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Living With Less. A Lot Less. I LIVE in a 420-square-foot studio. I sleep in a bed that folds down from the wall. I have six dress shirts. I have 10 shallow bowls that I use for salads and main dishes. When people come over for dinner, I pull out my extendable dining room table. I don’t have a single CD or DVD and I have 10 percent of the books I once did.
I have come a long way from the life I had in the late ’90s, when, flush with cash from an Internet start-up sale, I had a giant house crammed with stuff — electronics and cars and appliances and gadgets.
Somehow this stuff ended up running my life, or a lot of it; the things I consumed ended up consuming me. My circumstances are unusual (not everyone gets an Internet windfall before turning 30), but my relationship with material things isn’t.
We live in a world of surfeit stuff, of big-box stores and 24-hour online shopping opportunities. Members of every socioeconomic bracket can and do deluge themselves with products.
There isn’t any indication that any of these things makes anyone any happier; in fact it seems the reverse may be true.
For me, it took 15 years, a great love and a lot of travel to get rid of all the inessential things I had collected and live a bigger, better, richer life with less. (New York Times)
Is This the End of Market Democracy? The 2012 election will offer voters a stark choice between right and left alternatives.
President Obama is calling for:
investing in things like education that gives everybody a chance to succeed. A tax code that makes sure everybody pays their fair share. And laws that make sure everybody follows the rules. That’s what will transform our economy. That’s what will grow our middle class again.
Republicans, in turn, are denouncing the expansion of a Democratic “entitlement society” and what they see as a trend toward European social democracy. They are calling for sharply reduced taxes, regulation and government spending to free market forces and revive private sector economic growth.
While Americans are going to be able to choose between two contrasting ideologies, what if both choices are off the mark? What if the legitimacy of free market capitalism in America is facing fundamental challenges that the candidates and their parties are not addressing?
Here are some of the issues that are making some politicians and political thinkers uneasy:
Are large segments of the American workforce — millions of people — at a structural disadvantage in the face of global competition, technological advance and ever more sophisticated forms of automation? Is this situation permanent?
Will the share of profits from improving corporate productivity flowing to capital and to high-earning C.E.O.s continue to grow, while the income of wage earners stagnates and their share of profits declines?
Has the surging wealth and income of the top one percent and of the top 0.1 percent reached a tipping point at which the political leverage of the very affluent decisively outweighs the influence of the electorate at large?
Is it possible that in the United States and Europe, democratic free market capitalism is no longer capable of providing broadly shared benefits to a solid majority of workers? (New York Times)
Mindful Eating as Food for Thought TRY this: place a forkful of food in your mouth. It doesn’t matter what the food is, but make it something you love — let’s say it’s that first nibble from three hot, fragrant, perfectly cooked ravioli.
Now comes the hard part. Put the fork down. This could be a lot more challenging than you imagine, because that first bite was very good and another immediately beckons. You’re hungry.
Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.
Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the third-eye-opening pleasures and frustrations of a practice known as mindful eating.
The concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel. In one common exercise, a student is given three raisins, or a tangerine, to spend 10 or 20 minutes gazing at, musing on, holding and patiently masticating. (New York Times)
More Money Can Beat Big Money Nine senators introduced a resolution early this month that would amend the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) and Buckley v. Valeo (1976). These two cases had restricted Congress’s power to limit contributions to political campaigns and independent political expenditures, by both individuals and corporations. Under the amendment, Congress and the states would have the power to limit both contributions and independent expenditures.
“By limiting the influence of big money in politics,” said one of the senators, Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, “elections can be more about the voters and their voices, not big money donors and their deep pockets. We need to have a campaign finance structure that limits the influence of the special interests and restores confidence in our democracy.”
This proposal is just the latest verse in a very tired song. Once again, the answer to the problem of campaign finance is to “just say no.” Limit contributions. Limit independent expenditures. Limit soft money donations. No, no, no. (New York Times)
The New Progressive Movement (Opinion) OCCUPY WALL STREET and its allied movements around the country are more than a walk in the park. They are most likely the start of a new era in America. Historians have noted that American politics moves in long swings. We are at the end of the 30-year Reagan era, a period that has culminated in soaring income for the top 1 percent and crushing unemployment or income stagnation for much of the rest. The overarching challenge of the coming years is to restore prosperity and power for the 99 percent.
Thirty years ago, a newly elected Ronald Reagan made a fateful judgment: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Taxes for the rich were slashed, as were outlays on public services and investments as a share of national income. Only the military and a few big transfer programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits were exempted from the squeeze.
Reagan’s was a fateful misdiagnosis. He completely overlooked the real issue — the rise of global competition in the information age — and fought a bogeyman, the government. Decades on, America pays the price of that misdiagnosis, with a nation singularly unprepared to face the global economic, energy and environmental challenges of our time. (New York Times)
The Inequality Map Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets and asking, “David, you have so many different kinds of inequality in your country. How can I tell which are socially acceptable and which are not?”
Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets and asking, “David, you have so many different kinds of inequality in your country. How can I tell which are socially acceptable and which are not?”
This is an excellent question. I will provide you with a guide to the American inequality map to help you avoid embarrassment.
Academic inequality is socially acceptable. It is perfectly fine to demonstrate that you are in the academic top 1 percent by wearing a Princeton, Harvard or Stanford sweatshirt.
Ancestor inequality is not socially acceptable. It is not permissible to go around bragging that your family came over on the Mayflower and that you are descended from generations of Throgmorton-Winthrops who bequeathed a legacy of good breeding and fine manners. (New York Times)
The Road Ahead for Occupy Wall Street To the Editor: Bill Keller misses the point of the Occupy Wall Street movement. An amalgam of issues motivates the millions of people throughout the country who have identified with the effort.
Their number includes students in debt for educations that do not lead to employment, homeowners whose property is underwater, individuals whose retirement savings are suddenly at risk, voters who see that those they elect tend to the needs of a constituency of which they are not a part, and people who see that the financial “experts” whose machinations brought down the economy are not held accountable.
These are Americans who deserve better than to be piously mocked for their lack of leadership and a constrained agenda. The incestuous liaison between financial power and elected politicians is the issue. Those who are a part of that partnership should take note that if elections don’t count and demonstrations are ignored, the Occupy movement may include civil disobedience or worse. (New York Times)
Occupy-apalooza Strikes a Chord Thursday night I spoke to a young woman in Brooklyn who was having dinner and planning the next day. Between a morning boot camp workout at the local Y.M.C.A. and an evening meeting with friends for drinks, she was planning her first trek to Zuccotti Park to take part in the Occupy Wall Street protests.
“Why?” I asked. “What specifically are you protesting?” I was curious. I hoped that she’d respond with some variation of the umbrella arguments about income inequality, the evils of corporate greed and corruption or removing corporate money from politics.
She didn’t. “I don’t know. It’s just cool,” she said. She went on to tell me about how she felt that this was a movement of people with whom she felt some kinship, banding together and making history, and that she wanted to be a part of that in the same way that people from previous generations were part of the civil rights, women’s liberation and antiwar movements. (New York Times)
In Protest, the Power of Place THE ever expanding Occupy Wall Street movement, with encampments now not only in Lower Manhattan but also in Washington, London and other cities, proves among other things that no matter how instrumental new media have become in spreading protest these days, nothing replaces people taking to the streets.
Another reminder came late last week when the landlord of Zuccotti Park, where the demonstrators in New York City have settled, at the last minute withdrew a request for police assistance in cleaning up the park. This, at least temporarily, averted a confrontation in front of the global media over what protesters regarded as just a pretext to evict them.
We tend to underestimate the political power of physical places. Then Tahrir Square comes along. Now it’s Zuccotti Park, until four weeks ago an utterly obscure city-block-size downtown plaza with a few trees and concrete benches, around the corner from ground zero and two blocks north of Wall Street on Broadway. A few hundred people with ponchos and sleeping bags have put it on the map.
Kent State, Tiananmen Square, the Berlin Wall: we clearly use locales, edifices, architecture to house our memories and political energy. Politics troubles our consciences. But places haunt our imaginations. (New York Times)
Stop Coddling the Super-Rich OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.
While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.
These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.
Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent. (New York Times)
Why Voters Tune Out Democrats BARACK OBAMA can’t catch a break from the American public on the economy, even though he prevented a depression and saved global capitalism.
Perhaps the president finds solace in knowing he’s not alone. During this period of economic crisis and uncertainty, voters are generally turning to conservative and right-wing political parties, most notably in Europe and in Canada.
It’s perplexing. When unemployment is high, and the rich are getting richer, you would think that voters of average means would flock to progressives, who are supposed to have their interests in mind — and who historically have delivered for them.
During the last half-century or so, when a Democratic president has led the country, people have tended to experience lower unemployment, less inequality and rising income compared with periods of Republican governance. There is a reason, however, that many voters in the developed world are turning away from Democrats, Socialists, liberals and progressives.
My vantage point on voter behavior comes through my company, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and its work for center-left parties globally, starting with Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992. For the last decade, I have worked in partnership with James Carville conducting monthly polls digging into America’s mood and studying how progressives can develop successful electoral strategies. (I am also married to a Democratic congresswoman from Connecticut, Rosa L. DeLauro.) (New York Times)
Nuclear Plant’s Vital Equipment Dry, Officials Say When safety regulators arrive for a tour of a nuclear plant, the operators usually give the visitors a helmet, safety glasses and earplugs. When Gregory B. Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, got to the Fort Calhoun plant on Monday morning, the Omaha Public Power District offered him a life jacket.
Technically, what the plant is undergoing is not a flood but a “water event,” as the regulatory commission classifies it. But Fort Calhoun has clearly been outflanked by the Missouri River, first at its front door and now at its back door as well. The only access route to the plant is over a sinuous path of catwalks built over the submerged parking lot and walkways in recent weeks.
Vital equipment like generators, pumps and controls are dry, according to the power company and to Mr. Jaczko, who spent a couple of hours clambering over walls of sandbags and inspecting waterproof barriers, some of which were added in recent months at the commission’s insistence. - “We’ve had water at nuclear plants before, but this is the only time we can recall it to this extent or duration,” said Jeffrey Clark, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff member from the regional office in Arlington, Tex., who arrived here on June 9 for a quick look around but then stayed on.
The river is not expected to get substantially higher, but it may not get lower anytime soon, either. On Monday morning, Mr. Jaczko met with the Army Corps of Engineers but did not get a great deal of encouragement. (New York Times)
Free to Search and Seize THIS spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime.
In addition, Congress renewed Patriot Act provisions on enhanced surveillance powers until 2015, and the F.B.I. expanded agents’ authority to comb databases, follow people and rummage through their trash even if they are not suspected of a crime.
None of these are landmark decisions. But together they further erode the privilege of privacy that was championed by Congress and the courts in the mid-to-late-20th century, when the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement was applied to the states, unconstitutionally seized evidence was ruled inadmissible in state trials, and privacy laws were enacted following revelations in the 1970s of domestic spying on antiwar and civil rights groups.
For over a decade now, the government has tried to make us more secure by chipping away at the one provision of the Bill of Rights that pivots on the word “secure” — the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” (New York Times)
Overlooking Oversight In late May, Congress extended three enhanced surveillance powers that were granted to the government after the 9/11 attacks — two in the Patriot Act and one from a related intelligence law. In doing so, lawmakers neatly managed to avoid any lapse in those powers. They failed miserably in their duty to carefully re-examine the provisions, trim back excesses, and add safeguards to protect civil liberties. In other words, they ignored the whole point of requiring that the provisions be periodically reviewed.
One of the renewed provisions permits a roving wiretap on terrorism suspects who switch phone numbers or providers. While this is a useful tool, the lax rules for specifying who is the subject of the wiretap could invite abuse. Another provision permits the government to examine library, bookstore and business records without having to show that the material is related to a terrorism investigation. (New York Times)
Justices, 5-4, Tell California to Cut Prisoner Population Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, ordering the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that broke along ideological lines, described a prison system that failed to deliver minimal care to prisoners with serious medical and mental health problems and produced “needless suffering and death.”
Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. filed vigorous dissents. Justice Scalia called the order affirmed by the majority “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history.” Justice Alito said “the majority is gambling with the safety of the people of California.”
The majority opinion included photographs of inmates crowded into open gymnasium-style rooms and what Justice Kennedy described as “telephone-booth-sized cages without toilets” used to house suicidal inmates. Suicide rates in the state’s prisons, Justice Kennedy wrote, have been 80 percent higher than the average for inmates nationwide. A lower court in the case said it was “an uncontested fact” that “an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six or seven days due to constitutional deficiencies.”
Monday’s ruling in the case, Brown v. Plata, No. 09-1233, affirmed an order by a special three-judge federal court requiring state officials to reduce the prison population to 110,000, which is 137.5 percent of the system’s capacity. There have been more than 160,000 inmates in the system in recent years, and there are now more than 140,000.
Prison release orders are rare and hard to obtain, and even advocates for prisoners’ rights said Monday’s decision was unlikely to have a significant impact around the nation.
“California is an extreme case by any measure,” said David C. Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, which submitted a brief urging the justices to uphold the lower court’s order. “This case involves ongoing, undisputed and lethal constitutional violations. We’re not going to see a lot of copycat litigation.”
State officials in California will have two years to comply with the order, and they may ask for more time. Justice Kennedy emphasized that the reduction in population need not be achieved solely by releasing prisoners early. Among the other possibilities, he said, are new construction, transfers out of state and using county facilities. (New York Times)
Life and the Cosmos, Word by Painstaking Word Like Einstein, he is as famous for his story as for his science.
At the age of 21, the British physicist Stephen Hawking was found to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease. While A.L.S. is usually fatal within five years, Dr. Hawking lived on and flourished, producing some of the most important cosmological research of his time.
In the 1960s, with Sir Roger Penrose, he used mathematics to explicate the properties of black holes. In 1973, he applied Einstein’s general theory of relativity to the principles of quantum mechanics. And he showed that black holes were not completely black but could leak radiation and eventually explode and disappear, a finding that is still reverberating through physics and cosmology. - Q. Speaking of space: Earlier this week, your daughter, Lucy, and Paul Davies, the Arizona State University physicist, sent a message into space from an Arizona schoolchild to potential extraterrestrials out there in the universe. Now, you’ve said elsewhere that you think it’s a bad idea for humans to make contact with other forms of life. Given this, did you suggest to Lucy that she not do it? Hypothetically, let’s say as a fantasy, if you were to send such a message into space, how would it read?
A. Previously I have said it would be a bad idea to contact aliens because they might be so greatly advanced compared to us, that our civilization might not survive the experience. The “Dear Aliens” competition is based on a different premise.
It assumes that an intelligent extraterrestrial life form has already made contact with us and we need to formulate a reply. The competition asks school-age students to think creatively and scientifically in order to find a way to explain human life on this planet to some inquisitive aliens. I have no doubt that if we are ever contacted by such beings, we would want to respond.
I also think it is an interesting question to pose to young people as it requires them to think about the human race and our planet as a whole. It asks students to define who we are and what we have done. (New York Times)
Nuclear Agency Is Criticized as Too Close to Its Industry In the fall of 2007, workers at the Byron nuclear power plant in Illinois were using a wire brush to clean a badly corroded steel pipe — one in a series that circulate cooling water to essential emergency equipment — when something unexpected happened: the brush poked through.
The resulting leak caused a 12-day shutdown of the two reactors for repairs.
The plant’s owner, the Exelon Corporation, had long known that corrosion was thinning most of these pipes. But rather than fix them, it repeatedly lowered the minimum thickness it deemed safe. By the time the pipe broke, Exelon had declared that pipe walls just three-hundredths of an inch thick — less than one-tenth the original minimum thickness — would be good enough.
Though no radioactive material was released, safety experts say that if enough pipes had ruptured during a reactor accident, the result could easily have been a nuclear catastrophe at a plant just 100 miles west of Chicago.
Exelon’s risky decisions occurred under the noses of on-site inspectors from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. No documented inspection of the pipes was made by anyone from the N.R.C. for at least the eight years preceding the leak, and the agency also failed to notice that Exelon kept lowering the acceptable standard, according to a subsequent investigation by the commission’s inspector general. (New York Times)
C.I.A. Agents in Libya Aid Airstrikes and Meet Rebels The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, according to American officials.
While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.
In addition to the C.I.A. presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said.
American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers — including the location of Colonel Qaddafi’s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libya’s military enough to encourage defections within its ranks.
In addition, the American spies are meeting with rebels to try to fill in gaps in understanding who their leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Colonel Qaddafi, said United States government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the activities. American officials cautioned, though, that the Western operatives were not directing the actions of rebel forces. (New York Times)
Billionaire Brothers' Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute Among the thousands of demonstrators who jammed the Wisconsin State Capitol grounds this weekend was a well-financed advocate from Washington who was there to voice praise for cutting state spending by slashing union benefits and bargaining rights.
The visitor, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, told a large group of counterprotesters who had gathered Saturday at one edge of what otherwise was a mostly union crowd that the cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much-needed nationwide move to slash public-sector union benefits.
“We are going to bring fiscal sanity back to this great nation,” he said.
What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch. (New York Times)
Watching Protesters Risk It All As democracy protests spread across the Middle East, we as journalists struggle to convey the sights and sounds, the religion and politics. But there’s one central element that we can’t even begin to capture: the raw courage of men and women — some of them just teenagers — who risk torture, beatings and even death because they want freedoms that we take for granted.
Here in Bahrain on Saturday, I felt almost physically ill as I watched a column of pro-democracy marchers approach the Pearl Roundabout, the spiritual center of their movement. One day earlier, troops had opened fire on marchers there, with live ammunition and without any warning. So I flinched and braced myself to watch them die. - To me, this feels like the Arab version of 1776. And don’t buy into the pernicious whisper campaign from dictators that a more democratic Middle East will be fundamentalist, anti-American or anti-women. For starters, there have been plenty of women on the streets demanding change (incredibly strong women, too!).
For decades, the United States embraced corrupt and repressive autocracies across the Middle East, turning a blind eye to torture and repression in part because of fear that the “democratic rabble” might be hostile to us. Far too often, we were both myopic and just plain on the wrong side. (New York Times)
A Monopoly on Cheating I HATE cheats. They cut the line and snatch the bargain. They sweet-talk the customer service rep into bending the rules. They count cards and win the raffle with some sneaky ticket placement. They are the 100th caller every time. They trick you on mileage or square footage and bribe their way up the organ transplant list. They pump and dump their stocks, their families, their friends. They get ahead and they win. We lose. Then they explain ever so condescendingly that it’s not a zero-sum game.
I never cheated much as a child, not on tests or papers, not at Go Fish or poker or even board games like Sorry or Risk. It’s been the same since. I pay my taxes, under-claim expenses, give mistaken change back to the cashier. I don’t lie on applications. I’d probably fill out my own death warrant with civic-minded meticulousness.
I’m not bragging. I find this part of me repellent. I’m not noble or good. I’m adult enough to know that the victories of cheats don’t feel hollow to them. They live happy lives. They don’t think they are cheats. They consider themselves warriors of life. (New York Times)
A Clear Danger to Free Speech THE so-called Shield bill, which was recently introduced in both houses of Congress in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures, would amend the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it a crime for any person knowingly and willfully to disseminate, “in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States,” any classified information “concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States.”
Although this proposed law may be constitutional as applied to government employees who unlawfully leak such material to people who are unauthorized to receive it, it would plainly violate the First Amendment to punish anyone who might publish or otherwise circulate the information after it has been leaked. At the very least, the act must be expressly limited to situations in which the spread of the classified information poses a clear and imminent danger of grave harm to the nation.
The clear and present danger standard has been a central element of our First Amendment jurisprudence ever since Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s 1919 opinion in Schenk v. United States. In the 90 years since, the precise meaning of “clear and present danger” has evolved, but the animating principle was stated brilliantly by Justice Louis D. Brandeis in his 1927 concurring opinion in Whitney v. California. The founders “did not exalt order at the cost of liberty,” wrote Brandeis; on the contrary, they understood that “only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom. Such ... is the command of the Constitution. It is, therefore, always open to Americans to challenge a law abridging free speech and assembly by showing that there was no emergency justifying it.” (New York Times)
Rep. Ron Paul, G.O.P. Loner, Comes In From Cold As virtually all of Washington was declaring WikiLeaks’s disclosures of secret diplomatic cables an act of treason, Representative Ron Paul was applauding the organization for exposing the United States’ “delusional foreign policy.”
For this, the conservative blog RedState dubbed him “Al Qaeda’s favorite member of Congress.”
It was hardly the first time that Mr. Paul had marched to his own beat. During his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he was best remembered for declaring in a debate that the 9/11 attacks were the Muslim world’s response to American military intervention around the globe. A fellow candidate, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, interrupted and demanded that he take back the words — a request that Mr. Paul refused.
During his 20 years in Congress, Mr. Paul has staked out the lonely end of 434-to-1 votes against legislation that he considers unconstitutional, even on issues as ceremonial as granting Mother Teresa a Congressional Gold Medal. His colleagues have dubbed him “Dr. No,” but his wife will insist that they have the spelling wrong: he is really Dr. Know.
Now it appears others are beginning to credit him with some wisdom — or at least acknowledging his passionate following. (New York Times)
Obama Visits a Nation That Knew Him as Barry The two houses where he spent part of his boyhood stand pretty much the way they did when he went back to Hawaii four decades ago. The two schools he attended have grown larger but, in spirit, remain unchanged. Some of his old friends can still be found around the neighborhood.
Near one of his homes here, the same family still runs a wooden stall selling gado-gado, an Indonesian salad covered in peanut sauce. Agus Salam, who took over the business from his mother years ago, played soccer with the American boy everybody here called Barry.
“His house — all the houses around here — haven’t changed,” said Mr. Salam, 56.
When President Obama visits Jakarta on Tuesday, he will find a city that, in some ways, has changed beyond recognition. A city of one luxury hotel and one shopping mall when Mr. Obama lived here between 1967 and 1971, Jakarta is now the overextended and overcrowded capital of the world’s fourth most populous nation. But Jakarta’s neighborhoods, including the two where Mr. Obama lived, retain enough of their former selves that the president would quickly find his bearings. (New York Times)
End the War on Pot I dropped in on a marijuana shop here that proudly boasted that it sells “31 flavors.” It also offered a loyalty program. For every 10 purchases of pot — supposedly for medical uses — you get one free packet.
“There are five of these shops within a three-block radius,” explained the proprietor, Edward J. Kim. He brimmed with pride at his inventory and sounded like any small businessman as he complained about onerous government regulation. Like, well, state and federal laws.
But those burdensome regulations are already evaporating in California, where anyone who can fake a headache already can buy pot. Now there’s a significant chance that on Tuesday, California voters will choose to go further and broadly legalize marijuana.
I hope so. Our nearly century-long experiment in banning marijuana has failed as abysmally as Prohibition did, and California may now be pioneering a saner approach. Sure, there are risks if California legalizes pot. But our present drug policy has three catastrophic consequences. (New York Times)
Pentagon Will Help Homeland Security Department Fight Domestic Cyberattacks The Obama administration has adopted new procedures for using the Defense Department’s vast array of cyberwarfare capabilities in case of an attack on vital computer networks inside the United States, delicately navigating historic rules that restrict military action on American soil.
The system would mirror that used when the military is called on in natural disasters like hurricanes or wildfires. A presidential order dispatches the military forces, working under the control of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Under the new rules, the president would approve the use of the military’s expertise in computer-network warfare, and the Department of Homeland Security would direct the work. (New York Times)
Third Party Rising by Thomas Friedman - A friend in the U.S. military sent me an e-mail last week with a quote from the historian Lewis Mumford’s book, “The Condition of Man,” about the development of civilization. Mumford was describing Rome’s decline: “Everyone aimed at security: no one accepted responsibility. What was plainly lacking, long before the barbarian invasions had done their work, long before economic dislocations became serious, was an inner go. Rome’s life was now an imitation of life: a mere holding on. Security was the watchword — as if life knew any other stability than through constant change, or any form of security except through a constant willingness to take risks.”
It was one of those history passages that echo so loudly in the present that it sends a shiver down my spine — way, way too close for comfort.
I’ve just spent a week in Silicon Valley, talking with technologists from Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, Intel, Cisco and SRI and can definitively report that this region has not lost its “inner go.” But in talks here and elsewhere I continue to be astounded by the level of disgust with Washington, D.C., and our two-party system — so much so that I am ready to hazard a prediction: Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican Parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome. (New York Times)
C.I.A. Steps Up Drone Attacks on Taliban in Pakistan The C.I.A. has drastically increased its bombing campaign in the mountains of Pakistan in recent weeks, American officials said. The strikes are part of an effort by military and intelligence operatives to try to cripple the Taliban in a stronghold being used to plan attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
As part of its covert war in the region, the C.I.A. has launched 20 attacks with armed drone aircraft thus far in September, the most ever during a single month, and more than twice the number in a typical month. This expanded air campaign comes as top officials are racing to stem the rise of American casualties before the Obama administration’s comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy set for December. American and European officials are also evaluating reports of possible terrorist plots in the West from militants based in Pakistan.
The strikes also reflect mounting frustration both in Afghanistan and the United States that Pakistan’s government has not been aggressive enough in dislodging militants from their bases in the country’s western mountains. In particular, the officials said, the Americans believe the Pakistanis are unlikely to launch military operations inside North Waziristan, a haven for Taliban and Qaeda operatives that has long been used as a base for attacks against troops in Afghanistan. Some Pakistani troops have also been diverted from counterinsurgency missions to help provide relief to victims of the country’s massive flooding. (New York Times)
U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.
Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.
The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally. (New York Times)
When Capitalism Meets Cannabis One of the odder experiments in the recent history of American capitalism is unfolding in the Rockies: the country’s first attempt at fully regulating, licensing and taxing a for-profit marijuana trade, The New York Times’s David Segal writes in a lengthy look at the developing industry. - More than 80,000 people here now have medical marijuana certificates, which are essentially prescriptions, and for months new enrollees have signed up at a rate of roughly 1,000 a day.
As supply met demand, politicians decided that a body of regulations was overdue. The state’s Department of Revenue has spent months conceiving rules for this new industry, ending the reefer-madness phase here in favor of buzz-killing specifics about cultivation, distribution, storage and every other part of the business. (New York Times)
Genetically Altered Salmon Get Closer to the Table The Food and Drug Administration is seriously considering whether to approve the first genetically engineered animal that people would eat — salmon that can grow at twice the normal rate. The developer of the salmon has been trying to get approval for a decade. But the company now seems to have submitted most or all of the data the F.D.A. needs to analyze whether the salmon are safe to eat, nutritionally equivalent to other salmon and safe for the environment, according to government and biotechnology industry officials. A public meeting to discuss the salmon may be held as early as this fall.
Some consumer and environmental groups are likely to raise objections to approval. Even within the F.D.A., there has been a debate about whether the salmon should be labeled as genetically engineered (genetically engineered crops are not labeled).
The salmon’s approval would help open a path for companies and academic scientists developing other genetically engineered animals, like cattle resistant to mad cow disease or pigs that could supply healthier bacon. Next in line behind the salmon for possible approval would probably be the “enviropig,” developed at a Canadian university, which has less phosphorus pollution in its manure.
The salmon was developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies and would be raised in fish farms. It is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as a genetic on-switch from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon. - Virtually all Atlantic salmon now comes from fish farms, not the wild.
The F.D.A. must also decide on the environmental risks from the salmon. Some experts have speculated that fast-growing fish could out-compete wild fish for food or mates.
Mr. Stotish said the salmon would be grown only in inland tanks or other contained facilities, not in ocean pens where they might escape into the wild. And the fish would all be female and sterile, making it impossible for them to mate.
The F.D.A. is expected to hold a public meeting of an advisory committee before deciding whether to approve the salmon. Typically at such advisory committee meetings, much of the data in support of the drug application is made public and there is some time allotted for public comment.
But Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said such meetings often do not give the public enough time to analyze the data. (New York Times)
Should This Be the Last Generation? So why don’t we make ourselves the Last Generation on Earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction! Of course, it would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization, but just imagine that we could. Then is there anything wrong with this scenario? (New York Times)
1997 Warning on Deep Blowouts: ‘Options Are Limited’ Back in 1997, an offshore-drilling newsletter ran an article by Larry Flak, a veteran well blowout expert, at Boots & Coots at the time, listing a variety of paths leading to a seabed blowout and stated flatly that stopping one would be an enormous challenge. His bottom line? “Options are limited, so prevention and fast action are critical.” (New York Times)
Expert Is Confident About Sealing Oil Well Pat Campbell never met a well he couldn’t kill. - Between working for Boots & Coots and, later, for Wild Well, Mr. Campbell has gone into the field from South Texas to Sumatra, including a stint in Kuwait after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. (New York Times)
Scientists Warn Oil Spill Could Threaten Florida Scientists warned Monday that oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico was moving rapidly toward a current that could carry it into the Florida Keys and the Atlantic Ocean, threatening coral reefs and hundreds of miles of additional shoreline.
Government officials insisted that the oil had not yet entered the gulf’s so-called loop current, and that they were continuing to monitor the movement of the spill closely. But two independent scientists, analyzing ocean current and satellite data, said the oil was in an eddy that was quickly being drawn into the current, portending a much wider spread of the hazardous slick.
The White House, meanwhile, said late Monday that President Obama would soon name an independent commission to investigate the cause of the spill and the response to it, largely supplanting the inquiry now being conducted by the United States Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service, the Interior Department agency responsible for overseeing offshore oil operations. The role of both agencies in approving the drilling, preparing for an accident and supervising the cleanup are part of any overall inquiry and have raised questions about the independence of their work. (New York Times)
U.S. Is Still Using Private Spy Ring, Despite Doubts Earlier this year, government officials admitted that the military had sent a group of former Central Intelligence Agency officers and retired Special Operations troops into the region to collect information — some of which was used to track and kill people suspected of being militants. Many portrayed it as a rogue operation that had been hastily shut down once an investigation began. But interviews with more than a dozen current and former government officials and businessmen, and an examination of government documents, tell a different a story. Not only are the networks still operating, their detailed reports on subjects like the workings of the Taliban leadership in Pakistan and the movements of enemy fighters in southern Afghanistan are also submitted almost daily to top commanders and have become an important source of intelligence. (New York Times)
Ahmed Wali Karzai is the younger bother of Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. Senior American officials spent months weighing allegations against Ahmed Wali Karzai: that he pays off Taliban insurgents, that he launders money, that he seizes land, that he reaps enormous profits by facilitating the shipment of opium through the area. And the officials concluded that the evidence, some compelling, some circumstantial, was not clear enough to persuade the president to move his brother out of town, two NATO officials said. The C.I.A. pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.'s direction in and around Kandahar. On at least one occasion, the strike force has been accused of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government, the officials said. (New York Times)
Global Weirding Is Here Therefore, climate experts can’t leave themselves vulnerable by citing non-peer-reviewed research or failing to respond to legitimate questions, some of which happened with both the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (New York Times)
Obama Making Plans to Use Executive Power “We are reviewing a list of presidential executive orders and directives to get the job done across a front of issues,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. - The use of executive authority during times of legislative inertia is hardly new; former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush turned to such powers at various moments in their presidencies, and Mr. Emanuel was in the thick of carrying out the strategy during his days as a top official in the Clinton White House. (New York Times)
Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel “This is not about whether this is a good person or a good cause; it’s about the integrity of the scientific process,” Dr. Pielke said, adding: “This has become so polarized, it’s like you must be in cahoots with the bad guys if you are at all negative about Pachauri.” (New York Times)
Driver’s Licenses for the Internet? -- Today’s idea: Let’s have “driver’s licenses” for the Internet to counter online fraud, hackers and espionage, a Microsoft executive suggests. Maybe on your busy junket to the World Economic Forum in Davos last week you missed the panel where Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and technology officer, offered up the Internet licensing proposal above. Barbara Kiviat of the Curious Capitalist blog was there, and summarizes the idea thusly:
What Mundie is proposing is to impose authentication. He draws an analogy to automobile use. If you want to drive a car, you have to have a license (not to mention an inspection, insurance, etc.). If you do something bad with that car, like break a law, there is the chance that you will lose your license and be prevented from driving in the future. In other words, there is a legal and social process for imposing discipline. Mundie imagines three tiers of Internet I.D.: one for people, one for machines and one for programs (which often act as proxies for the other two). (New York Times)
Cancer Risks Debated for Type of X-Ray Scan Edward Lyman, a nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the additional deaths would be indistinguishable from cancers resulting from other causes. But he said, “Just because they can’t be attributed in an epidemiology study to the additional radiation, it doesn’t mean they’re not there.” (New York Times)
Sick Nigerian Prompts Security Alert in Detroit “A passenger on today’s Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit spent an unusually long time in the aircraft lavatory,” she said in the statement. “Due to this unusual behavior, the airline notified T.S.A. and the agency directed the flight to taxi to a remote area upon landing to be met by law enforcement and D.H.S. “The passenger in question, a Nigerian national, was removed from the flight and interviewed by the F.B.I.; indications at this time are that the individual’s behavior is due to legitimate illness, and no other suspicious behavior or materials have been found." (New York Times)
Medical Marijuana: No Longer Just for Adults At the Peace in Medicine Healing Center in Sebastopol, the wares on display include dried marijuana -- featuring brands like Kryptonite, Voodoo Daddy and Train Wreck -- and medicinal cookies arrayed below a sign saying, “Keep Out of Reach of Your Mother.” The warning tells a story of its own: some of the center’s clients are too young to buy themselves a beer.
Several Bay Area doctors who recommend medical marijuana for their patients said in recent interviews that their client base had expanded to include teenagers with psychiatric conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“It’s not everybody’s medicine, but for some, it can make a profound difference,” said Valerie Corral, a founder of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a patients’ collective in Santa Cruz that has two dozen minors as registered clients. (New York Times)
Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by C.I.A. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials. (New York Times)
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