Ringside Seat: Braaaaaaains for Freedom

As big-government liberals, we're always heartened when the federal government undertakes ambitious projects to solve fundamental problems and better Americans' lives. Today, President Obama announced the BRAIN initiative, and no, it doesn't have anything to do with preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, during which our precious gray matter will become food for the undead.

It stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, and it's a proposed $100 million project, funded through DARPA, the NIH, and the National Science Foundation, in partnership with a number of private foundations. We actually know very little about how the brain works, and the goal of the project is to fund basic science and help foster new discoveries that will lead to new therapies for diseases and applications no one has even thought of yet.

In the context of a federal budget that runs into the trillions, this is a small amount of money. But it could have a large impact. As with any project of this sort—where the goals and outcomes are somewhat vague—there will almost certainly be some money spent for naught. But that's the nature of the scientific endeavor, and that's why this is something the government should do. Particularly at a time when all anyone can seem to talk about is where the budget should be cut and government should be scaled back, it's nice to see that people can still look into the future and think big. Heck, even Newt Gingrich thinks it's a good idea.

So They Say

"When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others. Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back—government has no place in the middle."

 — Republican Senator Mark Kirk

 

Daily Meme: New York State of Crime

  • The latest tale of facepalmery and tomfoolery from Albany is a doozy. State Senator Malcolm Smith ...
  • ... previously known best for being the first black speaker in the state, flip-flopping his party allegiances, and denouncing Lil' Wayne ...
  • was arrested this morning for trying to bribe Republican state leaders to put him on their mayoral ballot in New York City. 
  • Joining him in handcuffs was Dan Halloran, the city council member best known for being a "ragin' pagan" and the “'First Atheling,'” or prince, of his own Theodish tribe, called New Normandy.
  • The particulars of the crime? These two men, along with four others, allegedly used tens of thousands of dollars worth of bribe money to try to get Smith—a Democrat—on the Republican mayoral ballot.
  • As for why they took this less-than-legal route to glory (or in this case, infamy),  Halloran said, “That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much. Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that. You can’t get anything without the f--king money."
  • FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos didn't mince words when speaking on the public officials' arrest: "These defendants did not obey the law; they broke the law and the public trust. There is a price to pay for that kind of betrayal."
  • The New York Post got the scoop, and in a rare turn of events, broke the news in print!
  • All in all, the news can't be shocking though, given that 29 New York politicians"have been convicted of a crime, censured or otherwise accused of wrongdoing" in the past seven years. 
  • Although as Vanity Fair's Juli Weiner puts it, "It must be said: 'Getting on the ballot' is hardly the Boss Tweed–style election-fixin’ of yore. Are New York City political scandals now pathetic, diet versions of their former selves, too? Damn the Bloomberg nanny state! [Shakes fist.]"
  • The candidates in the crowded Democratic mayoral primary (right now, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is in the lead) are staying mum on the case for now, content to let the eventual opposition defeat itself while they're busy culling their own flock.  

What We're Reading

  • Environmental threats are piling up—fracking, global warming, tar sands, Keystone—but Jason Mark reports that the environmentalist movement is riven by division.
  • Rowan Kaiser took a turn with the new Sim City, and while it's a ball to tool around with, the disconnect between its systems and the real-world dynamics they're meant to represent leaves a hole where the game's political and economic contexts should fit.

What We're Reading

  • A former Reaganite has become convinced of crony capitalism's grip on America, and he's got a message for you.
  • Salon asks why Americans still love Reaganomics when it's never been anything but a total failure.
  • Mother Jones looks into the National Rifle Association's donor list, and hey, look who's there, it's the Koch brothers!
  • There are so many backlog files at one Veterans Affairs office, employees are worried the building could collapse. 
  • Why are the empty seats on the federal appeals court still not filled?
  • Like the GOP, the environmental movement is trying to blame its recruiting problems on messaging. But nope, that's not it.
  • Georgia's looking to sue Tennessee for the riverfront property that would allow the more southern state to bolster its squandered water resources. Tennesseans are preparing for war.
  • They're also preparing to go back in time, democracy-wise. Tennessee state Senator Frank Nicely wants to eliminate Senate primaries and allow the members of the state legislature to select candidates instead.

Poll of the Day

Today's depressing American opinion from Pew is that the Keystone XL would be, like, totally rad! Sixty-six percent of the polled population expressed support for the measure, while just 23 percent were opposed. All broken-down groups—by age, politics, and education—are in favor, in fact, except "Liberal Democrats," only 42 percent of whom want rivers of oil flowing through our suburbs. In other news: Gallup says Americans think the government isn't doing enough to preserve the environment.

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