I’m off to the Great White North (specifically, Toronto) for New Year’s, and will likely not blog at all. According to at least one of Say Uncle’s commenters, I’ll be in great danger there (even greater danger than if I were in Baghdad!) because I won’t be allowed to carry a handgun with me wherever I go. I’ll be sure to let you know if I get gunned down at the mall. Otherwise, I’ll be drinking Caesars at Gretzky’s. And with any luck, maybe I’ll score some tickets to the Leafs/Penguins game on Jan. 2.

Have a good New Year!

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While Kevin T. Keith (henceforth “KTK”) is far more likely than the original Kevin (henceforth “Kevin”) to use the sort of inflammatory language and name-calling that characterizes what Right Blogistan would call “the loony left(tm),” it is my general belief that Kevin is actually farther left, politically speaking, than KTK.


UPDATE: I found this liberal/conservative test (which basically amounts to a series of 20 false dilemmas) and here are my results:

Your Political Profile

Overall: 20% Conservative, 80% Liberal
Social Issues: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Ethics: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
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Statistics cannot yet predict best sellers, thank God:

A group of statisticians has laboured for months to crack the secret of producing best selling novels - only to find that under their formula The Da Vinci Code should have been a flop.

This year’s runaway bestseller should have had only a 36% chance of reaching the charts, according to Alvai Winkler and his team. Their model fits work by some topselling authors but gives only middling marks to the Harry Potter titles and rules out almost everything by Charles Dickens except for his lesser-known Christmas story The Battle of Life.

The article states that the methodology is based upon the title to the book. And there appears to be something too that:

I wrote a bestseller in 2005. It was called Tom Clancy’s Latest Novel and the initial response was phenomenal. My publisher was very pleased. We sold half a million copies in the first two weeks!

Tom Clancy’s Latest Novel is a 700-page bildungsroman about a shy and uncommunicative boy who grows up in Western New York. Not much happens, really. A schoolmate steals his bicycle on page 190, and the wronged child just stays in bed reminiscing for three or four chapters. His mother, a gentle and nurturing housewife, brings him graham crackers smeared with apricot jam in chapter nine’s most dramatic scene. She sits on the edge of the boy’s bed and tells him the soothing yet somewhat convoluted history of the previous eight generations of her Swedish family. She details their hardscrabble lives in Göteborg, paying close attention to the importance of agriculture in their daily routines. They were not necessarily destitute but nobody would have called them well off, either. In an intriguing twist, at least twelve of the men are named Henning — Henning Senior, Henning Junior, blind Henning, groping Henning, and so on. At the end of her absorbing 278-page monologue, she concludes: “They were good people. And you know what? So are you, honey.” Contentedly, my protagonist falls asleep with the knowledge that his mother loves him and that everything will eventually be all right. “Daddy and I will buy you a new bike,” she says at last. “A better one.” Or did the excited boy only dream it? That’s just one of the many mysteries in Tom Clancy’s Latest Novel.

Links via Maud

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Keith Obermann destroys John “War on Christmas Wrong Religions” Gibson.

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“We are working together with the Palestinians and the Jordanians. We met with the Jordanians on the King Hussein Bridge. Also, there was a meeting with Palestinian officials from the Ministry of Health including the veterinary services in Beit El in Ramallah. The Jordanians suggested a tripartite meeting which we will organize within a week,” Leventhal said.

“We decided the Israelis, the Jordanians and the Palestinians should share strategic plans and try to work in conjunction. We have good cooperation with the Palestinian Authority. There are excellent professionals like Dr. Asa’d Ramlawi and Dr. al-Masri.

We told them that we are ready to help them to be able to handle their situation. My teacher taught me an Arabic proverb, ‘A close neighbor is better than a distant brother.’ I hope to see other countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt working with us as well.”

If there is going to be peace, it can only come when enough Israelis and enough Palestinians stop seeing the other side as unreachable and stop tolerating those in their own camps who express those attitudes through violence. These kinds of mutually beneficial programs dealing with important issues are one means of changing opinions and attitudes.

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There’s some sort of dustup going on at the NRO Corner over just how much racism was acceptable in the GOP’s “Southern Strategy”. John O’Sullivan explains that the GOP actually ended racism and saved the Civil Rights movement by opposing it, while only pretending to be racist in order to attract the backward elements into their liberal, forward-looking party and slowly convert them. Naturally, they had to keep mum about this all along, to avoid giving the secret away. Such heroes.

If the GOP had not become first competitive and then dominant in the southern states, the region would have divided between the Democrats and a new Dixiecrat ( i.e., Wallaceite) party–the shifting line of division being dependent on how “progressive” the national Democrats were on race. Either the Democrats or the South would then have taken much longer to accept and entrench the civil rights revolution. National politics on race would have been much more disturbed and harsh as a result–which is saying quite a lot. By bringing the South into the realm of two-party politics, the “southern strategy” ensured that the debate over civil rights would take place between two parties that had both a major stake in the region and national reputations to consider. Given the nature of democratic politics–in which you have to persuade your constituents to accept social changes they don’t like instead of being able to bully them in an enjoyably moralistic way–both Democrats and Republicans sometimes sounded grudging and reluctant in their acceptance of civil rights. But those were the techniques of political persuasion that effected a revolution without provoking a civil war. Trent Lott was part of this relatively peaceful but inevitably shifty transformation–which is one reason why the attacks on him a few years ago were so mistaken.

Sadly, this isn’t even good myth-making. The GOP was right, and many southern Democrats wrong, on the 1964 Civil Rights Act - the last decent thing they ever did. But even at that time the parties’ position-switching was almost complete. The Democrats were pushing the Great Society, Bobby Kennedy had delivered the definitive eulogy of Martin Luther King and died as the next best hope of the civil rights movement, northern liberals were flooding south to support voter registration, and Nixon was well on his way with the “Southern Strategy”. Between 1964 and Nixon’s election, several of the Democrats who had voted against the Civil Rights Act had become Republicans - prominently among them Strom Thurmond, who ran the racist segregation campaign that O’Sullivan credits the Republicans with stopping, and then was welcomed into the GOP with open arms. As for Trent Lott as underground integrationist secret agent - it was Lott’s explicit endorsement of Thurmond’s segregationist campaign that got him into hot water - and not with the GOP (who might have objected to Lott endorsing Thurmond’s candidacy in a competing party, especially if they had worked so very hard, as O’Sullivan says, to defeat that campaign), but with the Democrats, who criticized him for endorsing what O’Sullivan claims was the Democratic party position at that time (again notwithstanding that Thurmond had left the Democratic party because that wasn’t their position). O’Sullivan somehow neglects to mention those little details.

We could go on to discuss Ronald Reagan’s official campaign inauguration - at the site of the murders of three northern civil rights activists. Or the repeated pilgrimages, in every campaign cycle, of every major GOP candidate to Bob Jones University. The fact that Nixon’s EEOC head and Commissioner on Civil Rights both resigned in protest against his assault on implementation of the Civil Rights Act his own party had voted in just a few years previously. Nixon and Billy Graham muttering darkly about “the Jews” on Nixon’s office tapes. The GOP’s continual, aggressive, mean-spirited, multi-tentacled efforts to suppress minority voter turnout in campaign after campaign, by every means they can contrive (purging voter lists, publicizing false dates and polling places, lost or defective voting equipment, police roadblocks, false claims that voters would be checked for warrants or taxes, or subject to police questioning, “lost” ballots, intrusive voter challenges, intimidation at polling places, restrictions on voter registration . . .). The GOP’s hostility to virtually every law or program designed to materially improve conditions and opportunities for minorities in any sphere of life. Republican demonization of minorities through code-worded - and false - stereotypes: “welfare queens”, “urban violence”, “single mothers”, “crack babies” . . . . Continual conservative jumping on whatever ill-conceived racist bandwagon happened to be going: The Bell Curve, “culture of dependency”, “Black Rednecks” . . . . Repeated orchestrated rumors about opposing candidates’ “illegitimate black children”. It’s as if O’Sullivan thinks the now-dead Nixon’s “strategy” is the only time the GOP ever noticed race. They’ve been noticing it all along, and working it like an organ bellows.

Someone more hot-tempered than I might have some choice things to say about people who behave like this, and the lies they tell themselves to pretend they’re not who they are. I’ll just note those lies are wearing thin.

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So say people speaking to the conservative Insight Magazine:

The Bush administration’s surveillance policy has failed to make a dent in the war against al Qaeda.

U.S. law enforcement sources said that more than four years of surveillance by the National Security Agency has failed to capture any high-level al Qaeda operative in the United States. They said al Qaeda insurgents have long stopped using the phones and even computers to relay messages. Instead, they employ couriers.

“They have been way ahead of us in communications security,” a law enforcement source said. “At most, we have caught some riff-raff. But the heavies remain free and we believe some of them are in the United States.”

This is unsurprising, really. You would have to believe that the terrorists are complete idiots to think that this kind of wiretapping would be useful. Everyone with an ounce of common sense knows that telephone calls and emails are subject to interception and that the US already had a process for listening into such calls legally.

Even more interesting is the report that purely domestic calls were also illegally spied upon:

The sources provided guidelines to how the administration has employed the surveillance program. They said the National Security Agency in cooperation with the FBI was allowed to monitor the telephone calls and e-mails of any American believed to be in contact with a person abroad suspected of being linked to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

At that point, the sources said, all of the communications of that American would be monitored, including calls made to others in the United States. The regulations under the administration’s surveillance program do not require any court order.

One has to wonder who the people on these calls were, considering that the people spoken to in this article said that almost no al-Qaeda members use phones or emails to communicate. In fact, this is just a bit more evidence that the Bush Administration was building a surveillance state at the control of the Executive branch. Remember, John Bolton reportedly had the NSA listen in to domestic calls, including those between Colin Powell and Gov. Richardson.

But that is what happens when the executive acts without oversight. The nets get wider and wider in incremental steps that the President’s people can always justify to themselves somehow. Until, in the end, the net covers the country. Power is corrupting, and without oversight that tendency to corruption has no check. Conservatives used to understand that. Many of them still do, but far too many haven chosen Bush over their principles.

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You know, if this is not just complete bullsh*t, I would very much like to know why these people, who, according to other news reports, number in the hundreds or thousands, haven’t been arrested, tried and convicted. Because it seems kind of odd to leave hundreds or thousands of people who make a habit of blowing up buses and the like to run around free.

I deeply resent the way this Administration has turned the nation’s security into just another issue to be spun to within an inch of its life.

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.. or not:

Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren’t gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq’s fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga - the Kurdish militia - and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn’t hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.

“It doesn’t matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion,” said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. “Kirkuk will be ours.”

There is a technical term in political science circles to describe the state of a nation when a portion of its armed forces swears allegience to an institution other than the central government: royally fucked.

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Since the advent of e-Paper, some people have been predicting the demise of the paper book and the introduction of an iBook, for lack of a better term, that will revolutionize the book business the same way that iPods and MP3s revolutionized the music business. This gentleman provides a good example of the better arguments for this new literary frontier.

I don’t see it, at least not anytime soon. I am hardly a Luddite. I first learned to program on an Apple at my grade school, when I was nine. I have always been an early adopter of technology. When I was sixteen, I saved up and bought a cd player when they were still in their infancy. I lust after new computers. I bought a TIVO when the top of the line model had twenty hours. It was the first of three that we have owned. I write code for a living because I enjoy writing code. I get almost all of my news from the internet and, obviously, I read and write a blog. I love technology for the sake of technology. I should be the target audience for these new iBooks.

And yet.

I don’t have to worry about my books crashing. I don’t have to worry about whether or not the latest software will make it impossible for me to read my older books. I don’t have to worry about cracking the screen of my books while I am reading it on the train or at the park. I don’t have to recharge my book. I don’t have to worry about whether or not the latest software upgrade will limit the number of times I can read a book. I don’t have to treat the book with any special care. In short, the paper book is just about perfect for what it does. For people to give that perfection up, especially for a few hundred dollars a pop, they need to get quite a value in return. And I don’t see what value e-books provide over normal books.

MP3s and players like the iPod gave users something extraordinary — the ability to carry around with them thousands of songs on one small player. People had already become used to the fact that they listened to music through a walkman like device — MP3 players were simply something familiar on steroids. What can eBooks bring to reading that is of similar value?

I don’t think that having more than one book, even hundreds of books, on a reader will be seen as such a value. People generally read one book at a time. Most people take at least a day of solid reading to get through the average sized novel. Having hundreds of them on one reader is not much of an advantage, outside of storage issues. Few people have so many books that they cannot store them. e-Books would also be asking readers to change the way they are used to reading — moving them from the familiar to the unfamiliar. iPod did not ask people to change how they accessed music in any fundamental manner. It is hard to see how storage space and little things like copying text to a computer (assuming that would even be allowed by the software) or a built in dictionary or commentary from critics or authors would be seen as sufficient value to justify such a complete change. One could make the argument that the presence of extras on DVDs helped sell them, but I think that the DVDs vastly superior picture quality was the primary driving force between the death of VCRs. And, again, DVDs were not asking television viewers to completely change the way they consumed movies at home.

There is no doubt that technology will affect the publishing industry greatly in the next few years. But I doubt that my children will be reading books on an iBook by the time they are my age.

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Robert Fisk - whose detractors’ obsessive nitpicking of virtually every word he writes gave rise to the term “fisking” - has an excellent (and no doubt fisk-fated) column today on the easy Orwellianism of US newspapers in dealing with MidEast issues, or in simply trying to report basic and obvious facts from that region. Catering to constant complaints (”fisking”?) from the right wing means that simple factual truths cannot even be stated (the Boston Globe no longer describes the Likud party as “right wing” because pro-Israeli readers complained - but why? What the hell else is it?), and in other cases the right wing’s preferred euphemisms are adopted by the media in a way that not only shades coverage of the news but actually changes the facts being reported.

Illegal Jewish settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land are clearly “colonies,” and we used to call them that. I cannot trace the moment when we started using the word “settlements.” But I can remember the moment around two years ago when the word “settlements” was replaced by “Jewish neighborhoods” — or even, in some cases, “outposts.”

Similarly, “occupied” Palestinian land was softened in many American media reports into “disputed” Palestinian land — just after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, in 2001, instructed U.S. embassies in the Middle East to refer to the West Bank as “disputed” rather than “occupied” territory.

Then there is the “wall,” the massive concrete obstruction whose purpose, according to the Israeli authorities, is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from killing innocent Israelis. In this, it seems to have had some success. But it does not follow the line of Israel’s 1967 border and cuts deeply into Arab land. And all too often these days, journalists call it a “fence” rather than a “wall.” Or a “security barrier,” which is what Israel prefers them to say. For some of its length, we are told, it is not a wall at all — so we cannot call it a “wall,” even though the vast snake of concrete and steel that runs east of Jerusalem is higher than the old Berlin Wall.

The semantic effect of this journalistic obfuscation is clear. If Palestinian land is not occupied but merely part of a legal dispute that might be resolved in law courts or discussions over tea, then a Palestinian child who throws a stone at an Israeli soldier in this territory is clearly acting insanely.

If a Jewish colony built illegally on Arab land is simply a nice friendly “neighborhood,” then any Palestinian who attacks it must be carrying out a mindless terrorist act.

And surely there is no reason to protest a “fence” or a “security barrier” — words that conjure up the fence around a garden or the gate arm at the entrance to a private housing complex.

For Palestinians to object violently to any of these phenomena thus marks them as a generically vicious people. By our use of language, we condemn them.

The rot sits deeply in media coverage of the Iraq debacle - in part as the result of specific strategic moves by Bush mouthpieces whom the media refuses to question.

American journalists frequently used the words of U.S. officials in the early days of the Iraqi insurgency — referring to those who attacked American troops as “rebels” or “terrorists” or “remnants” of the former regime. The language of the second U.S. pro-consul in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, was taken up obediently — and grotesquely — by American journalists.

American television, meanwhile, continues to present war as a bloodless sandpit in which the horrors of conflict — the mutilated bodies of the victims of aerial bombing, torn apart in the desert by wild dogs — are kept off the screen. Editors in New York and London make sure that viewers’ “sensitivities” don’t suffer, that we don’t indulge in the “pornography” of death (which is exactly what war is) or “dishonor” the dead whom we have just killed.

Our prudish video coverage makes war easier to support, and journalists long ago became complicit with governments in making conflict and death more acceptable to viewers. Television journalism has thus become a lethal adjunct to war. . . .

So let’s call a colony a colony, let’s call occupation what it is, let’s call a wall a wall. And maybe express the reality of war by showing that it represents not, primarily, victory or defeat, but the total failure of the human spirit.

One might even call it a “miserable failure“, but either way Fisk is on shaky ground here: he is not just criticizing the media (yahoo!) for failing to report truths the right wing disapproves (oops), nor even criticizing the Bush administration alone (not allowed), but claiming that war itself is a bad thing (treasonous and possibly liberal) and that that is a fact the media should report. But if the media not only refuse to report the administration’s “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery.” line but in fact suggest that war almost always creates more damage than it prevents, he threatens not just this administration’s war, but the institution of war itself, and the conservatives’ upcoming wars in particular. They’re not going to let this go unpunished.

One of the most admirable things about Fisk, in addition to what he says, is his willingness to keep saying it. He demonstrates in this column what a chilling effect the orchestrated right-wing shouting campaign has had on reporting even self-evident facts, let alone the larger picture. And he has been a prime target for harassment and criticism since his first reports on the Iraq war. Few could hold their heads up under such treatment - obviously, few have tried. This makes Fisk’s writing not just necessary but exemplary. We need to hear what so few are still willing to say.

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Think Progress details the nonsense in the latest right wing excuses.

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Bush claims that he needed to violate the law and order the NSA to spy on people without warrants in order to protect us from terrorists. Except that such orders now form the basis for convicted terrorists to appeal those convictions:

Defense lawyers in some of the country’s biggest terrorism cases say they plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the National Security Agency used illegal wiretaps against several dozen Muslim men tied to Al Qaeda.

The lawyers said in interviews that they wanted to learn whether the men were monitored by the agency and, if so, whether the government withheld critical information or misled judges and defense lawyers about how and why the men were singled out.

… But defense lawyers say they are eager to find out whether prosecutors - intentionally or not - misled the courts about the origins of their investigations and whether the government may have held on to N.S.A. wiretaps that could point to their clients’ innocence.

Because the Bush Administration did not follow the law and get warrants, and because the government could very well have lied to judges about the evidence and where it came from in order to protect Bush’s secret violation of the law, convicted terrorists could now walk free. Worse, the government may have withheld information that would have cleared convicted men in order to protect the secrecy of the program.

Life is not an episode of 24; justice cannot happen in the dark. It would be nice to have a President who understood such a simple notion.

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What a great game! Tonight’s Leafs-Penguins game (Leafs 3, Pens 2, OT) was incredible, and I would say that even if the Leafs had lost. Good end-to-end action throughout, lots of scoring chances, great goaltending, over three minutes of five-on-three, and an overtime to boot!

A few notes:

  • The referees seem to be getting the hang of the new rules. They called a tight game, but I didn’t notice any of the phantom calls I’d seen earlier in the season.
  • If that Fleury kid in Pittsburgh can keep this up, and if they can ever manage to muster some offense for him, he’s going to be a phenomenal goaltender. And he’s only 21.
  • Mikael Tellqvist is finally starting to show some of the promise he’s always been touted to have. He almost single-handedly saved the game for the Leafs in the third period, making several fantastic saves in killing of a two-minute five-on-three. He finished stopping 33 of 35 shots, improving on both his .916 save percentage and his 2.55 GAA. Pat Quinn is far too married to Belfour to consider this, but if you look at their numbers this season, you have to think Belfour should be looking over his shoulder.
  • The game winner was scored by, of all people, Tomas Kaberle, who never, ever shoots. No one was more shocked to see this than me. I’ve been critical of Kaberle since the ‘04 playoffs — he’s not at all physical, and he can’t shoot. His puck handling and skating are good, but you need more than that to be a quality defenseman. But tonight, he came through in the clutch.
  • Speaking of that, is there some sort of unwritten rule that the person who scores a game-winning OT goal? Leafs TV gave Kaberle the #1 star, despite the fact that this goal was about all he did all game. And, in fact, it was Kaberle’s boneheaded penalty that gave Pittsburgh the third period five-on-three. Leafs TV had the 1-2-3 as Kaberle-Tellqvist-Fleury. I had them as Tellqvist-Sundin-Fleury. If not for Tellqvist, the game never makes it to OT, and Sundin was +2 with a goal and two assists, including a beauty of a setup on the game winner. An argument could be made for Tellqvist-Fleury-Sundin, but I don’t see how you give the #1 star to Kaberle.
  • The injury bug continues to ravage the Leafs. Already missing Lindros, Steen, and Antropov, they lost Jason Allison last night with a broken finger, and Carlo Colaiacovo tonight with an unspecified injury.
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The Republicans have a new brainstorm for turning America into a two-tier nation along racial lines. Of course, the Constitution explicitly prohibits it, but they claim they can simply “interpret” that away. Raise your hand if any of this surprises you.

The issue is “birthright citizenship” - more commonly known as “The 14th Amendment” or “the end of slavery”. They’re against it, naturally.

A proposal to change long-standing federal policy and deny citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants on U.S. soil ran aground this month in Congress, but it is sure to resurface — kindling bitter debate even if it fails to become law.

At issue is “birthright citizenship” — provided for since the Constitution’s 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868.

Section 1 of that amendment, drafted with freed slaves in mind, says: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

Some conservatives in Congress, as well as advocacy groups seeking to crack down on illegal immigration, say the amendment has been misapplied over the years, that it was never intended to grant citizenship automatically to babies of illegal immigrants. Thus they contend that federal legislation, rather than a difficult-to-achieve constitutional amendment, would be sufficient to end birthright citizenship.

The GOP leadership held the bill the first time it was introduced, to avoid a fight over citizenship for babies (they don’t actually care about babies, that is - they care about acting like they don’t care about babies). So naturally they plan to reintroduce it as an amendment on a larger bill, the same way they keep doing with the ANWR drilling provision.

Why that matters at all is hard to say: you’d think that the words “all persons born . . . in the United States . . . are citizens” would be hard for even a Republican to misunderstand - “strict construction” doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room there - but intellectual honesty is part of no GOP policy. Racism, classism, and divisiveness, however, most often are, and this bill’s got ‘em in truckloads: some natural-born residents would be citizens as a right of birth, and some would be explicitly excluded from that right for reasons that have nothing to do with them personally; the excluded residents would invariably be non-whites from low-income families; the impetus for the bill is naked anti-immigrationism (they’re in favor of cheap labor, they just don’t want to have to live near the workers).

And to achieve this they’re not only willing to undo the Constitutional provision that gave the slaves their birthright, but create a nation in which any person could be stripped of their citizenship by merely “intuiting” that the Founders would have wanted it that way - and all this not by reading implict rights into the cracks between the explicit ones guaranteed by the Constitution - a common complaint against liberals - but by directly contradicting the explicitly, compulsory text of the Constitution itself, without bothering with the amendment process. There is literally no principle, and no respect for law, in the GOP at any level. Mere hatred is justification enough for any policy under any circumstances.

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I don’t normally do this, but please indulge me.

For those of you who cook often, you probably know the huge difference that using quality spices can make. It recently has come to my attention that my favorite spice shop, The Spice House in Milwaukee, is suffering from some business woes. There are two causes: First, the nearby freeway is under construction, and the exit closest to the store recently closed for the next two years. Second, their largest competitor (who actually dwarfs them, and is operated by a rival faction of the same family) opened a location very close to where they are. Between these two factors, business at the Milwaukee store (at least) is suffering.

If you need spices, and especially if you’re in Milwaukee, send some business their way. I want to point out that I have no personal stake in this, other than that I really like the store and want it to continue to succeed. In addition to their whole spice and extract selections, they have a wide selection of ground spices and spice blends, all of which are ground on-site every 30 days. You cannot beat their freshness and quality, and their prices are generally much lower than what you’d pay for the spices you see in the baking section of the supermarket. Over Christmas, I bought about eighteen sixteen different spices in quantities varying from 1 oz to 4 oz, and my total with tax was $41 $42.60. The prices ranged from $1.29 (1 oz or roughly 3-4 tbsp of “Chesapeake Bay” seasoning blend) to $5.49 (for three whole mexican vanilla beans). It’s hard to beat top-quality at low prices. Order on-line or go in person if you can.

As a side note, if you’re a loyal “Good Eats” viewer, you’ve probably seen the Spice House’s Evanston location featured in the fruitcake episode.

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And it has sucked for twenty-five years. Here is graphical proof.

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Publius has a nice smackdown of originalism:

He’s essentially inviting judges to be policymakers. And frankly, I think that’s a good thing. So long as judges are deciding among alternative holdings that are textually justified, policy analysis is essential to good judging.

Compare, however, Volokh’s methodology to the originalist one. Instead of getting into the details of the real-life dangers posed by nuclear threats, the originalist would ask whether the term “unreasonable” would have been understood at the time of the framing to ban warrantless searches for radiation. You can already begin to see the inherent absurdity of this analysis. This methodology would force judges and law clerks to mine a surviving subset of letters and pamphlets from the late 1700s to determine if the radiation generated from a dirty bomb or nuclear weapon detected by advanced 21st century technology was understood to have been protected by the term “unreasonable” in 1789. And as if all of that weren’t enough, note that the very term “unreasonable” seems to mandate a fact-based inquiry that necessarily varies across time and circumstance. In other words, an originalist methodology may well violate the original understanding of the Fourth Amendment. It’s all absurd.

This is yet another reason why originalism just can’t be right. Consequences cannot be irrelevant to constitutional interpretation. If you take originalism seriously enough, that’s exactly what you must believe – that consequences are irrelevant. That’s not to say history or original understanding should be wholly irrelevant. History has its place in the toolbox along with precedent, text, policy, and other considerations. But pure originalism – if you really take it to its logical conclusion – throws all that out as irrelevant.

It should be noted that I’m not entirely sure I agree with his interpretation of the Fourth Amendment in this particular case; that I need to chew on some more. But the anti-originalism logic is valid despite this.

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The new Medicare drug benefit includes a subsidy worth 71 billion dollars over the next ten years to keep those companies from just dropping their drug benefits for their retirees. Except that companies are still planning on doing just that:

According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Foundation, 79 percent of employers said they have no intention of dropping their drug coverage in the first year. But among those keeping their coverage and taking the subsidy, 50 percent said they expect they’ll drop the benefit by 2010.

Mike Morfe, a vice president of the benefits firm Aon Consulting, says part of the reason for the hesitation is that employers like to maintain control over the design and function of their benefits programs. “For a lot of employers, that’s very important,” he says. “They like to know it’s working well and treating their retirees right.”

That the subsidy is tax-free is attractive for many employers, he says. It can translate a payment of $600 or $700 per employee into a bottom-line value of as much as $1,000.

Still, over time, many employers may find that the subsidy no longer outweighs the savings from eliminating drug coverage from their retiree benefits. As startup kinks get worked out, employers might become more comfortable with sending their retirees out into the Medicare wild.

“This (subsidy) is like trying to keep the Titanic afloat by sending out one row boat,” says Jon Oberlander, an expert in Medicare and a professor of public health policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “You may have stopped it in the short run, but over the long run there’s no doubt that people are going to drop their retiree health benefits.”

This is rather predictable. If the government is going to provide a benefit, it makes little sense for private companies to provide that same benefit. This is one way universal health care can come about. The next big fight in health care will probably be over children’s health care. It is likely that we will see some sort of national push for plans that cover all the children in the country. If that is enacted, within a few years no private companies will offer health benefits for children. Why should they? They are an expensive drain on the bottom line. And since health care costs are yet again spiraling ever upward, you will see more businesses withdraw plans form more classes of people. That will, in turn, create political pressure to

The problem with all this, though, is that I cannot see how this kind of piecemeal system could be less expensive than either a true national plan or the current employer based plan with safety net that we now have. Private insurers will spend a lot of money to ensure that the government cannot be an efficient player in the marketplace. Doubt me? Look at the current drug plan for Medicare and the myriad of ways that pharmaceutical companies got enshrined in the law to make sure that they never have to pay the government anything less than the gold-plated price. There is no reason to think that pattern won’t continue until the bitter end.

Every other industrialized nation in the world has some form of government sponsored health care for all citizens. In an era of fierce competition and increasing heath costs, health care is rapidly becoming the kind of infrastructure, like roads and power, that is both too vital for businesses do without and yet too expensive for individual businesses to pay for on their own. The Medicare subsidy represents an attempt to prevent the kind of universal health care on the installment plan. But the attempt shows every sign of failing, and, indeed, is expected to fail. We are moving towards a universal system almost inevitably. We can do it like we are now — in fits and starts, with an uncertain timeline and a cost that is much higher than it should be — or we can get serious about the matter and start designing and building a system that is going to work for the country at a cost we can afford.

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This is important:

The top US military commander admitted Sunday that Iraqis wanted US and other foreign troops to leave the country “as soon as possible,” and said US troop levels in Iraq were now being re-assessed on a monthly basis.

The admission by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine General Peter Pace followed a decision by the Pentagon to reduce the current level of 160,000 soldiers in Iraq by two army brigades, which amounts to about 7,000 soldiers.

“Understandably, Iraqis themselves would prefer to have coalition forces leave their country as soon as possible,” Pace said in a Christmas Day interview on Fox News Sunday. “They don’t want us to leave tomorrow, but they do want us to leave as soon as possible.”

If this is true, then we probably have a problem in Iraq. If the new Shi’ite government asks us to leave, we will leave behind a theocracy in the making, a new ally of Iran, and a large scale civil war. However, if the majority of Iraqis do want the US gone soon, and the new government asks us to stay, then US forces become hated for both their presence and the appearance that they are working with the Shi’ite government to oppress the Sunnis. Because the Shi’ite religious parties have no intention of giving up an ounce of their power. They have already dismissed questions about election fraud and refused to share out any power with secular or Sunni politicians. The stage for civil war is being set, and the US troops could very well be put in the middle of it.

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