2010-04-16 – Reading

A History of the Polticization of Washington Think Tanks

Intresting to see this explination of the think tank ecosystem. I would of loved to have heard how much of the same stuff was happening to the more liberal leaning ones.

What People actually Pay in Income Tax vrs. Popular Perception

It’s hard to take the Tea Party Protesters seriously when they seem to live in an alternate reality.

Getting the ical/ics feed from a King County Library

I’ve been working on being an event calendar curator ala Jon Udell’s system and was stuck getting a good calendar feed from the King Country Library System for my local Snoqualmie library. As in most projects, you start with some HTML page of calendar entries. In this case a search for Snoqualmie Library leads to this URL:

http://eventinfo.kcls.org/evanced/lib/eventcalendar.asp?ag=&et=&list&cn=0&private=0&ln=36

Which is missing the ICS feed. So the next step in the process is to try fusecal, which had done the trick many times before. However this time the page formatting was preventing fusecal from having useful event titles.

Today I came back and looked at the problem afresh. My first thought was that I could have something scrape the VCS links on the page and build a ical, but I really didn’t want to own any automation on my own servers (and I wasn’t ready yet to write a service on something like azure). So I poked into the link to the software maker of this calandar: Evanced. Fortunately there I discovered that some ical feature had been added to an eventsxml.asp. Putting that on the KCLS url I got:

http://eventinfo.kcls.org/evanced/lib/eventsxml.asp

Yay, I can see one event in XML. This is progress. Some sample code for client side rendering of eventsxml.asp gave me a couple parameters to try:

http://eventinfo.kcls.org/evanced/lib/eventsxml.asp?dm=xml&lib=all&alltime=1&nd=14

The next step was to filter to my specific library. Back on the HTML page there was one url parameter that seemed to be relevant; that ln=36. On the eventsxml.asp the same parameter doesn’t work, but lib=all was a tempting place to put my magic number “36:

http://eventinfo.kcls.org/evanced/lib/eventsxml.asp?dm=xml&lib=36&alltime=1&nd=14

Bingo! Now I’ve got a nice xml feed for local library. However I need ics. and trying dm=ics didn’t work. Remember back to the feature list calling it ical, I tried

http://eventinfo.kcls.org/evanced/lib/eventsxml.asp?dm=ical&lib=36&alltime=1&nd=60

Which along with the North Bend, Carnation, Fall City and Duvall is now in my delicious events curator list for Snoqualmie valley.

2009-02-08 – Economic Tidbits

  • Apparently Republican Economic Theory has returned to the Treasury View which is summed up as “Government spending crowds out private spending or investment, and thus has no net impact.” which is sorta weird since it’s a return to the macro-economic theory of the 1920/30s.
  • We dodged a bullet called Bush’s Social Security Privatization which had an implicit assumption that 1) the market only goes up on a 10 year basis and 2) you can trust the risk evaluations of securities. Both of which has been proven false in this current crises.
  • The recent crises is destroying the illusion of increasing wealth/lifestyle afforded by credit. This leaves the stagnation of medium incomes, which demonstrates that trickle-down theory is BS.

Random Links for 2008/01/22

  • Lilly’s Big Day
    I’m left speechless that the republican version of being business friendly is to attempt to uphold a technicality that destroys such a common sense law (capped at $300,000 btw).
  • A Stimulus For Today And Tomorrow, And That’s OK

    the Director of the CBO estimated the multipliers for both "purchases of goods and services by the federal government" and transfers to states for infrastructure spending at 1-2.5, for transfers to persons at 0.8-2.2, and for "temporary, well-targeted tax cuts" at 0.5-1.7.

  • Principles of the American Cargo Cult
    A set of underlying popular media assumptions.
  • Life at Wall Mart
    A wired chief gets a different view of Wall Mart employment. I’d have to say that I think he focuses exclusively on the positive in the assumption you’ve read the negative in a different book.
  • On the Slate Political Gabfest this week, they did a good job explaining the disincentives for republicans to work or vote for any stimulus. However after years of ignoring fiscal responsibility, it’s bizarre to malicious to swing so hard the other way on a stimulus bill in the midst of such a problematic economy. Even worse is to again show that they only have one “solution” to any situation.
  • Airlines Defining Anyone Disruptive as Terrorists
    This was 100% predictable.

Turnabout?

Regarding the message “There’s probably no God".” on 800 London Buses (in response to a religious one telling people to look up a biblical verse telling them they are going to hell), there was a woman tourist from LA is quoted: “I think it’s dreadful,”  … ”Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I don’t like it in my face.”

I really enjoy the irony, and the bonus irony that the “probably” was added to meet advertising guidelines.

Snoqualmie I-90 Exit

One of the not so good things about living out in Snoqualmie Ridge is that we share an exit with the north end of 18, a bypass around Seattle and frequent location for traffic backed up onto the highway, which has actually led to a number of accidents and I believe a few deaths. The government has done a lot of work on the exit, making everything two lanes, having left versus right turn lanes, etc. However the problem of all the traffic heading south on 18 from Eastbound I90 remained and cutting over at the last minute could get you some nasty honking and a ticket. Until a couple days ago that is. Thanks to some quick work, the right lane of the highway is exit only with the next lane an optional exit directly into the left turn lane.

NIST on Electronic Voting

The NIST has released a draft white paper on electronic voting machines. Washington Post summarizes:

Paperless electronic voting machines used throughout the Washington region and much of the country “cannot be made secure,” according to draft recommendations issued this week by a federal agency that advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

NIST says in its report that the lack of a paper trail for each vote “is one of the main reasons behind continued questions about voting system security and diminished public confidence in elections.” The report repeats the contention of the computer security community that “a single programmer could ‘rig’ a major election.”

Fears about rigging have animated critics for years, but there has been no conclusive evidence that such fraud has occurred. Electronic voting systems have had technical problems — including unpredictable screen freezes — leaving voters wondering whether their ballots were properly recorded.

Computer scientists and others have said that the security of electronic voting systems cannot be guaranteed and that election officials should adopt systems that produce a paper record of each vote in case of a recount. The NIST report embraces that critique, introducing the concept of “software independence” in voting systems.

NIST says that voting systems should not rely on a machine’s software to provide a record of the votes cast. Some electronic voting system manufacturers have introduced models that include printers to produce a separate record of each vote — and that can be verified by a voter before leaving the machine — but such paper trails have had their own problems.

What's going on in the world

  • Seymour Hersh documents the battle in between Bush’d administration and the military branches over Iran policy.
  • Political slogans were once again turned in poor law, this time proving your citizenship for Medicaid.
  • Hadman proves the point that “conservative judges” are more idoligical then constitutional. It’s feels good to know that we haven’t lost the american system of government yet. Yes it’s easier to bypass the law when we don’t like its consequences and possibities, but that is not the America most of us cherish so much. 

Happy July 4th!

State Secrets

Henry Lanman over at slate is discussing the ramp up of the federal governments use of the state secret privledge. While it’s a fundamentally reasonable privilege, the ways it’s getting used to block investigation of possible illegal behavior is worrying. It doesn’t add confidence to learn that the original case in which the doctrine was confirmed by the Supreme Court turned out to be the Air Force using the tool not to safe guard secrets but to avoid damning proof of negligence.

Despite the burgeoning use of this privilege and the way it’s been used to gut entire cases, the most disturbing aspect of the Bush administration’s expansion of the state secrets privilege may well be this: More and more, it is invoked not in response to run-of-the-mill government negligence cases but in response to allegations of criminal conduct on the part of the government. These are not slip-and-fall cases. They are challenges to the administration’s broad new theories of unchecked executive power. By using the state secrets privilege to shut down whole lawsuits that would examine government actions before the cases even get under way, the administration avoids having to give a legal account of its behavior.

Washington Post:
The state secrets privilege was invoked about 55 times from 1954 to 2001, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and in the first four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it was invoked 23 times.

It feels like the system is broken. The judicial branch and the legislative branches are already unable to keep up their end of the check and balances system, and yet there are some that continue to support a more powerful executive branch under the excuse of the war on terrorism?

On the other side of the coin, let’s say that legislative and judicial branches did counterbalance with the result of a weaker State Secret privilege. This may be just as bad because there really are some things that need it. The administration still hasn’t learned the lesson of the boy who cried wolf. When you abuse a powerful tool, you lose that tool.

Whenever the next scandal comes around remember there are three sins bore from it. First is the scandal itself. Second is loss of trust of our leaders and institutions. Third is the damage done to our government in the abuses of power afterwards to stop the story or limit its damage.

By claiming state secret, we have more or less confirmed the Khalid el-Masri extraordinary rendition story. These extraordinary renditions make up sin one. The loss of soft power and public trust in us doing these things is sin two. Finally weakling the State Secret power in trying to use it (ineffectively) to cover up what was done is Sin three.

Which brings back a final note: One of the more sickening aspect of republican’s current spin strategy is that it tries to assign blame of the second sin to the media and then focus on that as if the primary sin didn’t exist and that the owner of the first sin has no responsibility for the second. This is my new concept is my new term for the day; when I hear another “Why is this media printing this!” comment, I will simply remember: The Second Sin

The strategic scorecard for the US in Iraq

Here is a relativly concise and damning evaluation of the Iraq War by Anthony Cordesman of CSIS as posted on The Washington Note and linked to by Obsidian Wing:

“The Iraq War Three Years On: A Scorecard Anthony H. Cordesman

Let me preface the following points with the statement that I do not oppose the war, and that I believe we have an obligation to the Iraqi people to pursue our current strategy, to try to end the insurrection and prevent civil war, and help them create an inclusive and stable government.

I believe that we have made major advances in creating effective Iraqi forces, that the US Embassy is pursuing the best political approach it can in trying to create the government Iraq needs, and that we are making slow progress towards taking the aid process out of disastrously incompetent US hands in Washington and making Iraqis responsible for their own economic progress.

But, this should not blind us to the strategic consequences of the war to date. We may well fail in all our efforts because they came far too slowly, involved years of inept execution, and face a scale of problems that we still tend to deny. There is a real risk that Iraq will degenerate into full-scale civil war or a level of divisiveness that will paralyze or limit Iraq’s progress for years to come.

It is also clear that creating a unity government with a small Sunni minority isn’t going to stop the insurrection or risk of a major civil war during 2006, and perhaps for years to come. At best, it will take years to create a fully stable and functioning new political structure and defeat the insurgency.

As a result, I believe it is time to look quite frankly at the war in terms of how it has achieved it is original its objectives after three years, and consider what this means the need to avoid rushing into wars we do not really understand or prepare for in the future:

Objective One: Get Rid of Iraqi WMD Threat: Happened before the war. The main stated objective of the war was pointless.

Objective Two: Liberate Iraq: Security for the average Iraq is now worse, and the new political freedom is essentially freedom to vote for sectarian and ethnic divisions. Some progress to be sure, but much more limited than the Administration claims. It will be 2007-2008 at the earliest before stability can be established — if it can. We essentially used a bull to liberate a china shop, without any meaningful plan to deal with the consequences. We have tried to fix the resulting problems, but we still don’t know whether we can salvage our early mistakes.

Objective Three: End the Terrorist Threat in Iraq: There was no meaningful threat in the first place. Neo-Salafi terrorism now dominates the insurgency and is a far worse threat. Al Qaida now has serious involvement in Iraq. The impact on the region has alienated many Arabs and Muslims and has aided extremists. It has given Iran leverage that has added a new risk of Shi’ite extremism.

Objective Four: Stabilize the Gulf Region and Middle East: The war has been extremely divisive. It has created a major new source of anger against the US and new tensions over the US presence. Iran, Turkey, and neighboring Arab states have all become involved in destabilizing ways.

Objective Five: Ensure Secure Energy Exports: There have been consistently lower Iraqi exports than under Saddam. The predicted increases in Iraqi production have never occurred, and will not for years to come. There has been no meaningful renovation of oil fields and export facilities and serious further wartime disruption. The previous problems have spilled over into the other Gulf exporting states.

Objective Six: Make Iraq a Democratic Example that Transforms the Middle East: Iraq is not a model of anything. Public opinion polls in region show that our efforts at reform to date have created new Arab fears of US, and distrust of US efforts at reform in other countries.

Objective Seven: Help Iraq Become a Modern Economy: The flood of wartime, oil for food, and aid money has put tens of billions of dollars into the Iraqi economy and raised the GDP and per capita income on paper. So have record oil revenues. Even the latest US quarterly report, however, has oil not only dominating the GDP, but rising as a percentage in the future. Most new businesses are shells, starts ups or war related. Youth unemployment easily averages more than 30% nationwide and is 40-60% in the trouble Sunni areas. As yet, no meaningful sectoral reform in agriculture, state industries, or the energy sector. A shift to focused short term aid and letting the Iraqis manage more of the money may help, but largely a wasteful, highly ideological and bureaucratic failure.

In short, being a superpower is not enough. Fighting wars requires both a realistic grand strategy and the ability to implement it.

We may salvage the Iraq War on a national level, but there is little or no chance of salvaging the war in terms of our broader strategic objectives.”