Archive for April 5th, 2007

Moneyaanisqatsi

Sigh:

This is already a record-breaking campaign for the sheer volume of money it is generating. It also is setting a new low with a ludicrously premature handicapping of the race based on the ability to raise cash. It is 19 months before the election, and the quarterly fund-raising data were treated this week like the dawning of poll results from Dixville Notch, N.H.

All this in a race that is supposed to be a different sort of competition — if not of ideas, then at least of personalities and positions.

This is not just another example of picking a winner before a vote is cast. This year, the political industry is spinning the money before it is spent, ordaining mega-fund-raising as the sine qua non of a credible candidacy. Dispatches heralded “the winners of the first presidential fund-raising race,” pronouncing one big $20 million raiser (Mitt Romney) as instantly “formidable” and a “rising force” in the campaign, while discounting a more familiar aspirant (Senator John McCain) as “lackluster” and “anemic” for showing at a mere $12.5 million.

If only voters’ optimism about the nation and the political system could rise in direct proportion to the money stacks.

The one thing established by the private fund-raising binge is that the nation needs the alternative of limited public financing as a rational option for seeking the presidency just as much as when it was enacted in response to the Watergate era of big-money corruption. Successive Congresses have failed to update the dollar limitations of the public financing law, inviting private donors to fully regain the upper hand in this presidential sweepstakes.

This is depressing, and it’s been like this at least since the 2000 election – and probably longer. Does anyone really believe that the ability to raise massive sums of money should be a prerequisite for the presidency? Does anyone really believe that ordinary citizens have a voice when elected officials are beholden to millionaires and corporations for their campaign funding? One-person-one-vote is the fundamental principle of democracy, and when money becomes a proxy for votes, that principle is perverted beyond recognition.

Elections are supposed to be about the ideas and positions of the candidates, and the votes of the citizenry, and that’s still true to some extent. But the primacy of money has made fundraising more important than ideas, and donors more important than voters. Yes, a truly compelling candidate can overcome a dollar disadvantage, but they still need to have enough money to get their message out.

So yes, we need public financing to restore balance and fairness to our democracy. We need to get politicians out of their donors’ pockets so that they can start working for all of us.

(Yes, I know this is all hopelessly naive, and the rich and corporate will always find ways to corrupt elected officials and game the system, but this would at least give the rest of us a fighting chance.)

5 comments April 5th, 2007 at 08:20pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Elections,Politics

How To Supersize Your Dog

More Fun With Science!

Scientists have just discovered which gene fragment controls the size of dogs, which have the greatest size range of any mammal — no other species produces adults with 100-fold differences, like that between a two-pound chihuahua and a 200-pound Newfoundland.

In a study to be published tomorrow in the journal Science, researchers analyzed 3,241 purebred dogs from 143 breeds. Genetically, the yapper arguing with your ankle is almost identical to the drooling behemoth bred to hunt bears, except for a tiny bit of DNA that suppresses the “insulin-like growth factor 1” gene.

Dog breeders have unwittingly been selecting for it since the last Ice Age. Dogs emerged from the wolf about 15,000 years ago, and as far back as 10,000 years ago, domesticated dogs as big as mastiffs and as small as Jack Russell terriers were trotting the earth.

(…)

Making it “cool biology,” [lead author Elaine A. Ostrander] said, is that the same gene suppressor is found in both mice and men, creating mini-mice and suspected in human dwarfism.

And because it controls growth gone awry, she said, it will help cancer research, and is to be planted in mice.

But carefully: A mouse the size of a Great Dane, she said, “would be a little scary, wouldn’t it?”

I think I sense a Sci-Fi Saturday movie coming on… I also wonder whether guard-hamsters would be practical.

1 comment April 5th, 2007 at 06:43pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science

Third World, Here We Come!

Bob Herbert chimes in with yet another way in which the United States is turning into a banana republic (I won’t say anything about how Old our Navy is, or the income Gap between the rich and everyone else):

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. infrastructure is in sad shape, and it would take more than a trillion and a half dollars over a five-year period to bring it back to a reasonably adequate condition.

(…)

[A]s we learned with New Orleans, there are consequences to neglecting the infrastructure. Just a little over a year ago, a dam in Hawaii gave way, unleashing a wave 70 feet high and 200 yards wide. It swept away virtually everything in its path, including cars, houses and trees. Seven people drowned.

On the day after Christmas in Portland, Ore., a sinkhole opened up like something from a science fiction movie and swallowed a 25-ton sewer- repair truck. Authorities blamed the sinkhole on the collapse of aging underground pipes.

Blackouts, school buildings in advanced states of disrepair, decrepit highway and railroad bridges – the American infrastructure is growing increasingly old and obsolete. In addition to being an invitation to tragedy, this is a problem that is putting Americans at a disadvantage in the ever more competitive global economy.

(…)

[Investment banker Felix Rohatyn] recently told a House committee that Congress should begin a major effort to rebuild the American infrastructure “before it is too late.”

“Since the beginning of the republic,” he said, “transportation, infrastructure and education have played a central role in advancing the American economy, whether it was the canals in upstate New York, or the railroads that linked our heartland to our industrial centers; whether it was the opening of education to average Americans by land grant colleges and the G.I. bill, making education basic to American life; or whether it was the interstate highway system that ultimately connected all regions of the nation.

“This did not happen by chance, but was the result of major investments financed by the federal and state governments over the last century and a half. … We need to make similar investments now.”

(…)

“A modern economy needs a modern platform, and that’s the infrastructure,” Mr. Rohatyn said in an interview. “It has been shown that the productivity of an economy is related to the quality of its infrastructure. For example, if you don’t have enough schools to teach your kids, or your kids are taught in schools that have holes in the ceilings, that are dilapidated, they’re not going to be as educated and as competitive in a world economy as they need to be.”

As Herbert points out, this is an incredibly unsexy story – it’s the media and political equivalent of telling someone to eat their spinach. But here’s what I don’t understand: politicians are all about securing federal money to take back to their districts and states to fund pet projects; why can’t more of those pet projects be infrastructure-related? Instead of using pork to build bridges to nowhere, why not use it to shore up bridges that actually serve a useful purpose?

Politicians can accomplish their goal of bringing money and jobs back home, while at the same time actually improving their state’s ability to compete in the national and global marketplace, thus creating even more jobs?

We probably don’t spend $300 billion a year on pork, but I bet we spend enough to make a serious dent in our infrastructure problems. Let’s put that money to good use.

4 comments April 5th, 2007 at 12:03pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Politics

Blind Spot

Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh have a fine and convincing op-ed piece in today’s NYT about the effectiveness of diplomacy vs. engagement. However, being men of good faith, they make the common error of misunderstanding the Bush administration’s objectives.

Bush does not actually want to reach a diplomatic accord with Iran wherein they agree to give up their nuclear aspirations and stop meddling in Iraq; quite the opposite. They want another war.

But Iraq has been such a complete disaster that they realize they can’t just say Iran is a threat and start dropping bombs on them – America has seen that act before. No, what they need is for Iran to attack first, or to do something so outrageous that war seems the only reasonable response.

Seen through this prism, the administration’s strategy of ever-ratcheting confrontation and provocation makes perfect sense. They’re trying to pick a fight so Dubya can reclaim his Shane-like mantle of aggrieved, reluctant hero and protector of the faith. I don’t think Iran is very interested in obliging, but that may not matter.

2 comments April 5th, 2007 at 11:37am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Cheney,Iran,Republicans,War

What The.

Um, can someone please tell me what blog this is supposed to be a diagram of?

I’m completely stumped.

7 comments April 5th, 2007 at 08:04am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Blogosphere,Weirdness


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