Mahmoud Tabei Brings the Harlem Shake to Politics

 Tunisian Harlem Shake Protest - Feb 27, 2013

From Amar Toor at The Verge:

After months of political unrest, Tabei says he and his friends see the “Harlem Shake” meme not only as a platform for their message of reform, but as a way to “raise the hopes and spirits” of an increasingly frustrated opposition movement.

Tabei isn’t alone, either. As the nonsensical trend passes its saturation point in the West, it’s evolving into a distinctly more political phenomenon in both Egypt and Tunisia, where students and opposition movements have re-appropriated Baauer’s bass-heavy anthem as a rallying cry for reform — much to the chagrin (and perhaps befuddlement) of conservative authorities.

This is certainly a case where the medium is the message

While the excessive virality of the “Harlem Shake” and Gangnam Style can make them all too pervasive in Western media, dissidents like Mahmoud Tabei and his compatriots raise hope as they appropriate the web’s tools and culture to promote social and political change.

Of course, the fact that these gatherings lead to arrests and tear gas, as in the case of 75 Tunisian high school students, show just how much work still needs to be done in the name of an open political and civil society in much of the Middle East.

Ultimately, though, Tabei remains realistic about the chances of a viral video resulting in any substantive change. After having already seen seven of his friends killed since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the teenager is markedly disillusioned with his country’s revolution. Publicity aside, he says a fundamental goal of his group’s “Harlem Shake” movement is to simply build morale — a way to “refresh our minds in order to continue with our larger struggle.”

That last point is where the “Harlem Shake” protests become fundamentally different from many other acts of civil disobedience: mixing fun and freedom with political expression.

75 prominent Republicans come out in support of gay marriage

The New York Times:

The Proposition 8 case already has a powerful conservative supporter: Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under Mr. Bush and one of the suit’s two lead lawyers. The amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief is being filed with Mr. Olson’s blessing. It argues, as he does, that same-sex marriage promotes family values by allowing children of gay couples to grow up in two-parent homes, and that it advances conservative values of “limited government and maximizing individual freedom.”

Legal analysts said the brief had the potential to sway conservative justices as much for the prominent names attached to it as for its legal arguments. The list of signers includes a string of Republican officials and influential thinkers — 75 as of Monday evening — who are not ordinarily associated with gay rights advocacy, including some who are speaking out for the first time and others who have changed their previous positions.

The times are certainly a-changing. The Republican Party needs to keep moving in this direction if it’s going to stay relevant – as the article mentions, roughly 70 percent of voters under 30 believe that gay marriage should be legal.

Republicans could even use this tactic to undermine Democrats on key youth issues, like the War on Drugs. I’m willing to bet a lot of people would be swayed by a small government argument: the government shouldn’t be interfering with what people do with their bodies, we should cut wasteful DEA spending on less harmful drugs like marijuana, etc.

These next few years are going to be very interesting.

The fall of Republican realism

Aaron David Miller:

And one of the reasons is that Barack Obama has cornered their market and stolen pages from the GOP playbook. Obama has become a George H.W. Bush realist when it comes to avoiding ideological overreach, and a much more effective and less ideological version of Bush the younger too: willfully surging in Afghanistan, killing Osama, and whacking 10 times the number of bad guys with drones than his predecessor. He may well be the American president who just doesn’t talk about containing Iran’s nuclear program, but uses military power against it. One reason the Chuck Hagel fight has been so bitter is that former senator is the poster child for a Republican realism that some in the party detest. In many ways, that nomination fight says more about the state of the Republican Party than it does about the Hagel candidacy itself.

How much longer can the Republican party go on actively opposing its own members who try to base their policies on reality and reason? How far must a party fall before the public stops giving them the time of day?

Raising Medicare eligibility age to 67 would cost patients twice as much as it would save the government

Medicare retirement age: Raising Medicare eligibility age to 67 would cost patients twice as much as it would save the government—don’t do it. – Slate Magazine:

The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that lifting the eligibility age from 65 to 67 would reduce federal spending by about $5.7 billion in its first year of full implementation. But that would be offset by $11.4 billion in spending by other parties. That includes $3.7 billion in higher costs for 65- and 66 year-olds, $4.5 billion from employers through company-sponsored insurance, $0.7 billion from state governments, and $2.5 billion in higher average prices for third parties once younger seniors are shifted out of the Medicare risk-pool and into the general population.

That’s an absurd means of saving the federal government money—akin to raising $12 billion in taxes and then setting half the money on fire. The only people who actually benefit from this shift are health care providers who get to charge higher prices to 65- and 66-year-olds.

Rather than shrinking Medicare, we ought to be taking advantage of the program’s lower costs. One way to do that would be to lower the retirement age—potentially all the way down to zero—and bring more people into the program. That would reduce system-wide costs but require higher taxes or bigger deficits. A more viable idea would be to bring back the “public option” concept that liberals were forced to drop from Obamacare. The idea here was that the new insurance exchanges that will be set up in 2014 should have an option that’s linked to Medicare and its payment rates. The Congressional Budget Office says such a public option could save the government about $68 billion in reduced subsidies over 10 years, while also reducing out-of-pocket costs. Alternatively, you could structure the option as a formal offer to let non-seniors “buy in” to Medicare with the same mix of personal funds and government subsidies that Obamacare envisions being used for private plans.

More important than how much the government spends on health care is how much everybody spends on health care. If you take people who normally would be on Medicare and force them to continue using private plans, their costs will be much, much higher. The reality is that having everyone be covered by Medicare/a public option would cost everyone less overall.

Americans don’t mind the use of drones

Sorry Guys, Americans Love Obama’s Killer Drones | VICE:

The thing is, they’re in the minority, and few people in power have paid much attention to them. Sure, most voters, according to a Fairleigh-Dickinson poll, don’t think that it’s legal to assassinate American citizens abroad (even if you’ve never heard of drones, that’s got to sound like a pretty awful prospect), but take away the “American citizen” part of that question and voters are like, “Oh, sure, kill whoever.” In fact, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll, Americans are perfectly happy with the way Obama is running the war on terror. They like the fact that he’s kept Guantanamo Bay open, even though he said he’d close it—53 percent of Democrats feel terrific about him breaking that particular campaign promise. A whopping 83 percent of Americans and 77 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats approve of Obama’s use of drones to kill people. And remember, the administration has refused to discuss its drone policies in detail so these people are supporting a policy they have no way of understanding beyond, Terrorists bad. We kill bad people.

I’ll admit that I prefer the use of drones to sending in troops when it comes to helping to overthrow dictatorships in the Middle East, if I have to choose between the two. But there’s a difference between that and using drones to spy on and kill American citizens. That’s breaking the trust that Americans should be able to have with their government.

CBO: Government austerity has hurt the economy

gap between gdp and potential gdp

Austerity Has Harmed The Economy According To CBO | TPMDC:

In other words, intentional efforts to reduce annual deficits and stabilize the debt are working. But if you retrain your gaze from the government’s balance sheet to the real economy, you’ll see the impact of that austerity is fewer people working and slower growth. According to CBO, the recovery won’t really pick up steam until next year, and the economy won’t have recovered until the end of 2017, when it will reach its output potential, and unemployment will fall to 5.5 percent.

Austerity does not work. Austerity hurts the economy. Duh.

At least Obama gets to say he accomplished a campaign promise:

The report does contain a thin silver lining for President Obama, who pledged in his 2008 campaign to halve the deficit in his first term.

“At an estimated $845 billion, the 2013 imbalance would be the first deficit in five years below $1 trillion; and at 5.3 percent of GDP, it would be only about half as large, relative to the size of the economy, as the deficit was in 2009,” if current laws don’t change, according to CBO.

This isn’t a real victory. A real win for Obama would have been getting unemployment down below 7% during his first term and fixing the long-term deficit via adjustments to Social Security and Medicare.

Crime rate falling in Mexico City

mexico city crime falls drug cartels

From Bullets to Bistros: the Mexico City Miracle – Nathaniel Parish Flannery – The Atlantic:

Mexico City was once feared as being the most dangerous city in the planet. A new network of security cameras, and a focus on community police-work and patrols, have helped entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, and young professionals out of a decade of stalled urban renewal programs, and fostered the emergence of a vibrant nightlife. As street gangs have receded to fringe neighborhoods, crime has fallen, and many late night partiers have a different concern: the fear of being detained at the breathalyzer checkpoints.

[…]

“Accidents caused by drunk drivers are down 30 percent,” Perez said. Other types of crime have fallen as well. In 2012, the U.S. Department of State dropped its “critical crime level” warning for Mexico City. Police patrols, security cameras, and a relentless focus on reducing crime in in upper-middle-class neighborhoods such as Polanco, Condesa, and La Roma have helped change the city. In particular, the alcoholímetro anti-drunk driving program has been a success. “People think it’s annoying, but it really works, it’s lowered the number of drunk driving accidents,” Eduardo Guerrero said. In recent years Mexico City has also achieved impressive reductions in assaults, robberies, and violent crime. In 2011, inter-gang conflicts in Mexico City, the largest urban hub in the country, accounted for about 1 percent of the total number of drug-related murders reported in Mexico.

It’s nice to see that progress can still be made in a country with so many problems. Of course, much more could be done if the Mexican cartels weren’t so powerful. Which means hitting them where it hurts: their wallets. How do we do that? By legalizing marijuana.

What’s Happening With Immigration Reform, Explained

naturalization process united states

What’s Happening With Immigration Reform, Explained | Mother Jones:

In the wake of a presidential campaign that saw Mitt Romney popularize the term “self-deportation” and President Obama clobber his rival among Latino and Asian American voters, Obama and the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight have announced the broad strokes of their respective immigration reform plans, which aim to deal with the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. We put together this primer to help you follow the debate now brewing.

An excellent summary of the major events in the immigration debate over the last few decades. Hopefully the compromises that are being talked about come to fruition.

Kevin L. James – a gay Republican who supports medical marijuana and improving the environment – to run for mayor of Los Angeles

Kevin L. James a Long Shot in Race for Mayor of Los Angeles – NYTimes.com:

And Mr. James has retained John Weaver, a Republican political consultant who has long advised Mr. McCain, as his senior political adviser. Mr. Weaver has increasingly warned that Republicans are marginalizing themselves by moving to the right on issues like abortion, gay rights and immigration.

“He is from central casting about what a future Republican candidate can look like in an urban or blue state and win,” Mr. Weaver said. “It’s important for the party. We have not done well nationally since we stopped winning in California.”

Mr. James’s draw for these men is not only that he is a fiscal conservative who supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage, or that he is a colorful show horse in a field of gray. (At a debate the other night, he kept standing up when it was his turn to speak, even as everyone else settled politely into their chairs.)

This is the only direction the Republican can go that would allow them to remain relevant. Based on his campaign website, Mr. James seems to be a reasonable guy – he supports medical marijuana, working to improve the environment, and creating more public transportation in the city of Los Angeles. If it were between him and a Democrat I didn’t like, I wouldn’t feel bad about voting for the guy.

How The Glock Became America’s Weapon Of Choice

glock pistol

How The Glock Became America’s Weapon Of Choice : NPR:

One early advantage for police departments, says Barrett, was that Glock gave them large discounts when purchasing the gun for their departments.

“This was smart, because the point was to get the police departments to adopt the gun, and that would give the gun credibility in the much larger, much more lucrative civilian market, where you can charge full price and get your full profit margin,” says Barrett. “So this was … a very crafty strategy.”

Another strategy, says Barrett, was to get the Glock screen time in Hollywood. In 1990, the Glock began to appear in the hands of police officers in Law and Order and other police procedural shows. It was also used by Bruce Willis in the movie Die Hard 2. Willis’ character gave a long soliloquy touting the advantages of using a Glock.

Listened to the entire story on NPR last night. I can’t believe how brilliantly the Glock was marketed. Later in the piece, Barrett describes how the initial Glock was mostly plastic, which combined with its popularity led to fears of terrorists and criminals being able to sneak guns past metal detectors. This eventually caused a fuss in Congress, which ended up being a big embarrassment for gun control advocates because their fears were actually pretty stupid – the gun still had several metal parts, and any bullets a potential terrorist would need to shoot someone would be metal as well. In the end, all they did was give Glock attention at a national level, making it a household name.