Friday, August 31, 2007

Peddling horse manure, and not at the fair either

Kevin Drum made a chart for Professor Cole:

This is what the professor had to say about Administration claims that troop fatalities were down:

I mean, how brain dead do the Bushies think we are, peddling this horse manure that US troop deaths have fallen? (There are always seasonal variations because in the summer it is 120 F. in the shade and guerrillas are too heat-exhausted to fight; but the summer 2007 numbers are much greater than those for summer 2006; that isn't progress.) And why does our corporate media keep repeating this Goebbels-like propaganda? Do we really live in an Orwellian state?

Put them in bondage

Here's a letter in today's Star Tribune:

There've been numerous stories preceding the Republican National Convention in 2008 reporting extra costs and efforts dealing with expected demonstrations. St. Paul has already spent a half million dollars and yet needs even more equipment in the upcoming months. Minneapolis finances will also be sharply labored as the expected demonstrations there will be supported by the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union (MCLU). According to Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, these tight groups of lawyers are already preparing to defend protesters who stand to be arrested for their behavior.

Demonstrators who will likely be awarded the right to do their thing will also likely cause property damage and personal injury as part of their activity. Both cities can expect yet more costs to the taxpayer in subsequent trials.

Minneapolis and St. Paul should see that all demonstrators are bonded to protect us from financial loss. Those who are arrested and have no bond will be dealt with as the law dictates, and those holding bonds in the face of property loss and or personal injury will be financially responsible.

We can provide those demonstrators a warm welcome to our great cities but not allow them to cause disruption and encourage anarchy.


To put it charitably, Bill is an ignoramus. You can tell that right away boys and girls when Bill writes about the "likes" of the ACLU and MCLU and quotes Katie as a source. Bill didn't use the word "ilk" though, so that reduces the overall wing-nut score.

But the real clincher is Bill's suggestion that protesters be required to take out a bond to protect "us" from financial loss. Bill, Spot recognizes that "free speech" is probably a long and complicated phrase for you, and an even more elusive concept, but please believe Spot when he says that you cannot charge people to permit them to exercise their rights of free speech and assembly. It is a notion at once so ludicrous and poisonous that anyone suggesting it has no concept of a participatory democracy.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

And that goes for you two, too

Via Balkinization, here's a bit from a great post by hilzoy:

What about the 30-second spots [commercials that would appear criticizing a vote against FISA]? Dear God, Democrats: grow a spine. Figure out that if there's no principle for which you would willingly lose your office, then you don't deserve to hold it in the first place. The liberties enshrined in our Constitution matter more than your political careers.

And even if they didn't, this is not a moment when you need to be afraid. People don't like the Republicans. You are winning. Grow up and deal with it.

When Paul had his chat with you Amy and Tim, he said that the people who liked your FISA votes aren't going to support you anyway.

Pro bono publico

Although Katie got home from vacation last week and penned two columns, there wasn't a Katie column on Monday. Now we know why. Katie was building up steam in the boiler for today's ululation: The pinstripe brigade lines to defend convention scoff-laws. Katie is shocked an no doubt saddened to hear that the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union is recruiting lawyers, including ones for major firms, to represent protesters and others arrested for protesting during the Republican National Convention next summer. It's obvious from the tenor of the column that she is particularly incensed that some large firm civil and corporate types are signing up to help. Katie finds it hard to believe these champions of keeping the world safe for banks, insurance companies, investment capitalists, and other industrial and business concerns would betray their kind and represent the riff-raff—for nothing! Here are the opening grafs of the column:

A phalanx of Twin Cities lawyers is laying the groundwork for what may become the legal equivalent of the Super Bowl.

A campaign is underway to ensure that protesters at the 2008 Republican National Convention -- to be held here Sept. 1-4 -- will get a warm Minnesota welcome.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is leading the charge. It's lobbying St. Paul and Minneapolis officials to smooth the way for parade permits and considering lawsuits if necessary, while trying to arrange for demonstrators to protest as close to convention venues as possible.

Well, Spotty, Katie is a lawyer. She has the right to be incensed on behalf of the profession, doesn't she?

Spot says that by writing a column criticizing a large group of lawyers for preparing to represent what may prove to be a lot of people caught up in protests during the 2008 Republican convention in the Twin Cities, Katie fails her own duty as an officer of the court to help the public understand the profession's obligation to represent everyone, especially in criminal matters. Here is a part of the comment to Rule 1.2 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct:

Legal representation should not be denied to people who are unable to afford legal services, or whose cause is controversial or the subject of popular disapproval. A lawyer's representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client's political, economic, social or moral views or activities.

Rule 6.1 of these rules provides:

A lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year. In fulfilling this responsibility, the lawyer should:

(a) provide a substantial majority of the 50 hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to:

     (1) persons of limited means or

     (2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means; and

(b) provide any additional services through:

     (1) delivery of legal services at no fee or substantially reduced fee to individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect the civil rights, civil liberties or public rights, or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of standard legal fees would significantly deplete the organization's economic resources or would be otherwise inappropriate;

     (2) delivery of legal services at a substantially reduced fee to persons of limited means; or

     (3) participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.

In addition, a lawyer should voluntarily contribute financial support to organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

[italics are Spot's]

Here's the First Amendment to the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Protesting is both speech and assembly. It is constitutionally protected activity.

But Spotty, it says "peaceably to assemble."

That's right grasshopper, it does. But when federal, state, and local authorities get together—dare Spot say conspire?—to erect security cordon after security cordon around the convention venue as they did in New York, and confine protesters to pitiful "speech cages" far away from the conventioneers and politicians attending the convention, the question arises as to whether an unlawful denial of the rights of speech and assembly excuses some unruly-ness. It is not the Secret Service, after all, that is the interpreter of the First Amendment. And it most assuredly is not the Republican Party, either. As Katie observes, some of the activity of the pinstripe brigade will be to obtain parade permits and secure access by protesters in advance of the convention.

Spotty, didn't Katie cite with approval the offer of Hulk Hogan to represent the "John Does" in the "flying imams" litigation? And the lawyers' representation of white students trying to overturn a minority admission program at the University of Michigan Law School?

Yes, that's true.

And weren't you critical of those lawyers?

Now that you mention it, grasshopper, Spot was.

Isn't that a little hypocritical, Spotty?

Hypocritical? Moi? Spot doesn't think so grasshopper. In Katie's cases, a victory by the "pro bono" lawyers results in the diminution of the rights of minority groups. In the case of Katie's "pinstripe brigade," the only practical effect may be to diminish the good time had by the conventioneers. And don't forget, protesters still will be, and should be, prosecuted for damage to property or person.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Even the iguanas

There are a couple of cases headed toward argument in the Supreme Court next term. Professor Lederman at Balkinization:

The petitioners in the Guantanamo habeas cases and their amici have filed top-side merits briefs in the Supreme Court. The case will likely be argued in December. We've got all the links over at SCOTUSblog.

Perhaps a little more approachable than the briefs themselves is an excellent description of them by The Anonymous Liberal:

I just finished reading through the brief submitted on behalf of the detainees (full text here), and it's quite compelling. I don't think the D.C. Circuit's bright-line holding that the Suspension Clause doesn't apply to foreigners held outside of U.S. sovereign territory is likely to hold up. It flies in the face of the Supreme Court's Rasul decision and it's just too rigid a rule, particularly if you're going to define Guantanamo Bay--a place that has long been under U.S. control and subject to U.S. law--as being outside of U.S. sovereign territory (as the brief notes, even the iguanas at Guantanamo are protected by U.S. law). Plus, if the Supreme Court agreed with the D.C. Circuit on this technical point, I find it hard to understand why they would have reversed themselves and granted cert.[italics are Spot's]

So if we assume that the Suspension Clause does apply to detainees at Guantanamo, the question then becomes: has Congress either validly suspended habeas or provided an "adequate and effective" substitute for it? Under the terms of the Suspension Clause, Congress is only allowed to suspend habeas corpus in cases of "rebellion and invasion"--which is pretty clearly not the case here. So the ultimate issue is whether the Combatant Status Review Tribunals established by the President and ratified by Congress are an adequate and effective substitute for habeas under the holding of Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 382 (1977) ("[T]he substitution of a collateral remedy which is neither inadequate nor ineffective to test the legality of a person's detention does not constitute a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.").

The briefs cite several examples of how the CSRTs work. Here's one:

Abdullah Al Kandari was designated an enemy combatant principally because, more than a year after he was brought to Guantanamo and more than a year after this suit was brought, an "alias" of his name was allegedly found on a list of names on a document saved on a computer hard drive allegedly "associated with a senior al Qaeda member." S.A. 1360. Mr. Al Kandari stated that he is not known by any alias, and asked what name appeared on the list. He was not allowed to know; the information was classified. J.A. 68. The name of the "senior al Qaeda member" was likewise classified, as was the place where the hard drive was found. Mr. Al Kandari was thus left to defend himself against the accusation that an unknown alias of his appeared on a list on a computer found somewhere in the world associated with someone. It is impossible to rebut such a charge, and Mr. Al Kandari said so: "The problem is the secret information, I can't defend myself." Id.

Here's another one:

Assistance of counsel was particularly important here because the detainees were isolated at Guantanamo with virtually no ability to communicate with the outside world. In these circumstances, assistance of counsel was essential to test the allegations and gather evidence to disprove them. For instance, one of the principal reasons for detaining Murat Kurnaz as an enemy combatant was that he was a friend of Selcuk Bilgin, who was “alleged to have been a suicide bomber.” App. 107. Detained at Guantanamo, without counsel or access to the outside world, Mr. Kurnaz could only express shock at that allegation. He did not know and could not find out that that his friend, Mr. Bilgin, far from being a suicide bomber, was alive and well and living peacefully and without criminal suspicion in their hometown of Bremen, Germany. That is something his counsel could have found out and proved in short order, had he been allowed counsel. Because he was not, the allegation that his friend was a suicide bomber was accepted by the CSRT as true, as it would be on review under the DTA, even though it was objectively false. Thus, even when the detainees were informed of the accusations against them, without the assistance of counsel, they were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to rebut the accusations and to develop and present the evidence needed to establish their innocence.

If you lock people away and deny them any meaningful way to defend themselves, they will of course be found guilty. The mere allegation of guilt becomes its proof.

This is Franz Kafka, boys and girls, not due process.

A thump of the tail to Dora for the link to The Anonymous Liberal.

Suddenly South wins Spotty!

Here is just a taste of a post the purports to be about Mormons, but is really about the role of all religion in government:

If someone ran for office and this person strongly believed that a hamster from Peru was the Creator of the Universe, I would vote for the man if his views on this, that, or the other closely mirrored mine and he could express these views in a rational secular manner reasonably void of code words and the weighted language of hamster history. I would not vote for this man if, in an attempt to justify his positions, he appealed to the higher authority of the Peruvian hamster as the sole source or pillar of his beliefs. As someone who does not recognize the rodent deity, and in a world so far removed from the hamster holy books of yesteryear, I would think it necessary to call into question the process by which he arrived at the position he is currently peddling.

Remember, boys and girls, a Spotty™ is awarded to the author of a letter to the editor, an op-ed piece, or a blog post or comment that Spot wishes that he had written. In keeping with the policy here at the Cucking Stool, by virtue of its Spotty™ win, Suddenly South also earns a spot on the blogroll.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bush and Bonaparte

Juan Cole, the history professor at the University of Michigan, has done some of the best current affairs and historical perspective writing about George Bush's colossal misadventure in Iraq. In a piece put up yesterday at the Atlantic Free Press, Cole traces the parallels between George Bush's reckless invasion of Iraq and Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798. They are striking, right down to the pretext for the invasions:

The French general and the American president do not much resemble one another — except perhaps in the way the prospect of conquest in the Middle East appears to have put fire in their veins and in their unappealing tendency to believe their own propaganda (or at least to keep repeating it long after it became completely implausible). Both leaders invaded and occupied a major Arabic-speaking Muslim country; both harbored dreams of a "Greater Middle East"; both were surprised to find themselves enmeshed in long, bitter, debilitating guerrilla wars. Neither genuinely cared about grassroots democracy, but both found its symbols easy to invoke for gullible domestic publics. Substantial numbers of their new subjects quickly saw, however, that they faced occupations, not liberations.

Cole observes:

T[he] holy trinity of justifications for imperialism — that the targeted state is collaborating with an enemy of the republic [in the case of Egypt, the British], is endangering the positive interests of the nation, and lacks legitimacy because its rule is despotic — would all be trotted out over the subsequent two centuries by a succession of European and American leaders whenever they wanted to go on the attack. One implication of these familiar rhetorical turns of phrase has all along been that democracies have a license to invade any country they please, assuming it has the misfortune to have an authoritarian regime.

Or at Jonathan Schwarz observed some time ago (Spot can't find the link, but it's at A Tiny Revolution), there are three stages in any imperial adventure:

  1. These people need our help.
  2. We've tried to help, but these ungrateful wretches are, well, ungrateful.
  3. We must kill these people.

Spot says scroll down to the immediately preceding post, click the video link, and listen to President Bush proclaim that we would bring "freedom" to the Iraqi people.

Professor Cole calls Bonaparte in Egypt and Bush in Iraq "bookends" of the history of modern imperialism in the Middle East. Spot thinks he's right.

No end in sight

In theaters now.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The timing was a little off

But the fate of Alberto Gonzales was sealed several months ago:

Little Alberto awoke in the predawn hours Friday, on his back, sweaty and flailing all three of his pairs of legs. He was jolted out of his sleep to see six tiny legs waving wildly in the air. He shook his head in disbelief and blinked a couple of times to clear his eyes.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A chat with Paul

Amy Klobuchar and Tim Walz are meeting over breakfast. They are talking and comparing notes about being freshmen in the Congress. Suddenly, a wiry, balding man with a slight limp pulls up a chair, sits down, and says "hello."

Amy and Tim are speechless for a moment, and then Amy says, "Is that you Paul Wellstone? How can it be; you're dead. Aren't you?"

The man smiles and replies, "Maybe not so dead, after all. A person's life can reverberate for a long time. It's a measure of what you did in life, I guess."

"It's wonderful to see you, if that's what we're doing," says Tim.

"Thank you; it's nice to be seen, so to speak," replies the man. "There's something I want to talk to you about."

"Of course," says Amy, "we're eager to hear what you have to say."

"I am afraid," says the man, well, we'll just call him Paul, "that the two of you are going native."

"What do you mean?" asks Tim.

"I am talking about your votes on the most recent Iraq war supplemental funding bill and your votes on the FISA expansion. By "native" I mean taking your cues from the Washington establishment, listening to inside-the-Beltway consultants too much, and trying to calculate your votes on some things are pretty fundamental. The D.C. people you're listening to don't seem all that progressive to me."

"I am sure we're both doing what we think it right," say Amy.

"Ok, I'll accept that at face value. But let me ask you this: why are the two of you sitting here?"

Tim answers, "Because we both won our elections."

"Of course," says Paul, "but why do you think that happened? You both beat people already in Congress."

"We both ran great campaigns!" pipes in Amy.

"Yes, you did," replies Paul, "but don't you suppose that unhappiness with the Republicans, especially President Bush, had something to do with it?"

"Well, sure," says Tim. "That doesn't make our votes on the Iraq supplemental and FISA wrong."

"It makes them mystifying to me," Paul says evenly. "My time in the Senate began and ended with votes against the first and the second war in Iraq. I took plenty of heat for those votes, especially the first one. I announced my vote in a clumsy way—at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—and I spent a lot of time redeeming myself from that with vets. And Norm Coleman was certainly trying to use the second one against me.

"Do you think I would have voted to continue to fund the war and condone warrantless wiretaps of American citizens?"

"No," say Amy, a little sullenly.

"Tim, you went to Camp Wellstone. You even had my friend Rick Kahn speak at your election party. And Amy, you were one of the people over at DFL headquarters after my plane went down asking to be the replacement candidate, right?"

Amy and Tim reply, "Yes."

"And both of you have invoked my memory in your campaigns, haven't you?"

Again the reply is "Yes."

Tim says, "But, Paul, we have to try to keep everybody happy now. I have an election in just another year."

"That's true. But you'll never please everyone, and you need to remember the tide of public opinion that brought you into office. The people you pleased with those votes won't support you anyway."

"Let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that we regret those votes. We can't very well say that, can we?" asks Amy.

"I don't know why not. I voted for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a vote that I very much regretted. And I said so. Having regrets and being able to express them makes you authentic. And I have high hopes for both of you as authentic politicians."

Just then, in different parts of the Washington area, Tim and Amy are jerked awake by their alarm clocks. They dress hurriedly and make their way to the restaurant where they had agreed to meet for breakfast the day before. When they meet, they say to each other simultaneously, "I had a dream last night."

Friday, August 24, 2007

I've got a secret

And I'll have even more if I have my way. That's Governor Pepsodent's thinking anyway. Some of you boys and girls will remember the initiative of the governor a year ago to reverse the presumption about information in the hands of the government. Here what was said about it in an article in the Minnesota Daily:

Prentiss Cox, a University professor of clinical law and former manager of the consumer protection division at Attorney General Mike Hatch's office, said Pawlenty's initiatives are not new.

"These are ideas that have been kicked around for several years," he said, explaining that bills which similarly protected consumer privacy had been introduced and rejected at the state House of Representatives before.

What is new, Cox said, is Pawlenty's focus on reforms to the Minnesota Data Practices Act.

Pawlenty said in a news release the presumption all information held by the government is public unless a specific law designates it as private is "backwards."

"We need to start with the obligation of government to protect all citizens, and that all personal information that government has about individuals is private," Pawlenty said in the news release. "It is time for a change."

Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law, does not agree.

"It's absolutely un-American to start from the presumption that government information should be secret unless the government chooses to make it public," she said.

Kirtley added it was one of the most "irresponsible" statements she's heard a government official make.

The Data Practices Act already has provisions addressing the use of Social Security numbers, she said. The law also currently does not provide the public with access to private driver's license information.

"I believe either the governor does not know how the law works, or he's misrepresenting it," Kirtley said.

If the governor is concerned with identity theft, he could pass tougher laws, Kirtley said.

"You don't address misconduct by closing off access to information," she said. "My point is to look at laws that exist and enforce it before you talk about amending it."

Kirtley said there is an inherent problem with the government deciding when records should be made public. It undermines public oversight of the government, she said, as well as makes the government extremely powerful.

"For the chief executive of a state to say that he doesn't believe in the principle of open government is pretty shocking," she said.

While she said Pawlenty probably announced his proposal because of the start of the legislative session, Kirtley added it was ironic he announced it just 10 days before Freedom of Information Day. Celebrated on Bill of Rights author James Madison's birthday, the day increases awareness of the importance of access to government information in a democratic society.

"He wants to take an ax to the open-records law. I hope he isn't going to get away with it," Kirtley said.

[italics are Spot's]

So far, the Data Practice Act is still pretty much intact, including its presumption that data are public unless specified in the Data Practices Act to be private. But Pepsodent's preferences are pretty clear.

Now let Spot ask you a question: did we have too much or too little information about the condition of the 35W bridge available for discussion by the public prior to the bridge's collapse? Although MNDOT did release some information about the bridge's condition after it fell, wouldn't it have been nice to know how bad it was in order to have an informed policy discussion about bridge maintenance in general this bridge in particular BEFORE it went into the river?

How does that information get into the hands of the public, Spotty?

It happens when a citizen, often a newspaper reporter—and may God have mercy on us here—makes a Data Practices Act request. The problem, as Spot alluded to in an earlier post, is that making a request requires a certain amount of knowing what you are looking for to begin with. Unless you have an inkling that a problem exists, no one really know what to look for.

Well, okay, Spotty, but when somebody does make a request, the state turns the data right over, doesn't it?

Sigh. Would that it were so, grasshopper. No, the agencies like to play it close to the vest, and that's certainly true of MNDOT. There is an advisory opinion procedure set up in the state's Department of Administration:

Government entities or persons seeking resolution of disputes relating to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13 (the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act), and/or other statutes regulating government data practices, may request an advisory opinion from the Commissioner of Administration. (See Minnesota Statutes Section 13.072.)

Any government entity may request a data practices advisory opinion from the Commissioner on any question concerning public access to government data, rights of subjects of data, or classification of data under Chapter 13 or other Minnesota statutes regulating government data practices. If you are a government entity seeking information about requesting a data practices advisory opinion, click here.

Any individual may seek a data practices advisory opinion regarding that person's rights as a subject of government data or right to have access to government data. If you are an individual seeking information about requesting a data practices advisory opinion, click here.

Advisory opinions are not binding on the government whose data are the subject of the opinion. However, a court must give deference to the opinion in a proceeding that involves the data in dispute. A government entity or person that conforms with an opinion will not be liable for compensatory or exemplary damages, awards of attorneys fees, or penalties under Chapter 13.

Note that if the Commissioner of Administration issues an advisory opinion that certain data need not be disclosed, it creates an obvious barrier to subsequent efforts to get the data. It is only likely in very high profile cases that a newspaper or some other citizen would undertake the expense of litigation the issue of disclosure. There is a $200 filing fee for an advisory opinion.

Spot has a couple of advisory opinions to mention, just so you can see how it works, boys and girls. The first one pursuant to an initial request by a Star Tribune reporter concerning appraisal information from MNDOT about a construction project. There was a first appraisal on the parcel that MNDOT would not disclose, saying that it had not been used and therefore was it was not "public data." Spot isn't sure, but he bets the first appraisal came in for a higher amount, that MNDOT didn't like it and shopped around for better appraisals. The Commissioner did opine that under limited circumstances an appraisal would not have to be disclosed, but it isn't clear, to Spot anyway, whether those circumstances obtained in that case.

The second advisory opinion is even more interesting. Again, at the request of a reporter, MNDOT was asked for subcontractor pricing information on a highway project (it may have been the same project, in fact). MNDOT claimed not to have the information (presumably it had the amounts of the prime contracts), and it wondered in a letter if it had to collect that information and whether it had to turn it over to the reporter. In this case, the Commissioner said yes, disclose, but expressed some uncertainty about a "trade secret" exception to disclosure.

Spot is guessing here, but he suspects that the reporter in turn suspected some funny business in the bidding and contracting process.

If every time you want information from your public servants, it becomes a "Captain May I" exercise, it's not exactly an open government. If we turn the presumption around that all data is supposed to be private, the burden on the discovering public becomes even more intolerable.

In the post-newspaper era, the danger of secret government increases. We need more openness, not more privacy, to give citizens half a chance to discovery whatever skulduggery is afoot.

Delusion: thy name is Friedman

Via Atrios:

What a sad little delusional man.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Must see TV

Posted to You Tube by the Unclassified Producer.

Update: A thump of the tail to Ag for the link.

Katie for the defense

Spot does not intend to write about Katie's column today; Spot would rather strip woodwork at the doghouse. However, the Wege has measured up today's offering, and finds it sadly—although not unexpectedly—lacking. Go read what Wege has to say; here's the lede:

Give Katherine Kersten some credit: at least she waited until the last of the bodies had been recovered before assigning blame for the bridge collapse.

In the wake of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, DFL leaders want to raise the state gas tax to fund transportation needs.

Starting out with a lie is a pretty rotten opening. This paragraph is a lie because Kersten's first four words are "[i]n the wake of," implying a response when in fact DFL leaders have tried to raise the state gas tax in consecutive legislative sessions. Raising the gas tax is a continuation of existing DFL policy. Repairing infrastructure is a core Democratic issue. Kersten would have you think that the DFL is responding to the collapse when in fact they generically anticipated it and worked to avoid such a tragedy.

Spot will only add that Katie is funny when that defensive tone creeps in.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reclaiming common sense

Have you read Spot's last post Do you see a pattern here? If you haven't, it is important that you do before you read the paragraphs that follow in Voltaire's Bastards:

The point of these well-known examples is that, whatever the merits of each case, modern structure responds to its own errors by a refusal to admit error. It responds to failure by a denial of failure. The system could prove that it does work by simply responding to problems with an open mind, rapidly and positively, eager to find solutions. Instead it automatically goes into a defensive pose, throws out diversions intended to slow criticism, then spends time and money to prove factually that there is no problem. As a final ploy it  will attempt to gain time for new ploys by agreeing to negotiate. If even this fails, the system will drop its own position, grasp that of the other side and treat the new position as if it were an absolute truth always known.

The explanation for such odd reactions to rather straightforward problems is that systems  are constructed from an assumption of correctness. They are built backwards from this  assumption. There is no room for error, except through some properly laid-out procedure: That is why the system is unable to simply assimilate all the obvious factors before coming to conclusions.

Thus acid rain may lead to the destruction of trees but it doesn't fall into the same  process as the decline of the Rust Belt states. And leaded gasoline may harm agriculture and  stone buildings, but it doesn't fall into the same process as trade balances or competition  regulations. The officials in charge of all these procedures are decent people. It's just  that there is no room for them to use their common sense. And from the structure's point of view, when there is an error, it is the error which is in the wrong.

This is why the tyranny of the technocrats—and the economists who love them—can be so seriously, obviously, and tragically (in the Greek drama sense) wrong. And you see it around you all the time, boys and girls. Just as a recent example, in an op-ed piece in the Strib discussing policy options after the bridge collapse, Sean Kershaw and Bob Deboer of the Citizens League, technocrats and good government types to their core, say this:

Minnesotans love local control, and in the case of transportation projects, the term is "municipal consent." When the state wants to replace a bridge, it must negotiate and receive consent from the cities involved. Closing roads costs a lot of money, so it might be prudent to do other associated projects, but when local concerns and demands go beyond replacing the most needed infrastructure, does that slow us in getting to our next priorities?

Of course, if it wasn't for municipal consent, this is the bridge we certainly would have gotten. It would be more efficient, a word these boys really love, in the sense of getting rid of some of those pesky democratic voices. Who do those people in Minneapolis think they are anyway? The bridge is only going to be in their city! Shut them up!

It is perhaps obvious that Spot thinks that Sean and Bob are full of something, and it isn't good ideas.

There was a letter in this morning's Strib from a Bloomington resident—one of those pesky local voices—who took issue with Sean and Bob, too:

In their Aug. 16 commentary, Sean Kershaw and Bob DeBoer of the Citizens League question the value of the current "municipal consent" process whereby local governments exercise oversight over freeway designs.

Eliminating the municipal consent process might save the Minnesota Department of Transportation money; however, any savings would come because MnDOT engineers would no longer be compelled to consider noise impacts on local residents, the effective coordination of transportation and land-use planning, or, as we've seen in the past week, the incorporation of transit facilities into their designs.

MnDOT's engineers do a fine job of optimizing their designs to best serve the "convenience and safety of the motoring public," but they tend to define their jobs rather too narrowly to guarantee that the interests of the public at large will be well served without oversight.


Mr. Elkins also recognizes that the blinkered technocrats at MnDOT are not going to consider all of the things that ought to go into transportation decisions.

It came as a shock to many people the number of bridges in Minnesota and around the country that are in such dismal shape. Why was it such a surprise? Partly because of a lack of transparency in government and partly because of a lack of media attention. The system that exists in Minnesota and the US, whereby citizens can make a request for information before it is revealed, means that the information remains locked up unless somebody thinks to ask for it. This means we need an aggressive investigative reporter on every government beat every day. And we know how likely that is to happen in the present newspaper environment. Secrecy is convenient to whatever administration is in charge. It obviously makes policies easier to sell.

Spot has a not-so-modest suggestion. All proceedings of government, and all information kept by the government, except perhaps in the case of individual citizen files, be published on the 'net. Real "national security" secrets would also be exempt from disclosure, but some mechanism would have to be established to insure the secrets were really related to national security, and not just embarrassing for the administration. Like "interrogation" methods.

The alternative is the continued choking off of the democratic process and our "management" by the technocrats and the tyranny of experts.

[update] The line identifying Mr. Elkins as a Bloomington City Council member was not copied from the newspaper. [/update]

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Do you see a pattern here?

A little more from John Ralston Saul's Voltaire's Bastards, written in 1992:

The massive destruction of forests by acid rain, and the crumbling of European cities because of leaded gasoline are two very simple examples [of the systemic lack of common sense]. The solutions are practical and imaginable and have been for a long time. Instead the American government has persisted for years in asserting that there is no solid proof of a link between acid rain and the death of forests. The United States has glanced away from their own New England states and Canada towards the Midwestern industrial states, which said that smokestack modernization would bankrupt them. And so a five-year study was proposed to look into the matter. When popular pressure in the late 1980s — which the authorities identified as irrational panic — reached a dangerous level, the government offered a series of half measures. These were proposed not as part of an admission that the problem existed but as a political sop. The basic denial continued.

For years the authorities and the experts in Britain and France fought desperately against unleaded gasoline. They did everything they could to discredit the environmentalists — calling them ignorant, childishly emotional and subversive. When, in the late 1980s, it was no longer possible to go on ignoring the problems of lead pollution, the two governments set about arguing over the level of response necessary. This process lasted a year. At the EEC level, many of the members were worried about the increase in oil import costs that lead-free gasoline would involve. Their economists told them this would have an important impact on their balance of payments. In the end all the governments compromised in favour of a gradual lead-reduction program, which will cost each country thousands of times more in damage to buildings and health than it will in oil imports. [italics are Spot's]

The destruction of buildings, damage to statuary and long-term illness, however, are not part of the annual balance of payments. In order to maintain the fiction that their compromise is the correct one, the majority of EEC governments have been ready to prosecute member governments, such as the Dutch, who are unwilling to wait for clean gas. The Dutch said their cities and countryside were dying. The EEC replied that the strong Dutch environmental control regulations constituted unfair competition barriers to the other community members. The very idea that environmentally sound regulations could constitute unfair trade barriers to environmentally unsound products is an indication of the Alice in Wonderland mentality among Western elites.

If this doesn't remind you, boys and girls, of the global warming "debate," you aren't paying attention. We are told that efforts to try to mitigate global warming will be just too costly. Costly compared to what? The loss of valuable real estate due to rising sea levels? Damage from an increasing number of Category 5 hurricanes? Once fertile land becoming too arid to till? Public health issues of which we yet have no inkling, but almost certainly exist?

This is why the economists'  beloved cost-benefit analysis is often so useless. There are social costs and externalities of unknown and untold magnitude for most government policies, initiatives, or regulations or lack of them. Pretending to model the economic effects of global warming is just that: pretending. Basing policy on the conclusions of the "expert modelers" is worse than pretending.

It is time to take policy making back from the experts, the confidence men, and the outright knaves who reassure us with their blarney while stealing the public interest. An excellent place to start is with the fumbling stewards of our public infrastructure and their apologists.

The Colossus of St. Cloud?

Standing astride I-94, with a bicycle clenched in each raised fist, the Colossus of St. Cloud roars:

Local DFL leaders are still drinking the ethanol.

Calling today’s investment in ethanol production “feedstock,” U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson believes the nation can reach energy independence in 10 to 15 years.

“The bottom-line goal is for us to get off foreign oil,” Peterson, DFL-7th District, said Friday at an energy conference at Bemidji State University.

He was joined by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, who said in his remarks that moving more Americans to public transit — or bicycling — can negate the need to import millions of barrels of foreign oil.

(Yes, I know, I laughed at the bicycle reference too!)

Spotty, maybe if the perfesser got off his lard arse once in a while, he would know that Minneapolis is second only to Portland, Oregon in bicycle commuters:

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics released this month on the 50 cities with the most workers, Minneapolis has the second highest percentage of people who bike to work. The bureau said 2.4 percent of Minneapolis’ 189,294 workers (16 and older) pedal to their jobs, which is second only to Portland, Ore. and several times higher than the national average of 0.4 percent.

Grasshopper, I think that is the first link you have ever brought in. Congratulations! But that was not a very charitable thing to say about the professor. We expect a little more decorum around here.

Sorry, Spotty.

We need not speak of it again. It is true that bicycles do play an increasingly important role in commuting transportation.

The gravamen of the professor's post is that ethanol and biodiesel fuel production has decreased the need for government price supports for small-grain agriculture, but that we won't see the savings in tax cuts. Of course not professor, we have things like this to pay for:

Military personnel watch as the Sea-Based X-Band Radar sails into Pearl Harbor, Hawaii , aboard the MV Blue Marlin, Monday, Jan. 9, 2006. The 280-foot tall Sea-Based X-band Radar is so powerful it can identify baseball-sized objects from thousands of miles away. (AP Photo/Ronen Zilberman)

According to Time Magazine:

Since President Ronald Reagan initiated his Star Wars program, about $100 billion has been spent on U.S. missile defense.

If this thing works, we'll be able to tell when Kim Jong-il unzips his fly! No word yet on whether it can find cracks in interstate bridges.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mezzo soprano resigns

Bradley Schlozman has left the building.

Headline courtesy of the General.

Toll roads and the public interest

Charlie has a good post pointing out that "Chad the Elder" waxed orgasmic about what he thought was a private toll road in Colorado, when of course, it's not. Just as good, maybe better from Spot's perspective, is that King Banaian took up the baton and ran with it:

While some seem to think a public discussion of spending priorities is a good idea, I think it would be at best a waste of time to contemplate where government's inability to rationally allocate resources and form capital would do the least harm, when private alternatives are present and proven.

Perhaps, Professor, you ought to consider a fact checker for Elder's work! You will recall, boys and girls, that "private bridges" is the same mantra that our nebbish Hamlet recommended on Sunday. At the end of Spot's post just linked, he promised to tell you about the construction of the Paris sewer system.

What could that possibly have to do with private toll roads and bridges, Spotty?

It has a lot to do with them, grasshopper. The key is the identification of the public interest. This story is about the Paris sewer system, but it probably applies to a lot of eighteenth and nineteenth century urban areas. Spot doesn't have a particularly good link for you, boys and girls; it seems most of the scholarly articles are tied up in proprietary databases. It is apparently Bonaparte who got things really rolling in starting to deal with what was an increasing public health concern, namely the pouring of raw sewage into the Seine. Even so, it was decades before anything approaching a comprehensive sewer system was in place.

The decision to construct a comprehensive sewer system was driven by the private market, wasn't it Spotty?

No, grasshopper, the "public" and especially the property owners (the landlords of the increasingly dense residential tenements) who would have to pay for the system preferred the private solution: continuing to throw excrement into the streets where it would run into the Seine. These were the right wingers of their time, and they had to have a sewer system shoved down their throats by Bonaparte, successor governments, and the French civil service. Why? Because the free market could not identify and coalesce around the public interest.

The idea that you can get public goods like clean water, or a safe transportation system, through private decision-making is a notion so loony that someday students will laugh when told about it in class. The purpose of a private market is to adjust and maximize individual interests, and there is nothing at all wrong with that. It is just the wrong tool for figuring out what's good for everybody. Sure, it seemed to the landlords better and cheaper to have their tenants throw their doo-doo in the streets, but when you got a cholera outbreak, it was hard on rent collections.

One thing that actors in private markets always do is try to avoid paying all the externalities of their conduct; that's the way to maximize profit. Social costs are externalities: public health and safety, for example. If safety is left to private hands, you get the Ford Pinto.

Veering into the kitsch II

A trailer for an upcoming film:


Zack's Machine - Trailer

Posted Jul 28, 2007

"People weren't the only ones who lost friends on 9/11."

A thump of the tail to Avidor for the link.

Technorati Tags: ,

You should have just mailed it in, Katie

Did you hear the music that was playing when you opened your newspaper this morning, boys and girls?

Yeah, Spotty, what was that about? It was Wagner, wasn't it?

Yes grasshopper, It's the Entrance of the gods into Valhalla from, Spot thinks, Das Rheingold.

Tell us what it means!

It means of course that Katherine Kersten is back in town. She asked Tice to include the music chip in the paper. Katie's been gone, really, since the bridge collapse, and this was her first chance to "weigh in" on it as she says in Bridge collapse ought to unite us, not divide us. Here's the lede:

The Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi collapsed just before I left the country for 10 days. I hated leaving in the midst of one of our state's greatest disasters. Journalism, after all, is about instantly weighing in on important matters.

One can imagine Katie's angst at having to leave in the midst of it all:

Katie: Oh Mr. Tice! I'm sorry, but I have to go on vacation! Our tickets to Frankfurt are not refundable. I also have tickets for the birthplace of Pope Benedict and his attached Hitler Jugend memorabilia collection in Bavaria. Then there's our week's reservation at the cute little bed and breakfast in Berchtesgaden. I really have to go.

Tice: [thinking to himself: what's she really going to contribute, anyway?] All right, Katie, but you owe me.

Katie: Oh thank you Mr. Tice. You won't regret it!

Tice: [muttering] You're right; I'm sure I won't regret it.

The column that Katie produced for today was probably penned on the plane ride home. She certainly didn't have to be in Minneapolis, or anywhere else on planet earth, to write it. It's the work of a propagandist, not a journalist.

More than that, Spot will not say. He does commend to you the Wege's pithy remarks about Katie's column at Norwegianity.

[update] New kid on the block Suddenly South also observes the tag-team effort of Mitch Pearlstein and Katie on the same subject on consecutive days. Both spawn of the Center of the American Experiment. [/update]

Sunday, August 19, 2007

To raise taxes or not to raise taxes

Alternate title: Mitch in tights

The curtain rises, and a short, chubby man walks toward the circle of light on the stage cast by the spotlight. He is wearing black tights—that apparently constrict his stride, for he is shuffling—a too-tight black tunic with puffy sleeves, and an absurd triangular velvet hat with an ostrich plume. The man arrives in the circle; he looks up at the spotlight and is instantly blinded; he ducks his head quickly and rubs his watering eyes for several seconds. Then, still crying, he slowly raises his head, this time shielding his eyes by making a visor with his hands. He clears his throat and begins:

To raise taxes, or not to raise taxes,
That is the question!

Whether 'tis nobler to suffer the crumbling Bridge,
Or to fix it?

Aye, there's the rub!
To take up arms against the gas tax,
Or to swallow it?

And end the thousand shocks
That we are heir to.

To drive, perhaps to pitch,
Headlong into the abyss
And then to sleep.

For some, well, a consummation that's not so bad!

Who is our Prince of Denmark? It's Mitch Pearlstein, the dead center of the Center of the American Experiment, writing in today's opinion section of the Star Tribune. Poor Mitch writes as though he was deciding whether to kill his step-father, not whether to raise the gas tax a nickel or a dime. You take yourself way too seriously Mitch. We don't, so lighten up. It's too bad you and yours couldn't summon up as much gravity in deciding whether to invade Iraq. Here's the lede from Mitch's soliloquy:

Several critics over the last two weeks have made the case for at least a dotted-line connection between the terrible collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge and the determination of Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his allies not to raise state taxes over the last five years. But for any connection to hold, at least one of the following conditions would have to be true, when not a single one is.

It would have to be demonstrated, for instance, that decisions by the Minnesota Department of Transportation about what to do about the bridge -- whether to repair it, how to repair it, when to repair it -- were made on the basis of what such steps might cost. But I know of no evidence that money played any role in determining what state officials or anyone else did or didn't do in maintaining the bridge.

Likewise, to draw any suspect connection between the collapse and the consistent preference of large numbers of Minnesotans to hold the line on taxes, one would have to assume that inspectors and other officials charged with protecting and serving allowed anything other than their professionalism to determine how they gauged the sturdiness and fragility of the state's infrastructure. Without a morsel of evidence that any of them compromised their integrity, it's slanderous to imply that any of them did.

You know Mitch, sometimes karma just comes up and whacks you upside the head. This is from a story in today's Strib, the very same issue that printed Mitch's soliloquy:

Internal MnDOT documents reviewed by the Star Tribune reveal that last year bridge officials talked openly about the possibility of the bridge collapsing -- and worried that it might have to be condemned.

The documents provide the first look inside MnDOT's decision-making process as engineers weighed benefits and risks, wrestling with options to prevent what they believed was a remote but real possibility of the eight-lane freeway bridge failing.

Their concerns were not generalized, documents show. [In other words, they had some areas they were especially concerned about.] The San Francisco-based consultant, URS Inc., identified 52 crucial steel box beams deemed most susceptible to cracking. URS also had a specific recommendation that 24 of the 52 members be reinforced while the remainder would be kept on a special watch. Video of the Aug. 1 collapse being examined by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the bridge first falling on the south end over its shoreline pier -- a section of the superstructure where eight suspect beams were specifically tagged for reinforcing.

'Investment strategy'

Dorgan and senior engineer Gary Peterson denied in interviews that money was a factor in deciding what to do with the Interstate 35W bridge, which was not due for replacement until 2022. They provided a written timeline showing that MnDOT supervisors on Nov. 1, 2006, funded the reinforcing project for $1.5 million, with work to begin in January 2008.

But at least three internal documents suggest that money was a consideration.

The premise of our nebbish Hamlet's argument has just suffered a fatal blow, but let's see what else he has to say, just for fun, eh, boys and girls? This is really what our Prince wants to get at:

For example, Robert Poole of the California-based Reason Foundation has written about how Texas, Virginia and other "fast-growing states" have demonstrated the efficacy of private companies competing for long-term contracts to "design, finance, build, operate, and maintain major highways and bridges." In return, they recoup their investments by charging tolls.

I'm convinced that if done properly, such public-private partnerships would work terrifically. But I also realize how the very notion of privately owned roads and bridges, not to mention tolls, is anathema to enormous numbers of voting citizens. Similarly, and as teased, I recognize how getting Congress to constrain itself is problematic (though it does seem to be making progress on earmarks). And it's clear that while subtracting a quarter of billion dollars from other Minnesota constituencies may not be the hardest political job in the world, it may be close.

Which leaves us where? While those who are intent on raising taxes would face a rough road, and properly so, their opponents -- surprisingly, perhaps, and to my regret -- may find themselves on a no less hazardous one politically. But if ever there was a time to rethink priorities, try new methods, stay within our means and change political equations, how can it be other than now?

This is known, boys and girls, as trying to make lemonade when all you've got is lemons. King Banaian has been furiously squeezing the lemons, too, about which Spot will have more to say later.

Our Prince's argument is essentially, echoing the Grover Norquist theme nationally: Republicans are incompetent at governing, therefore, we should abolish government. Excuse me? Excuse Spot? (Almost fell out of the Bob Dole Speak there!)

Spot has a three word response, which he will explain later: Paris Sewer System.

[update] MNO did a nice job of comparing our Prince to the news, here. Spot also wanted to mention that despite all the floggings in the newsroom by Avista Capital and Par Ridder, Spot thinks the Strib has done a good job of getting to the bottom of the bridge collapse. [/update]

Saturday, August 18, 2007

No disregard for life

This is beneath you, Spotty.

Even so, grasshopper. Here's a comment to MNO's post Guilty:

These fundamentalists have no disregard for life. They are animals, and deserve no mercy from us. I think letting them go through our court process is too good for them.

Sick of it

Well, Sick, you need to be more careful with the big words! But let's assume for a moment that our cerebral friend meant "no regard for life." Spot says, boys and girls, doesn't that make more sense, given the rest of Sick's comment? Spot thinks so. Anyway.

The first step, boys and girls, in justifying whatever atrocities or mistreatment of your enemies that occur, is to reduce their status to subhuman—or animal, even better. You see, if they're less than human, they aren't even entitled to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions treatment! It is just too bad that John Yoo didn't think of that!

Our enemies never have Any Regard for Life. It is remarkable that it's a trait that runs through everyone we oppose. Do you suppose, boys and girls, that our enemies say the same thing about us?

Being Ted Stevens?

Boys and girls, ol' Spot reached into the job jar the other day, and boy, did he come up a big loser! The job was strip all the woodwork in the living room of the dog house, including the crown molding, the chair rail, the baseboards, windows, doorway arches, and one entire wall that consists of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. This stuff hasn't seen the light of day since Spot's boy FDR was president. Spot'll be slaving over a hot heat gun for weeks.

It's almost enough to make Spot wish he was a Republican senator from Alaska.

Friday, August 17, 2007

One person’s traitor

Spot doesn't think he's ever been called a traitor before; he's pretty sure that MNO hasn't either. But in comments to MNO's post about the Padilla verdict, that's what Swiftee and some of the blog chihuahuas (term on loan from Charlie) he sent over have said. Perhaps you can hear them yapping even now if you listen for it, boys and girls.

Spot will let MNO speak for herself, but as for himself, Spot embraces the term when leveled by the cretinous, spittle-flecked Swiftee and the yobs who agree with him. Spot is a traitor to what Swiftee calls "his country." Maybe not so much traitor as enemy, because Spot has never been a citizen of the country of Swiftee's mind: the ignorant, the bigoted, the intolerant, the completely selfish, the deeply frightened and paranoid, the torch and pitchfork crowd; the country inhabited by persons who believe in salvation by adherence to the formulaic brand of Christianity preached by sweaty demagogues and snake handlers. A country of denizens devoid of both ethical decision-making systems and the mental capacity to use them; dwellers in a land where genuine historical memory—unlike the fifth grader's story book version—is erased.

In other words, a land where civilization can only be found in archeology.

If a dog had been treated as Padilla was, Swiftee and the blog chihuahuas would be in full cry, denouncing the perpetrators.

We may count ourselves as lucky, boys and girls, at least thus far, that the Swiftee nation lives only in Swiftee's fevered imagination. It is astonishing, however, that we have traveled the road of totalitarianism far enough that Swiftee can express his moral vacancy without shame.

The roar of the Wege

Has gone silent, but just for the moment. Spot has it on good authority that it's merely a problem down on the server farm.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Waiting for a jury verdict is one of the worst parts of being in trial. It's also a time when as an advocate, we really are stuck simply waiting, not doing anything.

And so often, when it does, it's just the raw decision. No explanation, no reasoning, no thought process or logic given. Just boom, you win/lose.

So with less than two days' deliberation, the jury returned a verdict today in the trial of Jose Padilla, finding him guilty. Padilla was the alleged "dirty bomber" who is a U.S. citizen, but was nonetheless held for years at a Navy brig without due process or any access to counsel. Unless the Minnesota GOP got to the entry first, you can read about him here. The allegations that he was tortured in the hands of his - and our - own government appear to be true.

The fundamental question here is whether someone who has been tortured can ever get a fair trial. Is evidence and testimony gathered under duress admissible or so inherently unreliable that no jury should ever see it? How can he cooperate in his own defense if he's been psychologically destroyed by the very people who have held him for years and to whom he is returned every night? Does the fact that the jurors were not told that he spent 3-1/2 years in a hole have anything to do with their verdict?

He's scheduled to be sentenced sometime this fall. I wonder if those people who rushed to decry Scooter Libby's miscarriage of justice will assist here.

Update: The comments here of the least articulate de facto member of the Minnsota Republican establishment highlight the ethical bankruptcy of the entire past six years of the Bush administration and it’s global war on evildoers.

All they have to celebrate today is the conviction of a psychologically damaged criminal that came about after three and a half years of illegal confinement, is based on evidence extracted by torture, and delivered by a jury that knew nothing of the history of the case.

It’s akin to the Spanish Inquisition trumpeting their conversion statistics.

Naughty, naughty, naughty!

Spot recently got this nifty new screen capture program, so he might as well use it:

Hat tip to MNpublius, Minnesota Campaign Report, and Norwegianity. Headline courtesy of Borat.


Pepsodent administration releases preliminary bridge design

Here is is, boys and girls. Ain't it a beauty?

Pepsodent, Molnau, and the Republicans are so hell bent on getting something up to cover their embarrassment at RNC convention time next year that no telling what they'll try to shove down our throats. Luckily, the City of Minneapolis does have some say in the matter:

Eager to send a message of unity and cooperation, the Minneapolis City Council moved today toward adopting a statement of principles for rebuilding the Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the city wants to move "quickly to make sure we speak with one voice."

The council appears likely to easily endorse at its meeting Friday morning the broad set of principles that encourages the replacement bridge be designed and built to meet current and future transportation needs. The second principle said the bridge should be designed to improve vehicle capacity and provide transit capacity.

The bridge design should also incorporate, and certainly not preclude options for future transit improvements, including light rail and bus rapid transit. The bridge should also be built to meet all current environmental standards.

The city's role in rebuilding could be pivotal because, under state law, Minneapolis will be asked to provide what is called municipal consent for the bridge layout as submitted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The city could confer consent quickly, move slowly or withhold consent, which could dramatically slow the project that the state [meaning the Pepsodent administration] is aggressively trying to complete by the end of 2008.

One City Council member, Diane Hofstede, actually thinks that aesthetics should be a concern:

Council Member Diane Hofstede, whose northeast ward includes neighborhoods near the bridge, said she remains concerned about aesthetics for the gateway bridge as well as a memorial to those who died and were injured. She also said she [is] to push for pedestrian and bike options on the new span.

Spotty thinks you're on the right track on that first one, Diane, but he's not so sure about the second. Maybe.

Anyway, all this stuff needs to be thought about.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Too bad he didn't remember

Here's Cheney, out of office after the first Iraq war, speaking in 1994:

Gosh, it seems like just yesterday

Well, actually it was yesterday! Do you remember, boys and girls, when Spotty said this about the Iraq surge:

There are many other instances of a tyranny of experts, of course. One of the others on prominent display is the "surge" in Iraq. Although President Bush is not tyrannized by the experts—the generals—he wants you to be, boys and girls. If we just entrust the decision to the experts, we won't have to worry about all the death and mayhem in Iraq and the ruin it has made of US foreign policy and our national honor, or accept any responsible for it. By appearing to make a third party the "Decider," Bush also deflects blame from himself.

Gump Worsley (Spot isn't sure that's his real name, boys and girls) at Suddenly South reports this today:

From the LA Times:

Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

And though Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report's data.

Bush is using the tyranny of experts on you, but not himself, boys and girls.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Putting the judgment back into judgmentalism II

When Spot put up the first post on this theme, he didn't expect to be offering a fallen bridge as an example of the technocratic thinking, the non-humanist "expert" logic, that blind rationalist calculation that sweeps common sense so easily aside; the bridge hadn't fallen yet. But since it fell, Spot has had the chance to observe the rationalizations for why, or as John Gunyou would say, the perfection of the non-apology.

The very best rationalization is obviously the economic one. When Molnau or Pepsodent say, "We didn't screw up; the bridge had been inspected and everything was fine," there was always the risk that contrary facts would come to light—as they have—and reveal them for the fumbling dunces they are. Much better to go with King Banaian's first instinct: the black swan flying across the sky.  Or Bob Huge's sorrowful conclusion that the problem was in the stars.

Because we are so reasonable, so rational, so well, mathematical, even if a bridge falls, how could that be a screw up? By not having the common sense that God gave a goose, that's how.

When economics moved from philosophy to statistics, it lost its humanity, at least in the hands of some practitioners. Practitioners who are like the staff general, oblivious himself to the real conditions or consequences of his order, who sends his army to be mauled because the maneuver looked so rational on the map at HQ. You've all seen that in the movies, haven't you, boys and girls? It's always accompanied by dramatic and ominous music; the director is telling you that somebody is screwing up big time!

When someone in the economics department lectures about the cost benefit analysis and how the value of human life is merely another variable to be considered, the history and the philosophy departments should be piping in the ominous music.

As a "science," the discipline of economics is no more moral than, say, chemistry. Modern economics has been cut loose from its philosophic foundation, and as a simple expert system it cannot make moral and ethical judgments better than the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker. If we cede those judgments to economists, we are liable to be manipulated.

There are many other instances of a tyranny of experts, of course. One of the others on prominent display is the "surge" in Iraq. Although President Bush is not tyrannized by the experts—the generals—he wants you to be, boys and girls. If we just entrust the decision to the experts, we won't have to worry about all the death and mayhem in Iraq and the ruin it has made of US foreign policy and our national honor, or accept any responsible for it. By appearing to make a third party the "Decider," Bush also deflects blame from himself.

But there are no moral dodges, boys and girls. We can't leave it to the experts, or the politicians, or even the clergy. It is up to us to make our own moral and ethical judgments and be responsible for the consequences, including our silence.