Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Man's Dacha Is His Castle

Not everybody is hurting from the economic meltdown:
Spurred by petrodollars and booming consumer confidence, Moscow's real estate - where sky high prices can outpace Manhattan and London - has so far avoided following the local stockmarket's downward spiral, which continued Tuesday.

Property agency Agent 002 said last Friday an unnamed buyer had splashed out on the seven-storey 1,300 square meter apartment near the Kursk railway station.

'For Moscow, it's an absolute record,' said Agent 002's spokesman Ruslan Barabash.

Barabash declined to identify the purchaser, but said he was an 'active businessman' aged around 40 and not one of Russia's most well-known tycoons.

'It's a completely beautiful home. The design is in the 'high-tech' style,' said Barabash.
The townhouse apartment, close to the Kremlin in the center of a sprawling city of 12 million people, has its own swimming pool, a children's floor and a winter garden on the roof.
Krushchev said "We will bury you." Putin's Russia says, "We will be more ostentatious than you." Lenin must be spinning in his grave.

Running On Empty

Where has all the gas gone?
A severe fuel shortage has gripped parts of the southeastern United States, causing long lines at filling stations and symbolizing for some people their fears about the wider economy.

The shortage began two weeks ago in Atlanta, the region's largest city, when oil refineries on the Gulf Coast were shut down by hurricanes Gustav and Ike earlier this month. Parts of north Georgia, western North Carolina and parts of Tennessee were also affected.

The effects on motorists have been dramatic. Most service stations in Atlanta are out of gas, with plastic bags placed over the pumps or signs saying 'out'.

As a result, drivers are cruising the city hunting for gas -- often with a fuel meter needle hovering close to empty. When they find gas, it's often above $4 a gallon.
Traffic is lighter on the city's streets and highways as some residents share rides and limit their journeys.

Lines and elaborate queuing systems have developed at gas stations on days when oil companies deliver fuel. Motorists report showing up at gas stations before dawn to beat the line only to find dozens of cars ahead of them.
Gas shortages. Trouble with Iran. An economy in turmoil. An idealistic Democrat running against a veteran Republican. When do we get out of this 1980 time warp?

Paulson's Drama

Why it failed:
Paulson unilaterally unveiled a plan that, in its initial form, was completely unacceptable to legislative leaders in either party. And then, in a misguided effort to ramrod a bad bill through congress, he did the equivalent of strapping a bomb to the entire US economy by dramatically announcing that the entire banking system was on the verge of imminent failure.
Maybe the Powers That Be wanted it to fail so that Bush could continue his support for free markets? Call me cynical, but it sounds like something they would do.

Give Science A Chance

Classical Values explores European Ludditism:
At the recent European Science Open Forum conference in Barcelona, for example, I was strolling through exhibits aimed at — please don't gag — science outreach. The underlying theme of all these displays seemed to me to be: since their schooling actually teaches many ordinary people to be discomforted by — if not to actually fear and loath — science, let's see if we can't do something in these venues to get people to hate science a little bit less.
Unfortunately, between budget slashing and anti-science fundietards, we're not much better.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Reality 1, Ideology 0

The Europeans aren't quite so eager to follow the climate change cult anymore.
Poland has joined Germany in calling for industry exemptions to EU climate rules as a recession in Europe’s major economies is casting doubts on whether Brussels will be able to push through its ambitious CO2 reduction programme.

EU Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen yesterday (25 September) gave specific assurances to Poland that 100% free CO2 permit allocation “should be possible” for the country’s energy intensive industries.

Verheugen, speaking at a conference on the Competitiveness Council, repeated the Commission’s position that exemptions should not be formalised before an international climate change deal is reached in December 2009, and insisted that pushing industries out of Europe is not the aim of the EU climate package.

But Brussels’ resolve on the issue may be softening. A non-paper circulated by the Commission cites the aluminium, steel and cement sectors as "likely to be strongly affected [and] would therefore be amongst the substances likely to benefit from partial to totally free allocations."
The one good thing about an economic crisis is that it makes people aware of just how important their own economic infrastructure is, and that includes the industries that power that economy. Welcome to the real world, guys.

Ex-President At Large

Stanley Fish argues that we'll like Bush better when he's retired.
...within a year of the day he leaves office, and no matter who succeeds him, George W. Bush will be a popular public figure, regarded with affection and a little nostalgia even by those who voted against him and thought he was the worst president in our history.

Yes, I know that right now Mr. Bush is associated with an unpopular and disastrously expensive war, with an economic collapse brought about in part by an administration that abhors regulation, with a spectacularly inadequate response to hurricane Katrina, with a precipitous decline in America’s reputation. After all, this is a guy whose name was never mentioned at the national convention of his own party, the guy that John McCain seems barely able to remember (just as after the Enron debacle Bush seemed barely able to remember that he ever knew Kenneth Lay).

But when Bush leaves office, he leaves behind all those liabilities, even though he had a large part in producing them. The war, the economy, the environment, the Middle East, a newly bellicose Russia — these will all be either McCain’s or Obama’s problems, and Bush will just be someone who shows up regularly and says mildly self-deprecating things about himself on the way to doing some good deed, perhaps in the company of his father and Bill Clinton.

What does Bush have to do? Not much, just be himself, not the wise and inspiring leader of the Western world — he never quite got that one right — but the amiable, funny, folksy and gregarious guy who tricked himself and the rest of us into thinking he was something more. Now he doesn’t have to do that. We’ll not be depending on him, so we’ll be free to like him.
This may be the best thing Bush could do, for himself and the country. Americans tend to be a very forgiving people when it comes to our presidents. For all his faults and screw-ups, being seen as human again could help the country move forward. Now that would be change we can believe in.

Truth In Advertising

Finally, a BS Meter for the rest of us:
Dubbed the Believability Meter, RealScoop’s analysis technology analyzes over 100 vocal elements of the human voice and performs over 1,000 calculations per second to find out if a politician or celebrity is telling the truth. On Tuesday, RealScoop will cover the Vice Presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, putting each one’s statements to its Believability test.

The site itself features a bunch of videos collected from outside sources that are played in its own player. The player features a meter that changes dynamically as it analyzes what’s being said. If it believes the person is lying, the meter turns red and moves towards the “highly questionable” area. If it believes the person is telling the truth, the meter stays green and in the “believable” section.
The article goes on to note that there are problems with the technology, but if they could get it to work it could come in handy. Of course, most politicians lie most of the time anyway, so it might not be all that necessary.

When In Doubt, Suspend

I think Bill Krystol is losing it:
"It's time for McCain to act decisively, and to lead, as he did with the surge. [...]

McCain should lead-by re-suspending his campaign (fine, let observers mock him when he announces this), and leading his party and the Congress towards a solution.
If what happened today was any indication, McCain's mad leadership skillz haven't seemed to amount to much except to give him an excuse for more spin. But hey, if John wants to hand Obama the election, that's his business.

We Like The One We Have

Sorry, Hugo, we've already had our Revolution.
LISBON, Sept 27 - Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday it was the capitalist system that had caused the financial crisis in the United States and the country should come up with a new constitution.

Speaking to reporters in Lisbon on the last leg of a tour that included visits to China and Russia, he said: 'I think the United States should start a constituent process to create a constituent assembly, a new truly democratic model.'

A constituent assembly is a body elected to draft and sometimes adopt a new constitution.
'It was capitalism that caused the ruin' in the United States, said Chavez, who is one of Washington's fiercest critics, calling the financial crunch 'the worst financial crisis in history'.

'Let the U.S. empire end and let a great nation and great republic rise from the ruin ... It's time to shout 'Liberty!' again in the United States,' Chavez said, calling for a new government to be free of the 'dictatorship of the elite' such as big banks and corporations.

Critics accuse Chavez of running an authoritarian, Cuban-style regime in oil-rich Venezuela.
You know the difference between our Revolution and yours, Hugo? Ours actually worked, and is still working. Yours is running on old, discredited ideas. Maybe someday your people will figure that out.

An Inconvenient Misrepresentation

Surprise, surprise.
The BBC is being investigated by television watchdogs after a leading climate change sceptic claimed his views were deliberately misrepresented.

Lord Monckton, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, says he was made to look like a ‘potty peer’ on a TV programme that ‘was a one-sided polemic for the new religion of global warming’. Earth: The Climate Wars, which was broadcast on BBC 2, was billed as a definitive guide to the history of global warming, including arguments for and against.

During the series, Dr Iain Stewart, a geologist, interviewed leading climate change sceptics, including Lord Monckton. But the peer complained to Ofcom that the broadcast had been unfairly edited. ‘I very much hope Ofcom will do something about this,’ he said yesterday. ‘The BBC very gravely misrepresented me and several others, as well as the science behind our argument. It is a breach of its code of conduct."
From what I can tell, the BBC has no code of conduct. And really, shouldn't he have expected this?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Going Green The Smart Way

It doesn't have to involve Al Gore or carbon credits.
The only plausible way to curb emissions in the next few decades is to accelerate the development and adoption of low-carbon energy sources. Rather than setting targets for greenhouse gases, we should establish goals for installed technology, beginning with the most energy-intensive sectors, like electricity generation, ground transportation, and cement manufacturing. Similarly, international cooperation on emissions reduction should focus on the handful of countries responsible for the lion's share of the problem. In the US and elsewhere, R&D funding should be directed toward technologies that otherwise might not come online for up to 20 years.
In other words-let the free market and science do their thing. Leave the guilt trips to those who push them.

And The Winner Is...

So we had the first Great Debate last Friday. From what I could tell, it was pretty much a draw, with neither one of them hitting it ouf ot the park, but both holding their own and doing about as well as could be expected. Of course, some, like Amy Holmes, declared McCain the winner:
McCain won, hands down, particularly when the conversation shiffted to war and national security. McCain was comfortable, fluent, principled and direct. Obama was weak and defensive.
But Reason's Jesse Walker begs to differ:
There are many words to describe McCain's composure last night, but comfortable surely isn't one of them. And maybe I'm just stuck on the contrast with John Kerry, but Obama didn't seem weak and defensive to me; he stood his ground and hit back. I didn't always agree with what he had to say—when it came to NATO expansion, he sounded as crazy as his opponent—but he sure seemed to believe it himself.
Obama came ready to fight, and it showed. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about when he rebutted McCain's points about his past statements. For his own part, McCain seemed to do well early on, then went off into tangents that had little if anything to do with the question. And Jim Leher deserves credit for trying to get them to actually answer the questions. Finally, here's David Weigel:
McCain oozed contempt. He was feeling for a trap door switch that would throw Obama under the floorboards and let Hillary up to the podium. In most exchanges (not the surge exchange) it made McCain seem more small than dominant. Again, his arrogance isn't the kind of arrogance that doomed Gore. But Obama's responses weren't the weak and whiny responses of George W. Bush. It's one thing to repeat that your opponent "doesn't understand" anything, and another when he comes back clearly understanding and disagreeing.
This is where McCain slipped up-he treated Obama as an unserious candidate. The guy I saw was not someone I agree with, but one thing he is doing is taking this election seriously. I just wish McCain and his crowd of Karl Rove cronies would do the same.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bailouts, We've Got Bailouts

Real conservatives still get it.
One bad regulatory turn leads to another, and lo, the bailouts come thick and fast. At the nth hour, wise heads often rightly conclude that some desperate measure has to be taken to prevent the financial disintegration brought on by, well, prior government regulation. Those bailouts, of course, come from the hides of taxpayers who borrowed prudently. The entire system subsidizes destructive behavior, which means that we will get more destructive behavior in the future. We might as well sell flood insurance at bargain prices in Galveston, Texas, and New Orleans.

The moral of this story is that bad regulation metastasizes. Short term heroics are no substitute for dispassionate deregulation, which won’t happen so long as our political leaders are fixated on greed. Taking steps to prevent financial meltdowns is more likely to hasten their unwelcome arrival, so says the libertarian.
If only more of our so-called Republican leaders had felt this way earlier. Sigh.

A Nice Round Figure

Um, okay:
“It’s not based on any particular data point,” a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. “We just wanted to choose a really large number.”
Well, odd numbers probably would've messed up the count. And David Frum asks:
Is the year that the U.S. government will have its first trillion-dollar budget deficit?
Unfortunately, it probably won't be the last.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We're All In This Together

Is this bipartisanship we can believe in?
As agreed upon and promised earlier in the day, rival Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), have issued a joint statement on the economy, below:

'The American people are facing a moment of economic crisis. No matter how this began, we all have a responsibility to work through it and restore confidence in our economy. The jobs, savings, and prosperity of the American people are at stake.

'Now is a time to come together - Democrats and Republicans - in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people. The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush Administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail.

This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economic catastrophe. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.'
Yeah, good luck with that, guys.

Hangin's Too Good For 'Em

Welcome to the new Wild West:
Solar power, with its promise of emissions-free renewable energy, boasts a growing number of fans. Some of them, it turns out, are thieves. Just ask Glenda Hoffman, whose fury has not abated since 16 solar panels vanished from her roof in this sun-baked town in three separate burglaries in May, sometimes as she slept. She is ready if the criminals turn up again.

“I have a shotgun right next to the bed and a .22 under my pillow,” Ms. Hoffman said.

Police departments in California — the biggest market for solar power, with more than 33,000 installations — are seeing a rash of such burglaries, though nobody compiles overall statistics.
It's the modern-day equivelant of horse stealing. Authentic frontier gibberish is optional.

Fly The Ungreen Skies

A lot of "Greens" seem to want to follow in Al Gore's hypocritical carbon footsteps.
People who believe they have the greenest lifestyles can be seen as some of the main culprits behind global warming, says a team of researchers, who claim that many ideas about sustainable living are a myth.

According to the researchers, people who regularly recycle rubbish and save energy at home are also the most likely to take frequent long-haul flights abroad. The carbon emissions from such flights can swamp the green savings made at home, the researchers claim.

Stewart Barr, of Exeter University, who led the research, said: 'Green living is largely something of a myth. There is this middle class environmentalism where being green is part of the desired image. But another part of the desired image is to fly off skiing twice a year. And the carbon savings they make by not driving their kids to school will be obliterated by the pollution from their flights.'

Some people even said they deserved such flights as a reward for their green efforts, he added.

Only a very small number of citizens matched their eco-friendly behaviour at home by refusing to fly abroad, Barr told a climate change conference at Exeter University yesterday.
Considering the cult that global warming has turned into, I'm not surprised it has its fair share of hypocrites. Most religions do.

No Politics Near Me

This is an election year, but you wouldn't know it in Barack Obama's home state.
Sporting an Obama or McCain button? Driving a car with one of the campaigns’ bumper stickers? You might need to be careful on University of Illinois campuses.

The university system’s ethics office sent a notice to all employees, including faculty members, telling them that they could not wear political buttons on campus or feature bumper stickers on cars parked in campus lots unless the messages on those buttons and stickers were strictly nonpartisan. In addition, professors were told that they could not attend political rallies on campuses if those rallies express support for a candidate or political party.

Faculty leaders were stunned by the directives. Some wrote to the ethics office to ask if the message was intended to apply to professors; they were told that it was. At Illinois campuses, as elsewhere, many professors do demonstrate their political convictions on buttons, bumper stickers and the like.
Now, how are they going to tell the McCain supporters from the Obama supporters? I guess the two or three Republicans on campus will have to find some other way to stand out...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mo' Money Mo' Problems

Jerry Pournelle sums things up.
What will be done must be decided by the most unpopular Administration in nearly a century in connection with the most unpopular Congress in history; and everyone involved in finding a remedy was in one way or another a part of creating the mess. . . . One thing is certain: the people who must pay for this debacle will largely be those who took out sensible loans and have kept up their mortgage payments; those who did nothing wrong, but will be handed the bill.
Considering how they've handled money so far, I'd pass.

Curiosity Killed The Career

Well, this makes me feel safer:
A former foreign service officer at the State Department pleaded guilty on Monday to illegally reading the private passport files of three presidential candidates as well as those of actors, athletes and media figures. The former employee, Lawrence C. Yontz, looked through the files of nearly 200 people as a result of his "idle curiosity," prosecutors and his lawyer said in a filing in federal court here. The plea grows out of the State Department’s revelation six months ago that a number of employees and contractors with access to its internal passport database improperly peered into the files of three senators running for president: John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Judging from the government's behavior over the past few years, there seems to be an awful lot of "Idle curiosity" going around these days.

Where There's A Will

George Will-who used to be part of the Republican "In crowd" back when the Republican Party was actually conservative-laments what it has turned into:
The political left always aims to expand the permeation of economic life by politics. Today, the efficient means to that end is government control of capital. So, is not McCain's party now conducting the most leftist administration in American history? The New Deal never acted so precipitously on such a scale. Treasury Secretary Paulson, asked about conservative complaints that his rescue program amounts to socialism, said, essentially: This is not socialism, this is necessary. That non sequitur might be politically necessary, but remember that government control of capital is government control of capitalism. Does McCain have qualms about this, or only quarrels?
So far, McCain has seemed satisfied with populist rants about "Wall Street speculators." He seems to have left it to honest Republicans and conservatives to ask serious questions. Because being serious is apparently beyond his party's ken these days.

Norm!

Disconnect? What disconnect?
U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman said the massive government bailout of failing financial institutions is not only necessary but could make money for the federal government. “The government could make 10 or 20 times what it pays on this, possibly,” Coleman said during a campaign stop at Christy’s Cafe in North Mankato Saturday morning.
And people wonder why Al Franken, of all people, has a shot at taking his Senate seat.

Le Freedom Of Speech

A French rapper beats the system:
Accused of 'public libel against the national police,' Hamé was first acquitted in a trial court in 2004 and again in an appeals court in 2006. Then the Interior Ministry took the case to the top court of appeal, demanding that the judges annul the earlier verdict and arrange a second appeal. This time it won: In July 2007, not three months after Sarkozy had become president, the top appeals court ordered another appeals court in Versailles to rule again.

On Tuesday afternoon, a buoyant Hamé welcomed the verdict. He had risked a fine of €45,000, or $66,000, in addition to the €20,000 he has already spent in legal fees.

'It was a good moment,' Hamé said. 'If we really win, it would be a victory for us but also for democracy and for freedom of speech.'

Not everyone was so optimistic.

'I fear that the government cares less about the verdict and more about the deterrent created by a lengthy court case,' said Gwénaële Calvès, a professor of law and civil liberties specialist. 'They are signaling that they don't tolerate a certain type of criticism.'

Half a dozen rappers have been sued by the Interior Ministry and politicians over the past decade, according to Hamé's lawyer, Dominique Tricaud, who has defended most of them.
In Italy, you can go to jail for criticizing the Pope. In France, the gendarmes seem to be off-limits. This is why we have a First Amendment, yo.

Mind Games

Now they can literally get inside your head.
Homeland Security is now testing the next generation of security screening — a body scanner that can read your mind.

Most preventive screening looks for explosives or metals that pose a threat. But a new system called MALINTENT turns the old school approach on its head. This Orwellian-sounding machine detects the person — not the device — set to wreak havoc and terror.

MALINTENT, the brainchild of the cutting-edge Human Factors division in Homeland Security's directorate for Science and Technology, searches your body for non-verbal cues that predict whether you mean harm to your fellow passengers.

It has a series of sensors and imagers that read your body temperature, heart rate and respiration for unconscious tells invisible to the naked eye — signals terrorists and criminals may display in advance of an attack.
But what if somebody is agitated for some other reason, or is otherwise upset? How is Big Mind Reader going to know the difference?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Retirement Benefits

One good thing to come out of the financial crisis is that it may force a closer look at stuff like this:
During the workweek, it is not uncommon to find retired L.I.R.R. employees, sometimes dozens of them, golfing there. A few even walk the course. Yet this is not your typical retiree outing.

These golfers are considered disabled. At an age when most people still work, they get a pension and tens of thousands of dollars in annual disability payments — a sum roughly equal to the base salary of their old jobs. Even the golf is free, courtesy of New York State taxpayers.

With incentives like these, occupational disabilities at the L.I.R.R. have become a full-blown epidemic.

Virtually every career employee — as many as 97 percent in one recent year — applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement, a computer analysis of federal records by The New York Times has found. Since 2000, those records show, about a quarter of a billion dollars in federal disability money has gone to former L.I.R.R. employees, including about 2,000 who retired during that time.
There's a reason the rest of the world calls us fat and lazy. Because some of us are.

Liar, Liar

Whom are they kidding?
Sen. John McCain’s top campaign aides convened a conference call today to complain of being called “liars.” They pressed the media to scrutinize specific elements of Sen. Barack Obama’s record.

But the call was so rife with simple, often inexplicable misstatements of fact that it may have had the opposite effect: to deepen the perception, dangerous to McCain, that he and his aides have little regard for factual accuracy.

The errors in McCain strategist Steve Schmidt’s charges against Obama and Sen. Joe Biden were particularly notable because they seemed unnecessary. Schmidt repeatedly gilded the lily: He exaggerated the Biden family’s already problematic ties to the credit card industry; Obama’s embarrassing relationship with a 1960s radical; and an Obama supporter’s over-the-top attack on Sarah Palin when — in each case — the truth would have been damaging enough.
I don't know which is worse-the fact that these people are acting like two-year-olds, or that they could follow McCain into the White House.

The Return Of The Rebels

Fiscal responsiblity isn't dead in Washington-it's just being ignored:
'The federal government's propensity to bail out failing companies in struggling industries ought to be troubling to all taxpayers,' said Flake. 'Aside from the fiscal impact of spending money that the federal government doesn't have, these bailouts will likely have the opposite of their intended effect.'

'Federal bailouts may stave off short-term economic damage, but the long-term economic outlook will be much worse if the market is not allowed to make its own adjustments.'
More and more actual Republicans are speaking out against this nonsense, it seems.

Paranoia Strikes Deep

Jim Harper responds to the latest bit of assholery from Tom Tancredo (remember him?)
[A] law like this communicates precisely the wrong thing to new immigrants and the world at large. It tells the world that we’re a weak, fearful country, and that we believe Sharia law is possible in the United States. It tells the world that we’ve come off our traditional moorings and that we no longer believe in free speech and tolerance of all opinions, no matter how wrong.

Let’s talk substance, just in case one or two of you out there are weak and fearful: There is no possibility - none - that Sharia law will be established in the United States. Not by any government body at any level. This country can stand to have Sharia advocated by whatever tiny minority might want to - without any risk. In fact, allowing such discussion will help dispel whatever small demand there could be for Sharia, because it would be so obviously incompatible with our way of life.
This is simply more posturing from a guy trying desperately to stay relevant. As McCain would say, ingore the ground noise and move on.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Radio With Pictures

A tale of two revolutions. First, the art of blogging.
The growth of video, spurred on by YouTube and other video sites as well as blogging platforms that have become user friendly for uploading audio and video to a webpage have created nothing less than a revolution in blogging. In fact, the changes that occurring are so sweeping that the terms “blog” and “blogging” — at least the way those terms are generally understood now — may be anachronistic.
The Revolution will be televised, after all. Then there's cellphones.
Here, you may use your phone for calls and messaging, perhaps for some computing lite, but likely little more. In Senegal, however, farmers are using phones to track crop prices, in Japan, writers are SMSing whole novels, and in Sweden, they're texting to apply for instant loans. An app that lets you kill time on the subway, this is not. Within a year and a half, half the world will use cellphones, predict analysts, and with the bulk of new users emerging from developing nations, the question of what phones can do for their owners has never before had such potentially world-changing answers.
Modern technology, bringing down barriers one country at a time.

Whose Market Is This Anyway?

On why the Fed's moves are a bad idea:
This puts the Treasury's actions beyond the rule of law. This is a financial coup d'etat, with the only limitation the $700 billion balance sheet figure. The measure already gives the Treasury the authority not simply to buy dud mortgage paper but other assets as it deems fit. There is no accountability beyond a report (contents undefined) to Congress three months into the program and semiannually thereafter. The Treasury could via incompetence or venality grossly overpay for assets and advisory services, and fail to exclude consultants with conflicts of interest, and there would be no recourse. Given the truly appalling track record of this Administration in its outsourcing, this is not an idle worry.
A nationalized market is never a good thing, and I'm disappointed to see so-called Republicans and conservatives embracing it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sanity Lives

Well, good.
The nation's leading psychologists' association has voted to ban its members from taking part in interrogations at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other military detention sites where it believes international law is being violated.

The ban means those who are American Psychological Association members can't assist the U.S. military at these sites. They can only work there for humanitarian purposes or with non-governmental groups, according to Stephen Soldz, a Boston psychologist. Soldz is founder of an ethics coalition that has long supported the ban.

'This is a repudiation by the membership of a policy that has been doggedly pursued by APA leadership for year after year,' Soldz said Thursday. 'The membership has now spoken and it's now incumbent upon APA to immediately implement this.'
It's a bit late, but at least their hearts are in the right place. One of the things that has bothered me the most about the Bush interrogation policy is how they got the medical community-people whose first oath is to do no harm-to go along with them. Good for these people for sticking up for their medical principles.

Advancing In Reverse

In the return of its book review coloumn, the Best Magazine in the World sums up what has happened to conservatism:
Conservatism 'has developed a talent not only for presenting takeovers as the serene march of the past into the present but also for treating a general retreat from its original positions as a progression of victories.' The American right has retreated from a genuine oppositional intellectual movement to one with 'a situational function, that of framing policies for the Republican Party and contributing to the administrative staff of Republican administrations.'
With the passing of William F. Buckley, intellectual conservatism took a huge hit. Whether it can recover depends upon whether or not conservatism can find its true calling again.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Truth, Justice, And The IRS Way

An argument that Joe Biden's idea of patriotism is, shall we say, a little misguided.
Biden, it seems, has a difficult time differentiating between coercion and generosity. The distinction is simple: When one fails at altruism, he is a louse; when one fails to pay taxes, he ends up in the slammer.

But anyone can 'jump in' at any time. Biden and his wife, who would be considered wealthy under an Obama/Biden tax plan, for instance, gave an average of $369 a year to charity during the past decade. So you can see that by 'help,' Biden means assistance with your money. . . .

Sure, candidates can debate tax policy and quarrel over which tax percentage is optimal. But patriotism is a devoted love, support and defense of one's country. It's not a love of policy or the politicians who happen to be running the country right now — or tomorrow.
Mabe it's because politicians are so often in love with their own awesomeness that they think loving their ideas is the same as loving one's country. Sorry, Joe, but I'm afraid I will have to show my unpatriotic attitude here.

The Big 3-0

Saving failed institutions is expensive.
Congressional leaders said after meeting Thursday evening with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that as much as $1 trillion could be needed to avoid an imminent meltdown of the U.S. financial system.

Paulson announced plans Friday morning for a 'bold approach' that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. At a news conference at Treasury headquarters, he called for a 'temporary asset relief program' to take bad mortgages off the books of the nation's financial institutions. Congressional leaders had left Washington on Friday, but Paulson planned to confer with them over the weekend.

'We're talking hundreds of billions,' Paulson told reporters. 'This needs to be big enough to make a real difference and get to the heart of the problem.'
A fool and his money are soon parted. Our government is the most gullible creature on the planet.

Big Brother Is Listening To You

Some people are fighting for their right to privacy.
The plaintiffs are the same as those in the telecom case, Hefting v. AT&T, with one more added for good measure. All are ordinary citizens of a "nationwide class of customers of all AT&T residential phone and internet service providers," and their standing to bring suit relies not on any contention that they were specific targets of NSA surveillance, but on the claim that the government was indiscriminately vacuuming up vast quantities of data, to be filtered by the government according to algorithms known only to them.

(snip)

The case EFF plans to make—and, indeed, their plaintiffs' standing to bring suit—rests on the premise that the wholesale diversion of domestic communications to the government's filtering device in itself constitutes a search or seizure beyond the bounds of both the Fourth Amendment and federal wiretap statutes—including the new FISA Amendments Act, which gave the Attorney General broad discretion to authorize the collection of communications, including domestic-to-international communications, provided the "target" of the investigation is a foreign person or group.
Give the government an inch, and they'll take a mile. I have no problem with eavesdropping...as long as it's legally done. This is yet another legacy of the Bush Administration that I hope expires no matter who gets elected.

Massive Attack

From a newly-released memo from the Department of Homeland Security we get this:
Americans' fear of a terrorism could create a mass outbreak of a psychosomatic illness -- even in the absence of any real attack -- creating a fake epidemic that could overwhelm hospitals attempting to treat real victims.

Adding to the confusion, the symptoms of a mass pyschogenic illness look much like symptoms of an anthrax attack, avian flu outbreak or chemical attack.
Oh, how Dick Cheney must have salivated at the possibilities...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

For Big Government And Country

Call it wrapping yourself in the tax code.
Biden says he and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama want to 'take money and put it back in the pocket of middle-class people.'

Under the Democrats' economic plan, people earning more than $250,000 a year would pay more in taxes while those earning less — the vast majority of American taxpayers — would receive a tax cut.

Biden told ABC's 'Good Morning America' on Thursday that, in his words, 'it's time to be patriotic ... time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut.'
Mandatory patriotism...when did these guys start sounding like Bush Republicans?

Cold As Ice

Talk about a new Cold War.
President Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia should unilaterally claim part of the Arctic, stepping up the race for the disputed energy-rich region.

"We must finalise and adopt a federal law on the southern border of Russia's Arctic zone," Mr Medvedev told a meeting of the Security Council, in remarks carried by Interfax news agency.

"This is our responsibility, and simply our direct duty, to our descendents," he said. "We must surely, and for the long-term future, secure Russia's interests in the Arctic."

Global warming has stepped up the fight for the disputed Arctic, believed to be laden with vast reserves of oil and gas. Russia has pitted itself against Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States to fight for a greater part of the region, arguing that most of it is Russian territory since an underwater ridge links Siberia to the North Pole's seabed.

(snip)

Vladimir Putin, now Russia's prime minister, has said global warming is good for Russia – melting its vast icy territories to reveal previously inaccessible oil and gas reserves.

With oil production declining – and Russia's oil-fuelled power rising – it is keen to grab ever more.

"This region has strategic significant for us. Its development is directly tied to solving the long-term tasks of the state and its competitiveness on global markets," Medvedev said.
No war for...polar bears?

Congress? What Congress?

There used to be a legislative branch of government. Not so much anymore, it seems.
One interesting aspect of the recent government bailouts has been the complete irrelevance of Congress. The operation and decision-making seems to be run almost entirely by the Secretary of Treasury and Federal Reserve. Congress appears to lack the ability, the will, and the decisiveness to play any role except spectator, as a handful of senior executive branch officials have nationalized major portions of Wall Street.

What is further interesting is that Congress is not missed in the slightest. No one is clamoring for a greater role for our elected representatives in dealing with these problems. I haven't heard anyone saying, "We really need to get Congress more involved in this. They'll know what to do."
Well, that's actually a good thing, isn't it?

Running On Empty

High gas prices have everyone hurting.
Spiraling gas prices led an Indiana drug dealer to levy a fuel oil surcharge on customers purchasing cocaine, according to investigators. Anthony Salinas, 18, tacked on the gasoline surcharge when he sold a confidential police source coke on two occasions in June. While arranging one buy, Salinas told the source that a quarter-ounce of cocaine would cost $240--$215 for the drug itself and '$25.00 for gas money to deliver the cocaine,' according to the court affidavit.
And that's not counting the overhead.

Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Dictator

Well, maybe Hugo Chavez just needs time to get it right:
As a boy in Sabaneta, a dusty, poor town in the plains, he used to paint friends, animals and landscapes. As a military cadet he drew caricatures of his comrades for their graduating yearbook.

Asked last year why he wanted to abolish term limits so he could run indefinitely - he has spoken of ruling until 2025 - the president said his revolution was like an unfinished painting and he was the artist. Giving the brush to someone else was risky, 'because they could have another vision, start to alter the contours of the painting.'
It seems there was a fellow in Germany who liked to paint when he as younger, too...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Drilling Sooner Rather Than Later

It's a start.
The House approved a package of energy initiatives yesterday, including measures that would allow oil drilling as close as 50 miles off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and finance the long-term development of alternative energy sources.

In the first substantive votes since gasoline prices rose above $4 a gallon this summer, the House divided largely along party lines, 236 to 189, with most Republicans rejecting the Democratic-sponsored legislation because it would prohibit exploration of much of the known oil reserves closer to the coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico.

As they reversed their long-held opposition to more offshore oil exploration, Democrats said the increased taxes on oil companies in the bill and the collection of royalty payments from the drilling would yield billions of dollars to help finance the development of cleaner, renewable energy sources.

'We're not trying to give incentives to drill, we're giving incentives to invest in renewables and natural gas that will take us where we need to go,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) told reporters before the vote.
Both sides seem to be getting some of what they want. Who says bipartisanship doesn't happen?

Baby You Can Fine My Car

Is there any country more anal than England when it comes to traffic laws?
Motorists could face £20 spot fines if they leave their engines running while stuck in traffic.

Traffic wardens will be able to issue the penalties - after a warning - in a bid to cut down on pollution.

A pilot scheme is due to be launched in January in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, and will be expanded if it proves successful. West Sussex Council said it would target areas where exhaust emissions build up unnecessarily, such as rail crossings and town centres.

But drivers branded the plans yet another round of the war on the motorist. The AA pointed out that to switch off an engine and start up again within a minute actually uses more fuel than letting it idle.

Cabbie Roger Turner, 30, said he was disgusted with the idea,
adding: 'Who gave them the right to tell us to switch off our engines?

'It's not like we try to waste fuel, but can you imagine what would happen if everyone starts shutting off their engines?

'The ones I feel sorry for are the old dears, who won't know what's going on and could end with a £20 fine for not turning off the engine in their Fiat Panda. It's another example of the nanny state.'

West Sussex Council has already set up two Air Quality Management Areas in Shoreham, many of whose 20,000 residents are elderly.
I don't think even George Orwell anticipated how far contemporary Britain has gone. These people make Big Brother look like an ameteur.

George W. Who?

It's lonely when you're on your final lap:
Saddled with one of the lowest approval ratings in polling history, the president is still in demand to shake the party money tree, though almost all of that is done out of the public eye.

``Sadly, a highly visible presence by the president will hurt the party and hurt John McCain,'' Bush's former spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Republican candidates in close races compete for prominent politicians. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee stumped with North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich campaigned with Ohio Representative Steve Chabot. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is booked for events every week through Election Day, while Bush's public political calendar has mostly been empty.

``The country is looking for change, and he's not the most popular president in recent times,'' said David Carney, political director for Bush's father, President George H. W. Bush.
Well, at least he's getting a taste of what life will be like when he heads back to Crawford.

From Russia With Panic

It's been a bad week for seasoned capitalists. Imagine what it must be like for former Communists.
Russia was facing one of the biggest tests of its market economy on Wednesday after it was forced to close its two main stock exchanges to halt a rout that has led to the steepest declines since the August 1998 crisis.

The two key bourses, Micex and RTS, said they were suspending trading until further notice from the state’s main financial regulator after shares began to tumble again as investors faced a new wave of forced equity sales on margin calls and a dearth of cash. They had not reopened by close of business on Wednesday.

The collapse, which has wiped more than $700bn off the country’s stock exchanges in a matter of months and sent stocks spinning down to levels last seen in 2005, was threatening to spread into the real economy amid talk of more than one bank failure.
Unfortunately, Putin/Medvedev willp probably use this as an excuse to increase government control over the Russian economy. Our government could take the hint by promising no more bailouts and letting the free market do its thing. That would be a great lesson for the rest of the world on how capitalism works. There's a reason we won the Cold War, after all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Islamabad Or Bust

I guess we can scratch one ally off our list of "Friends":
Pakistan's military has ordered its forces to open fire if U.S. troops launch another air or ground raid across the Afghan border, an army spokesman said Tuesday.

The orders, which come in response to a highly unusual Sept. 3 ground attack by U.S. commandos, are certain to heighten tensions between Washington and a key ally against terrorism. Although the ground attack was rare, there have been repeated reports of U.S. drone aircraft striking militant targets, most recently on Sept. 12.

Pakistani officials warn that stepped-up cross-border raids will accomplish little while fueling violent religious extremism in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Some complain that the country is a scapegoat for the failure to stabilize Afghanistan.
Well, guys, if the burka fits...

What's In A Name?

I know the rest of the world says it loves him, but this is a bit much.
Few countries have embraced the idea of the US's first black president as enthusiastically as Brazil, a country with one of the largest Afro-descendant populations on Earth yet where black faces remain a minority in politics. Obama T-shirts are everywhere while chat shows and newspaper columns are filled with talk of the 47-year-old Illinois senator.

Now even Brazil's politicians are lining up for their piece of the pie. Due to a quirk of Brazilian law, candidates are allowed to run under the name of their choice. As a result, at least six Brazilian politicians have officially renamed themselves 'Barack Obama' in a bid to get an edge over their rivals in October's municipal elections.

'In truth it was an accident,' says Belford Roxo's Obama, an IT consultant who is bidding to become the city's first black mayor. 'I'd been on the television wearing a suit and people thought I looked a bit like him so they started calling me Barack Obama. They'd see me in the street and shout: 'Hey! Barack!' So I decided to register it.'

Like his illustrious American counterpart, who has relatives in Kenya, Brazil's Obama also has one foot in Africa. His grandfather was the descendant of slaves.

He admits he has also been looking to his namesake's speeches for inspiration. 'I say the same things. I talk about political renewal, change, about transforming the city.'
Hmm. A thousand years from now, the cult of Obama may be a respectable religion, like Oprah-ism or Voodoo. Right now it just increases the creepiness factor.

Your Budget Is Terminated

Fiscal conservatism lives, at least in the Governator's office.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced this afternoon that he will veto the state budget passed by the Legislature early this morning, setting the stage for an unprecedented confrontation in California's Capitol.

'When they send me the budget, I will veto it,' Schwarzenegger said at a Capitol news conference. 'If my veto is overriden,' he said, ' ... hundreds of bills will be vetoed.'

Schwarzenegger had warned lawmakers in a letter last night that he would veto their spending plan -- 78 days late today -- if it did not include three provisions to ensure the state a reliable rainy day fund for times of fiscal trouble. This year, California has developed a $15.2-billion budget gap.

The Legislature agreed to two of his three requests.

A budget veto would be a first for California, but legislative leaders in both parties said early this morning that it is likely the Legislature would override it.


'I'm pretty confident we are not going to have any difficulty' overriding a veto, said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). 'We would do it in rapid fire.'
At least he's trying. There's at least one Republican who understands what fiscal responsibility means. Unfortunately, he can't run for President.

With A Little Luck

Sir Paul is going anyway.
Despite several threats by extremists, Paul McCartney has refused to cancel an upcoming concert in Israel. He will go ahead with a gig in honour of the country's 60th anniversary.

'I do what I think and I have many friends who support Israel,' McCartney told Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth this weekend.

His comments come in response to a Sunday Express interview with the militant Islamic activist Omar Bakri Muhammad. 'If he values his life Mr McCartney must not come to Israel,' said Bakri, who has been barred from returning to the UK. 'He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.'

After living in the UK for 20 years, the Syrian-born activist left in 2005 and now lives in Lebanon.

'Instead of supporting the people of Palestine in their suffering, McCartney is celebrating the atrocities of the occupiers,' Bakri said. 'The one who is under occupation is supposed to be getting the help.'

Omar Barghouti, of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, called Bakri's threat 'deplorable'. And for his part McCartney seems unfazed. 'I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come here,' he said. 'I refused.'
He may be a bit of a fanatic when it comes to vegetarianism, and he may have bad taste in women, but he seems to have courage where it counts. It's good to see that someone in the UK still does.

Vaccinate Or Die

Via Instapundit, a look at how fear-mongering has led to the resurgence of disease:
First, the statistics (if you believe them) show that these diseases are not “harmless” or a “nuisance.” Each of them caused multiple deaths every year.

Second, I would like to know how the antivax crowd explains the “ineffectiveness” of vaccines given that the number of cases and the number of deaths from most of these diseases has decreased by up to 100%.

No cases of polio whatsoever. Tetanus killed more than 80% of the people who had the infection. Now there are only 4 deaths per year post-vaccine. No deaths from measles, mumps, or rubella where there were almost 500 deaths per year pre-vaccine.

Now that less children are being vaccinated, measles is making a comeback.

That seems like a very good cause/effect argument to me.
Yes, but the opinions of scared medical Luddites seem to carry more weight these days than pesky evidence.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Charlie's Ways And Means

It appears Charlie Rangle has more trouble on the way.
A new set of potential problems in Rep. Charles Rangel's financial papers has prompted the tax-writing lawmaker to hire a forensic accounting expert to try to unravel the mess.

Rangel, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is already the subject of ethics committee investigations on several fronts, including unreported income and unpaid taxes on his beach house in the Dominican Republic.

Those issues and others have led the New York Democrat to hire the expert to pore over Rangel's finances over the past 20 years, and issue a report to the House ethics committee.
Rangel's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said the hiring shows Rangel 'has nothing to hide and does not believe he has done anything intentionally wrong.'

The report will be given to the committee 'as quickly as possible,' Davis said, and the congressman will not get to see it before the committee.

The tax issue is particularly embarrassing for a lawmaker whose job is to guide new tax law. Rangel is resisting calls from Republicans that he should lose his committee post, among the most coveted on Capitol Hill.
I don't think he's going anywhere just yet, not if Nancy Pelosi has anything to say about it. After all, he may be a crook, but he's still their crook.

Baby, The Crime Must Fall

Meanwhile, there is some good news (via Reason):
All four of the violent crime offenses declined in 2007 when compared with figures from 2006. The estimated number of forcible rapes declined 2.5 percent; the estimated number of murders and nonnegligent manslaughters dropped 0.6 percent; and the estimated number of aggravated assaults also decreased by 0.6 percent. The estimated number of robberies decreased 0.5 percent in 2007 when compared with 2006 data....

Each of the property crimes also declined in 2007. Motor vehicle theft decreased 8.1 percent when 2007 data were compared with the 2006 data. The estimated number of larceny-thefts decreased 0.6 percent, and the estimated number of burglaries declined 0.2 percent.
But the thievery on Wall Street was at record levels, apparently.

Sharing The Misery

Well, isn't this something to look forward to.
Even if markets can be stabilised this week, the pain is far from over—and could yet spread. Worldwide credit-related losses by financial institutions now top $500 billion, of which only $350 billion of equity has been replenished. This $150 billion gap, leveraged 14.5 times (the average gearing for the industry), translates to a $2 trillion reduction in liquidity. Hence the severe shortage of credit and predictions of worse to come.

Indeed, most analysts think that the deleveraging still has far to go. Some question how much has taken place. Bianco Research notes that while the credit positions of the 20 largest banks have fallen by $300 billion, to $1.3 trillion, since the Fed started its special lending facilities, the same amount has been financed by the Fed itself through these windows. In other words, instead of deleveraging, the banks have just shifted a chunk of their risk to the central bank. As spectacular as this weekend was, more drama is on the way.
It's turned from a day at the races to a night at the opera-and operas rarely have happy endings. It seems the most we can do is find some way to cushion the fall when we hit bottom.

Black Monday

I don't know about tne long term, but one thing's for sure-it's a madhouse out there right now.
U.S. stocks tumbled, pushing the Standard & Poor's 500 Index to the steepest drop since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s bankruptcy and declining commodities increased speculation that credit-market losses and the economic slowdown will worsen.

Stocks erased more than $600 billion in value as financial shares in the S&P 500 decreased the most since at least 1989, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. American International Group Inc. sank 61 percent and Washington Mutual Inc. decreased 27 percent. Concern the U.S. is heading for a recession pushed oil lower, prompting a drop in energy stocks, and sent General Electric Co. down 8 percent.

``Fear is in charge,'' said Henry Herrmann, president and chief executive officer of Waddell & Reed Financial Inc. in Overland Park, Kansas, which manages $70 billion. ``This blows another hole in the banking system's ability to extend credit.''
It sounds like it's getting to the point where we'll all need a bailout. Is there any way we can desert this sinking ship?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's Still The Economy, Stupid

If current trends continue, Team McCain may be in for a nasty Fall surprise.
The economy grew during the first half of the year, but businesses are cutting jobs and consumers are reducing spending. In August, the unemployment rate reached 6.1 percent, compared with 4.7 percent less than a year ago.

Until the worst turmoil on Wall Street ends, the economy will struggle, said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University, Channel Islands, in Camarillo, California, who studies financial markets.

'Until and unless we have financial markets stabilize, I don't think we will see a meaningful recovery in housing, and therefore in the economy,' Sohn said. He said he expected economic growth to remain close to zero through the middle of 2009 before finally beginning to accelerate.

Steven Wieting, the United States economist for Citigroup, said: 'We're describing the U.S. economy as recessionary.'
The economy's invisible hand is still often the decider in Presidential elections. This year looks to be no different.

The Zodiac Executioners

I take it this means that Nancy Reagan wouldn't be welcome in this guy's neighborhood?
A senior Saudi cleric has said purveyors of horoscopes on Arab television should face the death penalty, a paper said on Sunday, days after another cleric argued death for TV owners.

'Sorcerers who appear on satellite channels who are proven to be sorcerers have committed a great crime ... and the Muslim consensus is that the apostate's punishment is death by the sword,' Sheikh Saleh al-Fozan told al-Madina daily.

'Those who call in to these shows should not be accorded Muslim rites when they die,' the prominent cleric added.

Many of the hundreds of Arab satellite channels have sprung up in recent years specialise in horoscopes and other advice to callers on solving problems that is seen as 'sorcery'.

In their capacity as judges, clerics of Saudi Arabia's austere form of Islam often sentence 'sorcerers' to death.
For all their faults, our religious fundamentalists aren't this bad. They're only stuck in the nineteenth century, not the tenth.

Brain Food

Well, this might explain a few things:
MELBOURNE: Scientists have discovered that going veggie could be bad for your brain-with those on a meat-free diet six times more likely to suffer brain shrinkage.

Vegans and vegetarians are the most likely to be deficient because the best sources of the vitamin are meat, particularly liver, milk and fish. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause anaemia and inflammation of the nervous system. Yeast extracts are one of the few vegetarian foods which provide good levels of the vitamin.

The link was discovered by Oxford University scientists who used memory tests, physical checks and brain scans to examine 107 people between the ages of 61 and 87.
Beware of shrinkage. This is something that liberals seem to have a constant problem with.

Kristol Clear

If this is indeed where she came from, I think libertarians may well have reason to be concerned.
Sources in the McCain camp, the Republican Party and Washington think tanks say Mrs Palin was identified as a potential future leader of the neoconservative cause in June 2007. That was when the annual summer cruise organised by the right-of-centre Weekly Standard magazine docked in Juneau, the Alaskan state capital, and the pundits on board took tea with Governor Palin.

Her case as John McCain's running mate was later advanced vociferously by William Kristol, the magazine's editor, who is widely seen as one of the founding fathers of American neoconservative thought - including the robust approach to foreign policy which spurred American intervention in Iraq.

In 1988, Mr Kristol became a leading adviser of another inexperienced Republican vice presidential pick, Dan Quayle, tutoring him in foreign affairs. Last week he praised Mrs Palin as 'a spectre of a young, attractive, unapologetic conservatism' that 'is haunting the liberal elites'.

Now many believe that the 'neocons', whose standard bearer in government, Vice President Dick Cheney, lost out in Washington power struggles to the more moderate defence secretary Robert Gates and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, last year are seeking to mould Mrs Palin to renew their influence.
Whatever happened to the "Mavericks" both McCain and Sarah Palin used to be?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Happy Chip Day

The humble integrated circuit hits the big 5-0.
A half-century ago a young engineer named Jack Kilby first demonstrated an integrated circuit he designed while working through the summer at his Texas Instruments job because he didn't have enough vacation time for a holiday.

Kilby used a sliver of conductive germanium to connect a transistor and other bits, dubbing the soldered assembly an 'integrated circuit' (IC).

Engineer Robert Noyce was designing his own IC 'in parallel' at Fairchild Semiconductor but didn't debut his creation until about six months later. Noyce went on to found US chip making giant Intel in 1968.

While Kilby was the first to demonstrate an IC, Noyce came up with a design that could be mass produced, according to Leslie Berlin, project historian for Stanford Silicon Valley Archives and author of a book about Noyce.

'It was an idea whose time had come,' Berlin told AFP. 'There were efforts all over the world to make something like an integrated circuit.'
I think it's safe to say that without this little gizmo there would be no Interwebs, no personal computers, none of the wondrous gadgets we now take for granted. Thank you Jack kilby, wherever you are.

Waffle House

The stupidity just keeps on coming.
Activists at a conservative political forum snapped up boxes of waffle mix depicting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a racial stereotype on its front and wearing Arab-like headdress on its top flap.

Values Voter Summit organizers cut off sales of Obama Waffles boxes on Saturday, saying they had not realized the boxes displayed 'offensive material.' The summit and the exhibit hall where the boxes were sold had been open since Thursday afternoon.

The box was meant as political satire, said Mark Whitlock and Bob DeMoss, two writers from Franklin, Tenn., who created the mix. They sold it for $10 a box from a rented booth at the summit sponsored by the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council.

David Nammo, executive director of the lobbying group FRC Action, said summit organizers were told the boxes were a parody of Obama's policy positions but had not examined them closely.

Republican Party stalwarts Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were among speakers at the forum, which officials said drew 2,100 activists from 44 states.
Way to reach out to black voters there, guys. Sheesh.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Invisible Hand Of J. Edgar Hoover

Is anyone else getting tired of stuff like this?
The U.S. Justice Department unveiled proposed new rules on Friday for FBI investigations, changes a civil liberties group criticized for giving agents powers to investigate Americans without proper suspicion.

In its first major change in years, the Justice Department proposed a consolidated set of guidelines for domestic FBI operations, seeking to apply the same rules for criminal and terrorism cases, and for collecting foreign intelligence.

The guidelines were first adopted in the 1970s following disclosures that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover had run a widespread domestic surveillance program that spied on civil rights activists and political opponents.

Officials said the new guidelines, which total 45 pages, were still being revised after consultations with Congress and civil liberties groups. The new rules are expected to take effect on October 1.
This is one legacy of the last eight years that I hope either Obama or McCain could undo. But we'll see.

Anarchy OK In The UK

This should make potential criminals happy:
The threat of global warming is so great that campaigners were justified in causing more than £35,000 worth of damage to a coal-fired power station, a jury decided yesterday. In a verdict that will have shocked ministers and energy companies the jury at Maidstone Crown Court cleared six Greenpeace activists of criminal damage.

Jurors accepted defence arguments that the six had a 'lawful excuse' to damage property at Kingsnorth power station in Kent to prevent even greater damage caused by climate change. The defence of 'lawful excuse' under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 allows damage to be caused to property to prevent even greater damage – such as breaking down the door of a burning house to tackle a fire.

The not-guilty verdict, delivered after two days and greeted with cheers in the courtroom, raises the stakes for the most pressing issue on Britain's green agenda and could encourage further direct action.
I think this is what they call stretching the law just a little bit. But then I'm obviously not as smart as a juror.

Fly The Porn Free Skies

It's good to know the airlines are focusing on what's really important in the post-9-11 era:
American Airlines flight attendants are urging the world's largest carrier to filter its in-flight Internet service to block access to pornography and other Web sites the workers said were inappropriate.

Attendants and passengers raised ``a lot of complaints,'' and leaders of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants broached the issue with management, without making a formal request for filters, union spokesman David Roscow said today in an interview. He didn't give specifics about any objections.
It seems the airlines are going out of their way to make flying as miserable an experience as possible.

True Colors

What has happened to feminism? Apparently the feminists are now showing where they really stand:
Feminists have argued for decades that womanhood is an existential and metaphysical state of enlightenment. But they have no problem questioning whether women they hate are really women at all.

Since we know from basic science that Palin is a woman — she’s had five kids, for starters — it’s clear that these ideological thugs aren’t talking about actual, you know, facts. They’re doing what people of totalitarian mind-sets always do: bully heretics, demonize enemies, whip the troops into line.
They were quite comfortable portraying themselves as the victims when women whose politics they agreed with either lost elections or were criticized. Sarah Palin has broken the stereotypical mold. In her own way, like Barack Obama, she has set liberal preconceptions about what it takes to gain empowerment on its high heels. They can't control her or put her in some easy to define box. Now that's shattering the glass ceiling.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Don't Run So Close To Me

There's fear and loathing among some previously confident Democrats these days.
A Democratic fundraiser for Congressional candidates said some planned to distance themselves from Mr Obama and not attack Mr McCain.

“If people are voting for McCain it could help Republicans all the way down the ticket, even in a year when the Democrats should be sweeping all before us,” said the fundraiser, a former Hillary Clinton supporter.

“There is a growing sense of doom among Democrats I have spoken to . . . People are going crazy, telling the campaign ‘you’ve got to do something’.”

Concern was greatest among first-term representatives who won seats in traditionally Republican districts in the landslide of 2006. “Several of them face a real fight to hold on to those seats,” the fundraiser said.
Oh what a difference a VP pick makes. Of course there's also the fact that maybe some people are taking a second look at The One now that the race is really underway. Maybe he isn't quite the Change they've been waiting for, after all.

He Was Born In A Small Town

Ben Franklin-the original Sarah Palin?
...while serving as his country’s ambassador in Paris during the American Revolution, he affected the dress and manner of a simple Quaker: a dull coat and a fur cap atop stringy, unpowdered hair. The French ate it up. Franklin was the ultimate American: an unaffected, un-citified, and natural man. He even had some bad things to say about cities, recognizing the appeal of Africans’ and American Indians’ simpler lives.

But there’s no doubt that for Franklin, the good life meant life in the city. Franklin made his way by means of book learning, wit, social savvy, and ability to hobnob with the rich, famous, and powerful—all assets valued in urban society.
Thomas Jefferson may have represented America's intellectual side to the world, but Ben Franklin, more or less, represented the Middle America of his day. Maybe Europe should pay more attention to today's Middle America, and less to the silver-tongued orator.

An Employee Of One

If you're a veteran, the private sector wants you.
Q. After several years of military service, you are making the transition back to the civilian world. You need to find a job, despite the weak economy. Will your military experience help you?

A. In most cases, it is seen as an asset. In fact, new veterans have more opportunities now than they had two years ago, when the economy was stronger, said Mark Whalls, co-director of the military division of Kaye/Bassman, an executive recruiting firm in Plano, Tex.

“We can’t keep up with the demand, especially in energy, mining, medical device sales, private aviation and the semiconductor industry,” he said.

That’s because more companies now see the value of military experience, in terms of skills training, work ethic and culture, which stresses teamwork, loyalty and integrity, said Stephen Norred, co-director of the division with Mr. Whalls.
This should be a welcoming sign to veterans, and it's actually a turnaround from the way veterans have traditionally been received by employers (World War Two, with the introduction of the G.I. Bill, was the exception to the rule). Good hunting, people.

Spies Like Us

One of the Cold War's most notorious spy cases may have some new light shed on it.
Ever since he was tried and convicted with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on espionage charges in 1951, Morton Sobell has maintained his innocence.

Until now. In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Sobell, who served nearly 19 years in Alcatraz and other federal prisons, admitted for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy. And he implicated his fellow defendant, Julius Rosenberg, in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets vital classified military information and what the American government claimed was the secret to the atomic bomb.

In the interview, Mr. Sobell, who is 91 and lives in the Bronx, was asked whether as an electrical engineer he turned over military secrets to the Soviets during World War II when they were considered allies of the United States. Was he, in fact, a spy?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, call it that,” he replied. “I never thought of it as that in those terms.”
Well, gee, considering that his friends got burned for it, I wonder what he does think it was.

Looking Back, Moving Ever Forward


The sense of unity we had on the day has faded. The events of the day are increasingly relegated to history. But we still remember. We don't forget-but we move forward. We honor those who are no longer with us by living our own lives to their fullest measure. And we remember the ordinary people who became heroes. God bless America.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Professor In Chief

Jeffrey Rosen at The New Republic argues that having Joe Biden as Number Two may be a good thing.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the veteran of some of the most bruising Supreme Court confirmation battles, Biden did more than champion civil liberties. He developed an uncanny knack for making them politically palatable to Middle America. In fact, during the Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas hearings, he shepherded a new and expansive conception of privacy into public discourse. This gift for marketing civil liberties won't just serve Obama well as he rebuts Republican attacks during the campaign; if the ticket prevails, Biden's instincts will help guide the selection of judges and the challenging task of reconstructing civil liberties after the assault of the last eight years.
When compared to how Cheney felt about that pesky Constitution, that would be a welcome change indeed.

They Feel Their Pain

This is what happens when pork bites back:
For years members of Congress have been diverting money from their states transportation budgets to pay for their own vanity projects. But now that budgets are tight, states are beginning to miss that money that they need for more essential infrastructure. Washington’s solution? More spending of course. Congress wants to spend another $8 billion to bail the fund out.
McCain the Reformer says he'll deal with this if elected. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Stroke

Mini-Me seems to be M.I.A.
Mr. Kim didn't attend the country's 60th anniversary celebration Tuesday, according to news agencies with offices in Pyongyang, reinforcing speculation that he is in poor health after reports that he collapsed last month and has been visited by doctors from China.

The U.S. officials said the dictator's current state of health isn't known. A Bush administration official working on North Korea expressed concern about the country's apparent lack of leadership. The official noted that Mr. Kim's ill health has coincided with a significant hardening of rhetoric out of Pyongyang in recent weeks.

North Korea's military, the Korean People's Army, is seeking to appear strong at a time when the country's leadership situation is in flux, the U.S. officials said.

'It's not clear who's in charge,' said the U.S. official tracking the situation.
Maybe he finally got too ronery...

Here Comes The Judge

Clarence Thomas puts things in perspective.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Tuesday that African-Americans are better served by colorblind programs than affirmative action.

Thomas, addressing leaders of historically black colleges, said affirmative action 'has become this mantra and there almost has become this secular religiosity about it. I think it almost trumps thinking.'

A longtime opponent of race-based preferences in hiring and school admissions, Thomas said, 'Just from a constitutional standpoint, I think we're going to run into problems if we say the Constitution says we can consider race sometimes.'
Clarence Thomas grew up during a more segregated era. He was able to take advantage of changing laws and attitudes without demanding special treatment. When the day comes when everybody can achieve whatever they want without feeling the need for preferential treatment, that will be the day we can put racism behind us.

Big Government Goes Broke

The entitlement chickens may soon be coming home to roost.
The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce today released its third analysis on the lavish pay and benefits given to Nevada's government workers at the expense of the taxpaying masses. After previously finding that Nevada public employees are paid an average of 29 percent more than their private-sector counterparts, and that Nevada's local government workers have the eighth-highest public-sector salaries in the country, the chamber put its magnifying glass to the $6.3 billion hole in the state's public employee pension fund.

Well-documented but insufficiently addressed by the Nevada Legislature, the massive unfunded liability has left the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System among the least stable government pension plans in the country. The chamber analysis, completed by Applied Analysis and Hobbs, Ong & Associates, says the program is only 77 percent funded despite taxpayer contributions of more than $250 million this year solely for the unfunded accrued liability.

Nevada politicians have spent the better part of four decades transforming what was a reasonable and relatively sustainable system of compensation into a budget-busting monster with no relation to the private-sector industries that support it. In 1978, the system had seven active workers for every retiree collecting benefits. By fiscal year 2007, that ratio had fallen to 2.9 active workers for every pensioner. And with more early retirements and longer life expectancies, that ratio will shrink further in the years ahead, sending costs higher.
It seems that in Nevada (which is a Republican state, BTW)the casinos aren't the only places where there's a lot of gambling going on.

Lights Out in London

Britain's next dark age may be of its own making:
Britain is “quite simply running out of power” and blackouts are almost inevitable within the next few years.

This is the stark warning from the head of an energy think-tank who believes power cuts could be serious enough to spark civil disorder.

Campbell Dunford of the respected Renewable Energy Foundation said: “It’s almost too late to do anything about it. Nothing will stop us having to pay very high prices for power in future.

“If we pull our finger out now we can limit blackouts but it’s going to be pretty grim whatever happens.”
This is one area where McCain is right-the atom is our friend. Hopefully we'll learn from where our cousins across the pond have failed.

Monday, September 08, 2008

When 2 Becomes 1

She's now a Republican rock star, but does that help or hurt John McCain?
Judging by the news coverage in recent days -- and by measurable reader response to items about the Alaska governor, including this widely-viewed Palin fashion photo gallery -- Palin is No. 1 on the Republican ticket, even though she's really No. 2.

With Sen. John McCain, the presidential nominee standing there grinning, their joint crowds spontaneously break out in chants of 'Sa-rah! Sa-rah! Sa-rah!' Her upswept hairstyle is reportedly being widely copied, according to people who notice such things.
On the one hand, picking her has certainly jazzed up the campaign. On the other hand, it threatens to turn McCain almost into an afterthought. That might not sit well with him in the long run.

How To Save Your Local School

It appears Green Dot has been given a green light:
Principal Ronnie Coleman has painstakingly hired each teacher. The staff has attended retreats together and been trained in how to instill discipline. (All staff monitor the hallways during class changes to make sure students aren't cutting classes or getting into trouble; it's better to walk around the classroom than to sit at a desk.) Green Dot CEO Steve Barr didn't fill the quad with the oak trees he'd envisioned, but on registration day, workers were busy planting 16 century-old olive trees that, just as he'd hoped, made the grassy area a shaded, inviting place for students to gather.

Perhaps most promising, the biggest Green Dot fans among those registering were generally the ones who had enrolled in summer school and were impressed by what had been wrought in a short time: Students were neatly dressed and better behaved. Graffiti, a perpetual plague last year despite conscientious repainting, had virtually disappeared. As a security guard described the summer, 'The kids walked around with smiles on their faces.' The new Locke High School now must find a way to spread that sense of optimism among all of its students.
An inner city school that isn't just a place for gangbangers to hang out? Now that's change we can believe in.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Uncle Sam Wants To Save You

Government bailouts have now become a fact of life for what is supposed to be a conservative administration.
The effort to save Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is only the latest in a series of financial maneuvers by the government that stretch back to the rescue of the military contractor Lockheed Aircraft and the Penn Central Railroad under President Richard Nixon, the shoring up of Chrysler in the waning days of the Carter administration and the salvage of the U.S. savings and loan system in the late 1980s.

More recently, after airplanes were grounded because of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress approved $15 billion in subsidies and loan guarantees to the faltering airlines.

Now, with the U.S. government preparing to save Fannie and Freddie only six months after the Federal Reserve Board orchestrated the rescue of Bear Stearns, it appears that the mortgage crisis has forced the government to once again shove ideology aside and get into the bailout business.

'If anybody thought we had a pure free-market financial system, they should think again,' said Robert Bruner, dean of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
And it doesn't look like it's going to end soon, with the automobile industry now also asking for handouts. It sets a bad precedent, and a bad example.

Speaking In False Tongues

Whoops:
ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Sen. Barack Obama's foes seized Sunday upon a brief slip of the tongue, when the Democratic presidential nominee was outlining his Christianity but accidentally said, 'my Muslim faith.'

The three words -- immediately corrected -- were during an exchange with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on 'This Week,' when he was trying to criticize the quiet smear campaign suggesting he is a Muslim.

But illustrating the difficulty of preventing false rumors about his faith from spreading, anti-Obama groups within one hour of the interview had sliced it out of context and were sending it around via email. They also were blogging about it.

Mr. Obama, who is a Christian and often proudly speaks about how his faith has influenced his public service, said he finds it 'deeply offensive' that there are efforts 'coming out of the Republican camp to suggest that perhaps I'm not who I say I am when it comes to my faith.'
Of course, the idiots out there will harp on this. It's the nature of the decaying conservative beast.

This Is An Ex-Dictator

Is Mini-Me no more?
Is Kim Jong-il for real? The question has baffled foreign intelligence agencies for years but now a veteran Japanese expert on North Korea says the “dear leader” is actually dead – and his role is played by a double.

The expert says Kim died of diabetes in 2003 and world leaders including Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hu Jintao of China have been negotiating with an impostor.

He believes that Kim, fearing assassination, had groomed up to four lookalikes to act as substitutes at public events. One underwent plastic surgery to make his appearance more convincing. Now, the expert claims, the actors are brought on stage whenever required to persuade the masses that Kim is alive.

The author has been derided by rival analysts of the hermetic communist state. Yet so few facts are known about North Korea’s ruling dynasty that some of the strange things reported in Professor Toshimitsu Shigemura’s bestselling book cannot be readily explained.
That's a scary thought-a bunch of Lil' Kims running around loose...

It's Not What's For Dinner

The Climate Change Diet Police, coming soon to a country near you?
People should have one meat-free day a week if they want to make a personal and effective sacrifice that would help tackle climate change, the world's leading authority on global warming has told The Observer

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which last year earned a joint share of the Nobel Peace Prize, said that people should then go on to reduce their meat consumption even further.

His comments are the most controversial advice yet provided by the panel on how individuals can help tackle global warning.

(snip)

'In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity,' said Pachauri. 'Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,' said the Indian economist, who is a vegetarian.

However, he also stressed other changes in lifestyle would help to combat climate change. 'That's what I want to emphasise: we really have to bring about reductions in every sector of the economy.'
It's always about "Immediate action" with people who want to tell other people how to live their lives. Never mind that immediacy loses its appeal once it's actually tried.

The Palin Presser Begins?

She'll apparently speak after all:
A McCain-Palin adviser says an interview was offered to ABC's Charlie Gibson several days ago and that they expect it to happen in the latter part of the week in Alaska.
Well, it's a start. And it's a far cry from what we heard earlier:
"She'll agree to an interview when we think it's time and when she feels comfortable doing it," David said on "Fox News Sunday."
Did Team McCain really think it was a smart move to try and keep Palin out of microphone range with the race heading into the home stretch? What were they thinking?

Uppity Update

From the not-so-New South, we get this:
According to his spokesman, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Southerner born and bred, had no idea on earth that the word “uppity” had racial connotations when he used it to describe Barack and Michelle Obama.

No idea at all. Could have knocked him over with a feather when someone told him. Really, who knew?
Um, okaaaay...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fannie And Freddie Were Lenders

It's Supergovernment to the rescue:
The Treasury Department is expected to announce as early as this weekend a plan to bail out and recapitalize collapsing home mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in one of the biggest government rescues in U.S. history.

Such a plan would end a long downward spiral for the firms, which the government created to help expand home ownership and provide a secondary market for home loans.

Rep. Barney Frank (D.-Mass.) confirmed in a statement Saturday that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is set to put the federal government in control of the two troubled mortgage owners. But Frank, who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said he had no details on the intervention plan. Officials at the Treasury Dept. could not be reached for comment.
It would seem to me that a better message would be to let these people fail. Isn't a Republican administration supposed to believe in fiscal responsibility?

Friday, September 05, 2008

My Mother The VP

Sexism is suddenly in among Obama surrogates.
Gutman said the issue wasn't one of gender, but one of parenting -– regardless of the gender of the parent.

'This has nothing to do with gender, whether Todd Palin was the nominee or Sarah Palin was the nominee,' Gutman said. 'If my daughter had just come home at 17 years old and said, 'Mom, Dad, I'm pregnant, we have a family problem,' I wouldn't say, 'You know what we're going to do? We're going to take this private family problem...and you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to go on the international stage and broadcast this to the world.''

Gutman continued, 'this wasn't a working mother issue, this was a parent issue…The proper attack is not that a woman shouldn't run for vice president with five kids, it's that a parent, when they have a family in need, a Down's baby who needs them -- mother or father.'

'So you are judging her parenting skills,' Ingraham said. 'You're saying you don't think she's a good parent for doing this job.'

'I'm saying the proper criticism is not that it's a woman or man – it doesn't matter whether it's Todd or Sarah,' Gutman said. 'Think of how many politicians have said it's not the right time in my family's life for me to run.'

(snip)

Obama spokesman Bill Burton, asked to respond to Gutman's remarks, said "Obviously these comments do not reflect our frequently stated views that families of the candidates should be off limits."
I think they are shooting themselves in the foot over this issue. Suddenly, a political Mom also has to be a stay-at-home mom. This will not go over well with the millions of working mothers in this country. Nice going ticking off the female voters, guys.