Santa Claus Requests Bailout

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxBl9BXLom4]

The economy is bad all over, including at the North Pole. Apparently it isn’t easy for Elves to transition from hand carving bats to reverse engineering and manufacturing iPods to meet changing demands in Christmas gifts.

The War on Christmas, And Now Kwanzaa

The War on Christmas might only be one of many examples of right wing paranoia, but it turns out there really was a War on Kwanzaa. Ann Coulter not only attacks the holiday but, writing one of her typical hate-filled columns, claims credit for victory. She brags, “I believe my triumph over this synthetic holiday is nearly complete.”

The right wing tirades about the imaginary War on Christmas were quieter than usual this year but Alex Koppelman has reported on one item from The Washington Times.

Christmas has also won a victory, being declared an official holiday for the first time this year in Iraq. This sounds like a positive move but Alan Colmes also notes that things have not worked out very well for the Christian minority in Iraq.

Doctor Who Christmas Specials, Past & Present

While waiting for this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, past specials are being rebroadcast on BBC America. They have already started replaying them, and the specials from the last three years will be rebroadcast again tomorrow in a block starting at 4:00 p.m.

The episodes are The Christmas Invasion from 2005, The Runaway Bride from 2006, and The Voyage of the Damned from last year. I don’t know when this year’s special will be broadcast in the United States, so it remains necessary to use your favorite file sharing service.

Optimism That Obama Will Support Decriminialization of Marijuana

A few days ago I wrote about fears that Obama might be backtracking on his previous comments opposing the drug war. Some Obama supporters remain optimistic that he will eventually back decriminalization of marijuana, even if not until a second term. Esquire writes on this optimism:

In July, Obama told Rolling Stone that he believed in “shifting the paradigm” to a public-health approach: “I would start with nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. The notion that we are imposing felonies on them or sending them to prison, where they are getting advanced degrees in criminality, instead of thinking about ways like drug courts that can get them back on track in their lives — it’s expensive, it’s counterproductive, and it doesn’t make sense.”

Meanwhile, economists have been making the beer argument. In a paper titled “Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition,” Dr. Jeffrey Miron of Harvard argues that legalized marijuana would generate between $10 and $14 billion in savings and taxes every year — conclusions endorsed by 300 top economists, including Milton “Free Market” Friedman himself.

And two weeks ago, when the Obama team asked the public to vote on the top problems facing America, this was the public’s No. 1 question: “Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?”

But alas, the answer from Camp Obama was — as it has been for years — a flat one-liner: “President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.” And at least two of Obama’s top people are drug-war supporters: Rahm Emanuel has been a long-time enemy of reform, and Joe Biden is a drug-war mainstay who helped create the position of “drug czar.”

Meanwhile, in 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, 782,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes (90 percent of them for possession), with approximately 60,000 to 85,000 of them serving sentences in jail or prison. It’s the continuation of an unnecessary stream of suffering that now has taught generations of Americans just how capricious their government can be. The irony is that the preference for “decriminalization” over legalization actually supports the continued existence of criminal drug mafias.

Nevertheless, the marijuana community is guardedly optimistic. “Reformers will probably be disappointed that Obama is not going to go as far as they want, but we’re probably not going to continue this mindless path of prohibition,” NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre tells me.

Some of Obama’s biggest financial donors are friends of the legalization movement, St. Pierre notes. “Frankly, George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling — this triumvirate of billionaires — if those three men, who put up $50 to $60 million to get Democrats and Obama elected, can’t pick up the phone and actually get a one-to-one meeting on where this drug policy is going, then maybe it’s true that when you give money, you don’t expect favors.”

Another member of that moneyed group: Marsha Rosenbaum, the former head of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, who quit last year to become a fundraiser for Obama and “bundled” an impressive $204,000 for his campaign. She said that based on what she hears from inside the transition team, she expects Obama to play it very safe. “He said at one point that he’s not going to use any political capital with this — that’s a concern,” Rosenbaum tells me. And the Path to Change will probably have to pass through the Valley of Studies and Reports. “I’m hoping that what the administration will do,” she says, “is something this country hasn’t done since 1971, which is to undertake a presidential commission to look at drug policy, convene a group of blue-ribbon experts to look at the issue, and make recommendations.”

But ultimately, Rosenbaum remains confident that those recommendations would call for an end to the drug war. “Once everything settles down in the second term, we have a shot at seeing some real reform.”

The Festivus Airing of Grievances

Festivus, the holiday popularized on an episode of Seinfeld, continues to receive attention. The Miami Herald was among the newspapers noting the event today. A traditional component of the holiday is the airing of grievances at family gatherings.

In past years I  modified the observance on line to include an airing of grievances against political leaders. Last year I posted my grievances against the major presidential candidates of both parties. I had the least grievances against Barack Obama, but the section on him did predict that “in a couple of years I will be writing a number of blog posts disagreeing with some of your actions as president, but things will be far better than if any of your major opponents were to win.”

In previous years my grievances were directed towards George Bush. As this is the last opportunity to do so, and as the grievances remain relevant, I will repost them below. Note that this was originally written when the Republicans controlled Congress with hopes for a Festivus Miracle of a Congress which would hold Bush accountable. Below are my grievances against George Bush as originally written:

Today is Festivus, the nondenominational holiday made famous on Seinfeld. The Festivus celebration includes The Airing of Grievances in which each participant at the Festivus Dinner tells each other all the instances where they disappointed him or her that year. In the spirit of George Lakoff’s “strict father” model for Republican leadership style, for Festivus this year I rant to one and all about all the ways in which George Bush has disappointed me:

George, you twice took an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution and you claim to support judges who look to the intentions of its framers. Yet you take executive powers, and the powers of the commander in chief, far beyond what the framers ever intended. Emergency powers are intended to allow for immediate response to a crisis, not to allow for an indefinite expansion of your powers without legislative approval or judicial review.

You failed in the most important duties of your office, protecting the country when under attack. You ignored the warnings about al Qaeda from your predecessor upon taking office. You ignored warnings in your own intelligence briefings that terrorists planned an attack involving hijacked airplanes, and then on the day of the actual attack you sat down to read a book, possibly for the first time in your life. I hope you enjoyed The Pet Goat. Now if you would only read a few books explaining the background to the problems you have been mishandling.

After failing to take action to protect us from an imminent attack, you totally screw up in retaliating against the wrong country. Your failure to settle matters in Afghanistan before attacking Iraq allowed Bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora when he could have been captured.

Who has your foreign policy helped? You sure helped al Qaeda grow, as Saudi and Israeli studies showed that it was opposition to the war which radicalized those fighting American troops. The other big winner has been Iran as you have spread our military too thin to respond to problems beyond Iraq.

You even considered bombing al-Jazeera. Listen, if you really wanted to get rid of a bunch of religious fanatics and political extremists who were using biased news reports to prop up a corrupt government and reduce freedom you should have gone after Fox News. If Pravda had been as effective in deceiving the public as Fox News and the rest of the right wing noise machine is, the Soviet Union would probably still exist.

Then there’s this Medicare plan of yours. Those in Medicaid programs had their prescriptions paid for at negotiated discount prices, but your plan prevents such discounts in the Medicare programs providing a financial windfall to the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the taxpayers. What a great deal for the pharmaceutical companies who donated fortunes to you–plus you gave them a great excuse to eliminate their patient assistance programs. Of course don’t forget the insurance industry, which also makes out great thanks to the subsidies you are providing for Medicare managed care plans–plans which have historically been so inefficient that insurance companies will only get involved if they receive such subsidies, again at taxpayer’s expense.

You sure are great for your friends in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Then there’s the oil companies. How much did they stand to gain if you got away with the ANWR drilling? I’m sure they would have gotten a better deal than the consumers who would have save a whole one cent per gallon at the pump.

Besides undermining our national security and harming the environment, you have run up record deficits to undermine our financial futures while giving huge tax cuts which primarily benefit the rich. You have undermined important parts of the Constitution as you have engaged in illegal surveillance of American citizens, worked to destroy the checks and balances which have so far saved us tyranny, and you have harmed the separation of church and state which is so important to guarantee that everyone can practice (or not practice) religion in the manner they desire.

Your disdain for the democratic process was especially seen in your campaign for reelection. You both avoided contact with all but firm supporters, and avoided discussing any real issues. You were too afraid of a real discussion of the issues, knowing in such a situation you would be rejected, so instead you based your campaign upon distorting the positions and record of your opponent. I don’t think you ever commented on a single position actually held by John Kerry.

You were even so far off the wall as to suggest that intelligent design be taught in schools as an alternative to evolution. At least you aren’t flip flopping this time (which is something you and not John Kerry has been guilty of). Supporting such superstition over science is consistent with your overall disregard for science. Calling intelligent design a valid alternative to evolution to explain the development of life is as nonsensical as promoting the belief that earth quakes occur because the gods are angry as a valid alternative to geology.

Traditionally, at the Festivus dinner we have the The Feats of Strength. This year I propose that we show our strength by working to remove from Congress those who have collaborated with you and replace them with new members who are willing to vote for your censure or impeachment and restore Constitutional rule as intended by the Founding Fathers. You already have the distinction of being the first President to admit to an impeachable offense in your illegal surveillance, and your lying us into war was an even worse crime. Both are certainly more deserving of impeachment than a private sexual affair and creative uses of cigars.

Next year, when we have a Congress willing to take action against you and to reestablish the form of government envisioned by the Founding Fathers, we can call it a Festivus Miracle.

Now, in the spirit of Festivus, I invite you all gather around an aluminum pole to air your grievances or perform a feat of strength.

Caroline Kennedy Leads in Quinnipiac Poll

A major argument against appointing Caroline Kennedy to fill Hillary Clinton’s senate seat is the argument against establishing an aristocracy. There is resentment that Kennedy would be receiving the seat largely because of her name and family. While this is a valid concern, one problem in excluding Kennedy on this basis is that she very well might be the winning candidate if the seat was determined by a special election as opposed to an appointment. A Quinnipiac poll shows:

New York State voters split 40 – 41 percent on whether Caroline Kennedy is qualified to be a U.S. Senator, but they expect by a 48 – 25 percent margin that Gov. David Paterson will name her to the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Offered a choice, 33 percent of voters say Gov. Paterson should name Ms. Kennedy, while 29 percent say Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should get the nod. Another 4 percent pick Albany-area U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, while 24 percent want someone else and 10 percent are undecided, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

Kennedy leads Cuomo 42 – 27 percent among New York City voters and ties Cuomo 30 – 30 percent among suburban voters, while Cuomo leads 31 – 27 percent among upstate voters. Men back Kennedy over Cuomo 32 – 27 percent while women back her 33 – 31 percent.

Republicans prefer Cuomo 33 – 20 percent while Democrats back Kennedy 41 – 27 percent and independent voters back Cuomo 33 – 30 percent.

The results might be different in an actual election where Kennedy was forced to campaign before the voters. At least this does show that if the seat is to be given by appointment, choosing Kennedy would not necessarily be undemocratic.

The Lancet’s Special Issue on Charles Darwin

Yesterday I noted that Scientific American has an issue out devoted to the work of Charles Darwin. The Lancet has also just put out a special issue on Darwin. The issue marks the bicentennial of the birth of Darwin  on February 12, 2009 and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species on November 24. An mp3 audio is available at the site describing the issue.

The Lancet, a major British medical journal with worldwide distribution, concentrates on the importance of evolutionary science to medicine. Topics also expand beyond health care, including an essay which describes how Darwin, beyond his contributions to science, also ranks as one of the great philosophers of history.

A Theological Defense of Stem Cell Research

Religious views are not a sufficient justification for public policy, such as restricting government funding of embryonic stem cell research, but should anyone be interested, Frank Cocozzelli has addressed the topic from a theological perspective. He responds to some of the views expressed by Rick Warren.

Sarah Palin: Conservative of the Year

In several recent posts, most recently here, I have predicted that the Republican Party and the conservative movement are in a downward spiral due to their dominance by anti-intellectualism and the beliefs of the religious right. There is no more future in the twenty-first for a movement which supports creationism over evolution than there is for one which argues that the earth is flat.

Here’s one more small piece of evidence of the wrong direction the conservative movement is moving in from Human Events:

Sarah Palin wins HUMAN EVENTS’ prestigious “Conservative of the Year” Award for 2008 for her genius at annoying all the right people. The last woman to get liberals this hot under the collar would have been … let’s see now … oh, yeah: Me!

Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter. Lumping the two together certainly makes sense. Both are dead ends.

Blogger Debate I’d Love To See

Hilzoy vs. Megan McArdle on the UAW and the automotive industry.