Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yappie Dogs

I hate tiny dogs that bark furiously and nip at your ankles. It's not just the noise that drives me insane. I've always had an issue with people (and dogs) who don't know when they're spoiling for a fight that they can't win.

Enter Ken Starr

According to this article from the Washington Times, Starr is talking tough about filibustering Obama Supreme Court nominees. That makes about as much sense as a salacious, government-funded book about semen-stained dresses and cigars.

Starr is a goon. He's not a Senator. He's in a party that has just suffered crushing defeats in both elected branches of government, and he's trying to pick a fight with a wildly popular president over something that hasn't even come up yet. Add to this the fact that the Democrats will have a near-supermajority (with an outside chance for a supermajority) in the Senate at the time such a vote might come up. This is kabuki theater of the absurd. It's loud and bizarre.

Starr's sole reason for pushing a filibuster: Obama voted against Bush's nominees and is the first president to have participated in a filibuster of a judicial nominee.

This illustrates the basic problem with the Republican party: no cognizable governing principle. This is problematic for Democrats as well, but it doesn't manifest in the same way. For Republicans the lack of a cognizable governing principle manifests as a tendency to treat politics like gang violence. Instead of remaining satisfied that Bush put two of the most conservative Justices in recent history onto the Court, Republicans like Starr are treating Obama's "no" vote like a personal vendetta.

The Republicans will be restricted to this sort of spectacle until they decide what their over-arching governing principle is going to be. For Democrats, at least the majority of Democrats, that principle is the expansion of personal freedoms. (That's "freedom" characterizied in the affirmative, as in "freedom to act" rather than "freedom from restrictions on action," a la Amartya Sen.) Once upon a time the Republicans were precisely the converse, as in "freedom from restricitons on action," a la Hayek, Goldwater, and von Mises. Now, however, the Republicans are pushing a tremendous number of incongruent polices. Fiscal deregulation does not fit well with extreme regulation of non-economic private action. Oh well, confusion in the enemy camp won Agincourt as much as the longbow.

Friday, February 13, 2009

How to Protect Your Freedom


The Nashville Examiner really got it right in this piece. If you only stick up for the freedoms that you care about, then your cause is as weak is it is monolithic.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The $9B Path to the $0.99 Economy

Virtually everybody has the means to buy something for less than a dollar. Whether it's a soda or an iPhone app, most people can manage to buy something small that makes their life more pleasurable or more efficient. That's the key to repairing our economy.

Through the past fifteen years or so the economy has been bolstered by a combination of large purchases (homes) and consumer spending on the part of the middle class. The credit crisis had the capacity hamstring growth because the ability of the middle class to spend was directly connected to two things: 1) the willingness of the banks to accept risk, and 2) the willingness of the middle class to pay interest for instant gratification. The market's collective realization that this culture of absurd excess and instant gratification was based on a fantasy led to the current crisis.

The bailout package that is presently on the table is both good and bad. It has the classic hallmarks of Congressional incongruity. It's loaded with provisions that don't seem to have a lot of direct bearing on anything. It ignores the reality that government spending creates inflation. It spends money on things that sound nice, but probably don't incur a lot of economic return in the near term. It's lavish government spending at its finest.

The bailout package, however, isn't that bad. It contains some wonderful provisions to build infrastructure, including electrical infrastructure. Expanding our nation's capacity to engage in commerce and eliminating inefficiencies in transport could generate untold billions. Improving the electricity transport infrastructure while wind power generation overtakes coal in job creation could ensure more jobs in the Midwest and reduce our dependency on unsustainable power sources.

The big winner, however, is the $9B for broadband expansion and some bold moves on the tax credit front for the same purpose. The package includes $9B for broadband expansion, a %10 tax credit for any company building out rural broadband, and a 20% credit for any company building next-gen broadband in an existing market. This recognizes two fundamental truths of market economics. 1) Lots of consumer spending is good. 2) Diversification is great.

No one knows better than Obama that lots of people spending small sums of money can accomplish amazing things. More people on faster internet connections means both more consumers and more products making connections. Harnessing the power of more people to create and purchase more goods and services will revolutionize the American economy.

The perfect example of the capacity of braodband to change the economy is the iPhone app. Masses of users and developers come together to create a semi-open economy that is primarily rooted in the $0.99 product. Everyone can participate, and there is something for almost everyone to want. What isn't there, is a golden opportunity for a developer to make money. Every dollar put into broadband infrastructure ensures that many, many more dollars will flow through that infrastructure.

That's the bailout.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Illusion of Justice


The Times headline reads: "
U.S. Drops Charges Against 5 Detainees." To Americans this implies freedom, for in America if they can't charge you, they let you go. Not so under the law of the leasehold of GITMO. There, they switch to the set of rules that allows them to hold you without charge until they can trump up some new ones. In GITMO even getting the illusion of justice requires that the prosecuting attorney revolt. What does real justice take?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Return of Illusory Metastability

Mea culpa. I was wrong. (Or, rather, I think I was probably wrong.) When the Cold War ended, I believed that this signalled the beginning of the dynamic, multi-polar world. I believed that the world had entered a state of flux destined to eventually lead to a state of overall stability underpinned by an ever-shifting system of heterogeneous actors constantly rising, collapsing, changing. I saw the emergence of Thales' universe, a world made of water and full of gods, rythmic, predictable, but never quite stable. I was wrong.

The U.S. led (read: perpetrated) invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan were purportedly undertaken for the purpose of bringing order to chaos, but this is an inversion of the reality of the situation (if reality is a concept that we can even refer to straight-faced). The system was already stable. Poverty and repression are not synonymous with chaos. The removal of two deeply repressive mechanisms did nothing to provide stability, but instead revealed that the uni-polar world of US hegemony lacked the requisite stability for the modern system of all-imersive Capitalism to function effectively.

Notably, neither of these systems was truly antithetical to the Capitalist system. Iraq, were it not for UN sanctions, would have proven fertile ground for Capitalism, and though Afghanistan's Taliban rulers maintained a policy of anti-Capitalist theocracy domestically, they were more than happy to supply the remainder of the world with opium and its most capitalist deriviative, heroin, that tranquilizer purged of its connection to nature, abstracted from any possibility of a mystic dimension. The crime of the former was that of pretending to non-alignment. The crime of the latter was of harboring a virus dangerous to the entire system.

Had the US merely invaded the latter, there would be no shake-up, no risk of a new bi-polar world. The purging of the Taliban would merely have increased opium production, merely have created a zone of instability to be filled by some amalgamation of strong-men. The invasion of Iraq, however, functioned like an autoimmune disease of the Capitalist system. Capital's strongest agent destabilizing a resource-rich area with a leader willing to play by the rules. Not the pseudo-political "rules" of the international political "order," but the rules of Capital. An agent willing to sell resources for the pretense of power was subjected to violence where an exchange of value would have sufficed.

This violation of the rules of Capital has prompted a response from Capital in the form of bi-polar escalation with Russia. America's lapse into the use of actual power instead of Capital's preferred mechanisms has prompted a similar response from Russia, the only agent capable of restoring the illusion of metastability that is mutually-assured destruction. Deterrence previously existed between Capital (power by the subtle violence of the market) and anti-Capital (power by overt violence), creating perfect stability. But in this potential future Capital will play both sides of the board. If deterrence was merely illusion before, it will be doubly so now. For while in the previous system the macabre threat of annihilation preserved the status quo, in this system there need not even be a reminder of potential annihilation. The world may conveniently slip into the dynamic of two Bell spinoffs, each comfortable with failing to compete. No conspiracy needed, merely an independent recognition that the status quo will be maintained regardless.

Of course, this bi-polarity need only exist to provide stability until "peacefully rising China" eclipses it. Capitalism is not a liberal ideal. It does not prefer civil liberties or mass-surveillance. It does not prefer freedom to opression. It can prosper in either environment. China's surveillance and repression is fine with Capital so long as it is directed solely at the non-economic choices of its citizens. Soon China will recognize the pacification mechanism inherent in Capital, rebellion on a t-shirt, subversion via the unread blog post. With China's inevitable rise will come the eclipse of the briefly revived struggle of the titans, and with it the reign of the all-seeing Zeus, patron diety of the contract, of the rules of Capital.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Winning the War: How Conflicts are Defined and Redefined Four Dimensionally

Winning in any modern conflict is little different strategically than winning in any ancient conflict. The choice of the battlefield is frequently the decisive factor. However, in modern warfare, which, as Baudrillard points out so frequently, is hardly warfare at all, the choice of latitude, longitude, and altitude (or in political terms: issues, positions, and gravitas) is hardly as important as the selection of the time frame. I do not mean this in the classical sense of selecting the appropriate moment for action, the perfect time to strike a killing blow. I am referring to the modern trend in winning conflicts by only referencing a certain discreet section of time. This confinement of realitiy was once reserved for history books and chosen in order to allow the human mind to categorize data. However, in recent years it has become common to shift referential points to redefine conflicts.

To deal with a concrete military example, in Iraq there is a trend to narrow the referential points both temporally and spatially to include only those areas of space and time in which "The Surge" was employed as the only areas of import. The disaster of Iraq is already, by any reasonable standard, a failure. Clausewitz would likely deficate himself at the mere thought of referencing any of our Iraqi endeavor as a victory. He might have a second go-round if he were told of this "Surge" and its innovative tactic of deploying a large number of troops to quell low-intensity fighting. The very idea that "The Surge" (perhaps a name more fitting for an energy drink than a military strategy) is innovative is belied by a mere glance at the military advice provided by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Shinseki, who, as those astute enough to remember that the Iraq war began before "The Surge" will know, posited that a similar troop level (per number of civilians, not overall) would be neccessary to achieve any kind of actual victory in Iraq. He was forced to retire before the actual invasion. The referentials of both the war and the concept of deploying a sizable force have been shifted by the sorceres of PR to ensure that they are viewed as creatures of the very recent past. "The Surge" has been further truncated by giving it the simulated lifespan of a mayfly. It, apparently, is completed and a success. That it may need to continue indefinitely in order to continue suppressing any violent conflict is never discussed. That it is a common tactic, used by any imperial power seeking domination over an area unwilling to readily submit to foreign control (direct or indirect) is never mentioned. It is "The Surge," the all-powerful, eternally successful, throughly innovative strategy of General Petraeus, a trademarked, branded sacred cow of militaristic prowess. Absurd. It's logic is as simple and eternally damning as that of a child taking the field with plastic army men. Locate the places where the enemy is attacking my men, and send more men until it stops. The unfortunate problem is that this scenario never ends. Ask the Vietnamese, the Russians, the Celtic Britons, and any other insurgency that ever succeeded.

This same shifting of references is consistently employed in the political arena as well (even presuming that the war and its referentials are not wholly creatures of the political realm). Senator McCain has consistently reinvented himself and somehow altered the reference points of his own career to span nearly forty years while skipping some of the most notable moment. The Senator is clearly setting a temporal agenda worthy of a Greek god by including in his own personal timeline his time in a Vietnamese prison camp and his "maverick" leadership on campaign finance reform while skipping over his membership in the illustrious Keating Five.

Of course, Obama is guilty of the same skillful manipulation of the time frame. He has repeatedly insisted on the relevance of his stance on the invasion of Iraq prior to its occurance. However, to suggest that the then State Senator for Illinois was in a situation where his opposition was either relevant or rooted in a situational similarity to his colleagues in the Senate is absurd. Its effectiveness is rooted in Obama's ability to conquer so much of the public spectacle. His ubiquity makes his presence seem to extend into the past and future, as though he were conquering time itself. His token opposition as a charismatic lawmaker unknown outside of his home state has grown with his media image into a full-blown simulacrum of not merely a vote, but leadership against a war that should have never happened.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Top 5 Reasons We Can't Be Pure Capitalists

#5 - Wall Street is as redder than Trotsky.

It's true. There are more socialists on Wall Street than anywhere in America, but they won't tell you that. Where were the cries of "Let the market regulate itself!" when the Fed traded Bear Sterns a pile of cash for a pile of junk to make them a palatable buy for JP Morgan.

#4 - Politics is good for business.

Why would you want to be pure capitalists when you can pay lobbyists to bribe congressmen to dedicate tax dollars to subsidizing your industry directly?

#3 - Infrastructural monopolies are limited-scope governments.

Ever notice that your cable company makes an awful lot of decisions for you? If there were no regulation of companies that own massive, regional infrastructures they'd be able to do whatever they liked with them. Think a competitor would come in? Ever try to figure out what it costs to build out a massive telecommunications network? Neither have they. The corporate socialists mentioned above made sure that they didn't pay for it. Your parents did.

#2 - The limited liability model of corporations is anti-capitalist.

I'm all for deregulating the economy, but Wall Street can't have it both ways. Government intervenes by granting special protections to investors. That's why companies go broke and have tremendous amounts of debt and shareholders stay rich. They're not liable for the company's debts beyond the initial investment of their shares. Try that as a private citizen. Drive your car into somebody else's and say that you're only liable for the value of the car you were driving. CEO's do something like this with companies all the time. I'm not saying it isn't a good model for building up business. I'm just saying that if you want government out of your business, then don't expect them to grant you special privileges.

#1 - We don't want to!

We may hate tax day, but we hate having no services even more. Increasingly people vote for government to be a clearinghouse for outsourcing the services that government has traditionally provided, but then they complain when ambulance service is sketchy or fire departments don't have the proper equipment to deal with large chemical fires. People hate their medical insurance company, and they sure don't want to pay the premiums on having FedEx deliver their Christmas cards. Start taking away those little hold-outs of socialism and see what people really think about it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Oil Paradox

"The last thing we need is another supply disruption. The outage certainly adds to the bullish sentiment." -John Kilduff, VP of risk management at MF Global on the news that attacks by Nigerian militants on two pipelines had disrupted supply and sent oil to 117.48/barrel.

Oil is in short, the most certain and lucrative investment in the entire global market. On a fundamental level, if the price of oil begins to decline in any real sense, one of two things has happened. The attractive option is that the energy, transportation, industrial, and food sectors have begun to realign their infrastructure with a sustainable model at a faster rate than the supply of oil dwindles as chaos in oil-rich areas spreads. And I'm the Queen of England.

The second, and much more realistic option, is that all of these sectors begin to undergo some type of cataclysmic collapse resulting from costs of production (read: cost of oil) rising beyond the ability of markets to cope without resorting to bold-faced, out-and-out war over the stuff. And, of course, war in the 21st century consumes a great deal of oil.

The most obvious problem in the oil equation arises from the sentiment so apparent in Mr. Kilduff's remark. The world's economy can't withstand shocks in oil supply (which are increasingly likely as supply becomes more tenuous), while simultaneously those very shocks ensure the wealth of speculators and producers. It is not in the short-term interests of those invested in oil to stabilize its supply or its price. To do so would jeopardize their ability to continue posting the profits now expected by their investors, but to not do so risks the long-term solvency of their companies and the entire global commodity system.

The law of demand will set the price of oil for only so long. At a certain point, as oil drives upward the prices of all other commodities, the size of the consumer base able to afford the new cost of living will become smaller by orders of magnitude. As this occurs, as the masses can no longer be entertained with products and services which are priced beyond their reach (and possibly even beyond the reach of their ability to buy on credit), their degree of political instability will rise accordingly. As Americans we have difficulty envisioning how this will impact us. The greatest difficulty arises in the nature of OPEC member nations as unstable, underdeveloped regions. It is difficult to imagine the Caspian Sea region, lying so close to some of the most chaotic areas of the former Soviet Union, as stable in a society even further divided by class. It is even more difficult to imagine Iraq, Iran, the Sudan, or Venezuela becoming more functional under these conditions. Thus, as oil becomes more expensive, regional political tensions rise, and the resultant instability creates a more restricted supply of oil.

In America this means initially the rise of a populist leader or some form of extremely oppressive "unitary executive," and probably both. This, frankly, might not be the worst thing for the people of the United States. Huey Long built most of Louisiana's roads and bridges, a great university, and provided health care to the poor. FDR was the only president to stay in office beyond two terms, and he attempted to virtually take over both other branches of government (albeit unsuccessfully). Of course, Hitler was a populist, too, in many respects. Franco, Mussolini, and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell were all masterfully efficient leaders who knew how to keep order in troubled times, and economic crisis and political upheaval brought them all to power.

This will be oil's legacy. Oil will make the next round of speculator millionaires. Oil will drive the production of sustainable energy research. Oil will bring the next Hitler to power. Oil will drive cooperation to end violent conflicts. Oil will spawn convoluted wars with no clear sides. Oil may end the world. Oil may force the world to save itself. Probably, in some sense, oil will do both, and sooner than we think.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Waaahah, I Don't Want to be Regulated!!!!

This Financial Times article perfectly illustrates the problems with bankers, the credit market, and the politics of money. Britain's finance minister wants to force banks to package mortgage-backed securities in groups appropriately labeled by risk. (i.e. If the security says it's AAA mortgage-backed debt, then every mortgage feeding the security meets certain standards relating to the credit ratings of the debtors, debt-value ratio of the mortgage, etc.) What do bankers say to this? It might create a "two-tier system" whereby some people (i.e. good credit risks) could get cheap home loans and others (i.e. bad credit risks) wouldn't be able to. The banks act as if lending to people who are likely to repay their debt and not lending to people who are less likely to do so is a both bad business and socially irresponsible. What!? There are two possible reasons that banks really don't like this idea. One: The banks made so much money lending to people that couldn't afford to pay their notes and selling the bad debt packaged up with the good debt that they can't wait for the market to recover and let them do it again. Two: The banks are so regulation-phobic that, even though option "one" is apparently not true (based on the number of banks that had billions in write-downs this year) they can't stand the idea of the government making them not do it again anyway. It's very much like a small child who cracks his head open riding a bike and then whines because mommy makes him wear a helmet next time.

Like many free-marketers I tend to support letting the banks do whatever they want, but that only works if we don't bail them out, don't lend them money from the public coffers (or printing press as the case may be), don't back their mortgages through Fannie Mae, and don't let them form government sponsored cartels that masquerade as government-run central banks. Just like the spoiled kid, he can ride the bike, but he's got to wear the helmet.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Change, Hope, Work, and the Modern Candidate

Before reading this I should warn you, I am about to sound very cynical. I want you to take my cynicism with a grain of salt, and I want you to vote. I want you to vote for the candidate who you feel you should. Vote for the candidate who has said something that makes you think, "Wow, that's a great idea, and I think that's what America should do." Now, on to the cynicism.

This election is rigged. It's not rigged in the classical sense of the term. There's no Ken Blackwell quietly arranging to stuff the ballot box through careful application of law. There's no one purging voter rolls of, well, voters... yet. The election is rigged in the same way that everything in American life is rigged now. The meaningful choice has been removed. The media, through no fault of any individual, has eliminated choice at the behest of its master. Who, you ask? Who is this Orwellian demon, pulling at the strings of the American polity? It's you. It's me. It's the American people themselves. They have demanded the eradication of their choices. Simply put, choosing a president through the means one was historically chosen takes a great deal of time, time that we no longer want to give to the subject. In 19th century America politics was the entertainment. By the 1970's politics was competing with entertainment, and by the late 1990's it had been reprocessed to fit into the entertainment format of today. Unfortunately, we no longer consider listening to lectures by great minds entertaining, and anything longer than 20 minutes plus commercials had better have a budget in the tens of millions of dollars and star Brad Pitt or his wife.

To meet our entertainment demands the news media has been forced to choose who to cover. The medium of television would allow for serious 3 hour specials on the background and views of virtually every candidate whose name you've heard this year, and Americans do watch enough TV for that. However, they won't watch that, not even in the middle of a writers' strike. It's sad, but true. If they would, the media would have done it gladly because it would be cheap to produce. Instead, they're stuck to excluding people from debates just to make them more than hand-raising and true or false questions. On both the left and the right candidates have accused the media of manipulating the coverage. They have, but at whose behest? The behest of the American people. The candidates that raise money well and poll well get coverage, and others are excluded from it. As a result the candidates that get coverage raise more money and poll better. Go figure. As such the media ends up creating false dichotomies. This is most glaring on the Republican side where many candidates have enjoyed their time at the top. First it was Giulianni and Romney. Then it was Thompson and Romney. Then it was Romney and Huckabee. Then it was Romeny and McCain. Then Romney did poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now it'll be McCain and Huckabee. The point is, though, that the format of TV news and newspaper/internet headlines makes two candidates preferable, and the drama of the political race makes a new winner/frontrunner a necessity at every turn. To listen to the news you'd think that Obama had handed Hillary her ass in Iowa and vice versa in New Hampshire. In reality, the former is somewhat true and the latter patently false. New Hampshire splits up their delegates, so Obama is still out front, but the story of an ass whipping in the first round and a comeback in the second is so Rocky Balboa that we just but right into it. The choreography of the campaigns is so adjusted to this hyper-re-activity of the media that it begins to resemble Japanese No theater in which every move is calculated, deliberate, and intensely restrained. We never see a candidate deviate from message. The message is deliberately altered to suit the moment. No one even expects that candidates say what they mean. In fact, much of the commentary is on whether they seemed believable. It is implicitly assumed in the modern world that their message is void of content, and, as such, critique tends to focus on the skill with which it is delivered. People discuss whether or not a candidate can win as much as if they should win, and everyone falls for it. The false dichotomy created in the "frontrunners" results in most informed people choosing between the candidate that they want to vote for and the media darling that they least despise. (In the interests of full disclosure I like both Kucinich and Paul because of their stances on the war, civil liberties, and monetary policy, which, while different, are both realistic and show a real comprehension of the issues involved. Barring those two, I like Edwards. By the time of the Tennessee primary I will probably vote for Obama, or rather, against Hillary.)

What is an individual to do about this? God knows. I suppose the answer is inform yourself outside of TV media, and then vote for who you really believe in. That said, it is a bit like being in a Mexican standoff and being the first guy to lower your gun.

One final note:
I find Bill Clinton's heavy campaigning for his wife utterly distasteful. Former presidents, even ones with such clear affiliations, should recuse themselves from active political life.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

SMS Saves!


According to this article from an English-language Chinese newspaper the government of Hunan Province sent 2.5 million text messages to warn residents regarding the storm remnants of Category-5 Typhoon Sepat. Fascinating.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hollywood Goes Bollywood


According to the typical celebrity hype news Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty is likely to be the next Bond girl. Why? Because she can sell out Asian theater markets. This is representative of a gradual shift in the center of cultural gravity globally. Even pop-culture, a bastion of American dominance, is shifting towards Asia. Though these types of shifts seem trivial, it is precisely this type of shift that will make Asian economic hegemony palatable to Americans.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I don't even rip movies, but....

As usual, when data escapes the control of its "owners," a group of MNCs with deep pockets and first-tier law school grads have sent out cease and desist letters. They wanted to stop this:


It's like up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, start, but it disables copy protection on certain DVD's instead of giving you thirty lives.

The djinn doesn't go back in the lamp very easily.

ADDED 5.3.07:

The EFF's counsel explains why posting this key could land people in trouble...

but try and put THIS back in the bottle!

My Reading of the Theaetetus of Plato

I've worked through the Theaetetus of Plato several times and have become rather convinced that the point of the work is to illustrate that knowledge supervenes on connectivity. It's interesting to imagine that Plato, the great proponent of censorship and xenophobia, advocate of antidemocratic regimes, might have found knowledge and wisdom to be products of interaction and integration.


On Islamic Extremism and Suicide Terrorism

This is a copy of a paper that I had a rather fun time writing on the nature of suicide terrorism in the Islamic world. Of course, I have a theory....


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Why Kyoto is the Problem

A few weeks ago I was one more voice in the chorus begging for American participation in Kyoto. After undertaking a bit of research on the subject I have made a complete about face. Kyoto, among numerous other problems, has created an entirely new problem with regard to climate change. Specifically, Article 12 of Kyoto stipulates that developed nations may provide clean development aid to non-Annex B nations to aid in meeting their reduction targets. Under Article 12 China can generate UN approved carbon credits to trade with Annex B nations, but is under no obligation to comply with any development standards.

is more than happy to comply with this system, especially as not all GHGs (greenhouse gasses) are created equal. The potent GHG HFC-23 is roughly 11,700 times more potent than CO2. That means that for every one ton of HFC-23 (used as a refrigerant and for plasma etching in the semiconductor industry) captured, the company receives 11,700 tons of CO2 credits. Chinese companies have profited in to the tune of around $5.9 billion for an investment of less than $200 million while companies in states that have ratified Kyoto have had that many more carbon credits available for purchase. The Chinese government takes a 65% cut of that income, and though the official line is that it will be used for “sustainable development.” The word “sustainable” seems to have a very flexible meaning when translated into Mandarin.

This system essentially doubly empowers China as a polluter giving them both a free pass relative to industrial nations and a source of income for building out new infrastructure. Though I have only anecdotal evidence on which to base this assumption, I firmly believe that stories about Chinese wind farms and clean energy projects are the environmental equivalent of TrerezĂ­n (the Third Reich's so-called "model concentration camp" used to fool the Red Cross).

Encouraging this "gold-rush" atmosphere in carbon trading is Kyoto's limited time horizon. By drafting a treaty with such a near-term expiration date (Since when is climate change a short-term problem?) the international community has discouraged the building of large clean energy projects that require massive capital layout and have a long lifespan. From a certain standpoint the treaty actually incentivizes the construction of dirty industry. The feedback loop of revenue generated when the Chinese government taxes income on carbon credits produced cleaning up Chinese infrastructure actually incentivizes the construction of old-style dirty infrastructure. If the goal of the Chinese government is to industrialize rapidly (a safe bet, I think), then building infrastructure which will produce the additional boon of carbon credit income just slathers gravy on the meat and potatoes of industrialization. Again, were it not for the short-sighted time frame of Kyoto investors would be incentivized to build out large-scale projects which would generate these credits ad infinitum, especially if the promise of continued benefits beyond potential adherence to Kyoto by China were laid out. Instead, Kyoto merely creates an attitude of "get while the gettin's good." That hardly seems productive.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Life Tax

Over the course of my life, I have grown increasingly frustrated with inflation and the rising cost of goods. I remember when a Coke was less than fifty cents, but now it seems that to buy a can of Coke at a gas station costs a little bit more, ninety-two cents at the Tigermart down the street. In Tennessee that price includes a decent sized chunk of sales tax. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Democrats are supposed to be okay with taxes. As a liberal I’m supposed to appreciate the value of government programs and support the means through which those programs are funded, right? Well, even if that were entirely true, I’m still not okay with the sales tax. It’s barbaric.
The sales tax is possibly the most horrendous method of taxation ever heard of unless someone can find me a reference to a tax on breathing. The Republican Party loves to make a lot of noise about the “death tax,” the morbid epithet they assign to the estate tax on the transfer of inheritances over $2 million. The implication seems to be that there’s something unseemly about taxing someone’s property after they die. I think we should call the sales tax a “life tax.” Instead of taxing someone based on income or actual wealth, our state government sees fit to tax them based on what they spend. What does that cost real people?
Let’s assume a family of four is totally average (in economic terms) and makes the state’s median income (around $55,000). Let’s also assume that they are extraordinarily careful about budgeting for food and spend around $14 per meal for the whole family (one step up from ramen noodles). This family is still spending around 3% of their annual income on taxes just to eat. That could buy them a new computer, pay their house note for a couple of months, or pay most of the tuition for their kid who just started college. But no, that’s the government’s share for the privilege of eating frozen chicken and canned peas. Let’s look at a family living in North Memphis. Their median income is around $20,000, and suddenly the government’s cut of dinner is around 7% of their annual income. Does anyone else think of this as being extortionate?
In states with graduated income taxes (taxes on income that increase as you make more money) the government tries to cut into the purchase of diamond tennis bracelets, not hot meals for kids. When Republican Governor Don Sundquist tried to push for real tax reform in Tennessee (i.e. a graduated income tax) the bill met with striking resistance. Street protests and somewhat violent demonstrations orchestrated by then State Senator Marsha Blackburn frightened lawmakers into voting down the issue.
Citizens in states with graduated income taxes also get to deduct their state income taxes from their federal income taxes, meaning that not many people are really paying that much more in overall taxes. In recent years the Republicans, led by now Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have made state sales taxes deductible as well. The down side to that is it only works if you itemize your taxes, saving every receipt for everything you buy that you want to deduct. Thanks, Marsha, now those wealthy enough to hire accountants to do that for them can rest even more of the burden of government on those of us who fill out a 1040 EZ every year.
Anyone who isn’t utterly radical recognizes the necessity of government spending. Certainly most Republicans agree that we need a government and that government costs money, and most Republicans agree with Democrats that it is important to actually raise the money to pay for those expenditures through taxes. (Some, however, believe that going in debt to China and Saudi Arabia is preferable.) So why is it that here in Tennessee we can’t seem to manage a tax structure that doesn’t take food from the mouths of the poor, doesn’t make it harder for kids to go to college, doesn’t add to the cost of your textbooks every semester, and is only recoverable by the wealthy? Here’s my argument: Either people have been convinced by Republican politicians that an income tax is bad (even if it’s cheaper for everybody but the absurdly wealthy), or they are the absurdly wealthy and simply don’t care if they cut into your food, your books, and your education in order to ensure that they don’t pay an extra few bucks every year. After all, it’s immensely more important that Biff and Buffy have even more money stashed in offshore accounts, tax-sheltered annuities, and hyper-expensive art than it is that you have any of those things so necessary to a decent life. Who cares about the “death tax” when there’s a tax on life to be worried about?

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Moral High Ground

Certain members of the Republican Party have, for a number of years now, reveled in their perceived status as the party of morality. As GOP politicians have derided Democrats as unpatriotic or immoral, implying of course that Republicans are the opposite, I have wondered exactly what politician in history has publicly claimed to be anything else. So, six years after the GOP has achieved its goal of holding the presidency, majorities in both chambers of congress, and appointing seven of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, what grand strides have been made by our government to promote morality and patriotism? Let’s take a quick look back at some of the great achievements of the past six years.
In 2003 Congress and the President took a great moral leap and cut veterans benefits to the tune of just under a billion dollars over five years. This decision clearly took into account the high level of patriotism felt by America’s men and women in uniform. Realizing that our valiant heroes were eager to sacrifice for their country, their country took them up on the offer thus rendering them more patriotic and more selfless! The Democratic alternative to those cuts was a 2.4 billion dollar increase in veterans’ benefits. As a veteran, I can only lament my party’s misunderstanding of our needs. I believe I speak for most veterans when I say that we neither desire nor need any reward for our service. The knowledge that cuts in the Veterans’ Administration budget will be used to fund a massive tax cut for the wealthiest of Americans is enough for me.
Also, as a former soldier, I never did think much of the Geneva Convention. There are several clear problems with it, not least of all combat provisions which clearly came from a different era of warfare. Most of all, however, I hated the requirement that we treat prisoners of war as human beings. I must admit that I am truly grateful that our Justice Department spent years working the legal system to keep the detainees at Guantanamo Bay from having the rights of either a criminal or a prisoner of war. Heaven knows that either might prevent us from utilizing interrogation techniques pioneered by the Spanish Inquisition or the judges at the Salem Witch Trials. After all, torture has always provided such reliable information. Another moral victory brought to you by the Republican Party! Who cares if we periodically find out that some of the detainees were tourists?
As the battle has raged on at home over gay marriage, the Department of Defense has held the moral line abroad, discharging Sergeant Bleu Copas and fifty-five other Arabic linguists who were found to be homosexual. That, my friends, is real moral certitude. Our Department of Defense has willingly sacrificed the practical gain of having Arabic linguists for the sake of letting the homosexuals know that their service to the nation will not be tolerated under any circumstances, not even war. I’m certain that every American soldier who has died because of faulty intelligence reporting or mistranslation died secure in the knowledge that the military has remained morally upright.
Nothing, however, could prove our government’s commitment to creating a nation of moral patriots than this year’s tripling of the tax levied on teenagers with college savings funds. In this day and age college students have too many advantages when paying for their education. Tax breaks on college savings funds may seem like a good idea, but the reality is that they simply make life too easy for students, to the detriment of their moral character. Clearly these tax hikes are critical to the health of the nation. It is of utmost importance that students do their part to pay for the war, the massive federal deficit, and the construction of a 100 billion dollar missile defense shield (even if it doesn’t work). Our nation’s millionaires have already done too much, so abolishing the estate tax entirely (It already has exemptions for estates valued at under 2 million dollars.) should clearly take priority over college savings funds.
All sarcasm aside, I do not oppose much of the traditional platform of the Republican Party. As a Democrat, I am an advocate for fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets. I support our troops, and, in fact, was one. I have faith in our entrepreneurial spirit to discover unique solutions to long-standing problems, and I believe that the market can create enough jobs and wealth for every American to have a living wage, healthcare, and a retirement. I believe that careful government spending can provide a massive tax cut for the American middle class. I am pro-choice, but so was Ronald Regan. I support the War on Terror, even if I disagree with certain of the methods this administration has employed.
In my opinion, the problem inherent in the Republican Party does not lie in its rhetoric, but in its actions. If the GOP would practice what it preaches and make a tough stand for morality and ethics in government, cut wasteful spending, honor our veterans, and author practical tax cuts instead of reckless ones, I might just become a Republican. They, however, continue to produce such outstanding policy achievements as the renaming of French fries and failed Constitutional Amendments to ban flag burning. As war deaths mount, as crime rises at home, as our ports remain insecure, and as our heroes fail to receive proper treatment, this is the best the GOP can offer. The problem with the Republican Party does not lie in its rhetoric. The problem is that the Republican Party is only rhetoric.

The Party of McGovern and MacGyver

Will Rogers once famously stated, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” I wish that Will Rogers were more like my magic 8-ball. It’s wrong a lot. Instead he struck the chord which has resonated within the Democratic Party since its earliest days. At various times the Democrats have been an amalgam of farmers and industrial workers, anti-imperialists and bankers, Southerners and union agitators, and segregationists and progressive reformers. Today’s incarnation of the Democratic Party is an ad hoc coalition of causes ranging from environmentalists to gay rights activists to Christian pacifists all attached to Roosevelt’s progressive populism with bubblegum and bailing wire.
Perhaps it is the realistic view of politics held by the Democrats that makes it such an eclectic group. Politics is not about two titanic sets of ideals fighting for supremacy, but rather about radically diverse regions and special interest groups jockeying for each others’ money and influence. Republicans do a good job of jockeying collectively, getting their strange coalition of wealthy corporate interests and traditionalist social values voters, or Greed and God, good seats at the bargaining table. (Granted, upon arrival Greed usually starts cutting into God’s share of the spoils, but that’s beside the point.) Democrats, on the other hand, fail to comprehend the “team play” aspect of this game. Our loyalties are all too frequently to our causes over our party so much that we forget that in order to control the agenda we need to support and strengthen our party first.
This election cycle is rife with examples of this. In Connecticut, as you are all probably aware, Senator Joe Lieberman lost his Democratic Primary to Ned Lamont, a wealthy entrepreneur running on an anti-war platform. Despite his loss, Lieberman simply filed to run as an independent, hoping that conservative voters and Republicans fearful of a more liberal senator would carry him to office. Those committed enough to the party’s agenda and goals to call themselves Democrats on the day of primary elections voted for Ned Lamont, but Lieberman’s tactic effectively allows him to ignore the wishes of Democrats, win with a hodgepodge of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents and continue calling himself a Democrat. Does it disenfranchise his district? No, certainly not. Does it damage his party? Yes, not only by pushing their major anti-war sentiment out of the picture but by deepening fissures within a party that already has problems with unity.
Here in Tennessee we face similar issues. In the 9th District (covering Memphis and some of Shelby County), Democratic Nominee Steve Cohen faces opposition in the general election by Jake Ford, an independent who claims to be a Democrat. Jake Ford, who happens to be brother to incumbent and Senate hopeful Harold Ford Jr., seems to be running on the platform that the seat should be held by an African American, and while that platform may be valid, it is not good for either the party or the district. Creating a racial schism in the fervently egalitarian Democratic Party is hardly the wisest course of action, jeopardizing both the party’s long term structure and the chances of Harold Ford Jr. in his Senate bid. Furthermore, Jake is not his brother, though he is banking on the family name. Unlike the well-educated and seasoned Harold, Jake Ford has not graduated high school or college, and has never held government office. In contrast Harold Ford Jr. graduated from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, the first-tier University of Michigan Law School, has served in numerous staff positions in government, and has been a sitting Congressman for ten years. Does it seem that coat-tail riding is in fashion this election season?
Despite his reputation, Ford’s bid for Congress is not what offends me. In fact, Jake Ford does not offend me at all, because he filed as an independent. It is the tacit support of his brother who refuses to endorse the Democratic nominee but expects (and is receiving) the support of the Democratic Party that is so infuriating. Harold Ford Jr. and his ally, Gov. Phil Bredesen are the core of the Democratic Coordinated Campaign in Tennessee. Between them they have raised approximately fifteen million dollars for their combined efforts statewide. They have included Rep. John Tanner and a handful of other candidates in their push, but Cohen and 7th District nominee Bill Morrison remain conspicuously absent from their efforts. Why? When I asked Morrison he stated: “They wanted fifty thousand dollars to join. This is a grassroots campaign. We don’t have that.” Cohen’s staff never received such a straightforward answer.
Frankly the reasons for Democratic officials to fail in their support of fellow Democrats do not matter. The strength of the Democratic Party lies in its diversity and commitment to the common good, collective justice, and equality. Powerful political dynasties, coordinated campaign slush funds, and personal agendas do not bolster any of these strengths, the Democratic Party, or those many causes hanging on with bubblegum and bailing wire.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


That's right, the 9th District of Tennessee is a majority black, majority Christian district. Gay rights are unpopular here, and a politician who wants to stay on everyone's good side should be vague about abortion. These are the rules to play by in Memphis. That is, if you want to lose. Thursday the voters of the 9th District told the political establishment that they cared more about integrity and a record of service in ares that impact their lives more than they cared about racial pandering, religious bigotry, wedge issues, and expensive campaigns. Steve Cohen, a white, Jewish progressive known for his high ethical standards and willingness to vote his conscience despite the political ramifications was elected to be the Democratic nominee in the 75% Democratic 9th District. Cohen defeated a field of candidates large enough to field a football team trouncing most of the candidates by double digits and defeating his nearest rival, corporate lawyer Nikki Tinker, by 6% despite being outspent 2-1 officially while another $200,000+ was put into the race in the form of attack mailings aimed at Cohen in support of Tinker by the Washington, DC based group Emily's List. Emily's List, a PAC supporting pro-choice, female Democrats enjoyed a sizable group of supporters in Memphis, but no longer. The group's interference in a primary election, their negative tactics, and their blatant sexism have generated a massive backlash in Tennessee.

Cohen's strategy was simple and admirable. Throughout the race opponents used race baiting and religious bigotry against him. He refused to play. When his record was attacked, he responded by simply correcting the factual errors and condemning negative campaign tactics across the board. In practice Cohen used the single most effective tools in politics. His TV commercials were a litany of endorsements from community leaders. His field campaign was agressive. Utilizing a veritable army of student interns and volunteers Cohen's campaign contacted thousands of voters creating a database of supporters who were then contacted again during early voting and on election day. In the end the honesty of Cohen's message and the tireless work of the field team paid off. Cohen won by approximately 4,300 votes. Every single person invovled with Cohen's campaign deserves congratulations. You can send mine written on the back of $100 bills.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Why the Political Process in the U.S. is Dead

The great promise of America was that on this unspoiled continent a new nation would emerge led by it's citizens, not merely an elite minority. I'll forgive the fact that it took over a century to actually extend voting rights to the landless, blacks, women, and others, and I'll even ignore the fact that this was only made possible by one of the most successful programs of genocide and assimilation ever undertaken. Leaving all that aside, what's wrong with our political process? Why don't American's vote? Why do even those citizens who do vote get legislators that don't really represent them?

Simply put, the combination of gerrymandering and party primary elections has killed the process. Thanks to the creation of the "safe seat" only about 20 seats out of 436 in the House of Representatives are actually competitive between parties. Thus, in all but those 20 seats the congressman is usually determined in the primary election. Most Americans can identify with one party or another, but most are not represented effectively by either, and very few identify strongly enough to go to the polls for primaries. As such, only the outliers on the ideological bell curve actually vote in elections likely to determine the next congressman for a given district. As such one full chamber of Congress is largely comprised of ideological extremists or politicans willing to pander to extremists. Filling a room with 416 of those and 20 moderates does not tend to produce a viable forum for debate.

Because most Senators begin their federal legislative career in the House the Senate tends to be comprised of those members of the house who can play to their ideological base enough to get through a gerrymandered primary, but who have the ethical and ideological flexibility required to become instant moderates once in office. In other words, the Senate is largely composed of those who either lack core values or can sideline them for the sake of getting elected. Not exactly my idea of a forum for meaningful debate either.

Any idea how to get politicans to vote against gerrymandering that benefits the power bases of both parties?

Say What!?

Last night at the University of Mempis Law School Alumni Dinner I sat, mouth agape, as the governor of Tennessee, Hon. Phil Bredesen, opened his speech with "One of the greatest things about holding public office is that you get to spend other people's money and take all the credit." He went on to comment on his removal of thousands of people from the Tenncare (Tennessee's failed public HMO service) rolls saying "that thing was just a leech on the budget" (hope I quoted that right) and patting himself on the back for using millions of dollars in savings to build a new building for the law school. A new building was definitely necessary (The ABA threatened to take away the school's accredation.), but perhaps we could have left a few hundred or thousand people with health insurance and put the building somewhere besides the most expensive real estate in town. Just a thought. So, Phil, in your honor I'm listening to the Dead Kennedys "Let's Kill the Poor."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Back in the Game

Not too long ago I posted somewhere that I was out of politics for a bit. Well, not true. I'm working on the field campaign for Steve Cohen, and I'm quite happy about it. Who knew that there was a candidate to believe in out there?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Health Insurance & MDR TB

About a year ago I wrote a paper in which I asserted that the for-profit health care system in the US was destined for gridlock and bankruptcy. Among the statistics that I used to make this assertion was one that projected a decline in the percentage of the population that was insured. The figure seems to have been a little more than 1% per year for the past five or six years. The rest of this post is educated guesswork. Let's assume that these newly uninsured are concentrated in certain localities (i.e. urban centers, rural townships, etc.). If this is true (The CW should tell you it is.) then what's really happening here is that we're growing the areas in which epidemics can spread. So far the epidemics that we've worried about in out laughable public discourse are HIV and Avian Flu, one whose transmission is easily preventable and one that doesn't even spread between humans yet. According to this article Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis and its even more vicious cousin XDR TB are on the rise. These are diseases which easily transmit between humans by airborne means. Totally disregarding treatment for a moment, what happens when large, concentrated segments of the population begin to spread a disease of this nature? Am I being alarmist to have visions of crowded 19th century European cities? Certainly we are better prepared to meet this threat than they were, but are we as prepared as the situation warrants?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Quote of the Day

In an opinion written by Justice Robert Jackson (of Nuremburg fame) in Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer Jackson expounds briefly on the powers of the executive with regard to foreign affairs.

"...No doctrine that the Court could promulgate would seem to me more sinister and alarming than that a President whose conduct of foreign affairs is so largely uncontrolled, and often even is unknown, can vastly enlarge his mastery over the internal affairs of the country by his own commitment of the Nation's armed forces to some foreign venture...."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Why Monopolies are by their Nature Government Controlled Economies

I constantly find myself in debates in which the words "free markets" are thrown at me like holy water at a vampire. The conception of many seems to be that 1) free market capitalism means captialism without serous interference from government, and 2) that monopolies are some sort of fluke of the market that only occurs when something goes wrong.

First, let me define a free market. I conceive a market to be free when it meets the following characteristsics:

1) The market is accessible to all who wish to participate.
2)The market is not under positive control of a political entity.
3)There are no negative controls placed on entry into the market.

Thus, by my definition, the USSR was not a free market (criterion 2), nor is the NYSE (criterion 3).

Secondly let me define a monopoly. I believe that an industry has become monopolized when:

1)One company controls enough of the market in a region, a particular industry, an infrastructure as to generate a collapse in competitiveness between companies. This begins to occur at around 30% of the market.
2)One company controls physical infrastructure that relates to products it sells that use that infrastructure, such as an airline that owns airports or a telephone company that owns an ISP.
3) One company controls a means of production from raw material to retail, giving it a huge advantage in terms of pricing, such as an oil company that pumps oil, refines it, wholesales it, and owns gas stations.

These are rough and working definitions that are somewhat open to revision, but what I would like to focus on is how monopolies meeting these criterea cause markets to become unfree. The monopolization of an industry, infrastructure, or region is an inherently political act. Markets can be thought of as a form of territory, and in fact most companies view market share as turf. Every company's aim is to control as much market share as possible, but at a certain point their control ceases to be economic and becomes political in nature. For example, when a Telco finds that it is losing revenue because Vonage and Skype are taking away traditional telephone consumers using infrastructure that they control (whether they actually paid for it or not is another question) their first response is to infringe on the use of VoIP. The infrastructure has become territory, and the traditional proprieter of the territory has become a political actor seeking to manipulate the market in conflict with all three criteria for market freedom. Simply being an economic entity does not prevent one from becoming a political entity as well.

It is in these situations that it is the responsibility of the duly elected government to consider that there are non-democratic political entities operating inside of its borders and dispense of them appropriately. The most viable method seems to be trustbusting, de-politicizing the industry by removing the monopoly. With regard to infrastructural monopolies this becomes more complex, because breaking the companies up does not ensure competion as they simply become regional monopolies. The answer in that situation could be as extreme as repatriation/annexation of the territory/infrastructure in question as government administered, or to ensure that the infrastructural monopoly remains entirely neutral through regulation of its activites outside of building, selling, and administering the infrastructure.

Hmm... I'm sounding Sweedish again.

Redefining Freedom

I've been reading the work of Dr. Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner for Economics, as of late, and his work has enabled me to verbalize something that I've been trying to put my finger on for some time now. My problem with traditional libertarians and neo-liberals has been a constant focus on the economic sphere when that always seemed to me a focus on a means rather than an end. Beyond that, I've always found that while using traditional economic indicators makes measuring progress and development very easy, it doesn't really define what it is measuring in substantive terms. What does a per captia income of $20,000 in an area with a median income of $40,000 mean? In some places, places like Sweeden, it means that your house is smaller and you drive a VW Beetle rather than a Saab, but in most parts of the U.S. it means that you are unable to raise a family in a manner consistent with good childrearing methods, that you can't get good healthcare, and that you are probably in debt simply to pay the bills.

What I have discovered is that we Americans have traditionally defined our freedoms neagtively. That is to say that we deal in terms of what we are free from rather than what we are free to do. We are free from government interference in our speech, but we are not free to communicate by the most common and widely accepted means unless we posess the wealth to purchase the needed communications technology.

It seems that in the begining of our country's life we did not define freedom this way. We wrote our definitions this way as a group of people who remembered being interfered with by a foreign government, but we also sought to expand the real freedoms of people by establishing public libraries and a postal system with standardized postage. As time passes, though, private systems have far outstripped the public ones. There are obvious market related reasons for this, but in certain areas, especially health care, communications and utility infrastructure, and security and emergency response it seems to me that we must begin to reconceive of these freedoms positively. The right to life should mean a right to health. The right to liberty should mean the right to have access to all of the same markets and information available to anyone else, and the right to the pursuit of happiness should mean that the opportunity to gain an education free of economic burden should be present for any member of society.

Many will argue, I'm sure, that this is leftist, bleeding-heart nonsense. It is, but it's leftist, bleeding-heart nonsense that will generate a more productive (not to mention meaningful) economy worldwide, raising the standard of living of all human beings and lowering crime rates and violence worldwide.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Been Away too Long (And We Got the Bombs!)

I've been away from this far too long. I doubt anyone has actually noticed, but I blog more for myself than as a means of editorial journalism.

What could bring me back? What nightmare of policy faux pas could make me vent my rage on the unsuspecting surfers who skim over my blog? How about the increased threat of nuclear war? That one might just do it.

Under the stormy cloudcover of Katrina the Joint Chiefs decided to release the revised US Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations. In short: it sucks. Why on earth would anyone want to ensure that it was clearly stated that pre-emption was a pillar of our nuclear arms policy. Whose idea was this? Next thing you're going to tell me is that they've already undertaken a study with regard to the possibility of a "mine shaft gap" resultant from the loss of a "doomsday" event brought on by the use of the pre-emption strategy.

Technically, this document makes it clear that if Iran (What other state does this really have anything to do with?) gets the bomb before or after we begin some form of open hostilities we can go ahead and engage in the most destructive game of rock/paper/scissors in history. God I hope Rummy approves of this one, and I can't wait until W is actually asked for permission to use them. I'm always curious when Tom Barnett compares W to Truman. Perhaps there's to be an analogy for the history books after all.

Give peace (and life unmutated by nuclear radiation) a chance.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Michael Jackson to Keep America Safe

From an official DHS press release:

“I congratulate Michael Jackson for being confirmed with unanimous consent by the U.S. Senate as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. His management experience in public and private service will be extremely valuable to the Department and its vital mission. I thank Congress for acting quickly during the confirmation process and look forward to working closely with Deputy Secretary Jackson in the months ahead as the Department strives to enhance our capabilities and strengthen our nation’s security.” -Sec. Michael Chertoff

Let the jokes begin....

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Connectivity is a Right

Currently pending a hearing in both chambers of the Tennessee congress is a bill (HB 1403 in the house and SB 1760 in the Senate) which will make it unlawful for municipal governments to provide broadband internet access to their citizens. The goal here is to prevent municipalites from becoming potential competition for Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, and the like, and though one could make an excellent case for major cities providing this service, I'm not even going to touch that one. Instead I'm going to tell you the story of the tiny town of Scottsburg, Indiana.

Just like numerous small towns all over Tennessee, Scottsburg hadn't had (or really needed) broadband Internet access until recently. It was a town that survived without email. If you needed to buy something you went to the local store, and if you wanted to talk to the mayor about a potholed road you just asked him about it when he said hello to you at the local cafe. The librarian would get books for you, and business agreements were transacted the old fashioned way, through the mail. Life in Scottsburg moved along just fine without Wi-Fi, Broadband, or anything of the sort, until life outside Scottsburg moved right along past it. Suddenly, businesses in Scottsburg were unable to compete with similar businesses in areas served by broadband. Mailing contracts and blueprints was simply too time consuming in a world where everyone is digital, and so, as is the case in this modern world, where there is demand, supply would arrive, right? Wrong. The town was simply too small, too far away from the primary broadband grids of Verizon and Comcast to be profitable. The town was in a catch 22. Without broadband the town couldn't grow, and would probably shrink as it lost jobs to connected areas, but until the town was larger broadband providers considered it a sinkhole for investment.

In steps the town's mayor, Bill Graham. Bill and the city council put together a plan to provide broadband Wi-Fi access to the entire community, beaming it right into the homes of every citizen with a computer. Businesses stayed, and things were looking up when suddenly, those very companies who'd showed no interest in Scottsburg before were up in arms. It wasn't long before lobbyists for the telecom industry were spouting all kinds of nonsense about unfair competition and misapropriation of tax dollars. How do I know that it's not unfair? Well, because these very companies are subsidized heavily by the federal government to expand access to communities just like Scottsburg. Hmm, that sounds like a misapropriation of federal tax dollars in itself. The bill they drafted to kill Scottsburg's municipal broadband project died in the Indiana legislature after Bill Graham told this same story in their house chamber.

Our own bill of this nature is even more subversive because it places a moratorium on services explicitly described as legal under Tennessee law. This bill is nothing but an attempt to protect the interests of massive, federally subsidized corporations from the horrible risk of people pulling together to serve themselves. Connectivity is the mortar between the bricks of society. The Roman empire was held together by a road network unlike any ever seen. The British fielded a navy that was unmatched by any in the world, and the United States has become this nation through various forms of connectivity from the railroad to the telegraph, the telephone to the Internet. To deny the right to provide this service to themselves to a city is to tell them the modern equivalent of no roads, no rail, no telephones.