Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Time's Person of the Year

Pie Throwers Union Sue Shoe Thrower, Claim Monopoly On Public Acts of Humiliation

In a move that will forever define the acceptable means of public humiliation through projectiles, the Pie Throwers Union of America, chapter 301, has brought a lawsuit against Muntazer al-Zaidi, the notorious Bush shoe thrower who assaulted the President with his flung footwear on Sunday.

"Pie throwing is a pre-meditated act that involves both baking and aiming" said union leader Brent Clarke "it is an art that pre-dates the three stooges"

When asked about the merits of shoe throwing, Clarke scoffed: "Shoe throwing is a spontaneous act that might have as much to do with itchy feet as it has to do with bad foreign policy".

It is unclear which court will hear the case, as many potential judges have expressed fear over presiding without some protection from errant shoes and pies.

Santa Claus Bailout Hearings

The Goons - I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas

The 12 Discs of Christmas 2008 #6

The Goons-I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas
(Decca EP DFE 6396; 1957)

Sung by Spike Milligan, I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas was known to me for years only as a tune performed on an episode of the BBC's The Goon Show, but I was very pleased to come across a genuine studio recording a few years back, first on a Goon songs compilation and later scoring the original Decca EP with the picture sleeve (featured in our Stacks O' Wax series back in 2005).

The song originated as a bit of impromptu nonsense (of course) by Milligan when he had to fill for time on a pair of 1956 episodes--The Great Tuscan Salami Scandal and The Treasure in the Lake/a.k.a. The Treasure of Loch Lomond--due to a musicians strike, and the absence of regulars harmonica whiz Max Geldray and singer Ray Ellington. The popularity of the show was such that an official release was a must, hence this recording, made "with Nick Rauchen conducting the Ball's Pond Road near 'The One-in-Harmony'."

The song has become more readily available in recent years, thanks to its appearance on a handful of compilation CDs. In 2003, residents in the Australian town of Woy Woy planned to celebrate their love of the song and the Goons by walking backwards in a parade through the town, but the town council feared potential lawsuits if anyone injured themselves by walking backwards, so the members of the 300-strong parade had to wear their clothes backwards whilst actually walking forwards.

Local teens claim pranks on county's Speed Cams

By Joe Slaninka

As a prank, students from local high schools have been taking advantage of the county's Speed Camera Program in order to exact revenge on people who they believe have wronged them in the past, including other students and even teachers.

Students from Richard Montgomery High School dubbed the prank the Speed Camera "Pimping" game, according to a parent of a student enrolled at one of the high schools.

Originating from Wootton High School, the parent said, students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that "mimic" those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera, the parent said. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later.

Students are even obtaining vehicles from their friends that are similar or identical to the make and model of the car owned by the targeted victim, according to the parent.

"This game is very disturbing," the parent said. "Especially since unsuspecting parents will also be victimized through receipt of unwarranted photo speed tickets.

The parent said that "our civil rights are exploited," and the entire premise behind the Speed Camera Program is called into question as a result of the growing this fad among students.

They lied about Iraq in 2003, and they're still lying now


Triumphalists are getting off on Iraq again, intoning hallelujah songs as they did after staging the fall of Saddam's statue then again and again, sweet lullabies to send us into blissful sleep and wake to a new dawn. The composers and orchestrators -- Blair, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Straw, Hoon and Rice -- still believe history is on their side.

Bush visited his troops at Camp Victory in Iraq this month and said: "Iraq had a record of supporting terror, of developing and using weapons of mass destruction, was routinely firing at American military personnel, systematically violating U.N. resolutions ... Iraqis, once afraid to leave their homes are going back to school and shopping in malls ... American troops are returning home because of success." Only one shoe and one without a sharp stiletto was hurled at him by Muntadar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi who begged to differ.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, also in Iraq, spun his own fairy tale of Baghdad, where everyone is living happily ever after and British soldiers come home proud heroes. The reality is that some of our soldiers are broken -- physically and mentally -- fighting this illegal and unpopular war and that too many did terrible things in the land of endless tears. General Sir Mike Jackson now blames the Americans for their "appalling" decisions. And yet he too insists the campaign was a success.

Even the choral backers of Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, once oh-so-influential, sound tinny now, out of tune. In a new book, "The Liberal Defense Of Murder," Richard Seymour names many usually enlightened individuals who cheered on the disgraceful crusade and have now gone silent. Others who supported the adventure have escaped through passages of ingenious exculpation. Most Tories, for example, now say they were hypnotized by the government's false dossiers.

Really? Even hard-of-hearing Mrs. Kirkpatrick down the road -- she's 79 -- understood that we were being deceived.

Bush sneaks through host of laws to undermine Obama

The lame-duck Republican team is rushing through radical measures, from coal waste dumping to power stations in national parks, that will take months to overturn, reports Paul Harris in New York

By the time he vacates the White House, he will have issued a record number of so-called 'midnight regulations' - so called because of the stealthy way they appear on the rule books - to undermine the administration of Barack Obama, many of which could take years to undo.

Dozens of new rules have already been introduced which critics say will diminish worker safety, pollute the environment, promote gun use and curtail abortion rights. Many rules promote the interests of large industries, such as coal mining or energy, which have energetically supported Bush during his two terms as president. More are expected this week.

America's attention is focused on the fate of the beleaguered car industry, still seeking backing in Washington for a multi-billion-dollar bail-out. But behind the scenes, the 'midnight' rules are being rushed through with little fanfare and minimal media attention. None of them would be likely to appeal to the incoming Obama team.

The regulations cover a vast policy area, ranging from healthcare to car safety to civil liberties. Many are focused on the environment and seek to ease regulations that limit pollution or restrict harmful industrial practices, such as dumping strip-mining waste.

The Bush moves have outraged many watchdog groups. 'The regulations we have seen so far have been pretty bad,' said Matt Madia, a regulatory policy analyst at OMB Watch. 'The effects of all this are going to be severe.'

Media pick up where they left off 8 years ago

by Jamison Foser

To anyone who lived through the media feeding frenzy of the 1990s, during which the nation's leading news organizations spent the better part of a decade destroying their own credibility by relentlessly hyping a series of non-scandals, the past few days, in which the media have tried to shoehorn Barack Obama into the Rod Blagojevich scandal, have been sickeningly familiar.

Whenever reporters think -- or want you to think -- they've uncovered a presidential scandal, they waste little time in comparing it to previous controversies. Yesterday, CNN's Rick Sanchez tried desperately to get the phrase "Blagogate" to stick -- the latest in a long and overwhelmingly annoying post-Watergate pattern of ham-handed efforts to hype a scandal by appending the suffix "-gate" to the end of a word.

Sanchez's efforts to create a catchphrase aside, the criminal complaint filed against Blagojevich this week isn't the Watergate of the 21st century -- though it shows signs that it may become this decade's Whitewater.

Right about now, you may be scratching your head, trying to remember what, exactly, the Whitewater scandal was. Didn't it have something to do with a bank? Or a land deal? But didn't the Clintons lose money? How did the congressman who shot the pumpkin fit in?

But Whitewater is quite simple, when it is understood as it should be -- as a media scandal, not a presidential scandal.

As an endless series of investigations, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, revealed, the Clintons broke no law and violated no ethics regulations in connection with Whitewater. They lost money on a failed land deal in which their business partner cheated them. That's all there was. Republicans Ken Starr, Robert Fiske, Robert Ray, Al D'Amato, and Jim Leach, among others, investigated the matter, and none of them found illegality. There was simply nothing there -- except year after year of obsessive, and often dishonest, media coverage, fueled by conservatives who would stop at nothing to destroy the president.

As Joe Conason explains today, "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)."

If the shoe fits

Where'd the bailout money go? Shhhh, it's a secret


(AP) Elizabeth Warren, who chairs an oversight committee set up by Congress to oversee the bailout, is...
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WASHINGTON (AP) - It's something any bank would demand to know before handing out a loan: Where's the money going?

But after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation's largest banks say they can't track exactly how they're spending the money or they simply refuse to discuss it.

"We've lent some of it. We've not lent some of it. We've not given any accounting of, 'Here's how we're doing it,'" said Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in emergency bailout money. "We have not disclosed that to the public. We're declining to."

The Associated Press contacted 21 banks that received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings, and what's the plan for the rest?

None of the banks provided specific answers.

"We're not providing dollar-in, dollar-out tracking," said Barry Koling, a spokesman for Atlanta, Ga.-based SunTrust Banks Inc., which got $3.5 billion in taxpayer dollars.

Some banks said they simply didn't know where the money was going.

"We manage our capital in its aggregate," said Regions Financial Corp. (RF) spokesman Tim Deighton, who said the Birmingham, Ala.-based company is not tracking how it is spending the $3.5 billion it received as part of the financial bailout.

More 10th-Graders Are Smoking Marijuana Than Cigarettes


A new survey reveals 13% of 10th-graders reported smoking marijuana in the past 30 days, while just 12.3% smoked cigarettes.

Buried in the latest Monitoring the Future survey -- the major annual, federally funded survey of teen drug use -- is an astonishing finding: More 10th-graders now smoke marijuana than smoke cigarettes. Strangely, in announcing the results, White House drug czar John Walters failed to mention this evidence that our current drug policies constitute an utter train wreck.

In the just-released survey, 13.8 percent of 10th-graders reported smoking marijuana in the past 30 days (considered "current use" by researchers), while just 12.3 percent smoked cigarettes. For eighth and 12th grades, cigarette use still exceeded marijuana, but the gap narrowed to insignificance.

This year, current and past-year marijuana use increased for eighth- and 12th-graders and declined for 10th-graders, but none of the changes were large or statistically significant. In contrast, current cigarette smoking did drop significantly for 10th-graders. Changes for most other drugs were marginal, except for a significant increase in methamphetamine use among 10th-graders.

The Associated Press reported, "[T]he White House says the sustained trend line is the key," and that is indeed true. Small fluctuations from year to year prove little. We need to look at longer-term trends to get any sense of whether our policies are having an impact.

Unfortunately, the long-term news is devastating for Walters and others wedded to the current, prohibition-based approach to marijuana.

The new survey helpfully provides data going back to 1991, and since then, the rate of current marijuana use has nearly doubled among eighth-graders, from 3.2 percent to 5.8 percent. Large increases also occurred among 10th- and 12th-graders. During that same period, cigarette use dropped like a rock, with current cigarette smoking dropping from 14.3 percent to 6.8 percent among eighth-graders and dramatic drops in the older grades as well.

And that leaves us in the amazing situation of having as many teens now smoking marijuana as cigarettes.

Bizarrely, Walters touts the new results as proof that his policies are working, saying, "What we see here is a very good trend for the youth of the country." Walters has been a hard-liner when it comes to marijuana, insisting that even modest reforms in marijuana laws affecting adults would lead to an explosion of use among youth.

In fact, what the data show is that prohibition for adults is neither necessary nor effective at reducing use among kids. Last year, over 775,000 Americans were arrested for possession of marijuana while zero were arrested for possession of cigarettes. And yet it's teen cigarette use that's dropping.

Bush's flashback

The made-up dramas of the Wall Street Journal

by Laurence Lessig

The article is an indirect effort to gin up a drama about a drama about an alleged shift in Obama's policies about network neutrality. What's the evidence for the shift? That Google allegedly is negotiating for faster service on some network pipes. And that "prominent Internet scholars, some of whom have advised President-elect Barack Obama on technology issues, have softened their views on the subject."

Who are these "Internet scholars"? Me. And of course, because I have "softened" my views about network neutrality, and because I advised the Obama campaign about technology issues during the primary, it follows (and obviously so) that Obama too must be going soft on network neutrality.

I don't know what Google is doing, though if they are trying to negotiate exclusive deals for privileged access, that shows exactly why we need network neutrality regulation. (Though note, the article doesn't say the deal Google was striking was exclusive).

And I've not seen anything during the Obama campaign or from the transition to indicate it has shifted its view about network neutrality at all.

But I do know something about my own views, and what the Journal has done here is really extraordinary.

It is true, as the Journal reports, that I have stated that network providers should be free to charge different rates for different service -- "so long," the Journal quotes, "as the faster service at a higher price is available to anyone willing to pay it."

But the whole punch of the story comes from the suggestion that my position is something new. As the Journal states,

Lawrence Lessig, an Internet law professor at Stanford University and an influential proponent of network neutrality, recently shifted gears by saying at a conference that content providers should be able to pay for faster service.
Stanford's Mr. Lessig, for one, has softened his opposition to variable service tiers.

Missing from the article, however, is the evidence that my view is a "shift" or "soften[ing]" of earlier views. That's because there isn't any such evidence. My view is the view I have always had -- whether or not it is the view of others in this debate.

The Torture Report

Most Americans have long known that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were not the work of a few low-ranking sociopaths. All but President Bush's most unquestioning supporters recognized the chain of unprincipled decisions that led to the abuse, torture and death in prisons run by the American military and intelligence services.

Now, a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff.

The report shows how actions by these men "led directly" to what happened at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret C.I.A. prisons.

It said these top officials, charged with defending the Constitution and America's standing in the world, methodically introduced interrogation practices based on illegal tortures devised by Chinese agents during the Korean War. Until the Bush administration, their only use in the United States was to train soldiers to resist what might be done to them if they were captured by a lawless enemy.

The officials then issued legally and morally bankrupt documents to justify their actions, starting with a presidential order saying that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners of the "war on terror" — the first time any democratic nation had unilaterally reinterpreted the conventions.

Merry Christmas from the Family of the Damned