Friday, February 27, 2009

Black citizens have reported a disturbing 350% increase in interracial high-fiving since January 20

Holder Vows To End Raids On Medical Marijuana Clubs

Ryan Grim

Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference Wednesday that the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana clubs that are established legally under state law. His declaration is a fulfillment of a campaign promise by President Barack Obama, and marks a major shift from the previous administration.

After the inauguration, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continued to carry out such raids, despite Obama's promise. Holder was asked if those raids represented American policy going forward.

"No," he said. "What the president said during the campaign, you'll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we'll be doing in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. What he said during the campaign is now American policy."

The exchange takes place at about the 25:00 mark here.

Holder's declaration is a high point for the movement to legalize medical marijuana, which has been growing for decades despite federal hostility.


Time to rethink US sanctions on Cuba: top Republican senator

Time to rethink US sanctions on Cuba: top Republican senatorWASHINGTON (AFP) – The time is right for reevaluating US sanctions on Cuba, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says in a new report, calling for allowing Cuba to buy US goods on credit, US media reported Sunday.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana's opinions are attached to a report due to be released Monday that could add fuel to momentum toward change in almost five decades of US policy seeking to isolate Cuba, the Americas' only communist country.

The United States and Cuba do not have full diplomatic relations. And Washington has had a full economic embargo on Havana since 1962.

Former US president George W. Bush in recent years however allowed Cuba to purchase US food, as long as it was purchased in cash. US food sales to Cuba have surged, but US farm producers would sell much more if Cuba could get credit for its purchases.

The report due out Monday stops short of recommending an end to the US embargo, The Washington Post reported.

Lugar supports "lifting Bush administration restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, reinstituting formal bilateral cooperation on drug interdiction and migration, and allowing Cuba to buy US agricultural products on credit," the Post said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has promised a "review" of Cuba policy without providing details.;_ylt=ArhURdqV3.jZZQCWIXlYPY.yFz4D

Yes We Scan

Prepared Statement of Carl Malamud

When FDR was elected president, Augustus E. Giegengack, a working printer and regular leather apron man was inspired to public service, aspiring to be be appointed Public Printer of the United States, head of the Government Printing Office.

Giegengack didn't know FDR, he didn't run in those circles. In WWI, he was the printer for Stars and Stripes, later on he ran operations for other print shops. So, to make his case, he went on the Rotary Club circuit in up-state New York and gave talks about his vision for the GPO. At the end of each talk, Augustus asked people to send him their letters of endorsement. Pretty soon he had a pile of 200 letters.

Gus Giegengack took those letters, bound them up real pretty, and sent them to the White House. He got the job, and went on to become the greatest public printer since Ben Franklin, printer to the pre-united states.

Gus had the gumption to go for the gold, and I am inspired by his example to tell you my vision for the GPO, an agency which opened its doors the day Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, an agency which has worked to "Keep America Informed" for 148 years.

If I were given the honor to be nominated by the President and the further honor to be confirmed by the Senate, my platform for revitalizing the GPO and rebooting .gov is spelled out in in a detailed series of policy papers submitted to the Presidential Transition Team.

Please allow me to highlight a few of the items that I think we all need to pay attention to, and I invite you to contact me so we can continue to talk about these issues. Publication is a two-way street, and I hope this is the beginning of a long-term dialogue about the public domain and how the United States of America presents itself to the world:

Carl Malamud
Yes We Scan

To endorse Carl Malamud for the office of Public Printer of the United States, comment on any blog post or, send your endorsement or any questions directly to Carl by email:
or by twitter:

Thank you for your support.

1. America's Operating System. The Government Printing Office serves all 3 branches of government and prints the Official Journals of Government. GPO should lead the effort to make all primary legal materials produced by the U.S. readily available. [ more ]

2. Librarians. Librarians are the bedrock of the public domain and the defenders of our fundamental right to access knowledge. GPO should work even more closely with our libraries and reform the Federal Depository Library Program to support them better. [ more ]

3. Jobs. As commodity printing goes the way of the PDF file and the copy machine, GPO must retrain and refocus its workforce, working with the unions and the employees so we may face the challenges of the future. If nominated and confirmed, I would work to establish a United States Publishing Academy, reviving the grand tradition of GPO being in the lead for workforce development, vocational training for students, and educating the rest of the U.S. government on how to print and publish effectively. [ more ]

4. Security. GPO produces passports and other secure documents. The current design for passports uses an RFID chip, which means that an American can be picked out of a crowd merely by having a passport in their pocket. If nominated and confirmed, I would ask security expert Bruce Schneier to form a Blue-Ribbon Commission to reexamine the design of passports and other secure documents so we can better protect the privacy and security of all Americans.

5. Jobs. The GPO workforce includes some of the best master printers, bookbinders, and other professionals of the publishing profession. With our cultural institutions, writers and other artists, and using the historical archives of the United States, the GPO should create more materials for the public domain, both as fully produced books as well as freely available master files for others to use and remix. [ more ]

6. Rebooting .Gov. There is no reason why the U.S. Government should not be one of the top 10 destinations on the Internet! GPO should work with the rest of the U.S. Government to radically change how we present information on the Internet. Some of the initiatives would include installing a cloud for .gov to use, enshrining principles of bulk data distribution into legislation, and a massive upgrade in the government's video capabilities. [ more ]

7. Full Transparency. GPO serves all 3 branches of government. As the nation's service bureau, GPO must be fully transparent in its own financial affairs and should be a forceful and effective advocate for the public domain. Most importantly, the GPO must be fully transparent to its clients—the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary. If nominated and confirmed, I would pledge to serve on the front lines of customer service, working to understand the needs of our clients and the public.

Mardi Gras Obama

A carnival float caricaturing U.S. President Barack Obama lifting the Statue of Liberty is seen during the traditional carnival parade in Mainz, Germany, on Monday.

Authors´ Guild vs. reality: Kindles and read-aloud

He doesn't actually say what that thing is. Presumably, he'd like Amazon to simply remove the feature. But if you take Blount at his word, then we can only assume the feature will spread to other platforms -- does he think that iPhones shouldn't be able to read your email to you as you jog? And if it can read your email, what's to stop it from reading your ebooks? Blount implies that there's a simple solution to his technological problem, but if you truly believe that it should be illegal to ask software to produce audio of copyrighted works, then Blount's lining himself up to fight the entire future of technology that can convert text to speech.

Continuing to take Blount at his word, let's assume that he's right on the copyright question, namely, that:

1. Converting text to speech infringes copyright

2. Providing the software that is capable of committing copyright infringement makes you liable for copyright infringement, too

1. is going to be sticky -- the Author's Guild is setting itself up to fight the World Blind Union, phone makers, free software authors, ebook makers, and a whole host of people engaged in teaching computers to talk.

But 2. is really hairy. If Blount believes that making a device capable of infringing copyright is the same as infringing copyright (something refuted by the Supreme Court in Betamax in 1984, the decision that legalized VCRs), then email, web-browsers, computers, photocopiers, cameras, and typewriters are all illegal, too.

Time and again, the Author's Guild has shown itself to be the epitome of a venal special interest group, the kind of grasping, foolish posturers that make the public cynically assume that the profession it represents is a racket, not a trade. This is, after all, the same gang of weirdos who opposed the used book trade going online.

I think there's plenty not to like about the Kindle -- the DRM, the proprietary file format, both imposed on authors and publishers even if they don't want it -- and about Amazon's real audiobook section, Audible (the DRM -- again, imposed on authors and publishers even if they'd prefer not to use it). But if there's one thing Amazon has demonstrated, it's that it plans on selling several bazillion metric tons of audiobooks. They control something like 90 percent of the market. To accuse them of setting out to destroy it just doesn't pass the giggle-test.

One of the most powerful weapons in the publishing industry's arsenal is that it isn't the record or film industry. By and large, publishing is undertaken by bookish people who love books and bookselling and readers and writers. By and large, writers get a decent deal from their publishers -- especially relative to recording artists; most writers don't have to sign over their copyrights, don't have the promotion of their books deducted from their royalties, etc. By and large, publishers don't sue tool-makers or accuse readers of being crooks.

Unlike the record and film industries, who seem bent on doing everything in their power to build the moral case for ripping them off -- to convince the public that they are a passel of greedy, clueless technophobes who deserve to have their industries killed, if only to protect the 21st century from them -- there are very few people who feel this way about publishing and authorship.

Unless, that is, groups like the Authors' Guild continue to make us all out to be cut from the same cloth as media execs like Universal Music's Larry Kenswil, who once bellowed "FAIR USE IS THE LAST REFUGE OF THE SCOUNDREL" at me from a stage at the RSA in London.

Dear Mr Blount: you don't represent me. You don't represent the future of authorship. You and your group are jeopardizing the future of authorship and of society with your petty little grabs and ridiculous posturing. Cut it out before someone gets hurt.

Poll: Majority Doesn’t Want Obama To Be Bipartisan

Greg Sargent's blog

You routinely hear it asserted that the public wants bipartisan comity in Washington, but some striking numbers buried in the internals of the new New York Times poll find that in the current context, precisely the opposite is true:

Which do you think should be a higher priority for Barack Obama right now — working in a bipartisan way with Republicans in Congress or sticking to the policies he promised he would during the campaign:

Working bipartisan way: 39%

Sticking to policies: 56%

So a sizable majority wants Obama to pursue his policies with our without Republican support. Meanwhile, a huge majority says that Republicans should emphasize working with Obama in a bipartisan way over pursuing their policy ideas:

Which do you think should be a higher priority for Republicans in Congress right now — working in a bipartisan way with Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress or sticking to Republican policies?

Working bipartisan way: 79%

Sticking to policies: 17%

I'm not sure I've ever seen poll numbers suggest this clearly that the public has no interest in bipartisanship for its own sake. The public doesn't seem to care about the preoccupations of process-obsessed Beltway pundits, and seems to be looking at the "bipartisanship" question through the prism of what they want their leaders to accomplish in policy terms.

Anti "clean coal" short by the Coen brothers

U.S. Energy Department Cannot Account for Nuclear Materials at 15 Locations

By Katherine McIntire Peters

WASHINGTON -- A number of U.S. institutions with licenses to hold nuclear material reported to the Energy Department in 2004 that the amount of material they held was less than agency records indicated. But rather than investigating the discrepancies, Energy officials wrote off significant quantities of nuclear material from the department's inventory records.

That's just one of the findings of a report released yesterday by Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman that concluded "the department cannot properly account for and effectively manage its nuclear materials maintained by domestic licensees and may be unable to detect lost or stolen material."

Auditors found that Energy could not accurately account for the quantities and locations of nuclear material at 15 out of 40, or 37 percent, of facilities reviewed. The materials written off included 20,580 grams of enriched uranium, 45 grams of plutonium, 5,001 kilograms of normal uranium and 189,139 kilograms of depleted uranium.

"Considering the potential health risks associated with these materials and the potential for misuse should they fall into the wrong hands, the quantities written off were significant," the report says. "Even in small quantities normally held by individual domestic licensees, special nuclear materials such as enriched uranium and plutonium, if not properly handled, potentially pose serious health hazards."

Auditors also found that waste processing facilities could not locate or explain the whereabouts of significant quantities of uranium and other nuclear material that Energy Department records showed they held. In another case, Energy officials had no record of the fact that one academic institution had loaned a 32-gram plutonium-beryllium source to another institution.

Clinton's U.S. bond push could fill China's jails


The Obama administration is too young to be cynical. Yet one of its leading figures has just struck a deal so cynical as to qualify as Nixonian.

That's the deal Hillary Clinton struck with the Chinese leadership.

The new secretary of state materialized in Beijing to ask the Chinese to shore up the tottering American economy by buying more U.S. bonds. On her way there, she made clear what we trade for China's economic support: The U.S. will henceforward downgrade human-rights priorities.

The ongoing push for such rights in China, she told reporters, "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate crisis and the security crisis." (Read: can't interfere with bond auctions.)

The U.S. has long been uneven in its attitude toward China's abuse of its own citizens. Still, Clinton's move constitutes a devastating shift. It is a special betrayal for the hundreds of lawyers, journalists and rights advocates whom U.S. presidents, Democratic and Republican, encouraged to take the lead in reforming their country.

A million dollars a day

Denver's Rocky Mountain News publishing last edition

The Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper and a Denver fixture since 1859, will publish its last edition today, and industry analysts said it won't be the last to be pulled under by financial woes.

The Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper and a Denver fixture since 1859, will publish its last edition today, and industry analysts said it won't be the last to be pulled under by financial woes.

E.W. Scripps officials said Thursday that closing the Rocky, which has won four Pulitzer Prizes in the past decade, leaves Denver, like most U.S. cities, a one-newspaper town. The officials said the newspaper lost $16 million last year and the company was unable to find a buyer.

These are dark days for the newspaper business. Hearst threatened this week to close the San Francisco Chronicle unless major budget cuts are imposed or a buyer is found, and is prepared to close the Seattle Post-Intelligencer if it cannot be sold before April. Gannett is looking for a buyer for the Tucson Citizen in Arizona.

Four owners of 33 U.S. daily newspapers have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the past 2 ½ months. This past weekend, there were separate bankruptcy filings by New Haven (Conn.) Register publisher Journal Register Co. and by the owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

Yet another modest proposal to save papers


...the proposal:

The federal government would create an agency pertaining to online news organizations unaffiliated with other media entities (print, television, radio, etc.). It could be that such a gesture would be made easier given an administration led by a president far more cyber-savvy than any of his predecessors (combined). The agency, a minimal bureaucracy in size and budget, could be called the Federal Journalism Administration. It would have just three functions: to collect revenue, to audit online-only news organizations and to distribute revenue, to wit:

Collection. The administration would receive money from two sources. Both are directly related to online news organizations; each makes billions not just by being conduits for entertainment but for conveying news and other information. The administration would receive all money from a 5 percent surcharge on the sales in the United States of all new computer hardware; it also would receive the 5 percent surcharge added to the fees we pay to Internet providers. (The latter could be allowed to set the surcharge at, say, 6 percent, keeping the extra 1 percent for their trouble.) A computer retailing for $800 would then cost $840; Internet service of $50 a month would cost $52.50 or $53.

Auditing and distribution. FJA auditors would determine the amount of money distributed to online-news organizations (definition pending) according to a formula including volume of traffic to a news website and percentage of original, staff-produced content. An online-only P-I might carry 100 percent original content and might, because of this, generate a high volume of traffic to the site. If so, it would qualify for more of the distributed money than, say, (which -- full disclosure -- I have written for since the site first posted in April of 2007). This is because Crosscut, as it now exists, has a lot of linked content to go with its original journalism. Those at recently launched news organizations such as Crosscut would have the incentive to enhance quality by striving to provide a growing percentage of original content.

It's worth noting that such a plan would tend to reward news organizations monetarily precisely as they have been remunerated for the better part of two centuries. The unalterable formula for fiscal success has been that advertising (generating perhaps 80 percent of newspapers' revenue) grows with circulation and circulation is a function of quality (or the perception of quality: some like The New York Times; others prefer the Post). Staffers at this online-only P-I, then, like those at Crosscut, would have the incentive to produce quality because it would bring more traffic to the website and thus generate more from the FJA pot of distribution funds.

Such a cyber P-I also would be welcome to create and maintain its own stream of advertising revenue. Gone, of course, would be a lot of the expense of production and distribution (ink, paper, delivery trucks, etc., now provided to the P-I by the Times under service/revenue/cost-sharing terms of a joint operating agreement).

Would such a plan produce enough money to save 150 journalists' jobs at the P-I? It might. The U.S. Department of Commerce indicates that $150 billion was spent on computer hardware in 2007. At about the same time PEW/Internet reported that 150 million individuals in the U.S. subscribed to online services. If 90 million American homes have Internet service, then Americans may be paying $5 billion a year for the utility. Conservatively, then, such a plan might generate -- fairly painlessly and cleanly -- as much as $7.5 billion a year to help support online-only journalism. Paying 150 quality journalists each $60,000 a year (benefits included) each is $9 million, less than a third of what Alex Rodriquez is slated to make this baseball season.

How many other online-only news enterprises could be supported with the rest of the $7.5 billion? Well, divide it by $70,000. The sum would support about 107,000, interesting given that the American Society of Newspaper Editors reported less than a year ago that there were at the time only 52,000 working journalists in the U.S. A lot of them make a lot less than $60,000 a year; many facing unemployment would gladly accept less.

The last newspaper to fold