Friday, December 19, 2008

The Greatest American Hero - Shoe throwing guy!

Suggestions For New Cabinet-Level Agencies

Poet on Call

A Department of Common Sense: The job of this institution would be to help American workers identify with their socioeconomic status and regain awareness of their true interests, instead of thinking of themselves as "middle class." This might take the extreme form of waking them up from the hypnotic state they were put in by Ronald Reagan who convinced them that they were keepers of morality not swindled suckers. I nominate Thomas Paine for secretary of this department, even if we have to wake him up from the dead. (A most unconvincing state, by the way).

A Department for the Defense of the English Language from Bankers: Unlike the French Academy, which forbids the use of anglicisms, this institution would safeguard words vulnerable to being turned into means of defrauding. For instance, the word "to derive," which became the adjective "derivative" over the course of centuries, only to be recently transformed into the noun "derivative," which became, very rapidly, the proctological instrument most Americans now call "painful." The Department for the Defense of English could ensure that bankers stick to numbers, while leaving the language to poets and immigrants.

A Department of Accuracy: This body would measure the true worth of things, such as the dollar. The job of the Accuracy Department would also be to figure out where the missing $99 went, and who and what inflated it. This department would undertake a systematic study of all the things we commonly agree are worth a lot less than they were when we commonly agreed on them.

Bush's Regulatory Kiss-Off

Obama's assertions to the contrary, the 43rd president was the biggest regulator since Nixon.

When Barack Obama was running for president, he made no secret about his plan to "restore common-sense regulation"—read: increase regulation—by closing the regulatory loopholes he thought the Republicans had opened. Deregulation, he argued repeatedly, is the source of evil. Much like Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression, Obama offered a sweeping, ambitious agenda: new financial regulations, new labor regulations, new energy regulations, and more.

Today Obama is the president-elect of the United States. With Democratic majorities in Congress, he will have tremendous power to push his "reforms." And unlike FDR before him, President Obama won't have to create a regulatory system from scratch in order to increase government control of people's lives. His groundwork was laid by George W. Bush.

Some people still seem to think Republicans take a hands-off approach to regulation, probably because the party is always quick to criticize the burdens regulations place on businesses. But Republican rhetoric doesn't always match Republican policy. In 2007, according to Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, roughly 50 regulatory agencies issued 3,595 final rules, ranging from boosting fuel economy standards for light trucks to continuing a ban on bringing torch lighters into airplane cabins. Five departments (Commerce, Agriculture, Homeland Security, Treasury, and the Environmental Protection Agency) accounted for 45 percent of the new regulations.

Since Bush took office in 2001, there has been a 13 percent decrease in the annual number of new rules. But the new regulations' cost to the economy will be much higher than it was before 2001. Of the new rules, 159 are "economically significant," meaning they will cost at least $100 million a year. That's a 10 percent increase in the number of high-cost rules since 2006, and a 70 percent increase since 2001. And at the end of 2007, another 3,882 rules were already at different stages of implementation, 757 of them targeting small businesses.

Overall, the final outcome of this Republican regulation has been a significant increase in regulatory activity and cost since 2001. The number of pages added to the Federal Register, which lists all new regulations, reached an all-time high of 78,090 in 2007, up from 64,438 in 2001.


The Questions We Never Answered in 2008

Digging through the bottom of the Explainer mailbag.

The Explainer has completed another year of valuable community service. Over the last 12 months, we've told you how to interrogate a small child and given instructions for turning a human skull into a sweet bong. Regular readers learned how to survive a 47-story fall and why you can't survive falling into a black hole. And we had the final word on whether terrorists really bump fists to say hello.

But, for all that, the column managed to address just a tiny fraction of the 8,500 messages that arrived in our mailbox. Today, as part of our Explainer holiday tradition, we present an assortment of inquiries culled from the voluminous backlog. Below are the reader questions that Slate felt ill-equipped or unwilling to answer in 2008.

Once again, we'd like you to let us know which of these unanswered questions is most deserving of an answer. The one that receives the most reader votes will be designated the Explainer Question of the Year for 2008 and will be addressed in an upcoming column.The Explainer's Unanswered Questions From 2008

• What is the most disloyal dog breed?

• Why does some music make you want to shake your butt?

• Could you please explain why it is that squirrels are capable of such amazing athletic feats? What is it about their brains and, to a lesser degree, their bodies that allows it? I watch them at my house and have seen some amazing things.

• Why do women like soup? Is it for perceived health benefits? Is it because it's a quasi-comfort food?

• Is it just me, or do all national anthems the world over, no matter how rich and exotic the culture, seem to sound like European marching-band music? Wouldn't one expect China's national anthem be more "plinky"? Shouldn't Iraq's national anthem sound a little more "Arab-y"?

• I am an 11-year-old boy and girls in my class harass me constantly and I want to file a restraining order against one of them. Is that possible?

• It is a common baseball prank to give someone a cream pie in the face during a TV interview. Where do these cream pies come from? Do baseball teams keep cream pies in the dugout?

• Why don't humans have a mating season?

Lost our lease

News Flash! Marijuana Still Not Eradicated!!

Bruce Mirken

Well, the federal government's National Drug Threat Assessment for 2009 is out, and — who'dda thunk it? — "Marijuana availability is high throughout the United States." This is despite record seizures of marijuana plants in 2007, as well as an all-time record number of marijuana arrests, over 872,000. Indoor cultivation — often in converted homes and other dubious locations — has increased "because of high profit margins and seemingly reduced risk of law enforcement detection."

This year's Monitoring the Future survey confirmed marijuana remains widely available, with 83.9% of high school seniors saying that marijuana is "easy to get" — a figure that remains virtually unchanged since the survey began in 1975.

Another Isolated Incident

But not a drug raid.  A prostitution raid.

It was a little before 8 at night when the breaker went out at Emily Milburn's home in Galveston. She was busy preparing her children for school the next day, so she asked her 12-year-old daughter, Dymond, to pop outside and turn the switch back on.

As Dymond headed toward the breaker, a blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, "You're a prostitute. You're coming with me."

Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat.

As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.

All this is according to a lawsuit filed in Galveston federal court by Milburn against the officers. The lawsuit alleges that the officers thought Dymond, an African-American, was a hooker due to the "tight shorts" she was wearing, despite not fitting the racial description of any of the female suspects. The police went to the wrong house, two blocks away from the area of the reported illegal activity…

So you'd think that after the police figured out they had the wrong house, they'd apologize, and possibly even compensate the girl and her family. According to the lawsuit, you'd be wrong:

After the incident, Dymond was hospitalized and suffered black eyes as well as throat and ear drum injuries.

Three weeks later, according to the lawsuit, police went to Dymond's school, where she was an honor student, and arrested her for assaulting a public servant. Griffin says the allegations stem from when Dymond fought back against the three men who were trying to take her from her home. The case went to trial, but the judge declared it a mistrial on the first day, says Griffin. The new trial is set for February.

40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes

The War in Common

by William Rivers Pitt

President Bush ducking a flying shoe.

    I met a chef from Texas who was like an oak tree with tattoos, and made a mean barbecue sauce. He'd been in the 101st Airborne and was about to be deployed to Iraq, but destroyed his knee in a training exercise and wound up getting discharged. He knew the war was nonsense and thought the Bush guys all deserved to rot in jail, but he still wanted to go to Iraq, and wept whenever a soldier he knew died over there because he should have been there and maybe could have saved that person if his knee hadn't buckled.

    I met a woman in Texas who sat down in a fire-ant-infested mud puddle because her son died in Iraq. Everything was "Mission Accomplished" and high approval ratings, but she didn't get it and wanted an explanation from the man who'd sent her son to die for a banner on a ship and a bump in the polls. So, she sat in a mud puddle outside his house and waited for an explanation, and by doing so, began the final and inexorable turning of popular opinion against the war. The mothers of dead soldiers all had a face after this one mother sat in that mud and waited for an explanation that never came.

    I met a journalist, a fourth-generation American of Lebanese descent, whose horror and disgust at the mainstream media's insipid cheerleading coverage of the Iraq war in 2003 compelled him to travel to Iraq and do some reporting on his own. Through his unfiltered and most decidedly unembedded perspective, we learned of the Iraqi hospitals overflowing with feces and urine, of villages targeted by Coalition forces for reprisal attacks, about bodies rotting in the streets of devastated towns, about dogs feasting on those corpses as they bloated in the sun, about gas lines lasting two days and about what America's war really looked and smelled like when the media's self-serving airbrush treatment was not applied.

    I met a tank driver who had served along the Berlin line during the cold war, who marched next to me at antiwar demonstrations carrying an upside-down American flag. Whenever some outraged patriot challenged him, this man would reel off his service number, his billet, his AO and his record, and then dare his challenger to say something about his love of country. "The flag like this means 'Distress, Send Help,'" he would always say. "This country needs help."

    I met a kid from upstate New York who was slinging burgers with this perplexed look on his face because he didn't know what to do with himself, so he was slinging burgers until he figured out what to do. For as long as he could remember, he had wanted to be a soldier and had bent his whole life towards that end. He ran the farthest, worked the hardest and even joined a competitive shooting league so his aim would be the best. He got himself into one of the best military schools in the country, and then Bush and Iraq and everything else happened and he knew it was wrong, and knew he could not devote his life and honor to all that, so he quit the military academy and abandoned his dream of military service, and was flipping burgers until he could figure out what else he could do.

Goldman Sachs cuts taxes to one percent by moving profits offshore

by John Byrne

Bank takes $10 billion bailout, then cuts tax rate 33 percent

Say you got a ten billion dollar loan to shore up your finances, and you paid your employees $10.9 billion, and you raked in $2.3 billion for the year.

What would you say you owed in taxes? One percent?

That's what you'd pay if you were Goldman Sachs, Inc. The high-flying brokerage -- and former home of Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson -- has announced it's paying just $14 million in taxes this year.

Last year, their tax bill was $6 billion, or 34.1 percent. That represents a year-over-year tax rate drop of 33.1 percent, and an actual percentage drop of 97 percent.

Goldman attributed its lower tax rate to "more tax credits as a percentage of earnings" and "changes in geographic earnings mix."

Tax accounting advisor Robert Willens told Bloomberg News the rate drop seems "a little extreme."

"I was definitely taken aback," Willens told the business wire. "Clearly they have taken steps to ensure that a lot of their income is earned in lower-tax jurisdictions."

Second Life

Drew Carey takes us on a guided tour of Second Life (SL), a virtual world with more than 500,000 residents.

But SL isn't your typical virtual world. Unlike other popular massively multiplayer online role-playing games, like EverQuest and World of Warcraft, there are no defined roles or objectives in SL. Just like in real life, SL residents determine their own goals and decide for themselves how best to achieve them. Moreover, virtually everything in SL was created by the residents themselves using tools provided by Linden Lab, the company that launched SL in 2003.

SL is based on a simple set of institutional arrangements that would make F.A. Hayek proud. In essence, the people who own the property in SL make the rules. The result is a spontaneously ordered world in which residents are free to fly, teleport, build, trade and interact with others without interference from the state.

Recently, Linden Lab—the SL equivalent of a state—has begun acting more and more like a real life government by restricting activities such as gambling. But open source competitors based on the SL platform are currently in development. so better virtual worlds offering even more freedom are just around the corner.

Announcing the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2008

by: Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

    Now in their 17th year, the P.U.-litzer Prizes recognize some of the nation's stinkiest media performances. As the judges for these annual awards, we do our best to identify the most deserving recipients of this unwelcome plaudit.

    And now, the P.U.-litzers Prizes for 2008:

    HOT FOR OBAMA PRIZE - MSNBC's Chris Matthews. This award sparked fierce competition, but the cinch came on the day Obama swept the Potomac primary in February - when Chris Matthews spoke of "the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often."

    BEYOND PARODY PRIZE - Fox News. In August, a teaser for the "O'Reilly Factor" program said: "Obama bombarded by personal attacks. Are they legit? Ann Coulter comments."

photo    UPSIDE DOWN "ELITIST" AWARD - New York Times columnist David Brooks. For months, high-paid Beltway journalists competed with each other in advising candidate Obama on how to mingle with working class folks. Ubiquitous pundit Brooks won the prize for his wisdom on reaching "less educated people, downscale people," offered on MSNBC in June: "Obama's problem is he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee's salad bar and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he's had to change to try to be more like that Applebee's guy." It would indeed be hard for Obama to fit in naturally at an Applebee's salad bar. Applebee's restaurants don't have salad bars.

    GUTTER BALL PUNDITRY AWARD - Chris Matthews of MSNBC's "Hardball." In program after program during the spring, Matthews repeatedly questioned whether Obama could connect with "regular" voters - "regular" meaning voters who are white or "who actually do know how to bowl." He once said of Obama: "This gets very ethnic, but the fact that he's good at basketball doesn't surprise anybody. But the fact that he's that terrible at bowling does make you wonder."

    STRAIGHT SKINNY PRIZE - Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Chozick. In August, the Journal's Chozick went beyond the standard elitist charge to offer yet another reason that average voters might be wary of Obama. Below the headline "Too Fit to Be President?" she wrote of Obama: "Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them." Chozick asked: "In a nation in which 66 percent of the voting-age population is overweight and 32 percent is obese, could Sen. Obama's skinniness be a liability?" To support her argument, she quoted Hillary Clinton supporters. One said: "He needs to put some meat on his bones." Another, prodded by Chozick, wrote on a Yahoo bulletin board: "I won't vote for any beanpole guy."

The hunting of the president resumes

The right is trying to link Obama to Blagojevich and corruption -- and the mainstream media is playing along. The Clinton rules are back.

By Joe Conason

NewsQuestions are raised. Connections are drawn. Conspiracies are theorized. Guilt is imputed, implied, asserted and very widely associated. And more of the same feckless fingerpointing is exactly what Barack Obama should expect from the Republicans, the right-wing propaganda machine and their enablers in the mainstream media -- even after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has met whatever fate he deserves.

From the kooky obsession with his place of birth on WorldNetDaily to insinuations about his Chicago pedigree by the Associated Press, all of the attacks launched lately on Barack Obama give off the same familiar smell. Even a quick sniff is enough to bring back memories from a decade ago, when no perfidious accusation against Bill or Hillary Clinton was too crazy to deserve attention.

The madness that was eventually classified under the quasi-clinical rubric of "Whitewater" began, in no small degree, with the dubious idea that Arkansas, the Clintons' home state, was a peculiarly corrupt place -- and that any politician from Arkansas by definition was suspect (but only if he or she happened to be a Democrat).

Press award for supporting war