Saturday, October 25, 2008

Do your own x-rays.

If your one of the unlucky millions who has no health insurance, well, at least you can make your own x-ray machine, now.  According to an article published in Nature, peeling scotch tape in a vacuum create enough x-rays to actually create an x-ray image.  This is really cool.

Here's the video.

The End of Libertarianism

If there is anything we rail against around here, it's the childish libertarianism of our times.  We thus fully support this takedown of all the stupid ideas and their singulary idealistic purveyors:

A source of mild entertainment amid the financial carnage has been watching libertarians scurrying to explain how the global financial crisis is the result of too much government intervention rather than too little. One line of argument casts as villain the Community Reinvestment Act, which prevents banks from "redlining" minority neighborhoods as not creditworthy. Another theory blames Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for causing the trouble by subsidizing and securitizing mortgages with an implicit government guarantee. An alternative thesis is that past bailouts encouraged investors to behave recklessly in anticipation of a taxpayer rescue.

There are rebuttals to these claims and rejoinders to the rebuttals. But to summarize, the libertarian apologetics fall wildly short of providing any convincing explanation for what went wrong. The argument as a whole is reminiscent of wearying dorm-room debates that took place circa 1989 about whether the fall of the Soviet bloc demonstrated the failure of communism. Academic Marxists were never going to be convinced that anything that happened in the real world could invalidate their belief system. Utopians of the right, libertarians are just as convinced that their ideas have yet to be tried, and that they would work beautifully if we could only just have a do-over of human history. Like all true ideologues, they find a way to interpret mounting evidence of error as proof that they were right all along.
To which the rest of us can only respond, Haven't you people done enough harm already? We have narrowly avoided a global depression and are mercifully pointed toward merely the worst recession in a long while. This is thanks to a global economic meltdown made possible by libertarian ideas. I don't have much patience with the notion that trying to figure out how we got into this mess is somehow unacceptably vicious and pointless—Sarah Palin's view of global warming. As with any failure, inquest is central to improvement. And any competent forensic work has to put the libertarian theory of self-regulating financial markets at the scene of the crime.
There's enough blame to go around, but this wasn't just a collective failure. Three officials, more than any others, have been responsible for preventing effective regulatory action over a period of years: Alan Greenspan, the oracular former Fed chairman; Phil Gramm, the heartless former chairman of the Senate banking committee; and Christopher Cox, the unapologetic chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Blame Greenspan for making the case that the exploding trade in derivatives was a benign way of hedging against risk. Blame Gramm for making sure derivatives weren't covered by the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, a bill he shepherded through Congress in 2000. Blame Cox for championing Bush's policy of "voluntary" regulation of investment banks at the SEC.  [There's more...]
 I've often found Slate to be a haven for those pseudo-centrist NPR types who are actually quite right-wing, so Jacob Weisberg's piece is a welcome change.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oops, We Forgot the Missiles

French Soldiers came under fire in Afghanistan and left without taking their anti-tank missiles.   They are reassuring themselves that the missiles are hard to use and require training.

Une unité française a été "cernée par des tireurs [et] il fallait faire reculer ce groupe", "un poste de tir et deux missiles n'ont pas pu être récupérés" lors du désengagement des militaires français, a indiqué le capitaine de vaisseau Christophe Prazuck, porte-parole de l'état-major des armées à Paris, interrogé par ces chaînes. Le porte-parole a reconnu que de tels missiles pouvaient "être efficaces contre des postes avancés" tout en assurant que "pour autant ce n'est pas une arme très facile d'emploi, elle nécessite une formation, elle nécessite un entretien".

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fortune Cookie

A colleague game a fortune cookie. "You naturally accumulate knowledge and look at its broader implications."

Food for thought.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reporters Without Borders: U.S. Ties with Bosnia for Press Freedoms

Ah, capitalism, freedom...uh, not always.

Reporters Sans Frontières has their list of countries who have the most and least free presses.   The U.S.  does fairly poorly, though better than last year.  I'm so glad we're now in a tie for 36th with Bosnia.

"The United States rose twelve places to 36th position. The release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj after six years in the Guantanamo Bay military base contributed to this improvement. Although the absence of a federal “shield law” means the confidentiality of sources is still threatened by federal courts, the number of journalists being subpoenaed or forced to reveal their sources has declined in recent months and none has been sent to prison. But the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey in Oakland, California, is still unpunished a year later. The way the investigation into his murder has become enmeshed in local conflicts of interest and the lack of federal judicial intervention also help to explain why the United States did not get a higher ranking. Account was also taken of the many arrests of journalists during the Democratic and Republican conventions."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saskatoon Fifth Avenue

I know Saskatoon is not in Alaska, but it's in Canada and that near Alaska, so also... [/palinspeak]

Looks like the RNC is paying for Palin petticoats.

Where does your candidate shop?

The Sky is Falling...

or something like that.

Robert Reich offers one of the most comprehensible explanations out there.

The Meltdown (Part IV)

The Dow is see-sawing but the reality is that the Bailout of All Bailouts isn't working. Credit markets are largely still frozen. Despite all the money going directly to the big banks, despite all the government guarantees and loans and special tax breaks, despite the shot-gun weddings and bank mergers, despite the willingness of the Treasury and the Fed to do almost whatever the banks have asked, the reality is that credit is not flowing. It's not flowing to distressed homeowners. It's not flowing to small businesses. It's not flowing to would-be homeowners with good credit ratings. Students are having a harder time borrowing for their tuition. Auto loans are drying up.

Why? Because the underlying problem isn't a liquidity problem. As I've noted elsewhere, the problem is that lenders and investors don't trust they'll get their money back because no one trusts that the numbers that purport to value securities are anything but wishful thinking. The trouble, in a nutshell, is that the financial entrepreneurship of recent years -- the derivatives, credit default swaps, collateralized debt instruments, and so on -- has undermined all notion of true value.

Many of these fancy instruments became popular over recent years precisely because they circumvented financial regulations, especially rules on banks' capital adequacy. Big banks created all these off-balance-sheet vehicles because they allowed the big banks to carry less capital.

Paulson is recapitalizing the banks -- giving them money directly rather than relying on reverse auctions -- largely because he's come to understand that the banks have taken on so much debt that the reverse auction system he told Congress he would use(designed to place a market value on these fancy-dance instruments) will leave too many banks insolvent.

But pouring money into these banks, expecting they'll turn around and lend to small businesses and Main Streets, is like pouring water into a dry sponge. Nothing will come out of it because Wall Street is so deep in debt that the banks are using the extra money to improve their balance sheets. They're hoarding it because their true balance sheets -- considering the off-balance sheet vehicles they created over the past several years -- are in such rotten shape.

In other words, taxpayers are financing a massive effort to save Wall Street's balance sheets from Wall Street's previous off-balance-sheet excesses. It won't work. It can't work. The entire effort is merely saving the asses of lots of executives and traders who got us into this mess in the first place, and whose asses should not be saved at taxpayer risk and expense.

What to do? Immediately require the Treasury to stop the broad Wall Street recapitalization, and require Wall Street to lend the money directly to Main Street. At the same time, force Wall Street to write down its true balance sheets: Let the executives and traders take the hit. Let their shareholders and even their creditors take the hit for Wall Street's collosal irresponsibility. This is the only true way to restore trust. It's also the only way to save Main Street's small businesses, homeowners, students, and everyone else.

The Dope on Popes

It appears that the current pope is about to beatify/canonize Pius XII. Pius XII, pope during World War II, was conveniently located in Rome where he could see first hand the workings of an anti-Semitic fascist regime of Il Duce.

Despite his close proximity, he remained strangely silent and, therefore, seemingly complicit in the doings of the Axis.

It's good to know, if you're a pope, that what you do (or don't do) probably won't affect your prospects for canonization.

Meanwhile in Haiti

If you've seen Life and Debt, a great documentary about IMF and World Bank monetary policy and its implications for small economies, you'll recognize what's happening in Haiti:

"37 % de la récolte de riz a été perdue dans la plaine de l'Artibonite, la principale région productrice du pays", souligne Maurepas Jeudy, le directeur d'Oxfam Intermon en Haïti. "Les désastres climatiques se sont ajoutés à la crise alimentaire qui sévissait dans le pays. Depuis les années 1980, les gouvernements successifs ont appliqué des politiques néolibérales qui ont fait des dégâts considérables, dit-il. Avant 1986, la production rizicole couvrait 80 % des besoins. Aujourd'hui, plus de 80 % de la demande est importée. C'est la même chose pour le maïs, les haricots ou les oeufs."  [Le Monde]

In summary, the climate crisis has combined with neoliberal policy which means that a country that produced 80% of its own rice in 1986 now produces about 20%.

Globalizing forces, as I've noted in this blog many a time, have the power to bring positive transformation.  Unfortunately it is all to often the case that free market ideology is pushed with religious zeal upon weak entities like Haiti or Jamaica.  The "details" of local markets, local demands, environment and, most importantly, social justice are left in the dust as the "free market" takes over to "work its magic." 

Remember global citizens and students folks:
  • Vibrant democracy is not necessary for vibrant capitalism (China).
  • Free market for industry is not necessarily a free market for local producers (Haiti, Jamaica, etc.).
  • Freedom to trade often means subjugation to the effects of that trade, or to put it another way: we always need to weigh "freedom to" and "freedom from."
Keynes is making a comeback thanks to the fantabulous flubs of financiers, but sensible trade will only work if we citizens have a coherent and persistent argument to influence our so-called leaders.

Racist Ohioan Mike Lunsford Hangs Obama Effigy from Noose in Tree

Another real American reacts to Obama. Klassy! Kreative! Krazee!

Misconceptions of Obama fuel Republican campaign - 13 Oct 08

More racism...

Terrorist! N****r! Black! Muslim!

Monday, October 20, 2008

California Propositions

From Calitics

Here we go again, another round of endorsements.  The bulk of these will be fairly uncontroversial here.  On Prop 7, Brian Leubitz did not vote due to the fact that he works for the campaign. See the flip for more information on our positions.


The Calitics Position

Calitics Tag

1A (High Speed Rail)


Prop 1A

2 (Farm Animal Conditions)


Prop 2

3 (Children's Hospital Bonds)


Prop 3

4 (Parental Notification Again)

No, NO, and NO AGAIN

Prop 4

5 (Drug Rehab Programs)


Prop 5

6 (Runner Anti-Gang)


Prop 6

7 (Renewable Power Standard)


Prop 7

8 (Anti-Marriage)


Prop 8

9 (Runner Victim's Rights)


Prop 9

10 (Pickens Natural Gas)


Prop 10

11 (Redistricting)


Prop 11

12 (Veterans Bonds)


Prop 12

See the flip for more information on the props...
Calitics Editorial Board :: Our Positions on the Statewide Propositions
Prop 1A: High Speed Rail: YES!

Prop 1A, recently revised on the ballot by legislative action, will allow the state to purchase $10 Billion in Bonds for the purpose of creating a high speed rail system.  The money will also be leveraged to get federal dollars as well as attract private investments.  This is a no brainer, but if you need more information, check out Robert's HSR Blog.

Prop 2: Farm Animal Conditions: Yes

This is a simple law that requires farm animals to be able to stand up and turn around in their cages. While there are lots of protests from factory farming interests, this measure could level the playing field for small farmers.  Polls show this one strongly leading. The campaign has also produced a cute video with a singing pig.

Prop 3: Children's Hospital Bonds: Yes

While some of us are conflicted about the purchase of more bonds for another narrowly defined interest, this seems to be a net plus.  Simply put, this would allow the state to sell bonds to provide additional funds for our children's hospitals, hopefully for capital improvements.  Our hospitals in general need a lot of work, but it would be even better if this money would go instead to ensure all county and other public hospitals remain viable. Not sure about that cheesy commercial though.

Prop 4: Parental Notification: No, NO, and NO AGAIN!

We've done this twice before, in the special election of 2005 and again in the general of 2006.  Enough already. We've said that we want to make sure that our teenage girls are safe, not use them as political pawns.  Prop 4 requires parental notification, which is fine if the teen has a functional family, but can be dangerous in an abusive home.  The proposition allows for a judicial bypass, but how many scared, pregnant teens have the wherewithal to go through that? This one is running close, so get the word out! As a sidenote, this is a good case for initiative reform to include a limit on how many times you can bring something to the ballot.

Prop 5: Drug Rehab: Yes

A sound policy reform to decrease the number of nonviolent offenders in our jails by placing them in rehabilitation facilities instead.  Prop 5 also reduces sentences for these nonviolent offenders based upon their successful completion of the rehab program. While not "ToughOnCrime", it is SmartOnCrime.  This is a follow-up to the wildly successful Prop 36 of a few years back. Prop 36 saved us millions of dollars, this likely will as well. Unfortunately, today Senator Feinstein has come out against Prop 5 in a wildly speculative press release that merely rehashes the No on 5 campaign talking points. Let's be smart, not pseudo-tough. Yes on 5.

Prop 6: Runner Gang Measure: NO

Another wasteful ToughOnCrime measure from the legislators Runner.  This is just plain bad policy that won't actually reduce gang violence.  The measure increases prison sentences for young gang offenders (really, now?) and would likely cost about a billon dollars per year.  The Mercury News breaks it down:

It would require spending $965 million next year - and more every year
thereafter - on law enforcement, probation and police programs, with a
focus on gangs. That's $365 million - 50 percent more - than last year.
And the amount will grow, because the initiative guarantees annual
increases for inflation, and higher prison expenses as a result of the
new or longer sentences it would impose for 30-plus crimes. Add in $500
million for jails that the initiative requires for more prisoners, and
it's a daunting number, at a time that the overall crime rate has been

Far too expensive for far too few results.

Prop 7: Renewable Power Standard: No

There already is a renewable power standard in California as part of recent anti-global warming legislation.  This bill would expand those requirements from 20% to 50% by by 2025 - but several small wind and solar power companies are opposed because the measure would essentially toss them out of the market by excluding plants smaller than 30 megawatts from even counting toward the standard.  That appears to cripple innovation and tilt the playing field away from sound renewable power development.  This is a noble goal which is poorly written to create winners and losers.  It's a close call, but we're voting no.

Prop 8: Anti-Marriage Amendment: NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!

Not much to explain here. Prop 8 would eliminate marriage rights for same gender couples. It is time for Californians to stand up for equality. No on 8.

Prop 9: Runner Victim's Rights: No

Another "ToughOnCrime" measure by the legislators Runner, this time funded by Henry T. Nicholas III, co-founder and former CEO of Broadcom. Why is that relevant? Well, Mr. Nicholas has himself been indicted for white collar fraud as well as drug charges including accusing "Nicholas of using ecstasy to spike the
drinks of industry executives and employees of Broadcom customers." Classy.

The measure itself reduces frequency of parole hearings and allows victims and their survivors to be present. I'll let the OC Register, which suggested a No vote, explain the prop:

Prop. 9 would place those rights into the state constitution rather
than into statutory law, the distinction being that the constitution is
much more difficult to change if problems develop. It would also give
crime victims and their families the constitutional right to prevent
the release of certain documents to criminal defendants or their
attorneys, and the right to refuse to be interviewed or provide
pretrial testimony or other evidence to a defendant. The constitution
would be changed to require judges to take the safety of victims into
consideration when granting bail. It would make restitution the first
priority when spending any money collected from defendants in the form
of fines. It would also extend the time between parole hearings from
the current one to five years to three to 15 years.

I'm fine with victim's rights, but that shouldn't extend to creating bad policy and increasing our already ridiculously high prison population. We already have a crisis, we don't need to exacerbate it. Vote No on "Marsy's Law."

Prop 10: Natural Gas Giveaway: No

Prop 10 would sell $5 billion worth of bonds to help Californians buy cleaner cars.  The problem of course is that clean is defined as to mean natural gas, and not hybrids. Huh? Furthermore, it wouldn't require that the commercial trucks purchased with the overwhelming majority of these funds stay in the state.  This is simply a boondoggle for Swift Boat Veterans Funder T. Boone Pickens to get his natural gas company a ton of new purchasers and to get the state to build his natural gas highway. Natural gas is slightly cleaner than gasoline, but it's still a technology of yesteryear.  We need real renewable energy, not more fossil fuels. Prop 10 is a waste of money at a time when we can't afford to fully fund our educational system. No on 10!

Prop 11: Redistricting: NO!

Another waste of time redistricting measure that accomplishes little other than guaranteeing Republicans additional power over the redistricting process.  Prop 11 would give equal power to Democrats and Republicans to draw the maps, and would exclude from the commission anybody who has had any experience relevant to the process.  It's a flawed process that gives Republicans too much.  It's opposed by leading minority organizations and the Democratic Party. 

For more information, see this diary here at Calitics. Our diary is actually recommend over the "official" No site, which is so hideous as to be nearly useless.  Anyway, Vote No on Republican Voters First!

Prop 12: Veterans Bond: Yes

These things always pass, and are always pretty small. This bond funds a program to help veterans purchase farms and homes.  It's a decent program, and the bond has passed something like 20 times over the last 100 years.  It likely will again. Despite our concerns over ballot box budgeting, helping out our veterans is a worthwhile cause.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Clichy Sous Bois

Very cool.  You can see a fictionalized account of the riots in France a couple of years ago which started with the electrocution of Bouna and Ziad.

Casino Unroyal


"When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done"

Peggy Noonan Watch: Fractured Right

Sign #7,650,432 that the Republicans will probably loose this election: Peggy Noonan splits from the party line.

There has never been a second's debate among liberals, to use an old-fashioned word that may yet return to vogue, over Mrs. Palin: She was a dope and unqualified from the start. Conservatives and Republicans, on the other hand, continue to battle it out: Was her choice a success or a disaster? And if one holds negative views, should one say so? For conservatives in general, but certainly for writers, the answer is a variation on Edmund Burke: You owe your readers not your industry only but your judgment, and you betray instead of serve them if you sacrifice it to what may or may not be their opinion.
Here is a fact of life that is also a fact of politics: You have to hold open the possibility of magic. People can come from nowhere, with modest backgrounds and short résumés, and yet be individuals of real gifts, gifts that had previously been unseen, that had been gleaming quietly under a bushel, and are suddenly revealed. Mrs. Palin came, essentially, from nowhere. But there was a man who came from nowhere, the seeming tool of a political machine, a tidy, narrow, unsophisticated senator appointed to high office and then thrust into power by a careless Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose vanity told him he would live forever. And yet that limited little man was Harry S. Truman. Of the Marshall Plan, of containment. Little Harry was big. He had magic. You have to give people time to show what they have. Because maybe they have magic too.

But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? For seven weeks I've listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.
But it's unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn't think aloud. She just . . . says things.
Her supporters accuse her critics of snobbery: Maybe she's not a big "egghead" but she has brilliant instincts and inner toughness. But what instincts? "I'm Joe Six-Pack"? She does not speak seriously but attempts to excite sensation—"palling around with terrorists." If the Ayers case is a serious issue, treat it seriously. She is not as thoughtful or persuasive as Joe the Plumber, who in an extended cable interview Thursday made a better case for the Republican ticket than the Republican ticket has made. In the past two weeks she has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn't, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses merely to excite. She doesn't seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts.
No news conferences? Interviews now only with friendly journalists? You can't be president or vice president and govern in that style, as a sequestered figure. This has been Mr. Bush's style the past few years, and see where it got us. You must address America in its entirety, not as a sliver or a series of slivers but as a full and whole entity, a great nation trying to hold together. When you don't, when you play only to your little piece, you contribute to its fracturing.
In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.
I gather this week from conservative publications that those whose thoughts lead them to criticism in this area are to be shunned, and accused of the lowest motives. In one now-famous case, Christopher Buckley was shooed from the great magazine his father invented. In all this, the conservative intelligentsia are doing what they have done for five years. They bitterly attacked those who came to stand against the Bush administration. This was destructive. If they had stood for conservative principle and the full expression of views, instead of attempting to silence those who opposed mere party, their movement, and the party, would be in a better, and healthier, position.
At any rate, come and get me, copper.

Of course, she is overly concerned with the "vulgarisation" of politics and seems to apply that brush to the Democrats as if they practice this stuff in equivalent measures, but I'll forgive her for that here.  A little honesty does a person good.