From Jon Chait, explaining how the definition of "reasonable" changes over time:

The GOP's willingness to undermine the full faith and credit of the Treasury in pursuit of anti-tax fundamentalism is shocking now, but eventually it will come to be seen as simply part of the process.

Yep. In the same way that Wall Street hoovering up a third of all corporate profits is the new normal. Or that 9% unemployment is the new normal. Or that obstruction, rather than legislation, is the new normal for Congress. Or that massive spending cuts during a recession is the new normal. Or that conducting three overseas wars at the same time is the new normal.

The new normal kind of sucks, doesn't it?

Today the blogosphere features a fight over "business process" patents — things like Amazon's patent for one-click checkout, for example. These have been abused pretty badly, and Wall Street is fighting back. How? They got Chuck Schumer to insert a special provision in a bill that changes the ground rules for challenging business process patents related to “a financial product or service.” It's good to have friends in high places, no?

Andrew Ross Sorkin is outraged. This provision "is perhaps the most blatant demonstration of the lobbying power of Wall Street and, just as important, the willingness of Congress to support the interests of the banks, even in the face of clear evidence that the law has no purpose other than to benefit the financial services industry."

Felix Salmon is a lot less outraged. "Sorkin’s attempts to defend the idea of financial business-method patents ring pretty hollow....The law will benefit the financial services industry. No one is arguing that point. And it will hurt rentiers with patents. The important question is whether it’s a good idea from a public-policy perspective. Sorkin ducks that question entirely. But the fact is that if we want a level playing field in financial services, getting rid of business-method patents is an extremely good idea."

But why fight over this? I officially declare everyone right today. Business process patents have been abused, and Felix is right that making them more difficult to get in the financial services arena is a good idea. At the same time, the fact that Wall Street is the only industry getting patent relief from Congress really is a blatant demonstration, in Dick Durbin's immortal words, of the fact that banks "frankly own the place."

I think the Schumer provision is terrible policy. We need to overhaul the way we handle business process patents, but the worst possible way to do that is to start singling out specific industries for special treatment. After all, having gotten what they wanted, do you think Wall Street will sign on to any future effort to broadly reform policy in the area of business process patents? Nope. They might even fight it if it would replace their special provision and possibly make them slightly worse off than before. This is practically a parody of bad lawmaking, and as with nearly anything having to do with Chuck Schumer and Wall Street, it's a terrible idea and deserves an early death.

Megan McArdle writes today that if Republicans really follow though on their insane threat to allow the United States to default on its debt, it would probably be good for Democrats in the 2012 election. A reader asks: if that's the case, then why are Democrats fighting so hard against it? Why not just let the default happen, blame Republicans, and then reap the benefits next November? Megan replies:

I think some version of this question is going through many conservative minds. But it commits a fundamental error: it assumes that this is some sort of zero-sum game....What the people asking this question are missing is that the budget needn't be zero-sum: it can be negative-sum. It is possible for the Democrats to lose without the Republicans winning. Both sides can end up worse off.

Nope. In this case, we're talking about a strictly zero-sum outcome set: 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats, and the presidency. In pure partisan terms, if one side loses ground, the other side gains. That's completely independent of how default affects the country more generally.

So why are Democrats fighting against default? "Leave aside the naive thoughts that Democrats might be trying to avoid default because they, like, care something about the honor of their nation," says Megan. Indeed. I leave the rest of the blog post in the able hands of my commenters.

The LA Times' David Lazarus asks a question:

What is it about consumer protection that Republican lawmakers don't like? Is it that they want to see their constituents fleeced and flimflammed by businesses? Is it that they don't care?

Hmmm. Tough question. Let's keep reading:

Or is it something as craven as carrying water for corporate interests simply because that's where the money is?

Bingo! I think we have a winner. Read the whole thing for all the grim details.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the apparent murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist who had long been a thorn in the side of the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service. On May 31, he was found in a canal 80 miles outside of Islamabad, tortured and beaten, with his cell phone wiped clean from the previous 18 days. Today, the New York Times reports that American intelligence is pretty sure that this was indeed the ISI's handiwork:

New classified intelligence [...] showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

....A third senior American official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Mr. Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed. “Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information.

....It was possible that Mr. Shahzad had become too cavalier, said Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani columnist and author. “The rules of the game are not completely well defined,” she said. “Sometimes friendly elements cross an imaginary threshold and it is felt they must be taught a lesson.”

In other news, American intelligence continues to believe that the ISI and others are actively funding and supporting Taliban militant groups in Afghanistan. Quite a partner we have here.

Since I forced everyone to go through Inkblot withdrawal on Friday, here's some bonus catblogging for you. This year Inkblot is decked out in all his patriotic finery (i.e., a stars-and-stripes themed tablecloth that now has to be laundered before we can use it for tonight's festivities) and expressing the sentiment on every cat's mind when they think about the greatness that is America. Happy 4th, everyone!

From New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, after Gov. Chris Christie used his line item veto in an apparent attempt to punish anyone he's ever had a beef with:

This is all about him being a bully and a punk....You know who he reminds me of? Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, the mean old bastard who screws everybody....He’s just a rotten bastard to do what he did....He’s mean-spirited, he’s angry....I liken it to being spoiled, I’m going to get my way, or else....He’s a rotten prick.

But is Christie a dick? The world wants to know.

From patent blogger Florian Mueller, describing Apple's new patent for multitouch gestures on touchscreen devices:

This patent describes the solution at such a high level that it effectively lays an exclusive claim to the problem itself, and any solutions to it.

Roughly speaking, Apple seems to be claiming that if you use more than one finger to do something on a touchscreen, you're infringing on their intellectual property. In a sense, I guess I don't blame them. So what if Tom Cruise was doing the same thing with arm waving in Minority Report in 2002? If the law lets them get away with this, they'd be fools not to take advantage of it.

Of course, the law is an ass in this regard, but that's our problem, not Apple's. And I'm beginning to wonder if there's any solution at all to this idiocy aside from doing away completely with patents for anything you can't pick up and hold in your hands. One way or another, something really has to give here.

Walter Russell Mead, in yet another lengthy critique of liberals who think that facts and empirical evidence ought to be taken seriously, explains to Al Gore the role of the referee in professional wrestling:

Among other things, professional wrestling works as a kind of folk satire — and well meaning progressives and professionals like Mr. Gore are among its targets. The clownish referee represents exactly the well intentioned bumblers who seek to arbitrate and rationalize the endless competition between the good and the bad guys. It is the way much of the working class looks at ivory tower intellectuals, nanny state do-gooders.

....In other words, the referee in a professional wrestling match strikes a chord in popular culture in part because he is a representation of the class which sets itself up in our society as the arbiter and judge: the professional elite, the expert and the chattering classes. The referee at a wrestling match is a populist portrait of the FCC, the NLRB, NPR, the New York Times editorial board and everyone else who does exactly what Al Gore would like to spend his whole life doing: judging mankind impartially and ruling them well. The referee is part of the entertainment who is funny in part because he thinks he is above the fray.

My first instinct was to mock Mead for writing this drivel, but hell, maybe he's right. Thanks to the now total success of movement conservatism and its assimilation of confederates like him, I guess that anyone still naive enough to care about facts and evidence really is about as ineffectual and irrelevant as your typical WWE referee. I only wish that guys like Mead would fess up to their role in this evolution, instead of pretending that it's the inevitable hydraulic consequence of some vague but inexorable tidal wave of modernism and techno-empowerment engulfing us all. It ain't so. This wasn't a global historical imperative, it was a deliberate, considered choice — and a largely American one — driven by all the usual parochial forces of money, power, privilege, and corporate ascendance that have been with us forever. We could still make a different choice if we wanted to.

From the Washington Post, in a story about a new Maryland regulation preventing adults from helping kids apply sunscreen at summer camp:

Mitchell said he did not know of any cases of inappropriate touching by counselors that might have led to the new regulations.

Sexual abuse is a serious problem, but it's long past time for America to stop reacting to it literally insanely. In this case, not only is it nuts to discourage the use of sunblock on kids ("the biggest known carcinogen that children are exposed to" the story says), but it's doupleplusnuts to do it in response to no known cases of sunblock application causing any actual problems of inappropriate touching.

Anyway, the rules are now being relaxed. However, parents will still have to sign a form giving permission for camp counselors to apply sunblock. I guess that moving from rules that are pathological to rules that are merely neurotic is a step in the right direction, but only a step. It's time to dial the fear level on this stuff way, way back.

Via Michael O'Hare.

UPDATE: I guess this is old news, and it's not just Maryland. It's not even just America. In comments, Syd Egan provides the grim news: "This has been the case in England for a while now — *no* summer camp will allow their staff to apply sunblock — you have to send your child with it, and sign that you've taught him/ her how to apply it themselves... even when the child is 3!!"