moldybluecheesecurds 2

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Just keep breathing, George

In an essay on the difference between England's Prime Minister and our President, Woodrow Wilson once noted that to stay in power, “A Prime Minister must keep himself in favor with the majority, a President need only stay alive.”

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Memo: how to oppose a war

To all those Democratic Congressmen (and women) who had trouble saying "no":

In opposition to a spending bill to escalate the Vietnam War, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin voted nay (against nearly all his colleagues), declaring that:
The support of the Congress for this measure is clearly overwhelming. Obviously, you need my vote less than I need my conscience.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Get your poop in a group

A teacher in Bird Island, Minnesota, is currently under investigation for making several kindergarten students clean up a feces-smeared bathroom. The story notes the outraged parents and concerned school administrators who are worried about the idea of young kids having to clean up poop. The father of one of the students-turned-custodian remarked that he'd be taking his boy to the doctor.

This same father, however, noted that the bathroom in the kindergarten classroom had been smeared with feces several times over the past month. I've seen enough vomit around college dorm bathrooms to know that personal responsibility starts young. Kiddies, break out the sponges...

Monday, March 27, 2006

You get bad news because the news isn't good

Starting to believe that the press only wants to cover the bad news in Iraq? CNN's Lara Logan has a few words for you.

(Another story cribbed from 28th Avenue)

Climate change is a real problem now

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times brings his usual clarity and perspective to climate change in this op-ed from earlier this month, arguing that climate change should be absorbing a lot more of our political interest than it is.

I am shamelessly linking to another blogger who has posted this otherwise subscriber-only column.

Fire and brimstone sells better than love

As 28th Avenue notes, things get interesting when religious groups want to be on television. The United Church of Christ tried to air a commercial about its inclusiveness and it was rejected by all five networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and WB). Too controversial? You be the judge.

This ad follows on a previous spot that was also rejected by major networks. The CBS explanation for rejecting the ad was as follows:
"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations...and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."
It's easy to respond that the UCC ad is being barred because TV networks favor the religious right, who seem to be on TV all the time. But one network, ABC, rejected the ad because it refuses to air any religious advertisement, period. And there's a distinct difference between the mediated talk show time and advertising.

But even in talk shows, the religious right seems to be favored. Focusing on ABC's This Week, a "news" talk show, the UCC notes that:
Over last eight years, individuals like Jerry Falwell, Richard Neuhaus, James Dobson, Gary Bauer and Pat Robertson have appeared on the program. In fact, James Dobson and Gary Bauer have appeared three times each and Pat Robertson has appeared seven times.
In the same time period, ZERO leaders have appeared from some of eight largest mainline protestant churches, representing more than 23 million parishoners.

Can't really blame the UCC for wanted to advertise...

Friday, March 24, 2006

What will they think of next?

A chair for the boys

IIt's a tax, and now we know who voted for it

Adding one more piece to the government accountability puzzle, Minnesota Public Radio has reintroduced their Votetracker, so see how well legislators back up their rhetoric. I find it refreshing that they refer to the cigarette revenue measure as a "tax."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gmail the godsend or godforsaken?

Ha, and you thought that moldybluecheesecurds never hyped a headline.

My friend at 28th Avenue recently posted a rave review of Gmail features, a few of which I have encountered and used to great satisfaction. When it comes to speed, usability and features, I find Gmail easily bests any other webmail clients.

But what about that privacy thing? We already know that Google scans messages and offers up context ads much like it does for its famed search engine. For whatever reason, this does not bother me much. But then there's the recent court case where a judge required that a defendent's Gmail be opened to the court and it was revealed that those deleted email messages aren't really deleted.

There's probably not much sympathy for this chap, since he seems to be involved in shady doings. But privacy rights shouldn't be decided as part of criminal proceedings. Whether or not I'm ever involved in a legal row, I think I prefer that my deleted items actually are deleted. After all, even if I wrote something down, it may have been just to vent, not to share. It's disconcerting to know that while I can shred a letter I've composed, that deleted draft might dwell in a Google server for the next 30 years.

I guess there are two issues:
1) Would privacy and user intent be better respected if Google actually did "delete forever" items users had deleted?
2) Are concerns about privacy enough to prevent anyone else from using Gmail as their primary email program?

A federal budget primer

Pay-as-you-go (PAYGO)

With the recent return of deficit spending by the U.S. federal government, it pays to remind folks that there's a simple rule to return fiscal sanity. It's not a balanced budget amendment and it's not a line-item veto (the former having never been passed by Congress *gasp, surprise* and the latter being ruled unconstitutional).

Instead, we need to return to PAYGO. This rule, passed as part of the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act, stated that any new spending or any tax cuts had to be budget neutral. So, if I want more money for roads, I have to raise taxes or take money from education. If I want a estate tax cut, I have to cut programs or raise taxes somewhere else. This rule includes entitlement spending increases (such as Social Security).

Overriding PAYGO would require a supermajority vote (60 votes in the 100-seat Senate).

In other words, PAYGO means you have to pay for things with real money and not borrowing. It means that renewing President Bush's tax cuts (responsible for more than 60 percent of the current deficit), would involve raising more revenue or cutting spending a similar amount. [That's almost $400 billion in credit card tax cuts - good luck]

The resistance of many conservatives to this proposal (it was recently defeated in the U.S. Senate with 51 votes - all Republican - against it) is hilarious. In fact, it's worth quoting an excerpt from a Heritage Foundation memo verbatim:
Merely retaining the "tax relief" [quotes added] that Americans now enjoy would, under PAYGO, require 60 votes in the Senate and a waiver in the House. To avoid this supermajority requirement, lawmakers seeking to prevent tax increases would have to either: A) raise other taxes; or B) reduce mandatory spending by a larger amount than has ever been enacted. Option A is still a net tax increase (raising one tax to avoid raising another), and option B is probably politically unrealistic.
To summarize the Heritage Foundation, PAYGO would force lawmakers to:
a) repeal tax cuts that were never paid for OR
b) actually follow "starve the beast" theory and cut government spending - a task that is "politically unrealistic" in large part because Americans don't actually want their government programs cut.

The kicker is the Heritage memo's conclusion that lawmakers should support the House plan (sans PAYGO) for its $13 billion in savings by cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse in entitlement programs." Maybe we should cut the $400 billion in credit card tax cuts instead.

Is the Republican sky falling?

A lot of folks on the left are salivating as President Bush's approval rating seeks a new low. But does this president's failure mean the end of the conservative movement?

Jonah Goldberg thinks the center-right is doing fine:
Majority coalitions have big internal arguments for the same reason that pirates fight over buried treasure after they find it and not when they're still looking for it: They have something to fight over. They have to govern, which means pleasing some constituencies and infuriating others.
He also notes that just as Republican presidents had to appeal to liberals during the New Deal era (Eisenhower and Nixon), Democratic presidents have to appeal to conservatives now (Clinton). He has a point.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Civilian > military

I get really tired of hearing members of Congress hide behind military commanders when it comes to taking responsibility for what happens in Iraq. In a recent interview, Representative Mark Kennedy kept repeating that we must "listen to the commanders in the field." First, on any number of occasions, this administration has not done that when it would be inconvenient (e.g. sending more troops). Second, deferring to field commanders respects their expertise and experience, but there's a reason our commander in chief is an elected civilian.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

C'mon, all together now

I meant to blog about an interesting NY Times article on Democratic prospects in the 2006 election. Bush's approval rating seeks new lows and even on his vaunted issue of national security, his ratings are falling. But the Times article noted that "For Democrats, Lots of Verses, But No Chorus." In other words, each candidate has their own message to address their Republican opponent, but the party as a whole lacks the cohesive statement such as the 1994 Republican Contract With America.

Despite having waited until this article has been put behind the wall of TimesSelect, it's still an interesting point. Even though Republicans are being swept up in scandals, causing the federal budget to hemorrage money by opposing pay-go legislation, and facing the looming civil war in Iraq, Democrats still don't have a unified opposition message.

It wouldn't be that hard to say:
1) We'll impose strict new ethics standards overseen by a neutral third party
2) Balance the federal budget (like we did under Clinton)
3) and do something smarter in Iraq (you could even campaign on bringing the troops home)

No, I'm not suggesting this is the winning formula, but it's better than no cohesive message at all.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The agony of defeat

It has been noted on occasion that I have a tendency to leave things ajar. Sometimes it's the milk (I was just going to use that) or a drawer (for quicker clothes access) or a kitchen cabinets (it's easier to find things when the door is open). It's a point of tension on occasion, when one of the aforementioned cabinets meets Kloumr's head or knee or other sensitive spot.

Since I never intend to be such a point of pain, it was a special moment this morning when I realized that such incidents had virtually vanished in recent weeks. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

A split second later reality hit home, via this image of our kitchen:


Ports, Arabs, and Innuendo

I know you've all been hungering for an update on the ports issue (Senor Caliente aka Slumlord, in particular, likes to keep up to date on the ports).

Okay, enough juvenile sexual innuendo. On with the politics!

As you may recall, a big stink was created in the past couple weeks when the Bush administration approved Dubai Ports World from the United Arab Emirates to administer several major U.S. ports. I will spare you the charge and counter-charge of "9-11" and "terrorism" that have infested the mass media and instead deliver (without a TimesSelect subscription) Nicholas Kristof's assessment:
Let's be blunt: this fuss about ports is really about Arabs.
Kristof provides a number of balms to soothe the terrorism fever: DPW is from Dubai, the "Disneyland" of the Arab world that is pro-Western; many DPW executives are from Western countries. However, it might be worth pointing out that at some point we have to start trusting some Arabs, too, not just those that work under Westerners.

Kristof's stronger point is that we can't run our global economic policy on paranoia, because that's what "has led us to Iraq, Guantanamo and domestic N.S.A. wiretaps." There's no better fodder for Al Qaeda propagandists that the "Great Satan" using racial profiling at the ports. Sure, the world has changed since 9/11, but since we haven't had much luck winning Arab hearts with wars and breaching civil liberties, maybe it's time to try diplomacy and trade.

Two stories give this a little context:
1) I went to my caucus last night, a place for partisans to get together and select delegates to conventions, make silly party rules, and propose platform resolutions. This last item is interesting, as it's a chance for the party grassroots to set party policy. One ancient women wanted to propose a resolution against the port deal on the grounds that Muslims are called by their faith to holy war against non-Muslims. What she said explicitly is what a lot of powerful politicians are saying implicitly.

2) I had the good fortune to hear a talk by Kathleen Hall Jamieson (of I attended my caucus. She said that psychologists have known for a while that it's really easy to believe things that square with your stereotypes - in fact, it's when you hear something that sounds right that you are most likely to be duped. So when Democrats heard a couple weeks ago that the Bush administration was going to hand over ports to an Arab country despite all the 9/11 stuff, it seemed to ring true with their assessment of Bush's intelligence. I think there's a substantial chance of being duped by that interpretation. In other words, "if it seems right - think twice."

Better than goats

Always in search of the latest technological fix for our disposable culture, scientists have identified bacteria that can digest styrofoam into a recyclable and biodegradable plastic. No word yet on whether they were resistant to all antibiotics...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Childhood heroes shouldn't die young

I owe to him part of my lifetime interest in sports and my belief that one not-so-athletic appearing guy can always make a difference. It's in his image that we always tried to make leaping catches at the fence and did that silly kick-swing at the plate. Hearing Bob Casey call his name was the best part of baseball games as a child: We're sad to see you go......the centerfielder....number thirty-four....Kirbeeeeeeeeeee Puckett!

UPDATE: has a nice tribute video including footage of Puckett's most famous hit, the homerun that forced Game 7 of the greatest World Series ever.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The clock that makes you wake up

As someone who generally snaps awake to his alarm, I always find gimmicky alarm clocks amusing. I think I posted about one that actually rolls away from you when it goes off, but this one is also fun - you have to assemble four puzzle pieces in order to disengage the alarm. Given the studies about mental capacity immediately after sleep, I don't think even a four-piece puzzle will feel amusing when waking to the sounds of the latest public radio pledge drive.