Sunday, January 31, 2010

John Marty: Ninety nine and a half percent

Ninety six! Ninety seven! Ninety eight! Ninety nine!

Ninety nine and half percent won’t do!

Spot was reminded of these words to the great gospel song when John Marty was delivering his riff on 93% health care coverage as “universal coverage.” John was our guest at Drinking Liberally on January 28th. Here’s a video of some of his remarks:

There was a large and boisterous crowd in attendance for the senator’s remarks.

There is a new lighting setup at the 331 Club that I’ve not entirely figured out yet; the quality of the video isn’t great, but the audio is good.

Sammy the middle schooler

From the lede in Frank Rich’s column this morning in the New York Times, The State of the Union is Comatose:

HANDS down, the State of the Union’s big moment was Barack Obama’s direct hit on the delicate sensibilities of the Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The president was right to blast the 5-to-4 decision giving corporate interests an even greater stranglehold over a government they already regard as a partially owned onshore subsidiary. How satisfying it was to watch him provoke Alito into a “You lie!” snit. Here was a fight we could believe in.

More satisfying, at least to Spot, would have been if Obama had handled it the same way that middle school teachers sometimes do when kids are whispering in class.

Stop and ask, “Sammy, do you have something you want to say to the whole class?”

“Um, no.”

“All right, then; please be quiet.”

An enormous breach of protocol, of course, but so is doing pantomime in the well of the House (where the Supremes sit, up front, along with the military brass) during the State of the Union address. The likelihood that Alito would have stood up and delivered a stirring defense of Citizens United is about zip (and without a microphone, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway), especially since Obama was describing the very real potential for foreign influence on elections in the wake of the decision.

Frank had some other great observations about the address and, well, the state of the union. Rich is a trenchant and colorful observer, and his entire column is very good, but here are just a couple of grafs:

In Obama’s speech, he kept circling back to a Senate where both parties are dysfunctional. The obstructionist Republicans, he observed, will say no to every single bill “just because they can.” But no less culpable are the Democrats, who maintain “the largest majority in decades” even after losing Teddy Kennedy’s seat — and yet would rather “run for the hills” than accomplish anything.

What does strong Senate leadership look like? That would be L.B.J. in the pre-Kennedy era. Operating with the narrowest of majorities and under an opposition president, he was able to transform a sleepy, seniority-hobbled, regionally polarized debating society into an often-progressive legislative factory. As Robert Caro tells the story in his book “Master of the Senate,” this Senate leader had determination, “a gift for grand strategy,” and a sixth sense for grabbing opportunities for action before they vanished for good. He could recognize “the key that might suddenly unlock votes that had seemed locked forever away” and turn it quickly. The horse trading with recalcitrant senators was often crude and cynical, but the job got done. L.B.J. knew how to reward — and how to punish.

* * *

Perhaps McCain was sneering [during the speech] at Obama because of the Beltway’s newest unquestioned cliché: one year after a new president takes office he is required to stop blaming his predecessor for the calamities left behind. Who dreamed up that canard — Alito? F.D.R. never followed it. In an October 1936 speech, nearly four years after Hoover, Roosevelt was still railing against the “hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing government” he had inherited. He reminded unemployed and destitute radio listeners that there had been “nine crazy years at the ticker” and “nine mad years of mirage” followed by three long years of bread lines and despair. F.D.R. soon won re-election in the greatest landslide the country had seen.

Obama should turn up the heat on both the G.O.P’s record of fiscal recklessness and its mad-dog obstructionism. He should stop paying lip service to the fantasy that his Congressional opposition has serious ideas to contribute to the cleanup. Better still, he should publicize exactly what those “ideas” are.

In a departure from several of his other speeches during the first year of his term, Obama only used the term “bipartisan” twice. (Spot counted.) Republicans have demonstrated time and time again they have no interest in bipartisanship. “Bipartisanship” is just self flagellation at this point. Remember, while Tony Scalia may be an Opus Dei member; Barack Obama is not.

It is clear to Spot that FDR and Lyndon Johnson, and not Bill Clinton, who lost both houses of Congress in the midterms after his first election, show the way forward for Barack Obama.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why industrial policy – that is, having one - matters

The lede from an article in Saturday’s New York Times:

TIANJIN, China — China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States last year to become the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, and is poised to expand even further this year.

China has also leapfrogged the West in the last two years to emerge as the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. And the country is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants.

These efforts to dominate the global manufacture of renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.

Tony Winkret said during his DL visit that relying entirely on the “market” for an industrial policy is an industrial policy for people too lazy to actually have one.

NYT photo

A remembrance of Howard Zinn on KTNF

From an email from Andy Driscoll:

James Mayer of Twin Cities AM950's "Of the People" and I are collaborating on a special of his program airing from 3:00 to 4:00PM Sunday (tomorrow), Jan 31, in honor of the lifelong contributions of the great historian, author and progressive mentor to all, Howard Zinn, who died last Wednesday at age 87 from a heart attack while visiting family in California and giving yet another of his great talks. Howard's landmark book first published in 1980 - "A People's History of the United States," stands forever as a counterweight to the often distorted views published and taught in elementary and secondary schools, absent as they are of the perspective of those who sacrificed their people, their lands and /or their human dignity to create wealth for the colonial powers that settled America.

Tune in and join the conversation about Howard Zinn with AM950's James Mayer and KFAI's Andy Driscoll on "OF THE PEOPLE".

We'll hear the words of Bill Moyers, Matthew Rothschild (Progressive Magazine), and talk with Zinn's closest friends and colleagues, retired Macalester Professor Henry and wife, Pat West along with longtime Zinn friend, Marv Davidov. And YOU.

And we'll hear the wisdom of Howard Zinn from the horse's mouth in his past appearances on Twin Cities radio shows, TruthToTell and Of the People and read from his books, "A People's History of the United States" and "Voices of A People's History," the latter written with Anthony Arnove.

Sunday, Jan 31 - 3:00-4:00PM - on KTNF - 950 on the AM dial - or STREAM US LIVE AT <>

Join us tomorrow at 3:00PM. Call in with your thoughts and remembrances of Howard Zinn:  952-946-6205.

Spot says not to miss this one.

Update: Bob Herbert had an affecting remembrance of Howard Zinn in the New York Times today. And I meant “affecting,” not “affectionate,” although it is that, too.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Citizens United – again II

Please see:

Citizens United – again

Jes’ folks like everybody else

Doug Tice edits Katie

In Citizens United – again, I mentioned that one concern arising out of the opinion in Citizens United was the prospect that the Supreme Court would expand the idea of corporate personhood beyond “speech” or advocacy into campaign contributions. Nate Persily, writing at Balkinization, articulates the concern:

The opinion's significance will be greatly magnified, however, by the doubt it might cast on the soft money contribution restrictions of [McCain–Feingold], which ban corporate and union treasury contributions to political parties. My guess is that, in their heart of hearts, five members of the Court want to strike those down as well, even though we are a long way off from that happening. Citizens United could erase many of the distinctions between corporations and other voluntary associations by questioning the special corruption threat ("the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth amassed through the corporate form") the Court has recognized as flowing from corporate participation in elections. If the special corruption threat posed by corporations and unions is taken away, then it becomes more difficult to justify a ban, as opposed to simply a limit, on their contributions to parties.

Persily is a law professor at Columbia Law School; he is suggesting that Citizens United may well be just a step along the path.

Let’s follow up on that and come back to the raison d'être for campaign finance laws: corruption. One of Professor Persily’s sidekicks at Balkinization, Heather Gerken, wrote in the American Prospect:

The truth is that the most important line in the decision was not the one overruling Austin [one of the precedents overruled by Citizens United]. It was this one: "ingratiation and access . . . are not corruption." For many years, the Court had gradually expanded the corruption rationale to extend beyond quid pro quo corruption (donor dollars for legislative votes). It had licensed Congress to regulate even when the threat was simply that large donors had better access to politicians or that politicians had become "too compliant with the[ir] wishes." Indeed, at times the Court went so far as to say that even the mere appearance of "undue influence" or the public's "cynical assumption that large donors call the tune" was enough to justify regulation. "Ingratiation and access," in other words, were corruption as far as the Court was concerned. Justice Kennedy didn't say that the Court was overruling these cases. But that's just what it did.

Professor Gerken teaches at Yale.

Next up, we’ll talk about where the Congress might go from here. The names Alan Grayson, Al Franken, Bruce Ackerman, and Ian Ayres may come up.

Citizens United - again

There has been a lot written, and some here, too, about the recent Citizens United decision. Not all of it has been illuminating, and there has been some of that here, too. It is perhaps necessary to look at the facts of the case, and at our old friend the procedural posture, to make out the outline of what will be a continuing debate.

The case involved the airing (on cable television) of a conservative docudrama about Hillary Clinton, produced by Citizens United, a conservative 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation (the name proving once again how brain dead conservatives are to irony). You can’t deduct your contributions to a 501(c)(4), since it isn’t a charitable organization.

The film, just called Hillary in the Supreme Court opinion, featured a star-studded cast of the caliber of Ann Coulter, who was, in fact, in it. Fearing that its obvious hit piece on Hillary Clinton was “electioneering” of the kind prohibited by federal election law near a federal election, would be prohibited by the FEC, and maybe earn it a big fine, Citizens United sought an injunction to prevent the FEC from enforcing the law.

The district court said, in effect, you know, now that you mention it, it is electioneering (the advocacy for or against a candidate, not an issue), which is prohibited under McCain – Feingold by corporations or unions within 30 days of a federal election. It refused the requested declaratory and injunctive relief. Citizens United appealed. The case was briefed and argued once.

The Supreme Court took the extraordinary step of telling the parties to go back and re-brief and reargue the case, saying, in essence, we want to take a look at the big picture, here. The Roberts five was spoiling to overturn a couple of the court’s precedents, and when the court asked for reargument, the handwriting was on the wall.

It is important to remember that the case involved speech, not direct contributions to candidates, although the decision has implications for that, too, which is one of the reasons that it is so worrisome. More on that later.

Citizens United did open the floodgates of corporate money for “electioneering,” but it does not mean, at least yet, that corporations – or unions – can give unlimited amounts of money directly to candidates. And while Citizens United, the organization, is a non-profit, Citizens United, the decision, is not limited to non-profits.

This fall, you can look forward to corporate ad buys right before the election that say directly: vote for X because blah blah blah, or against Y for the same reasons.

You can see how Doug Tice would argue that Citizens United merely leveled the playing field of all corporations with media corporations; superficially, it does that. But the true scope of the decision is far, far greater. Media corporations aren’t big government contractors, just for one example.

Campaign finance law is rooted in the concern about corruption of the political process. I’ll have more about that in following posts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jes’ folks like everybody else

From this morning’s StarTribune:

Is democracy in peril? That's the conclusion of many political operatives and campaign finance reformers after Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, which removed some restrictions on corporate participation in political campaigns. In fact, the opposite is true (Star Tribune, Jan. 22).

Unless one believes more voices and more speech is "chaos," as one professor said, or prefers elections in which the political parties and the candidates they force upon us have more ability to control the information the public receives, as one GOP activist put it, then the court's decision is a big victory for robust and open debate.

Furthermore, corporations -- which are really just associations of people -- do not speak with one voice. They are large and small, for-profit and nonprofit, and often have widely diverging interests.

Refreshingly, the court's decision trusts the people themselves to make responsible judgments about the information they receive. In an age of increasing regulation and paternalism, that is a message some don't want you to hear.



You’re absolutely right, Jason, corporations are just “associations of people.” Of course, so was the Wehrmacht. Al Qaeda is just an association of people, too, isn’t it?

And who can forget, as Tbogg (at least Spot thinks that’s who it was; he can’t find a link at the moment) reminds us, Soylent Green is people, too.

Rarely in the history of constitutional jurisprudence has such sophomoric thinking and rhetoric been offered to justify, well, such a sophomoric Supreme Court decision. Perhaps Jason will remind us soon that two wrongs don’t make a right. Jason isn’t alone, however.

First, there was Mitch McConnell and our own Doug Tice arguing that the decision merely levels the playing field between media corporations and other corporations. It would be tragic, in their view, if any corporation is left behind. Spot is sure they are both still sobbing with relief that the injustice has been cured.

And now comes Jason offering the jes’ people gambit. After all, says Jason, corporations come in all shapes and sizes, just like people! Big, little, for profit and non-profit.

But ask yourselves, which corporations on Jason’s little list are likely to spend big dollars? If you really think it’s the small ones, or the non-profits (except maybe ones that are bankrolled by other institutions for other than charitable purposes), you’re kidding yourself. Jason also forgot one category of corporations: foreign owned or controlled.

Jason, until a corporation checks itself in for a colonoscopy, Spot ain’t buyin’ it.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who read his long dissent in Citizens United from the bench, called the personhood of corporations a “conceit.”

It’s every bit of that, but Spot would add that it’s a delusion, too.

It is either naive or cunning of Jason to write that the court in Citizens United was putting its trust in the “people.” Never mind that the court already fuzzed up the meaning of people. It is a regrettable fact that the candidate with the most money behind him or her often wins. The decision is only going to assist in the transformation of elections into auctions.

Update: Forgot the link to Adkins’ letter; sorry.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


That’s an acronym for Pass the Damn Bill. It’s public sentiment urging the House to pass the Senate bill. It seems this is the only way that health care reform, in any form, is going to pass.

“Paul Krugman ain’t gonna like this”

That’s what Spot said to himself when he read that President Obama proposed a (partial) spending freeze for the federal government, and he was right. Krugman commented on it today in his blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, in a post entitled Obama Liquidates Himself.

A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback?

It’s appalling on every level.

It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

Here’s the stinger:

It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.

By that, Krugman means, at least Spot think he does, that health care spending is a problem to more than the federal budget: it is a national income killer. By literally every measure, we spend an order of magnitude more money on health care per capita than other industrial countries, and we get less for it.

At the final Drinking Liberally

331-front-split-toned-with- Ha! Made you look. It will be the last DL session before the precinct caucuses next week. That’s January 28th, starting at six PM. We’ll meet, as usual, in the friendly confines of the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

State Senator John Marty has the last guest spot at DL before the caucuses. John will join us around seven for some remarks and a meet and greet.

Senator Marty is probably best known as the primary author of health care legislation in Minnesota to create a single-payer health care system. When other candidates for the DFL endorsement want to demonstrate their health care bona fides, they’ll often say, “I’m a co-author of the Marty bill,” or, “I support the Marty bill.”

Senator Marty is also a critic of the way we finance campaigns in the United States. He’s the author of a recent post at Democracy for America entitled “An Election, not an Auction.”

With health care and campaign finance much in the news, John’s remarks will be especially timely.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's January in Saint Paul

So it's time for a photo of President Obama with a being that looks suspiciously like a Winter Carnival Vulcan. We will avoid all Vulcan-on-Vulcan dancing references.

Doug Tice edits Katie

But it appears that the reverse may be true, too. In an opinion piece in the StarTribune today, opinion page editor Doug Tice defends last week’s Supreme Court decision to open the floodgates of corporate money for campaign contributions [it’s the Citizens United case, if you want to search for other references].

The gravaman of his argument is that media corporations have a big megaphone, so why shouldn’t other companies have one, too? This is a piece of thinking for which Katie would indeed be proud:

Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld this elementary truth [that political debate that is supposed to shape and control government] with a sweeping ruling throwing out many restrictions on the free political speech of corporations and of other associations, like labor unions and advocacy groups. The decision threw editorial boards at some influential newspapers into a frenzy of indignation.

What's strange is that all these editorialists are salaried spokespeople for, well, corporations. Speaking with the so-called "institutional voice" of their employers, they routinely endorse candidates for public office, usually in the decisive weeks of campaigns. This involves contributing to candidacies not just a message of support, but whatever credibility and influence has been amassed through the newspaper corporation's long exertions and investment.

It’s a novel argument, Spot; you have to admit that.

It’s not even novel, grasshopper; it’s just a talking point. Mitch McConnell made the same point on one of the talking heads Sunday shows yesterday. But let’s ask Doug a question, just for giggles. Which of these things is not like the others:

1) Writing a letter to the editor decrying the state of pothole repair in Metropolis.

2) Attending the church of your choice on Sunday, or not attending one, if that’s your choice.

3) Writing an opinion piece or even an unsigned editorial in a newspaper about a candidate.

4) Mounting a street demonstration to protest the war in Afghanistan.

5) Telephoning your state representative to urge her to restore the GMAC cuts.

6) A corporation shoveling money at a politician until he chokes.

What’s that you say, Doug? They’re all the same to you? The first five are traditional exercises of the freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and the petition for redress of grievances. The last one? A horse of a different color, Spot says.

The personhood of corporations and the equivalence of money and speech are two of the more corrosive things that have happened to First Amendment jurisprudence in the last century, and they are among the loopiest, too. The fact that Justice Scalia is such a fan of both ideas gives the lie to his boast that he is an “originalist.”

In spite of what Tice says about the Supreme Court merely following precedent, the Citizens United decision, while foreordained given the composition of the court, was, in fact, massive judicial activism striking down long-standing federal law. Supreme Court Justices used to lecture lawyers from the bench that the court reaches constitutional questions last; not this crew. It asked the parties to rebrief the case, because it wanted to get to the good parts.

Jim Kunstler wrote a little bit about it this morning in his weekly rant, Clusterfuck Nation:

. . .  That's why movements like Nazism start. If there ever was another nation beautifully primed for an explosion of deadly irrational politics, it's us. And it looks to me as if that's exactly what we're going to get -- especially now that the Supreme Court has made it possible for corporations to buy elections lock, stock, and barrel. I hope our constitutional law professor president turns his attention to proposing a legislative act that will sharply reign in the putative "personhood" prerogatives of corporations. They are relatively new entities in legal history, and their supposed "rights," duties, obligations, and limits have been regularly subject to re-definition over the past hundred years.  There's no reason to believe that the court's current ideas are definitive. In fact, they are completely crazy -- given the fact that the fundamental character of corporations is sociopathic, insofar as their only express allegiance is to their shareholders, meaning they are devoid of any sense of the public interest, meaning they are unfit to participate in electoral politics.

Update: It is also worth mentioning that in the political contribution area, as opposed to the realm of freedom of the press, media companies enjoyed no advantage over other corporations. And there was no restraint on any of them starting a newspaper, and little restraint on acquiring a broadcast license. The fact that media companies have ownership like Rupert Murdoch, General Electric, and Disney Corporation also demonstrates just how absurd Tice’s complaint is.

Walking the River Avon

From a description of features on the Malmesbury Civic Trust River Walk:

Cross the road to the Memorial Gates (commemorating those who fell in World War II) and follow the Walkway. The land to your right is Rack Meadow, where cloths from Avon Mill were hung to dry, next to Cucking Stool Meadow, where unruly women were ducked in the river. Avon Mill (Old Silk Mill) was built in 1793 by Francis Hill to Introduce new machinery into the wool industry. Unfortunately the quality was poor. After prospering whilst making cloth for uniforms during wartime the business failed in peacetime. For 90 years after 1852 it produced silk ribbons, finally being converted into flats in 1986.

You can see Cucking Stool Meadow as the banner to this blog.

Update: It is probably worth mentioning, however, that the Stool “ducks” both the communis rix and the communis rixatrix.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Katie reads the kitty litter

But Spot, Katie is a dog person!

Nevertheless, grasshopper, it was the kitty litter she was sifting when she came up with her op-ed piece today about Scott Brown winning a special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy. Here are a couple of grafs from the piece:

On Tuesday, we got incontrovertible evidence that the country has finally awakened from its yearlong, modern-day tent revival. Massachusetts citizens spoke for many across America: This man is not the messiah, he doesn't walk on water, and he was selling snake oil all along.

* * *

In fact, America hasn't moved to the left. On Tuesday, we saw this vividly in Massachusetts, where registered Republicans make up only 15 percent of the population. The Bay State hasn't elected a Republican senator since 1972. Last year, Obama coasted to victory there by 26 points.

Katie also tells us that Brown’s victory is cautionary tale for a party that governs too “arrogantly.”

You know, it probably does seem that way to Katie, a woman who takes a long bubble bath in Victimhood® every night, with a glass of white zinfandel perched on the tub, and while listening to podcasts of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Frank Rich, f/k/a The Butcher of Broadway, and a pretty clear-eyed thinker in Spot’s estimation, also considered the special election in Massachusetts:

It was not a referendum on Barack Obama, who in every poll remains one of the most popular politicians in America. It was not a rejection of universal health care, which Massachusetts mandated (with Scott Brown’s State Senate vote) in 2006. It was not a harbinger of a resurgent G.O.P., whose numbers remain in the toilet. Brown had the good sense not to identify himself as a Republican in either his campaign advertising or his victory speech.

Rich’s entire column is well worth the read. Rich says the loss of the seat was a symptom of a different problem than that identified by Katie’s sifting and sniffing: Obama’s apparent dithering on the economy and on actually delivering a health care bill. He concludes that it isn’t that Obama hasn’t been too arrogant, maybe rather the reverse. Rich has a better example of a cautionary tale for Obama to heed:

The incident unfolded in April 1962 — some 15 months into the new president’s term — when J.F.K. was infuriated by the U.S. Steel chairman’s decision to break a White House-brokered labor-management contract agreement and raise the price of steel (but not wages). Kennedy was no radical. He hailed from the American elite — like Obama, a product of Harvard, but, unlike Obama, the patrician scion of a wealthy family. And yet he, like that other Harvard patrician, F.D.R., had no hang-ups about battling his own class.

Kennedy didn’t settle for the generic populist rhetoric of Obama’s latest threats to “fight” unspecified bankers some indeterminate day. He instead took the strong action of dressing down U.S. Steel by name. As Richard Reeves writes in his book “President Kennedy,” reporters were left “literally gasping.” The young president called out big steel for threatening “economic recovery and stability” while Americans risked their lives in Southeast Asia. J.F.K. threatened to sic his brother’s Justice Department on corporate records and then held firm as his opponents likened his flex of muscle to the power grabs of Hitler and Mussolini. (Sound familiar?) U.S. Steel capitulated in two days. The Times soon reported on its front page that Kennedy was at “a high point in popular support.”

Can anyone picture Obama exerting such take-no-prisoners leadership to challenge those who threaten our own economic recovery and stability at a time of deep recession and war? That we can’t is a powerful indicator of why what happened in Massachusetts will not stay in Massachusetts if this White House fails to reboot.

The Obama White House is apparently deploying some of its operatives from the 2008  around the country to shore up the Democrats’ fortunes.

Better, in Spot’s opinion, would be to take Rich’s advice and govern boldly. That’s the opposite of what Katie intimates, which is further confirmation of the soundness of Rich’s advice.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rukavina’s views on copper-nickel mining

At his appearance at Drinking Liberally on January 7th, Tom Rukavina, candidate for the DFL endorsement for governor, made his case for copper-nickel mining in northern Minnesota. Spot isn’t sure whether he’s persuaded or not, but Rukavina made a better case than Spot thought could be made when the question was asked. Judge for yourself.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Actually, it was more like the truculent scold you are

Michele Bachmann is rilly, rilly mad that Arlen Specter told her to hush and wait her turn. She interrupted Specter repeatedly when he was speaking during a joint appearance on a Philadelphia radio show:

Radio listeners in the City of Brotherly Love got a dose of just the opposite yesterday when Michele Bachmann took to the airwaves with Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter.

The Stillwater Republican congresswoman, appearing on conservative talker Dom Giordano's radio show, took some on-air flak from Specter after repeatedly talking over him. The senator eventually became irate and told her to "act like a lady." (hear the full recording here)

One supposes that Michele would have felt better if Specter had said, “Be an gentleman,” and wait your turn.

The fact is, if you’re liberal or progressive appearing on conservative talk radio, you have to fend for yourself. You certainly can’t expect the drooling idiot radio host to help maintain decorum; he’ll (and they are virtually all “he”) will cheerfully throw gasoline on the fire.

Michele felt she was treated like “a little girl.”

You can understand Specter’s mistake, can’t you, boys and girls?

Update: Gail Collins at the New York Times thinks that Arlen Specter “lost it.” That is the narrative that Michele Bachmann would like you to believe. Ms. Collins is seemingly unaware of the treatment of liberals or progressives on conservative talk radio, and the propensities of the thin-skinned Michele Bachmann who can dish it out and then play, as MNO say, the victim.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Skipping along to Potterville

It is a good thing the weekend is almost here; Spot doesn’t know how much more good news he can take this week.

First, there was the election of a Republican in the special election for the seat held by Ted Kennedy since 1962.

Second was the announcement by President Obama that he would yet again negotiate with himself over health care reform. (Small consolation: Nancy Pelosi says the Senate bill is a no go in the House.) [but see the comments to the previous post]

Third, and in what could be the biggest blow to a functioning democracy: the ruling by the Supreme Court that dollars have First Amendment rights. The ruling was, as so many are today, made by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Justice John Paul Stevens argued against rule by a mob of dollars:

Justice John Paul Stevens read a long dissent from the bench. He said the majority had committed a grave error in treating corporate speech the same as that of human beings. His decision was joined by the other three members of the court’s liberal wing.

The corporatists, who were known as fascists in Italy in the 30s, have won. And they didn’t even have to call out the Guard to do it.

Update: And Thursday was capped, after this post was written, by the fact that Air America had slipped the surly bonds of earth and would be going off the air. (This doesn’t appear to affect KTNF that much, however, since there is little Air America programming on KTNF.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Obama’s Stockholm Syndrome

Sandy Levinson, the law professor at the University of Texas and an unabashed liberal, writes in Balkinization:

Today's Times indicates the possibility that President Obama is willing to sacrifice "universal coverage" for a "bi-partisan bill" that can gain Republican support. But doesn't he realize that it is simply not in the interest of the Republican Party to given him a scintilla of support for any kind of major health bill. Consider, from the Times story, "Republicans showed no new signs of willingness to work with the Democrats. Asked what he would be willing to work on with majority, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, offered meek praise for Mr. Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan but did not offer a single example on domestic policy."

The Republicans have whittled away at genuine health care reform like it was a bar of Ivory soap. (Spot tried to whittle the bust of a president out of a bar of Ivory soap in grade school art class.) If you compromise and compromise and compromise, you just wind up in a compromising position, and that’s where Obama find himself now.

Keith Ellison has doubts about voting for this stinker, for crying out loud.

Professor Levinson sums up where we find ourselves  — and where President Obama finds himself — very well. We’re on the cusp of a new election season with nothing to show for the last cycle.

Wait a minute, Spot! That isn’t true! We’re escalating the war in Afghanistan. That’s something!

But that won’t be much of a rallying cry for the Democrats this fall, grasshopper.

At this point, it seems to Spot that the best course would not be to compromise again. Better to make your best case for genuine health care reform, try your hardest to explain why single payer, or the public option, or whatever, is the best policy, and if it loses, it loses. “Winning” at this point looks pretty, well, pointless. And unlikely as well.

Spot has made a better case for HCR than the President has, but that’s damnation with faint praise. With the world’s most magnificent bully pulpit, Obama couldn’t explain how badly we fare in health care outcomes compared to most of the OECD, how we spend double the average of most industrialized countries per capita on health care, yet cover the a much smaller percentage of our citizens, how our health care system puts our industries at a competitive disadvantage, or how the infant mortality rate in New York City is worse than a lot of third world countries.

Was that so hard?

Hackett visits Drinking Liberally!

Maureen-Hackett Tomorrow night, the 21st of December JANUARY, actually.

Update: What a horrible mistake to make on the eve of the event. Apologies all around. And now it’s tonight, of course.

Dr. Maureen Hackett is a candidate for the DFL endorsement to run against the Republican Erik Paulsen in the Third Congressional District of Minnesota. Dr. Hackett is a psychiatrist and a veteran.

As always, we meet from six to nine PM, or so, at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis. We do expect our guest to arrive around seven for some remarks and a meet and greet afterwards.

Modeling as a hobby

We’ve talked a bit of late about Jaron Lanier and his remarkable and prescient statement that information underrepresent reality, and his criticism of models and algorithms to represent reality. Economists, especially, love models.

But there are a lot of things that make economic models difficult, and as Lanier might say, unrepresentative of reality. The failure to account for externalities is one reason that economic models are like Lionel trains compared to the real thing.

Do you have any real world examples of what you’re talking about, Spot?

Why yes, grasshopper; it’s funny you should ask.

A few days ago, King Banaian (here’s a ear worm for you: every time Spot thinks of the Professor, Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King starts to play in his head) bleated, Spot means tweeted, about the fact that India’s version of the 1938 Volkswagen Beetle, selling for $2500 in India, might retail for $8,000 in the US! Criminal! It’s the safety and environmental bullies to blame, of course.

Well, Charlie picked up the tweet, observant fellow that he is.

Banaian has been playing with his Lionels so long that he refuses to — or maybe no longer can — recognize what the DOT safety and the EPA environmental rules represent: the political effort of government to make a manufacturer of goods account for more of the externalities of the cost of their production and sale of articles in the stream of commerce. To better approximate reality, that is.

It is foolish and callow to assert, or even think, that the sale of an automobile without safety or environmental considerations doesn’t impose these costs on everyone else: anybody with respiratory problems, or anyone who pays insurance premiums for car or health insurance, or someone who pay property taxes that support institutions like Hennepin County Medical Center where trauma patients are handled, sometimes without compensation.

But they don’t fit well in Banaian’s arithmetic, so we’ll pretend they don’t exist.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Digital numbskullery

We’ll return to Jaron Lanier’s article The Serfdom of Crowds in the February Harper’s Magazine that Spot mentioned yesterday. The thrust of Lanier’s argument presented in the article:

At the time the Web was born, in the early 1990s, a popular trope was that a new generation of teenagers, reared in the conservative Reagan years, had turned out to be exceptionally bland. The members of “Generation X” were characterized as blank and inert. The anthropologist Steve Barnett saw in them the phenomenon of pattern exhaustion, in which a culture runs out of variations of traditional designs in their pottery and becomes less creative. A common rationalization in the fledgling world of digital culture back then was that we were entering a transitional lull before a creative storm—or were already in the eye of one. But we were not passing through a momentary calm. We had, rather, entered a persistent somnolence, and I have come to believe that we will escape it only when we kill the hive. [at page 19]

Lanier says that the “digital hive” affects the way we think:

People degrade themselves all the time in order to make machines seem smart. Before the 2008 stock-market crash, bankers believed in supposedly intelligent algorithms that could calculate credit risks before the bank makes bad loans; we ask teachers to teach to standardized tests so a student will look good to an algorithm. We have repeatedly demonstrated our species’ bottomless ability to lower our standards to make information technology good, but every manifestation of intelligence in a machine is ambiguous. The same ambiguity that motivated dubious academic artificial intelligence projects in the past has been repackaged as mass culture.  . . . [at page 15]

High stakes tests in education are the apotheosis of the phenomenon. They are, to use Lanier’s terminology, evidence of a “persistent somnolence.” A numbing and dumbing ushered in by the conservative era but encouraged and elevated by a deference to the algorithm.

This is a system better prepared to produce thousands or millions of identical cans of tuna (until the tuna are gone, anyway) rather than an educated population capable of continuing cultural variation and creativity.

It isn’t only K-12 education that has suffered from numbskull hive thinking. Higher education, especially in fields like economics, has also taken a big hit. This is a bit from a 2008 New York Times  interview with the economist Jamie Galbraith:

Do you find it odd that so few economists foresaw the current credit disaster? Some did. The person with the most serious claim for seeing it coming is Dean Baker, the Washington economist. I saw it coming in general terms.

But there are at least 15,000 professional economists in this country, and you’re saying only two or three of them foresaw the mortgage crisis? Ten or 12 would be closer than two or three.

What does that say about the field of economics, which claims to be a science? It’s an enormous blot on the reputation of the profession. There are thousands of economists. Most of them teach. And most of them teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. [italics are Spot's]

You’re referring to the Washington-based conservative philosophy that rejects government regulation in favor of free-market worship? Reagan’s economists worshiped the market, but Bush didn’t worship the market. Bush simply turned over regulatory authority to his friends. It enabled all the shady operators and card sharks in the system to come to dominate how we finance.

An entire generation of economics teachers and financiers have elevated the model of the economy to the point where they think it is the economy, and the economists have taught it to their students. Famously, to Spot, anyway, Ton Winkret (“NBBooks” at Kos) told a story during his appearance at Drinking Liberally about a noted economist — who didn’t understand that information underrepresents reality — who said that the economic bubble wouldn’t burst because he “didn’t see it coming out of his models.”

The whole Winkret video is worth watching, because it is full of examples of this kind of thinking at work.

Lanier calls his book a “manifesto,” urging that we’ll have to work hard to avoid confusing information and the algorithm with reality.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tom Emmer: modern-day Polonius

You remember Polonius, of course:

Father of Ophelia and Laertes, and Lord Chamberlain to King Claudius, he is described as a windbag by some and a rambler of wisdom by others. It has also been suggested that he only acts like a "foolish prating knave" in order to keep his position and popularity safe and to keep anyone from discovering his plots for social advancement. It is important to note that throughout the play, Polonius is characterized as a typical Renaissance courtier, who pays much attention to appearances and ceremonious behaviour.  . . .

Our modern-day Polonius had an op-ed in the StarTribune today where he wrote, inter alia, that the state could not “live on credit.” Of course it can, Tom, Governor Gutshot has been budgeting to do that as long as he’s been in office. Accounting shifts, thieving from “dedicated funds” like the Health Care Access Fund, and payment delays are Gutshot’s stock in trade.

In fact, in recent days, we’ve learned that Governor Gutshot is going to borrow another billion dollars from local school districts, that is, delay — and some question whether they’ll ever be made up — appropriated funds to the districts. Many of these districts are going to have to borrow money which will end up on the property taxpayers’ tab. But Gutshot will say with a straight face that he didn’t raise taxes.

Emmer’s specific complaint was about the size of the bonding bill, but his pontificating about the credit card mentality is just a general, transparent windbaggery.

And while he has your attention, or thinks he does, Emmer can’t resist taking a swing at the conservatives’ favorite whipping boy: public school teachers. Why those crafty teachers, getting paid for steps and lanes, and not for student achievement!

Emmer doesn’t stop to explain what steps and lanes are, or how they work; he may not understand them himself. But this is it in a nutshell:

An ordinary public school teachers’ contract has a new or beginning teacher level of compensation, and for each year of experience in teaching, the teacher receives an incremental raise. But the sky is hardly the limit, after several years of teaching, a teacher maxes out and only receives a raise if the district negotiates a new contract with a higher level of compensation. The raises this go around of negotiations have been for a freeze, or maybe a one or two percent raise.

Emmer and Gutshot and others want you to think that teachers who just stick around can make more and more forever. That isn’t the way it works.

The other way to earn more as a teacher is to get more education, that is, to improve yourself as a teacher. Teachers with Master’s Degrees make more than teachers with the basic bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. When you get more education, you can “change lanes.”

Now, that doesn’t sound so sinister, does it?

But Emmer thinks that students’ test scores should be the only way — or certainly the primary way — we compensate teachers.

Jaron Lanier, sometimes called the “father of virtual reality,” and the author of a book just out called You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, Alfred A. Knopf (2010), discusses this very issue. There is an article excerpted from the book in the February issue of Harper’s Magazine, entitled The Serfdom of Crowds. There was one passage, well, there were several, that caught Spot’s attention:

. . .  Education has gone through a parallel transformation [to Facebook’s transformation and degradation to the concept of “friendship”], and for similar reasons. Information systems need to have information in order to run, but information underrepresents reality. Demand more from information than it can give and you end up with monstrous designs. Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, for example, U.S. teachers are forced to choose between teaching general knowledge and “teaching the test.” The best teachers are thereby often disenfranchised by the improper use of educational-information systems. [italics are Spot’s]

What computerized analysis of all the country’s school tests has done to education is exactly what Facebook has done to friendships. In both cases, life is turned into a database. Both degradations are based on the same philosophical mistake, which is the belief that computers can presently represent human thought or human relationships. These are things computers cannot currently do. Whether one expects computers to improve in the future is a different issue. In a less idealistic atmosphere it would go without saying that software should be designed only to perform tasks that can be successfully carried out at a given time. That is not the atmosphere in which Internet software is designed, however. When technologists deploy a computer model of something like learning or friendship in a way that has an effect on real lives, they are relying on faith. When they ask people to live their lives through their  models, they are potentially reducing life itself.

Harper’s Magazine, February, 2010, page 18.

Test scores appeal to the bug-eyed control freakism of Tom Emmer, Governor Gutshot, and their faithful, but as Lanier suggests, high-stakes test scores tell you little or nothing about actual learning, or even further removed, teacher performance.

Rewarding teachers for becoming more experienced and better educated is the traditional way for a reason. Systems are in place to supervise, discipline, and fire teachers, too.

What the kids bring to school is vitally important, and it isn’t fair to teachers to make them responsible for that. It’s a theme worth exploring, and Spot intends to do that over the next several days.

Hear John Lewis on Martin Luther King

This is up on the Democratic Party site:


Sunday, January 17, 2010

St. Paul piles on

Word now comes that St. Paul might file a friend of the court brief in the unallotment lawsuit against Governor Gutshot. You’ll recall that a Ramsey County judge ruled against Gutshot’s use of unallotment for a dietary assistance program in a suit brought by six indigent Minnesota residents. The case is currently on appeal.

Spot hopes that St. Paul, or somebody, anyway, makes the point that the entire unallotment statute is unconstitutional. Here’s one argument that Hamline School of Law Professor Mary Jane Morrison says can be advanced:

[T]he unallotment statute is unconstitutional because it allows the executive branch to decide the appropriations of this state—either because it does not expressly prohibit what he did or because it expressly allows the Commissioner of Finance and the Governor to exercise legislative functions.

Spot suggested this line of reasoning some time ago. And unallotment does run contrary to the Article III separation of powers in the Minnesota Constitution. The statute is the derogation of a power and a duty that cannot be assigned to another branch of government.

It’s me, It’s me, It’s me, O Lord

It’s me Lord, Kathy Kersten.

Oh, Katie, you again. Y’know, between you and MIchele, you don’t give a Diety a moment’s rest.

But Lord, it’s because there are so many thing to ask you about.

There are so many people to tattle on; that’s what you really mean, don’t you?

Me? Oh no, Lord, not me!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! [laughter sounds like pealing thunder]

Well, enough chit chat! Maybe I should get right to it.

That’s a good idea, Katie, because you’re sure not getting anywhere with your denials.

Okay, I wrote a column in the newspaper today about gay rights supporters being mean to people like me, righteous people who think that gays are an abomination and surely shouldn’t be recognized as people with, y’know, civil rights.

Yeah, I saw it.

[sounding pleased with herself] You did?

You forget, Katie; I see everything.

Right. Anyway, I catalogued examples of the gays being such bullies!

Anybody hurt?

I thought you saw everything.

Just work with me here.

No, I don’t think so. But they’re so unpleasant – never mind the abomination stuff – pointing people out and making fun of them; what kind of example does it set for the young people?

You’re right, Katie.We need more people to grow up and be like Carrie Prejean.


Kidding. I really did forget the irony warning buzzer on your model, didn’t I? Where did you get all the gay-hating stuff, anyway?

From none other than Moses, mostly.

Moses was a pretty deaf old man, and kind of a prude, too, when he took dictation from me about the laws. In fact, Michele and I had a conversation about it once; you might want to check the transcript. He filled in a lot of stuff himself.

You keep a transcript of prayers?

Of course, St. Peter can’t remember it all, and he is the gatekeeper.

Oh, my.

By the way, Katie, do you have any unmarried daughters?

You know I do; why?

Well, just think about it, okay? Other than Moses, who have you got for authority?

The apostle Paul, and he’s New Testament, too.

Paul? That guy was so far in the closet that I’m surprised he had enough light to write. If Paul was alive today, there’s no doubt in my mind he’d be a Republican buddy of yours. I notice that you didn’t mention the Kid.

No, he didn’t really talk about gays.

Well, you might think about that, too. Katie, you are a piece of work, if I do say so myself.

Why thank you; I’m made in your image, you know.

[shuddering] But what about all the other people; aren’t they made in my image, too? And maybe it’s you that should think a little about setting an example of tolerance.

I’ll have to think about that. Can I get back to you?

You know where to find me.

NB – To new readers here, this post may seem a little, well, derivative of Lily Coyle’s letter in the Strib, Friday’s Spotty (tm) winner. But Spot has been writing about conversations between Katie and MIchele and the Big Gal Upstairs for quite a while.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

akremer pitches forward into the abyss, or maybe just the ditch!

In a comment to Spot’s post about health insurance mandates, What do George Will and Tim Dolan have in Common?, the comment conversation veered into the ditch about insurance law mandates and driving rights in general. This is tangential to the topic of that post, but it should be fun.

akremer asserts in a comment (Echo doesn’t seem to provide links to comments the way that Haloscan did) that “there is no constitutional right to drive a car.” (Laying aside equal protection rights if driving is permitted, a proposition to which akremer agrees.) The sadistic SOBs and DOBs called law professors – Spot is not one; heaven forfend – love things called hypotheticals, torture often based on analyzing assumed fact situations unlikely or impossible in the real world.

So here’s the hypothetical:

The EPA – and the Congress, if you wish – decide to ban private automobiles as part of an effort to get greenhouse gases under control. You must further assume (because Spot says you must and because it is true) that the EPA and Congress have the power to regulate green house gases.

Can you get akremer back on the road? And if so, how?

There is one additional assumption: you can’t use the ballot box to do it; in other words, assume there is no legislative solution is on the horizon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lily Coyle: newest Spotty (tm) winner!

the_spotty Spot has been trying to figure out how to comment on Pat Robertson’s belief that it was the Vengeful Sky Dude who caused the earthquake in Haiti. But the muse has been sitting this one out. No matter: Lily Coyle of Minneapolis, in a letter in today’s Strib, has the answer:

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

For her truly inspired letter from Lucifer, Lily wins a Spotty (tm). Remember, boys and girls, a Spotty (tm) is awarded to someone who writes an op-ed piece, a letter to the editor, or a blog post or comment that Spot wishes he had written himself.

Spotty award badge by Tild.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What do George Will and Tim Dolan have in common?

See the update at the foot of the post.

Didn’t they both talk about health care recently?

Very good, grasshopper.

George Will, undoubtedly over a china teacup of bile and a croissant, pontificated on the unconstitutionality of individual mandates proposed in health care reform. He really said that it would probably be found constitutional, but tut tutted about the violence done to the Commerce Clause:

Opponents [read: Will] of the mandate say: Unless the Commerce Clause is infinitely elastic -- in which case, Congress can do anything -- it does not authorize Congress to forbid the inactivity of not purchasing a product (health insurance) from a private provider.

He went on to say that the Constitution’s principal purpose was to “promote inaction” on the part of the federal government. That’s true in the case of civil liberties, viz., the Bill of Rights, but Will’s case is laughable weak. There are actually two constitutional provisions that provide support for individual mandates, if Congress decides to go that way.

From Jack Balkin, a law professor at Yale who Spot had cites many times.

First, it’s a constitutional exercise of the general welfare clause (the clause in Article I, Section 8, Spot recalls, says “'promote the general welfare;” take that George):

The constitutional test is whether Congress could reasonably conclude that its taxing and spending programs promote the general welfare of the country. This test is easily satisfied. The new health care reform bill insures more people and prevents them from being denied insurance coverage because of preexisting conditions. Successful reform requires that uninsured persons — most of whom are younger and healthier than average — join the national risk pool; this will help to lower the costs of health insurance premiums nationally. Taxing uninsured people helps to pay for the costs of the new regulations. The tax gives uninsured people a choice. If they stay out of the risk pool, they effectively raise other people’s insurance costs, and Congress taxes them to recoup some of the costs. If they join the risk pool, they do not have to pay the tax. A good analogy would be a tax on polluters who fail to install pollution-control equipment: they can pay the tax or install the equipment.

The individual mandate is not a direct tax [which must be apportioned by state population]. The House’s version is a tax on income. Under the Sixteenth Amendment, income taxes do not have to be apportioned, regardless of the source of the income. The Senate’s version is an excise or penalty tax. [Under Supreme Court precedents, it is not direct because] [i]t is neither a tax on real estate nor a general tax on individuals. It is a tax on events: individuals who are not exempted are taxed for each month they do not pay premiums to a qualified plan.

Will ignores the general welfare clause entirely because the argument here is even weaker than the Commerce Clause. But Professor Balkin talks about that, too:

The individual mandate taxes people who do not buy health insurance. Critics charge that these people are not engaged in any activity that Congress might regulate; they are simply doing nothing. This is not the case. Such people actually self-insure through various means. When uninsured people get sick, they rely on their families for financial support, go to emergency rooms (often passing costs on to others), or purchase over-the-counter remedies. They substitute these activities for paying premiums to health insurance companies. All these activities are economic, and they have a cumulative effect on interstate commerce. Moreover, like people who substitute homegrown marijuana or wheat for purchased crops, the cumulative effect of uninsured people’s behavior undermines Congress’s regulation — in this case, its regulation of health insurance markets. Because Congress believes that national health care reform won’t succeed unless these people are brought into national risk pools, it can regulate their activities in order to make its general regulation of health insurance effective.

In truth, Will is just a well-spoken constitutional dunce.

But what about Tim Dolan, Spot?

Oh, thank you grasshopper.

Tim Dolan, the Chief of Police in Minneapolis, comments on the necessity of medical care from a street-level perspective:

Chief Tim Dolan, who said the city gets about 6,000 calls annually for people on the street suffering a medical ailment, or about 16 a day. One-fifth are homeless, he said, and nearly half the Minnesotans on GAMC live in Hennepin County.

It is important that they receive medical attention and needed medications, Dolan said, or they could become dangerous to themselves and others.

"It's a fragile, fragile web," Dolan said. "Losing GAMC funding is going to fracture that web."

He was speaking at a hearing on Governor Gutshot’s unallotment of GMAC, slated to take effect in March. Dolan was talking about a state program, not federal health care reform, but he does make the point that being without health care affects more than the individual involved. It’s a point that the empathy gene defective George Will cannot see.

It isn’t only the economic effects of the uninsured on everyone else: it’s a public safety issue as well.

Saturday morning update: This mandate issue is taking on the hysteria of the arguments about seatbelt laws or motorcycle helmet laws. These arguments had the same “freedom to refrain” theme in them. And there’re not bad analogies, either.

In the case of seatbelts and helmets and health insurance, the so-called “refraining” from doing something has the prospect of costing everyone else a lot of money. The cost of a broken back or busted melon to society in general and/or other policy holders specifically is great.

There comes a point when society is entitled to say that “refraining” from wearing a seatbelt – or buying health insurance if you can afford it – is so foolhardy and costly to everyone else that we’re going to require it.

Help the neighbors

Here’s a list of Haiti relief organizations from Flash. I’ll try to put these in the sidebar, but I don’t have time to do it today.

American Red Cross
Direct Relief International
Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)
International Medical Corps
Medical Teams International
Mercy Corps
Operation USA
Save the Children

Haiti is in deep, deep trouble, my friends. Send some money for the people there.

Update: One of Flash’s commenters left a link to a New York Times op ed about another relief organization, this one indigenous to Haiti:

But there are effective aid organizations working in Haiti. At least one has not been crippled by the earthquake. Partners in Health, or in Haitian Creole Zanmi Lasante, has been the largest health care provider in rural Haiti. (I serve on this organization’s development committee.) It operates, in partnership with the Haitian Ministry of Health, some 10 hospitals and clinics, all far from the capital and all still intact. As a result of this calamity, Partners in Health probably just became the largest health care provider still standing in all Haiti.

There are many stories about Creole Zanmi Lasante on the internet, but I can’t find a link to a site for contributions. Anybody have one?