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Current Topic: Politics and Law

Administration Set to Use New Spy Program in US
Topic: Politics and Law 7:19 pm EDT, Apr 14, 2008

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said his department will activate his department's new domestic satellite surveillance office in stages, starting as soon as possible with traditional scientific and homeland security activities -- such as tracking hurricane damage, monitoring climate change and creating terrain maps.

I think there is some reasonable debate here about whether people have no expectation of privacy in regard to things that are only visible from above. At the time the Constitution was written, certainly, a hedge afforded some privacy.

[That movie Enemy of the State just gets more and more precient every day. -k]

Administration Set to Use New Spy Program in US

RE: America’s Traffic Congestion Problem: Toward a Framework for Nationwide Reform
Topic: Politics and Law 5:14 pm EDT, Apr 11, 2008

possibly noteworthy wrote:
In January, I recommended a short piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg that touches on this:

Every now and then I meet someone in Manhattan who has never driven a car. Some confess it sheepishly, and some announce it proudly. For some it is just a practical matter of fact, the equivalent of not keeping a horse on West 87th Street or Avenue A. Still, I used to wonder at such people, but more and more I wonder at myself.

Driving is the cultural anomaly of our moment. Someone from the past, I think, would marvel at how much time we spend in cars and how our geographic consciousness is defined by how far we can get in a few hours’ drive and still feel as if we’re close to home. Someone from the future, I’m sure, will marvel at our blindness and at the hole we have driven ourselves into, for we are completely committed to an unsustainable technology.

I remember reading that (I read damn near everything I see on the topic of transit), though I'm not 100% sure how it applies. Frankly, I'm not particularly optimistic about the automotive era coming to an end soon. Americans are too tied to them in too many ways.

Like everything, it's complicated by a variety of issues, not least of which is politics, in which subsidy and concessions to lobbyists obscure the true cost of a *lot* of habits that are harmful to our culture or our health. Add in the view so many Americans have of taxation (i.e. a fundamental evil) in the first place, and you find it extremely hard to pay for *anything* that takes longer than an election cycle to build.

For transit and modern urban development, it's complicated by the fact that land is cheap : artificially cheap, in my opinion, as I think undeveloped land has intrinsic value for environmental (air quality, temperature, bio-diversity) and aesthetic reasons... reasons that are not, or are barely, factored into land costs.

I encourage Atlantans who haven't been to Athens in a few years to make that drive (irony!) sometime soon. I did so recently after maybe 4 or 5 years and it's astonishing how much that route has changed, and for the worse. I recall a relatively sleepy divided highway, with trees along both sides, an occasional country-looking road, and a gas station or diner here and there. Now, you can count dozens of *distinct* signs for new developments, offering housing from $100,000 to $200,000... huge tracts of land converted into cheaply built, unnecessarily large homes, with minimal tree cover (and scrubby, post-construction plantings too, many of the type that will never, and can never, grow beyond a certain height). There are new strip malls offering what the american suburbanite wants -- Applebees and Chilis, plenty of parking and no night-life. Nothing -- and I mean nothing : not the war in Iraq, not climate change, not nuclear-en... [ Read More (0.1k in body) ]

RE: America’s Traffic Congestion Problem: Toward a Framework for Nationwide Reform

America’s Traffic Congestion Problem: Toward a Framework for Nationwide Reform
Topic: Politics and Law 11:56 am EDT, Apr 10, 2008

A large and growing burden on the nation’s economy, traffic congestion arises for various reasons, and more than one mechanism is needed to combat it. It is most unlikely, however, that serious inroads to address the problem will be made without fundamental reform in the way consumers are charged for their use of congested highways. Congestion prices are tolls that reflect the economic costs of congestion, including productivity losses from traffic delays, increased accidents, higher emissions, and more. Such prices would help reduce these economic costs, and guide transportation investment resources to their highest and best use—which would include a better balance between highway and transit investment. In addition, such prices would generate revenues to help finance new investment and compensate low-income people and others for whom toll payments are especially burdensome. Requiring federal, state, and local engagement, such reform is a necessary step in the development of an effective, efficient, and sustainable highway system for the twenty-first century.

[ Very interesting article, and probably a vision of the future in this country... I think congestion pricing is one of the only potentially viable ways to get people to recognize something closer to the true cost of driving their cars.

Nonetheless, I have a couple of concerns about congestion pricing schemes.

The first is the extent to which they expect an existing public transportation infrastructure that can be *improved* upon with the influx of toll revenues, as opposed to the situation in most US cities, which lack even a basic infrastructure. Even Atlanta falls largely into this category. The advent of CP would be fundamentally unable to shift transportation usage to other modes, because those modes don't exist. The years required to build them out, while people pay tolls and see little or no improvement in traffic congestion, may lead to widespread disillusionment with congestion pricing and eventual abandonment of this mechanism. In other words, how do you demonstrate short-term improvements to transportation systems or infrastructure while the longer-term improvements develop?

{ SIDENOTE : In Atlanta, for example, even if the money were avaialable (it's not) we'd need a long time to build what the city requires, such as the Beltline, a downtown streetcar (or, better, subway) system, a set of secondary MARTA lines, maybe ordinal routes or some diagonals connecting the existing cardinal routes about half way between downtown and the Perimeter, not to mention getting those damn suburbanites to accept lines in Marietta and Gwinett. }

An even more serious concern I have is the extent to which congestion pricing acts as an incentive to corporate sprawl. That is, if the cost of travel within an urban cordon is increased, might not businesses choose to re-locate outside of the cordon? This response likely reduces congestion overall, though it must be said : anyone who's been out on Barrett parkway, or any of the major secondary roads in Atlanta's suburbs, will know that traffic is quite atrocious there as well.

This strikes me as a non-optimal solution to the problem of congestion, in that it creates an even larger environmental and social cost in the form of expanded suburban and exurban development. In cities like New York, this is difficult due to the geographical constraints and existing social environment. But in Atlanta, and most other cities in the US outside the East Cost corridor, I see the potential for tolls to accelerate the death of urban cores as both residents and employers flee.

I'd be curious to find out if these issues have been addressed anywhere, as they weren't covered in the article text.

America’s Traffic Congestion Problem: Toward a Framework for Nationwide Reform

Reported Stimulus Package Would Provide Little Immediate Boost Due to Removal of Most Effective Provisions
Topic: Politics and Law 8:11 pm EST, Jan 27, 2008

Nose, face, spite.

Changes reportedly made last night in the stimulus package would reduce its effectiveness as stimulus. Although the package includes a reasonably designed tax rebate, the two most targeted and economically effective measures under consideration — a temporary extension of unemployment benefits and a temporary boost in food stamp benefits — were zeroed out, apparently at the insistence of House Republican leaders.

The two respected institutions that have rated stimulus options in recent days — the Congressional Budget Office and Moody’s — both give their two highest ratings for effectiveness as stimulus to the two measures that were dropped.

what a bunch of assclowns.

Reported Stimulus Package Would Provide Little Immediate Boost Due to Removal of Most Effective Provisions

Dark Suspicions about the NIE - Norman Podhoretz
Topic: Politics and Law 3:04 pm EST, Dec  6, 2007

Any trust which this administration might have at some point had that they would only engage in warfare when there was absolutely no alternative was completely flushed down the toilet years ago. Furthermore, the very idea that military action should only be taken as a last resort is antithetical to the very philosophy of foreign relations to which this author adheres!

[ Gosh, neo-conservative warhawks lying? Quelle surprise! Fucking jackals. -k]

Dark Suspicions about the NIE - Norman Podhoretz

Predicting political elections from rapid and unreflective face judgments
Topic: Politics and Law 10:22 am EDT, Oct 29, 2007

Those YouTube debates are such a waste of time; just move everything to HotOrNot ...

People asked to rate the competence of an individual based on a quick glance at a photo predicted the outcome of elections more than two-thirds of the time.

Nearly 300 students were asked to look at pairs of photographs for as little as one-tenth of a second and pick the individual they felt was more competent.

The participants were shown photos of leading candidates for governor or senator in other parts of the country, but they were not told they were evaluating candidates. Those who recognized any of the photos were not counted.

When the elections took place two weeks later, the researchers found that the competency snap judgments predicted the winners in 72.4 percent of the senatorial races and 68.6 percent of the gubernatorial races.

A false correlation or proof that for most people voting really is a popularity contest?

Predicting political elections from rapid and unreflective face judgments

Stephen Colbert Interviews Naomi Wolf
Topic: Politics and Law 11:34 am EDT, Sep 26, 2007

Naomi Wolf's new book is The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot:

In a stunning indictment of the Bush administration and Congress, best-selling author Naomi Wolf lays out her case for saving American democracy. In authoritative research and documentation Wolf explains how events of the last six years parallel steps taken in the early years of the 20th century’s worst dictatorships such as Germany, Russia, China, and Chile.

From the introduction:

I have written this warning because our country -- the democracy our young patriots expect to inherit -- is in the process of being altered forever.

Americans expect to have freedom around us just as we expect to have air to breathe, so we have only limited understanding of the furnaces of repression that the Founders knew intimately.

There are ten steps that are taken in order to close down a democracy or crush a prodemocratic movement, whether by capitalists, communists, or right-wing fascists. These ten steps, together, are more than the sum of their parts. Once all ten have been put in place, each magnifies the power of the others and of the whole. Impossible as it may seem, we are seeing each of these ten steps taking hold in the United States today.

But America is different! I can hear you saying.

Gonna buy it.

Stephen Colbert Interviews Naomi Wolf

The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA
Topic: Politics and Law 5:09 pm EDT, Jul 25, 2007

By denying DeFazio's reasonable request to view these documents, the White House has done much to encourage and nothing to quell such speculation. The administration would be wise to reverse its decision and allow DeFazio, or any other member of Congress with the required clearance, full and immediate access.

If the White House doesn't do so, the American public is left with this unsettling thought from Congressman DeFazio: "Maybe the people who think there's a conspiracy out there are right."

Congressman DeFazio asked to see the plans relating to how the government would respond to different disasters, either natural or man-made, and was told by the White House no. He has the requisite security clearances, is part of the homeland security committee that should know such things, but was rejected.

This has gone beyond ridiculous. But gee, he's a Democrat, and that makes him the enemy. The enemy of the White House isn't terrorists, it isn't foreign powers that have no interest in the well being of the US, no, for the White House, the enemy is the other party and anyone who agrees with them. Enough.

[ Agreed. It's completely insane to deny this information to people that need to know it. And I do think congress needs to know. -k]

The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA

The Drivers Ten Commandments
Topic: Politics and Law 11:30 am EDT, Jun 22, 2007

1) Thou shalt get the fuck out of the way.
2) Thou shalt not stay in the left lane when there is open space in the right lane.
3) Thou shalt always leave enough space on ones' right to get by when making a left at an intersection.
4) Thou shalt not violate the sanctity of others lanes.
5) Thou shalt use turn signals.
6) Thou shalt not start driving like an idiot the second a rain drop or snow flake falls.
7) Thou shalt respect the velocity preferences of others.
8) Thou shalt obey the every-other rule when merging in slow traffic.
9) Thou shalt maintain a reasonable following distance at all times.
10) Thou shalt use high-beams with prudence.

[ Hear hear. Much better than the Vatican's list. -k]

The Drivers Ten Commandments

Republican Presidential Candiates on Torture
Topic: Politics and Law 10:57 pm EDT, May 16, 2007

Here is my selected exerpt, with some content cut and some emphasis added...

[Well, there we go. Not that there was much chance of me supporting these candidates, but they've pretty much all gone out the window for sure now. McCain's the only one with a reasonable response, but he's out for other reasons. Fuck all these guys. -k]

Republican Presidential Candiates on Torture

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