Sunday, January 31, 2010

Obama Trades Licks with the GOP

Obama met with the Republican caucus on Friday in Baltimore. Skip the speech and read the Q & A session.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Two Solutions to Corporate Speech

The debate over corporate speech continues, with lawmakers in the middle trying to find a constitutional way to limit corporate influence in government.

The first such proposal would require a corporation intent on political advocacy to first take a vote from their shareholders.
Representative MIKE CAPUANO (Democratic, Massachusetts): Quite simply, the shareholders, its their money and I think that anybody who is spending money should ask those people who own that money what their opinion is. If the shareholders choose to be involved in political action, thats fine. Apparently the court has said that is legal and thats okay with me. Thats all I want. I wouldnt want somebody reaching into my pocket and taking my money to be used for something I didnt want.

The second idea limits the speech of corporations who have, or want to have, government contracts.
A 2008 Government Accountability Office study found that almost three-quarters of the largest 100 publicly traded firms are federal contractors. If Congress endorsed our proposal, these companies -- and tens of thousands of others -- would face a stark choice: They could endorse candidates or do business with the government, but they couldn't do both. When push came to shove, it's likely that very few would be willing to pay such a high price for their "free speech."

These both seem pretty reasonable to me.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Happy Friday

Happy Friday party people, here's a song to get your weekend started right.

This Could Get Interesting

House Republicans are meeting with President Obama today to rip him the proverbial "new one," and it will all be televised, live.

BALTIMORE — It’s the rumble in Baltimore as House Republicans take on President Obama today.

Gathered for a retreat in the Renaissance Hotel overlooking the blue-collar city’s famous harbor and historic Fort McHenry, members of the conservative Republican House Conference say they are itching to quiz the president and present their policy ideas rather than listen to another lofty presidential address.

“House Republicans welcome any opportunity to present our better solutions,” said Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the No. 3 House Republican and the organizer of the House retreat.
We'll see if that big talk means big ideas from House Republicans. I know there are some good ideas out there. Are you there Ron Paul?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama Inspires Hope, Skepticism with State of the Union Address

Well, it wasn't an apology, but more of a mea culpa, concerning the bank bailout. I'll take it, I guess.

As for the rest of the speech, it was very well written and delivered, no surprise there. Obama attempted to distance himself from the bank bailouts while simultaneously saying they saved us from the crisis--nice move. However, we're still supporting a broken banking system, so I'm still not a fan. Nevertheless, he showed some balls, calling out Congress on its numerous failures. That I liked.

He also plans to give tax cuts and loan incentives to businesses, both small and large, to increase job creation. Sounds like something out of Reagan's playbook, which isn't surprising considering the similar hands the two were dealt.

He calls for a financial reform bill, and says he won't sign it until it's right. We'll see how that goes. As we're still relying on the banks that got us into this mess, I'm not terribly optimistic. He does have a plan to place fees on the big banks to help out smaller ones--not sure how I feel about this, but it could facilitate the changing of the financial guard.

For energy, he called for new nuclear plants, which is a no-brainer. He also called for more investment in the standard green energy BS, biofuels, etc. So he still wants a comprehensive energy bill, but I don't think Congress can produce anything I'll like.

His executive order to start a commission to bring down the deficit sounded great, but exempted defense and entitlements, i.e. 3/4 of our budget, at least. Considering defense and entitlements are creating the deficit, this is a show and little more. If it's the beginning of a move towards a balanced budget, I'll be happy, but again, we'll see.

The part I liked the most was when he called out Republican leadership for simply saying no to everything, how that's not leadership. It's true, but at the same time I'm sure Nancy Pelosi doesn't exactly have an open door policy for every Republican house member with a workable idea. Either way, he called on both parties to quit quibbling and figure it out.

It was a good speech, probably the best State of the Union I've seen, but as always with State of the Union speeches, I'll believe it when I see it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The iPad

Seriously Apple, still no Flash in the browser? Oh, you can read books on it. BFD. Because that 's the only thing separating it from a giant iPod Touch. We are not impressed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Digital Rights Management or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pirate

Book publishers are learning the lesson the music industry already learned: don't treat your customers like criminals.

It's been 18 months since O'Reilly, the world's largest publisher of tech books, stopped using DRM on its ebooks. In the intervening time, O'Reilly's ebook sales have increased by 104 percent. Now, when you talk about ebooks and DRM, there's always someone who'll say, "But what about [textbooks|technical books|RPG manuals]? Their target audience is so wired and online, why wouldn't they just copy the books without paying? They've all got the technical know-how."

So much for that theory.

Any conversation about digital media inherently turns to piracy and how to stop it. The music industry has realized that no matter what kind of encrypted wrapper (DRM) they put their music in, pirates found a way around it. So the industry gave up, and began offering un-DRMed mp3 files. Guess what? They sold more of them, and book publishers will soon follow.

[BoingBoing via TWiT]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Taliban Begins "Hearts & Minds" Campaign

The Taliban, in an effort to clean up its image, has decided to curtail its practice of brutally murdering innocent civilians:

In recent weeks, Mullah Mohammad Omar, commander of Taliban forces, has released a code-of-ethics handbook that, among other directives, warns his followers not to conscript children or target innocent people. It also says bombs should be used to kill only government officials and coalition soldiers.

In the 62-bullet-point handbook, homicide bombers get specific instructions. They are to "be fully-educated in their mission"; they are to target "high ranking people"; and they are to "try your best to avoid killing local people."

Taliban followers are further prohibited from smoking cigarettes, using captured vehicles for their personal use, cutting noses, lips or ears off detainees, and drafting "youngsters that have no beard." (As soon as a boy can grow a beard, he is considered an adult in Afghan culture.)

Considering a majority of rural Afghans are illiterate, it is unlikely this handbook will have a large impact on Taliban operations outside of Kabul. Also, the Taliban is not a united group, but a collection of locally lead factions, making broad policy almost impossible to enforce.

Warrantless Wiretapping: Legal if You Tap Everyone

A federal judge dismissed a complaint against the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program.

"The court has determined that neither group of plaintiffs/purported class representatives has alleged an injury that is sufficiently particular to those plaintiffs or to a distinct group to which those plaintiffs belong; rather, the harm alleged is a generalized grievance shared in substantially equal measure by all or a large class of citizens," wrote the Judge

So basically, warrantless wiretapping is illegal when done to one person, but when done to everyone in America it suddenly becomes legal. I guess this judge is unfamiliar with the 4th Amendment, maybe I will send him a copy.

Not only is this unconstitutional program allowed to continue, but this dismissal sets a horrible precedent. It says that an unconstitutional act of government is OK if it is done to enough people. Strange, I must have missed that Constitutional clause.

[Register via Jazzdog]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robot Apocalypse [UPDATE]

It appears our future robot overlords will at least have the courtesy to serve us a nice breakfast before they enslave us all.

[Thanks Steve]

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How Socialism Becomes Tyranny

Socialist policies do not conform to economic reality, and thus must be enforced at gunpoint.

Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez on Sunday nationalized a chain of supermarkets controlled by France's Casino (CASP.PA) on charges of price gouging after the government devalued the bolivar currency.

"Because of multiple violations of Venezuelan laws the Exito chain will now belong to the republic, there is no way back," Chavez said on his weekly television show.

In his 11 years in office, Chavez has nationalized large swathes of the economy, including major oil projects along with electricity and telecommunications companies.

The leader who calls Cuba's Fidel Castro a mentor has recently declared himself a Marxist and wants to build a socialist society in one of the world's top oil exporters.

He said the Exito supermarkets had increased prices without justification. Exito has stores in Caracas and several other cities.

Chavez devalued the bolivar on Jan. 8 to boost government finances and revitalize the recession-hit economy, but risks boosting already high inflation.

Aware a price surge could anger his mostly poor supporters, Chavez ordered troops to monitor shopping districts. Authorities had already temporarily closed stores belonging to the supermarket chain on charges of price gouging.

This store is simply trying to stay in the black by adjusting its prices to the new currency value. Chavez believes he can change the exchange rate of the currency and install price controls to make life more affordable for Venezuelans. He is learning, however, that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and the Laws of Supply and Demand apply, whether you like it or not.

Chavez will, of course, blame the market failures he created on greedy speculators, arguing for more power over the nation's resources to "right the wrongs of society." He will, of course, fail, and push his nation to the brink of collapse. But not without consolidating power over nearly every industry in Venezuela.

And that's how socialism becomes tyranny. I should send Chavez a thank you note for making my case for me.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Necessity of Morals

America was originally designed to operate a very limited government. Such a limited government cannot care for the survival needs of the populace, but depends on the goodness of its people to support each other in times of need. Without a strong moral fibre or tight social bonds, we inevitably turn to the government to meet our collective needs, and our politicians oblige us, enabling our addiction to easy public services.

The sword of moral fibre cuts both ways. As the people's moral code grows ever weaker, so do the morals of our leaders. This code that once encouraged self sufficiency and dominion over your own life has given way to a code that encourages dependence, allowed by the weak fibre of our so-called "leaders." The ability to take care of yourself and your family was once highly prized. Today, many pass that responsibility to their elected officials, who are only too happy to promise more services in exchange for votes.

Our leaders are in the process of creating a society of incompetence, a society of dependence, a society that would utterly collapse without the constant support and nurturing of a paternalistic government. Most institutions eventually outlive their usefulness, and continue to exist only to prolong their existence. Our government should be no different.

It is only with the highest resolve and integrity that we could maintain a government that stays a blessing, instead of becoming a burden. We have lost that resolve, as our leaders offer us more and more services for "free." We have come to expect the government to care for us, and are losing the ability to care for ourselves. We have forsaken the morals of our ancestors by taking the "easy way."

In many cases, morality amounts to self denial. You may have the urge to steal some trinket, but morality dictates you must not. You may have the urge to sleep with your friend's wife, but morality dictates you must not. You may have the urge to pass the responsibility of caring for yourself and your community to the government, but morality dictates you must not. It is this denial of the easy route that creates a strong culture, one that can face difficult challenges and succeed.

Our tremendous wealth has made us soft. We no longer NEED to deny our urges, we have money to burn, and when the money runs out, credit cards. We are constantly bombarded with commercial messages telling us to buy, buy, buy. Before long, this consumer pattern leaves us broke and owing thousands to credit card companies. And we turn to the government for help, our hands out, begging for relief from the problems we created with our need to have things now, now, now.

And the government, as a reflection of the people, is just as bad. Our desire to have an unstoppable armed force, and a social safety net, along with the host of other spending, which now includes a corporate safety net. These enabling institutions insulate us from the consequences of poor decisions, and are paid for on credit. And as the consequences pile up, more institutions are needed to "correct the wrongs," and more debt to pay for them. It is a seemingly endless spiral, one that we can pull out of only with severe self-denial for the things we want, but don't need, or can't afford.

It is not too late. We are still a great nation, but our priorities have been corrupted by money and power. The decadent lifestyle we cling to is quickly eroding, as our government dances faster and faster to maintain the status quo. But we can all see where this is going.

The change cannot come from the top. Our president can talk about change until he is blue in the face, but real change comes from the bottom. From each of us, making the prudent decision, forgoing the easy route, even when we don't have to, because moral people do what is right, even when it hurts.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Get Fit or Get Dead

The Armed Forces are beginning to feel the effects of American obesity and lack of exercise.

Despite the military’s stress on physical fitness, many senior officers and noncommissioned officers I have spoken to are adamant in their beliefs that today’s soldiers are physically softer than the soldiers of yesteryear.

One recent study substantiates this notion, as a Pentagon estimate stated that close to one-third of youths in America are physically unfit to serve.

Lets hope we aren't attacked by a more physically fit nation.

One Minute Safer

Breathe a sigh of relief. The Doomsday Clock has been set 1 minute back, putting us now 6 minutes to midnight. No, I don't know what that means.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The DUI Exception to the Constitution

If you are pulled over for a suspected DUI, your Constitutional rights no longer apply.

I would like you to imagine for a moment that you’ve gone to a friend’s house for dinner. In the course of a very good dinner you’ve had a couple of glasses of a good Merlot and it is now time to drive home. I would like you to imagine that you are on your way home–and, I will tell you, by the way, that two glasses of wine will not, in any state, put you under the influence of alcohol or over the legal limit of .08. As you are driving along the highway, you see ahead of you some flashing lights and barricades and police cars accordioned across the highway, with flashing lights directing you into an increasingly small channel. And, as you go in, you are stopped and two police officers approach you and stick a flashlight in your face and say, "Breath on me. Have you been drinking tonight? Please step out of the car."

Some of you say, "Well, that can’t happen in the United States. We have the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which says police officers have to have probable cause to stop you. They have to have a reason to believe you’ve done something criminal before they can stop and detain you.’" And so said the Michigan Supreme Court in 1990 in the case of Sitz v. Michigan. The Court said, "The Fourth Amendment does not permit these types of roadblocks" — and reversed the DUI conviction. The case went up to the United States Supreme Court, unfortunately, and that august body decided that somewhere in the Constitution there is something called a "DUI Exception". And in a 5 to 4 vote sent it back to Michigan saying there is no violation here. What’s interesting is that the Michigan Supreme Court — bless them, for there are fewer and fewer of them — said, "Well, if you will not protect our citizens in the state of Michigan from this kind of police conduct, we will. And we again reverse the conviction and this time we rely upon our own state constitution."

The state of Washington and three other states have followed suit. In 44 states today, however, it is legal to stop you for absolutely no reason other than the fact that you are driving a car. The only purpose is to check you out for drunk driving.

We lose the most rights in exchange for the illusion of safety, and the article is chock full of more Bill of Rights-trampelling examples.

[via Greg from Austin]