T-shirt handed out by Denver’s police union to commemorate the 2008 Democratic National Convention:
Posts From: September, 2008
My colleagues Matt Welch and Jesse Walker rightly throw water on David Brooks’ temper tantrum in today’s New York Times. Me, I think Brooks’ column—and every Brooks column—can be summed up with this line, from his column today:
What we need in this situation is authority.
This is neoconservativism in a nutshell: An authority fetish coupled with general contempt for markets, masses, and choice. Just put a few (Brooks-approved) folks in charge, and give them unfettered power.
We live in odd times when one of the NY Times’ two resident conservative opens his column with an ode to . . . Franklin Roosevelt. Not to mention that the other resident conservative is William Kristol.
Fun fact: The word “authority” appears in today’s Brooks column six times!
Gonzalez reported that federal ICE agents knowingly looked the other way while one of their drug informants helped torture and murder as many as 12 people. For his trouble, Gonzalez was forced into early retirement.
There has yet to be any independent investigation. And the government is now trying to deport their own informant back to Mexico, where he’ll almost certainly be killed.
Bonus for Agitator readers: I’ll post the unabridged, much longer interview here later this week.
Kentucky’s pro-gambling governor is looking to make sure all bets are off for more than 140 online gambling Web sites that operate in the state known for the world’s biggest horse race.
Gov. Steve Beshear said his administration has asked a Franklin County Circuit Court judge to give the state control of 141 gambling Web site domain names. Beshear said he’s looking to restrict Kentuckians’ access to Web sites with names that include some of the most popular gambling sites for U.S. players: bodoglife.com, doylesroom.com and fulltiltpoker.com.
A hearing is scheduled for Thursday before Judge Thomas Wingate.
Beshear believes Kentucky is the first in the country to attempt to block online gambling by taking over Web domain names of gambling sites.
“Unlike casinos that operate on land or on riverboats in the United States, these operations pay no tax revenues, provide no jobs and yield no tourism benefits,” Beshear said at a Monday afternoon Capitol press conference. “They are leeches on our communities.”
At least Beshear isn’t making any pretense to morality, here. He just doesn’t like the idea that someone’s providing a service to Kentuckians without the government getting its cut. Wonder if he’ll try to seize Amazon.com’s URL, too.
Last week, more than 200 economists signed a letter expressing concern about the White House’s proposed bailout plan. While not completely opposed to government action, the letter urged caution, thoughtfulness, and careful assessment before rushing to action. It concluded this way:
…we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.
When asked about the letter at a meeting last week with leaders of Congress, President Bush reportedly replied:
“I don’t care what somebody on some college campus says.”
This administration’s contempt for intellect and worldliness is bizarre. It’s not as if the letter came from the heads of 200 women’s studies or sociology departments. These are people who’ve studied economics for much of their lives. And most of them share Bush’s alleged (if not practiced) fondness for free markets.
Reason Goes Hollywood!Nothing captures the American imagination like Hollywood—and now, lovers of liberty will gather on the Walk of Fame to explore the ways in which film and freedom converge. Come find out more about the future of American cinema—and join in the party of the year as we celebrate Reason’s 40th anniversary!
When: Friday, November 14 and Saturday, November 15.40 Years of Reason Gala Dinner: Friday, November 14
Where: Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood, California
The event will be emceed by Price Is Right and Reason.tv host Drew Carey and speakers include Skeptical Environmentalist author Bjorn Lomborg, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and many Reason all-stars.
Registration for Reason Goes Hollywood is open to all, but space is limited. Sponsorship opportunities are available. If you would like to sponsor the event or have any questions, please contact Jennifer Kambara at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (310) 391-2245.
John McCain’s presidential campaign claimed credit as Congress readied Monday to vote on an emergency economic package, but Democrats said the Republican’s last-ditch intervention had been no help.
Mitt Romney, McCain’s erstwhile rival for the Republican nomination, said the deal on a Wall Street bailout worth up to 700 billion dollars would never have happened without the Arizona senator.
Speaking on NBC television, the former Massachusetts governor said “this bill would not have been agreed to had it not been for John McCain.”
“That doesn’t mean that he’s the only guy doing that. And there many people … who have been critical to it,” Romney said.
“But, you know, this is a bipartisan accomplishment, a bipartisan success. And if people want to get something done in Washington, they just watch John McCain,” he said.
In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.
The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets — including the New York metropolitan region — will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.
Fannie Mae, the nation’s biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.
In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates — anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.
The moment of sanity:
In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980′s.
”From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,” said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ”If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.”
Leave it to the evil free market economist to rain on the “everyone should own a home” parade. Good thing no one listened to him!
In 2003, the New York Times published an article about growing concerns over growing debt, risky mortgages, and questionable accounting practices at quasi-government businesses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The following passage, featuring move-along, nothing-to-see-here quotes from the now-chair of the House Financial Services Committee Barney Frank (D-Mass) and committee member Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), seems relevant given what we know today:
Among the groups denouncing the proposal today were the National Association of Home Builders and Congressional Democrats who fear that tighter regulation of the companies could sharply reduce their commitment to financing low-income and affordable housing.
”These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis,” said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. ”The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”
Representative Melvin L. Watt, Democrat of North Carolina, agreed.
”I don’t see much other than a shell game going on here, moving something from one agency to another and in the process weakening the bargaining power of poorer families and their ability to get affordable housing,” Mr. Watt said.
That is, I give you relief from the bailout, with perhaps the greatest news story written in weeks. Here’s how it begins:
State attorneys say John LaVoie should be forever barred from the massage business because he ran a house of prostitution camouflaged as a church.But in his latest court argument, the Tucson man says he hired women at Angel’s Heaven Relaxation Spa — near University Medical Center — not to sell sex but to comfort the afflicted through the religious act of “laying on of hands.”[...]Whatever they offered, LaVoie’s “angels” operated out of an office building at 1740 E. Lester St., northwest of Campbell and Speedway.The Angel’s Heaven Web site displayed portraits of young women over trademarked names.“Oriental Angel” described as 5-foot-2 with dark brown hair and hazel eyes, invited visitors to discover “Far East delight.”Brown-eyed “Passion Angel” peered out over this message: “Come to Angel’s Heaven now and be touched by an angel willing to take you to heaven and back.”
“This offer of comfort by this means is based on several Biblical passages.”
Prosecutors declined to file prostitution-related criminal charges against LaVoie after a Tucson police detective compromised the investigation. Detective Michael Moser told his sergeant in February 2004 that he had sex with one of LaVoie’s angels after work, at her home and in his police car.
Internal Affairs records show then-Chief Richard Miranda agreed to suspend him without pay for a week and demote him from detective to officer. Before police served the discipline, Moser retired in September 2004.
Longtime readers will recognize that headline. It was part of a series where we’d illustrate how politics has moved beyond parody. If ever there were a video clip to illustrate the point, it’s this one.
The bailout of Wall Street was passed on the backs of big government Republicans and Democrats. It was largely the Democratic Congress that passed this honking piece of corporate welfare. It is the much-maligned (by both sides) limited government wing of the GOP and the libertarians outside of Congress who have opposed the bailout, and who have argued in favor of letting poorly run corporations who made bad investments go belly-up.
Worth remembering next time the Thomas Franks of the world accuse libertarians of pro-corporate, fair weather free marketeerism.
UPDATE: Well I’ll be damned. It failed. It’ll be interesting to see what takes its place. The point, however, still stands. Most of the Democrats, a good chunk of the Republicans, and a concensus of the chattering class still think we need a bailout of some kind. It’s Goldwater Republicans and libertarans–two groups regularly accused of being corporate shills–who have said it’s time to let bad companies fail.
Detroit’s crime lab may have a ten percent rate of error:
The Police Department here shut down its crime laboratory on Thursday after an audit uncovered serious errors in numerous cases. The audit said sloppy work had probably resulted in wrongful convictions, and officials expect a wave of appeals in cases that the laboratory processed.
The interim mayor, Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr., and the new police chief, James Barren, ordered the laboratory closed; Mr. Cockrel called the audit’s conclusions “shocking and appalling.” Pending and future cases will be sent to the Michigan State Police, which operates seven laboratories.
Officials from the Detroit Police Department, the Wayne County prosecutor’s office and the State Police will try to determine whether the errors resulted in guilty verdicts against innocent people.
“We do not want any of our activities to result in someone being imprisoned that doesn’t belong there,” the Wayne County prosecutor, Kym L. Worthy, said at a news conference with Mr. Cockrel and Mr. Barren. Ms. Worthy said the mistakes also might have let violent criminals remain at large.
David E. Balash, a retired State Police official who consults on firearms cases, said the audit’s findings could lead to payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.
“I would have never anticipated that it would have been this systemic,” Mr. Balash said. “It’s almost incomprehensible.”
Disturbing as all of that is, the city is at least acknowledging the mistakes and doing what it can to correct them. Which is more than we can say for Mississippi.
Roger Koppl and I discuss how to ensure more reliable forensic evidence in criminal cases here.
It’s been close to five months, now, and it looks like it’ll be at least another month until we get a report on the Easton, Connecticut police raid that killed 33-year-old Gonzalo Guizan. Police were acting on a tip from a prostitute who claims she saw a gun and a small amount of cocaine at the house. They stormed the place hours later, with little investigation. Guizan didn’t live at the home. His family says that he was visiting the home’s owner, Ronald Terebesi, Jr. The two were planning to open an employment business together. Police shot Guizan at least a dozen times as he ran toward them, likely out of fear. Guizan was unarmed.
Police found no guns, and only enough drugs and paraphernalia to charge Terebesi with a misdemeanor. That charge was dropped when Terebesi agreed to undergo treatment.
The Agitatrix developed a cold Saturday night. So I went to CVS to get her some Nyquil. Once there, I saw that in compliance with demands from our Congress, CVS had replaced all medication containing pseudoephedrine with little cards, which you then have to take to the pharmacy, where they ask you to sign a little form indicating you won’t be making any methamphetamine with your purchase. Because everyone knows that the surest way to deter drug dealers is to make them sign little forms.
Problem is, the pharmacy is closed. Which means I have to settle on the crappy Nyquil made with phenylephrine, which I can only guess the drug companies have decided to use as a substitute because it sorta’ sounds like pseudoephedrine. The stuff is actually pretty worthless as an antihistamine.
Which means that thanks to the new federal law, you can pretty much forget about late-night trips to the drug store to get a working over-the-counter antihistamine, unless you happen to live near a 24-hour pharmacy. Oh, and don’t even think about stocking up on the stuff. That’ll land your ass in jail.
I guess the lesson is, before you decide to get a cold, be sure you have some–but not too much–real cold medicine in the house, the kind for which you had to let the government know you purchased.
All of this got me curious. So I looked up the first person arrested under the Combat Meth Act. It was a 36-year-old Ontario, New York man named William Fousse. The DEA was so giddy about his arrest that they actually put out a press release celebrating their apprehension of the dangerous, menacing Mr. Fousse.
Guess what? There was apparently no evidence the poor guy was actually making meth. He said he stocked up on the medication to combat the sniffles when he got a hangover. He was convicted only of purchasing too much cold medicine, which, just to reiterate, is now a federal crime. In January of this year, he was sentenced to a year of probation.
Honestly. They think we’re a nation of damned children.
MORE: As noted in the comments, my science-challenged self should have used the word “decongestant” instead of “antihistamine.”
From the transcript of Friday night’s debate, here’s John McCain:
First of all, I won’t repeat the mistake that I regret enormously, and that is, after we were able to help the Afghan freedom fighters and drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, we basically washed our hands of the region.
And the result over time was the Taliban, Al Qaida, and a lot of the difficulties we are facing today. So we can’t ignore those lessons of history.
Those “freedom fighters” were of course the mujaheddin in Afghanistan waging jihad against the Soviets, including one Osama bin Laden and one Zayman Al Zawahiri. We backed and funded them–sort of. We didn’t “create bin Laden,” as some have alleged. But we certainly supported the factions fighting alongside him, factions every bit as militantly Islamic as bin Laden–as even the State Department concedes.
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright documents how in Afghanistan, the U.S. saw the opportunity to give the Soviet Union, in the words of Secretary of State National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, “its own Vietnam.” By most accounts, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in part out of naked aggression, but also to quell the militant Islamism gaining traction in the country (sound familiar?)&tag=theagitator-20. So in our effort to bog down the Soviets, the U.S. gave its own money and helped divert billions in Saudi money to the Pakistan’s ISI secret police, which then distributed the funds to seven separate mujaheddin tribes, one of which was led by bin Laden (just how much U.S. money bin Laden received through ISI isn’t clear–at least from what I’ve read). The Saudis also provided additional funding to bin Laden’s group through other channels.
Anti-communists in the Regan administration regularly referred to the mujaheddin as “freedom fighters,” apparently for no other reason than that they were fighting the Soviets. We now know, of course, that they were fighting for independence, not freedom. There’s a big difference. That McCain continues to use the Reagan-era terminology is telling. Our support–even if indirect–of bin Laden in his jihad against the Soviets ought to be a lesson in the perils of meddling in foreign conflicts. But in the McCain-Bush black-and-white, you’re-with-us-or-you’re-against-us foreign policy, the side America backs is always the side of freedom. It’s foolhardy to think it’s always that simple.
Moreover, you sort of wonder what McCain thinks we should have done. Should we have sent in U.S. troops to set up bases and occupy the country the moment the Soviets pulled out? Installed a puppet regime? I can’t think even a by-then crumbling Soviet Union would have stood for what would have been the equivalent of a U.S. satellite on its southern border. Until then, our support for anti-Soviet Afghans was it least covert. I’m sure the Soviets knew about it, but it wasn’t a slap in the face, as the installation of a base or a blatantly pro-U.S. government would have been.
It would be nice to see a campaign correspondent ask McCain to clarify. Does he really still think the mujaheddin were “freedom fighters?” And what does the think we should have done once the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan?
One other thing: Can you imagine the uproar on the right if Obama had referred to the Afghan mujaheddin as “freedom fighters?”
Buried in the election and Wall Street coverage last week: The Hadron Collider is broken.
Map and polling data courtesy of Real Clear Politics. Obama now seems to be up 5-7 points nationally, a lead that’s also showing up in state polls. He has solidified his slight leads in New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Michigan; retaken the lead the lead in Virginia; and has closed the gap in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina (!).
That’s all bad news for McCain, who is now polling worse nationally than he was before the GOP convention.
That said, it’s still very close. Here’s how close: Obama’s two smallest leads right now are in Virginia and New Hampshire, where cumulative polling data has him up by less than a point. If those two states flip, we have 269-269 tie in the Electoral College. But McCain would still need one more state. If the election gets thrown to the House, Obama still wins.
I’m happy to report that after I sent a letter of complai
nt to the corporate headquarters about my bad experience in Alaska, Dollar/Thrifty responded quickly, and then took care of the situation.
Got a check in the mail last week refunding the extra day they charged me.
Dahlia Lithwick wrote a nice appreciation. Cool Hand Luke is by far my favorite Newman movie.