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Conservatives once ridiculed Ayn Rand


The growing influence on the American right of Ayn Rand, the libertarian right’s answer to Scientology’s novelist-philosopher L. Ron Hubbard, is a wonder to behold. When she died in 1982, Alissa Rosenbaum — the original name of the Russian-born novelist — was the leader of a marginal cult, the Objectivists, who had long been cast out of the mainstream American right. But the rise of Tea Party conservatism, fueled by white racial panic and zero-sum distributional conflicts in the Great Recession, has turned this minor, once-forgotten figure into an icon for a new generation of nerds who imagine themselves Nietzschean Ubermenschen oppressed by the totalitarian tyranny of the post office and the Social Security administration.

Rand-worshipers can be found in, among other places, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. At a 2005 gathering to honor her memory, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan declared, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

The late Gore Vidal would not have been surprised by the former Republican vice-presidential candidate’s choice of a patron saint. After all, it was Vidal who observed, in a 1961 article for Esquire:

She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the ‘welfare’ state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your lookout.

Vidal might be dismissed as a biased leftist. But the late William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of post-1945 conservatism who engaged in a famous televised spat with Vidal during the 1968 Democratic convention, shared Vidal’s contempt for Ayn Rand. After her death in 1982, Buckley wrote in the New York Daily News: “She was an eloquent and persuasive anti-statist, and if only she had left it at that, but no. She had to declare that God did not exist, that altruism was despicable, that only self-interest was good and noble.” In 2003, Buckley described his encounter with Rand’s interminable propaganda novel “Atlas Shrugged”: “I had to flog myself to read it.”


TN gay couples try to get marriage licenses but get denied

Written by
Heidi Hall

Same-sex couples in at least three Tennessee counties tried to get marriage licenses Wednesday, striding into county clerks’ offices, their faces lit up by camera flashes as they made state history.

But because same-sex marriage is illegal in Tennessee, they left empty-handed.

Will Peyton and Jef Laudieri of Nashville said they weren’t surprised by the rejection, just at how much it hurt.

The two met nine years ago in a bar — love at first sight for Peyton, not so much for Laudieri. They moved in together a year later, back when only a handful of states entertained the idea of allowing same-sex marriage.

June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling finding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional — and opening a floodgate of potential benefits for same-sex couples — emboldened Peyton and Laudieri. Now they hope to be part of a lawsuit that could force Tennessee to allow their future marriage, similar to suits recently filed in Pennsylvania and Illinois.



How Secrecy Has Already Corroded Our Democracy in Concrete Ways


This summer, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, an author and longtime champion of the Patriot Act, emerged as one of the most concerned voices arguing that it is being used to violate the rights of Americans. A letter he sent to Attorney General Eric Holder singles out Section 215, the law's "business records" provision. "As the author of the Patriot Act," he wrote, "I am extremely disturbed by what appears to be an overbroad interpretation." He was referring to Edward Snowden's revelation that Team Obama collects data on the phone calls of almost all Americans.
Sensenbrenner began to question whether our constitutional rights are secure. "I do not believe the released FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act," he wrote. "How could the phone records of so many Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation?" His newfound skepticism came as a pleasant surprise to critics of the surveillance state. Two years ago, when key provisions of the Patriot Act were scheduled to sunset, Sensenbrenner proudly and unapologetically lobbied for the re-authorization of the law he helped write. The Congress ought to make provisions including Section 215 permanent, he argued back then. "Section 215 of the Act allows the FISA Court to issue orders granting the government access to business records in foreign intelligence, international terrorism, and clandestine intelligence cases," he said. "The USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 expanded the safeguards against potential abuse of Section 215 authority, including additional Congressional oversight, procedural protections, application requirements, and judicial review."

Edward Snowden's leaks dramatically altered his perspective. Now he says that if abuses of Section 215 persist, "it will be very difficult to reauthorize these provisions when they sunset in 2015." As yet, Rep. Sensenbrenner hasn't given a full account of what he knew and when. There is, however, a partial explanation in his letter to Eric Holder, where he harkens back to 2011, the year he pressed for Patriot Act re-authorization. Explaining that he "relied on information from the Administration about how the act was interpreted to ensure that abuses had not occurred," he cited Congressional testimony, delivered by Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen, saying it left the impression Obama was using Section 215 "sparingly and for specific materials."

That wasn't so.

Congressman Sensenbrenner's conversion is significant in its own right. The Obama Administration claims that Congress has always been "fully briefed" on even the most controversial surveillance activities, and that the NSA acts in accordance with duly enacted laws. What could cast more doubt on that claim than Sensenbrenner, an author and former champion of the legislation, insisting that he is shocked and dismayed by the way it has been interpreted?

But his story is also just one particularly powerful illustration of a much broader truth: secret policy and secret law corrode representative government, undermining the ability of Americans to govern themselves. In a brilliant item at PressThink, NYU's Jay Rosen explores that subject as a theorist, and links to several persuasive, abstract accounts of why secrecy threatens our system. Curiosity piqued, I decided to look back at the debate surrounding the 2011 re-authorization of the Patriot Act. In what concrete ways did the NSA's secret-keeping affect democracy?



When global warming finally gets going, it could last for 200,000 years

By Rachel Feltman

New evidence shows that, while we may not see severe climate change in our lifetimes, global warming could snowball into catastrophe in the distant future—and once the climate has shifted, it might not go back to normal for a very, very long time.

This is from two new studies on climate change this week. The first, published by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, paints a disturbing picture of what our oceans will look like if we don’t ease up on the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). Scientists looked at fossils from the so-called “greenhouse world” that existed about 50 million years ago (where the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was more than double what it is now) and found that the conditions essentially killed ocean reefs.

It’s not hard to see why. At those levels of CO2, the new study shows, ocean temperatures in the tropics reached 95 °F (35 °C), with polar oceans hitting 50 °F, about the temperature of the waters around San Francisco today. Because of those balmy waters, researcher Richard Norris told redOrbit, “The ‘rainforests-of-the-sea’ reefs were replaced by the ‘gravel parking lots’ of the greenhouse world.” With reefs dominated by pebble-like, single-celled organisms instead of nutrient-packed plankton, the ocean couldn’t support larger animals, and mass extinction likely occurred. And while we could perhaps be comforted that the effects of the warming were limited mostly to the deep sea (though who’s to say what such an event would do to our food supply), what should disturb us is how long it lasted—200,000 years. On our current trajectory, we’ll reach that concentration of CO2 in only 80 years.

Meanwhile, a study by University of Hawai’i oceanographer Richard Zeebe also suggests that climate change effects could last much longer than we might have thought. Looking at feedback loops (for example, rising temperatures cause snow to melt, which in turn causes temperatures to rise even more because bare ground reflects less sunlight back into space than snow) throughout history, Zeebe found that some may occur very slowly, and on a larger scale. Over time, he found, the Earth can become more vulnerable to greenhouse gases, meaning that it takes smaller increases in CO2 to raise temperatures. That means that climate change could happen quite slowly during our lifetimes, but speed up suddenly at some point in the future, with every temperature increase making the atmosphere more vulnerable.


China’s lust for ivory isn’t just slaughtering elephants. It’s also destabilizing Africa

By Gwynn Guilford

Hong Kong customs officials just confiscated a Nigerian shipment of 1,120 elephant tusks—part of a haul of rhino horns and leopard pelts that totaled around $5.3 million in value. In July, HK customs seized 1,148 tusks worth $2.3 million in a shipment from Togo, and confiscated another 780 tusks worth $1.14 million back in January.

Those three shipments alone add up to at least 1,525 dead elephants—scary, considering as few as 400,000 elephants are left on the planet. Since ivory is traded illegally, the best way to capture poaching trends is to look at customs seizures, which suggest a sharp recent rise in killings:

Here’s where they’re coming from, via National Geographic’s good interactive map:

Stopping this slaughter might sound like the cause of people who might flour-bomb Kim Kardashian. But it’s also an urgent global security priority.

A recent United Nations report on security in Central Africa highlighted elephant poaching as “an important source of funding for armed groups” (pdf), including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the militant guerrilla group led by the notorious Joseph Kony. Other beneficiaries of the tusk trade include al Qaeda’s al-Shabab arm in Somalia and the Janjaweed in Sudan.



US firms worry Edward Snowden is wrecking their business, but the Patriot Act was already doing that

By Leo Mirani

Shortly after a meeting of an EU-sponsored program to push European cloud-computing capabilities in Estonia last month, a high-ranking EC official noted that the biggest losers from Edward Snowden’s revelation about US surveillance would be US businesses:

If European cloud customers cannot trust the United States government or their assurances, then maybe they won’t trust US cloud providers either. That is my guess. And if I am right then there are multi-billion euro consequences for American companies.

If I were an American cloud provider, I would be quite frustrated with my government right now.

American firms certainly are frustrated—so frustrated they have produced two reports in a span of two weeks, both arguing that the US government needs to fix this problem. The first (pdf) is from the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), an industry body. It released a survey of 500 of its members late last month, and found that more than half of non-US respondents were “less likely to use US-based cloud providers” and a tenth had “cancelled a project to use US-based cloud providers.” A third of American companies said they felt “the Snowden Incident” made it more difficult for their companies to conduct business outside the US.

The second (pdf) also comes from an industry body, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). It used CSA’s survey, which led it to “reasonably conclude that given current conditions US cloud service providers stand to lose somewhere between 10% and 20% of the foreign market in the next few years.” Combining that with various forecasts for the size of the cloud-computing industry in the next three years, ITIF estimated that the US cloud-computing industry will suffer between $21.5 billion and $35 billion in losses by 2016.

These numbers appear to be more of a back-of-the-envelope calculation than a rigorous analysis suited for national publications. For one thing, CSA’s survey came soon after the revelations, at a time when emotion was high. More importantly, ITIF doesn’t explain why its conclusion is reasonable, and assumes “current conditions” will continue. As the report itself admits, “The data are still thin—clearly this is a developing story and perceptions will likely evolve.”


Thursday Toon roundup 4- The Rest







Thursday Toon roundup 3- Juicin'

Thursday Toon roundup 2- Just like the 1950's, with better tech

Thursday Toon roundup 1- Stuck with Lame Congress

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