Thursday, January 19, 2012


The big news on the internet yesterday/today is the efforts against SOPA/PIPA. I'll be less of a cynic than usual and begin by noting that the protests have actually been very useful, insofar as internet-users seem to actually be paying attention and some members of Congress have been persuaded to change their minds:
A freshman senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising Republican star, was first Wednesday morning with his announcement that he would no longer back antipiracy legislation he had co-sponsored. Senator John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who heads the campaign operation for his party, quickly followed suit and urged Congress to take more time to study the measure, which had been set for a test vote next week.

By Wednesday afternoon, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and one of the Senate bill’s original co-sponsors, called it “simply not ready for prime time” and withdrew his support.


“As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs,” Mr. Rubio wrote on his Facebook page. “However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies.”

Mr. Rubio has outsize influence for a junior senator entering his second year in Congress. He is considered a top contender for the vice presidential ticket of his party’s White House nominee this year, and is being groomed by the Republican leadership to be the face of his party with Hispanics and beyond.

Mr. Cornyn posted on his Facebook page that it was “better to get this done right rather than fast and wrong. Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about unintended damage to the Internet and innovation in the tech sector require a more thoughtful balance, which will take more time.”
More on defections here. They're dropping like flies. But there's still plenty more work to be done.

Frank Pasquale offers some excellent analysis of SOPA/PIPA in the Boston Review:
[W]hat does it say about our Congress that it is readier to turbocharge a police state, largely in the service content industry oligopolists, than it is to revise and expand a venerable licensing method to support struggling journalists, artists, and musicians? Make content affordable and accessible, and the piracy problem will decline precipitously.

Unfortunately, as Bernard Harcourt has shown, contemporary American politics has continually privileged policing and punishment, while marginalizing the welfare state and its support for the arts and the commons. This is a tragic imbalance on many levels, not least for creative endeavors. The dole has supported many an artist. Hans Abbing’s fascinating work Why Are Artists Poor? flatly states that many creatives survive thanks to the generosity of the European welfare state. He sees the “exceptional economy of the arts” as essentially “pre-capitalist,” with gift relationships, personal contact, and dependence crucial aspects of the equation.

SOPA and current legislative battles have more to do with preserving CEO paydays for the massive content industry than with the actual material foundations for creativity. And we should not be surprised if the ultimate political economy of IP enforcement shifts to vertically integrated firms that use control over the “pipes” to monitor, deter, and perhaps ultimately ban content that threatens profits. The great irony of libertarians’ outrage over SOPA is that the same conduct they’d condemn if perpetrated by FBI content police, they’d likely characterize as an inalienable right of cable companies if done solely by those private entities to manage their networks. The strange bedfellows now opposing SOPA probably won’t be together for long.

SOPA has spawned a powerful alliance of netizens to support basic principles of due process, free expression, and accountability online. But this battle is merely a prelude to a much more contested debate about the proper allocation of digital revenues. Like health care battles between providers and insurers, struggles between content owners and intermediaries will profoundly shape our common life. Stopping SOPA is only one small step toward preserving a fair, free, and democratic culture online.
Clay Shirky also offers a good take in the video below:

Some more good primers on the horribleness of this pro-censorship piece of bipartisan legislation hereherehere, here, here, here, and a vid here. And a funny take here. And Jon Stewart offers the best metaphor for SOPA here. Take action here. And here. And here. And here.

Still, even with all this anti-SOPA/PIPA energy, there's a decent chance that the legislation may end up on Obama's desk. Tell him to veto it here. He's made some encouraging statements in the past, though he did the same with the indefinite detention bill a few weeks ago and then acquiesced to minimal changes made by Congress and signed the odious bill soon after.

It looks like Keystone XL is down for the count, in large part because of an idiotic GOP miscalculation; they took away the time to do a proper environment review and left Obama with no choice:
Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying the $7 billion project could not be adequately reviewed within the 60-day deadline set by Congress. While the president’s action does not preclude later approval of the project, it sets up a baldly partisan fight over energy, jobs and regulation that will most likely persist through the November election.

The president said his hand had been forced by Republicans in Congress, who inserted a provision in the temporary payroll tax cut bill passed in December giving the administration only until Feb. 21 to decide the fate of the 1,700-mile pipeline, which would stretch from oil sands formations in Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The State Department, which has authority over the project because it crosses an international border, said there was not enough time to draw a new route for the pipeline and assess the potential environmental harm to sensitive grasslands and aquifers along its path. The agency recommended that the permit be denied, and Mr. Obama concurred.

“As the State Department made clear last month,” the president said in a statement, “the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment.”
In the end, the GOP forced the administration to choose between which law to enforce, and Big Oil's voting arm in Congress lost:
Today’s decision, expected from the State Department, would make official what the administration has said from the outset: that under current law, it cannot accelerate the permitting process, especially in light of the need for additional environmental reviews of a new path for the pipeline through Nebraska.

Nebraska hasn't identified possible alternate routes that would allow the pipeline to circumvent a key aquifer.

"It's a fallacy to suggest that the president should sign into law something when there isn't even an alternate route identified in Nebraska and when the review process is" not yet done, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. "There was an attempt to short-circuit the review process in a way that does not allow the kind of careful consideration of all the competing criteria here that needs to be done."
More on the GOP's backfiring tactics here.

John Boehner is not happy, and trots out the usual claptrap bullshit about how Obama loves joblessness and wants to denying good, hard-working (white?) Americans the tens of thousand jobs that the pipeline and a continued love affair with dirty energy would produce. Newt ain't happy, either. The NYTimes editorial writers are pleased, though:
The foolish requirement that Mr. Obama issue a decision on the pipeline by Feb. 21 — cynically inserted into the payroll tax bill passed in December — could never be met given the need for a thorough environmental study before any judgment is made.

The president made the right call in accepting the recommendation of the State Department, which has primary jurisdiction over the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline that would cross through ecologically sensitive areas in the Midwest. Mr. Obama said his judgment was based not on the merits but on a timetable that was “rushed and arbitrary.” He has maintained that a decision on the current proposal could not be made until some time next year. The pipeline sponsor, TransCanada, could submit a proposal to build along another route, but that, too, would require time for a comprehensive environmental review.

Republicans intent on scoring campaign points immediately repeated their fallacious cries that “tens of thousands of jobs” would be lost by not instantly approving the project. They made no mention of the risks inherent in the project: harm to the Canadian boreal forests and threats to water supplies in the Midwest. Bipartisan opposition to the pipeline has notably been led by Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, a Republican.

The extraction and production of tar sands oil in the fields of northern Alberta would also cause far more greenhouse gas emissions than drilling for conventional crude. Lobbyists and House Republicans have tried to sell the project as a reduction in America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil. But much of the pipeline oil that would be refined on the Gulf Coast would be destined for foreign export.

Far more important to the nation’s energy and environmental future is the development of renewable and alternative energy sources. This is the winning case that Mr. Obama should make to voters in rejecting the Republicans’ craven indulgence of Big Oil.
The Keystone XL jobs and energy security lies have been repeatedly debunked, but let's do it again, this time thanks to the State Department's own assessment:
Regarding economic, energy security, and trade factors, the economic analysis in the final EIS indicates that, over the remainder of this decade, even if no new cross-border pipelines were constructed, there is likely to be little difference in the amount of crude oil refined at U.S. refineries, the amount of crude oil and refined products such as gasoline imported to (or exported from) the United States, the cost of crude oil or refined products in the United States, or the amount of crude oil imported from Canada. . . .

The analysis from the final EIS, noted above, indicates that denying the permit at this time is unlikely to have a substantial impact on U.S. employment, economic activity, trade, energy security, or foreign policy over the longer term.
Yet even though Keystone XL may not be revived anytime soon, Team Obama certainly hasn't given up on promoting fossil fuels. Nevertheless, for the time being, you can thank Obama here. This likely isn't the end of the battle. Repubs saw this coming and are planning other anti-environment shenanigans in the future. So, what's next?

Lastly, let's not forget that Keystone XL is all about dirty fuels and has nothing to do with energy security. Ed Markey gets it.

The National Center for Science Education gets involved in the movement to defend climate science against its reality-denying foes:
Although scientific evidence increasingly shows that fossil fuel consumption has caused the climate to change rapidly, the issue has grown so politicized that skepticism of the broad scientific consensus has seeped into classrooms.

Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change. Tennessee and Oklahoma also have introduced legislation to give climate change skeptics a place in the classroom.

In May, a school board in Los Alamitos, Calif., passed a measure, later rescinded, identifying climate science as a controversial topic that required special instructional oversight.

"Any time we have a meeting of 100 teachers, if you ask whether they're running into pushback on teaching climate change, 50 will raise their hands," said Frank Niepold, climate education coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who meets with hundreds of teachers annually. "We ask questions about how sizable it is, and they tell us it is [sizable] and pretty persistent, from many places: your administration, parents, students, even your own family."

Against this backdrop, the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland-based watchdog group that supports the teaching of evolution through advocacy and educational materials, plans to announce on Monday that it will begin an initiative to monitor the teaching of climate science and evaluate the sources of resistance to it.

NCSE, a small, nonpartisan group of scientists, teachers, clergy and concerned individuals, rose to prominence in the last decade defending evolution in the curriculum.

The controversy around "climate change education is where evolution was 20 years ago," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of NCSE.
Regardless of one's opinions on the veracity of the science, the market has spoken: insurance companies are paying out more in climate disasters, and subsequently are raising premiums. This is what happens when “[t]here [are] a record number of billion-dollar natural disasters.

Federal prosectors aren't falling for Sheriff Joe's stalling tactics:
If Arpaio's representatives do not agree to set up meetings with federal officials by mid-March to address the discrimination Justice Department investigators found in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the Justice Department will assume that Arpaio does not want to cooperate with investigators, leaving a legal battle as the only option.

The Justice Department's letter to Arpaio's attorneys was the most recent written exchange between the two agencies in the wake of a 22-page notice of findings federal officials released last month. It accused the Sheriff's Office of widespread discrimination.

The letter delivered to Arpaio's attorneys late Tuesday afternoon was also among the most vigorous exchanges from federal officials.

An attorney for Arpaio's office released a statement late Tuesday saying the agency disagreed with some of the Justice Department's interpretations but remained encouraged by the possibility of cooperating with federal officials to avoid being sued.

The Justice Department last month accused the Sheriff's Office of rampant discrimination against Latinos in its police and jail operations, prompting an immediate suspension of Arpaio's participation in federal immigration enforcement.

Arpaio responded to the Justice Department nearly three weeks later with a letter stating his intention to cooperate but demanding more than 100 pieces of information that could provide detailed examples of the institutional discrimination the Sheriff's Office is accused of.

Arpaio's response included a request for federal officials to disclose the identities of residents who were the victims of discrimination by the Sheriff's Office and of deputies who made critical comments about Arpaio's agency.

Arpaio and other sheriff's officials have also made numerous statements about their desire to cooperate with federal investigators, yet strongly questioning the findings and motivations of the years-long civil-rights probe.

The inherent discrepancy between those two stances — cooperation and confrontation -- was noted in the Tuesday letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez.

"Dismissive, inaccurate statements accompanied by overly broad document requests are inconsistent with your professed interest in negotiating, and in working with us to craft sustainable solutions to MCSO's significant civil-rights and public-safety problems," Perez wrote.

Conor Friedersfdorf responds to the idiotic defense of Obama penned by Andrew Sullivan:
After reading Andrew Sullivan's Newsweek essay about President Obama, his critics, and his re-election bid, I implore him to ponder just one question. How would you have reacted in 2008 if any Republican ran promising to do the following:

(1) Codify indefinite detention into law; (2) draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process; (3) proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens; (4) prosecute Bush-era whistleblowers for violating state secrets; (5) reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible; (6) enter and prosecute such a war; (7) institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports; (8) oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots; (9) wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy; (10) invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits; (11) preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; (12) attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed); (13) reauthorize the Patriot Act; (14) and select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.

I submit that had Palin or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Rice or Jeb Bush or John Bolton or Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney proposed doing even half of those things in 2008, you'd have declared them unfit for the presidency and expressed alarm at the prospect of America doubling down on the excesses of the post-September 11 era. You'd have championed an alternative candidate who avowed that America doesn't have to choose between our values and our safety.

Yet President Obama has done all of the aforementioned things.


No, Obama isn't a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist. But he is a lawbreaker and an advocate of radical executive power. What precedent could be more radical than insisting that the executive is empowered to draw up a kill list of American citizens in secret, without telling anyone what names are on it, or the legal justification for it, or even that it exists?

Mitt Romney makes money from investments, not labor. So he pays half as much in taxes as he should. I can't say I blame him for utilizing ridiculous tax loopholes that he supports. After all, under a Romney administration, he'd keep the loophole, made even more extreme under the Bush tax cuts, in place:
As a candidate, Mr. Romney has also advocated tax policies that would significantly benefit people who, like him, derive most of their income from investments.
Assuming Congress does not act to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, the rate for capital gains income is set to return to 20 percent for the 2013 tax year, while the rate for dividend income will jump to 39.6 percent. But in his economic plan, Mr. Romney calls for making permanent the Bush-era tax cuts on capital gains and dividend income, keeping them both at the current rate of 15 percent.
The NYTimes editorial page chimes in on the issue, as well (h/t Katelyn):
As for that 15 percent rate, it’s all completely legal. Mr. Romney didn’t even need a sharp accountant. If Mr. Romney has done one good thing with his partial disclosure — although it clearly wasn’t his goal — he has reminded Americans of the fundamental unfairness of the current tax code and of how determined Mr. Romney and his party are to keep it that way.

Currently, the tax code imposes a top rate of 15 percent on investment income — generally, capital gains and dividends — that flows overwhelmingly to wealthy taxpayers. In comparison, top rates between 25 percent and 35 percent are applied to the wages and salaries for many working Americans.

Worse, an egregious loophole in the law lets private equity partners pay the lower 15 percent rate on much of their income — known as “carried interest” — even though those earnings are not typically gains from investing their own money, but rather a share of profits from investing someone else’s money.
No, that doesn't mean it's in any way reasonable that we have such ridiculous loopholes that encourage investment over actual work. Pat Garafolo explains more about the loophole and how it benefits private equity managers:
Managers of private equity firms like Romney are often paid under an arrangement in which they receive both a set fee for their management, as well as a share of the profits that the firm makes for investors. While their management fees are taxed at normal income tax rates, the share of investor gains that go to a private equity manager (called "carried interest") are treated as capital gains, and thus taxed at a top rate of 15 percent. (Hedge fund managers and partners in real estate ventures also benefit from receiving carried interest.)

The argument for a lower capital gains rate is that it encourages investment. Whether that's true or not, private equity managers are allowed to pay the capital gains rate on the profits they make managing someone else's money, not for any risk that they take themselves. Treating carried interest as capital gains is an unjustifiable tax break that needs to be eliminated.

Congress has attempted to close the carried interest loophole on a number of occasions, with the Democrats passing legislation to close it three times when they controlled the House of Representatives. But intense lobbying and Senate intransigence has kept the tax giveaway in place.
Of course, as Wonkette points out, in Mittens' world he's earning his money and entitled to paying obscenely low tax rates for doing nothing more than sit on others' money:
Romney would peg himself as a big risk-taker. Someone who plays “We Are The Champions” at a campaign rally despite the fact that he hasn’t even become champion of anything yet. And lest we forget the worst part of the “corporations are people” comment is really what came after it:
Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people.
With insane rhetoric like that, it should come as no surprise that Romney is certainly no longer a moderate, as is far to the right of Bush. Since Obama and most Dems want to see this nonsense end, it's no wonder that Mittens feels under personal attack. How dare he be taxed as much as middle class Americans who actual have jobs?! It's not like he's making much money anyway. He's unemployed. He's poor. He doesn't make “very much” money from speaking fees. Yup, only a third of a million dollars:
He also characterized as “not very much” the $374,327 he reported earning in speaking fees last year, though that sum would, by itself, very nearly catapult most American families into the top 1 percent of the country’s earners.

Newt Gingrich traffics in the politics of racial resentment. He's an amoral asshole who'd rather see people suffer than get much-needed assistance:
For months, Mr. Gingrich has made racial resentment an integral part of his platform as a conservative challenger to Mitt Romney. He has traversed the country calling President Obama “the greatest food-stamp president in American history” and presenting African-Americans with the great revelation that they should prefer paychecks to federal handouts. When he was called on it at the debate by Juan Williams of Fox News, he took the measure of the crowd and doubled down.

“The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history,” he announced, to wild cheers. “I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.” What you’re not supposed to do, actually, is mislead the public.

The fact is that Mr. Obama has “put” no one on food stamps. People apply for food assistance, known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, because they’re poor or out of work and their families are hungry. The number of people using the program, which is now at a peak, began rising with the recession, in 2007, and continued through four of the toughest years ever faced by the poor and near-poor in modern history. Mr. Obama eased the eligibility requirements as part of his stimulus program, a desperately needed measure that helped struggling families and the economy.
James Clyburn further explains the dog-whistle:
South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who is black, says it is no longer the "welfare queen," a line oft-touted by Ronald Reagan, but "king of the food stamps."

"I guess a lot of people see it as, if Ronald Reagan can do it and be so lionized by conservatives, then I ought to be able to do it," says Clyburn, the third ranking Democrat in the House.

Clyburn says it's an old strategy: candidates using race as a wedge to get votes.

"That is something they have been told will work to connect the president as being a black-oriented president, taking away from somebody else to give to black people," he says.

That depends on the perception that African-Americans benefit disproportionately from the food stamp program, even though blacks are not the majority of food stamp recipients.
And Charles Blow elaborates on the condescending, belittling bullshit:
Gingrich seems to understand the historical weight of the view among some southern whites, many of whom have migrated to the Republican party, that blacks are lazy and addicted to handouts. He is able to give voice to those feelings without using those words. He is able to make people believe that a fundamentally flawed and prejudicial argument that demeans minorities is actually for their uplift. It is Gingrich’s gift: He is able to make ill will sound like good will.
Ta-Nehisi Coates says it best:
When a professor of history calls Barack Obama a "Food Stamp President," it isn't a mistake to be remedied through clarification; it is a statement of aggressionre. And when a crowd of his admirers cheer him on, they are neither deluded, nor in need of forgiveness, nor absolution, nor acting against their interest. Racism is their interest. They are not your misguided friends. They are your fully intelligent adversaries, sporting the broad range of virtue and vice we see in humankind. If you are a praying person, you should pray for their electoral destruction in November.
It seems his ignorance and bigotry know no bounds, however, as Newton would refuse to ever support a Muslim for President. (Don't believe his bullshit — you can't be a Muslim without subscribing to Sharia. And no, believing in Sharia doesn't mean you want to overthrow the government anymore than accepting the Ten Commandments does.)

A popular climate change course at the University of Chicago hits the web.

No, wind turbines are not a human health hazard.

Food, Inc. says dioxin is good food.

The GOP loves invasive snakes. But Ken Salazar seems to be a bit wiser.

Who needs to protect kids from lead poisoning?

The Daily Show takes a look at Apple's controversial supplier Foxconn:

A recent episode of This American Life takes a more in-depth look at Apple's Chinese supply chain in what was originally an on-stage monologue by Mike Daisey and then adapted for radio:

Recent news on Foxconn. Some follow-up from TAL, as well. Wired carried a good piece on Foxconn last spring, too. Meanwhile, could unionization actually be coming to Foxconn? Not necessarily.

Looks like Scott Walker is headed for a recall election. Democracy lives!

Good news: a year without polio in India. Bad news: polio on the rise in Afghanistan.

The Village Voice's “Pazz and Jop” poll for 2011 is out. With the exception of the 1%-loving Kanye/Jay-Z album, I concur with the rest of the top 5.  Though in a year with plenty of great jazz (e.g., a great triology from Dave Douglas,  as well as wonderful releases from James Farm, Matthew Shipp, Vijay Iyer's Tirtha project, and Rudresh Mahanthappa, among others), it's a bit of a disappointment to see little-to-no jazz near the top of the list. Similarly, the lack of what's often called "world music" is a pretty egregious oversight. Seriously, where's Terakaft? At #902? Ballak√© Sissoko & Vincent Segal at #194? And it's not at all a surprise that plenty of the great classical releases of the past year were ignored completely, both recordings of older repertoire, as well as some excellent modern stuff (such as a number of great releases featuring So Percussion, along with gems from jazzsters Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays, lovely tunes from Finland by Kronos, wonderful solo cello recordings by Boris Andrianov, gorgeous recordings of Glass's string quartets by Brooklyn Rider, and a transcendent new album from the Now Ensemble, along with so much more). Speaking of the best music of 2011, I've mentioned it before, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to play the self-promotion game yet again — especially since I've added even more tunes to the mix — but my Spotify playlist of favorite tunes from 2011 is here.

Yes, yes, yes: another absolutely lovely new tune from Shearwater. Along with new records from the Magnetic Fields, Islands, Andrew Bird, and the legendary Leonard Cohen, there are no albums I'm more looking forward to in 2012. (If you missed it, another gorgeous new Shearwater tune here.) Also a public service announcement to my Columbus friends: Shearwater plays the Wexner Center on the release date of the new album. Be there!

A pretty, new tune from Grizzly Bear/Department of Eagles' Daniel Rossen.

New Bruce!:

New crazy video from Santigold:

And new crazy video from Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi, and Jack White:

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