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    • How Important Is The Drone Attack On The Saudi Oil Field?
      As you’d expect from the title, both more and less than it seems. The impact on oil prices is not that big a deal, despite the screaming. If they were to, say, wind up at $75/barrel for a few months, well the last time we had prices that high was… less than a year ago. […]
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Are you better off now than you were 400 years ago?

My sample ballot for the New Jersey primary on June 5, 2012.

We all know what went on four years ago.  RBC hearing, rules manipulation, voter disenfranchisement.  All voters are equal but some voters are more equal than others, blah, blah, blah.  You know the drill.  You’ve heard it for so long now that it’s just a persistent, high pitched whine that has faded into background noise and can easily be ignored. Or avoided.

That’s not what I want to talk about today.  I want to talk about choices.  Back when I had to make a choice about whether I wanted to persist in taking math heavy science courses, which my years of switching schools did not prepare me for, or something less anxiety producing, my academic advisor suggested I go into law.  Yep, she said, you might make a good lawyer.  But did I listen?  Noooo.  All I could think of was that a class on torts would make my ears bleed.  So, now I am not only an unemployed scientist, I am also forced to figure out just what the heck a “kill list” is from a legal standpoint.  And the closest I can come to it is a Bill of Attainder.

It’s funny how Obama is falling back on Thomas Aquinas for moral guidance because a bill of attainder is positively medieval.  Basically, a bill of attainder is a sentence of punishment without the inconveniences of all that due process shit that just gets in the way.  King Henry VIII was the kind of monarch I have in mind when it comes to bills of attainder.  For example, Thomas Cromwell was stripped of all his worldly goods before he was executed and all he did to earn it, so the rumor goes, was arrange the disastrous, unconsummated marriage of Henry with the innocent Anne of Cleves.  With a bill of attainder, property could be confiscated, rights stripped and heads debodied with relatively little fuss.  You don’t like someone?  They threaten you, are treasonous or just phenomenally bad matchmakers?  Get a bill of attainder, problem solved.

Bills of attainder are legislative solutions, by the way, that were explicitly forbidden by the US Constitution, (Article 1, section 9).  Traditionally, an executive needed to go to a legislative body of government to get one.  I’m guessing that back in the day, this was probably pretty easy to do, considering parliaments were made up of your peers. If it was good for the aristocracy, by golly, it was good enough for you.  But then the commoners started taking their rights a little more seriously and government began to change in the 17th century to more of a constitutional monarchy and then to the US Constitution where bills of attainder were upstaged by the Bill of Rights and had to get around all those annoying amendments.  But the writers must have been really serious about banning this kind of activity because you’d think that the explicit prohibition of bills of attainder in Article 1, section 9 would have been sufficient.  Apparently not, so due process was spelled out in the Bill of Rights to put additional speed bumps in the way.

Bills of attainder have not disappeared.  In the past 230+ years, there have been attempts to fashion bills of attainders.  But they’ve been modified by the courts.  But the “kill list” takes bills of attainders right back to the divine right of kings.  It’s good to know that Obama has a moral conscience (that little bit from the campaign ops about the philosophers was probably aimed at the college sophomores) and consults with a bunch of other people (WHO are we talking about, exactly?) about who makes the list but that’s not really in his job description and it’s not a legislative solution.  Or is it?  Did we sign away all our constitutional guarantees with the Patriot Act and the NDAA?  Did we unintentionally (or intentionally) authorize bills of attainder through legislation?

It’s not the first time that losing basic constitutional rights, like Habeas Corpus, has triggered a bad reaction from me but this new twist blows my mind.

It means that the Democratic Senate and “Democratic” president must have wanted it to happen. How else should we interpret it?  Bills of attainder are about as loathsome as law gets. Anyone can be deprived of all of their rights and property by one or several individuals based on a sneaking suspicion.  It’s really hard to believe that the Supreme Court would let this stand.  But this is not an ordinary Supreme Court.  It would have been better to never pass or sign the stupid bills to begin with.  Why would any president do it?  Isn’t the US Court system adequate?  Or do we expect so many traitors in the next couple of years that the courts would not be expected to process them all?  If that thought doesn’t bother you, go to an Occupy march sometime and count the riot police in military gear.

Voters should think about those questions this year.  If the idea of a bill of attainder on your head frightens you, think about what that means to the future of the country. What kind of system of government do we live under these days and who is really running the show?

Should you have seen this coming four years ago?  Yes, you should have seen it coming four years ago.  A guy who is willing to invalidate the elections of two states for his own gain is a guy who should have raised suspicions.  I know some fans were suckered in and got a little infatuated and acted like lovesick teenagers.  But to the rest of us, it just looked like a bad precedent to let the party mess with the elections on behalf of one guy.  One guy with money.  Money from a small group of rich bankers.  His peers.

Now that the orgasm has worn off, think about what it means to write off California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Florida and Michigan (list not exhaustive) to award the nomination to a guy who won caucuses in the sparsely populated states on the prairie.  And what the f&*( happened in Indiana?  That was just bizarre.  We just wrote those big states off, like they never even happened and we did if for a man who was in many respects a tabula rasa.  There are a lot of lefties who think our “problem” has something to do with Hillary Clinton but that’s a gross oversimplification of the issue.  Our problem is that more than half of the voters in the primaries were not counted and were silenced at the convention.  If it were Howard Dean who got the Hillary treatment, we’d never hear the end of  how outrageously unfair and unethical it is to disenfranchise 18 million voters. Right, guys?  You know I’m right.  But it’s Ok when it happens to someone else’s candidate.

Did we learn anything in the past four years?  I think some people have realized, too late, that they screwed up.  But is there something we can take from this example to guide us in the future?  I think the answer is that if you find out that a party and a candidate are willing to rewrite the rules on the fly and to apportion delegates to a candidate who wasn’t even on the ballot in one state in order to get a predetermined outcome, they will be more than willing to bend the rules to get what they want after the election is over.

I’d like to believe that there are still good people left in the party apparatus (still waiting for data on that) and that  those people would be willing to stand up and do what’s right.  If the primary system is meaningless, and all indications are that it is, then there should be little trouble questioning whether the “choice of no choice” this year is in the best interests of the party or the country.  Once upon a time, conventions were controversial and nomination votes went on for days until a nominee was selected.  Maybe this is the year to bring that back.

And there is still time for some of the more populous states of the nation to have their say.  Next week, California and New Jersey have their primaries.  Both states have a write in option.  Now is the time for voters to express their disapproval of the loss of their rights.  Maybe the spin doctors were able to write off the aberrations in the Arkansas, West Virginia and Kentucky primaries as racism.  But it’s harder to use that against California and New Jersey.

So, I am asking all voters in next week’s primaries to use your write in option to express your anger at the way this president and this Congress has trampled on your rights.  Write in a name.  You can choose whatever name you want.  Pick someone.  If you’re concerned with social/economic issues, why not Bernie Sanders?  If you are concerned with constitutional issues, why not Russ Feingold?  If you want a well rounded politician with experience, why not Hillary Clinton?  If you still think Howard Dean meant what he said about “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party”, write him in. YOU decide who that person is and write that name in.  These are big states and a write in campaign against the sitting president *will* get attention.

The Democrats, and particularly the Obama campaign, would like to control this election year so that nothing happens to distract the voters from the inevitability of Obama’s nomination.  And I say, fuck that shit. Don’t go down without a fight. What this country needs is a choice and some controversy and the ability to talk about stuff that concerns us without having some party apparatus muting our voices and changing the subject.

People are always asking, “I know it’s bad but what can we do??”.  You always have a choice.  Your vote is your own.  And just because Obama is the only named Democrat on the ballot in your state for President on the Democratic party’s ticket doesn’t mean you have to go along with the program.  All you need to do is tell two people and have them tell two people and so on and so on until there is critical mass (I’m guessing 30% of the voting Democrats would get their attention in a state the size of California).

Now, stop wringing your hands in frustration and worry.  You have 3 months to turn this ship around before the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina.  You can either be passive and allow the party to corral you because you are afraid of what might happen if you don’t go along with the program, or you can challenge the party and tell it to straighten up and fly right. Introduce some chaos so that the party isn’t just phoning it in this year.  Make them sweat. The last thing the party wants is a sign of disunity going into the general so its going to fight you.  But stand your ground and force it to have a national conversation about where it is planning to take the country in the future.

Because 400 years backwards is not my idea of progress.

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Uncle Sam Contracts Frater Magnus to Safeguard his Healthcare Liberty

Lincoln_A

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. – Abraham Lincoln

There’s a sucker born every minute. – P.T. Barnum

BenjaminFranklinWe, the People, are born every minute. The last ten years provides ample evidence about the regularity to which Lincoln alludes.

Geese are but Geese tho’ we may think ’em Swans; and Truth will be Truth tho’ it sometimes prove mortifying and distasteful. – Benjamin Franklin

The Constitution of the United States is like a manual for building a nation of equals before the law. It embodies the wisdom that some people gain power and freedom by stealing the power and freedom of others. It enacts principles to thwart those who conduct such thefts. “Liberty” is a common code word for describing the nation’s promise of power and freedom to its citizens.

Interestingly, the founders were all too aware that the apparatus they made to uphold the liberty of the nation’s citizens, i.e. the government, could also fall under the influence of those who would thieve the liberty of others. Accordingly, citizens must be mindful of what they, and others, ask of their government, while using the government as a tool to promote liberty, and other Constitutional and DOI objectives, and thwart liberty thieves. Unfortunately, some citizens are so focused on defending their liberty from the government that they lose sight of the reason that the government was created, i.e. they lose sight of the enemies of liberty. They are so focussed on the tree, that they lose sight of the forest that is being clearcut all around them. Continue reading

It’s Time to Downsize the US

Alexander_cuts_the_Gordian_KnotIn difficult circumstances, such as the current economic crisis, it’s normal to work out how one got there as a means to avoid repeating the process. In the current situation, the discussion seems to range between those who feel that the situation is already working itself out, to those who feel that structural dangers remain and proper regulation is required, to those who feel that the problems were the result of regulation and government programs in the first place.

Count me somewhat on the side of the last group. I say somewhat because I think that the problem has to with the inappropriateness of the regulations that were employed, but unlike them I do not think that the problem is humans using morals and reason to regulate the marketplace. In other, more localized, words, I reject the notion that the Tenth Amendment prohibits spending programs and regulations.

My sense is that the regulations that were deployed to prevent economic disaster were structurally and functionally inadequate because they half-heartedly represented the Great American Project as manifest in the Constitution of the United States. The problem with the regulations wasn’t that they were half-hearted. That half-heartedness is symptom of the larger problem. They were structurally and functionally inadequate because the US can no longer afford to provide its citizens the rights and freedoms guaranteed in its Constitution. The regulations failed because they had a relationship to expectations that are suited to an America that does not exist, in an economic sense. The problems with the public education system, illegal immigration, crime and punishment, and social security, to name a few, are all relatively easy to solve, once the very costly, burdensomeness of the Constitution is overcome. It’s time for America to wake up and downsize its’ dream, the dreams of its citizens, and smell the aroma of the box store, bulk size, generic coffee reality that its best and its brightest have packaged for Uncle Sam’s future.

Downsizing America

Given the economic realities of the new US of A, what aspects of the American vision should no longer be seen as part of the covenant between the citizens and their government? A quick look at some fundamentals of democracy should provide some context about what avenues should be open to being cut. Then the process of contracting out the bureaucratics to the private sector can begin. This said, these are preliminary thoughts, so all that I will provide is a rough and general sketch.

Democracy is expensive and inefficient, even when it’s practised by politicians who are not neo-conservative Republicans. This is unsurprising by design. After all, it’s said that, in an ideal democracy, the populace is educated, they have access to all of the information they need to make a good decision, and they are free to make that decision. How does this ideal fare when it faces the real world?

Immediately, one is struck by the gross redundancy in the ideal system. Providing that much information to so many amounts to an excessive effort for minuscule return. The set of possible decisions for any question is extremely limited, given the options for action, and polling research has already proven that we only need small sample populations to get the gist of what people want. In fact, given the history of their wants, and given the nature of the question, there is probably no need to poll them further because it should be derivable from past decisions. The cost savings to be gained by dismantling the information network should be substantial. Mainstream media can remain as is.

The efficacy of sampling also suggests a direction for schooling provision. Once again, the system is entirely redundant. Imagine, though it’s a laughable thought, that a university degree was all the education one needed to be capable of making good decisions. What do you think it would cost to bring the 71% of Americans who do not have a degree, into the range of democratic competence? How could it possibly be worth the cost? In fact, apart from the decreasing number of specialty jobs that actually require a well-schooled employee, there is no good reason to maintain anything, but a shell of the existing system, apart from creating athletes for the circus part of social diversion. This is because we can use the same polling methodology and randomly choose children from the masses to receive schooling similar to the one that is provided today, and then poll them to find what the rest would have wanted, if they had the schooling.

Given the earlier recommendation of using past polling to extrapolate their wants, this process is admittedly redundant, but it does double duty in terms of providing training for the small percentage of jobs that actually require advanced schooling. Then again, perhaps it is wasteful to randomly select children, as this disregards the advantages of choosing children who are more likely to do well at university, based on their family background. Given past polling, it’s probably best to err on the side of efficiency. The point to take here is that there is no value in giving people more schooling than they need to do the small range of relatively unskilled jobs that await them. Furthermore, think of the dissatisfaction that is avoided when people don’t have enough education to be hired below their level of training.

If the vast majority of people are no longer making decisions, then there’s no reason to prop up the facade that they actually are involved in decision-making. If voter turnout is any indication, many will appreciate avoiding the exercise. To be fair, eternal vigilance is an unwieldy burden to bear, if the only benefits people accrue is to not have decisions made for them by their betters.

In fact, if they are not needed for decision-making, their representatives are redundant for the same structural reasons. The cash to be gained, by trading in the clunker of a public decision-making structure, should be sigificant.

All of these actions would save the economy trillions and once again put America front and center as an economic powerhouse, through the tax dollars it would free up and save. At the same time, it would give Americans a leg up on the rest of the developed/undeveloping world, by readying its citizens for a life of diminished possibilities long before the others face the challenge, should they.

The Constitution is in the way of progress in the US, to the extent it promotes the values of the ideal democracy. Perhaps it was prescient to send home Churchhill’s bust because his notion that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”, seems to have gone bust for America.

chrwsbwp

This is “a frayed thread” in honor of GW’s administration crying wolf at election time.

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The Dignity of “No.”

liberty

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone.”
Henry David Thoreau – Walden

“When you take a person’s life, you take the most precious thing that person possesses”, according to Harry, Dexter’s father, in the television series “Dexter”, which is about a serial killer who solely targets serial killers. Murder, in this sense, is theft of the life of another or others.

Societies strongly sanction against the murder of their members, as a general rule, except for specific socially sanctioned cases.

It is important to not confuse being “alive” with having “a life.” We require the former to accomplish the latter, but existence, in and of itself, seems to be an inadequate foundation for providing a reason to exist.

Not long ago, others wiser than I offered the following account of our raison d’etre:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Accordingly, to have “a life” is to be free to pursue happiness. To foreshadow, if a person or group steals the freedom or means of others to pursue their happiness, is it a form of murder? Continue reading

Obama Administration Continues to Defend Bush Torture Policies

This is not unexpected, but still very dispiriting.

The Obama administration argued in court documents filed today that four former detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp who have sued over their treatment have no constitutional rights.

The suit was brought by four British men who say they were beaten, shackled in painful stress positions, threatened by dogs and subjected to extreme medical care during their time in the lockup at the US naval base in Cuba.

They also say they were harassed while practicing their religion, including forced shaving of their beards, banning or interrupting their prayers, denying them prayer mats and copies of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, and throwing a copy of the Qur’an in a toilet.

Donald Rumsfeld, war criminal

Donald Rumsfeld, war criminal

Daphne Eviatar briefly summarized the case, Rasul vs. Rumsfeld, in the Washington Independent.

According to their legal complaint, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed claim they traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 to offer humanitarian relief to civilians. In late November, they were kidnapped by Rashid Dostum, the Uzbeki warlord and leader of the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance. He turned them over to U.S. custody – apparently for bounty money that American officials were paying for suspected terrorists. In December, without any independent evidence that the men had engaged in hostilities against the United States, U.S. officials sent them to Guantanamo Bay.

Continue reading