Sunday, April 16, 2006

Did Exxon CEO Lee Raymond Inspire a Star Wars Alien?

Did Exxon CEO Lee Raymond Inspire a Star Wars Alien? The Post has some terrific evidence. Lucas named the alien Nute Gunray after Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan, whom he was intended to resemble. Maybe this was more of the same.

(For the uninitiated, the guy on the right is Twi'lek senator Orn Free Taa.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

What difference does public debate make when the administration has blockaded itself away from democracy?

There's never an unprovocative moment reading Glenn Greenwald, as he shows us again with his post, Does the debate over Iran matter? He makes the persuasive point that the participation we take for granted in democratic, national decision-making is made into a fool's errand by the administration's claims toward dictatorial powers.

In short, any debate over the proper pursuits of our government - including what to do about Iran - has to turn back into a debate over how democratic debate can once again matter in the guidance of our country. The only answer to that is to bring the administration under control, by Congress or the Supreme Court finally taking away the whiskey and shotguns figuratively away from Bush and literally away from Cheney, and telling the administration to shape up or ship out. And the best way to make that happen is to throw the Republican bums out of Congress this November.

As for Iran, Bush and Ahmedinejad are sordidly in each other's embrace now - each looking to the other to hurl feces and beat his chest, as the only hope of whipping up nationalist sentiment and salvaging his own clout at home.

I found a different interpretation, though, behind Mr. Greenwald's characterization that "The administration... sees its powers as being tantamount to those exercised by Abraham Lincoln..."

Actually, Bush has far surpassed the powers exercised by Lincoln, because the Constitution specifically provides that "Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it"; and furthermore, Lincoln wrote to Congress at the earliest reasonable opportunity asking it to retroactively authorize his actions - and thereby expressly acknowledged the supreme authority of Congress over the president's execution of his duties.

Yoo's and the DOJ's reading of the Constitution is willfully dishonest. No other possibility makes sense. Their position has been adopted because that's the legal advice Bush and Cheney were shopping for, in the same way their purported advice from their military commanders is only precisely the product of shopping for commanders willing to read them their fantasy script.

The Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to "make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution... all... Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof", which manifestly includes the President. Conversely, it specifically obligates the President to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" - those same Laws that Congress has the sole authority to "make all" of.

Even further, in case that wasn't clear enough, the Constitution grants Congress the additional, exclusive power "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces", above and beyond the exlusive power to make all laws governing the actions of the executive. "Rules for government and regulation" defines a lot more particular, intrusive, hands-on, micromanagement than "merely" having sole authority to "make all Laws" for carrying out the executive function.

To take one example, the rules for the Patent & Trademark Office mandate what sizes of paper you may (8&1/2x11 or A4) or may not (anything else) use to submit anything to the Office. There is little if any limit to the closeness and intimacy of control implied by a sole authority to make rules and regulations, in addition to just laws, to administer an organization.

Even with Congress authorized to make all rules for the military, the Founders had debated whether the military was too great a threat to democratic control of government, and debated adding to that clause, "provided that in time of peace the army shall not consist of more than thousand men." (Aug. 18, 1787, Constitutional Convention)

In his Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), Joseph Story explained that this clause was added without objection, and was motivated specifically to avoid the type of executive control of the military that they had seen so abused by King George of England: "The whole power is far more safe in the hands of congress, than of the executive; since otherwise the most summary and severe punishments might be inflicted at the mere will of the executive."

The President, the military, and the entire executive branch were intended by the Founders to be the humble handmaidens of Congress, the branch closest to the People. The gang in power now haven't exaggerated the Constitutional role of the president; they have declared open rebellion against it.

(This got a lot bigger than I'd planned on for a comment on Mr. Greenwald's site, so I cross-posted.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Clinical trials by for-profit companies are unscientific by definition

The Post reports on findings of systemic error in pharmaceutical trials sponsored by companies making the drug being tested, which lie squarely in the definition of Cargo Cult science. No one fluent in science can possibly be surprised by these results. The only question is why supposedly scientific experiments to compare the efficacy of different products are still given any thought at all; why the government acknowledges them, why any supposed scientist puts his name on them, why any supposed scientific or medical journal publishes results from them, when they are unscientific by definition. By that I mean, the definition of science includes at its core taking all possible steps to eliminate bias, to proactively investigate all possible sources of bias and do everything you can to root them out, out of recognition that human perception is slippery, and will always - always - skew interpretation of experimental results.

The Great Master said it best:

“But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in Cargo Cult Science… It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty – a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid – not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked – to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

“Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can – if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong – to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. …

“In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.” (Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, pp. 209-210.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Centrisity interviews Obama

Update on the Amy Klobuchar - Barack Obama rally: Centrisity got a great blog interview with Obama. Check it out.

The origins of patent law

Hat tip to Brad DeLong for pointing us to the new blog by Greg Mankiw.

One of his posts prompted me to make the following observation:

This article by Paul Romer is a great reference.

However, I have to take exception with his assertion that "The British invented patents and copyrights in the seventeenth century."

Aristotle in "Politics" criticizes what he says is a proposal by the architect Hippodamus of Miletus for the state to provide a system of rewards for those who make useful inventions. The first true patent law that we know of was an act passed by the Senate of Venice in 1474. It said in part,

"...every person who shall build any new and ingenious device in this City, not previously made in this Commonwealth, shall give notice of it to the office of our General Welfare Board when it has been reduced to perfection so that it can be used and operated. It being forbidden to every other person in any of our territories and towns to make any further device conforming with and similar to said one, without the consent and license of the author, for the term of ten years..."

Patent laws tended to spread throughout Europe from Italy after that, often with the express intention of luring Italian glass makers; most of the first patents granted by other governments were issued to Italians. Venice was followed by patent acts in various German principalities and France; then they were introduced in England by Elizabeth I's chief minister, William Cecil the Lord Burghley, again with the explicit intention of luring continental craftsmen to England.

James I abandoned the role of patents as rewards for new inventions, issuing them instead as monopolies for cronies on almost any kind of trade, prompting Parliament to pass the Statute of Monopolies of 1623, forbidding all grants of exclusive privileges, with a sole exception in section 6 for patents on new inventions to be issued "to the true and first inventor and inventors..." Similar laws were quickly picked up in the American colonies, and Massachusetts issued the first patent in America in 1641.

The Washington Post editorial page gets it horribly wrong again... this time about the NSA illegal domestic spying program

The Washington Post editorial page is perfectly dazzled by the administration's and its congressional enablers' campaign to make it seem like something is actually being done about the NSA illegal domestic spying program. While admitting that "critics have confidently denounced it as illegal" - not mentioning that that includes most Republicans and conservatives who have actually given it serious thought - and, in the understatement of the month award, that the administration has nothing but a "less-than-compelling legal theory" to back up their claim - the Post editorial is assured that all is well from pronouncements by a couple members of Congress that their briefings on the matter have had "great detail".

Worst, the Post echoes the groundless and ignorant conventional wisdom foisted from the desk of Karl Rove, that "It's impossible to assess whether the program is legal or lawless, important or abusive without a comprehensive understanding of what it is..."

That's just not the case; comparing what the administration has already admitted to against the law, makes it perfectly clear that the program is illegal; a massive, illegal and unconstitutional program engaged by our administration continuously for over four years.

What's more, the administration has also said it has no obligation to follow any laws, whether already on the books or anything Congress cooks up now that the illegal program is in the light. So despite the Post pointlessly venturing that "The goal should be for a bipartisan group of senators and representatives, literate in the program's details, to agree about whether it is legal and necessary -- and what to do about it...", the administration has already proclaimed that it doesn't give a barrelfull of quail shot what Congress decides to do about it at the end of all their pontificating.

One more worthless, somnambulant petard puffed out by the Washington Post editorial page to lull the unsuspecting readership into a false sense of complacency.

But then again, they didn't have any credibility left to lose by this point.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Senator Norm Coleman reminds me why this November is a single-issue election: Does the United States Constitution still mean anything?

congressional capitulation - see: Mike DeWine
I got a response from Norm Coleman to the letter I sent my two senators, him and Mark Dayton. It still blows me away that Coleman was first elected to public office (mayor of St. Paul) as a Democrat. Coleman wasted no time playing the war and terror card:

Dear Mr. ...,
Thank you for taking the time to contact me concerning S. Res. 398, a resolution to censure President George W. Bush.

I reject the idea of the President being censured. We must keep in mind that we are a nation at war and a country under threat of terrorist attacks. ...

That's a convenient way to cut off debate - except that neither Coleman nor any other enabler of the new monarchy has even tried to explain how spying without warrants contributes anything at all to national security compared with surveillance under FISA.

He continues:

I believe we must explore this matter deliberately and not use it for partisan political purposes. After careful consideration of the legal and security issues involved, I support the National Security Agency (NSA) Terrorist Surveillance Program[®].

So his need for deliberate exploration of the program was apparently satisfied with his unelaborated careful consideration of the legal and security issues involved. If they satisfy him, I sure wish he would take the time to explain them to me, because from where I'm sitting it sure looks like the President is breaking the law and violating the Constitution.

Joined to the hip with the all-purpose war and terror card is the blanket accusation that any criticism is just for "partisan political purposes". I guess it's inevitable that any effective manner of redressing the administration's law-breaking would reduce the political standing of the administration and its allies relative to those opposing them to defend the Constitution. Since that's inevitable, then any action taken against any crime or corruption could be just as fairly labeled as for "partisan political purposes". If it's a choice between a criminal government and the partisan political purpose of those who oppose it, I'll take the partisans.

Coleman goes on to extoll the virtues of the seven-member Congressional Capitulation Subcommittee in providing greater Constitutional oversight of the illegal domestic spying program, in which the seven senators will have all the authority of adorable fuzzy little teddy bears to investigate and exercise oversight of the program, as I discussed earlier.

Jack Balkin has another powerful post on the administration's self-anointment as a monarchy: while it's dismaying to learn from Abu Gonzales now that the administration is spying on purely domestic communications, it's also completely unsurprising based on the power they've already claimed: namely, the power to wake up every day and decide what the law will be that day. The very definition of a dictator is one who dictates: one who says what the law is from day to day, so that the only law is the dictator's word. It can't at all surprise us that they claim under that power to be entitled to spy on purely domestic communications, because they have already claimed the power to make what the law is a new surprise every day.

That's just the point here, the point that has not yet sunk into the popular consciousness of the Bush power grab: this is not just about spying.

This is about never again being certain what law the administration might or might not feel itself constrained to follow from one day to the next.

Once the President reserves for himself the power to ignore any law that he personally decides isn't compatible with his office, who can possibly say what law we might still be able to rely on? Or what rights, if any, we still have, that the administration does not feel free to ignore?

That is why this November is a single-issue election, with one issue so important that all other questions are insignificant in comparison:

Is our government still based on the United States Constitution? Or is it based only on the whims of what can only be called a dictator?

The entire Republican party has apparently aligned itself with unlimited presidential powers and devoted itself to enabling that coup d'etat from within, allowing the Democratic party by default to become just that, in far more than name: Democratic, as in the party of Democracy - and the only major party on the ballot supporting Democracy as the form of our government.

Even many in the Democratic party have not stood up against dictatorship and for Democracy - but many in the Democratic party have done so, and they will command the consensus once in power. So, the most important task we can accomplish right now is to vote out the legislators supporting a government that declares for itself what the law is and what our rights are, if any, from one day to the next; and to fill the Congress with lawmakers - enough to take control of one or both houses - who are loyal to the United States Constitution and who will defend the United States as a Democracy.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

"Senator Feingold makes standing on principle and demanding accountability seem so effortless"

VoxMía has a transcript of a terrific barrage Feingold unleashed on Faux News: "...when the president breaks the law and doesn’t admit that he’s broken the law, and then advances theories about being able to override the law on torture... what he’s trying to do is change the nature of our government..."

Blogging the Amy Klobuchar - Barack Obama Rally

I went to today's Amy Klobuchar - Barack Obama Rally in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Mark Dayton was there too - I haven't seen two senators together in person since I was in New Hampshire.

Amy Klobuchar was great, and she'll make a great senator. Anyone who wants this country back on track should donate to her campaign, here.

Minnesota is ranked by the Cook Political Report as the only toss-up among Senate seats currently held by Democrats, but Klobuchar looks like a tough campaigner with broad appeal among Minnesotans. There's an outstanding chance the Democrats will not lose a single seat, while picking up the six rated as toss-ups from the Republicans. And if John Kyl's new perpetration of fraud on the U.S. Supreme Court in collusion with the DOJ, and/or a new indictment related to the incident, gets some legs among Arizona voters, the Democrats may get to pad their new Senate majority.

Obama was a thrill to listen to live, clapping amid five thousand other supporters, in a way you don't get from watching on a screen. He quoted Martin Luther King, our twentieth century Founding Father, several times, to define the positive vision of the America we are striving for - one where an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Obama also said he wouldn't have thought he'd be citing Newt Gingrich, but then he made good on Gingrich's wry observation that the Democrats would have a stellar slogan with simply, "Had enough?" Obama turned it into a litany: Had enough of spending $400 billion on a war that has made us less safe? Had enough of exploding the amount of debt ordinary Americans owe to Chinese and South Korean and Japanese central bankers, so the rich can get tax breaks to make them even richer? Had enough of warrantless wiretapping and the trampling of civil liberties?

...Well now that you put it like that... yeah, I sure have had enough.

He also compared the current administration's approach to a teenager with a six-pack and the keys to his dad's car: "There's no adult supervision in the White House today!" He got a huge reaction to that.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Maybe Bush just wants to get impeached so he can go home already

Cenk Uygur has another of his wittily written great ideas: maybe Bush is doing all he can to get impeached, because he's just tired and wants to go home and get back to a fun job, like clearing brush. It would certainly explain a whole lot... it almost makes too much sense not to be true.

If only he didn't have a Congress so exasperatingly dense: "Sheesh, what do I have to do to finally get you guys to haul me in before an impeachment hearing?"

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Harry Taylor's Freedom of Speech

" my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by my leadership in Washington..."

Read about Harry Taylor, American citizen and omen of the meltdown, putting the leader of the free world in his place.

Thanks to Sauntering for putting these two side by side.

P.S. Interesting strategy Bush is using, sarcastically laughing off this kind of criticism - along the same lines as Cheney continuing to keep his marksmanship fresh in everyone's memory with flippant humor about having shot someone in the face. What a pal.

IPthoughts: The Risks of Being a Patent Attorney

Hat tip to Patently O for pointing out the new patent attorney blog IPthoughts - which has an interesting post on the explosion of potential liability for patent prosecutors. The blogger - a very seasoned practitioner - questions whether becoming a patent prosecutor is even worth the risk anymore! But it's true that patent prosecutors face a potential liability far out of proportion with probably any other field.

Consider the recent Blackberry settlement. Can you imagine if the parties had been negotiating a settlement that established the value of a patent at $612.5 million - but then RIM had been able to pull an invalidity holding out of the court? I'm sure the original prosecutor of NTP's patents was not having a pleasant time until the signatures were on that settlement.

Here's a cross-post of my comment at IPthoughts:

The chances of this are not infinitessimal - it happened to a co-worker of a brother of a co-worker of mine (got that?).

It also points out the ridiculously disproportionate potential liability of patent prosecutors compared to any other field, even surgeons. Which suggests that there should be some kind of solution: statutory relief for patent prosecutor liability.

No nuclear power plant would ever have been able to have been built if not for government-provided catastrophic liability coverage under the Price-Anderson Act. Government-provided catastrophic care coverage is often mentioned as an important component in restraining the explosive growth of private health insurance costs. Needless to say, the plight of patent prosecutors hasn't gotten quite the public or media attention, but government-provided catastrophic liability coverage for patent attorneys is the only way I see of ensuring fairness for patent attorneys and preventing gross distortions in the labor market.

It would not only be important to patent attorneys; a strong case could be made that the threat of such catastrophic liability is already restricting the labor market for patent prosecutors by intimidating many potential workers from pursuing the field - this post and several of the comments on it are evidence of that. This restriction on the labor market in turn drives up the costs for an inventor to seek patent protection, a burden likely to fall disproportionately on small businesses, which as we often hear, are responsible for two thirds of the job creation in this country.

So, time to lobby for a Job Creation Protection Act of 2006, to include a patent prosecutor version of the Price-Anderson Act. Every entity with an interest in facilitating the patent system and keeping down the costs of prosecuting patents should want to get behind this.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"Strategery" for seeking accountability for the warrantless domestic spying program

Anonymous Liberal has a great discussion at Unclaimed Territory on how best to go about seeking to hold the administration accountable for the illegal warrantless domestic spying program. He's got some terrific ideas, though I disagreed with him on a few points:

As for the question of retroactive effect of any new legislation baptizing the warrantless domestic spying, this would make a standing argument more difficult, but I don't think impossible. The administration would still have spent four and a half years continuously violating a criminal statute; those who were subject to it are still victims of a crime (and those who have reasonable suspicion of having been victims still have the same argument that the secrecy of the program necessitates compelled discovery); and while they arguably lose the ability to seek injunction as a remedy, they could still seek compensation and punitive damages for having been the victim in the past.

Even then, I think they would still have a reasonable argument to seek an injunction under the argument that the administration ignored the statute before and claimed the right to do so, so it is likely that they are continuing to violate the terms even of the new legislation, whatever form it takes.

And as for the political inability of Congress to discipline the executive, instead waiting to defer to the courts: I think Congress could and should do so without waiting for the courts. This assumes the Democrats take control of one or both houses this fall, as is likely. Politically it may polarize committed Republicans, but I think past experience with Clinton particularly has ingrained on us an overbroad understanding of political risk, when the facts were very different. Clinton was a very popular president who was impeached for an offense only obliquely related to his office. Stonewall Jackson also enjoyed far more popular support and committed a far less offensive act than Bush before Jackson was censured. Bush and Cheney are deeply unpopular with the general electorate, and their offense is against the core of the rule of law and the Constitutional separation of powers. Their situation is not comparable to those of the past. Never before has a president openly claimed the power to ignore the law.

The real problem is they have still successfully framed the NSA scandal as a debate on national security. We need to reframe the argument in the popular understanding: The law already provided an eminently effective way to gather intelligence on domestic telephone lines. The warrantless domestic spying program did nothing at all to add to, and is irrelevant to, our national security. Rather, this is strictly a debate about the rule of law and the Constitutional separation of powers: is the President bound to faithfully execute the law as the Constitution mandates, or has the Constitution been replaced by whatever secret legal memos the President orders up from the OLC from one month to the next.

If the public and Congress understand the debate in this, its true nature, there will be no political price at all outside of further alienating the fairly small immoveable core of GOP-according-to-Bush loyalists who are apparently going to be alienated anyway by any development away from Bush reigning as a dictator.

Beyond that, even the general understanding that Congress must wait for the courts to hold the president accountable is a reflection of the dangerous erosion of Congress's powers that has been in progress for decades. The Founders intended Congress to be the pre-eminent branch, authorized not coincidentally in the very first article of the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention discussed the possibility of Congress appointing and dismissing executives as they were needed to accomplish discrete tasks. One of their long-running debates was whether to have a single chief executive or a group of co-equal top executives, and the terms of the debate centered on which option would be weaker and more easily accountable to the Congress; it was because they decided a single chief executive that would meet these conditions that they went with that option (see e.g. the record for June 1 and June 4, 1787). Other democracies have little problem calling new elections and replacing their prime minister when they grow dissatisfied with the one in office. Our office of president is different, and is impeachable only for high crimes and misdemeanors. Still, the double condition implies that it is not only high crimes, but also misdemeanors, i.e. minor crimes, that should disqualify the president from remaining in power. We should get used to treating our chief executive as firmly accountable to the legislative branch as other democracies do and as the Founders intended for our own nation. Continuing to treat Congress as unable to check the authority of the President, even if for chiefly political reasons, can only further cement this precedent as a self-fulfilling prophecy.