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Ramblings of a Unix ronin
unixronin

The Obama administration pledged to be “the most transparent presidential administration in history,” but White House staffers have met "hundreds of times" with lobbyists at unofficial locations, and used private email accounts to coordinate with lobbyists, in order to evade public record and avoid reporting the meetings.  CREW wants the House to investigate.

As a candidate and as president, Obama has been sharply critical of lobbyists and their influence in the political process.  He pledged to institute greater transparency and to close the revolving lobby door in Washington.

“It is outrageous that White House staff are deliberately using personal email accounts – in violation of the law – to hide the fact that they are in touch with lobbyists,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a paper statement. “This is what all the administration’s anti-lobbyist rhetoric gets you – less transparency. Rather than being open and clear about who is influencing White House policy, the White House is trying to hide who it’s really talking to. Even worse, the public is being suckered with lofty rhetoric about the evils of the same lobbyists White House officials are meeting with.”

Welcome to Washington, DC business as usual, where EVERYONE says one thing and does another.  Remind me again why we all put up with this shit?

...Oh, right.  Because something like 70% or 80% of the voters don't care.

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unixronin

In a move planned to show its solidarity with other government bodies in findign time to fiddle while Rome burns, the EU has approved new regulations that will prohibit selling eggs by the dozen.

The new rules will mean that instead of packaging telling shoppers a box contains six eggs, it will show the weight in grams of the eggs inside, for example 372g.

[...]  The rules will not allow both the weight and the quantity to be displayed.

So you can't even mark the package "One half dozen large eggs, net weight 372g."  And I suppose the next refinement will require every carton of eggs to be individually weighed and marked with its actual weight, because, you know, you can't put 12.07 eggs in a package to make the weight come out to a nice round consistent number every time.  UK food industry experts described the new EU ruling as "bonkers" and "absolute madness", and it's hard to disagree.  There are products, like eggs, car tires etc, that it simply makes no sense to sell by weight.  Can you imagine walking into your local tire store and asking for 112kg of tires, or going to the bicycle store for 92g of replacement spokes?

Crises come and crises go, the world economy melts down, the Eurozone is facing potential collapse as bankrupt member-nation economies implode, Shari'a law is metastasizing into European nations, but never let it be said that the EU Parliament is too busy to find the time for stupid, pointless crap like saying that you can't sell a dozen eggs as a dozen eggs any more.

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unixronin

How to suppress free speech de facto without banning it de jure:

Under these laws, so-called “grassroots lobbyists” must register with the state and file frequent and detailed reports about their contributions, expenditures and activities even if they never contact an elected official.  Such regulations set a legal trap for unsuspecting citizens; other than professional politicians and lobbyists, no ordinary citizen would think to consult a lawyer and register with the state before speaking out on a public issue.

Dr. Milyo’s research revealed that these regulations are complex and not accessible to ordinary people.  The first paragraph of Massachusetts’ new lobbying law, for example, scored 0.9 on a 100-point scale in a readability test.  Going by such tests, it would take 34 years of formal education to understand that paragraph; not even a doctorate from MIT or Harvard would be enough.

There's lots more where that came from.

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unixronin

I previously said that as long as the rumored membership-disclosure language, which I could not find anywhere in the Thomas listing, was not actually there, I didn't see what was so bad about the DISCLOSE Act.  I just had my eyes opened.  It is fiendishly Machiavellian.

I'll let NRA First Vice President David Keene point out the stealth nuke hidden in the DISCLOSE Act:

When you think of the NRA you no doubt think mostly about the NRA’s advocacy on Second Amendment issues, but the NRA also provides training to its members, law enforcement and military personnel, works with states, counties and private organizations to build ranges and runs competitive events such as those at Camp Perry in Ohio.  Since Camp Perry is a military base, public monies go into range development and federal funds go to training military and police personnel, the NRA would be classed with government contractors and TARP recipients under the DISCLOSE ACT as originally written and effectively prohibited from engaging in any meaningful political activity.

In other words, this act as originally written by anti-gun legislators like New York Senator Chuck Schumer would have silenced the NRA …which would have been the death knell for the Second Amendment.

(Emphasis mine.)

I totally missed it.  But Keene is right.  That was a very sneaky stealth attack that almost slipped by under the radar.

But, this doesn't mean the NRA is off the hook.  The NRA has denied that it made any kind of deal to allow the bill to pass in return for exemption, but Keene goes on to say this:

Therefore, the NRA served notice on Congress that since the act threatened our very existence, we were prepared to do anything and everything that might be required to defeat it unless it was changed so that we could continue to represent the views of our members in the public arena.  The letter, sent on May 26, was public.  The NRA did not engage in back room shenanigans, but told Congressional leaders quite clearly that we would do whatever we needed to do to protect the rights of our members and our ability to defend the Second Amendment.

Last week Democratic leadership in the House capitulated by agreeing to exempt the NRA from the act – not in return for NRA support, but to avoid a political war that might cost them even more seats this fall.

The NRA denies that this constitutes "making a deal".  But it sure looks to me like the NRA demanded, and got, special treatment.  They're denying that they did the dirty in a smoke-filled back room, but they still demanded a price for not opposing the DISCLOSE Act, and they still got it.

But there's a silver lining to this.  It looks as though the idea of making an exception for the NRA is so repugnant to the Dems — particularly Dianne Feinstein, another of the surviving Big Three anti-gun demagogues of Congress (and a hypocrite on the subject; like Schumer, her gun is good, but your gun is bad) — that they're unwilling to let it pass with the exemption in place:

Consider this: on Thursday night, California Senator Diane Feinstein, one of the most anti-Second Amendment members of the Senate, announced that she wouldn’t support the DISCLOSE ACT if it exempted the NRA.  By Friday some two-dozen left wing activist groups that had previously been pressing Congress to pass the bill announced that now they wanted it defeated.

And doesn't that rather make it clear what the real intent of Feinstein and the other backers of this bill really is?  "Fuck campaign reform; if we can't nail the NRA with it, who cares about reform?" So, the upshot of all this may, in the end, be that the entire bill ends up killed by its previous backers.  You can decide for yourself whether that's because they think it's unfair and counter to the spirit of the bill to give the NRA an exemption in order to get their campaign reform passed, or whether the campaign reform aspect is just a convenient front that they don't actually care about if the NRA manages to dodge the bullet.

The gripping hand is, the NRA still demanded exemption only for itself.  It still threw GOA, JPFO, and all the other pro-Second-Amendment groups under the bus.

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unixronin

Disgusted though I am with the NRA, I still never thought I'd see the day when the NRA would get behind a bill sponsored by Chuck Schumer, one of the Big Four anti-gun zealots in Congress (Big Three, now that Ted Kennedy's dead).  But it's being reported in various places that the NRA is backing H.R.5175, "the DISCLOSE Act", a bill that is alleged to effectively curtail First Amendment rights for grassroots organizations across the United States and violate the privacy of their members, in return for language in the bill that exempts the NRA.  And, by sheer coincidence, the NRA is the ONLY ostensibly-pro-gun organization that it exempts; the exemption is written in such a way as to not cover Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Foundation, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, the Citizens' Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, or any of the small regional organizations such as the Virginia Citzens Defense League, MASS-GUNS, the California Rifle & Pistol Association, or Pro-Gun New Hampshire, or special-interest pro-gun groups such as the Second Amendment Sisters and the Pink Pistols.  (In fact, it's possible that the ONLY qualifying organizations are the NRA and AARP.)

[...] the National Rifle Association said the original bill was unconstitutional and "would have undermined or obliterated virtually all of the NRA's right to free political speech," suggesting that putting restrictions on campaign activity also limits political speech.

On the positive side, the act requires that corporate backers of campaign-related ads disclose their support, bars government contractors and TARP recipients from making "campaign-related expenditures", and extends the ban on foreign nationals and foreign corporations making contributions or expenditures to influence U.S. elections to also apply to US domestic corporations controlled by foreign nationals.  It also contains language placing some limits upon campaign activities by unions, but it is duplicate language that actually adds nothing not already covered by existing FEC regulations.  There are various other reporting requirements; find a summary of the act here.

The downside of the Act is that it not only requires any organization that provides $10,000 or more of campaign-related services or donations in any given year to provide Congress with a list of all donors of more than $1000, but, more worryingly, reportedly contains language that appears to require grassroots organizations to provide Congress with complete membership lists.  (That said, I haven't been able to verify the existence of such language myself.  It's not immediately apparent in the Thomas summary.)

The NRA is strongly opposed to having to comply with those restrictions, and states that they threaten First Amendment rights (an argument which, on the face of it, I believe has merit if the rumored membership-list provision actually exists) ... but is apparently just fine with them as long as they don't apply to the NRA.  (It should be noted, though, that the NRA is spinning the deal as having been imposed upon it in order to prevent it from having a voice in final discussions on the bill.)  VCDL has this to say:

Let me not mince words - this appears to be an unholy alliance between Nancy Pelosi and the NRA, which would wipe out the NRA's competition.

If you snuggle up with a rattlesnake you are going to get bit.  The NRA is playing a fool's game if they think they will survive this unscathed.  Nancy Pelosi is not their friend now, nor will she ever be.

For their own self-interest, the NRA is apparently choosing to drive, or at least ride in, the bus that is going to run over the rest of us.

So ... anyone out there who still doesn't believe that the NRA has sold out?

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unixronin

U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) voices concerns that the Senate passes over 90% of legislation without any debate, without amendment, and without a roll call vote.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  If you think your bill needs to be passed unread and without amendments or a recorded vote, then I suggest that on the contrary, it almost certainly means it should not be passed at all.  Because if your bill is a benefit to the nation, then why do you need to hide it from the nation until it's a fait accompli and conceal who voted to pass it?

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unixronin

A Tenth Amendment Center article talks about the EPA trying to impose failed Washington DC policies in place of working Texas ones.

“Evidently, Texas’ success in improving both our environment and our economy, while Washington still argues about how to accomplish either, is something that EPA and the administration finds troubling.”

(Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business)

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unixronin

It seems it's a day for revelations in Washington.  Expect howls of outrage any time now.

The walking on the third rail starts out with the House having, apparently, just killed the plan to close Guantanamo.  (Hey, wasn't that a campaign promise?  Oh, right, that's right, it was a campaign promise.  Well, there you go.)

And on the heels of that comes rumor of the real political handstands-on-the-third-rail act:  It's alleged that President Obama is cutting a deficit-reduction deal in which Republicans agree to tax increases, while Democrats agree to sweeping cuts in future Social Security benefits and Medicare.  William Greider, writing in The Nation, apparently had this to say:

Targeting Social Security is a smokescreen designed to reassure foreign creditors and avoid confronting the true sources of US indebtedness.  The politicians might instead address the cost of fighting two wars on borrowed money or the tax cuts for the rich and corporations or the deregulation that led to the recent financial catastrophe and destroyed vast wealth.  But those and other sources of deficits involve very powerful interests.  Instead of taking them on, the thinking in Washington goes, let’s whack the old folks while they’re not watching.

(Disclaimer:  I have not read the Greider article.  I don't subscribe to The Nation, and therefore don't have access to it.)

I'm not sure I really have a clear position on either of these.  While I suspect that most of the people being held at Guantanamo are being held there for no sufficiently good reason and that most — if not all — of the "intelligence" being "developed" from them is all but worthless, I also can't help but believe that relocating the entire operation to Illinois and calling that "closing" it would be at least an equally bad idea.  Transferring just the people whom we have actual substantive reason to believe are dangerous, and sending the rest home, I could see.  Intelligence from those to be sent home?  Pshaw, get real.  If you haven't gotten it out of them by now, you aren't going to.

Likewise, this is a terrible time to make deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare, when huge amounts of wealth have just vanished like a pricked soap bubble and even many prudent, thrifty people who prepared carefully for their own retirements — my own parents among them — have seen their carefully managed savings and investments all but wiped out.  Far too many people approaching retirement age in the US now don't have anything else to fall back on.

Yet at the same time, all the realistic numbers say that Social Security as it now exists is already doomed, and deep cuts in entitlements may be the only way to stop entitlements from devouring the US economy from the inside.  Last year, Social Security and Medicare between them accounted for 39% of the total Federal budget.  GAO figures from 2007 project that sometime between 2030 and 2040, Federal mandatory spending — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and debt interest — will exceed total government revenues, and those figures were drawn up before the staggering deficits of 2009.  The status quo is clearly unsustainable.

I think I can safely say this much, though:  If these are true, there's shortly going to be a lot more very angry people out there, and this administration and this Congress don't have a whole lot of approval left in the bank to spend.

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unixronin

(to the tune, naturally, of the Sex Pistols)

The BBC reports that new British Deputy PM Nick Clegg promises "the biggest political reforms since 1832".  The reforms promised by the Convervative/Liberal Democrat coalition would include, but not be limited to, making the House of Lords an elected body with proportional representation (brilliant move!), giving voters the power to recall an unsatisfactory MP, imposing a fixed five-year limit on the tenure of any government (but keeping the ability of Parliament to force early dissolution of a government by a vote of no confidence), scrapping the "contact point" database that currently registers over 11 million minors, scrapping the national ID card and biometric passports, "properly regulating" CCTV use (well, it's a start, I suppose), repealing many of the control-freak laws enacted by the last two Labour governments, and introducing a mechanism to block the creation of "pointless new criminal offenses". In perhaps the most dramatic move of all, Clegg even proposes giving the public the power to go through the statute books and nominate excessive or unfair laws to be repealed.

Two hundred and thirty four years.  I guess it's about time for another bold experiment in democracy.  This just could be it.  There would be an amusing irony if it turned out to be the turn of the British to tire of their shackles and throw off an oppressive government.

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unixronin

Political dissidents have smuggled thousands of pages of stolen documents out of the former Soviet Union documenting the internal workings of the Soviet regime.  But almost nobody in the West is interested in printing or studying them.

The Russian state cannot sue Stroilov or Bukovsky for breach of copyright, since the material was created by the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, neither of which now exists.  Had he remained in Russia, however, Stroilov believes that he could have been prosecuted for disclosure of state secrets or treason.  The military historian Igor Sutyagin is now serving 15 years in a hard-labor camp for the crime of collecting newspaper clippings and other open-source materials and sending them to a British consulting firm.  The danger that Stroilov and Bukovsky faced was real and grave; they both assumed, one imagines, that the world would take notice of what they had risked so much to acquire.

The documents implicate various Western political figures in collaboration with the Supreme Soviet, including former British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, French President François Mitterrand, EU Foreign Minister Baroness Catherine Ashton, and others.

Bukovsky’s book about the story that these documents tell, Jugement à Moscou, has been published in French, Russian, and a few other Slavic languages, but not in English.  Random House bought the manuscript and, in Bukovsky’s words, tried “to force me to rewrite the whole book from the liberal left political perspective.”  Bukovsky replied that “due to certain peculiarities of my biography I am allergic to political censorship.”  The contract was canceled, the book was never published in English, and no other publisher has shown interest in it.  Neither has anyone wanted to publish EUSSR, a pamphlet by Stroilov and Bukovsky about the Soviet roots of European integration.  In 2004, a very small British publisher did print an abbreviated version of the pamphlet; it, too, passed unnoticed.

Required reading.

“I know the time will come,” Stroilov says, “when the world has to look at those documents very carefully.  We just cannot escape this.  We have no way forward until we face the truth about what happened to us in the twentieth century.  Even now, no matter how hard we try to ignore history, all these questions come back to us time and again.”

[...]

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology.  But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism.  These documents should be translated.  They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars.  Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about.  If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say—and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do—this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.

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unixronin

He's definitely an outside chance, but former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson just could be the most interesting potential Presidential candidate to come along in a long time.  Fiscally conservative, socially liberal.  Go read it; he makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Johnson/Paul in 2012 or 2016 could get really interesting.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, just endorsed Carly Fiorina for Senator from California.  I ... really can't find it in myself to lament the idea of Dianne Feinstein losing her seat, and Fiorina just may have the best chance of doing it.  But that's about the only good thing I can find to say about Fiorina.  As far as I can tell, her platform is composed entirely of empty WHARRRGARBL.

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unixronin

I've seen considerable argument over Sen. John McCain's position that Fariad Shahzad, the Bungled Bomber of Times Square, should be treated as an "enemy combatant" rather than Mirandized and prosecuted through the normal channels of the justice system.  Several people have said that Shahzad is somehow different, because he's a terrorist.

Well, so was Timothy McVeigh.  The differences between McVeigh and Shahzad, McVeigh was native-born rather than naturalized; McVeigh was a US military veteran; and McVeigh's attack succeeded.  One can very easily argue that there was a stronger case for trying McVeigh in a military tribunal, rather than in a court of criminal law, than there is for Shanzad.  McVeigh's attack was up to that time the worst act of terrorism on US soil.  Yet McVeigh was tried and convicted in a Federal criminal court according to due process.

Consider the consequences, then, if we were not to do the same with Shahzad.  We have a US citizen who committed a crime on US soil.  The fact that his crime was an attempted terrorist act, or that he bungled it and was foiled by alert bystanders, does not change the fact that it was attempted mass murder.  If we treat him as an enemy combatant, we establish a precedent that there is a class of US citizens who can be denied due process and civil rights.  And once such a class is established, you KNOW that class will grow.  It always works that way.  Mission creep is eternal.

This is not the only active threat to liberty that is going on right now.

We're all familiar with the ongoing comitragic farcical failure of the no-fly list, which has prevented six-year-olds and Marines returning from duty in Iraq from boarding flights.  It has even — repeatedlyprevented Federal Air Marshals from boarding the flights they were assigned to guard.  There are now estimated to be over a million names on the no-fly list. That article, from 2008, also reported that the Department of Homeland Security had acknowledged that one major air carrier alone was reporting nine thousand no-fly list false positives per day.  And once on the list, there is basically still no real way to ever get off it.  But how many actual positives has it yielded?  Nine a day?  Nine a month?  Nine a year?  We don't know, they won't tell us.  But I think I can recall hearing of about two, maybe three no-fly successes ... in the entire history of the program.

(I'm not including political protesters whom the Bush Administration placed on the no-fly list basically out of spite.)

But is this example being heeded?  Well ... not really, no.  Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced a bill, S. 1317, that would enable the US Attorney General to unilaterally deny firearms purchases to anyone merely suspected of possible terrorist activity.  The panels to hold the first two hearings on the bill, starting tomorrow, have already been selected, and both have been well stuffed with anti-gun politicians and officials.  The proposed bill essentially allows you no recourse, and no realistic appeal; if denied, you would not even be able to find out why you were denied.  Just like the no-fly list, there would be no way to find out whether you were actually on a terror watch list, and no way to get off of it if you end up on one by mistake.  If you did somehow manage to make it to an appeals court, evidence related to your guilt or innocence could be redacted if the administration chose to invoke "national security", which it currently appears to do for almost anything more sensitive than the State of the Union Address.  (ACTA, for instance, which it only very recently conceded might possibly not threaten the continued existence of the US were Americans to find out what's in it.)

But wait! There's more! Sen. Joe Liebermann of Connecticut has proposed legislation to strip US citizenship from anyone declared by the State Department to be an enemy combatant.  (I'm not going to bother linking.  It's everywhere.  There's so many articles out there your only problem will be which ones to read.)  They don't even have to prove you guilty of anything; just accuse you.  Even one of the Bush Administration's legal advisors has called Liebermann's bill "draconian".

We already have a perfectly functional justice system.  (Well ... not as functional as it should be.  But that's a discussion for another time.)  The clamoring to declare anyone accused of aiding or participating in terrorism an enemy combatant and throw them into military tribunals (eventually) is not only unnecessary, it is dangerous to liberty and to the legal principles of due process that have been built into the foundations of the United States since its inception.  We chip away at those principles at our grave peril, and the current screaming hysteria taking place on Capitol Hill is not merely chipping away at them, it is whacking great chunks off with a sledgehammer.

I really cannot over-emphasize how bad of an idea all of these things are.

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unixronin

I stumbled across an article posted a few months back by Tony Blankley, giving a very cogent and well-reasoned argument in favor of repeal of the 17th Amendment.  He argues convincingly that while the 17th Amendment was passed in response to widespread corruption among Senators, all it actually achieved was to centralize the Senate corruption in Washington DC and make it worse, and to dilute the ability of voters to oust their Senators for corruption.

I was actually looking for a transcript of a Front Page show that I, again, stumbled across mention of, in which Blankley opined that the GOP is one election — or, rather, one major failure — away from death.  His contention is that the Republican Party has blown it so badly in recent years that if they win big in 2010 (as they look likely to do as a result of voter backlash against Obama's policies), and then blow it AGAIN, the GOP is finished.

Blankley also opined, in another recent column, that we have screwed up so badly in Afghanistan politically, vacillating on support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and then publicly humiliating him, that we no longer have the support necessary for a military victory there, and would be best advised to cut our losses and bring our troops home.

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unixronin

Thomas Jefferson, in an opinion written in 1791, explained that the Congress does NOT possess an unrestricted power to do whatever it feels like "for the common good", but rather possesses only the power of taxation to provide for the common good, pointing out that the presumption of an unlimited power to do whatever it opines to be the common good would make the entire discussion of enumerated powers completely moot and pointless, turning the Constitution into a blank check for Congress to do whatever it pleases:

"They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose.  To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which may be good for the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless.  It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please.... Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them.  It was intended to lace them up straightly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect."

— Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on National Bank, 1791

It is of course only natural that Congress itself should prefer the rationally and legally insupportable blank-check interpretation, but Jefferson's explanation clearly points out the absurdity of this position.  It would be as though the last line of the Constitution were "Ha ha, only kidding, ignore everything we said above, Congress can do whatever it feels like."

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unixronin

It was recently reported (admittedly in the Daily Mail) that the Council of Europe human-rights group is calling for even a disciplinary smack to be prosecuted as assault.  Reportedly only "a handful" of European states, including Britain, France and Poland, are holding out against the ban, which has been passed by some 20 nations.  One wonders how much longer it will be before all possible ways of disciplining a child have been ruled to cause "serious psychological harm", and what will happen when the resulting generation reaches adulthood.

Mr. Burgess, Mr. Anthony Burgess, to the white courtesy phone, please.

But wait!  There's more!  It is being reported by outlets including Fox, The National, and The Jerusalem Post that Iran has been granted a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women.  Yes, a theocratic nation in which women lack the ability to choose their husbands, have no independent right to education after marriage, no right to divorce, no right to child custody, have no protection from violent treatment in public spaces, are restricted by quotas for women's admission at universities; a nation in which women are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of laws that treat them as chattels; a nation in which the law requires that women be lashed for "immodesty" and stoned to death for anything from favoring an unapproved boyfriend to being raped; a nation in which a prominent state cleric recently declared that immodest women cause earthquakes; this nation has been seated on a UN Commission that is supposed to monitor state-sanctioned abuse of women, "conduct review of nations that violate women's rights, issue reports detailing their failings, and monitor their success in improving women's equality."

One can only assume that Iran's appointment to the Commission is to help it ensure that states that sanction abuse of women do it properly.

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In April, the number of adults not affiliated with either major party increased by 1.6 percentage points, while the number identifying themselves as Republicans decreased 1.3 percentage points.  This marks the lowest level for Republicans since July 2008.  The number of Democrats remained relatively constant, compared to last month.

Following the historic health care reform debate, the percentage of adults identifying themselves as Democrats is now at 36.0% and the number of Republicans at 31.6%, while 32.5% say they are not affiliated with either major party.

So there are now more unaffiliated voters than Republicans. When the number of unaffiliated voters passes the number of Democrat voters as well, maybe we can start breaking out of this two-party death spiral.

Unfortunately there's no indication as yet that this is a long-term trend.  It's still in the noise.

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In which a well-meaning woman starts up a 'kinder, gentler, more civil' opposition movement to the Tea parties, and is surprised to find that it doesn't work out that way.  Two months in, and "her" movement is already fracturing because some of her members don't think she's mean enough or confrontational enough, and think that this idea of people working together is a load of sentimentalist codswallop.

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James Capretta writes about the Massachusetts state healthcare program and its implications for US healthcare under the bill passed by Congress:

When Massachusetts rolled out its coverage program in 2007, many more people signed up for the new heavily subsidized insurance than was originally predicted by budget officials.  Almost immediately, costs far exceeded what had been budgeted, forcing state officials to scramble to find cuts elsewhere in government and other sources of revenue.

After three years, no real progress has been made on rising costs.  The program remains well over budget, with no end in sight.  Further, state residents who now must buy state-sanctioned coverage are bristling at their rising premiums and the inability to find coverage which covers less and thus costs less.

State politicians are responding to the cost crisis the only way they know how: by promising to impose arbitrary caps on premiums and price controls for medical services.  The governor and state regulators have disallowed 90 percent of the premium increases insurers — all of whom are not-for-profit — submitted for their enrollees for the upcoming plan year.  The state says premium increases above eight percent are too high and unacceptable, though they themselves don’t have a plan to make health care more efficient in Massachusetts.  They just want lower premiums.  The insurers have responded by refusing to sell any coverage at the rates the state wants to impose.

Capretta points out that the demographic targeted for subsidized medical coverage under the healthcare bill — basically, those making less than four times the Federal poverty level — contains roughly 130 million people, more than a third of the US population.  However, the numbers estimated by the CBO for the cost of the program assume that state-based exchanges will have only 17 million subscribers by 2016.

The potential implications are not good.

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Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, writes about what the Tea Parties are really about.

(Hint:  It doesn't involve hating anyone, hunting wolves from helicopters, funding from the Bavarian Illuminati, or any of the other smears you've heard.)

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A new Rasmussen poll says that "39% of U.S. voters say it's a good thing in today's political climate to be the Party of No.  But 34% disagree and say it's not a good thing.  Twenty-six percent (26%) aren't sure."

Put me in that second camp.  Opposing policies you believe are wrong is fine.  Opposing legislation that you think is misguided or poorly constructed, sure — but one hopes you have a better idea to put forth.

But just sitting there saying "No" to everything to block everything the opposition party does because they're the opposition party?  Clean out your desk and go home.  Do something productive and useful, or get out of the way and let someone else in who'll actually work for the greater good instead of just being a petulant dick and reflexively saying "No" to everything that crosses your desk.

Forty-nine percent (49%) of all voters say it’s more important for Congress to pass good legislation than to prevent bad legislation from becoming law.  Forty-three percent (43%) say preventing bad laws from being enacted is more important.  That’s little changed since last November.

Ummm ... embrace the power of "and"?  It's pretty futile to just sit there shooting everything down if you don't have a better idea to offer.  And from almost everything I've seen, the GOP doesn't.

Just 21% of voters nationwide believe that the federal government now enjoys the consent of the governed.

That’s one reason why 70% of voters remain angry at the government’s policies.

[...]

Thirty-five percent (35%) of voters now think Republicans and Democrats are so much alike that an entirely new political party is needed to represent the American people.

The worm is beginning to turn.

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