Well, at least Obama gets points for answering the WaPo’s question promptly…

Yesterday, the Washington Post posed the question: Has Obama delivered the most transparent administration in history?  That’s a reasonable question given that the President promised to meet this mark when he was sworn in and this promise is prominently displayed on the White House web site. The Post does a nice job examining the evidence and, after some mealy-mouthed qualifications, determines that the answer is “No, but they’ve been better than most.”

Apparently, the President read this article and decided to forcefully respond only hours later….by summarily rejecting all FOIA requests of the executive branch and deleting them. Now, the President may well be acting within the bounds of the law on this, but if memory serves, he made kind of a big deal out of saying that there should be a presumption of openness with regards to all requests. In fact, I don’t have to rely on memory: Here’s the “Presidential Document.”

The WaPo gives him a bit of a pass, noting that the government is big and the bureaucracy is tough to wrangle, but you know what? President Obama knew that when he made the promise. And besides, if there’s any branch he can wrangle, it’s the executive. While I’m pleased to see him respond to the charges so quickly, I rather wish he hadn’t responded with two middle fingers extended.

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Today’s Double-Feature: Privilged Jerks and Redneck Pandering

Phew.

Reading the news does not put one in a good mood, does it? Today’s post is going to be all about racism and won’t have anything to do with the deeply disturbing about institutional racism in police forces. Ta da?

Instead, today I’m writing about how racism truly knows no bounds. You can be an atheist or a Christian, a liberal or a conservative, a celebrity or a, well, non-celebrity, and in this, the land of the free, you can create a stir by being a racist asshole.

We’ll start with Sean Penn. I know the Oscars were a few weeks ago, but he recently went on Bill Maher’s show to, well, basically to talk shit about anyone who said his joke was racist. Of course, his joke was racist: When the joke is about a person’s race (or nationality or religion or whatever) and not about the person, it’s a racist joke.

What really made my day was the way Bill Maher made Penn (and himself) out to be The Real Victim ™:

“I just feel we’re living in this country now where no one can make a joke. No one can have any nuance to what they say. We are just constantly hounded by the politically correct a*sholes out there who want to turn this country into a place that I don’t want to live in…”

Yeah, no…it’s not that “no one can make a joke;” it’s that, when you make a racist joke, people are going to react to it. You used to be able to get away with it, but that like sliver of privilege is slipping away. This is one of those asinine first amendment arguments where the guy wants his free speech and wants to silence the people who criticize his speech.

Speaking of people who can’t keep their arguments straight, have you heard about Arkansas internet country music sensation Jamie Jones? He recorded a song called “Pissed Off Rednecks” which is basically a laundry list of Tea Party gripes set to a country blues melody.

I’m not going to go too deeply into the lyrics. This isn’t a polemic designed to sway opinions or even a heartfelt declaration of beliefs; it’s an angry, incoherent, ditty designed to get clicks for a largely-unknown artist by pandering to a demographic that eats this stuff up. He wants his kids to be able to pray however they want, but if you’re a Muslim, you can just go home. He has the authority to say this because he’s a “real American.” He makes it clear that he doesn’t consider anyone who thinks differently him a member of that club.

On the off chance you want to see it for yourself, here ya go: Pissed Of Rednecks, the video!

Have you ever noticed how many people who call themselves “real Americans” really, really love America but can’t stand Americans?

 

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Why Stop at a Flat Tax?

Ah, the Flat Tax! The panacea of Libertarians and the Extremely Wealthy everywhere! So seductive in its simplicity: A single tax rate for all tax payers, regardless of income. Believe it or not, even I support a slightly modified version of the Flat Tax*. There’s no question that it would reduce the tax-related infrastructure (and tax-evasion infrastructure). Besides, isn’t the Flat Tax more fair (ask the people who, for every other matter of finance or law, insist that “fairness” isn’t a valid consideration)?

So, yeah, the Flat Tax has some attractive features. But then, I read this article about a very wealthy individual in Finland, where they scale fines to the offender’s income. What a brilliant idea! However, I don’t think the folks in Helsinki go nearly far enough. If we’re going to have a Flat Tax, let’s base every cost on the income of the purchaser. Instead of costing, say, $20,000 dollars, the car would cost 35% of your annual income. When it comes to food, of course, you get to some pretty small percentages, but hey, that’s just an incentive to learn math, right?

I get it. I really do. Folks want the benefits of wealth without the costs scaling along with them. I can’t blame ‘em for trying. But if you expect me to take that kind of one-sided proposal seriously, you’re going to have to do a better job than the Flat Tax folks have managed thus far.

* In my version, the first quarter million is exempt. After that, there’s a flat rate. Call me a dreamer…

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If you keep sending me poorly-argued emails, I’m going to keep being grumpy

I’m not a grumpy guy. I’m really not. There are, however, things which make me grumpy. You want to know what makes me grumpy? I’ll tell you what makes me grumpy.

Reading something dumb does not make me grumpy. I write dumb things all the time. Ok, it actually makes me a little grumpy when I write dumb things, but I’m pretty forgiving of the transgressions of others in this regard. However, when I read something that’s presented as authoritative and smart and it’s dumb, then I get a little grumpy. When people keep sending me this same dumb story over and over? I get grumpy.

This brings me to a letter from 2009 by a physicist named Howard Hayden. He wrote to the EPA with a “simple one-letter proof” that the science regarding CO2 and the climate was not “settled.” It is, perhaps, the wordiest one-letter proof in the history of one-letter proofs, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that his proof is dumb.

The problem with a one-letter proof is that it is very simple to state, but it takes a lot more effort to rebut. But hey, I’m not doing anything else, so let’s have a go. Here’s the “proof”:

The letter is s, the one that changes model into models. If the science were settled, there would be precisely one model, and it would be in agreement with measurements.

That sounds compelling. Why would there be multiple, very-close-but-not-exact models if we knew everything there is to know about how CO2 affects the climate, right?

Um, no. That’s not right at all. That’s so wrong that I feel like I have to choose between “he wrote something really dumb” and “he’s being dishonest” and I don’t like either of those options.

How can I know he’s wrong? Well, that takes more than a single letter. I’m not an expert on climatology, but I do know something about baseball. So let’s talk about baseball (and models). I am going to tell you that, in baseball, walks are more valuable than stolen bases and that this particular issue is settled.

How do I know this is settled? Neither of them necessarily lead directly to scoring a run, so you can’t do a direct qualitative comparison that way. Instead, you have to do a lot of analysis and build, yes, statistical models. Everyone who’s studied the issue has come to the same conclusion: walks are better than stolen bases. Literally every model arrives at the same conclusion.

Now, none of those models are perfect. None of them can predict, with 100% accuracy, the outcome of any game or season. In fact, sometimes, a stolen base can be more valuable than a walk. Baseball’s complicated. There are exceptions, there are things that we can’t model perfectly about it. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t derive conclusions from the data. Walks are more valuable than stolen bases. We know enough that we regard this issue as settled. The fact that there is no perfect model does not keep us from reaching this conclusion.

It turns out that the climate is waaaaay more complicated than baseball. There are a lot more factors and that data can’t be measured as precisely. There are, however, many very clever climatologists looking at the data and creating models based on it. They have almost all arrived at the same conclusion. The fact that they have approached it from different angles, using different data sets, and different methods, and still arrived at the same conclusion does not weaken the conclusion as Hayden would have you believe. The fact that, no matter how you approach the question, you get the same answer tends to stengthen the conclusion that CO2 in the atmosphere, from man-made sources, is causing the Earth to grow warmer at an alarming rate.

All of this just to discuss a one-letter proof. And really, all I’m giving you is the summary level stuff.  The real data behind it, even on just the baseball stuff, would fill reams of digital paper. This doesn’t “prove” that global warming is real; all I’m doing is making the point that Hayden’s argument against it is bunk.

The rest of the letter is just as bad. He conflates single data points with vectors. He claims that climate change models make schoolboy errors of assumption when they very clearly don’t (at least he’s not trotting out the canard about climatologists not knowing about clouds). He points out that the Earth’s climate has always been changing and acts as if this proves that we are incapable of impacting this change. He acts as though temperature readings at one point somehow apply to entire ice caps.

It’s really bad. It’s one of the worst things I’ve read in a long time. But, like I said, it merely being dumb isn’t enough to make me grumpy. The fact that Howard Hayden speaks with the authority of a lecturer and he still says dumb things makes me a little grumpy. The fact that people keep sending this to me as though it were revelatory? Now that, my friends, make Uncle Pancakes very grumpy indeed.

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Et tu, Chrome?

At the risk of re-beating a dead horse, Chrome has stopped being the browser-of-choice for quite a few people. This Gizmodo post gets to the core of the issue right in the first paragraph:

Remember when we all switched from Firefox to Chrome? Chrome was stripped down, simple but fast as hell. It was like browsing the web on a whole new computer. These days Chrome is bloated, slow, and constantly crashing on me. I’ve finally reached the breaking point.

Personally, I haven’t seen Chrome crash any more than other browser, but the bloat and lack of speed? Yup. Chrome fills up my Task Manager like it owns the place. I tend to keep a dozen or so tabs open at once and this precludes me doing much of anything else on a more-than-competent gaming rig when I’m browsing. Several gigs of RAM. For a browser. The reason is that Chrome isn’t really a browser anymore, is it? It’s an operating system running on top of another operating system. It’s closer to a virtual machine than a traditional web browser. That makes sense for a Chromebook, I guess. But, for a machine already running a full-bore OS? I’ve been using Firefox ever since my issues with Google and especially Google+ and I’ve never regretted it. I wouldn’t say that Google has lost site of their mission. It’s more like their mission no longer matches my needs.

UPDATE: This Ars Technica review of the Dell XPS 13 makes the same point without really meaning to:

The Bad

  • The year is 2015. 8GB of RAM should be the baseline, with 16GB as an option. 4GB is barely enough to run Chrome.

“4GB is barely enough to run Chrome.”  Yeah. That.

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Presidents Since Nixon Ranked In Order Of Impeachability

Uncle Pancakes is in a Foul Mood. Keep that in mind as you read this list. I suppose the fact that I’d spend a few hours working on a list of Presidents in order of impeachment-worthiness ought to have been a clue, huh? Anyway, this isn’t a discussion of who was good or who wasn’t. I’m only interested in “who did things which ought to have resulted in their removal from office.” With that out of the way…

5-7 (tie): Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush

Why they’re impeachable: I can’t think of any particular action by any of these presidents which would warrant impeachment. I’m not saying that any of them were or were not great leaders; I just don’t think they didn’t do anything to deserve removal from office.

4. Bill Clinton

Why he’s impeachable: Lied about sex with an intern in a civil suit.

The case against Clinton relies on your belief that any lie under oath, no matter how immaterial to your presidency, is enough to remove a President from office. Did he perjure himself? Maybe. Perjury requires not just an untruth but it has to be an untruth about fact, not an interpretation. I personally think he probably did perjure himself, but I have trouble really caring about it. It was a stunt designed to embarrass or entrap the President and it had very little to do with his function as President.

3. Ronald Reagan

Why he’s impeachable: Lied about trading arms for hostages; illegally supported drug lords in an attempt to overthrow a leftist government.

When talking about Reagan, it’s really difficult to explain his charisma to people who don’t remember the eighties. How else can you explain the following quote:

“A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not.”

So, yeah, he lied, he got caught, and he still claims that he doesn’t really believe he lied. Only Reagan could get away with that. You kind of have to have been there. If Clinton, who was not without charisma himself, had tried that, he’d have been out of office in a heartbeat. That’s not even counting the fact that Reagan’s administration illegally funded the “contras” after Congress passed a law forbidding him from doing so. Sure, Reagan’s lies weren’t “under oath”, but given that he broke the law in some very serious ways I am confident in rating Reagan as more “impeachable” than Clinton.

2. Barack Obama

Why he’s impeachable: Illegal spying on citizens, illegal assassination programs, non-prosecution (and possible continuation of) torture

I’ll start this one by saying that, when the dust settles, Obama could well be number 1 on the list. We don’t know the full scope of what sort of shenanigans have taken place on his watch. The list of things we don’t know enough about is long, but what we do know is troubling. The drone assassination program is a huge problem. The constant litany of lies about the scope of the domestic spying program is a huge problem. The failure to aggressively prosecute anyone and everyone involved in torture is absolutely in violation of the law and there would be no real defense against it. If it turns out that the torture program was expanded under Obama, or if he gets the U.S. into another idiot war? He could yet wind up at the top.

1. George W. Bush

Why he’s impeachable: Manufacturing evidence to drive the country to war, torture, illegal detentions

Of course, Obama’s got some work to do to take over the top spot. It’s one thing not to prosecute torturers; it’s another thing to enable them. One of the common misconceptions about the John Yoo documents is that he was asked to determine if the “enhanced interrogation” techniques were legal and he determined that they were. That’s not it at all: He wasn’t asked to answer a question, he was asked to validate a conclusion which had already been reached.

Look at this way: If I were asked to, I could concoct some way to argue that any baseball player was “great.” I could argue that, say, Steve Christmas was a great player. He hit .364 with a .727 slugging percentage one year, as a catcher! Of course, we all know that Steve Christmas wasn’t a great player, but that’s the point. What Yoo did was not answer the question “Who are the great baseball players”, he was told “Give me a document proving that Steve Christmas was a great player.”

President Bush said that his greatest regret was that Iraq didn’t have any of the weapons he’d claimed they had. The WMD were the strongest of the rationalizations for invading Iraq, and even President Bush admits that they were wrong.

Then, you have to throw in “jailing people indefinitely without charge even after your own people have said that they didn’t do anything” which strikes me as a criminal violation of rights and due process, etc., but I could be wrong. Regardless, I think the most ironclad case for impeachment has to go to George W. Bush…for now, at least.

Now, the real question is: How many of these gents do I really believe are impeachable. I’d say #4-#7 are “definitely not”, #3 (Reagan) is a “maybe”, and #1 and #2 are “definitely.”

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Texas teaches the U.S. Congress a lesson in Asshattery

Oh sure, inviting Netanyahu to speak at a joint session of congress is a pretty big raised middle finger, but that amateur hour compared to how Texas treats the fifth-largest faith in the Lone Star State*.

January 29, a week ago Thursday, was Texas Muslim Capitol Day in Austin. As you might imagine, some Texans did not react with the sort of Southern hospitality you see in films:

“Today is Texas Muslim Capital Day in Austin. The House is in recess until Monday. Most Members including myself are back in District. I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office.”

-Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) on her Facebook page

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Texas capital is besieged by Christian protestors mocking, intimidating, and frightening the Texas Muslim community. You might even say “terrorizing.” I know I would.

As much fun as it would go after the protestors, I’d rather go after Representative White’s statement. I’m sure that it is totally legal for a government official to require oaths of allegiance from people based on their religion in order to visit that official’s office. Maybe she should do that with any group. Individuals should be required to denounce any wrongdoing of other individuals of the same group before they enter Rep. White’s office.

If that were the whole story, I’d have probably just let the whole thing pass. This is Texas, though, so of course there’s more. Newly-elected governor Greg Abbot decided to honor “American Sniper” Chris Kyle with his own day just two business days later on 2 February. If you only saw the film, you might think that Kyle was a morally conflicted individual who was not only an outstanding soldier, but also a man who was deeply troubled by the nature of his work.

Yeah, no. That’s not Chris Kyle. Let’s let Chris Kyle tell us a little about Chris Kyle in his autobiography:

 “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”

“I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying fuck about them.”

So, let’s review: Texas had a day for Muslims at the state capitol and then went out of its way to make them feel unwelcome. On it’s own, that’s a pretty impressive act of pettiness. Then, two days later, the state announced that it would honor a man who wanted to kill every Muslim with his own day. Congress only wishes it could be that childish.

* In the interest of accuracy, I should mention that the largest group is not the Catholics but the “unclaimed”, whatever that means.

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Catching up: Ted Cruz, political mastermind

Ugh.

It’s been an ugly couple of months, hasn’t it? The bad news kept piling up and, frankly, it started to get to me. I still can’t get my head around why it’s somehow ok for police officers to kill black people. I just can’t go deal with it right now. So, instead, I’m just going to focus on one tiny thing to get it out of my mind.

Remember when Ted Cruz said “net neutrality is Obamacare for the internet“? I can’t get that one out of my head. It stands out as one of the stupidest things to come out of a politician’s mouth…er…keyboard….in a year filled with worthy candidates. He gets bonus points because of the brevity, don’t you think? It’s not quite “The Golden Girls were Kristallnact for television” but it’s pretty damned stupid.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think Ted Cruz is a stupid man. I don’t think that at all. I don’t know him personally but he doesn’t strike me as a stupid man. Cruz’ tweet reminded me of the first Bush-Kerry debate. There was a question regarding America’s allies and our, let’s say “unpopular” excursion into Iraq. Bush’s response to the question was simply “You’re either for us or you’re against us.” Kerry replied by saying that it wasn’t that simple, that different nations had different political realities at home and, while they were our allies, they couldn’t always engage in every military action at the drop of a hat (and that’s very much a paraphrase). When asked if he wanted to rebut, Bush leaned towards the camera and said “You’re either for us, or you’re against us.”

Now, you might regard Bush’s statement as similar to what you might expect from someone whose brain had been replaced Doink-It. I know that’s how I reacted. But let’s be perfectly honest here: George W. Bush is not and was not a stupid man. He said profoundly stupid things because he believed that his supporters were profoundly stupid and that they would respond to his profoundly stupid statements.

You know what? He was right, and he won the election.

And as for Ted Cruz? It’s the same playbook. Ted Cruz is a not stupid. He’s just counting on 51% of American voters being stupid.

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Where is WTF Pancakes?

pancakes-bw

He’s wrapping up his vacation (and he’s speaking of himself in third person for some reason). Reading the news over the last month has been an exercise in, well, an exercise in something that is extremely unpleasant.

Anyway, I’m back tomorrow and catching up on things. I expect I shall be In A Mood.

Cheers,

Unca Pancakes

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Bigmouth (el Rushbo) strikes again

You know, every time you think we’ve already achieved Peak Limbaugh, he manages to top himself. Granted, at this point, it’s sort of like Madonna-in-her-50’s trying to be shocking, but he’s still impressive when he’s in full bluster:

“This is not good for the country, what’s happening here, because it isn’t, I don’t think, full-fledged legitimate. It’s not based on real-world grievance. It’s grievance that’s being amplified and made up,and the president, if you ask me, could do a lot to stop this by telling people to respect the criminal justice system.”

Rush Limbaugh on the reaction to the Michael Brown/Eric Garner killings and grand jury non-indictments

You ought to read the whole thing. There’s nothing particularly new (he’s just recapitulating the right wing talking points), but you can’t help but marvel at how utterly divorced from reality Mr. Limbaugh’s rants are: People aren’t really upset by what’s happened, there was no choke hold, cigarette taxes are responsible for Garner’s death, etc. It’s incredibly stupid stuff.

That isn’t to say that Limbaugh is stupid. He’s just saying what his audience wants to hear. Limbaugh isn’t stupid; he just thinks that everyone who listens to him is stupid.

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