizens pay directly to private corporations almost as much as they do in federal taxes, especially when those corporations have been granted unregulated monopolies.
As for the pro side, Noam Chomsky recently said he'd "hold his nose and vote yes", making some very good points, and emphasizing the importance of universality:
"The United States’ health care system is so dysfunctional it has about twice the health care costs of comparable countries and some of the worst outcomes," Chomsky told Raw Story. "This bill continues with that."

The decades-long critic of corporate power alleged that premiums won't stop rising as the package is designed in no small part to funnel money into the pockets of the health care industry. "The bill gives away a lot to insurance companies and big pharmaceutical corporations," he said.
. . .
"If I were in Congress," he said, "I’d probably hold my nose and vote for it, because the alternative of not passing it is worse, bad as this bill is. Unfortunately, that’s the reality."

"If it fails, it wouldn’t put even limited constraints on insurance companies," he explained, noting that the bill is "at least has some steps towards barring the withholding of policies from people with prior disabilities." The consumer protections from dodgy insurance practices are among the bill's most popular components.

The mandate to purchase insurance has been a central qualm of progressives and conservatives opposed to the effort. Chomsky, while admitting it’s a boon to insurance companies, called it a "step toward universality," asserting that "without some kind of mandatory coverage, nothing is going to work at all."
Obama will sign the Senate Bill that passed the house tomorrow, and then then Senate will pass the reconciliation fix over the next few weeks/months/years, since it's never clear long it takes that stupid institution to do even the simplest tasks.

And one last reminder of what should have been been done in this bill and what is possible to accomplish in the future: (CNN Poll, via Glenn Greenwald)

62% 52% of the country either favors this legislation or opposes it because it doesn't go far enough.

To paraphrase 6.54 , we can (and will) do better.

Teabaggers Being Teabaggers

Filled with racists and homophobes, but you knew that already:
Tea partiers and other anti-health care activists are known to get rowdy, but today's protest on Capitol Hill--the day before the House is set to vote on historic health care legislation--went beyond the usual chanting and controversial signs, and veered into ugly bigotry and intimidation.

Civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and fellow Congressional Black Caucus member Andre Carson (D-IN) related a particularly jarring encounter with a large crowd of protesters screaming "kill the bill"... and punctuating their chants with the word "nigger."

Standing next to Lewis, emerging from a Democratic caucus meeting with President Obama, Carson said people in the crowd yelled, "kill the bill and then the N-word" several times, while he and Lewis were exiting the Cannon House office building.
. . .
And that wasn't an isolated incident. Early this afternoon, standing outside a Democratic whip meeting in the Longworth House office building, I watched Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) make his way out the door, en route to the neighboring Rayburn building. As he rounded the corner toward the exit, wading through a huge crowd of tea partiers and other health care protesters, an elderly white man screamed "Barney, you faggot"--a line that caused dozens of his confederates to erupt in laughter.
This isn't anything new, but I post it because the coverage these assholes get in the mainstream media portrays them as political activists with ideological disagreements with the legislation. And there may very well be a few of them may fit that description.

The problem is that quite a few teabaggers are crazy people that either are bigots themselves or seem perfectly fine with the bigots that also claim membership to their "movement". Again, not that any of this stuff is news, it would be nice if more people with mainstream media microphones would point this out.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Train of Thought Lounge: Busta Rhymes

I think we can all agree that the first Friday of March Madness should be a national holiday. Since it's not, DCJonesy and I have started a tradition where we take the day off, go to someplace with as many screens as possible and watch the tournament all day. If we get phone service in at our undisclosed location, they'll be twitter updates.

Let's Go Terps!!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Inconvenient Truth

Yesterday, Ben Smith wrote an article suggesting that Rahm Emanuel was vindicated thanks to the vast progressive support for the final health care bill. While Chris Bowers made the valid point that Rahm lost the fight on the scope of the bill(wanting something less comprehensive), he was absolutely vindicated on one subject: Predicting that the left would cave and support the bill no matter what.

Glenn Greenwald:

For almost a full year, scores of progressive House members vowed -- publicly and unequivocally -- that they would never support a health care bill without a robust public option. They collectively accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars based on this pledge. Up until a few weeks ago, many progressive opinion leaders -- such as Moulitsas, Howard Dean, Keith Olbermann and many others -- were insisting that the Senate bill was worse than the status quo and should be defeated. But now? All of those progressives House members are doing exactly what they swore they would never do -- vote for a health care bill with no public option -- and virtually every progressive opinion leader is not only now supportive of the bill, but vehemently so. In other words, exactly what Rahm said would happen -- ignore the progressives, we don't need to give them anything because they'll get into line -- is exactly what happened. How is that not vindication?

Just consider what Nate Silver wrote yesterday in trying to understand why progressives have suddenly united behind this bill, in a post he entitled "Why Liberals (Suddenly) Love the Health Care Bill":

It has occurred in spite of the fact that the bill hasn't really gotten any more liberal. Whatever might come out of the reconciliation process will be marginally more liberal than what the Senate passed on its own, but still lacks a public option or a Medicare buy-in, and suffers from most of the same flaws that some liberals were critiquing in the first place. It might have helped a little bit to get the Senate bill off the front pages -- but the differences between the "Obama"/reconciliation bill and the Senate's December bill are fairly cosmetic.

In other words, the bill which many progressives were swearing just a couple months ago they could not and would not support (the Senate bill) is materially similar to the bill they're now vigorously supporting (the Obama/reconciliation bill). The differences are purely "cosmetic," as Silver says (it's even worse than that, since one of the few positive changes progressives could point to -- the Health Insurance Rate Authority, which would prevent large premium increases -- was just removed from the bill). Thus, from a purely strategic perspective, Emanuel was absolutely right not to take progressives seriously because he knew they would do exactly what they did: support the bill even if their demands were ignored.

It's hard to argue with that. As loathsome as that approach may be, if ideology was thrown out the window, it would be hard to argue that rolling the left wasn't the easiest way to pass any major legislation. Greenwald goes on to discuss how this approach is rooted in not understanding how negotiations work:

Moreover, everyone who has ever been involved in negotiations knows that those who did what most progressive DC pundits did here from the start -- namely, announce: we have certain things we'd like you to change in this bill, but we'll go along with this even if you give us nothing -- are making themselves completely irrelevant in the negotiating progress. People who signal in advance that they will accept a deal even if all of their demands are rejected will always be completely impotent, for reasons too obvious to explain. The loyal, Obama-revering pundits who acted as the bill's mindless cheerleaders from the start (this is the greatest achievement since FDR walked the Earth) were always going to be ignored; why would anyone listen to the demands of those doing nothing but waving pom-poms?

By contrast, progressives who originally threatened to oppose the bill unless their demands were met (such as Moulitsas, Howard Dean, Jane Hamsher, the Progressive House Caucus) absolutely did the right thing: that's the only way to wield power and to have one's demands be heard. And there's nothing necessarily wrong as a negotiating strategy with ultimately backing down from one's threats: it's normal and often effective in negotiations to insist that one won't accept a deal without X, Y and Z only, at the end, to accept a deal lacking some or even all of those elements on the ground that the deal on the table is the best one will ever get, and it's preferable to having no deal. The problem here is two-fold: (1) nobody (certainly not Emanuel) ever took the progressive threat seriously -- because nobody believed they would really oppose the bill even if they got nothing -- and it thus had no credibility and they were ignored; and worse: (2) nobody will ever, ever take progressive threats seriously again in the future, because they know that progressives will do what they did here: namely, get in line at the end and support what the Party wants even if none of their desired changes to a bill are made.

Talk Left's Armando, who is a long-time litigator and thus deals with these negotiation dynamics every day, has been making this point for months, and made a very insightful comment yesterday about all of this. He quoted Nate Silver pointing out that "at least five different parties effectively have veto power over the process, including the White House, the Blue Dogs (who cast the decisive votes in both chambers of Congress), and both the Floor and Committee Leadership," and then explained:

And there you have the progressive failure in political bargaining in a nutshell - no one EVER believed that progressive had veto power, or more accurately, no one ever believed progressives would ever EXERCISE veto power. That the progressives would be rolled was a given. Obviously that was an accurate view of the reality. . . .

Silver can not imagine a progressive bargaining position that threatened the passage of the health bills. No one could imagine it, even progressives. Until they can not only imagine it, but in fact project it in a political negotiation, progressives will remain irrelevant outside of Democratic primaries, when they will receive a plethora of campaign promises sure to be abandoned by pols. Cuz that is what pols do.

I think there is actually a counter example that anyone interested in bargaining can look to for a better result - the unions and the excise tax. The unions were willing to "kill the bill" unless they received major concessions on the excise tax issue. The White House wanted an excuse tax and serious and tough negotiations ensued, with the unions gaining major concessions.

The only reason why the unions were able to garner those concessions was because they were willing to, and were perceived as willing to, "kill the bill." They knew Obama wanted this health bill more than they did and that Obama would find a way to accommodate the unions' concerns on the excise tax.

The unions took the risk of killing the bill and were rewarded with major concessions on their key issue. That is how bargaining works.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether passing this bill advances or hinders the quest for real health care reform, but the what can't be debated is the progressive movement's failure to achieve any of their major goals throughout the process. That hasn't stopped the vast majority of the left from supporting the bill, strongly advocating for its passages and vilifying those who continue to criticize it from the left, even though some of them were making the exact same argument only 2 months ago.

Until we learns to negotiate, it would be foolish to expect the administration to start listening to any of our demands with any seriousness. Throughout the health care debate, they've made it clear that they value "winning" legislative battles more than just about anything else. If we'll fight like hell to help them get their win no matter substance of the bill, why should they take any of our demands seriously?

DC Mascot Madness

Over at WTTG Fox 5, local area mascots are going head to head for the title of DC Mascot Champion.  The game is Old School bball; single game, single shot elimination. 

Personally, I’m hoping for a Talon (DC United Mascot) v. Slapshot (Capitals Mascot) Final, but G-Wiz is just so goofy looking I can’t help but cheer for it.

And can anyone tell me just wh0 the Dinosaur wearing the baseball cap is supposed to represent?


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CNN's Political Team Adds a Bigoted Asshole

Your liberal media at work:
Prominent conservative commentator and editor Erick Erickson will join CNN as a political contributor, appearing primarily on CNN's new show John King, USA¸ the network announced Tuesday.

Erickson, a self described "obsessive news junkie" who grew up in Dubai and rural Louisiana, will also provide perspective and commentary on other programs across the network.
. . .
"Erick's a perfect fit for John King, USA, because not only is he an agenda-setter whose words are closely watched in Washington, but as a person who still lives in small-town America, Erick is in touch with the very people John hopes to reach," said Sam Feist, CNN political director and vice president of Washington-based programming. "With Erick's exceptional knowledge of politics, as well as his role as a conservative opinion leader, he will add an important voice to CNN's ideologically diverse group of political contributors."
A few of Erickson's highlights: (via mmfa)
Erickson defends Beck's statement that Obama is "racist" and lashes out at "Obama Brownshirts." At Red State, Erickson defended Glenn Beck's assertion that President Obama is a "racist." Erickson stated, "A while back, Glenn Beck called Barack Obama a 'racist.' Given all the terrorists, thugs, and racists Barack Obama has chosen as close personal friends (see e.g. Rev. Wright), it's not a stretch to say it." Erickson went on to call for a boycott of companies that have pulled out of Beck's show and are, according to Erickson, "kowtowing to Barack Obama's worshippers, brownshirts, goons, and thugs.

Erickson calls Souter a "goat fucking child molester." On his Twitter account, Erickson responded to Souter's retirement from the Supreme Court by stating, "The nation loses the only goat fucking child molester ever to serve on the Supreme Court."

Erickson: Purpose of Bachmann rally is "to tell Nancy Pelosi and the Congress to send Obama to a death panel." In a post on, Erickson wrote: "Today, thousands will pour into Washington to tell Nancy Pelosi and the Congress to send Obama to a death panel (that's section 1233 of the original legislation). If you need details on where to go in D.C. or if you can't go, but want to show up at your Congresscritter's local office, go here." Erickson later "[c]larifi[ed]" that "Americans are sending Obamacare," not Obama, "to a death panel"

Erickson on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize: "I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota." In a RedState post discussing Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, Erickson wrote, "I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for it, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news. There is no way Barack Obama earned it in the nominations period."

Erickson declares the "profoundly sick and immoral" Jennings "a proponent of statutory rape" and "a zealous advocate of NAMBLA." In an anti-gay rant posted on RedState, Erickson wrote: "Kevin Jennings is a profoundly sick and immoral human being -- a proponent of statutory rape, an opponent of the Boy Scouts of America, and a zealous advocate of NAMBLA." He added that Jennings is "not just a gay man, but a man who believes in the full gay rights agenda, where men and boys can have sexual relationships free of prudish moral people frowning" and called Jennings "a man who encourages predatory relationships between young boys and grown men."

Erickson makes repeated attacks on feminists. On his Twitter account, Erickson has made numerous sexist statements. After an anti-abortion ad during this year's Super Bowl, Erickson wrote, "that's it?!?! That's what the feminazis were enraged over? Seriously?!? Wow. That's what being too ugly to get a date does to your brain"; and "Thus ends the credibility of all pro-abortion groups. Thanks Mrs. Tebow for that. Ugly feminists return to their kitchens." The next day, Erickson wrote, "Turned on twitter today and there was a barrage of angry feminists upset with me telling them to get in the kitchen and learn to cook"; "Good thing I didn't suggest the feminists ... you know ... shave. They'd be at my house trying a post-birth abortion on me"; and "Feminists have no sense of humor, but clearly God did in creating feminists."

Erickson: "It is and has always been the left" that resorts to violence. In a March 7, 2009, Red State post, Erickson wrote: "It is not conservatives burning down homes in Washington State with the ELF. It is not conservatives throwing blood on women wearing fur. It is not conservatives burning down the Texas Governor's Mansion during riots. It is not conservatives rioting during G-8 summits. It is and has always been the left. Deal with it."
Head over to Media Matters for more.

I really don't have too much more to say on this, although Sadly No makes a really good point:

I personally have no problem with people who use naughty language or people who say mean and nasty things about our elected officials. I have no problem with people who do such things appearing on television on a regular basis. Hell, I do these things and I would love to appear on television on a regular basis (and yes, the problem is I have a face for telegraph, I freely admit it).

The trouble is that it’s perfectly OK so hold such views if you’re a Republican but not if you’re a dirty hippie. Amanda Marcotte was drummed out as John Edwards’ campaign blogger despite the fact that she had never done anything as insane as calling for violence against elected officials. But she was a cuh-wazy feminist so she clearly didn’t have the right to say such uncouth and uncivil things.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Good Kind of "Crisis"

Israel being Israel:
The Israeli defence ministry today authorized further construction in a Jewish settlement on the occupied West Bank.

The decision came prior to the arrival in Israel of the US vice-president, Joe Biden, who is expected to announce a new round of indirect peace talks.

Approval for 112 new flats in Beitar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement near Bethlehem, was given despite a 10-month partial curb on settlement construction announced by the Israeli government under heavy US pressure in November.

The decision to approve the building work appeared to be an attempt to appease members of Israel's rightwing coalition government. It was greeted with dismay by Palestinian officials.

George Mitchell, the US special envoy, has spent months attempting to get Israelis and Palestinians to restart negotiations, and was hoping a new round of indirect "proximity" talks would begin today.

"If the Israeli government wants to sabotage Mitchell's efforts by taking such steps, let's talk to Mitchell about maybe not doing this if the price is so high," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said.

For many months, Palestinian officials resisted any return to negotiations with Israel, saying all settlement construction should first be halted in line with the obligations of the US "road map" of 2003.

All settlements on occupied territory are illegal under international law.
Israel colonizing occupied land is nothing new, and while expressing disappointment publicly, the US has never taken the smallest of actions to try and stop it. The good news to come out of this is that Israel decided to show up Biden, and while war crimes may not merit a debate over our relationship, them "showing us up" definitely has:
Israel's relations with the US are at their worst for 35 years amid a continuing row over Jewish settlement plans in East Jerusalem, the Israeli ambassador to Washington admitted today.

US officials are reported to have urged Israel to reconsider sudden plans to build 1,600 homes in the occupied area, after they were described by one of Barack Obama's closest aides as an "affront" to the US that could undermine peace efforts in the Middle East.
. . .
Senior figures in the Obama administration have been unusually forthright in expressing frustration at the plans. On Friday Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, said the announcement was "insulting", and yesterday David Axelrod, one of the architects of Obama's election victory, said the timing was "very destructive".

Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, he said: "This was an affront, it was an insult but most importantly it undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region."
Strong words from the White House, and well deserved after Israel dumped flesh-burning white phosphorous on Joe Biden's family. Whoops, that's what they did to civilians in Gaza earlier this year, but making Biden look stupid is clearly a far worse offense.

This situation has gotten so bad that even AIPAC is apologizing:
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group, released a statement over the weekend lacing into President Obama for what it calls "escalated rhetoric" on the part of the administration in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's push for new housing units in East Jerusalem.

"The Obama Administration's recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State," according to the statement. "The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests."
Did I say apologizing? Sorry, I meant going on a rant against the Obama Administration and defending something that even Israel's Prime Minister has apologized for. The days when people could defend AIPAC as a something other than a warmongering group of assholes are long over.

Being a dick to Biden was just Israel thinking that the rules don't apply to them, because, well, since their existence as a country that's essentially been the case. It pales in comparison to the the real crimes they've committed, but I'm willing to take anything that shakes up the status quo of the US/Israel relationship. Any time a country that tells you "share fundamental strategic interests" because you give them more weapons than any other country on earth, it's probably time to reevaluate things.

Early in his presidency, Obama showed a large amount of promise with his willingness to confront Israel. Maybe this would be a good time to remind them that it's our guns, tanks and bombs that allow them to bomb the living shit out of Gaza exist.

We have all the leverage, and they have absolutely none. It's about time we started using it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Famous Story

Aqua Teen and Metalocalypse and the other newer Adult Swim shows are nice, but every now and then I run into a clip that reminds me of why I still hold that Space Ghost Coast to Coast is pretty much the pinnacle of television:


Friday, March 12, 2010

Sen. Dodd Decides to Rejoin the Real World

After months of pointless negotiations with Republican Bob Corker, Chris Dodd has apparently decided to write his own bill and give up on his bipartisan quest for bullshit financial reform:
“On Monday, I will present to my colleagues a substitute to the original financial reform package, unveiled last November.”

“Over the last few months, Banking Committee members have worked together to try and produce a consensus package. Together we have made significant progress and resolved a many of the items, but a few outstanding issues remain.”

“It has always been my goal to produce a consensus package. And we have reached a point where bringing the bill to the full committee is the best course of action to achieve that end. I plan to hold a full committee markup the week of March 22nd.”

“I have been fortunate to have a strong partner in Senator Corker, and my new proposal will reflect his input and the good work done by many of our colleagues as well.”
Glad that he's breaking off the negotiations, although I hope he doesn't actually mean that his proposal will include Corker's input. As atrios points out, this is where Democrats don't seem to understand the basics of negotiation. You add a few of his shitty ideas in exchange for something. You don't win any points by adding Republican ideas for the sake of doing it. Preemptively making your bills shitty in order to please people who will never actually support your legislation has become the hallmark of Democratic governance, and one look at their legislative record so far should tell you how successful that's been.

So props to Chris Dodd for figuring this out 9 months faster than Max Baucus and Barack Obama did, and hopefully this bill will be in much better shape as a result.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Updates: Google vs China and Glenn Beck vs The Poor

Small updates on these two stories have given me a chance to debut our new Train Truncation Tool, so click below to read on.


What The Hell, Kos?

Kos, back in December:
Remove mandate, or kill this bill

The insurance industry began 2009 fearing genuine reform that would force them to become responsible corporate citizens, and they are exiting it on the cusp of a dramatic government-sanctioned windfall. It pays to be an industry that's too big to fail.
It's a really terrible bill, so that's a reasonable position. Hey, look who agreed with him today, it's Dennis Kucinich!
One of the House's leading progressives says he's unlikely to be swayed. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) voted against the House health care bill. And his office confirmed to me today that he remains opposed to the Senate bill.
Well I guess Kucinich and Kos can form a united front and work to sink this bill in favor of something much better... but wait, Kos has a new post:
Dennis Kucinich has always been a little prick, and that hasn't changed.

He's someone who deserves a real primary.
Haha, of all the people to blame for the terrible state of health care reform... the Senate Dems, Blue Dogs, Obama, the entire Republican Party, the sloppy media- he vents on Kucinich? I'm not even really a fan of the guy (as a bunch of people have pointed out, he has an abysmal track record for actually getting things passed in Washington), but it's crazy to single out someone who is dragging his heels specifically because we could have a much better bill.

Despite months of being weighed down by vast piles of crap, this bill is probably marginally better than the status quo. Coverage will be extended to a lot of people who currently go without, although I think this is pretty much the worst way to go do that. But we're still missing most of the key elements of meaningful reform, and I don't buy the claim that we're necessarily going to be able to go back and fix it in a year or two.

This last year has been a high water mark for the Democrats, the likes of which rarely happens in DC. They had the White House, 59/60 seats in the Senate, and a sizable majority in the House... and look what we got: the most pathetic reform bill imaginable. Are we supposed to believe that we'll get improved reform next year, after Republicans have won a bunch of seats back, or after 2012, when they may well have lost the White House and even more seats? I don't see how it'll be any easier then than it would be now, especially with so many people and pundits burned out on the subject after this fiasco.

If we can pop Kucinich out and put a more effective progressive legislator up in his place that would be great, but attacking him at this hour makes it sound like Kos has bought the spin that the White House and Democratic leaders have been putting out lately: we have to pass reform immediately, yesterday if possible, and who cares what's in the bill! I don't see how that can be used for anything but supporting crappy legislation. Based on his statements from December I think Kos used to understand that, too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

American Math Education? "Scrap it!"

A friend recently forwarded me this rather marvelous 2002 paper by mathematician/high school teacher Paul Lockhart about the sad state of math education in this country. His thesis: math, far from being the useful tool we were all constantly told it was, bears more of a resemblance to our conception of an art than it does to our idea of a science. So when we force kids to repetitively apply set-in-stone formulas to "solve" contrived non-problems, rather than give them real problems to creatively explore, we're choking one of humanity's great sources of fun and expression while teaching little more than a hatred of "math."

The mathematics curriculum doesn’t need to be reformed, it needs to be scrapped. All this fussing and primping about which “topics” should be taught in what order, or the use of this notation instead of that notation, or which make and model of calculator to use, for god’s sake— it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!


The main problem with school mathematics is that there are no problems. Oh, I know what passes for problems in math classes, these insipid “exercises.” “Here is a type of problem. Here is how to solve it. Yes it will be on the test. Do exercises 1-35 odd for homework.” What a sad way to learn mathematics: to be a trained chimpanzee.

But a problem, a genuine honest-to-goodness natural human question— that’s another thing. How long is the diagonal of a cube? Do prime numbers keep going on forever? Is infinity a number? How many ways can I symmetrically tile a surface? The history of mathematics is the history of mankind’s engagement with questions like these, not the mindless regurgitation of formulas and algorithms.

In the midst of section headings like "High School Geometry: Instrument of the Devil" and examples like

A) pharmaceutical companies : doctors
B) record companies : disk jockeys
C) corporations : congressmen
D) all of the above

Lockhart proposes a harsh reevaluation of our national teaching style and a radical departure into techniques that most curricula reserve for art classes. Which is to say, replace terminology and an emphasis on usefulness with interesting unsolved problems and the encouragement of intelligent creative expression. Worried that our adults will be woefully ignorant of mathematics? We've already done that, Lockhart retorts. At least we could let the kids have some fun while they do it, particularly if they have a chance of learning more anyway.

Do I think he's right? Lord knows - I'm no math teacher. But I do certainly agree with this: "How sad that fifth-graders are taught to say “quadrilateral” instead of “four-sided shape,” but are never given a reason to use words like “conjecture,” and “counterexample.”" Just speaking for myself, I would probably have turned in more than the small fraction of math assignments I did in high school if they'd involved exploration or research rather than repetition of something I already understood. I'd even say that being forced to do a larger number of easy problems poorly prepared me for college, where math homework has fewer problems but does sometimes require a fair bit of thought and research.

I also deeply agree with one of Lockhart's premises about knowledge. As a culture, we tend to think of "knowledge" as set, known, impartable truths rather than as intellectual choices we've made. I wouldn't want to deny that there are facts about the world; but there are also a hell of a lot of facts. So many that our choice of the ones we investigate is almost always a more important feature of our knowledge than what the facts themselves happen to be. Teaching taste in facts - now there's an educational aspiration.

Problems will lead to other problems, technique will be developed as it becomes necessary, and new topics will arise naturally. And if some issue never happens to come up in thirteen years of schooling, how interesting or important could it be?

A risk, maybe; but education already is.

Tibet Uprising Day

Today is the 51st anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising. To establish the background for that day:

-China had initially tried to negotiate a Tibetan surrender, but on October 7th, 1950 Chinese troops entered Kham, the mountainous southeastern region of Tibet. The People’s Liberation Army was far better equipped than the tiny Tibetan army, and was also composed of units which had already seen action in WWII and the Chinese Civil War. They won decisively, although sources suggest that the Tibetans killed more troops than they lost. After the fall of Chamdo, the major government center of the region, the Chinese army acted in a way that would surprise people who are familiar with the conflict today: instead of killing captured Tibetan fighters, they were given speeches about the benefits of socialism and released. Robert Ford, an Englishman present in Chamdo at the time, relays the following story:
A [survivor of the Tibetan garrison] told us... “They are strange people, these Chinese...I cut off eight of their heads with my sword, and they just let me go.”
The initial campaign left the regional garrisons of Kham and Amdo devastated, but Chinese troops were actually remarkably considerate towards the community after Tibetan units had been defeated. These policies turned out to be very short-lived, however.

-Over the next few years China switched tack and attempted to implement Maoist land redistribution in Kham and Amdo, which resulted in massive upheavals. The monasteries and nomads had controlled most of the land prior to the Chinese invasion, and this combined with increased Chinese rhetoric about the evils of religion led to outbreaks of armed resistance by 1956. The monasteries were the backbone of the resistance, which led to Chinese punitive strikes against them and against Tibetan townspeople. The cycle of violence grew to the point that the previously isolated outbreaks coalesced into one resistance group, called Chushi Gangdruk. Translated literally it means "Four Rivers, Six Ranges," a reference to the four major rivers and six mountain ranges of Kham.

-Lhasa and the entire region of Central Tibet had remained relative quiet at first. Land redistribution policies were delayed because Beijing had hoped that the young Dalai Lama could be convinced to play ball with them. He was receptive initially, even going as far as to meet Chairman Mao in Beijing. But by the late 50’s he had figured out their game, and began to move away from reaching a settlement with China. Meanwhile, a group of emissaries from Lhasa sent to try to bring order to Kham saw the effects of Chinese rule and joined Chushi Gangdruk instead. Things finally came to a head in March 1959, when a Chinese invitation to the Dalai Lama included a request that he meet them without body guards- a request seen by many Tibetans as a plot to abduct or kill him.

-On March 10th, 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the Norbulingka, the summer palace where the Dalai Lama was studying at the time. They refused to allow Chinese officers into the area, and over the next few days the situation escalated. Posters went up calling for a Chinese withdrawal, and both sides prepared to fight. Senior Tibetan advisers had been trying to convince the Dalai Lama to leave for India for years, and when the Norbulingka was shelled several days later he finally assented. Members of Chushi Gangdruk fought a delaying action behind him, while Lhasa itself was shelled by Chinese artillery for days. By the end of the fighting on March 21st tens of thousands of Tibetans had been killed.

The aftermath played out in a few different ways. The CIA trained and equipped members of Chushi Gangdruk for years, and they remained active in Kham for years until American rapprochement with China and a taped message by the Dalai Lama convinced them to step down and head for the Indian border. The Indian government gave the Dalai Lama some land, and thousands of additional Tibetan refugees have crossed the border every year since then. Today their total numbers are somewhere around 120,000. Finally, March 10th has become a potent day inside Tibet, where it was marked by enormous protests in the late 80’s and more recently in 2008.

Why I Love Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan is a Ranking Budget Committee member for the Republicans, meaning he would become chair should flip to Republican control this fall. What makes Paul Ryan special is that he is very upfront about things that other Republicans fear saying out loud, such as their desire to gut our country's two extremely popular social safety net programs, Medicare and Social Security.

Now the Center for Tax Justice has looked at Ryan's Tax proposal... and notices that he is openly proposing a tax increase for anyone outside of the top income brackets, as well as massive tax cuts for the super wealthy: (Via Yglesias)

Thank you Paul Ryan! If only all Republicans were this upfront with their hideously stupid ideas!