Virginia Decoded Launches

The Virginia Decoded site launched this week, as the first part of Waldo Jaquith’s State Decoded project. I did the design work and will be helping out with future design/css work.

The project is to create a human-readable and easily accessible version of the Virginia State Code. Waldo’s fought against horrible SGML and other nightmares to get this up and running, and it’s pretty damn awesome.

"Governments don't rule the world... Goldman Sachs does..."

This is probably one of the most frank discussions I’ve ever seen out of a financial guy stating the de facto situation: Governments don’t have the power to control the economy, and banking effectively rules the world.

He also talks about the state of the Eurozone and how bankers love markets like this because there’s a lot of chance to make boatloads of money.

Huckabee (Intentionally?) Missing the Argument on Healthcare

Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are already going at each other’s throats over healthcare in what will probably be a very nasty 2012 Republican Primary. Huckabee is doing everything in his power to link Romney’s State-level Massachusetts healthcare law to the Federal Healthcare law (aka “Obamacare”), but he’s missing a critical point: this is the purview of the States to do such a think. If Massachusetts wants to have a State run health care program, they are completely within their bounds to do it. Now former Gov. Huckabee is quite within the realm of logic and argument if he wants to have a discussion about the role of government at the State level, but the main challenge to the Federal health care bill is a different beast. These arguments are that Federal Healthcare is outside of the enumerated powers of the Constitution and that it is not covered by the “general welfare” or commerce clauses.

In regards to those who support the general welfare argument as grounds to support Federalized healthcare, I would like to point out President James Madison’s (then a Congressman from Virginia’s 5th District) commentary in 1792 about New England’s Cod fisheries and their desire for what amounted to a bailout :

If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the “general welfare,” and are the sole and supreme judges of the “general welfare,” then they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every state, county, and parish and pay them out of the public treasury, they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the United States; they may assume the provision for the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, everything from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police would be thrown under the power of Congress, for every object I have mentioned would admit of the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the “general welfare”1>

This from the father of the Constitution, one of the primary authors of the Federalist papers, in support of a strong Federal government. There was never an intent for the Federal Government to grow to this size.

The second argument has been one that says the commerce clause covers healthcare because it deals with interstate issues. This has been a slippery slope since 1789 and has been used to extend the enumerated powers much in the same way that the general welfare clause has. Basically, anything that can be counted under interstate commerce becomes the purview of the Federal Government, extending into areas it deems it needs to but then telling the states that they have sovereignty when it comes to their own financial problems (which is another issue for another time).

Gov. Huckabee needs to frame his argument in the right view, but I feel he’s more about the subversion of Gov. Romney’s 2012 campaign than actually discussing the merits of State-sponsored health care.

1 Jonathan Elliott, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution (Washington, 1936), Vol. 4, pp 429, James Madison on “The Cod Fishery Bill,” February 7, 1792.

Richmond Sunlight Redesign Launches

!{border:1px solid black;} (A shot of the Richmond Sunlight site)!

I designed a mockup for Waldo earlier in 2008 and today it launches on Richmond Sunlight. Erik Kastner did the HTML/CSS sexiness for it.

For those of you not familiar with the Sunlight projects, they are sites dedicated to increased transparency in the legislative process. This particular site focuses on the Virginia General Assembly. For more information you can read about the Sunlight Foundataion.

Check it out live: Richmond Sunlight

Political Fun for 10 Oct 2008

The Palins’ un-American Activities | Since Sarah Palin is pounding so hard on Sen. Obama regarding his weak link connection to Bill Ayers, Salon’s David Talbot hits back with some great points. If you read some of the statements of the founder of the Alaska Independence Party, of which her husband was an active member for years, you’d be a bit shocked: “My government is my worst enemy. I’m going to fight them with any means at hand.” So who’s the anti-government terrorist now?

McCain Loses His Head | Conservative commentator George Will calls out and rips McCain on his recent campaign activities calling him disconnected.

Global Electoral College | The Economist combines polls taken worldwide to see who would be President if the world could vote. It’s a decidedly blue map.

Ciny McCain Says Obama Runing ‘Dirtiest Campaign’ Ever | Yeah. I’m not sure what planet the Senator’s wife is living on, but I have three words: Pot. Kettle. Black.

‘Perfect Storm’ Could Give Dems ‘Magic 60’ in Senate | I’m not sure this would be good, as I think consensus building generally makes for better long term laws. However, after the disasterous years of the Republican Control of the White House and Capitol Hill, we’ve got a lot of crap to undo.

Walking a Fine Line | McCain did come out and try to push this back on Friday, but they should never have let it get this far out of control.

So we have McCain today getting his crowd riled up asking who Barack Obama is and then apparently giving a wink and a nod when one member of the crowd screams out “terrorist.”

And later we have Sarah Palin with the same mob racket, getting members of the crowd to yell out “kill him”, though it’s not clear whether the call for murder was for Bill Ayers or Barack Obama. It didn’t seem to matter.

These are dangerous and sick people, McCain and Palin. Whatever it takes. Stop at nothing.

Garabage Pail Kid version of Sarah Palin | This is just funny. I’d actually like to see someone do all four candidates up this way.

Make Believe Maverick | A relatively biased (especially in the tone of the writer) view of McCain. Strip away the hype and take it for the facts and it’s pretty interesting in regards to the underpinnings of McCain.

Bailout Thoughts

As the bailout has passed the Senate and the House, it appears to be the law of the land. $700,000,000,000.00 dollars. That’s a lot of zeros. “700 Billion” doesn’t look as bad as $700,000,000,000.00 does it? It seems that everyone is now lining up for money because of the credit crisis. California is asking for $7 Billion ($673B left) to “pay for teachers salaries, nursing homes, law enforcement and ever other state-funded service” [emphasis mine].

Two quotes are applicable:

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”
-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin (1802)

“The money power preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the republic destroyed.”
– Abraham Lincoln, November 21, 1864, a letter to William F. Elkins

Telling indeed.

And now to read about others blaming religion for making them financially insolvent due to "Prosperity theology". The thought “that God would ‘make a way’ for poor people to enjoy the better things in life” is more than a little disconcerting. The way is, and always has been, work. There are no entitlements. You deserver absolutely nothing in life. And some of the things that are most important to you will be suddenly and mercilessly taken away from you. God didn’t want you to get a house. God didn’t want your loved one to die. Let me be perfectly clear in my belief on this:

God doesn’t act.

He cares, okay. Fine. I’ll go with that. But if God’s hand is at work everywhere, then free will cannot exist. And saying “it’s God’s way” is another means for one to absolve themselves of responsibility for the actions that the take on a daily basis.

Take responsibility for yourself. Live within your means. Strive to improve your situation. Don’t give up on life. Don’t expect a handout. And don’t blame God for your problems.

People are to blame.

Political Fun for 02 Oct 2008

Disclaimer: I’m a Virginia Democrat (aka, I have slight libertarian leanings). This is not meant to be fair or balanced in any way, shape, or form. Just what I’m reading and I like this week. Deal.

“Qui Tacet Consentire Videtur” – He who keeps silent is assumed to give consent. So speak up! Here we go, the political fun I’ve read this week:

The Truth About Sarah Palin | Rolling Stone delivers myth vs fact coverage. Worth the read.

Sexist Treatment of Palin Must End | Campbell Brown rips another one apart with this great op-ed. Fits in nicely with the John Stewart video below.

Let’s Play Wall Street Bailout! | A great excerpt from C-SPAN with a Congresswoman mocking the proceedings by calling it a new game to play and going through some excellent snark.

Worst Self-Inflicted Campaign Move Ever | John McCain’s “suspension” was arguably the dumbest thing anyone has ever done. It said “I can only handle one thing at a time,” and came at the time when his poll numbers were falling like meteors.

McCain’s Bizarre Earmark Obsession | Earmarks are such a tiny part of the budget, and yet McCain can’t stop talking about them. Non-issues since he has no talking points on actual issues.

Politcal Fun!

Here’s a bunch of things I’ve seen this last week in regards to the elections.

Palin the Book Banner | This is really somewhat ludicrous in modern society, but fear not dear cultural conservatives! Book banning is alive and well in Palin’s Alaska:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

Fact Checking of Palin’s Speech at RNC | Suprise, it’s full of stretches and misrepresentations. But hey, that’s politics right?

Why The Media Should [or Shouldn’t] Apologize | Politico’s satirical response to the Republican machine’s comments on how the media is unfairly attacking Palin.

Daily Show Slapping the Republican Talkers around | Jon Stewart and crew do a great job showing Republican talking heads saying one thing and then completely the opposite about Gov. Palin. Jamie Lynn Spears reason for being pregnant? Her parents are “pinheads”, according to Bill O’Reilly. But not the Palins. Ah hypocrisy.

Palin Never Issues Any Orders to the Alaska Nat’l Guard | Touting her role as Governor and managing the state’s National Guard as part of her “experience” over Sen. Obama, Gov. Palin has never given a single order in her role as commander of that force. Experience indeed.

Palin’s Speech Raises $10M in 24 hours… for Obama | From the site: “‘Sarah Palin’s attacks have rallied our supporters in ways we never expected,’ says Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. ‘And we fully expect John McCain’s attacks tonight to help us make our grassroots organization even stronger.’”

McCain’s PR Chief Can’t Explain Palin’s Experience | Campbell Brown rails Tucker Bounds on Palin’s experience and gets him all flustered because he won’t answer a simple and direct question. Because he can’t.

Wind Me Up... (or A Vent on Domestic Energy Policy)

My Dad sent me an op-ed from the New York Times entitled Mr. Bush, Lead or Leave this morning and asked my opinion on it. I agree with a lot of what the author says, but I think that we’re missing the boat entirely on this stuff. People are thinking about this as “how do we replace oil?” The real question they should be asking is “How do I live without oil?”

Not radically different, but if we only look at how to replace oil, we limit the potential of what can happen. Everyone scrambling for a piece of the pie too. “Clean Coal” — which I believe to be the biggest oxymoron since “slightly racist” — sponsored most of the Presidential debates. You know what that got us? Very few questions or discussion about a real energy policy.

Anyway, here’s my reply, in whole, to my father. It was written quickly, not proofread, and is missing links. I’ve tried to add them where appropriate to fill in the context of conversations not shared, but the idea is there. The bold paragraph at the end is the most important thing.

— Begin —

Oh, where do I begin?! :)

deeep breath

Basically, even if we found new reserves in US Territory and sucked them dry, that would only account for something like 8 Billion barrels (gotta find where I read that). At 120 million barrels of world consumption a day, that’s a little more than two months supply.

Two months

Those reserves would take years to find and even longer to bring online, and then we don’t have the transportation in place to get most of that to refineries (well, the coastal shelf stuff we do, but not the ANWR). Also, it’s a reserve. Regardless of what you think might be there, it was set aside for a reason. Is Bush’s next element of the energy policy to open Yosemite to geothermal companies and The George Washington Forest to loggers?

It’s basic macroeconomics: The problem is a combination of an increase in demand without an increase in supply. And there really isn’t any more supply. The OPEC guys can’t get it out of the ground fast enough to keep up with China and India’s demand. And we can’t tell them to not develop. Their people see American culture and want to live that way. Problem is, that culture was built on sixty years of cheap oil.

Alternate energy isn’t much better at this point because all of it – every single thing that’s out there today, relies on an underlying fossil fuel economy in order for it’s manufacture, delivery, marketing, etc. Yes we’ve been losing research jobs in alt energy overseas, but that’s as much to blame on bad policy since 1970. All nuclear engineers go to France or China because we’ve not launched a new plant since Three Mile Island. “Nuclear power is great! except… um… put it in HIS backyard” – that’s the problem.

Geothermal is great too. This would work well in the Northern central plains where heating is critical more so than anything else. But how do you tell an out of work auto worker or small family farmer that they need to drop thousands of dollars on a new geothermal heat pump? Only if it’s cheaper than their heating bill from oil. Wave energy looks cool too, and would be quite successful in our area I feel (with the sheer area covered by the massively tidal Chesapeake, it could be quite a boon) and is also working 24-7. But that’s a lot of investment and maintenance (corrosive salt water).

Solar? Cool stuff. We have a massive desert in the southwest, the majority of which is still federally held land. Smack some arrays down there and make a combo solar/wind farm. Or do Algae. Some big Texas oil men are already dumping money into wind to take advantage of the free stuff they get on the plains. Again, manufacture and transportation rely on oil. Photovalactic cells have come a long way, and are still progressing. Same with battery banks. They all have a shelf life as well.

Another issue with solar is cost. In the state of Virginia, I can’t make back my investment because of the way that Dominion power doesn’t really pay you for the power you generate back to the grid. Waldo has an excellent article on this from last year. With energy starting to skyrocket tho, it might become cost effective in the math.

On a smaller scale, you can do what they did at Gaviotas in Columbia. A solar reflector (basically aluminum) heats water and creates a turbine. It’s like a coal fired engine but with the sun. Now that is renewable and not oil dependent (except maybe for milling of pipe, etc). That can also be used as just a water heater for showers and for distilling water.

Ethanol? Corn is such a crappy fuel. We put almost as much into it via petrochemicals (that also pollute the crap out of the Mississippi and turn the Gulf of Mexico into an algae bloom, killing off other species) that it’s a zero gain situation. And with world grain consumption and crop failures up (3 million acres of corn lost from these recent floods) you’re going to have food riots (already happening overseas) and all food prices are going to increase and stay high (see this article about the CEO of Nestle ). We could use switchgrass, but you’ve got farmers paid to raise corn, not switchgrass. Brazil is all ethanol based, and look what sugar production is doing to the Amazon.

That algae based idea would be great if they could get it into production. The return per acre would make the american southwest the algae ethanol king. Heck, Mexico could even be better than us in the Sonora states.

The author, James Howard Kunstler, writes about a lot of these technologies in his book “The Long Emergency”, which, while quite dour, is a potential vision of what we’re up against. I’ve already seen many of the ideas he espoused years ago in main stream media outlets (McMansions are the new ghettos, etc). (See his article in the Washington Post from May.)

I agree that a real President would get up and do a Kennedy-esque speech of energy independence before the next decade is out. Seeing as I don’t foresee Sen. McCain making it through the next decade, that leaves the only logical choice :) But it’s not just energy. It’s about sustainable human settlement patterns. It’s about bringing back victory gardens. It’s about effective mass transit. It’s about tearing down the temples of commerce sitting in seas of asphalt (e.g. malls, strip malls, etc) and building livable, walkable communities. It’s about reverting the way america lives to pre-WWII. It’s about family farming. It’s about sustainable agriculture.

I expect to see replays of the 1970s sooner rather than later, regardless of the direction taken by any President or Congress. We’ve already had rice rationing in some states. It’s like getting prepared for a massive hurricane that will leave you without power, food, or gas for years.

Man. I want a farm.

— End —

So yeah. Um. Discuss?

Thoughts on DC v. Heller

For those of you who do not follow large sweeping news stories, DC v. Heller is a Supreme Court case currently being heard that challenges that the District of Columbia’s firearms ban is in violation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution in the Bill of Rights. There’s been a lot of argument on both sides of this case, but reading Jack Landers’ Rule .303 Blog, he put for a good point last month:

DC’s gun ban is different from these other issues. This isn’t a grey area. This isn’t a question of regulations intended to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. The question is whether a local government can completely ban a right which is explicitly granted to the people in the Constitution.

Some would attempt to argue that when the founders wrote ‘the people,’ they were really referring to ‘the government.’ The idea is that the 2nd Amendment was only intended to establish that the government is allowed to have some kind of collective defense. However, this is a pretty scary type of logic if you apply it consistently. If we’ve decided that rights granted to ‘people’ in the Bill of Rights were actually granted to governments rather than to the people as individuals, then you can kiss your freedom goodbye.

‘The right of the people peaceably to assemble’? Nah, that just means that the government can hold meetings. They can arrest you for standing in a group and waving signs around.

How about the 4th Amendment?

‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.’

Huh. I guess that was just establishing that the government cannot be audited? Yeah, that’s it. The founders just wanted to prevent any of that pesky transparency in government.

It’s all pretty stupid, isn’t it? But this is where you end up going if you claim that the words ‘the people’ actually refer to the government rather than, you know, the actual people.

That is one of the best arguments I have heard to the definition of how the Bill of Rights was intended. If it is in fact a governmental right, then the entire premise of the Bill of Rights (which was based on the Virginia Bill of Rights ) is out the window.

Considering the brisk assault on personal liberty since 9-11, it’s not surprising that the interpretation of people to mean “state-regulated militia” has been put forth. It’s an argument of commas and intent. Is “a well regulated militia” a modifier or a separate statement?

Regardless of the outcome, I expect the justices to rule so narrowly as to only effect the legality or illegality of the DC regulation and avoid widespread chaos that would ensue from what many would see as an affront on their God-given rights.

Gun regulation doesn’t work. If someone wants to get a firearm, they will. Black markets have always existed for contraband. And then you have a populace scared and unable to defend themselves. Look at history to be your guide: one of the first things revoked in totalitarian regimes is the right to bear arms.

Rotoscope love from Bacon's Rebellion

I sent Jim Bacon an email last night asking about why the Virginia Railway Express had not utilized the westbound rail corridor heading out towards Charlottesville (and through a lot of the boom area in Fairfax and Loudoun counties) as a new line. For those of you who follow the Virginia transportation mess, and care about sustainable development, you really should check out Jim’s blog Bacon’s Rebellion Blog and his bi-weekly e-zine of Bacon’s Rebellion.

Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Jim saying that he had checked out Rotoscope (myspace) (via the link in my email signature) and liked it enough to put up a post on the Bacon’s Rebellion Blog. Looking at the comments, Waldo might have felt that he had stepped into the twilight zone when he opened up his RSS feed this morning.

I think I might need to gather my thoughts and write an article about the VRE

Obama's Speech and Michigan Shenanigans

!{border:1px solid black;} (Barack Obama, Photo by Justin Hankins)!

I’m on my way back from SXSW in Austin, somewhere between New Orleans and Atlanta on day 2 of our 4 day drive back. A lot of other blogging and links to post, but I couldn’t wait on this.

This morning Sen. Barack Obama gave a speech in Philadelphia about race and the concerns surrounding his former pastor’s sermons that were considered racist. I read the transcript during brunch in the French Quarter this morning and it gave me chills. The speech is absolutely phenomenal and eloquent. I can’t imagine many other politicians giving a speech like this, even if one was written for them. Watch the video and/or read the transcript.

Follow up: it appears as the overall consesnus is that Obama saved his campaign with the speech

The Michigan Debacle

In other election commentary, the Michigan revote issue is starting to build up steam, with the Clinton campaign stumping that Sen. Barack Obama is the hold up. They are also saying that if they do hold a re-election, anyone who voted in the GOP primary would be barred from voting. While I understand the logic in this as a national party rule, in Michigan it causes concern. Since the Democratic Primary was seen as a fluke due to the violation of the DNC rules (by moving the primary forward for purely promotional gains by the State), many candidates, including Sen. Obama, removed themselves from the ballot in order to not upset traditional primary states such as New Hampshire and Iowa. 1 Therefore, many independents and Obama supporters might have voted in the GOP primary, since the Democratic one was dead on arrival.

Michigan Democractic Chairman Mark Brewer, in a completely idiotic statement regarding why people who had voted, said

I regret that that might be the case, but it’s a national party rule and we have no choice but to follow it.

Huh, so, Mark, when it behooves your ego and your grand plan to increase media attention and therefore potential tax revenue in Michigan, the National party rules are more of a suggestion as opposed to the law. We get it. You’re just an ass.

If you’re going to have a revote, that’s fine. But since you’ve disenfranchised half the voting populous of your state by blatantly ignoring the rules, maybe you can re-enfranchise them by bending a little bit.

1 Talking Points Memo

Photo of Sen. Obama by Justin Hankins. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.