Assorted Links 5/24/10


Radley Balko Discusses SWAT Teams and Police Militarization on Russia Today

  • Congress in a Nutshell: Understanding Congress, June 3, 2010
  • Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, June 4, 2010
  • Mark Twain on Copyright – “Remarks of Samuel Langhorne Clemens Before the Congressional Joint Committee on Patents, December, 1906 (Mark Twain on Copyright)”
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, June 9-11, 2010
  • Wi-Fi Classroom – How to Find, Track, and Monitor Congressional Documents: Going Beyond Thomas, June 24, 2010
  • Wi-Fi Classroom – How to Research and Compile Legislative Histories: Searching for Legislative Intent, June 25, 2010
  • Persuading Congress: Candid Advice for Executives – “Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, is a very practical book, packed with wisdom and experience in a deceptively short and simple package.

    This book will help you understand Congress. Written from the perspective of one who has helped put a lot of bills on the president’s desk and helped stop a lot more, this book explains in everyday terms why Congress behaves as it does. Then it shows you how you can best deploy whatever resources you have to move Congress in your direction.”

  • Report: Majority Of Government Doesn’t Trust Citizens Either – “At a time when widespread polling data suggests that a majority of the U.S. populace no longer trusts the federal government, a Pew Research Center report has found that the vast majority of the federal government doesn’t trust the U.S. populace all that much either.

    According to the poll–which surveyed members of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches–9 out of 10 government officials reported feeling ‘disillusioned’ by the populace and claimed to have ‘completely lost confidence’ in the citizenry’s ability to act in the nation’s best interests.
    . . .
    Out of 100 U.S. senators polled, 84 said they don’t trust the U.S. populace to do what is right, and 79 said Americans are not qualified to do their jobs. Ninety-one percent of all government officials polled said they find citizens to be every bit as irresponsible, greedy, irrational, and selfishly motivated as government officials are.”

  • Newspaper Edits Politicians Out Of Bill Signing Photograph; Doesn’t Get Why People Think That’s Bad – “This is a newspaper that won’t run photos of candidates running for election? It makes you wonder how they report on those elections. With illustrations? And then to claim that it’s okay to edit a photograph by then calling it a “photo illustration” rather than a photo that’s been edited seems a bit questionable no matter where you stand on the question of journalistic ethics.”
  • Any Excuse Will Do – “There is a law or regulation covering essentially every aspect of human existence. Over time, lawmakers with too little to do create the rules that keep us from bumping into one another by telling us to keep to the right. They protect us from ourselves by telling us to wear seat belts and helmets, and eat less salt. They appease grieving parents and outraged communities by crafting laws named after dead children that duplicate, triplicate, existing laws with minute additional requirements. In isolation, some people applaud these laws as serving a good function. Proponents are always well intentioned, but they become part of the vast mass of laws regulating us.

    For every regulation, there must be a consequence for its violation. When Harvey Silverglate wrote Three Felonies A Day , this could have been his inspiration, even though Scott’s referring to petty offenses. The point remains that, as a society, we seek the elimination of crime and encourage and support the police in their efforts to enforce our laws. We do not, however, think much about the scope of our laws that render each of us a criminal, to some greater or lesser extent.

    If there was a machine that would detect every violation of law, we would all be found guilty of something. Granted, most of us would be prosecuted for petty, stupid offenses, but they are offenses nonetheless. If they are so petty and stupid, and if we wouldn’t want to be prosecuted ourselves for them, why do we support their existence, enforcement and prosecution for others? Largely because we don’t think it will ever happen to us. We don’t mind unfairness to others anywhere near as much as we hate it when it happens to us.”

  • Mocking Muhammad:a shallow Enlightenment – “Tomorrow is ‘Draw Muhammad Day’. Bloggers, cartoonists and artists around the world plan to publish sketches of the Prophet in all sorts of weird poses. And of course they should be absolutely free to do so, free to depict the bossman of Islam with a bomb in his turban, a bee in his bonnet, or a carrot up his arse. Or even to draw a picture of themselves taking a dump on Muhammad’s head if they want, inspired, perhaps, by the American writer who responded to the recent attempted bombing of Times Square in NYC by writing: ‘I shit on Muhammad.’

    But while they go crazy with their doodles, which is their right in free, secular societies where we should never have to bow down before religious sensitivities, I’m going to raise some questions: Why are you so keen to mock Muhammad? Why has it become the fashion to draw silly-funny-bizarre pics of the Prophet, to the extent that leading hacks such as Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan are backing Draw Muhammad Day? Why do some people want to shit on Muhammad?

    Muhammad-baiting is a shallow, theatrical performance of Enlightenment values. It is a simple (in both meanings of that word) and shortcut way of demonstrating that you are for Freedom and Truth at a time when those values actually lie in tatters in Western society and few seem to know what they really mean or even whether they’re worth defending. For those who find the thought of really standing up to cultural relativism and anti-Enlightenment backwardness too terrifying a prospect, drawing Muhammad has become a quick-and-easy way of demonstrating that you’re a secular, liberal kinda guy.
    . . .
    The censorship of any piece of art, humour or journalism on the basis that it might offend religious people is a disgrace. Muslims — like Christians, Scientologists, environmentalists, dentists, sheep-farmers and any other section of society — don’t have a right not to be offended. The deal in properly free societies is that you have the freedom to follow whichever religion you choose, and everyone else has the freedom to mock that religion. However, the main mistake made by the supporters of Draw Muhammad Day is to assume that Islam is the main barrier to free speech today, that gatherings of irate Muslims annoyed by pictures of their Prophet are singlehandedly demolishing hard fought-for liberal values.
    . . .
    However, presenting the undermining of freedom and Enlightenment as a result of a foreign ‘jihad against free speech’ is far easier than facing up to the reality — which is that it is not barbarians at the gates but institutions inside the gates that have denigrated Enlightenment values. The ‘jihad against free speech’ idea is more thrilling, too, giving the secular, liberal lobby a feeling that they’re involved in a life-and-death, cross-continent struggle to defend the soul of Western liberalism from baying gangs of religious types. When in fact all they’re doing is drawing pictures of Muhammad with his knob out.”

  • A Public Service for Press Secretaries – “We know you press secretaries out there have a lot to deal with. Angry reporters. Policy staffers who think they’re communicators. Aggressive colleagues. Passive aggressive committee staffers. Tickle fights. It’s a rough life. And if you stick around long enough, chances are your boss will be caught in a sex scandal. When that happens, the last thing you want to be doing is writing a statement (you’ll be more interested in making sure your resume doesn’t scream ‘I work for a deviant’…trust us).

    So we thought we’d save you all some time, and draft a generic release for that special day. We made it pretty easy for you. Just fill in the holes…which, come to think of it…”

  • ‘Anti-Government’ Libertarians – “Michael Gerson writes in the Washington Post, ‘[Rand] Paul and other libertarians are not merely advocates of limited government; they are anti-government.’

    I can’t speak for Rand Paul, but for the libertarians I know, this is just wrong. Libertarians are not against all government. We are precisely ‘advocates of limited government.’ Perhaps to the man who wrote the speeches in which a Republican president advocated a trillion dollars of new spending, the largest expansion of entitlements in 40 years, federal takeovers of education and marriage, presidential power to arrest and incarcerate American citizens without access to a lawyer or a judge, and two endless ‘nation-building’ enterprises, the distinction between ‘limited government’ and ‘anti-government’ is hard to see. But it is real and important.
    . . .
    What does ‘anti-government’ mean? We’re hearing about ‘anti-government’ protests in Greece. But as George Will says, ‘Athens’ ‘anti-government mobs’ have been composed mostly of government employees going berserk about threats to their entitlements.’ The anti-government protesters in Bangkok appear to be opposed to the current prime minister, protesting to bring back the former prime minister. And then there are the ‘anarchists’ who protest government budget cuts. But none of those have anything to do with American libertarians.”

  • A Bum Rap for Limited Government – “Every so often an editorial comes along that is so obtuse that you wonder if it came from human hand. I allude, not surprisingly, to the item in this morning’s New York Times, ‘Limits of Libertarianism,’ which arises from the kerfuffle over Rand Paul’s critique of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for its undermining the private right to freedom of association.

    The editorial’s main target, however, lies beyond the Paul senatorial campaign. It’s the tea party movement and its libertarian, limited government themes. But from the start the Times conflates limited government with anti government. They’re not the same. More broadly, the editorial shows beyond doubt that the Times, ever the friend of ‘enlightened government,’ finds danger lurking mostly in the private sector. (One wonders just how it is that those not-to-be-trusted private actors become so quickly enlightened once they get their hands on monopoly government power.)
    . . .
    Where to begin. Skip the Depression point; it’s been so often refuted that one does so again only with embarrassment for its authors. The first claim, however, warrants more than passing attention. Contending that only government power saved us from slavery and Jim Crow, it ignores the role of private power — the abolitionists, and the civil rights movement — that brought about that government power. More important, it invites us to believe that government had little or nothing to do with slavery and Jim Crow in the first place when in truth we would have had neither without government’s creation of those legal institutions, with legal sanctions that kept them in place. Indeed, it is limited government, government limited to securing our rights, that is the surest guarantee against those twin evils.”

  • FTA chief to transit officials: Get real and get honest – “Federal Transit Administration Administrator Peter Rogoff was unflinchingly candid in a May 18 speech he delivered to the nation’s top public transit officials in Boston. Pointing out that the future of public transportation in the U.S. is in jeopardy, Rogoff bluntly told attendees that solutions are not only about engineering and economics: They are also about ‘honesty’ and ‘moral choices.’

    Transit officials and local politicians need to be more honest with the public, Rogoff said bluntly, especially about the high costs of rail versus bus transportation.

    ‘Supporters of public transit must be willing to share some simple truths that folks don’t want to hear. One is this: Paint is cheap, rails systems are extremely expensive.

    ‘Yes, transit riders often want to go by rail. But it turns out you can entice even diehard rail riders onto a bus, if you call it a ‘special’ bus and just paint it a different color than the rest of the fleet.

    ‘Once you’ve got special buses, it turns out that busways are cheap. Take that paint can and paint a designated bus lane on the street system. Throw in signal preemption, and you can move a lot of people at very little cost compared to rail.’

    Did I just hear the head of FTA telling local officials to stop misleading the public about the costs of bus rapid transit versus heavy rail like they did during the Dulles Rail debate? Especially since building and operating a BRT line costs about a tenth as much?”

  • Turn out the lights, the party’s over – “People, we have seen a literal mountain of government spending around the globe. And what do we have to show for it? An avalanche of unsustainable deficits and sovereign debt levels.

    In the long run, it is true that we are all dead. But meanwhile, until that blessed day arrives, we are all broke!

    The smartest thing many countries could do right now is the old double D; Default and Devalue. However, the likely result will be a ‘lost decade’ of immiserizing policies undertaken at the behest of Keynes’ most horrible creation, the IMF.”


“Our government is the worst loan shark in history.”

  • Discipline Outdoes IQ in the Long Run – “A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania concluded what most of us already suspected: Hard work has more to do with performance than being naturally gifted.”
  • Father Maciel, John Paul II, and the Vatican Sex Crisis – “Of all the terrible sexual scandals the hierarchs in the Vatican find themselves tangled in, none is likely to do as much institutional damage as the astounding and still unfolding story of the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel. The crimes committed against children by other priests and bishops may provoke rage, but they also make one want to look away. With Father Maciel, on the other hand, one can hardly tear oneself from the ghastly drama as it unfolds, page by page, revelation by revelation, in the Mexican press.
    . . .
    In 1938 Maciel was expelled from his uncle Guízar’s seminary, and shortly afterward from a seminary in the United States. According to witnesses, Maciel and his uncle had a gigantic row behind closed doors, and one witness, a Legionary who had known Maciel since childhood, told the psychoanalyst González that the bishop’s rage had to do with the fact that Maciel was locking himself up in the boarding house where he was staying with some of the younger boys at his uncle’s seminary. Bishop Guízar died of a massive heart attack the following day.

    Later, it would become known that Maciel had his students and seminarians procure Dolantin (morphine) for him. This led to Maciel’s suspension as head of the order in 1956. Inexplicably, he was reinstated after two years. Much later still, someone realized that his book, The Psalter of My Days, which was more or less required reading in Legionary institutions, and was a sort of Book of Hours, or prayer guide, was lifted virtually in its entirety from The Psalter of My Hours, an account written by a Spaniard who was sentenced to life in prison after the Spanish Civil War.
    . . .
    Quite apart from the damage to Maciel’s victims, there is the pressing question of why the Catholic Church, as an institution, did not condemn him when he was ordained as a priest, or when he founded the Legionaries, or when the story of his pederasty made the cover of magazines, or when enough evidence was found to conclude that Maciel should live out the rest of his life in seclusion, or even when the rumors grew strong enough to warrant a Vatican investigation of the order as a whole. The answer surprises no one: at a time in which churches are emptying, the Legionaries have been a rich source of conscripts, money and influence; in Mexico everyone from Carlos Slim to Marta Sahagún, the wife of former president Vicente Fox, gave money to or asked favors from Maciel.

    It was not until last year that Karol Wojtyla’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, at last authorized a visitation–churchspeak for investigation–of the entire order of the Legionaries of Christ. As usual, the press and some disaffected religious have been way ahead of the Vatican. Now we learn from the press that the order kept some 900 women under non-binding vows as consagradas, or quasi-nuns, in conditions of emotional privation and subjugation that violated even canonical law. ”

  • Floyd Landis: An American Hero – “Landis made, as his website notes, a very public affair out of his fight against the doping allegations, and embarked on a substantial fund-raising campaign to raise the several million dollars that he needed to fight the charges. He toured across the country, asserting his innocence over and over again, and asking for contributions to his legal defense fund. Let’s see — I think we have a name for that in the law. Intentionally and knowingly stating a falsehood, on which others might reasonably be expected to rely (and on which they do rely) to their direct financial detriment. ‘Fraud.’ If I had given Landis any money after hearing his sad tale of persecution and laboratory foulups, I sure would be angry right about now.”
  • Wheat Ridge High School Class of 1970 – “The reonion committee is working away planning the 40th reunion the weekend of August 13-15, 2010. Wheat Ridge, Colorado WRHS1970.com”
  • Common Market Food Co-op – “Common Market Food Co-op was a ‘new wave food co-op’ located at 1329 California Street in Denver, Colorado, from 1975 – 1980. It started as a buying club at the University of Denver in the early 1970s, and for a few years prior to moving to the old Safeway at 13th and California Streets, Common Market operated out of a small storefront on Champa Street.”
  • Payback Time: Europeans Fear Crisis Threatens Liberal Benefits – “Across Western Europe, the ‘lifestyle superpower,’ the assumptions and gains of a lifetime are suddenly in doubt. The deficit crisis that threatens the euro has also undermined the sustainability of the European standard of social welfare, built by left-leaning governments since the end of World War II.

    Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism.

    Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella. They have also translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net. ‘The Europe that protects’ is a slogan of the European Union.

    But all over Europe governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead.

    With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions.” Emphasis added.

  • Asleep at the Seal: Just how bad does a college have to be to lose accreditation? – “There was an aura of gloom in the squat, deteriorating building on the fenced-in corner lot that comprised the beginning and the end of the Southeastern campus in Washington, D.C. And for good reason: the university was about to be shut down. Two months earlier, the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools had decided to revoke the school’s accreditation. Because only accredited schools can accept federal financial aid, upon which the large majority of Southeastern students depended, the decision amounted to a death sentence for the beleaguered college.

    But the fact that this had happened was less surprising than the fact that it hadn’t happened sooner. Southeastern had lived for many years on the most distant margins of higher education, mired in obscurity, mediocrity, cronyism, and intermittent corruption. Students routinely dropped out and defaulted on their student loans while the small, nonselective school lurched from one financial crisis to another. Yet during all that time Southeastern enjoyed the goldest of gold approval seals: ‘regional’ accreditation, the very same mark of quality granted to Ivy League universities including Princeton, Columbia, Penn, and Cornell, along with world-famous research institutions like Georgetown University, which sits in wealth and splendor above the Potomac River just a few miles away.

    The decades-long saga of Southeastern’s perpetual dysfunction and ultimate demise exposes a gaping hole in America’s system of consumer protection for higher education. The government exercises remarkably little oversight over the colleges and universities into which hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are poured every year, relying instead on a tissue-thin layer of regulation at the hands of accreditors that are funded and operated by the colleges themselves. The result is chronic failure at hundreds of colleges nationwide, obscure and nonselective institutions where low-income and minority students are more likely to end up with backbreaking student-loan debt than a college degree. The accreditation system is most egregiously failing the students who most need a watchdog looking out for their interests. The case of Southeastern shows how.
    . . .
    On August 31, 2009, Southeastern finally lost the accreditation it had clung to, barely, for thirty-two years. The students and faculty dispersed, and the tiny campus sits empty today. In December, the university’s few remaining assets–the building, the student records, and materials associated with the degree programs–were absorbed by the Graduate School, a thriving continuing education program that was associated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture until last year. Southeastern itself seems destined to fade into memory. The picture of President Obama has disappeared from the Web site, which now simply says, ‘We are not accepting students at this time.'”


Name that Tune II

  • ReclaimPrivacy.org: Facebook Privacy 101 – “If you’ve been watching the slow motion train wreck that is Facebook.com’s recent effort to revamp its privacy promises, you may be wondering where to start making sense of the dizzying array of privacy options offered by the world’s largest online social network. Fortunately, developers are starting to release free new tools so that you don’t need to read a statement longer than the U.S. Constitution or earn a masters degree in Facebook privacy in order to get started.

    Reclaimprivacy.org hosts an easy-to-use, open source tool that can help Facebook users very quickly determine what types of information they are sharing with the rest of the world. To use it, visit reclaimprivacy.org and drag the ‘bookmarklet’ over into your bookmarks area. Then log in to facebook.com, and browse to your privacy settings page. Then, click the bookmark and it will run a series of Javascript commands that produce a report showing your various privacy settings, and suggest ways to strengthen weaker settings.”

  • Google TV: everything you ever wanted to know – “Google made some waves yesterday when it announced the new Google TV platform, backed by major players like Sony, Logitech, Intel, Dish Network, and Best Buy. Built on Android and featuring the Chrome browser with a full version of Flash Player 10.1, Google TV is supposed to bring ‘the web to your TV and your TV to the web,’ in Google’s words. It’s a lofty goal that many have failed to accomplish, but Google certainly has the money and muscle to pull it off. But hold up: what is Google TV, exactly, and why do all these companies think it’s going to revolutionize the way we watch TV? Let’s take a quick walk through the platform and see what’s what.

    Google TV isn’t a single product — it’s a platform that will eventually run on many products, from TVs to Blu-ray players to set-top boxes. The platform is based on Android, but instead of the Android browser it runs Google’s Chrome browser as well as a full version of Flash Player 10.1. That means Google TV devices can browse to almost any site on the web and play video — Hulu included, provided it doesn’t get blocked. It also means that Google TV devices can run almost all Android apps that don’t require phone hardware. You’ll still need to keep your existing cable or satellite box, however — most Google TV devices won’t actually have any facility for tuning TV at launch, instead relying on your existing gear plugged in over HDMI to do the job. There’s a lot of potential for clunkiness with that kind of setup, so we’ll have to see how it works in person.”

  • ‘Steve Jobs’ switches to Android: ‘Apple now is chasing Google’ – “Steve Jobs — no, not the one in Cupertino, the one who blogs — is ditching his iPhone, going Googly, and venting his spleen.

    “Goodbye, Apple. I’m ditching my iPhone. Seriously, I’m gone,” writes Newsweek senior editor Dan Lyons on his Newsweek blog. In his alter ego of “Fake Steve,” Lyons also comments on all things Apple on his parody website The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.

    Fake Steve/Dan Lyons hates AT&T’s iPhone service — so much so that last December, in his Fake Steve persona, he launched what he intended to be a parody protest movement entitled Operation Chokehold. However, it turned out that so many non-parody-minded AT&T haters thought that Fake Steve’s idea of slamming Big Phone’s service was a real-world good idea, that he was forced to recant the idea and request that his Chokeholders chill.

    But his distaste for AT&T’s lousy service isn’t the only reason for his defection from the iPhone. ‘I was already fed up with my lousy AT&T service,’ he writes for Newsweek, ‘and was seriously considering switching to the HTC Incredible, an Android-powered phone that runs on the Verizon network. But then, after seeing Google’s new mobile-phone software, I’ve made up my mind.’
    . . .
    And so Fake Steve is switching to Android. After congratulating the unashamedly ‘mocking’ Apple-bashing by Google execs at that company’s just-completed developers conference, he notes: ‘Now Google is saying, hey, nice garden, have fun sitting in it. By yourself.’

    Real Steve would do well to sit up and notice. There’s something to be said for Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of a ‘tipping point,’ and if Apple’s carefully polished public image tips from that of sexy, future-defining innovator to selfish, defensive control-freak, it will be no easy feat to tip it back. ”

  • Low Flow Showerheads – “Low flow showerheads (low-flo, low-flow) are an inexpensive way to save water.”

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