:: Skeptical Notion

A blog about politics, news, science and whatever else strikes my fancy. -- A member of the Reality-based Commmunity.
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:: Friday, February 04, 2005 ::

N.Y. judge strikes down gay marriage ban

N.Y. judge strikes down gay marriage ban:
A judge declared Friday that a law banning same-sex marriage violated the state constitution, a ruling that would allow gay couples to wed if it was upheld on appeal.

The judge, Justice Doris Ling-Cohan of the state Supreme Court, ruled in favor of five gay couples who were denied marriage licenses last year. She stayed the ruling for 30 days to allow time for appeals.
Looks like the same reasoning as in Massachusetts. Most states have much stronger Constitutional protections than the nation as a whole has. Vermont, Massachusetts, and now New York -- it's going to spread, simply because the legal reasoning behind it is pretty ironclad. Only those states with very weak Equal Protection clauses might avoid it -- and those that have already banned it via state Constitution.

When California joins the list, it's all over. I expect SCOTUS will decide to extend the Full Faith and Credit clause at that point, if not outright overruling state bans on gay marriage.
:: Morat 12:04 PM :: ::

Idiots..

Video Games' Chaos Echoed In Streets,D.C Leaders Say:
District political, religious and community leaders gathered at a Southeast Washington church yesterday to support a proposed ban on the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors. They summed up their objections in a word: poison.

'Why are they selling this game to our children?' said Ronald Moten, a leader of Peaceaholics, which mentors troubled youths in the District and Maryland. He and others drew a direct line between the make-believe mayhem in such video games as Grand Theft Auto and the very real pain they see in their neighborhoods.
Yes, they draw that line because they are idiots. GTA was built to mimick the problems in those neighborhoods. Problems that existed a long time before desktop computers were common.

I suppose no one ever robbed, killed, raped, assaulted, carjacked, joined a gang, or did any of these things before the obvious evil of videogames.

Morons. Generation after generation, and they never learn. Video games this decade, TV last decade, movies before that, books before that, poetry before that....

Ban uncovered faces, ban bared ankles, ban books other than the Bible, ban everything but a bland existence filled with nothing but unobjectionable pap -- and you'll find human beings still spend their days creating misery for themselves and others.

However, since comments about "reality" tend to fall on deaf ears with some politicians, I'll point to something more understandable:
The Washington-based Entertainment Software Association noted last year that the average age of a video game player is 30 and that the average age of a video game purchaser is 36. Parents are involved in the purchase of games 83 percent of the time, the association said.
Do you really want to piss off gamers? They're not 14 year olds, but 30 year olds -- often with a VERY high disposable income. (Link via Pandagon)
:: Morat 11:30 AM :: ::

DNC race

Dean appears to have endorsements from well over half the DNC voters. Assuming they all vote as they have endorsed, it's over. I don't think Fowler's formally dropped, and he's second with something like 13 endorsements (he claims 72, but only 13 have spoken publicly) and Dean has 250....and only need 224.

How much of this was widespread support for Dean outside the high level leadership and how much was bowing to the inevitable is unknown.

I lean towards the former simply because had the DNC voters been as unhappy with Dean as the DNC consultants and current leaders, someone who have emerged as the anti-Dean. Not only did no "anti-Dean" candidate emerge, there doesn't appear to have been many "stop Dean" votes in the first place. Dean seemed to be second or third on a lot of lists....and first on even more.

I won't celebrate until it's official, but I can't imagine the DNC shooting themselves in the ass at this point by trying to force voters -- ones who have already endorsed Dean -- to switch votes. It'd reek too much of the backroom deals Carville longs for....and the rank-and-file seem to have lost taste for.
:: Morat 9:49 AM :: ::

U.S. to Pull 15,000 Troops Out of Iraq

U.S. to Pull 15,000 Troops Out of Iraq:
Buoyed by a higher turnout and less violence than expected in Sunday's Iraqi elections, Pentagon authorities have decided to start reducing the level of U.S. forces in Iraq next month by about 15,000 troops, down to about 135,000, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said yesterday.

The reduction involves about three brigades of Army soldiers and Marines whose tours were extended last month to bolster security ahead of the elections, and an additional 1,500 airborne soldiers who were rushed to Iraq for a four-month stint.
Bullshit. The Army isn't going to yank 15,000 troops out of Iraq because of a week long "lull" (that still saw, by my count, the same casualty levels as before the lull -- and the loss of two copters and a Hercules transport).

No, they're pulling out 15,000 troops because they have too. Last I checked, 135,000 troops was the number that merely breaks the Army over the long term. 150,000 destroys it far more quickly.

Oh, and for the record: Senator Kennedy was called a "virtually a traitor" for suggesting we withdraw 12,000 troops right away. I suppose that means Wolfie is certainly one.

Update: Kevin Drum claims this was actually already known and planned well before the "lull" in combat Wolfowitz claims is the reason.
:: Morat 9:33 AM :: ::

:: Thursday, February 03, 2005 ::

Social Security Plan

Looks like the Washington Post screwed it up a bit. It's not nearly as insane as it sounded. They state:
The original story (available here) should have made clear that, under the proposal, workers who opt to invest in the new private accounts would lose a proportionate share of their guaranteed payment from Social Security plus interest. They should be able to recoup those lost benefits through their private accounts, as long as their investments realize a return greater than the 3 percent that the money would have made if it had stayed in the traditional plan.
Still stupid -- and a waste of trillions -- but at least not insane.

Oh, and Pandragon points out this gem:
All workers choosing to set up a personal account would be required to purchase an investment that would combine with their monthly government check to assure income above the federal poverty level during retirement.

Any funds that remained available under these annuities after death would go to the Social Security program; the money could not be inherited. While that would assure retirees a monthly check while they live, it also could undercut what polling shows is one of the most persuasive arguments on behalf of personal accounts - that they can be inherited.
Bolding mine.
:: Morat 2:41 PM :: ::

Participants Would Forfeit Part of Accounts' Profits

What?:
Under the White House Social Security plan, workers who opt to divert some of their payroll taxes into individual accounts would ultimately get to keep only the investment returns that exceed the rate of return that the money would have accrued in the traditional system.

The mechanism, detailed by a senior administration official before President Bush's State of the Union address, would hold down the cost of Bush's plan to introduce personal accounts to the Social Security system. But it could come as a surprise to lawmakers and voters who have thought of these accounts as akin to an individual retirement account or a 401(k) that they could use fully upon retirement.
Yep. That's a pretty damn good surprise, as I was thinking 401(k) or Roth-style IRA with limited investment choices, and could only cashed out to buy an annuity. The article continues:
If a worker sets aside $1,000 a year for 40 years, and earns 4 percent annually on investments, the account would grow to $99,800 in today's dollars, but the government would keep $78,700 -- or about 80 percent of the account. The remainder, $21,100, would be the worker's.

With a 4.6 percent average gain over inflation, the government keeps more than 70 percent. With the CBO's 3.3 percent rate, the worker is left with nothing but the guaranteed benefit.

If instead, workers decide to stay in the traditional system, they would receive the benefit that Social Security could pay out of payroll taxes still flowing into the system, the official said. Which option would be best is still unclear because the White House has yet to propose how severely guaranteed benefits would be cut for those with individual accounts.

The administration official explained that the "benefit offset" merely ensures that those who choose personal accounts are not given an unfair advantage over the traditional system.
Jesus...it's not just killing Social Security. He's wanting to steal money too.

Who benefits from this insane system? Not so much the rich -- this just doesn't affect them -- unless this is all a great scam to permanently (and not through T-bills that must be paid back via the 14th Amendment) redirect payroll taxes to the general fund. That'd turn a fairly level system overall into a very regressive one.

Wall Street? Are they going to make that much on this?

Big Business? They'd see a large influx of cash into anyone on the big index lists, which could prop up quite a number of businesses.

This is outright theft. They're wanting to add trillions in debt -- far more than the SS liability -- in order to invest in the market. Anyone doing well in the market is penalized, and the money taken away. Anyone doing poorly isn't helped.

In short, we're taking all the risk, and the government will help itself to any rewards. That's the plain and simple result of offsetting benefits.
:: Morat 11:47 AM :: ::

SOTU Thoughts

Well, in order:
  • Normal bullshit
  • More bullshit
  • Bullshit about Bullshit
  • Freedom is good
  • Bullshit
  • Scary Bullshit
  • "I'm not pandering"
  • Pandering
  • I'm raising Pell Grants again, because even though I raised them last SOTU, they mysteriously shrank a whole lot.
  • Bullshit
  • Freedom/Liberty
  • Bullshit
I think that pretty much covers it. Most SOTU addresses are bullshit, but Bush has taken a rough art form and really gone somewhere new with it.

It's not just bullshit, it'd even be bullshit on the fantasy world Bush has constructed in his head.

Hopefully I can offer something more constructive later, but I'm today has been busy so far. Thankfully, it's not like "Morat's thoughts on the SOTU" have a huge audience of desperate fans....
:: Morat 11:23 AM :: ::

Bankruptcy

Jesse sum's up Bush's bold plan:
If Peter Orzag's calculations are correct in this New York Times article, in the first 20 years of privatization, it would cost $4.5 trillion dollars to shore up a system projected to run a $3.4 trillion deficit over 75 years. Bush wants to commit the government to an unnecessary extra $1.1 trillion of spending that will still result in my benefits getting cut when I retire.
That sounds right. He forgot the bit where the government took any returns you got over 3.3%, though. But that's just icing on the cake.

I swear, it's like the White House doesn't have actual plans, just desired goals. "Invade Iraq", "Destroy Social Security"....that's a goal, but it's like they don't care how they get there or what happens next. It's like going into a football game determined to get ONE touchdown. If you win 7-0, great. If you lose 256-7, still great. Worse yet, it doesn't actually matter if it IS a touchdown -- just that someone on your team carried the ball into the endzone. Lose the touchdown for unnecessary roughness or holding, great. Still counts. Kill every member of both teams right before the last play of the game so you can walk across the goal line, still great. Still counts.
:: Morat 11:09 AM :: ::

:: Wednesday, February 02, 2005 ::

Dean Redux

I know it's been a lot of Dean lately, but it's about the only good news I've seen. Having cruised around the internet, I'll tell you one thing: The rampant trolling was suggestive enough, but what really clinches this as a good idea is the dire opposal of Dean from the exact same people who claimed Kerry would be "immune" to being called "soft on Terror" because of his war record.

I'm not sure what world, exactly, those people are living in. I live in the world where the GOP will say and do anything to slur any member of the Democratic party with even the slightest visibility.

Given that undeniable truth, the only counter is to make sure our ranking Democratic members are fire-breathers. Someone with the sort of backbone to stand up to the lies and slander and turn them onto the foul-mouthed cretins that spew them.

So, you know, guys like Dean.

I'll tell you one other thing: For an organization that has, effectively, lost everything -- House, Senate, Presidency, Judiciary -- our beloved elected officials are awfully risk adverse. They act like we have something left to lose.

And last of all: Pelosi and Ried are so cute. Their statements on Dean were so chock full of hope! They expect Dean will "take his lead from them" and remind that "Dean has a constituency of 447" while theirs is so much larger. They don't seem to grasp what propelled Dean to the forefront. Good idea or bad, the party base -- those "constituents" of which they spoke -- are tired of trying repeating losing tactics over and over. If nothing else, they're ready for something new.

Reid's comment about constituency was particularly stupid. I'm not sure it occurred to him, but a man who has enough grassroots support to make people care about who heads the DNC is a man with constituency a little bigger than Reid's. And dire warnings of doom and gloom aside, surely it sends a message to the party leadership that no one else they put forward had any sort of support. Someone was speaking Dean's name a hell of a lot louder than they were badmouthing him, or else at least one of the dozen or so "anti-Dean" candidates would have garnered a few votes.

I want to avoid -- as much as possible -- triumphant gloating (I have no idea how successful or unsuccessful Dean will be) but surely it says something to the Reids, Shrums, Pelosis and Clintons of the Party that not only did people care who got the job, but they cared enough to muscle in Dean over the objections of people who ordinarily had enough pull to squelch anyone they disagreed with too vehemently.

I note also that they're still trying to muzzle him, remind him to "speak carefully". In one sense, that's true -- and Dean appears to have found his stride there. Choosing words carefully is important. But that is not incompatable with the blunt outspokeness that made -- and kept -- Dean popular. Just as an example, I note that Homeland Security stopped toying with the terror levels right after Dean made a comment (far better than an accusation). Imagine how effective that might have been with a party behind him saying "As Dean notes, I can't imagine anyone toying with the terror levels for political gain. Sadly, the Bush penchant for secrecy leads to such speculation....".

Sets two nasty memes without any hooks for attack dogs to pounce on -- not without worsening the problem.
:: Morat 1:54 PM :: ::

Dean and the DNC

Well, it looks like Dean's a shoo-in now that Foster dropped out. I've already seen the trolls creeping from the woodwork, and in happy response I'd like to share this gem of wisdom from The Left Coaster:
Back in December, I linked to a "troll typology" that a poster at AMERICABlog constructed, measuring a correlation between right-wing troll hysteria and their fear of Democratic politicians and/or policies. Here's a brief recap:


If you haven't noticed, there is a scale of troll agitation:

1) Snarky - A red state themed nickname when they post
2) Scared - You're going to lose every election if you talk that way, you're doing yourself more harm than good, etc.
3) Terrified - So many typos I can tell the troll realizes that when enough people hear this, their world is coming to an end

Anyway, the race for DNC chair has proven how valuable and accurate this typology really is. Now that Howard Dean appears increasingly certain to gain the nod (though it's still not a "slam-dunk," to quote George Tenet), our friends on the right have gone into overdrive warning us of the perils that will befall the Democratic Party if he takes charge. The chief instigator, not surprisingly, is Bob Novak, who has devoted several columns in recent months "warning" the Democrats about a Dean-led DNC.
That's right, folks. Bob "Douchebag of Liberty" Novak is very concerned about the Democrats, so much that he's offering his priceless advice -- for free -- in order to help out the party. Why, last time he helped like this was when he was deliberately blowing the cover of a NOC agent tasked with WMD work in order to silence a man who -- although no Democrat -- might have aided them in some small way by telling the truth.

Yes indeed, Bob's got our best interests at heart. So do all those trolls promising doom and gloom upon a party they claim is full of "traitors, socialists, and terrorist-sympathizers". You've got to admire men and women so chock full of character that they'd warn the traitors, communists, and terrorist-lovers that they're on the very of being politically marginalized.

I admit, I lack that kind of character. I'd have to sit back and watch gleefully, perhaps while eating popcorn, as chickens came home to roost and petards were hoisted.
:: Morat 11:43 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, February 01, 2005 ::

Tapped and Dean

You know, I'm glad I've been reading TAPPED so long. I love their Howard Dean reporting:
But what the Democratic National Committee needs, at least as much as a spokesman, is a skilled political architect. Can Dean be that leader? Garance Franke-Ruta has spoken to numerous former Dean campaign employees, and the responses have not been promising. If high-level colleagues 'wouldn't trust him to run a company,' should the Democratic Party?
It reminds me of those lovely "teasers" for the local news: "Gangs in Middle School! Could your child end up raped and left for dead? JOIN US AT ELEVEN TO FIND OUT!".

Thankfully, their track record with foretelling the Democratic tea-leaves is only slightly better than Joe Lieberman's....

The article is even better in the "Damning with faith praise" sense. My favorite part has to do with the exhausting look at what Dean did with Democracy for America which -- as it was used between the primaries and the general election -- was a microcosm of the DNC. Raising money, funneling it to candidates, even managed to win a surprising number of races the DNC and the DCCC wrote off entirely.

Oh, wait....now that I think about it, they didn't talk about DFA. Isn't that weird? An entire article about whether Dean is even capable of handing the managerial aspects of the DNC job, and nary a mention of DFA -- a job identical to the DNC's, except Dean had to build it from scratch.

Weird. I simply can't imagine how he could overlook it. I mean, with all the "cult of personality" snarks and anonymice badmouthing aspects of the campaign, you'd figure he'd spend a few minutes on DFA....

Another moment of excellent reporting was when he talked about Dean's poor poll numbers, but kind of glossed over the fact that despite throwing up about a dozen other candidates for the position, no one else had even a fraction of the support. How do you square Dean's endorsements -- from all over the country, by actual voting members -- with his supposed negatives? Are the DNC voting members just a lot stupider than Franke-Ruta? Maybe he should join up.

And Democrats wonder what became of their party? Nobody but political junkies and insiders ever gave a damn who was DNC chair until this year, and what's the response? "Someone stop that guy! He's making people care about politics!".

Jesus. What a sad fucked up party we are.
:: Morat 1:55 PM :: ::

My first day..

So today's my first day with the new company. Other than the fact that I don't know where I'm charging my time, can't access either of the timecard systems I have to use, and am generally still unsure of who is my manager, it's been just like every other day.

The oddities of switching companies, but not jobs (or desks, or computers, or logins) was demonstrated to me about five minutes ago. My phone rang, and I answered with the name of my old company, before correcting myself mid-statement. It was, of course, an HR rep from my new company calling to make sure my email address was correct. (They hope to have the timecard system working soon).

Still, it's a wonder to be gainfully employed. Now I get to spend the next few weeks playing "Guess when I get paid and how much" thanks to switching pay schedules.
:: Morat 11:57 AM :: ::

:: Monday, January 31, 2005 ::

Hmm

I note the optimism isn't restrained to the internet. Most of the newspapers appear to be taking the "turning point" view on the elections as well. I'm hoping they're right, but given the effective Sunni boycott, I've little reason to share their optimism.

I'm going to bet that this goes down as another "turning point" that only made things worse in Iraq, just like all the rest. Hopefully events will prove me wrong, but that's not the way I'd bet.
:: Morat 9:51 AM :: ::

Iraqi Elections, 9/11 and exuberant optimism

Wandering around the 'net (primarily at Slate, where it's really bad) I notice a certain exuberant optimism on the right towards the Iraqi elections. It hasn't been quite that thick since "Operation Statue Topple" (courtesy of Army psy-ops and Ahmed "Noted embezzler and Iranian Spy" Chalabi). Right along with that, of course, comes the triumphant gloating and accusations that those less optimistic (and the left in general) were "hoping for failure", "wanting to aid US enemies" and generally just putting blind partisanship ahead of America.

Absent, sadly, is conversation on whether the Sunni's have succeeded in denying legitimacy to the election (almost certainly, to my mind), the relative worth of an election held under martial law (not much) or one in which most of the candidates were anonymous when voting was held (even less). I think that would interfere in the "You're fucking wrong, sucker!" attitude.

Thinking about it a bit, I think this goes beyond 'politics as sports' and strikes right into the heart of the Bush Presidency, and why the nation remains so bitterly opposed.

It goes back, unsurprisingly, to 9/11 -- the day that changed everything. People's reactions varied, but over time it settled down into three distinct camps: (1) Those that blamed Bush, thinking a more pro-active President would have done something. (2) Those who saw it as a problem to be addressed, but in essence just another aspect of foreign policy. (3) Those who saw it as a threat to America, the American way of life, and all that's good and right in the world.

Groups 1 and 2 were pretty fluid, and make up -- by far -- the bulk of the country. Group 3 is fairly small, but highly vocal. This group makes up the almost religiously devoted supporters of Bush. They shouldn't be confused with "conservatives" in general. I know many conservatives who fit comfortably in groups 1 and 2, and a few liberals who fit into 3. (Hitchens and Zell Miller, to name two).

After 9/11, most Americans wanted one of three things. They either wanted someone to blame, wanted someone to fix it, or wanted someone to save them.

Democratic politicians -- to their credit, although it bit them on the ass quite quickly -- might have leaned towards blaming Bush (certain memos that came out later would have supported that) but choose instead to work with him -- at least through the runup to Iraq.

Bush, on the other hand, took that for granted (good call) and zeroed straight in on Group Number Three. He knew the scared shitless, those wanting a savior to protect them from the horrible foreigners, could make up a huge, vocal, and absolutely unshakeable support block....one whose loud faith would shore support among those questioning his policies. And thus began the Cult of Bush.

And he played these people good. He made sure to have the troops visible everywhere. Airports, sporting events, anytime Bush's face was on the screen, armed soldiers tended to be visible. Always to reinforce that fear, to remind them of the danger, to play up the belief that Bush and Bush alone stood between them and random death at the hands of Islamic strangers. (Offhand, I bet there's a huge overlap between these supporters of Bush and the demographics targeted by those "Shocking!" local news stories. You know the ones, those "Is your kid snorting coke off an 11 year old girl's stomach? You'll be shocked what we found out kids, drugs, and Middle School! Tune in at 11!". We've built a culture of fear..)

Iraq has become a playground for the worst aspects of our culture. I've watched people go -- sometimes in minutes -- from "We should nuke all the fuckin' towelheads in Iraq. Ungrateful fuckers!" to "You racist liberals don't think they can govern themselves! You're hoping our troops die so you can attack Bush!"....Iraq isn't a place. It's not a war. It's a real-time, constantly updated proof either of the rightness of their cause. Success works -- as it shows Bush's plan to keep them safe is working. Failure works, as it shows the lengths to which the perfidious enemy -- both foreign and domestic -- will go to to destroy Bush, our only savior....

Right now, too many Americans want a dictator. They want a strong arm to keep the "bad guys" at bay. They've built Bush into their savior, that strong arm to keep them safe. And Bush has, in turn, made Iraq into the centerpiece of his "war" on those terrorists.

In short, a good chunk of America will never accept failure in Iraq, because doing so would be to admit they're not safe, that Bush has failed to defeat the terrorists. Anything less than total support for Bush -- no matter the plan -- is "aiding the terrorists". (Bush hasn't been shy about using that one).

Whatever the outcome in Iraq, "liberals" will be blamed for it. Because Bush can not fail. They will buy any spin, believe any lie, and seek to blame Democrats for anything that doesn't add up.

Because blaming Bush means abandoning the "Strong savior" image they so desperately cling to.
:: Morat 8:53 AM :: ::

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