March, 2009 Monthly archive

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Canadian researchers uncovered a “vast electronic spying operation” coined GhostNet that was is apparently keeping tabs on the Dalai Lama and a bunch of other South Asain governmental agencies.  Below are some highlights, full story here, via the NYT.

In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved….

…The malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information, but “whaling” for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not know if this facet has been employed…

…The electronic spy game has had at least some real-world impact, they said. For example, they said, after an e-mail invitation was sent by the Dalai Lama’s office to a foreign diplomat, the Chinese government made a call to the diplomat discouraging a visit. And a woman working for a group making Internet contacts between Tibetan exiles and Chinese citizens was stopped by Chinese intelligence officers on her way back to Tibet, shown transcripts of her online conversations and warned to stop her political activities…

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On Glenn Beck’s radio program:

BACHMANN: Let me tell you, there’s something that’s happening this week in Congress that could be the eventual unravelling for our freedom, and it’s this. I had asked the Treasury Secretary and Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve Chair, if they would categorically denounce–

BECK: I know.

BACHMANN: –taking the United States off of the dollar and putting us on an international global currency. Because as you know, Russia, China, Brazil, India, South Africa, many national have lined up now and called for an international currency, a One World currency. And they want to get off the dollar as the reserve currency.

BECK: Most people don’t understand what that means.

BACHMANN: What that means is that all of the countries of the world would have a single currency. We would give up the dollar as our currency and we would just go with a One World currency. And now for the first time, we’re seeing major countires like China, India, Russia, countries like that, calling for a one world currency and they want this discussion to occur at the G20. So I asked both the Treasury Secretary and the Federal Reserve chair if they would categorically denounce this. The reason why is because if we give up the dollar as our standard, and co-mingle the value of the dollar with the value of coinage in Zimbabwe, that dilutes our money supply. We lose country over our economy. And economic liberty is inextricably entwined with political liberty. Once you lose your economic freedom, you lose your political freedom. And then we are no more, as an exceptional nation, as we always have been. So this is imperative.

It’s clear that Michele Bachmann doesn’t know what a reserve currency is.  Fortunately, Matt Yglesias does:

This falsehoods here are coming so fast and loose that it’s hard to know where to start here. But to get to the main point, most countries hold “reserves” of various kinds—foreign currency and gold. Most countries, right now, primarily hold dollars. Euros are also popular, and Yen and British Pounds somewhat less so. The United States of America does not, obviously, hold any dollars in our reserves. We actually have quite a lot of gold. And different countries vary their practices in this regard. But most countries mostly hold their reserves in dollars. So the dollar is, in effect, the “global reserve currency.” The IMF also issues something called Special Drawing Rights that countries can use as a reserve asset. SDRs work as a kind of meta-currency, with their value based on a basket of major world currencies. A Chinese official suggested that it might be good for the world to tilt away from such a heavy reliance on dollars as the reserve currency of choice, since this leaves countries exposed to policy decisions in the United States, and toward something more SDR-like that would be balanced between dollars and euros and yen and pounds and so forth.

This has nothing to do with replacing the dollars in your bank account—or Michele Bachmann’s—with a new currency. Nor would it be the creation of a One World Currency. And to be clear, while the United States could prevent the IMF from formally creating any kind of new internationalized reserve currency, there’s nothing we can do to stop foreign countries from weighting their reserve baskets away from dollars. It’s just not up to us.

What is unfortunate, however, is that Michele Bachmann is a congresswoman from Minnesota, and Matt Yglesias is not.  So, congratulations, sixth congressional district of Minnesota! You’re congresswoman is an idiot.

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Hot off the presses, from “The Republican Road to Recovery”

Democrats assume that the free-market system has failed and that a more robust federal government must now rescue the nation. The American people reject that notion and know, as Republicans do, that government has failed and that this financial crisis is the result of decades of misguided government policies that interfered with the free-market. In addition to a loose monetary policy by the Federal Reserve that fueled a housing boom, government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and federal mandates that weakened lending standards contributed to a perfect storm of government-induced failure.


The GOP is now a fringe party, full of fringe ideas, and occupied by fringe zealots.  It’s pure Austrian School garbage.

It should now be the goal of the Democratic party to pass the budget without a single Republican vote.  It certainly would make me feel better.  I don’t want anything in the budget that looks good to this group of out-of-touch, anti-information, market fundamentalists.


Nate provides a much lighter post.  Hilarious.

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This past holiday season, I was lucky enough to receive a desk calendar with daily cartoon jokes. “Why, what a great way to start the day!” you say, and I couldn’t agree more. There’s nothing better than kick starting your day with a chuckle or two.

About a month ago I decided to bring this unopened calendar into the office to share with my co-workers. After I busted open the box and tore out the old dates, I stood in shock as I read the lamest attempt at comedy. ever. There was no punchline, no humor, nothing. I put it on the table and hoped for a better one the next day. A month later and I’ve yet to laugh.

I’m going to share the next few days with you all so you can see what I mean. Maybe someone out there will find them funny.

Anyways, here is the one for today:

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Ezra Klein:

“I reject the notion that they key to future prosperity is the top marginal tax rate,” [Orszag] shot back. It’s a good line, and conceptually, an important statement of what separates the Obama administration’s economic philosophy from the Bush administration’s. If you think the drivers of growth are in the top one percent, and that top one percent is exquisitely sensitive to small changes in marginal tax rates, your policy proposals will be rather different than if you think prosperity and security for the broad middle is a more sustainable approach to growth.

I really like this framing.

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Sullivan repeats the usual conservative refrain when it comes to healthcare reform:

On healthcare, I’m not so sure. It’s hard to oppose the upgrade in information technology as a cost-saver. I can see the merits of getting more people insured. As long as any reform is careful to prevent the private sector being squeezed out of business, I’m open to persuasion. But I’m more cautious on this than most, I guess. I value the private healthcare system in the US, that, for all its faults, has innovated medicines that have saved my life.

This is one thing that I’ve never really understood or had explained to me.  I don’t understand how removing primary healthcare from the private sector stifles medical innovation.  The way I think about it, most medical innovation comes from new drugs, new equipment, and/or new procedures.  Which of these are performed/funded by insurance companies?  Am I wrong to say none?  I’m not a healthcare expert, but I don’t see where this comes into play.  It seems to me that Pfizer will still develop prescription drugs whether or not a private insurance company or the government is buying its pills, and the same goes for GE in developing a new MRI machine.  Switching to a public health care system would not stifle innovations in these fields any more than innovation in military weapons technology is stifled by the monopoly of the US Military.

As for new procedures, again I’m no health care expert, but isn’t the research for this mostly done at universities, funded by a mix of private foundations/corporations and government money?  So I still don’t see where insurance companies come in for any of this.  The only real argument you could make, in my opinion, for innovation by private insurance companies would be innovations for cost savings, but we know that this is definitely not happening.

The fact of the matter is that the only real innovations that private insurance companies make is finding new ways to screw people out of their coverage, which is why we need reform.


It appears Yglesias is on the same page:

The point that I think receives too little attention in the debate is the one about innovation rather than risk segmentation. At the moment, insurance companies primarily compete by getting better at risk segmentation—at avoiding the riskiest cases, and doing various kinds of price discrimination. We can and should regulate much of this away. But if that’s all we do, we’ll still have a situation in which the companies are trying to find new and more creative ways of doing risk segmentation. We’ll end up “overly dependent on government enforcement to achieve the goals of health reform,” playing an endless game of cat-and-mouse to see whether or not we’re actually achieving our policy objective of promoting health in a reasonably fair and cost-effective manner. Inserting a publicly managed enterprise into the framework lets us rely more on competition and less on regulatory mandates.

The way this works is that if the private plans can’t or won’t compete by offering innovation, value, and quality then the bureaucrats at the public plan should be able to beat them. That, in turn, creates incentives for the private sector to unleash its own imaginative powers on beating the bureaucrats. Otherwise, it’s just bureaucrats drawing up rules and then the private sector dully complying with the rules while working creatively to find loopholes.

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Some badass Italian doctor had a heart attack while performing brain surgery on someone, but finished the operation anyways.

Surgeon Claudio Vitale started feeling pains in his chest half way through the operation but refused to stop despite his team’s urging and the pain worsening.

[Full Story: here]

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If you’re feeling down and uninspired, you might need a new desktop background. Getting a new desktop background from the internet is like starting fresh; it’s like cleaning your room or making a new year’s resolution. It’s like saying to yourself, “today’s going to be different.” “from now on, I’m going to make the most of myself,” “I’m going to shower today.”

So dig in. Indulge. This is the new you you’ve been waiting for.

Go deep.

(1600 x 1200) | (1680 x 1050)


Try harder.

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Pay attention.

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[via TeamAsparagusTheBlog]

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I really like this series of commercials:

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Remember that game we used to play that (at least for me) was introduced by Nan…it was like ScattagoriesPictionary but you’d have a cycle of one person drawing a picture then the next person writing a blurb best describing it then having the next person draw a picture based off that blurb?

Well holy corndogs folks. Someone made a web-based game out of it.

Behold, BrokenPictureTelephone.

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This is even bad for you, Fox News.

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