Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Revolution Will Be Middle-Aged

The Cuban Revolution reaches a milestone. What keeps this creaky relic of the Communist era going?
The revolution still has plenty of advocates, in Cuba and abroad. They still point to achievements in health and education.

The revolution's biggest achievement, however, has been its ability to stay in power. There are many reasons why, including Fidel Castro's magnetism, the government's ruthless repression and gains in social services molded a loyal following among hard core fidelista types.

For it to be a true success, though, the revolution would have needed to produce democratic governance and a sustainable economy as well. It hasn't.

Now, at 50, the revolution is more an entrenched bureaucracy than an agent for change.
The ideology has become as geriatric as its leadership. Yes, Fidel outlasted all of the Presidents who wanted him gone. But he had to run his own country into the ground in order to do it.

Gaza Gangland

What does Israel do about Gaza, once the latest round of fighting is over?
The ideal situation, of course, is that the people of Gaza, realizing that Hamas has delivered them hardship, overthrow their government. But Hamas also alleviates the hardship it creates. The group has thoroughly penetrated the social fabric of Gaza. Its schools, orphanages, hospitals and soup kitchens serve the entire population. Hamas is not al-Qaeda. It delivers services, and because it delivers services, the population of Gaza depends on Hamas.
Well, many bad neighborhoods depend on the gangs that control them. Al Capone ran a soup kitchen. Like any popular political party, Hamas knows how to create good PR to keep its followers from figuring out that they're being used.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1879

It could literally be the light of a new age:
The lamp which Mr. Edison regards as a crowning triumph is a model of simplicity and economy. In the lamp the light is emitted by a horsechoe of carbonized paper about two and a half inches long and the width of a thread. This horsehoe is in a glass globe, from which the air has been as thoroughly exhausted as science is able to do.

...

"As there is no oxygen to burn," said Mr. Edison, "You can readily see that this piece of carbon will last an ordinary lifetime. It has the property of resisting the heat of the current of electricity, while at the same time it becomes incandescent, and it gives out one of the most brilliant lights which the world has ever seen. The cost of preparing one of these little horse-shoes of carbon is about one cent, and the entire lamp will not cost more than 25 cents."
Cheap and efficient, Mr. Edison? Bravo. Whatever you do, don't let the government get involved in it.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1999

Russia's favorite (or not so favorite) party boy is calling it quits.
President Boris Yeltsin announced on national television Friday that he had resigned and that presidential elections would be held within 90 days to replace him.

The announcement caught Russia by surprise and is likely to throw the country into yet another political crisis as parties scramble to prepare for unexpected presidential elections.

Looking pale and grim in a speech on national television, Yeltsin said he had turned over his powers to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, his preference to succeed him as president.

'Today, on the last day of the outgoing century, I resign,' Yeltsin said.
So meet the new boss, who's definitely not the same as the old boss. How will a former KGB guy run the former Soviet Union?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"No Filthy Luchre Near Me"

They do it every year, but in this particular economy Congress's self-induced pay raise is getting more criticism than usual.
Despite the country's economic meltdown, Congress is about to receive an automatic $4,700 pay raise on Thursday — a 2.8 percent increase over the current $169,300 salary for most members.

Rep. Jim Matheson says that is unconscionable, and he's vowing to renew his annual fight to stop such automatic raises. He says the bad economy might just help him win this year, and a government watchdog group is joining his battle to say the raise is a bad idea in such times.

'In a situation where there aren't many people in this country who are seeing their salaries go up, and in fact a lot of people are losing their jobs, the notion that Congress should be having an automatic pay raise without even a vote just doesn't pass the smell test,' Matheson said earlier this month.

Agreeing is Tom Schantz, president of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste — which also issued a call for Congress to stop its automatic pay raise.

'While thousands of Americans are facing layoffs and downsizing, Congress should be mortified to accept a raise,' Schantz said.
Something tells me that they're not that mortified...

Crime And Sensible Punishment

Jim Webb takes up the cause of prison reform.
This spring, Webb (D-Va.) plans to introduce legislation on a long-standing passion of his: reforming the U.S. prison system. Jails teem with young black men who later struggle to rejoin society, he says. Drug addicts and the mentally ill take up cells that would be better used for violent criminals. And politicians have failed to address this costly problem for fear of being labeled 'soft on crime.'

It is a gamble for Webb, a fiery and cerebral Democrat from a staunchly law-and-order state. Virginia abolished parole in 1995, and it trails only Texas in the number of people it has executed. Moreover, as the country struggles with two wars overseas and an ailing economy, overflowing prisons are the last thing on many lawmakers' minds.

[...]

Webb aims much of his criticism at enforcement efforts that he says too often target low-level drug offenders and parole violators, rather than those who perpetrate violence, such as gang members. He also blames policies that strip felons of citizenship rights and can hinder their chances of finding a job after release. He says he believes society can be made safer while making the system more humane and cost-effective.
There is something to be said about reforming a system that seems designed to make politicians look better rather than to actually fight crime. Say what you will about his politics, on this issue Webb makes far more sense than most.

Monday, December 29, 2008

We Are All Peasants Now

It's kind of hard to disagree with John Cole here:
I really can not take another story about the rough lifestyle changes facing the rich and stupid. I don’t care that they are having to sell their summer homes in the Hamptons. I don’t care that they now are opting to fly first class instead of using their private jets. Do the folks at CNN and elsewhere not realize how deeply offensive this is to the other 99.5% of the country? You know, the folks who, during the current economic disaster are losing their house, their life savings, and their medical care, not their lunchtime reservations at a Manhattan eatery?
This only furthers my suspicion that many in the MSM wish they were the rich and stupid instead of just covering them.

Some Union Members Are More Equal Than Others

The automobile industry is hurting. So how are union leaders able to afford stuff like this?
Even as the industry struggles with massive losses, the UAW brass continue to own and operate a $33 million lakeside retreat in Michigan, complete with a $6.4 million designer golf course. And it's costing them millions each year.

• Click here to see photos of the UAW's $33 million retreat.

The UAW, known more for its strikes than its slices, hosts seminars and junkets at the Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center in Onaway, Mich., which is nestled on '1,000 heavily forested acres' on Michigan's Black Lake, according to its Web site.

But the Black Lake club and retreat, which are among the union's biggest fixed assets, have lost $23 million in the past five years alone, a heavy albatross around the union's neck as it tries to manage a multibillion-dollar pension plan crisis.

Critics call it a resort for union leaders that wastes money from union dues.

'It's their members' money that they're spending on this thing,' said Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts, a union watchdog group. 'The union has bigger issues at hand than managing a golf course.'
Well, like the government, they have to waste the money on something, don't they?


Everyday Low Bailouts

And now the retailers want their share of the never-ending bailout:
The National Retail Federation called for three periods of sales tax-free shopping that would last 10 days each in March, July and October 2009. The trade group estimates that it would save consumers about $20 billion, or $175 per family.

Under the industry group's proposal, which would exclude alcohol and tobacco sales, the federal government would reimburse states for the lost tax revenue. State sales tax rates range from 2.9% to 7.25%, the group said. The five states without a sales tax -- Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon -- would also receive monies.

In a letter signed by the chief executives of retail chains, including J.C. Penney Co., Saks Inc. and Petsmart Inc., the NRF warned the situation was 'critical,' with consumer confidence in October falling to the lowest level in the 41 years data has been collected.

'Without swift, additional Congressional measures, the current economic weakness could worsen, creating a more rapid downward spiral -- beyond what economists are predicting for 2009 -- in the years ahead,' the NRF said.
I'm all for getting rid of taxes, but not at the cost of...other taxes. Something doesn't add up, here.

The Most Dangerous Woman In The World?

Via Ann Althouse, a look at the world of Oprah-ism as reported by Skeptoid:
To her estimated total audience of 100 million, many of whom uncritically accept every word the world's wealthiest woman says, she promotes the paranormal, psychic powers, new age spiritualism, conspiracy theories, quack celebrity diets, past life regression, angels, ghosts, alternative therapies like acupuncture and homeopathy, anti-vaccination, detoxification, vitamin megadosing, and virtually everything that will distract a human being from making useful progress and informed decisions in life. Although much of what she promotes is not directly harmful, she offers no distinction between the two, leaving the gullible public increasingly and incrementally injured with virtually every episode.
Oddly enough, Sean Hannity does much the same thing on Hannity's America.

Enter Rahmbo

I guess it's official:
Congressman Rahm Emanuel will resign his congressional seat on Friday in anticipation of joining President-elect Barack Obama's administration.
Emanuel delivered the news in an automated call to constituents on Monday.

'This is Congressman Rahm Emanuel. As you may have heard, President-elect Obama has asked me to be his new chief of staff and I have accepted this offer. Therefore, in the near future, I will be resigning from Congress. ... I also want you to know, it has been a privilege and an honor to serve as your representative for the last six years,' he says in the taped call.

Shortly after the election, Emanuel was the first person named to join Obama's team.
A special election now must be scheduled to fill Emanuel's seat in the 5th District, and several Chicago politicians have already expressed interest in the seat.
Let the bidding commence!

To Pledge Or Not To Pledge

You will be shocked-shocked, I say-to learn that teenagers still lie about sex in spite of abstinence-only programs.
Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a 'virginity pledge,' but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

'Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior,' said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. 'But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking.'
We'll see how the backers of these programs try and explain this one.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From Over There To Over Here

Everybody hates America, right? Tell that to this guy.
When Staff Sgt. Rene Reale deploys to Iraq for the second time early next year, he'll risk his life fighting alongside his fellow members of the North Carolina National Guard.

But when it comes to choosing a commander-in-chief, Reale has no say. As a British citizen, Reale was unable to vote in the November election. And that's something he'd like to change.

As a combat veteran, the 40-year-old Reale is eligible for citizenship under rules signed by President George W. Bush in 2004 that streamlined the process for service members fighting in the U.S. military. More than 5,000 soldiers have become U.S. citizens since then, and several thousand more, including Reale, are in the pipeline.

'It is important for my family and me,' Reale said in an English accent. 'My kids are all Americans.'
I can hear the complaints from the anti-immigration crowd now: "They durk ur recruits!"

Did She Or Didn't She?

Condi Rice answers the question, sort of:
"There is a widely held belief in Washington, anyway, that you voted for Barack Obama," Braver said.

"And as secretary of state, I'm going to keep my partisan or non-partisan views to myself on that," Rice said. "But I think all Americans were taken with the fact that we were able, after the long history that we've been through, that initial birth defect of slavery that we elected an African American."
Let clarification reign!

It's The Corruption, Stupid

News flash! Americans think most politicians are crooks. In other news, the Sun sets in the West.
In Congress, prominent members such as House Ways and Means chair Charles Rangel, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson are either accused of malfeasance, officially charged with corruption or already convicted. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been accused of multiple acts of corruption, including extorting cash or jobs for filling President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat. All of this is creating a growing sense of mistrust. But then Americans have always been suspicious of big institutions that can exert a lot of power.
Well, reasonable Americans, anyway. The unreasonable types on both sides keep sending their chosen crooks back into office.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Heh. Good question:
Given that we were told we had to immediately cut back on carbon emissions (even before sustainable alternative energies are in place), largely by curbing our lavish energy-dependent lifestyles, why then all the concern about stimuli and global depression? Surely, the world right now is sort of what the radical Gorists wanted to see, since the current cutback in gasoline usage, and general economic slowdown are radically restricting the burning of fossil fuels in a manner that even the most optimistic green utopian could hardly have envisioned just few years ago?
So, what about it? Do liberals want to save the carbon-using economy, or just those parts of it that are fashionable?

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Coalition

Obama's efforts at compromise may have earned him permanent distrust from, well, people who don't really matter:
For about a generation, many on the left have believed that active and unapologetic intolerance of the right was justified because its views on matters such as abortion and gay rights were simply unacceptable. This moral somersault may work for them, but to the average American voter, a full-throated assault on the likes of Rick Warren for being 'wrong' on two of many issues looks like simple intolerance.

The person in this drama for whom the leftwing Democratic habit of moralized intolerance could be a problem is Barack Obama. The left loaded up heavily in its support of candidate Obama, first against the Clinton machine -- always thought to be too willing to compromise with the center -- and then in the general campaign. These elements in the Democratic Party know what they want Barack Obama to deliver on judges, the environment, global warming and lifestyle rights litigation.

Mr. Obama's choice of Rick Warren for the Inaugural's invocation suggests that he is intent on using the momentum of his remarkable victory to build a governing coalition for the long haul. The silver lining for Republicans may be that the left won't let him do that.
The good news for Obama is that he really doesn't need them the way the Republicans needed the far right. Hmm. Maybe they could learn something from this.

Knickers Make The Rock Star

Some singers age better than others.
“People pick on Madonna unfairly,” [said Joe Levy, the editor of Blender], speaking of the star’s fanatical self-transformations.

It is certainly true that, in her role as seeker and radical self-improver, Madonna has provided a shiny alternative to a pop landscape that, without her, would doom audiences of the world to the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Shakira or, shiver, Angus Young.

Mr. Young, in case you’d forgotten, or never knew, is a guitarist and founder of the Australian metal band AC/DC. And he has been performing in the same stage garb for almost his entire career.

That is to say he has been wearing knickers and a schoolboy cap for twice as long as Miley Cyrus, the tween moppet, has been alive and honing a hapless sex-kitten routine.

Mr. Levy put it this way: “It’s a little creepy to see this ancient bald man in knickers.”
I have to admit, I never thought of it that way. But then again, when was the last time you saw other rockers from the same era still wearing Spandex?

"Leave The Fighting To Someone Else"

Calling all Muslims: Iran needs cannon fodder!
Iran's Supreme Leader issued a religious decree to Muslims around the world on Sunday, ordering them to defend Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli attacks 'in any way possible', state television reported.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also declared Monday a day of public mourning in Iran after Israel killed more than 280 Palestinians in two days of air strikes on Gaza.

'All Palestinian combatants and all the Islamic world's pious people are obliged to defend the defenceless women, children and people in Gaza in any way possible,' Khamenei said.

'Whoever is killed in this legitimate defence, is considered a martyr,' he said in a statement.
Considering that the whole martyrdom thing isn't as popular as it used to be, I have to wonder how many will actually take Iran up on its offer.

Girls With Guns

Oh, how the mighty have fallen:
Laura Zuniga, the Mexican beauty queen jailed after she was picked up with an alleged drug cartel leader and heavily armed men, has been stripped of one of her titles, Bolivian organizers said Saturday.

Zuniga lost her title as Queen of Hispanic America, said Promociones Gloria, the Bolivian group that organizes the event.

Vivian Noronha Cia of Brazil now takes the tiara 'as consequence of the events known to the public in which Miss Laura Zuniga... was involved,' Promociones Gloria said in a brief statement.

Zuniga 'failed to follow the rules of the contest, which state that the winner must display correct behavior, stay away from scandals and bad habits, and be a good example to society,' Tatiana Limpias de Tarabillo, who heads Promociones Gloria, told the Bolivian daily El Deber.
I wouldn't feel too bad. In America, this would qualify her as an American Idol contestant.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Selling The Brand

The MSM is discovering that it's not as easy to sell a Kennedy as they thought.
The media is shocked, shocked to learn she’s a political dilettante and a bit foolish. We learn that she was cheap, or rather disinterested I think, when it came to financially supporting New York Democrats. Then, she channels a bit of Queen Victoria and Bob Dole in explaining her infrequent voting record: “I was dismayed by my voting record.” (Will she be dismayed by her voting record if she gets to the Senate? It boggles the mind, really.)

Her list of errors is growing — from ducking the press to refusing to reveal her finances (hint: she’s really, really rich) to seeming unawareness that it is poor form to sound iffy on support for the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City. (Her handlers have since told her as much and she’s now reversed course, making clear her devotion to all things and people Democratic.)

But these individual missteps stem from a central problem: she is an unserious candidate running at a serious time for a real office. New York, perhaps more acutely and immediately than the rest of the country, is feeling the impact of the financial meltdown. Upstate New York, as it had throughout Hillary Clinton’s tenure, has more than its share of economic problems. And the country as a whole has some fairly daunting challenges. Given all this do the media elites expect Princess Caroline to be welcomed by the little people — and real pols — with open arms? Not so much, it seems.
Well, inexperience and foolish behavior never stopped anyone from trying to get to national office before. Just ask Sarah Palin.

The Other Ponzi Scheme

Paul Mulshine says the real crooks are still out there:
From what I can gather, Madoff at least made an attempt to invest the money he got from early investors to give them the returns he promised. Those investments failed to bring in enough money and the scheme was doomed to fail sooner or later. But if Madoff had been a more brilliant investor, it might have worked.

The federal government, on the other hand, never tried to make the Social Security system work. The feds didn’t invest the money in the market. They took the money that we gave them and lent it to themselves, promising themselves interest. To be paid by themselves.

This scheme is even more crooked than Madoff’s.
Well, one man's scam is another man's government benefit...

Welcome To Oz

Are the Aussies going to take Guantanamo detainees off our hands?
KEVIN Rudd has left open the possibility of Australia taking former inmates from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

But he warned that any US request for an inmate to come would be subject to legal criteria and assessed on a case-by-case basis, The Australian reports.

As the Greens warned the Prime Minister he faced a political backlash if he accepted detainees held in the US military jail at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, a spokesman for Mr Rudd confirmed US authorities had approached Australia and other countries about resettling the detainees.

'Australia, along with a number of other countries, has been approached to consider resettling detainees from Guantanamo Bay,' the Prime Minister's spokesman said.

'Any determination for an individual to come to Australia would be made on a case-by-case basis.

"All persons accepted to come to Australia would have to meet Australia's strict legal requirements and go through the normal and extremely rigorous assessment processes."
Hey, if they want 'em, they can have 'em. I just worry that being exposed to Olivia Newton John might be considered torture...

No Euros for You

At least one country in Europe seems to have learned from its past mistakes:
With battle lines sharpening, the German government appears determined to resist calls to spend an additional €40 billion to fight its way out of the recession, according to officials attending a meeting in the Chancellery in the past week.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is being pulled in all directions as she plans a Jan. 5 follow-up to a meeting of German government officials, business executives and union leaders she called two weeks ago to discuss ways to counter the recession.

The business community, leaders of German states and other European Union nations are calling for the additional spending, which would amount to $56 billion. Industry chiefs, meanwhile, are calling for tax cuts.
Merkel, facing federal elections in September, has said the focus of any spending measures must be preserving jobs. At the meeting two weeks ago, industry lobbyists promised to go along on that point, but now they have backed away even as they exert more pressure on her.
....

Merkel and Peer Steinbrück, the finance minister, seem to have concluded that they will face criticism no matter what action they take.

If they increase spending, they risk violating the Stability and Growth Pact. Less than four years ago, Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, disregarded those rules and was accused of undermining Europe's attempts to keep budget deficits under control.

But if they do not increase spending, they face further complaints from other EU countries, notably Britain and France, and from industry here for not doing enough to bring Europe out of the economic crisis.
Here's hoping Merkel holds the line. Somebody has to teach the Europeans what fiscal responsiblity is. It certainly hasn't been us.

Friday, December 26, 2008

An Asian Storm

There's growing trouble between India and Pakistan.
The United States has urged India and Pakistan to avoid unnecessarily raising tension amid reports of troop movements to the border.
Pakistan has redeployed some troops from the north-west and some leave has been cancelled, army officials said.

India earlier advised its citizens against travelling to Pakistan amid the continuing tension in the wake of last month's deadly attacks in Mumbai.

The attacks on several targets in the city left more than 170 people dead.

'Close contact'

A Pakistani military spokesman called its movements a minimum defensive measure.

And a senior security official said a limited number of soldiers had been pulled out from non-essential positions on the Afghan border and areas where there were no military operations.

Pakistani media reported that troops were strengthening some positions on the border with India.
India certainly has a right to defend itself. The problem here is that both countries have nukes, and one is on the verge of becoming a basketcase. And basketcases have a tendency to be dangerous when cornered.

Secretary Of Pork?

If Obama's pick for Secretary of Transportation is any indication of what Obama's domestic policies are going to be like, be prepared for even more pork than usual.
As a long-time and stalwart Member of the House Appropriations Committee, Mr. LaHood facilitated the incontinent spending that helped Republicans lose their majority in 2006. And he did so unapologetically, once telling a reporter for the Peoria Journal Star, 'The reason I went on the Appropriations Committee, the reason other people go on the Appropriations Committee, is they know that it puts them in a position to know where the money is at, to know the people who are doling the money out and to be in the room when the money is being doled out.'

Mr. LaHood was also among those who most resisted backbench GOP efforts to curb earmarks. 'If people like Ray LaHood and others aren't able to earmark dollars, that money will be spent by some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.,' he said earlier this year. 'And who knows better how to spend money on worthwhile projects than a community and an individual Congressman?' We'll be fascinated to see how he interprets that governing dictum now that he's on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, in fiscal 2008 the Congressman secured $62.7 million in earmarks for his district -- either alone or working with other Members. That put him in the top 10% of House pork-barrelers. Mr. Obama repeatedly said during the Presidential campaign that the earmarking system should be overhauled, yet he's elevated to his cabinet a Machiavelli of this system.
Is there any way we could ever get these people off their addiction to dead pig meat? After eight years of one big-spending administration, can we really afford another?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Saturnalia!


Another year has come and gone. Hard to believe a decade is almost over. We have a new President, and many challenges ahead, but this is, for all its faults, still one of the greatest countries on Earth, where we can criticize our leaders, live in relative safety and comfort through our own efforts, and celebrate the fact that we made it through anoher year. So merry Christmas (or happy Festivus!) and may your own holiday be filled with good cheer and good company.

Dude, Where's My Diversity?

Roland Martin points out the overall stupidity of how diverse an administration is supposed to be:
This is the most utterly useless conversations that exists every four years, because folks always do this, Republicans and Democrats.

I actually got an e-mail from somebody who complained that there were not enough dark-skinned African-Americans. Obama was only choosing light-skinned African-Americans. That’s how crazy this conversation is. How many women should he choose? Should it be 10 out of the 20? Should it be 50 percent, as opposed to 25 percent?

It is a ridiculous conversation. The focus of any of these groups, whether you’re women, African-American, Hispanic, whether you’re progressive, should be, what are the policies that are going to be initiated?
The whole debate reminds me of this classic skit from Saturday Night Live. Once we get over who's more diverse and start focusing on the actual quality of the people we put in positions of responsibility, we really will have moved on from the past.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rent Control

Blago's case may be high profile, but as anyone who knows anything about politics knows, it's hardly unique.
It's easy to look at the Blagojevich case and see a failure of personal ethics. It is about character. But it's also about how government itself creates the very conditions for corruption. Think of all the special privileges governors can bestow: subsidies for stadiums, public-works contracts, special taxes and fees, not to mention myriad regulations with myriad loopholes. Chief executives – mayors, governors, and presidents – are supposed to be the chief enforcers of the law. Today, though, they are also chief bestowers of privileges.....

......Blagojevich's shenanigans – though probably illegal in ways that grants of other special privileges aren't – are nevertheless appropriately seen as a product of the rent-seeking culture that today's increasingly unconstrained government engenders.
When politicians get "Rent" for their services, shouldn't that make the voters the landlords? And shouldn't the voters then have the right to evict them?

"You're A Business Because We Say So"

What happens when you try to do the right thing for the government? The government lets the bureaucrats bring charges against you.
A Titusville man was just trying to do the right thing when he paid sales tax a store had failed to collect for a small purchase. But after paying the $1.50 tax, the state threatened the man with major fines and criminal charges.

Scott Anderson tackles repairs around the house himself. So he frequents ACE Hardware in Titusville ---but one trip in September still haunts him. Scott, a federal park employee, spent just 23 dollars for a few items----and later discovered the store failed to charge sales tax.

Scott thinks the store used a tax exempt account linked to his job. The former navy man who does things by the book---- was going to make it right.

"So I wrote out a check and mailed it to the department of revenue," said Scott.

He sent a check to the state for a dollar and 50 cents---with a full explanation. But the very next month---the agency demanded Scott pay a 50 dollar fine ---because it thought he was a business---that failed to file tax returns.

Scott sent another letter to Tallahasse clearly stating that he was paying sales tax as a customer after a minor mistake. He thought that was the end of it. But far from it---the next month the revenue department insisted Scott was a business that had to pay a 650 dollar fine---or face collections ---AND criminal charges.

'And possibly prosecute me under a third degree felony for stealing money from the state,' said Scott.

The same week Scott called Action 9, a regional state tax office promised to clear things up.

(Todd) 'You've the heard the expression no good deed goes unpunished. Is that you?' (Scott) 'This is it a perfect example.'
But if he could declare himself a business, couldn't he then claim whatever he bought as being tax-deductable? Or at the very least, qualify for a bailout...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't Show Them The Money

Want to know where all that bailout money went? You won't get the answer from the banks.
After receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation's largest banks say they can't track exactly how they're spending it. Some won't even talk about it.

'We're choosing not to disclose that,' said Kevin Heine, spokesman for Bank of New York Mellon, which received about $3 billion.

Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in emergency bailout money, said that while some of the money was lent, some was not, and the bank has not given any accounting of exactly how the money is being used.

'We have not disclosed that to the public. We're declining to,' Kelly said.

The Associated Press contacted 21 banks that received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings, and what's the plan for the rest?

None of the banks provided specific answers.

[....]

Pressured by the Bush administration to approve the money quickly, Congress attached nearly no strings to the $700 billion bailout in October. And the Treasury Department, which doles out the money, never asked banks how it would be spent.

"Those are legitimate questions that should have been asked on Day One," said Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., a House Financial Services Committee member who opposed the bailout as it was rushed through Congress. "Where is the money going to go to? How is it going to be spent? When are we going to get a record on it?"

Nearly every bank AP questioned - including Citibank and Bank of America, two of the largest recipients of bailout money - responded with generic public relations statements explaining that the money was being used to strengthen balance sheets and continue making loans to ease the credit crisis.

A few banks described company-specific programs, such as JPMorgan Chase's plan to lend $5 billion to nonprofit and health care companies next year. Richard Becker, senior vice president of Wisconsin-based Marshall & Ilsley Corp., said the $1.75 billion in bailout money allowed the bank to temporarily stop foreclosing on homes.

But no bank provided even the most basic accounting for the federal money.
They seem to have learned a great deal from the government that bailed them out...

They Fought The Law And The Law Won

Sorry, Lefties, you lose.
Police officers did nothing wrong during mass arrests on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, an independent police monitor said Monday.

In a letter to ACLU attorney Taylor Pendergrass, monitor Richard Rosenthal said there is no evidence to support a complaint alleging officers lied about whether they gave an order to disperse before arresting more than 100 people during the Aug. 25 gathering.

The American Civil Liberties Union complaint also contended a police officer pretending to be a protester created a tense atmosphere when he confronted another officer. Rosenthal said the undercover officer acted appropriately.

The ACLU did not immediately return a call for comment.

[....]

Police have said anarchists planned to wreak havoc at convention delegate hotels and downtown businesses and that officers were trying to control the crowd.
When you have the left protesting against the left, things can get ugly. Fortunately, in this case they didn't.

The Promise And The Peril

If Obama is looking for a President to emulate, history suggests that FDR might not be the best choice:
Mr. Obama's hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, tried to spend America out of the Great Depression with infrastructure projects, and they were a costly disappointment; unemployment averaged 17 percent during the height of the New Deal, from 1933 to 1940. Consider the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of FDR's most ambitious projects: In the decades since TVA dams began operating, states with TVA-subsidized electricity like Tennessee have lagged behind non-subsidized Southern states like Georgia in economic growth and average incomes.
Grand schemes designed to "Stimulate" a troubled economy or fix society's problems usually wind up doing the opposite. Just ask Lyndon B. Johnson, or George W. Bush.

Better Looking Through Drinking

I knew alcohol had a purpose:
Researchers found that women who drink even moderately develop a reduced ability to rate attractiveness in male faces, even when they are sober.

Those who drank were less able to detect male facial symmetry, a marker of attractiveness and good genes which is thought to play an important role in the choice of a partner.
I'd like to try this experiment on a regular basis. Will volunteers please belly up to the bar?

It's Pat

Leave it to morons like Pat Boone to avoid any rational discussion over gay rights:
Oh, I know the homosexual “rights” demonstrations haven’t reached the same level of violence, but I’m referring to the anger, the vehemence, the total disregard for law and order and the supposed rights of their fellow citizens. I’m referring to the intolerance, the hate seething in the words, faces and actions of those who didn’t get their way in a democratic election, and who proclaim loudly that they will get their way, no matter what the electorate wants!

Hate is hate, no matter where it erupts. And hate, unbridled, will eventually and inevitably boil into violence.
[...]
What troubles me so deeply, and should trouble all thinking Americans, is that there is a real, unbroken line between the jihadist savagery in Mumbai and the hedonistic, irresponsible, blindly selfish goals and tactics of our homegrown sexual jihadists. Hate is hate, no matter where it erupts. And by its very nature, if it’s not held in check, it will escalate into acts vile, violent and destructive.
Yeah, I expect those who are upset over Rick Warren and Prop 8 to start beheading people any day now. Sheesh.

The Road To Over-Regulation

Once again, something that's "For the children"-in this case, the Consumer Product And Safety Act-might do more harm than good:
Among other little details, this law may require toy manufacturers and importers to perform costly outside testing, at a cost of over $4000, on each lot of toys shipped. If the law is so interpreted by the people who draft its enabling regulations, that will simply put small manufacturers out of business, leaving the American toy market to giants such as Mattel or driving more of the business to overseas competitors who produce on a larger scale and can absorb the cost. The result, probably not intended at all by lawmakers, may be monopoly or oligopoly in the American toy market, accomplished through regulation rather than market forces.
Tell me again, which party is suppoed to be against socialism, again?

Charity Doesn't Begin At Home

Who are the real Scrooges out there?
This holiday season is a time to examine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but I’m unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy. Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.
Well, it's always easy to talk about "Giving until it hurts" when it's not your money that's being spent.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Heirs To The Throne

Why do voters insist on having dynasties in a democracy? After all, it's not as if the families actually deserve it.
These people have every right to work the family name and connections, but as voters, I think we’re generally foolish to support the dynastic system. We would be much wiser to examine the lingering feelings that draw us to the idea of Noble Families and Great Houses–the whole idea of nobility that our coutry tried to break from 200-plus years ago. . . . How sad that even Hollywood rejects the brand-name/family-mystique idea, but the voters can’t. Lots of movie star children get an easy break into films, but the vast majority of them fail pretty quickly. The success rate is low. In politics it is extremely high. That’s pathetic.
As the saying goes, politics is show business for ugly people. It's also a stepping stone for those who want the closest thing to heraldy that we have in this country. We may have dethroned nobility in 1776, but it seems we still want it after all.

Corruption As Usual

Is Blago really all that different from his Washington peers?
Some suspect that the only difference between the traditional deal-making that lubricates Washington and the effort to sell Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat was that the Governor got caught. Mr Blagojevich’s lawyer, Ed Genson, said yesterday that the case was “much ado about nothing” as he declared that his client would fight the charges and delay a decision on filling the seat. Others are asking if Congressman Charlie Rangel will be subjected to a FBI inquiry for allegedly backing a tax break to Nabors Industries in return for contributions from the company’s chief executive to an education programme bearing the Democrat’s name.
So, will the scandal make future office-holders behave? If history is any indication, unfortunately probably not.

Manhattan Transfer

I guess this guy's not getting any bailout:
The president of a foundation that co-owns a Manhattan building allegedly linked to a bank accused of supporting Iran's nuclear program was arrested Friday.

Farshid Jahedi, 54, the president of the Alavi Foundation, was charged with obstruction of justice after he tried on Thursday to throw away documents responsive to a subpoena he received one day earlier, federal prosecutors said.

An FBI complaint against Jahedi said he was warned not to destroy documents requested by a grand jury. It said he disobeyed the order when he went home to Ardsley, N.Y., where he dumped papers in a public trash can.

The documents referred to Assa Limited, Assa Co. and 650 Fifth Ave. Co., subjects responsive to the subpoena, authorities said. Jahedi's Alavi Foundation owns 60 percent of the building on Fifth Avenue.

The U.S. government said Assa Co. Ltd. was a front set up by Iran's Bank Melli to funnel money from the U.S. to Iran. Bank Melli has been accused of providing support for Iran's nuclear program. Earlier this week, the Treasury Department sought forfeiture of the 40 percent interest that Assa held in the building and the money in its bank accounts.
Money laundering and "Legitimate" fronts? I think somebody in Iran has been watching too many Robert DeNiro movies.

When In Doubt, Quit

Why can't our own politicians would be more like this?
BRUSSELS, Belgium — Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme offered the resignation of his entire government Friday over allegations it sought to interfere with a court case on the Fortis bank bailout.

Justice Minister Jo Vandeurzen resigned earlier Friday after Belgium's highest court said the government had tried last week to influence the case on the bailout and sale of the troubled bank.

Belgian King Albert II was to decide late Friday whether to refuse or accept the resignation.

The separation of powers is a cornerstone of Belgian parliamentary democracy and the alleged attempts by the government to influence the course of judicial process have infuriated partners in a coalition government that was already shaky.

'Shocking. This does not belong in the rule of law,' said Bart Somers, the chairman of the ruling Dutch-Speaking Liberal party. 'A cornerstone of democracy has been put in danger.'
There's something to be said for accepting responsibility. Are you listening, Blago?

Too Bold To Fail

New Deal II keeps rolling along:
Vice President-elect Joe Biden says lawmakers from both parties have urged the incoming administration to be big and bold with its economic aid plan next year despite the huge deficits being created.

'There is going to be real significant investment, whether it's $600 billion or more, or $700 billion, the clear notion is it's a number no one would have thought about a year ago,' Biden told ABC's 'This Week' for an interview to air Sunday.

Biden said the spending was necessary to stop the loss of jobs and that the economy would be the administration's top priority.
I'd be more upset about this, except that Bush got the ball rolling first.

Fight Club

Hot Rod isn't going anywhere:
Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois, who has been accused of scheming to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, said on Friday that he would not resign and insisted that he had done nothing wrong, saying defiantly, “I will fight, I will fight, I will fight.”

In his first statement since he was arrested on federal charges of conspiracy and soliciting bribes, Mr. Blagojevich was alternately emotional and combative, his voice breaking as he told reporters that he would be vindicated, and asked Illinois residents to withhold their judgment.

“I intend to stay on the job and I will fight this thing every step of the way,” he said in an appearance at the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago. “I will fight, I will fight, I will fight, till I take my very last breath. I have done nothing wrong.”
In case you didn't hear, he's gonna fight! That is, at least until his own people throw him out.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Stuck In The Middle With You

There's more evidence that the Right may be happier with Obama than the Left will:
“Barack Obama has never made any bones about it: He is a moderate,” said Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a moderate public policy think tank. “People who ignored that did so at their peril.”

Obama’s Cabinet, which will be rounded out Friday with formal announcements for labor and transportation, is politically moderate and ethnically diverse. There are Ivy Leaguers and hoopsters, loyalists to Hillary Rodham Clinton and longtime allies of Obama, and Midwesterners, Westerners and New Yorkers. Texans filled 43’s White House, but not 44’s, with just one in Kirk.

And for a guy who complained plenty about broken politics, roughly half his picks are current or former officeholders.

Whatever critics think of it, he did it fast — the fastest in modern times, according to the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, an organization of academics who study presidential transitions. Obama has said he wants to hit the ground running, with the country in recession. He’s getting on a plane Saturday for Christmas in Hawaii, which has a way of focusing the mind, too.

The Cabinet includes 15 executive departments, including homeland security, health and human services and defense. Other appointees, such as director of the Environmental Protection Agency, White House chief of staff and ambassador to the United Nations, will be given Cabinet-level rank.
The more liberals are disappointed in Obama, the better he actually sounds. Stay in the middle? Yes we can!

Ancestral Intervention

Who says human beings can't be good for the planet?
The common wisdom is that the invention of the steam engine and the advent of the coal-fueled industrial age marked the beginning of human influence on global climate.

But gathering physical evidence, backed by powerful simulations on the world's most advanced computer climate models, is reshaping that view and lending strong support to the radical idea that human-induced climate change began not 200 years ago, but thousands of years ago with the onset of large-scale agriculture in Asia and extensive deforestation in Europe.

What's more, according to the same computer simulations, the cumulative effect of thousands of years of human influence on climate is preventing the world from entering a new glacial age, altering a clockwork rhythm of periodic cooling of the planet that extends back more than a million years.

'This challenges the paradigm that things began changing with the Industrial Revolution,' says Stephen Vavrus, a climatologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Climatic Research and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. 'If you think about even a small rate of increase over a long period of time, it becomes important.'
So, take heart. The fact that we aren't freezing can be attributed to our farming forbears.

California Cash Dreamin'

The Golden State is losing quite a bit of its luster.
California may soon have more bankrupt towns on its hands.

The city of Vallejo, Calif., gained national attention earlier this year by filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. Now, two neighbors are fighting to avoid the same fate, as the state's economic crisis spreads.

Isleton and Rio Vista, small towns roughly 50 miles northeast of San Francisco, say they have begun consulting with bankruptcy lawyers as they draw up plans to deal with their mounting budget crises. The towns' leaders say they hope to avoid bankruptcy, but concede the move may eventually be their only option.

'We're strapped for cash and by the end of March or early April we may not have enough money to pay for payroll,' says Hector De La Rosa, Rio Vista's city manager.

California's troubled towns can't expect much help from the state. A state board voted Wednesday to shut off $3.8 billion in financing to hundreds of infrastructure projects to preserve cash, as the nation's most populous state struggles under a budget deficit that officials say could balloon to more than $40 billion over the next two years.

'California's fiscal house is burning down,' State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said in a statement.
Does this qualify California for a bailout? Everyone else seems to be getting one.

The Culture War, International Style

We're not the only ones grappling with the issue:
The U.N. General Assembly split over the issue of gay rights on Thursday after a European-drafted statement calling for decriminalization of homosexuality prompted an Arab-backed one opposing it.

Diplomats said a joint statement initiated by France and the Netherlands gathered 66 signatures in the 192-nation assembly after it was read out by Argentina at a plenary session. A rival statement, read out by Syria, gathered some 60.

The two statements remained open for further signatures, the diplomats said. No resolution was drafted on the issue and there was no voting, they added.

The division in the General Assembly reflected conflicting laws in the world at large. According to sponsors of the Franco-Dutch text, homosexuality is illegal in 77 countries, seven of which punish it by death.
So does this make those countries the "Red States" of the world?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Middle Man

While we're on the subject of Obama's "Heresy", there's more to ponder:
Consider this - on issues such as FISA surveillance or the Bush tax cuts for the rich Obama has already back-pedaled. He is likely further to outrage a contingent of his supporters by declining to declare defeat in Iraq, blame Bush, and leave. There even seems to be a movement towards creating a bit of wiggle room on enhanced interrogation.
I don't agreeentirely with this, either-but again, it shows that the right won't have nearly as much to fear from Obama as the left will. Nuance!

Not Your Father's Liberalism

By choosing Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration, Obama apparently upset some folks. But that might be a good thing.
By giving Warren a platform, Obama is not endorsing his views–but he is saying that those views are a legitimate part of the national conversation.

That’s not a snub of liberals. But it is a swipe at one type of liberalism–the type that has been working to get people fired for making donations to the campaign for the initiative, that has attacked the Mormon Church for its support of it, and so forth.

Not many liberals have spoken up against these tactics. Liberals should not be surprised that Obama has refused to join an effort that implicitly brands a majority of the voters of California, of all places, as at best the dupes of bigots. But those liberals who are engaged in that effort should indeed feel snubbed–as they deserve to be.
I have mixed feelings about this myself, but it does seem a sincere attempt to reach out to socially conscious evangelicals, which Warren certainly is. If nothing else, it shows Obama's centrist creds. He's not beholden to the traditional liberal groups. That's what they're really upset about.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Bailout Quagmire

Obama may soon find himself at odds with the rest of the country if he pursues an auto industry bailout.
While it looks like the Bush administration may yet offer a 'bridge loan' to the industry, this is a policy area that will confront the Obama administration early. At the moment, the pro-bailout position is a minority view. Either the new president will have to persuade those Independents to change their minds, or he will find he faces an early challenge to his ability to govern from a majority position. Little will erode his strong current public support faster than pushing for policies that face majority opposition. In this case, his tepid support for the auto-industry now may have missed the opportunity to convert Independents before their opposition has hardened. Or perhaps GM and Chrysler will file for Chapter 11 and spare him the task.
If his support evaporates, Obama may not even have the chance for the traditional Presidential honeymoon. Obama's best option is not to follow in the footsteps of our outgoing big-spender-in-chief.

Silence Of The Rahm

Heh. This could explain why we haven't heard from Rahmbo as of late:
The Politico's John Bresnahan has written a great story about how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put the screws to her former House colleague, Rahm Emanuel, informing him that she did not need his advice about leadership elections and, most dramatically, demanding that the White House account for every conversation it has with Pelosi's members.

The story makes Pelosi look formidable and Rahm look like a creampuff.
Say what you will about Nancy's politics; nobody can accuse her of not being able to play with the big boys.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cheney's Choice

What's he up to, here?
Vice President Dick Cheney is calling President-elect Barack Obama's national security lineup 'a pretty good team.'

In a wide-ranging interview with ABC News with 35 days left in the Bush administration, Cheney also again vehemently defended going to war in Iraq, said waterboarding of suspects in the war on terror was justified in some instances and opposed closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

'I must say, I think it's a pretty good team,' Cheney said of Obama's national security choices, in a segment of the interview broadcast Tuesday on 'Good Morning America.'

'I'm not close to Barack Obama, obviously, nor do I identify with him politically. He's a liberal. I'm a conservative,' he said.

But the vice president also said he thinks 'the idea of keeping (Bob) Gates at defense is excellent. I think (retired Gen.) Jim Jones will be very, very effective as the national security adviser.'

And Cheney said that while 'I would not have hired' Hillary Rodham Clinton to be secretary of state, 'I think she's tough. She's smart, she works very hard and she may turn out to be just what President Obama needs.'
I've never been fond of Cheney, but he's no dummy. Is he crazy-or crazy like a fox?

Up In Smoke

Who's getting hurt by the Madoff scandal? Those who actually do some good with the money.
Around the country, the nonprofit community is reeling from the Madoff scandal. At least two other foundations have been forced to close their doors, having lost virtually all their assets to what authorities describe as a Ponzi scheme that depended on new investment money to pay off on earlier investments.

Charities that depended on those foundations for financing, like the Innocence Project and the UJA Federation, and wealthy donors like Norman Braman, Mort Zuckerman and J. Ezra Merkin have now added the Madoff scandal to the list of reasons that fund-raising has been crimped this fall. In some cases, the foundations had placed their money with Mr. Madoff directly; others had invested with funds that turned assets over to him. And some nonprofits relied on a steady stream of money from donors, like Ms. Levy-Church, with now vanishing fortunes.

“It’s not catastrophic, but it does hurt us,” said Madeline deLone, executive director of the Innocence Project, which was supported by JEHT in its work to use DNA evidence to exonerate improperly convicted criminals and to reform criminal justice.
The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, the Ramaz School and Yeshiva University are among the charities that invested in the Madoff funds, often on the advice of wealthy donors on their boards, and are now grappling with the fallout.
Meanwhile, what of those who rode the Madoff bandwagon on Wall Street?
Analyst Henry Blodget wrote on his blog Friday that some savvy investors figured Madoff was up to something because his returns were so high. “Many Wall Streeters suspected the wrong rigged game, though: they thought it was insider trading, not a Ponzi scheme,” Blodget wrote. “And here’s the best part: That’s why they invested with him.”
And yet, these people stand a good chance of getting paid anyway. Whoever said crime doesn't pay never worked on Wall Street.

Walk On The Mild Side

Sobriety has become the in thing on New Year's Eve these days:
The New York apartments and lofts which were once the scenes of old-fashioned drunken carnage — slurred speech, broken crockery, broken legs and arms, broken marriages and broken dreams — are now the scene of parties where both friendships and glassware survive intact. Everyone comes on time, behaves well, drinks a little wine, eats a few tiny canapés, and leaves on time. They all still drink, but no one gets drunk anymore. Neither do they smoke. What on earth has happened?
Yesteryear's drunks have become today's genteel sippers. It's called getting older.

The Wit & Wisdom Of Jeff Probst

This could also apply to politicians who lose primaries, or Presidential elections:
To future Survivor contestants. If you make it to the jury, try to just let the anger and envy go and see the big picture. You got your ass kicked – no way around it – now quit being a baby and reward the person who kicked your ass by giving them your vote.
Survivor, for all its contrived situations, is one of the few institutions out there where you still have to earn your way to the top (one of the other being the U.S. military). In this age where self esteem is valued above actual learning experiences, that has to be worth something.

They Want Their Two Dollars

On why a gas tax is, at best, a short-term answer that does nothing in the long term:
A $2 per gallon a gas tax sustained for decades would surely reduce U.S. petroleum consumption somewhat, but logically by a small fraction of the difference between the U.S. and Germany. It might even be a good idea as compared to other ways to raise revenue, which is one thing it would certainly do effectively – mostly because burning a gallon of gas is so valuable to people that they’ll keep doing just about the same amount of it, even if you double the price.
In other words, the petrostates will still get their money, it won't encourage people to drive more efficiently, and it will just end up costing more. Why do all of these great plans seem to involve the rest of us having to pay more to make them work?

Daughter Of Camelot

Oh God, no:
She genuinely, cornily, wants to advance the ideas the family cares about, and she knows better than most that only so much can be accomplished through symbolism. An actual seat at the bargaining table is still more valuable. This is also the way in which her choice makes the most sense for New York, and elevates her candidacy beyond her thin résumé and mere sentiment: Kennedy’s Democratic patrician values and her power-elite connections are not negligible assets. And of course, there are all the sword-in-the-stone connotations, the political magic (fantasy?) that a new Kennedy in the Senate conjures.
The Clintons and the Bushes modeled their "Legacies" on this sort of nepotism. We are NOT a monarchy. Can we stop this now, please?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Banned In Boston

Saletan worries about the new prohibitionist movement:
...If there's no secondhand smoke and no secondhand driving effects, what are the grounds for telling a 20-year-old college student—let alone a 25-year-old professional school student—that tobacco is off limits? And if that kind of paternalism can be extended so easily from minors to 25-year-olds, who's next?
Well, pretty much everybody. It's what "Tolerant" liberals do.

Too Big To Reduce

Nationalization we can believe in!
Barack Obama has launched the era of the political economy, where, to an unprecedented degree, the White House will determine the course, structure and function of the American economy; where, if reports of $2 trillion worth of stimuli are to be believed, the size and scope of the federal government has the potential to nearly double over the course of eight years.
Of course it's already done that under Bush. Still, you know the Democrats have been waiting for this, big time.

The Age Of Automata

Some may worry about the Cylon threat, but Isaac Asimov would be proud:
There are now 1 million industrial robots toiling around the world, and Japan is where they're the thickest on the ground. It has 295 of these electromechanical marvels for every 10000 manufacturing workers -- a robot density almost 10 times the world average and nearly twice that of Singapore (169), South Korea (164), and Germany (163).
I guess we'll find out soon enough if they're going to be Terminators, or Transformers...

Don't Gimme Shelter

Question: Why should homeowners who make bad or ignorant decisions be saved? Answer: They shouldn't.
Shelter is something you consume; it’s not an investment. Bailing out homeowners is rewarding the people who treated housing as an investment and not a consumption good, a fulfillment of personal need. Preventing foreclosures is often a matter of rescuing people from their failure to properly assess risk, not from some unforeseen natural disaster. Let’s not pretend this is any different from bailing out imprudent or inept investment bankers.
A roof over your head is something you earn, and should be required to prove that you're responsible enough to own it. Unfortunately, the concept of responsiblity seems to be lost on many people these days.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

There Are Crooks, And Then There's Blago

How bad was Blago? Bad, even by Chicago standards:
Reaping reward for appointing someone to the senate is not unprecedented, or even unethical. I am confident that if Gov. Blagojevich had appointed Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama's reported favorite, to the seat, the people in his administration would consider that they owed the governor some sort of favor, and would have resurfaced a highway, or invited him to a White House dinner with Angelina Jolie. But unsubtly putting a senate seat up for personal auction, as if it were a piece of family jewelry, is arrogance that makes even hardened pols shudder.

Yet that's not even the item that angers me most. Among U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's bill of particulars is the charge that Gov. Blagojevich sought to rescind a state payment of $8 million to Children's Memorial Hospital if their CEO failed to organize a $50,000 contribution to the governor.

Many shameless politicians would send free turkeys to a children's hospital. The publicity is good, and it might help them sleep at night. But this governor was willing to stint on their care if a hospital official didn't oblige him with cash.
There's corruption, and then there's evil. Blago had both in spades.

The Invisible Vice-President

Joe Biden is looking to be the anti-Dick Cheney.
It’s not just that Biden won’t sit in on Senate Democrats’ weekly caucus meetings – a privilege Republicans afforded outgoing Vice President Dick Cheney. He won’t have an office outside the House floor, as House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave Cheney early on.

Biden will not begin every day with his own intelligence briefing before sitting in on the president’s. He will not always be the last person Obama speaks to before making a decision.

He also will not, as a transition official calls it, operate a “shadow government” within an Obama administration.

One of the few ways he will resemble Cheney is in making clear his future ambitions, or lack thereof: Biden doesn’t expect to run for president after leaving the vice presidency, according to a transition source who was not authorized to speak on the record.

“What he has said previously is that Vice President Cheney had an overly expansive view of the vice president, almost created like a shadow government inside the White House,' said the transition official familiar with Biden's role. 'Vice President-elect Biden has a very strong view that the vice president’s role is to be an adviser to the president and to be a member of the president’s team, and that’s how he’s going to be in the job.”
After the last eight years, this may take some getting used to. After all, it's been awhile since we've had a Vice President who acts like, well, a Vice President.

If The Shoethrower Has A Fit...

Now this is grace under pressure:
An Iraqi reporter set off pandemonium Sunday by hurling two shoes at President Bush during a news conference that was the centerpiece of his secret goodbye visit.

Bush was cool under fire and prevented an even bigger incident by waving off his lead Secret Service agent, who was prepared to extract him from the room.

Video shows the president's lead agent rushing to the podium, but the president immediately and subtly motions to him that it's OK. The agent backs off.

The president successfully ducked both throws. Photos show him with his head down near the top of the podium. The embarrassing incident marred a visit meant to show off the improved conditions since the troop 'surge' dramatically reduced casualties to U.S. troops.

'This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog,' the journalist shouted (in Arabic), Steven Lee Myers of The New York Times reported in a pool report to the White House press corps.
I guess Bush Derangement Syndrome had to have one last moment in the sun...

Burnin' For You

There are nuts everywhere.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's home church was badly damaged by arson, leading the governor to apologize Saturday if the fire was connected to 'undeserved negative attention' from her campaign as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Damage to the Wasilla Bible Church was estimated at $1 million, authorities said. No one was injured in the fire, which was set Friday night while a handful of people, including two children, were inside, according to James Steele, the Central Mat-Su fire chief.

He said the blaze was being investigated as an arson. Steele said he didn't know of any recent threats to the church, and authorities did not know whether Palin's connection to the church was relevant to the fire.

'It's hard to say at this point. Everything is just speculation,' he said.

Pastor Larry Kroon declined to say whether the church had received any recent threats.
I thought she was a bad choice as VP and that she brought out the kooks in the conservative movement. But this is just stupid. What was this moron (or morons) thinking?

The In-Laws

Call it a socialist family get-together:
Cuban leader Raul Castro strengthened his relationship with his 'nephew' and biggest benefactor, President Hugo Chavez, symbolically starting his first foreign trip as president in Venezuela on Saturday.

The two men share a rejection of capitalism and the Bush administration but are unlikely to become as close as Chavez is to Raul's older brother, Fidel Castro, who this year gave up the presidency of the communist-run island due to illness.

Raul Castro, 77, worked in the shadow of his iconic brother for decades and is now seeking to boost his credentials as a statesman, as well as his country's trade, on visits to Venezuela and Brazil.

With cheap oil aid exchanged for doctors working in Venezuelan slums, Chavez has helped Cuba to recover from the shock of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had propped up the island's statist economy in the face of a U.S. embargo.

But with Venezuela's oil income plunging and signs that Chavez's support may be gradually eroding after a decade in power, Cuba needs to diversify its foreign support.

Since taking office in February, Raul Castro has bolstered ties with Russia and China and is now seeking to take advantage of Brazil's stated goal of boosting Cuban trade, especially in its nascent oil industry.
So what happens if Baby Hugo loses power? Does he get disowned?

Prophet Of Doom

I've never heard of this guy, but apparently he has his own brand of Obama Derangement Syndrome going on:
After establishing his bona fides as an international talk radio guest and proprietor of a survivalist website that has 'passed more than 100,000 hits,' Freeborn wrote:

'I think that you should hear what my opinion about the Obama election is: that he will not be the next president. I said on my home page in August that if he lost to expect to see the 'riots' that 2 Peter 2:13 tells us about. He didn't lose. But the story is not finished yet. I still think they may begin the riots before Christmas 2008, as I said.'

These riots, according to his prophecy, will encourage the 'old, hard-line Soviet guard' to seize the moment and rain down nukes on the United States, killing at least 100 million of us.


'Prepare now,' Freeborn's letter concluded. 'We are downwind from Las Vegas. I hope you can survive.'
Well, at least he's acknowledging that Obama is in fact legitimately President-elect. I guess that's an improvement over the earlier conspiracy lunacy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"We Have Huge Senate Opportunity For You"

The Nigerians, who know a thing or two about scams, seem to be jealous that we actually hold our politicians accountable for their bad behavior:
“Look at the Governor of the state of Illinois in the United States, Rod Blagojevich. The man who wants to sell Obama’s Senatorial seat to the highest bidder. He is definitely going to jail. The FBI evidence against him is overwhelming”

“The man should have been a Governor in Nigeria. What he has done, trying to cut a deal, and arrange something for himself, is standard and familiar practice in Nigeria. In the 1999 elections, some Godfathers collected money openly from aspirants and supported the highest bidder. In every election, most Nigerian voters support only the highest bidder. In Oyo state, Adedibu practically sold the Governorship seat to Ladoja. When the man refused to pay, he got him kicked out. Ngige also lost his seat because he refused to pay.”

“But the Americans are telling us that you cannot sell elective positions. It is not a cash and carry affair. And that whoever does so, is under the big watchful eyes of Big Brother. Where is the Nigerian equivalent of the FBI?”

“They are busy eating pepper soup and acting as bodyguards and house boys to the same enemies of the state that they are supposed to be watching.”
Maybe they need to send out a few more letters to raise funding for a better system...

Jailbird Nation

We seem to be hooked on incarceration:
According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report (PDF) released yesterday, 2.3 million Americans were behind bars in 2007, 1.5 percent more than in 2006 and a new record. The number includes about 780,000 people in local jails, 1.4 million in state prisons, and 200,000 in federal prison. Roughly one in five state prisoners and more than half of federal prisoners were serving time for drug offenses. Assuming the percentage of drug offenders in jails is similar to the percentage in state prisons, the total is more than half a million. 'That is ten times the total in 1980,' notes the Drug Policy Alliance, 'and more than all of western Europe (with a much larger population) incarcerates for all offenses.'
So we're aggressive in the War On Drugs. But is it really effective? Maybe not, especially when it comes to the propaganda war:
The Montana Meth Project (MMP) is an organization that launched a large-scale methamphetamine prevention program in Montana in 2005. The central component of the program is a graphic advertising campaign that portrays methamphetamine users as unhygienic, dangerous, untrustworthy, and exploitive. Montana teenagers are exposed to the advertisements three to five times a week. The MMP, media and politicians have portrayed the advertising campaign as a resounding success that has dramatically increased anti-methamphetamine attitudes and reduced drug use in Montana. The program is currently being rolled out across the nation, and is receiving considerable public funding.
....

Claims that the campaign is effective are not supported by data. The campaign has been associated with increases in the acceptability of using methamphetamine and decreases in the perceived danger of using drugs. These and other negative findings have been ignored and misrepresented by the MMP. There is no evidence that reductions in methamphetamine use in Montana are caused by the advertising campaign.
I think we all know that meth is bad. But how long can we afford to wage ineffective propaganda campaigns that serve mostly to give politicians something to brag about? As in all wars, the way to win is to fight smarter, not harder.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Double Trouble

How to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan:
The Pakistanis will have to stop giving tacit support and protection to terrorists, especially the Afghan Taliban. The Karzai government will have to end its corruption and close down the drug trade. There are plenty of other reforms necessary — the international humanitarian effort is a shabby, self-righteous mess; some of our NATO allies aren't carrying their share of the military burden — but the war will remain a bloody stalemate at best as long as jihadis come across the border from Pakistan and the drug trade flourishes.
Easier said than done. The poppy business is a large part of Afghanistan's legitimate economy and Pakistan is a basket case on the edge. In other words-maybe if we'd paid more attention to these two in the first place, we might not be having the problems we are now. Now, what could have distracted our attention over these past few years for the situation to get to this point?

Don't Ask Me No Questions

I personally don't think Blagogate will hurt Obama. Which makes me wonder why Obama's fans are using the President-Elect's transistion site for some underhanded censorship:
It was suggested when it launched that the tool would bring uncomfortable questions to the fore, but the results so far are the opposite: Obama’s supporters appear to be using — and abusing — a tool allowing them to “flag” questions as “inappropriate” to remove all questions mentioning Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich from the main pages of Obama’s website. . . . So far, Obama’s team does not seem to have stepped in to allow uncomfortable questions to rise to the top, and instead is allowing his supporters to sanitize the site.
So, if the scandal's not such a big deal for him, why are they so afraid to let people talk about it?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Phoning It In

Did Obama help take down Hot Rod?
In a sequence of events that neatly captures the contradictions of Barack Obama’s rise through Illinois politics, a phone call he made three months ago to urge passage of a state ethics bill indirectly contributed to the downfall of a fellow Democrat he twice supported, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

Mr. Obama placed the call to his political mentor, Emil Jones Jr., president of the Illinois Senate. Mr. Jones was a critic of the legislation, which sought to curb the influence of money in politics, as was Mr. Blagojevich, who had vetoed it. But after the call from Mr. Obama, the Senate overrode the veto, prompting the governor to press state contractors for campaign contributions before the law’s restrictions could take effect on Jan. 1, prosecutors say.

Tipped off to Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts, federal agents obtained wiretaps for his phones and eventually overheard what they say was scheming by the governor to profit from his appointment of a successor to the United States Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Obama.
Whatever the case, Hot Rod got caught. So much for friends in high places, eh, Rod?

The West's Secret Weapon

How oil could be our ally against totalitarian regimes:
The most pedestrian conclusion is to believe that struggling domestic spheres will lead to more reckless acts in the international sphere. That Iran and Russia, attempting to turn inner angst against an outer foe, will become all the more boisterous and rogue. But it's difficult to imagine these states taking more aggressive tacks then those that which they're already on. I wonder if we might, ironically, see the opposite: domestic aggression combined with a softening toward the international society.
If that happens, it could be increasingly difficult for them to sell the propaganda that thuggery is necessary. Is an "Oil shield" the answer to their behavior?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hail To No King

Ross Douthat argues against political dynasties:
This sort of politics is entertaining to write about, which is one reason why fantasy sagas and Shakespeare are generally more interesting than Washington novels. But after twenty years with the same two families in the White House - which nearly became twenty-four (or twenty-eight) - for a political columnist to endorse a pointless escalation of dynastic politics because it fulfills the fairy-tale mythos her generation spun around a mediocre, tragically-murdered President and his good-looking family isn't 'girly'; it's an embarrassment.
But some people just can't seem to get away from the notion of America having its own royalty. Screw the peace of kings. For all its flaws, I prefer our messy little Republic.

Silent Buzz

Where have all the honeybees gone?
Beehives across North America continue to lose their workers for reasons not yet understood, a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. But new tests suggest how a virus nicknamed IAPV might be to blame for one of the more puzzling aspects of the disorder—the impression that substantial numbers of bees vanish into thin air.

In tests on hives in a greenhouse, bees infected with IAPV (short for Israeli acute paralytic virus) rarely died in the hive. Sick bees expired throughout the greenhouse, including near the greenhouse wall, Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University in University Park reported November 18 in Reno, Nev., at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America.
Whatever's going on, we may find the last bee on Earth armed with a machine gun, talking to a bust of General MacArthur, as he holds his own against mutant zombie bees...

Smokin' Scots

The evidence is in on the supposed effectiveness of smoking bans in the UK:
Hospital data from England and Wales has failed to show a significant reduction in incidence of acute coronary syndrome since going smoke-free in 2007. This new evidence from Scotland casts serious doubts on the theory that smoking bans have a measureable impact on incidence of acute coronary syndrome.
Gee, what a surprise. If anything, it could be argued that nannystating actually adds to the risk of heart attack.

Filmed On Location With The Men And Women Of Law Enforcement

Smile, you're on crooked cop camera!
KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster’s attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster’s secret mobile office nearby.
Let's see how the police department tries to spin this as lying to the police. To quote Leverage, sometimes the bad guys make the best good guys.

Blago Gets Busted

You don't have to be crazy to be the Governor of Illinois, but it helps.
I think everyone involved in politics or interested in political corruption in the country had to know that Blagojevich's phones were tapped and probably his offices were bugged, and that Pat Fitzgerald had him under the craziest level of scrutiny. And he tries to sell the senate seat with that hanging over his head? That's simply amazing. I guess you could say he's just a traditionalist, trying to keep up heritage of Chicago machine politics. But with some of these characters, it must just be pathological.
Or a combination of arrogance and denial, which is pretty much the same thing. And he thought he could get away with it:
Blagojevich also allegedly spent significant time weighing the option of appointing himself to the open Senate seat and expressed a variety of reasons for doing so, including: frustration at being “stuck” as governor; a belief that he will be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting Senator as opposed to a sitting governor; a desire to remake his image in consideration of a possible run for President in 2016; avoiding impeachment by the Illinois legislature; making corporate contacts that would be of value to him after leaving public office; facilitating his wife’s employment as a lobbyist; and generating speaking fees should he decide to leave public office.
By these standards, Bill Clinton was above reproach. Yeesh.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Doomsday: The Blockbuster

Scott Brown ponders the differences between man-versus-nature movies of the past and latter-day disaster flicks.
The dopiness of so-called ecotainment—environmentally virtuous entertainment—rises in direct proportion to its message-mongering. In this way, it's no different from the Christian inspirational flick. To be sure, many classics prey upon our ecological anxieties—The Birds, Jaws, and Jurassic Park come to mind. But these highlight the indomitable and inscrutable brutality of nature, not the need for better stewardship of a beleaguered planet. They're the children of Moby-Dick, not Silent Spring. Even in these jittery, post-Inconvenient Truth days of rising seas, killer storms, and T. Boone Pickens TV spots, blockbuster-scale ecotainment is still the poseur spawn of Towering Inferno-style disaster matinee and Silkwood-esque docudrama. The subject matter simply resists Hollywood idiocy: Environmental problems are complex and holistic, whereas mainstream movies thrive on conspicuous good/evil dichotomies that flatter our binary human minds. To oversimplify: Nature is Gore-ville; blockbusters are Bush country.
The thing about those Seventies flicks was that you could laugh at them and still not mind the overall message that it's not nice to mess with Mother Nature. Today's movies are in the Gore vein of thou shalt worship mother nature or face extinction-and by the way, thou probably deserves extinction. Environmental alarms in the movies may be at least as old as Soylent Green, but at least you weren't being made to feel too guilty about how you were living your life afterwards.

Volume, Volume, Volume

What happens to the stuff we're supposed to recycle during a recession?
“We’re warehousing it and warehousing it and warehousing it,” said Johnny Gold, senior vice president at the Newark Group, a company that has 13 recycling plants across the country. Mr. Gold said the industry had seen downturns before but not like this. “We never saw this coming.”...

The downturn offers some insight into the forces behind the recycling boom of recent years. Environmentally conscious consumers have been able to pat themselves on the back and feel good about sorting their recycling and putting it on the curb. But most recycling programs have been driven as much by raw economics as by activism.

Cities and their contractors made recycling easy in part because there was money to be made. Businesses, too — like grocery chains and other retailers — have profited by recycling thousands of tons of materials like cardboard each month.

But the drop in prices has made the profits shrink, or even disappear, undermining one rationale for recycling programs and their costly infrastructure.
Feel-good trash collecting versus the reality of hard times. There's always the old-fashioned landfill-or your back yard...

Centrist Like Me

Liberals don't like Obama's shift to the middle:
Liberals are growing increasingly nervous – and some just flat-out angry – that President-elect Barack Obama seems to be stiffing them on Cabinet jobs and policy choices.

Obama has reversed pledges to immediately repeal tax cuts for the wealthy and take on Big Oil. He’s hedged his call for a quick drawdown in Iraq. And he’s stocking his White House with anything but stalwarts of the left.

Now some are shedding a reluctance to puncture the liberal euphoria at being rid of President George W. Bush to say, in effect, that the new boss looks like the old boss.

“He has confirmed what our suspicions were by surrounding himself with a centrist to right cabinet. But we do hope that before it's all over we can get at least one authentic progressive appointment,” said Tim Carpenter, national director of the Progressive Democrats of America.

OpenLeft blogger Chris Bowers went so far as to issue this plaintive plea: “Isn't there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration?”
Even supporters make clear they’re on the lookout for backsliding. “There’s a concern that he keep his basic promises and people are going to watch him,” said Roger Hickey, a co-founder of Campaign for America’s Future.

Obama insists he hasn’t abandoned the goals that made him feel to some like a liberal savior. But the left’s bill of particulars against Obama is long, and growing.
The right has its share of hundred-per centers and the left has its. As Megan McArdle puts it:
While the progressives are shocked, shocked that Obama hasn't made Bill Ayers attorney general and Ingrid Newkirk Secretary of Agriculture, many of the conservatives who were mad about my supporting Obama continue to assure me that he is making card check and confiscatory taxation the centerpiece of his administration. Maybe the hard conservatives and the progressives should be consoling each other.
Meanwhile, the rest of us "Softies" will be watching the "Meh Era" with interest and occasional derision.

Another One Bites The Dust

William Jefferson can now join luminaries like Ted Stevens in the unemployment line (after he gets out of jail, that is).
Nine-term Democratic Rep. William Jefferson, who has been battling scandals and a federal indictment for the past three years, lost his bid for re-election on Saturday.

Louisiana Democratic Rep. William Jefferson has been embroiled in a bribery scandal.
Republican challenger Anh 'Joseph' Cao, an attorney and community organizer, defeated Jefferson in the 2nd Congressional district race. He will become the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Cao had almost 50 percent of the vote to Jefferson's 47 percent.

The 2nd Congressional district, in and around New Orleans, is mostly African-American and heavily Democratic, and Jefferson appeared to be favored to win re-election going into the election.

'The people of the second district were able to transcend party, transcend race,' Cao said after claiming victory Saturday night.
I guess all that frozen cash didn't help much in the end...

Great Depression Chic

It's now hip to be poor:
In New York City, twentysomethings are throwing Depression parties, where the clothes are ’30s vintage and the playlists favor Big Band numbers and Dust Bowl ballads. Evite, the online party-invitation service, says such bashes are on the rise nationwide (table). Depression fascination, says American Studies professor Bryant Simon of Temple University, makes sense at a time when people may be “looking for authenticity in a highly commercialized society.” Maybe so. But the fascination is also moving merchandise. Depression chic has already hit the fashion runways. Organic by John Patrick, a ready-to-wear label, is showing prairie-style cotton-check and hand-spun floral dresses in its spring 2009 collection. Newsboy caps and suspenders are core accessories in the Benjamin Bixby 1930’s menswear line designed by André Benjamin (aka rapper André 3000).

There’s also a spurt in demand for Depression-era art and literature. Netflix rentals of The Grapes of Wrath, the 1940 film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel, are up. John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1955 best-seller, The Great Crash 1929, recently climbed to No. 87 on BarnesandNoble.com’s sales rankings, up about 20,000 spots from a year ago. And in an otherwise disappointing auction of photo prints at Sotheby’s on Oct. 14, Dorothea Lange’s White Angel Breadline sold for $134,500, well above the presale estimate. While reluctant to ascribe the high bid to an emerging Depression art market, Christopher Mahoney, senior vicepresident of Sotheby’s photographs department, says there was immense interest in the piece, in part because its subject matter makes it “a key image in the 20th century.”
Who knew poverty could be so cool?