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    • And They Made A Desert: 80 to 90% Drop In Nutrients In Food
      Stumbled across this lovely chart the other day. The core fact most people, including the folks in the “best every world” Panglossian movement (like Pinker) don’t seem to understand, is that even if they were right (questionable), the prosperity we have is based on burning down our house. “Sure is hot! Hottest it’s every been!” […]
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Whiplash Warning: Obama Issues First Signing Statement

whiplash_intro012

You had to know this was coming–but just one day after Obama announced that he’s not going to use signing statements the way Bush did?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two days after criticizing his predecessor for issuing guidelines on how to put legislation into practice, President Barack Obama issued such a directive himself.

Out of public view Wednesday, Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill that includes billions for items known as earmarks, the targeted spending that lawmakers direct to projects in their districts. Obama promised during the presidential campaign to curb such spending.

He also issued a “signing statement” in which he objected to provisions of the bill that he said the Justice Department had advised “raise constitutional concerns.” Among them are provisions that Obama said would “unduly interfere” with his authority in the foreign affairs arena by directing him how to proceed, or not to, in negotiations and discussions with international organizations and foreign governments.

Another provision, Obama said, would limit his discretion to choose who performs specific functions in military missions.

Here is the signing statement (Warning: PDF file) At Talking Points Memo, Elana Schor notes that Obama is claiming the right to “reallocate money as he sees fit without abiding by the spending bill’s requirement to first get approval from Congress.” Here is the relevant portion of the statement:

Numerous provisions of the legislation purport to condition the authority of officers to spend or reallocate funds on the approval of congressional committees. These are impermissible forms of legislative aggrandizement in the execution of the laws other than by enactment of statutes. Therefore, although my Administration will notify the relevant committees before taking the specified actions, and will accord the recommendations of such committees all appropriate and serious consideration, spending decisions shall not be treated as dependent on the approval of congressional committees. Likewise, one other provision gives congressional committees the power to establish guidelines for funding costs associated with implementing security improvements to buildings. Executive officials shall treat such guidelines as advisory.

Yet another provision requires the Secretary of the Treasury to accede to all requests of a Board of Trustees that contains congressional representatives. The Secretary shall treat such requests as nonbinding.

{{ Sigh! }} This is starting to get kind of routine. Can’t he do something to surprise us? Or how about not making the promises in the first place and just going ahead and doing whatever Bush did?

And doesn’t the House control the purse? I thought they were supposed to determine how money is spent.

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The Funniest Thing I’ve Read All Day

The Establishment?

The Establishment?

This is hilarious. Howard Fineman of Newsweek says that “The Establishment” is turning against Barack Obama.

Luckily for Obama, the public still likes and trusts him, at least judging by the latest polls, including NEWSWEEK’s. But, in ways both large and small, what’s left of the American establishment is taking his measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lacking.

But who is “they?” Fineman provides no examples of Establishment figures who have been whispering in his ear, nor does he bother to clearly define what he means by “The Establishment.” In my mind, the term refers to the ruling class of a country–the top government figures as well as the heads of the most powerful corporations and foundations, and the most influential members of the national media. Here’s Fineman:

If the establishment still has power, it is a three-sided force, churning from inside the Beltway, from Manhattan-based media and from what remains of corporate America. Much of what they are saying is contradictory…

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The Write Stuff

blogging

The Confluence needs writers – do you have what it takes?

A little over a year ago this blog didn’t exist.  Now we not only have fans but we even have stalkers.  But our goal isn’t to be the best little blog in Left Blogistan, we want to make the “A” list.

We need good writers who share our values and ideals – and who want to write.  We want diverse voices writing interesting posts about all kinds of topics, and doing it on a regular basis.  We are looking for self-motivated individuals – There are no assignments, deadlines or quantitative requirements (“I want 1200 words on Valerie Jarrett by Thursday!”) 

While we would happily publish single works from a guest poster, we need a few people who can publish quality essays several times a week.  We can help you with some technical stuff like graphics and proof reading, but you have to supply the content.  We generally don’t tell our writers what topics to write about or prescreen their work.  A couple of times we were all asked to do individual posts on the same topic but it was a request not a demand.  Someone may suggest a topic to you but you’ll be your own boss. 

Writing isn’t a skill you can teach, it’s an art.  Blogging is a weird mix of information, entertainment, argument and stream of consciousness writing in pixelated print.  I’m not claiming that I’m a great writer, but I’ve seen a lot of bad writers who were technically proficient at spelling and grammar.  Right now The Confluence has several commenters who write well enough to be front-pagers.  They may not believe it but they have more than enough talent to be bloggers. 

Speaking for myself, I spent more time and effort on my very first blog post (at Corrente) than I have with any post since.  I really worried and stressed over whether it was “good enough” or not.  I can’t tell you how many posts I have done since, but I no longer worry about what people will think, I just write. 

Some of the posts I worked hardest on were less well received than some I just “threw together.”  I drew unexpected fire from posts I thought wouldn’t be controversial, and was I was disappointed that some posts I thought would cause a reaction got little attention.  The only thing I never want to be is boring and predictable.

I don’t try to be just like anyone else.  I try to mix generous amounts of serious and snark, with a dash of tongue-in-cheek and a little tinfoiI to seal in the freshness.  I try different things from time to time, not always with success.  Sometimes what I write is all snark, sometimes it’s an angry rant, sometimes I’m not sure myself what it is.  My mood and my muse exercise editorial control.

I sometimes leave unanswered questions in my posts in order to stimulate discussions, while other bloggers (like Glenn Greenwald) prefer posts that are narrowly focused but comprehensive and exhaustive with little room for discussion.  I bounce around from topic to topic, but bloggers like Bob Somerby prefer to devote their full attention to one topic.  (No, I’m not claiming that I’m in the same league as Glenn and Bob, I was just using them as examples of blogging styles.)

You don’t have to be a feminist, a PUMA or even be interested in politics.  Movies, music, food, sports and travel are all welcome subjects.  We will accept fiction, non-fiction, prose or poetry.   Everyone has something they are knowledgeable and passionate about.  If there is something that you are interested in, chances are others are interested too. 

Obviously we don’t want to provide a forum for racism, sexism or other forms of bigotry, nor do we want anyone posting official talking points, propaganda or intentionally false and misleading information.  It’s okay to be controversial  or to ruffle some feathers (we prefer that to dull and boring) so long as you aren’t unnecessarily rude or offensive.  (We want to attract and keep readers, not chase them away)  But if you take a position on a sensitive issue, you can be certain someone will take offense.

What I’m trying to say is there is no one method, topic or position we are looking for.  Yes, we are liberal-leaning Democrats in exile and we have strong opinions, but we would still welcome alternative points of view.  However please keep in mind that we don’t drink Kool-aid around here.

I’ll warn you – writing is a bad habit to get into.  The pay is nonexistent, total strangers will mock and insult you, and people you like and respect will occasionally tell you that you’re full of sh*t.  Some days I can’t think of anything to write about, and other days my muse is hyperactive. 

I have partial drafts that I never finished for one reason or another, and a few times I finished a post only to discover someone else had already posted on the same topic minutes earlier.  Oh, and don’t forget we all have this thing called “real life” that intrudes on our blogging – family, friends, pets and whatever it is we do to pay the bills.

This isn’t a temporary or once in a lifetime opportunity.  We will always be looking for talent.  I would like to see about 12-16 original posts a day here at The Confluence, spaced out from 7-8 am EST until 10-11 pm PST.  Multiply that by 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year and you can see there is lots of room to fill. 

If you are interested let us know – either in the comments or by emailing Riverdaughter at theconfluence08@yahoo.com  We may ask you to submit a draft essay so we can evaluate your writing (especially if you only want to do a single guest post.)  If you aren’t used to writing full essays I suggest you go to http://wordpress.com/ and open a blog of your own (it’s free) and practice practice practice.  If you keep posting quality work on your own blog several times a week we will track you down and ask you to join us here.

Right now we are only averaging about 5-6 posts a day, but we don’t want to double or triple our writing staff all at once.  To avoid confusion and disruption we want to ease new writers in a couple at a time,  so if we don’t say yes right away we will still keep you in mind for the future.  If we have multiple people interested we will give preference to someone with special expertise or other attributes that we are currently lacking in our staff. 

We aren’t just looking for quality writing, we are also looking for qualities like loyalty, stability, consistency and congeniality.  We want writers who are interested in being part of our team and want to help push The Confluence to the next level.  We want them to be willing and able to carry part of the load and do so reliably without supervision. We want people who are strong-willed and independent, yet who are open-minded and willing to “agree to disagree.” 

And we want them to stick around.  While there is nothing wrong with guest posts or someone who does infrequent posts we can’t grow The Confluence without a base of quality writers who post an average of several times a week.  If we have lots of good posts by good writers then our readership will increase and other blogs will link to us more often. 

Inciting blogwars and similar stunts may provide a temporary boost in traffic, but the only way of attracting and keeping more readers is to offer them consistent quality.  There are some excellent writers in the blogosphere who post erratically – sometimes going weeks without anything new.  We want The Confluence to be the place people go first when they go online because we always have fresh new posts that are interesting and informative.

Success begets success.  Although some of our writers will inevitably be more popular than others, newer writers and guest posters will gain exposure when people come here to read established Conflucian bloggers.  While some turnover is unavoidable, our goal is to add new writers, not replace old ones.

So, do you have the “write” stuff?

Wednesday: Life, the Universe and Change!

I was hanging around YouTube the other day, aimlessly clicking away, when I found what looks like the entire catalog of James Burke’s Connections and The Day the Universe Changed series in neat little 10 minute packets.  For those of you who were mere twinkles in your fathers’ eyes at the time, James Burke is a historian whose specialty is the history and philosophy of science.  His series traced the route of technological breakthroughs from their humble beginnings to the modern era.  He’s full of nifty facts and his presentation style is wry and witty.  Yesterday, I got to episode 8 of The Day the Universe Changed, Fit to Rule, where Burke lays out Darwin’s theory of natural selection and describes how three societies got it horribly wrong in three different ways.  Yes, America is in there as example number 2:

Now, why bring this up?  I think it’s because at the time this series was produced, back in the early eighties, we were right in the middle of a renaissance of the “rugged individualist” model.  Ronald Reagan had been elected and the movie Wall Street, with Michael Douglas in suspenders chanting “Greed is good!” was just around the corner.  Burke doesn’t pass judgment on our attitudes and misinterpretation of Darwin.  But let’s face it, the two other examples of the social Darwinism, the Third Reich and Soviet Communism, aren’t exactly great company.

What Burke discovers is a peculiar characteristic of the American culture.  Our mindset and philosophy is very much formed by our experience of leaving it all behind and facing new challenges on the wild frontier.  It was shaped by the need to survive a hostile environment and sometimes hostile native Americans.  But the interpretation of natural selection that the pioneers understood, violent struggle and take what you can before someone else takes it from you, has outlived its usefulness.  What Darwin really said was that organisms that had the ability to adapt to their environments would survive.  Right now, our country is failing to adapt.  In part this is due to the Randian business culture that sees globalization and the race to the bottom in wage compensation as an inevitable thing.  But the problem with that philosophy is that what allowed wealth and prosperity to flourish in the United States was the rule of law and democracy that gave average Americans the opportunity to succeed, protected from the most of the outrages of corruption that plague less prosperous countries.  That is not to say that the industrialists didn’t have their way before The Great Depression.  But the years following World War II saw one of the greatest expansions of wealth and equality that the world has ever known.  And part of that was due to the fact that Americans who had good ideas were not confined to the lower stratums of society where birth determined their futures.  If you’ve seen Slumbdog Millionaire recently, you know what I’m talking about.  The idea that a mere chai walla would know the answers to some pretty sophisticated questions in India still seems to be improbable in that country. However, those of us who are losing our jobs to globalization know that even in India, there are hundreds of thousands of well trained people who will do the job cheaply.  What they *aren’t* allowed to do is create.  The PhDs in India are merely a pair of hands to their corporate masters in the United States.  They’re overqualified.

What would happen if individuals had the power to create again?  That is the part of Darwin’s theory that I think our MBA culture ignores in its pursuit of the bottom line and one of the reasons I think America is going to go the way of the do-do if it doesn’t change its ways.  Back when Pell grants were not impossible to get, before Reagan came into office, it was possible for a person of humble origin, yours truly, to become the first in her family to go to college.  Back in those days, people still had health insurance and pensions.  Social security meant that if you decided to strike out on your own and create a business, you had something to fall back on if you failed.  Yes, crime was a problem, but corruption was dealt with more seriously.  What made this country successful as an organism were the institutions that allowed creativity to thrive.  What happens to a country that rips all of that away in its pursuit of draining the public of its wealth just because it can?

Let’s not get too depressed.  There is still plenty of opportunity in this country to turn this around.  For example, we *could* make sure that students get the financial aid they need to go to college without it becoming a lifelong crushing debt and indentured servitude.  We could invest in alternative energy and become world leaders in the field.  We could get it into our heads that teleconferences in the middle of the night with programmers in India are not the best use of either country’s personnel.  We could recognize that if we don’t shore up the middle class and improve their compensation packages and safety net, there will be significantly fewer consumers of new products in the future.

The question is, how do we neutralize the Randian MBA culture that brought us to this point?  Maybe that is the Change! we all need.

Obama Defines Obama

saint_obama1“Ich bein ein New Democrat.”  “I am a New Democrat.”  That’s what President Black Obama said at a meeting of New Democrats.  Of course, unlike John Kennedy in Berlin, he didn’t say it in German, though, had he been at a gathering of chicken dippers, he probably would have amended his declaration to profess his unambiguous affiliation with…chicken dippers, whatever they are.  Thus, the self-proclaimed “blank screen” that is the Obamessiah assumes a Paulian characterization for himself.  From the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 9:20-22:

20And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

21To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

22To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

Politico reports the surprising declaration with the appropriate sense of awe it deserves, given the Artful Dodger’s previous reluctance to be as labeled, be it as liberal, Socialist, centrist, whatever:

President Barack Obama firmly resists ideological labels, but at the end of a private meeting with a group of moderate Democrats Tuesday afternoon he offered a statement of solidarity.

“I am a New Democrat,” he told the New Democrat Coalition, according to two sources at the White House session.

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