I’d rather be with your friends, mate, ’cause they are much fitter

I will now write the only post that I will ever devote to the news of Sarah Palin being announced as McCain’s VP pick1. Ready? Here we go:

Never having voted in an election bigger than club treasurer, I turn to my more mature and responsible friends to ask: has a candidate’s Vice President pick ever made a difference in how you voted? Have you ever been on the fence about someone but their VP choice pushed you one way or the other? Or has a VP pick ever astounded you so much that you’ve immediately switched sides?

I’m not asking this Socratically or as a trick or as a prelude to a lecture2. I have near to zero insight into the voting process, so I don’t know how much a VP makes a difference. Whether the answer is “yes” or “no,” please don’t get defensive. I just want to know how you make your decisions. I am genuinely and sincerely curious.

And remember, this is for posterity. So be honest.

____________
1 This promise subject to change, of course, if Sarah Palin starts dating Lindsay Lohan or something equally bizarre. If she goes on just being a VP candidate I have nothing more to say about her.

2 In other words, “not the ways in which I always ask questions.”

less than zero, less than zero

I have tried to hold off on political posts of late until I have recent news stories that make both presumptive nominees look dumb.

Starting with the Ruling Party: MarketWatch asks what qualifications a green Navy pilot and mediocre senator has to be President.

His campaign finance law failed to significantly reduce the role of money in politics. He failed to get a big tobacco bill through the Senate. He’s failed to change the way Congress spends money; his bill to give the president a line-item veto was declared unconstitutional, and the system of pork and earmarks continues unabated. He failed to reform the immigration system.

Every senator who runs for president misses votes back in Washington, so it’s no surprise that McCain and all the others who ran in the primaries have missed a lot of votes in the past year. But between the beginning of 2005 and mid-2007, no senator missed more roll-call votes than McCain did, except Tim Johnson, who was recovering from a near-fatal brain aneurysm.

McCain says he doesn’t understand the economy. He’s demonstrated that he doesn’t understand the workings of Social Security, or the political history of the Middle East. He doesn’t know who our enemies are. He says he wants to reduce global warming, but then proposes ideas that would stimulate — not reduce — demand for fossil fuels.

Seriously – what successes does McCain have to his name? Other than McCain-Feingold, whose limits on campaign finance he has now successfully evaded.

Backstroking to the Opposition Party’s side of the pool, I found this frankly baffling story in the news yesterday: Barack Obama wants to end income taxes on seniors who make less than $50,000.

The Obama campaign says the idea would give tax cuts averaging about $1,400 to 7 million seniors who are battling inflation with mostly fixed incomes. The campaign also says the plan would relieve millions of older people from having to file complicated tax returns.

[…]

Some of Obama’s allies in Washington think he’s onto a bad idea.

“Most low- and moderate-income seniors already owe no income tax. Among seniors with incomes below $50,000 who do owe income tax, a significant number have modest incomes because they are retired but possess substantial assets,” said Robert Greenstein, who heads the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. “Given all the problems and needs the nation faces, targeting relief to this group isn’t a priority.”

The Tax Policy Center, a think tank run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, gave the idea bad grades in a recent study of the two presidential candidates’ tax plans.

Seniors already get preferential treatment in the tax code. They can claim an additional standard deduction and only a portion of their Social Security benefits are taxed. Many don’t pay payroll taxes because their income is from investments rather than wages.

Most of the bad economics that I waste my time railing against, you could call Good Ideas Executed Poorly. Take the minimum wage, for instance. Raising the minimum wage does not help the people it purports to help. But at least it comes from a halfway reasonable premise. You want to help poor people, you raise the amount they get paid. It is, at least, goal-oriented thinking.

But cutting taxes on seniors to zero? What could that be other than pure pandering for the elderly vote?

The median net worth for a U.S. citizen over 65 is $174,400. That’s almost four times the median net worth of any 35-year-olds reading this, and eighty-two times the median net worth of most of you (25-34 age bracket). Seniors collect more benefits from the combined trough of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security than any other demographic. Seniors are one of the few classes in the U.S. who get more in state and federal money than they pay in.

It is not possible to sincerely believe that a 66-year-old woman making $48,000 a year needs further government bailouts and have that belief be informed by reality. No real data supports that. If that is your opinion, your opinion is wrong*.

Holy hell – bailing out seniors who earn per capita GDP? Who comes up with that?

I’m in my cave if you need me.

____________
* Show of hands – how many of you live on one of America’s coasts and make less than $48,000 a year? Do you pay for your own prescriptions? Is that $48,000 a salary or the result of investments? Congratulations – you’re proof that seniors are fine.

it’s like that, and that’s the way it is

First and most important, c/o Phanatic (who swiped it from a friend of his) here’s some fresh breakin’ to start your day.

Next: I remember reading a copy of the Journal at the kitchen table in the family homestead over Christmas and seeing a full-page ad for Lifelock – an identity theft protection service. In this ad, which I’m sure you’ve seen since, Todd Davis, CEO of Lifelock, stood in front of block text declaring his Social Security Number to the world. So confident was he, apparently, in his company’s product.

Well, according to a class action lawsuit filed last week, the inevitable happened:

“The lawsuits allege that LifeLock and its multi-million-dollar advertising campaign provided false and misleading information about the limited level of identity protection the company provides, and failed to warn them about the potential adverse impact the company’s services could have on their credit profiles,” according to the press release.

Additionally, the release alleges that Lifelock CEO, Todd Davis has been a victim of identity theft multiple times since using his SSN as a marketing tool to sell the service.

Oops.

Next up: could the “obesity epidemic” plaguing America have anything to do with … the shifting definition of obesity?

“Overweight:”Definition changed from BMI ≥ 27 to BMI ≥ 25 by the U.S. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute in 1998, instantly increasing by 43% the numbers of Americans, an additional 30.5 million, deemed ‘overweight.’

“High cholesterol:”Definition changed from a total cholesterol ≥ 240 to ≥ 200 in 1998 increasing by 86% the numbers of Americans labeled has having high cholesterol, an additional 42.6 million adults.

“Hypertension:”Definition changed in 1997 from 160/100 to 140/90, instantly adding 35% more Americans, 13.5 million, to the rosters of hypertensive. A new definition for ‘prehypertension’ in 2003 increased to 58% the Americans believing they have hypertension.

“Diabetes:” Definition changed from a fasting glucose of ≥ 140 to ≥ 126 in 1997 by the American Diabetes Association and WHO Expert Committee on the Diagnosis and Classification of Diabetes Mellitus, increasing by 14% and 1.7 million the people diagnosed with diabetes. With the proposal of a new term, ‘prediabetes’ by the First International Congress on Prediabetes, and promoted by the International Diabetes Federation (sponsored by 12 pharmaceutical companies), 40% of the adult population was added to the rosters believing they have diabetes and are in need of treatment.

I’ve still seen plenty of fat Americans, but this explains a lot.

In news abroad, Jesus tapdancing Christ, don’t fucking invade Burma in the name of humanitarian aid, you fucking stupid fucks:

One of the illusions that convinced some otherwise well-meaning people to go along with the conquest of Iraq in 2003 was, “Iraq is so bad, how could we make it worse?” But we could. So with Burma. I know almost nothing about the junta that rules Burma. But I know that it’s the junta that rules Burma – that is, that they’ve extended their writ over a preponderance of the territory we think of as Burma, more or less. That is to say, they successfully maintain power.

The junta apparently numbers 19 guys, but 19 guys don’t run a place like Burma by themselves. They’ve got people for that. Cops, soldiers, secret policemen, bureaucrats. And those people have families and friends and hangers-on. Stakeholders. And apparently “regional commanders enjoy a great deal of autonomy in their respective areas.” So they and their retainers and whoever else profits from existing arrangements have a stake in the existing system. And the habits and attitudes of the bulk of the population are the habits and attitudes that enable one to survive under tyranny. It’s not about knocking off that one bad guy and his eighteen friends. There’s a whole set of structures and class interests and cultural patterns, local peculiarities and regional fault lines to cope with. I don’t know much about Burma, but I know that much about any place. It’s hubris to be sure you can start rearranging such a society without a good chance of making it even worse.

And, because I haven’t ragged on President Dog in a while:

“I believe that it’s not an accident that our hostages came home from Iran when President Reagan was president of the United States. He didn’t sit down in a negotiation with the religious extremists in Iran, he made it very clear that those hostages were coming home.’’

[…]

Asked if he thought Mr. Obama was an appeaser — the Democratic candidate has said he would be willing to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran — Mr. McCain sidestepped and said, “I think that Barack Obama needs to explain why he wants to sit down and talk with a man who is the head of a government that is a state sponsor of terrorism, that is responsible for the killing of brave young Americans, that wants to wipe Israel off the map, who denies the Holocaust. That’s what I think Senator Obama ought to explain to the American people.’’

I should barely need to open my mouth to refute something this illiterate, but:

(1) Reagan had no problem sitting down with Iranian religious extremists when he needed some loose cash to fund Nicaraguan guerillas.

(2) Not that I want to defend Obama’s foreign policy acumen, but: Senator Obama would probably want to sit down with the head of Iran for the same reason Reagan sat down with Gorbachev, or the same reason Nixon shook hands with Mao Zedong. I know these aren’t strictly analogous cases, as Russia and China were threats to the U.S. and Iran is not, but I hope everyone can still follow along.

From the Washington Post, an op/ed that examines the social cost of terrorism:

Fear, in other words, is a tax, and al-Qaeda and its ilk have done better at extracting it from Americans than the Internal Revenue Service. Think about the extra half-hour millions of airline passengers waste standing in security lines; the annual cost in lost work hours runs into the billions. Add to that the freight delays at borders, ports and airports, the cost of checking money transfers as well as goods in transit, the wages for beefed-up security forces around the world. And that doesn’t even attempt to put a price tag on the compression of civil liberties or the loss of human dignity from being groped in full public view by Transportation Security Administration personnel at the airport or from having to walk barefoot through the metal detector, holding up your beltless pants. This global transaction tax represents the most significant victory of Terror International to date.

The new fear tax falls most heavily on the United States. Last November, the Commerce Department reported a 17 percent decline in overseas travel to the United States between Sept. 11, 2001, and 2006. (There are no firm figures for 2007 yet, but there seems to have been an uptick.) That slump has cost the country $94 billion in lost tourist spending, nearly 200,000 jobs and $16 billion in forgone tax revenue — and all while the dollar has kept dropping.

[…]

What is happening to the American character? True, the country has gone through crises of confidence before, some of them cresting in sheer hysteria — from the Alien and Sedition Acts to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s search for a commie under every State Department desk. But the worst acts from 1798 were repealed or allowed to lapse within three years, and the senator from Wisconsin was censured a few years into his red-baiting career. Alas, the USA Patriot Act and DHS have already endured longer than either earlier excess, and neither is fading.

I vaguely recall someone mentioning how important it was that American citizens live out their lives as normal – without fear, in other words – in the days immediately following the September 11th attacks. My mistake.

Next, you might have seen this on a CNN scrolling banner last week: Marijuana may up heart attack, stroke risks. Of course, the beauty of modern cable news comes from not having to tell you the interesting parts of the story:

The marijuana users in the study averaged smoking 78 to 350 marijuana cigarettes per week, based on self-reported drug history, the researchers said.

78 joints per week makes 11 per day, or one every hour and a half while awake. 350 joints per week makes 50 a day. Drinking 50 glasses of distilled water per day would cause kidney problems, but you don’t see that making the news.

Was there some mythical era of American journalism when obviously bogus news stories like this one would have been caught at the editor’s desk? Or is that wishful thinking?

Finally, I worry about the rising price of oil as much as anyone, but I hope that my worries sound more literate than those of the dumbest man with a Times byline, Paul fucking Krugman:

Now, speculators do sometimes push commodity prices far above the level justified by fundamentals. But when that happens, there are telltale signs that just aren’t there in today’s oil market.

[…]

The only way speculation can have a persistent effect on oil prices, then, is if it leads to physical hoarding — an increase in private inventories of black gunk. This actually happened in the late 1970s, when the effects of disrupted Iranian supply were amplified by widespread panic stockpiling.

But it hasn’t happened this time: all through the period of the alleged bubble, inventories have remained at more or less normal levels. This tells us that the rise in oil prices isn’t the result of runaway speculation; it’s the result of fundamental factors, mainly the growing difficulty of finding oil and the rapid growth of emerging economies like China. The rise in oil prices these past few years had to happen to keep demand growth from exceeding supply growth. [emphasis mine]

Speculators? Hoarders? Heaven forfend, Dr. Krugman! Are the Freemasons poisoning the wells? Should I let some blood to dispel the bad humo(u)rs? Quick, without peeking at a calendar: what century are we living in right now?

The bizarre distinction between “speculators / hoarders” and the “fundamental” business of the market belies an odd, illiterate bias on Krugman’s part. To demonstrate why, substitute the word investor for every instance of the word speculator or hoarder. They’re the same thing: people who buy a commodity in the expectation that its price will rise. But one can be found in every basic Econ textbook in print today – none of which, apparently, Krugman has ever read – while the other evokes images of a miser in a mud hovel on the outskirts of a Prussian village. Speculators! Hoarders! Assemble a posse! Notify the burgomeister!

Maybe I wouldn’t be so mad all the time if I lived in Iceland:

Iceland, lodged in the middle of the North Atlantic with Greenland as its nearest neighbour, was too far from the remit of any but the more zealously obstinate of the medieval Christian missionaries. It is a largely pagan country, as the natives like to see it, unburdened by the taboos that generate so much distress elsewhere. That means they are practical people. Which, in turn, means lots of divorces.

‘That is not something to be proud of,’ said [city councilor and single mom] Oddny [Sturludottir], with a brisk smile, ‘but the fact is that Icelanders don’t stay in lousy relationships. They just leave.’ And the reason they can do so is that society, starting with the parents and grandparents, does not stigmatise them for making that choice. Icelanders are the least hung-up people in the world. Thus the incentive, for example, ‘to stay together for the sake of the kids’ does not exist. The kids will be just fine, because the family will rally round them and, likely as not, the parents will continue to have a civilised relationship, based on the usually automatic understanding that custody for the children will be shared.

Fewer Puritans, a high GDP, greatest number of books per citizen and hot springs? I now have a designated escape country.

insane in the membrane; insane in the brain

“Hey Professor,” you asked, “what are the four craziest things John McCain has said in the last month? Not just goofy or indicative of a radical political bent, but out and out deranged?”

And here I am to tell you:

#4: “Al-Qaeda Would Be Taking A Country.” Responding to a statement by Obama on February 27th, McCain said:

“And my friends, if we left, they (al-Qaida) wouldn’t be establishing a base. […] They’d be taking a country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen, my friends. I will not surrender. I will not surrender to al-Qaida.”

Right. The predominantly Shi’ite Iraq is going to be conquered by fringe Sunni guerillas. I mean sure, it’s happened before, but they had the U.S.’s help that time.

Joe Klein from Time calls McCain out on his error in the link above, but makes the mistake of saying “McCain knows better. He knows the complexities of the world, and the region.” Joey, presuming that McCain knows the day of the week is wishful thinking.

#3: “There’s Strong Evidence Linking Thimerosal to Autism.” At a town hall meeting in Texas on February 29th, John McCain told a crowd of supposedly literate adults that “there’s strong evidence” that thimerosal (which used to be a common ingredient in childhood vaccines) is responsible for the rise in autism.

This is not true. There is no evidence to support such a conjecture. Anyone who says this or thinks this disagrees with the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the FDA, the Institute of Medicine and pretty much every doctor with a credible license.

#2: “You’ve Stumped Me.” I’m cheating a little, because this is a quote from an interview with McCain in 2007. But it came up in a 2008 op-ed, so I’m shoehorning it in. And if you’d like to argue that McCain has grown less senile and not more in twelve months’ time, I’ll entertain the argument.

Now, if McCain’s position were that abstinence education was the most effective way to reduce teen pregnancy and teen STDs, that’d be one thing. I happen to think that position is silly, puritanical and unsupported by anything empirical, but at least it’s a recognizable Republican talking point. At least McCain would be a voice of the establishment at that point, instead of a decrepit lunatic who shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

But! When asked what exactly he thought about sex education, on the spur of the moment, he had the following to say:

Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Not a “No, they make people more promiscuous.” Not a “Yes, but they encourage loose morals.” He just simply doesn’t get the connection. Do prophylactics reduce the spread of STDs? Hmm, that’s a puzzler! You might as well ask McCain what’s the difference between rhubarb and a pigeon in the attic? You’re just talking gibberish!

#1: “Al-Qaeda is Going Into Iran and Receiving Training …” For this one, I’m just going to quote the Times entirely:

Mr. McCain said several times in his visit to Jordan — in a news conference and in a radio interview — that he was concerned that Iran was training Al Qaeda in Iraq. The United States believes that Iran, a Shiite country, has been training and financing Shiite extremists in Iraq, but not Al Qaeda, which is a Sunni insurgent group.

Mr. McCain said at a news conference in Amman that he continued to be concerned about Iranians “taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” Asked about that statement, Mr. McCain said: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.”

It was not until he got a quiet word of correction in his ear from Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who was traveling with Mr. McCain as part of a Congressional delegation on a nearly weeklong trip, that Mr. McCain corrected himself.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. McCain said, “the Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.”

Even if you believe that the war in Iraq is still worth conducting – and as insane as I find that, I know some people believe it, so I’ll take it for argument – how can you support a man so blithely ignorant of the basic facts of the matter? So willing to let fantasy and delusion rule his words? What would it take to prove to you that John McCain is delusional?

but I never thought you’d be a junkie because heroin is so passe

Time to troll the week’s headlines:


  • I’ve never registered to vote because, for other reasons, I want to stay off of jury duty rolls in Massachusetts. Lately, though, I’ve started to wonder whether that’s really the right tack. My one vote is so insignificant as to be statistically discountable – but think of the havoc I could wreak on a jury! That’s just eleven other people! And they can’t leave the room!

    I remembered this malicious little thought when I read an op-ed in Time by the writers of The Wire, the greatest show that the medium of television has yet produced: Ed Burns, David Simon and George Pelecanos. Quoted (emphasis mine):

    “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right,” wrote Thomas Paine when he called for civil disobedience against monarchy — the flawed national policy of his day. In a similar spirit, we offer a small idea that is, perhaps, no small idea. It will not solve the drug problem, nor will it heal all civic wounds. It does not yet address questions of how the resources spent warring with our poor over drug use might be better spent on treatment or education or job training, or anything else that might begin to restore those places in America where the only economic engine remaining is the illegal drug economy. It doesn’t resolve the myriad complexities that a retreat from war to sanity will require. All it does is open a range of intricate, paradoxical issues. But this is what we can do — and what we will do.

    If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun’s manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

    Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience.

    But, in order to get on the jury duty rolls, I need to register to vote anyway. So who do I talk to about that?

  • Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz thinks the war’s responsible for the U.S. recession. His reasoning:

    “The Fed has flooded the economy with liquidity and the regulators looked the other way when very imprudent lending was going up,” Stiglitz said. “We were living on borrowed money and borrowed time and eventually a day of reckoning had to come, and it has now come.”

    The war has also altered how the United States has reacted to its current economic troubles, he said.

    “When America’s financial institutions had a problem, they had to turn to the sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East for recapitalization, for the bailout,” he said.

    “The reason was obvious. The war had led to high oil prices. The war had meant that America had to borrow more money. There weren’t sources of liquid funds in the United States. The sources of the liquid funds were in the Middle East,” he said.

    I don’t expect to shake the man’s Nobel laurels at you and silence the argument there. But if you still thought wars were good for the economy – and you forgot that the “economy” is a thermometer, not a thermostat – then ask me about the Broken Window Fallacy sometime. Or Google it. That’s what I’d do if I had to explain it to you. Which I don’t. Because Joe Stiglitz just did. I forget the point I was trying to make, except that there’s no good reason for American troops to be stationed in Iraq at present.

  • I continue to sit agape at Cracked‘s transformation from “MAD Magazine knock-off” to “prime source for clever online essays.” Here, for instance, are seven insane conspiracies that actually happened, like the Tuskegee experiments, MKULTRA, Scientology’s “Snow White” project and President Bush’s grandfather’s (alleged) plot to kill FDR. If you haven’t had enough yet, you can read about the South American coup that the CIA conducted on Chiquita Bananas’ behalf. And if you can still handle the jive, read David Wong’s much-linked article on the monkeysphere.

    Holy shit, dude. If I could be so profound.

  • My favorite entry in the Funny/Tragic file this week has to be Mukasey’s Paradox:

    In his twisting of legal principles, the attorney general has succeeded in creating a perfect paradox. Under Mukasey’s Paradox, lawyers cannot commit crimes when they act under the orders of a president — and a president cannot commit a crime when he acts under advice of lawyers.

    […]

    Once in office, Mukasey still had the nasty problem of a secret torture program that was now hiding in plain view. Asked to order a criminal investigation of the program, Mukasey refused. His rationale left many lawyers gasping: Any torture that occurred was done on the advice of counsel and therefore, while they may have been wrong, it could not have been a crime for CIA interrogators or, presumably, the president. If this sounds ludicrous, it is. Under that logic, any president can simply surround himself with extremist or collusive lawyers and instantly decriminalize any crime.

    However, this is only half of Mukasey’s Paradox. The other half occurred last week when Mukasey refused to allow contempt charges against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers to be given to a grand jury. Bolten and Miers stand accused of contempt in refusing to testify before Congress in its investigation of the firings of several U.S. attorneys in 2006. Mukasey wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that their refusal to testify could not be a crime because the president ordered them not to testify under executive privilege.

    Under this logic, no official can be prosecuted for contempt as long as a president ordered them to commit the contempt — even if the president’s assertion of privilege is clearly invalid or incomplete. In this case, many experts have expressed skepticism that all or any of President Bush’s assertions of privilege in this case would be upheld.

  • I’m going to shotgun these last few: John McCain declares there’s “strong evidence” for a link between vaccinations and autism (note: there isn’t); a blindfold test confirms that Monster brand stereo cables are no better than coat hangers at conducting sound; readers of the Freakonomics blog come up with a six word motto for the United States; and Dubai may own a quarter of the world’s construction cranes.

  • To end on an upbeat note, here are some publicity stills from the set of Watchmen. Based on these, I can say with certainty that it’ll be a kickass first 75 minutes. No question. After that it’s anyone’s guess.

Have a good weekend, folks.