Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Don't Start The Democracy Without Me"

In case you missed it, the Iraqis had another election.
Iraqis passed through security checkpoints and razor-wire cordons to vote in provincial elections that are considered a crucial test of the nation's stability as US officials consider the pace of troop withdrawals.

Polls opened shortly after dawn after a step-by-step security clampdown across the country, including traffic bans in central Baghdad and other major cities and closure of border crossings and airports.

Voting ended 11 hours later with no reports of major violence, though voters at some polling stations complained that their names did not appear on lists. Balloting was extended for one hour to accommodate voters.
I guess it's a sign of progress when voters can complain about voter fraud. And there's the question of just why these newly minted pols are running:
Stories about corruption and dreams of making billions boost many people who have not any idea about local government to nominate themselves to run elections for provincial councils, hoping that if they can reach posts in provincial councils maybe their dreams of power and wealth will come true. I do not want to be skeptical but I think that was behind the unexpected increase in numbers of candidates.
From insurgents to political fat cats? Still, it's an enormous step forward as we prepare to leave:
American helicopters and drones may be in the sky, but Iraqi boots are on the ground. The Americans are already worried about securing the road to Kuwait because soon they will have to start hauling out much of the infrastructure they have built on bases across Iraq.

The end of an era comes not in a single moment, but looking back it has become evident that the mood has changed, power has shifted, the world is not the same.

In the United States, many Americans view the war as already over, even though more than 140,000 American soldiers remain on Iraqi soil.
Is there a tone of disappointment in the MSM over this? Maybe. After all, they no longer have this "quagmire" to kick around any more.

Zombie Classics

Now this would be a cool high school reading assignment:
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen’s beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Complete with 20 illustrations in the style of C. E. Brock (the original illustrator of Pride and Prejudice), this insanely funny expanded edition will introduce Jane Austen’s classic novel to new legions of fans.
They should do this with other classic lit. I can easily see Tom Sawyer and Jim fighting off the zombie hordes on the Mississippi River.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Behind Closed Doors

Welcome to Rhode Island:
Under current (Rhode Island) state law, prostitution is legal in Rhode Island as long as it takes place indoors. Only streetwalkers, their pimps and the customers flagging them down can be charged.
[....]
University of Rhode Island women’s studies Prof. Donna M. Hughes said that if prostitution remains legal indoors, “Rhode Island will soon be the sex industry capital of the United States.”
[....]
“It’s really a travesty it’s allowed indoors,” state police Lt. Col. Steven G. O’Donnell said. “Make no mistake about it, people take advantage of that, including the strip clubs.” And some spas and massage parlors are brothels, he said. The “loophole” in state law “puts a stamp of legitimacy” on groups of people we don’t want joining our economy, he said.
I don't understand the problem. If you're going to get screwed in Rhode Island, isn't it better in the privacy of your own home than at the voting booth?

New Jungles For Old

Saving the rain forest may not be necessary after all in Central America, where plants are doin' it for themselves:
These new “secondary” forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest — an iconic environmental cause — may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

“There is far more forest here than there was 30 years ago,” said Ms. Ortega de Wing, 64, who remembers fields of mango trees and banana plants.

The new forests, the scientists argue, could blunt the effects of rain forest destruction by absorbing carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, one crucial role that rain forests play. They could also, to a lesser extent, provide habitat for endangered species.

The idea has stirred outrage among environmentalists who believe that vigorous efforts to protect native rain forest should remain a top priority. But the notion has gained currency in mainstream organizations like the Smithsonian Institution and the United Nations, which in 2005 concluded that new forests were “increasing dramatically” and “undervalued” for their environmental benefits. The United Nations is undertaking the first global catalog of the new forests, which vary greatly in their stage of growth.
So...are the environmentalists upset that the jungles don't need their help to survive? "What's the matter with these trees? Don't they know what's best for them?"

Son Of Cheney

What hath Dick Cheney wrought?
Vice President Joe Biden, in a bid to become an influential second-in-command, is striving to carve out meaty roles for himself quickly.

In an East Room ceremony on Friday with President Barack Obama, Mr. Biden is launching a task force to work on social and economic policies aimed at helping the struggling middle class. He's selling the giant stimulus package on Capitol Hill, and schmoozing his former colleagues during workouts in the congressional gym. Next week, Mr. Biden heads to Munich for an international security conference, in a bid to repair relations with European countries.

The flurry of activity follows a first week marked by gaffes. At a swearing-in ceremony of White House staff, Mr. Biden joked about Chief Justice John Roberts's faulty memory, provoking President Obama to give him a stern nudge to stop. During the taping of 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' the day before the inauguration, his wife, Jill Biden, said her husband was given the choice of being vice president or secretary of state, which was quickly refuted by the White House.

Before taking office, Mr. Biden pointedly disavowed the enlarged role of Dick Cheney, whom he called 'one of the most dangerous vice presidents' in American history. Some Democratic operatives speculated that his remarks diminished the vice presidency.

Obama officials play down Mr. Biden's missteps. Obama senior adviser David Axelrod says Mr. Biden's input in recent weeks shows his value 'peer-to-peer' with President Obama. 'All of the vice president's insight and experience dwarf any minor gaffe or misstep,' Mr. Axelrod says.
Hmm. Dick Cheney had "Experience," too, and we saw how well that turned out.

Time For A Little Rethink

Well, at least he's thinking about it.
President Barack Obama’s administration will examine a “buy American” requirement in economic stimulus legislation that has raised concern among U.S. trading partners, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

The administration “will review that particular provision,” Gibbs said today at his regular briefing. The president’s advisers understand “all of the concerns that have been heard, not only in this room, but in newspapers produced both up north and down south.”

He refused to say whether the administration supported or opposed keeping that part of the legislation intact. Nor did he say what the president would do if the provision remains once the bill clears the House and the Senate.

The issue may cloud Obama’s trip to Canada on Feb. 19, his first journey outside U.S. borders as president. Officials in Canada, the top U.S. trade partner, are criticizing a part of legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives Jan. 28 that requires the use of U.S.-made iron and steel in infrastructure projects.
The type of isolationist protectionism that both Obama and Hillary hawked on the campaign trail won't fly in the real world. Hopefully this is one time where Obama really will show some bipartisan spirit.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1969

A look at how information technology might be handled in the future. I have to admit, the electronic correspondence gadget would be useful...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Defense Rests

Hot Rod shows up to make one last pitch:
“I’m here to appeal to you, to your sense of fairness, your sense of responsibility, and to the truth,” Blagojevich said in a closing address that lasted less than an hour.

It was the first time he had appeared at the impeachment trial, which began Monday.

“I’m asking you to acquit me and give me a chance to show my innocence,” he said. “And if you’re not comfortable with an acquittal, then extend this process, and get more evidence, if you can get it, to show that I did something wrong or give me a chance to bring my evidence in.”
I'd take the Gov more seriously if he, you know, actually tried to prove his innocence instead of simply declaring it to the world. Or at least apologize for having one of the worst haircuts ever.

Rush Limbaugh Shrugged

Rush Limbaugh...libertarian? Chris Matthews seems to think so:
Why do people who say they`re individualists, cowboys, out there all alone, refer to themselves as dittoheads? Why would you take pride in being a ditto of what Rush Limbaugh says, in other words, repeating after him every word he speaks as if it`s gospel? And it—it doesn't make any sense. How can you be both a dittohead and an individualist?
Because Rush Limbaugh isn't a libertarian-he's for a gazillion-dollar stimulus package of his own, after all, and he's basically been cheerleading for the Republicans for most of his career. Real individualists don't cheerlead. They simply lead.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When Socialist Fascists Attack

Russia and China are taking advantage of our troubles.
The premiers of Russia and China slammed the U.S. economic system in speeches Wednesday, holding it responsible for the global economic crisis.

Both focused on the role of the U.S. dollar, with China's Premier Wen Jiabao calling for better regulation of major reserve currencies and Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calling over-reliance on the dollar 'dangerous.'

Speaking on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, they both urged more international cooperation to escape the downturn. They also talked up the abilities of their own economies to ride out the recession. Mr. Wen said he was 'confident' China would hit its 8% growth target for this year even though that was 'a tall order.'
There's no doubt that we have problems-serious ones. But following them into nationalized economies isn't the answer, even though it looks like we're headed that way.

Click, Click

Just because the Republicans have apparently rediscovered fiscal conservatism doesn't mean they've gotten rid of the Stupid Party label:
Smile, say cheese and hold that pose till you hear the 'click'. A new bill introduced in the Congress by New York Republican Rep. Peter King requires mobile phones with digital cameras 'to make a sound' when a photograph is taken.

The move is part of the 'Camera Phone Predator Alert Act' and the idea is to ensure privacy and safety of the public, especially children, claims the bill.

'Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone,' says the draft of the bill, which was introduced earlier this month.

If enacted the bill would require any mobile phone in the US to make a sound 'audible within a reasonable radius of the phone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera in such phone.' A mobile phone manufactured after the date the bill is enacted will have no way of disabling or silencing the sound.
And the sound shall set them free? I don't think so. But remember, nannystating is for the children!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Views From The Opposition

This probably isn't going anywhere, but you have to give Boehner credit for trying:
House Republican Leader John A. Boehner and his No. 2, Whip Eric Cantor, told their rank-and-file members Tuesday morning during a closed-door meeting to oppose the bill when it comes to the floor Wednesday, according to an aide familiar with the discussion. Boehner told members that he's voting against the stimulus, and Cantor told the assembled Republicans that there wasn't any reason for them to support the measure, according to another person in the room. Cantor and his whip team are going to urge GOP members to oppose it.

In a nod to the president, Boehner did point out that this is the third time that Obama has met with Republican leaders, compared with the zero meetings they've held with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — a now-familiar refrain from Republicans in the House. But Obama’s diplomacy clearly isn’t buying any votes yet.

This pre-meeting bluster should dampen the mood for an early afternoon meeting with the president, who is making the trek to hear Republicans’ input on the legislation before Wednesday's vote. Once Obama is done with House Republicans, he will cross the Capitol to join the Senate Republican Conference lunch to pitch them on the stimulus.
He's probably hoping for a filibuster, which most likely won't happen either. It would have been nicer if the Republicans had remembered they were against big government spending when they were still in the majority, but there you go.

Working For The Welfare State

Whe Ray Davies first complained about the welfare state in the Kinks' 1966 hit "Sunny Afternoon," I don't think he could imagine how how far it would go.
Parts of the United Kingdom have become so heavily dependent on government spending that the private sector is generating less than a third of the regional economy, a new analysis has found....

In the northeast of England the state is expected to be responsible for 66.4% of the economy this year, up from 58.7% when a similar study was carried out four years ago. When Labour came to power, the figure was 53.8%....

Across the whole of the UK, 49% of the economy will consist of state spending, while in Wales, the figure will be 71.6% -- up from 59% in 2004-5. Nowhere in mainland Britain, however, comes close to Northern Ireland, where the state is responsible for 77.6% of spending, despite the supposed resurgence of the economy after the end of the Troubles.
And with all that, they still can't save themselves from bankruptcy. Go figure.

Monday, January 26, 2009

How You Gonna Keep GM Off Of The Farm?

One farmer fights back against anti-GM Luddites.
Environmentalists are calling for the prosecution of a farmer who claims to have sabotaged Wales's GM-free status by secretly planting and harvesting genetically modified varieties of maize and feeding them to local sheep and cattle.

In a political stunt that has infuriated the National Assembly for Wales, Jonathan Harrington, 53, an agronomist who advises farmers on how to grow crops, claims to have imported two varieties of GM maize from Spain, planted them on his land and given seeds away to two other farmers who also planted the banned crops. Wales has been GM-free since 2000 and markets its milk, meat and vegetables accordingly.

As the Welsh assembly considers its legal options, GM-free campaigners condemned Harrington as "grossly irresponsible". Plant scientist Brian John of GM Free Cymru said: "To plant it, then deliberately push it into the food chain is absolutely insane." Friends of the Earth Cymru said: "The concern is that it has entered the food chain without any control, traceability or labelling. Even if it is a small quantity, it means Wales is not GM-free any more."

An unrepentant Harrington said he had resorted to the secret planting after the Welsh assembly, which voted unanimously for GM-free status in 2000, refused to have any meaningful discussions over its policy. He said: "Out of frustration I went and bought some varieties of maize bred to be resistant to a pest called the European corn borer and which are grown widely in Spain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic."

The varieties he chose were on the EU common variety list, and as such it is legal to grow them anywhere in Europe.

The Welsh assembly admitted that despite its policy, which has otherwise been strictly adhered to throughout the principality, it has no actual legal power to ban GM crops in Wales.

However, anti-GM campaigners believe Harrington can be prosecuted for not complying with stringent regulations that require monitoring, labelling and traceability of GM crops.

Not only does he claim to have planted the maize at his farm at Tregoyd, near Hay-on-Wye; he claims two other farmers, whom he refuses to name, also planted the same maize.
As expected, the Luddites are in a snit:
Brian John condemned Harrington's stunt as political sabotage. "If he has, as he claims, planted it and it has entered the food chain, and he has no monitoring in place, then clearly he's broken the regulations and he should be prosecuted, absolutely," he said. "We think this is grossly irresponsible. Wales's GM-free status is very important."
What's irresponsible is not giving GM crops a chance. Are we going to see a GM crop black market in Wales now as a result?

The Other O

Hot Rod is seriously losing it:
Illinois’ beleaguered Gov. Rod Blagojevich said today that when he was deciding who would take President Obama’s Senate seat he considered appointing talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.

Blagojevich made the revelation to Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” on the day his impeachment trial is set to begin. That trial is expected to toss him out of office.

The governor said that Winfrey’s name came up as a potential successor to Obama in the Senate.
Well, Oprah would be about as qualified for the Senate as Caroline Kennedy was. At least she turned him down. That's better than other entertainers who think they can also be politicians.

They Have A Plan

Is a Cylon revolt in our future?
The reality is that the human location “in the loop” is already becoming, as retired Army colonel Thomas Adams notes, that of “a supervisor who serves in a fail- safe capacity in the event of a system malfunction.” Even then, he thinks that the speed, confusion, and information overload of modern-day war will soon move the whole process outside “human space.” He describes how the coming weapons “will be too fast, too small, too numerous, and will create an environment too complex for humans to direct.” As Adams concludes, the new technologies “are rapidly taking us to a place where we may not want to go, but probably are unable to avoid.”

....

So, despite what one article called “all the lip service paid to keeping a human in the loop,” auton­omous armed robots are coming to war. They simply make too much sense to the people who matter.
Will we one day see a movie about a "Robot Rambo?" Will there be a "Department Of Robot Veterans' Affairs?" If so, I nominate Al Gore as its head. He'd fit right in.

"More Power To Us"

Washington has become living proof thet some cities are more equal than others:
As a new president takes over the White House, the United States’ capacity for centralization has arguably never been greater. . . . The contrast between Washington and most of the United States has gradually become more pronounced. In good times and in bad, lawyers, lobbyists and other government retainers have continued to enrich themselves even as the Midwest industrial-belt cities have cratered and most others struggled to survive. “The vision of generations of liberals,” admitted the New Republic in the mid-1970s, “has created a prosperous and preposterous city whose population is completely isolated from the people they represent and immune from the problems they are supposed to solve.
Obama says he wants to change this. But then, so did Bush back in 2000. The fact is, Washington does what's good for Washington. Is it any wonder they want to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs working for them?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stayin' Alive

For the Big Three, going green means big bucks:
GM is counting on the government to stay alive. It could potentially recover all of its investment in the new battery facility from a $335 million state program to bring green jobs to Michigan. This will allow it to impress Pelosi and Co. and perhaps extract more federal taxpayer money. For example, the $825 billion bag of goodies—otherwise known as the stimulus package—that Congress is working on contains $11 billion for electricity infrastructure needed for the wide-scale adoption of electric cars, as well as $2 billion in loans to build "advanced vehicles and battery systems."
All well and good. But what does it say about GM when they spent years delaying such efforts? Will the stimulus really change things?

Friday, January 23, 2009

"What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?"

It appears that the Euro is no longer what it was cracked up to be:
In the middle of the worst economic downturn since the euro’s birth, a new view is emerging — especially as the creditworthiness of Greece, Spain and Portugal, one after the other, has been downgraded. The view is that the balm of euro membership allowed these countries to gloss over serious economic problems that have now roared to the fore.

“Membership is not a panacea for a country’s social and economic problems,” said Simon Tilford, the chief economist at the Center for European Reform in London.

“In fact, there has been a huge divergence in competitiveness that shows up in massive trade imbalances,” he said, comparing Greece with the wealthier euro countries. “While Greece may have been insulated from the risk of a currency crisis, there is also the risk of a credit crisis and a collapse of confidence in its solvency.”

While sharing a currency with some of the mightiest economies in the world helped Europe’s poorer nations share in the wealth, a boon during boom times, in hard times the rules of membership are keeping them from doing what countries normally do to ride out economic storms, including enormous spending.

So Germany, France and the Scandinavian countries are mounting billion-dollar stimulus plans and erecting fences to protect their banks. But the peripheral economies are being left to twist in the market winds.

With the need for stimulus to deal with the severe downturn, these countries find themselves caught in an awful policy bind: credit is available, but only at punitive rates; and further borrowing not only breaks with European Commission dictates but raises broader questions about their solvency.
In the past, these countries could at least use their own money to bail themselves out. It seems the Euro dream is dying, and with it may go the Union that created it.

The War On Tax Havens

I don't like them either, but this is going a bit too far:
The Obama administration could tell the Caymans—now fifth in the world in bank deposits—to repeal its bank secrecy laws or be invaded; since the island nation's total armed forces consists of about 300 police officers, it shouldn't be hard for technicians and auditors, accompanied by a few Marines, to fly in and seize all the records. Bermuda, which relies on the Royal Navy for its military, could be next, and so on. Long before we get to Switzerland and Luxembourg, their governments should have gotten the message.
So what would the Obama administration say? That they were looking for bank accounts of mass destruction?

Economy Goes Green, Women And Minorities Hardest Hit

Robert Reich is worried that going green might be racist.
The stimulus plan will create jobs repairing and upgrading the nation's roads, bridges, ports, levees, water and sewage system, public-transit systems, electricity grid, and schools. And it will kick-start alternative, non-fossil based sources of energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and so on); new health-care information systems; and universal broadband Internet access.

It's a two-fer: lots of new jobs, and investments in the nation's future productivity.

But if there aren't enough skilled professionals to do the jobs involving new technologies, the stimulus will just increase the wages of the professionals who already have the right skills rather than generate many new jobs in these fields. And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most -- women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed -- will be shut out.
Of course, Reich's solution is the same as every other liberal response to "Unequal" hiring: force companies to hire people based on skin color. But that's not racist itself, is it?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bloggin' In The Years: 1973

It looks like they really will give peace a chance.
Agreement has been reached to end the Vietnam War-the longest in America's history-with a cease-fire effective Saturday night and complete U.S. withdrawal coinciding with release of all war prisoners, President Nixon told the nation last night.

Nixon said it was a just and fair peace-an honorable way to end a nightmarish, decade-long war that left nearly 350,000 Americans killed and wounded and caused an unprecedented upheaval at home.

....

Nixon said the United States will strictly adhere to the agreement's terms and that he expects other parties to do the same-a phrase that appeared intended as a warning to the enemy that the United States will be watching for violations of the accord.

And, in words which seemed intended for the Soviet Union, Nixon declared: "We shall also expect other interested nations to help ensure that the agreement is carried out and the peace maintained."
So we finally have a way out of our self-imposed mess. The question is, what happens when we do leave? That's a question Nixon will have to answer as his second term begins.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1997

Madeline Albright has joined Team Clinton.
In two unanimous votes, the Senate confirmed William S. Cohen as secretary of defense and Madeleine Albright as secretary of state.

Cohen, a former senator from Maine, is the first Republican to serve in President Bill Clinton's Cabinet. Earlier today, before a friendly panel of his former colleagues, he laid out his plan for reaching out to Asia and modernizing America's military forces while cutting their size.

Czech-born Albright, 59, was previously U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and with her confirmation became the first female secretary of state and the highest ranking female official in U.S. history. Like Cohen, she had easy confirmation hearings, and senators paid tribute to her again before voting.

'Not withstanding our differences, Mrs. Albright is a lady who understands Congress, she understands the important role that Congress must play in developing U.S. foreign policy,' said Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 'However, my support for the nominee should in no way be misconstrued as an endorsement of the [Clinton] administration's conduct of foreign policy.'

A Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), said, 'Whenever a woman crosses a threshold into an area that has been predominantly held by men, and performs effectively the doors open for women everywhere.'
So...she is Secretary of State, hear her roar?

Retro Tech

The administration with its eye on the future meets a White House still running in the past:
If the Obama campaign represented a sleek, new iPhone kind of future, the first day of the Obama administration looked more like the rotary-dial past.

Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.

What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking.

“It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said of his new digs.
Security concerns shouldn't be an excuse for not keeping up with the times. This is, after all, an administration which now has its own blog. And Obama will get to keep his Blackberry after all. So what's the holdup for moving the Oval Office into the 21st Century?

Son Of Skynet

When the first true Artificial Intelligence arises, will we even recognize it?
Instead of dozens of geniuses trying to program an AI in a university lab, there are billion people training the dim glimmers of intelligence arising between the quadrillion hyperlinks on the web. Long before the computing capacity of a plug-in computer overtakes the supposed computing capacity of a human brain, the web—encompassing all its connected computing chips—will dwarf the brain. In fact it already has....

When this emerging AI, or ai, arrives it won't even be recognized as intelligence at first. Its very ubiquity will hide it. We'll use its growing smartness for all kinds of humdrum chores, including scientific measurements and modeling, but because the smartness lives on thin bits of code spread across the globe in windowless boring warehouses, and it lacks a unified body, it will be faceless. You can reach this distributed intelligence in a million ways, through any digital screen anywhere on earth, so it will be hard to say where it is. And because this synthetic intelligence is a combination of human intelligence (all past human learning, all current humans online) and the coveted zip of fast alien digital memory, it will be difficult to pinpoint what it is as well.
To understand the alien, you have to think like an alien. The same could be said for what could be the first spark of computer consciousness.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gone To The Dogs

How fitting is this?
Former French president Jacques Chirac was rushed to hospital after being mauled by his own 'clinically depressed' pet dog.The 76-year-old statesman was savaged by his white Maltese dog - which suffers from frenzied fits and is being treated with anti-depressants.The animal, named Sumo, had become increasingly violent over the past years and was prone to making 'vicious, unprovoked attacks', Chirac's wife Bernadette said.
If I were a pet in France, I'd be clinically depressed, too.

Round Two

The second time's the charm.
Chief Justice Roberts came to the White House tonight and administered the oath of office to President Obama at 7:35 pm ET in the Map Room.

'Because there was one word out of sequence,' in yesterday's oath, explained White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, the President took the oath again 'out of an abundance of caution.'

The only people in the room were Obama, Justice Roberts, Gibbs, White House communications staffer Katie Lillie, White House photographer Pete Souza, and four print reporters.

'We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the President was sworn in appropriately yesterday,' says White House counsel Greg Craig in a statement. 'But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time.'
It's getting harder and harder to be a conspiracy theorist, isn't it, Chris Wallace?

Anarchy For You And Me

Via Reason, a look at how anarchy might not be a bad thing.
Following the lead of the early public choice economists, many current economists are researching and analyzing how individuals interact without government. From their non-public-interested explanations of the creation of government law enforcement to their historical studies of attempts to internalize externalities under anarchy, public choice scholars are arriving at a more realistic perspective on government and how people interact when government law enforcement is lacking. Although the economics of politics often receives more attention, the economics of anarchy is an important area of research in public choice.
Most conservatives and libertarians would agree the less government, the better. That doesn't mean no authority at all-but IMO a little more anarchy ane a lot less bureaucracy could go a long way towards solving some of our current problems.

Remaking America On Old

Don't pick up your shovel just yet:
A Congressional Budget Office analysis of President Barack Obama’s plan found that most of the approximately $355 billion in proposed discretionary spending on highways, renewable energy and other initiatives wouldn’t be spent before 2011. The government would spend about $26 billion of the money this year and $110 billion more next year, the report said.

About $103 billion would be spent in 2011, while $53 billion would be spent in 2012 and $63 billion between 2013 and 2019, the report said. Republicans said the analysis showed that the plan, unveiled last week by House Democrats, won’t get money into the economy quickly enough.
You know something's amiss when it takes more time and money to figure out where the money should go than it takes to actually get something done.

This Is Your Country On Nationalization

James Surowiecki explains why nationalization is so unpopular with most Americans:
1) Two years of financial crisis does not invalidate the general principle that private enterprise is typically better at efficiently allocating resources than government; and

2) the idea of the state literally determining which companies and individuals do or don’t get credit is, even to a non-libertarian, at least a little troubling.
Unfortunately, thanks to both Bush and now the Democrats, that seems to be where we're headed.

Presidential Rehab

How long will it take for Bush to be redeemed? It may take a while:
Of all his predecessors, Bush may have the most to learn from Hoover, the one to whom, given the current Great Recession, he is increasingly compared. Bush may not be popular, but there aren't crowds calling for him to be hanged or accusing him of raiding Fort Knox before fleeing the country. Hoover left office in an even deeper hole than Bush, but he had the great advantage of a strong constitution. He lived another 31 years, during which time he was among the greatest champions of children this country has ever known. He drove the growth of Boys Clubs of America, the creation of UNICEF; he led the campaign to get food to millions of civilians who faced a catastrophic famine after World War II. That's what he was good at — fixing things like the engineer he was. By the time he died, he had tamed his critics and turned up as a regular on Gallup's list of the most admired men. How'd he do it? 'I outlived the bastards,' he said.
Bush can begin by quietly doing some sort of charity work, perhaps acting as a sort of goodwill ambassador to countries like Africa where he actually did some good. But will he live to see himself raised up in the public's eyes? It took Truman decades to get rehabilitated, likewise historians are only now showing appreciation for Lyndon Johnson's domestic accomplishments and Richard Nixon's foreign policy triumphs. Like them, Bush may not be better remembered until after he's gone.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Brother, Can You Spare A Pound?

The Brits are discovering that a country does not live by bailouts alone.
It is finally dawning on the Government that the liabilities of the British banks grew to be so vast in the boom years that they now eclipse the entire economy. Unfortunately, the Treasury is pledged to honour those
liabilities because it has guaranteed not to let a British bank go down. RBS has liabilities of £1.8 trillion, three times annual UK government spending, against assets of £1.9 trillion. But after the events of the past year, I wager most taxpayers will believe the true picture is worse.

Meanwhile, the assets are falling in value. This matters, because post-nationalisation these liabilities are now yours and
mine.

And they come piled on top of the rocketing national debt, charitably put at £630 billion, or 43 per cent of GDP. The true figure is much higher because the Government has used off-balance sheet accounting to hide commitments such as PFI projects.

Add to that record consumer indebtedness and Britain becomes extremely vulnerable. The markets have worked this out ahead of the politicians, as usual, and are wondering what to do next. If they decide our nation is a basket case, they will make it so.
The British government seems to have become a victim of its own nannystating. With the Democrats now poised to spend like FDR on steroids, how much longer will it take for the same to happen to us?

Tough But Fair

How to criticize Obama:
I think it’s important to note that it’s not only possible, but morally recommended, to assume a posture that ought to be comfortable, but is in fact culturally awkward. One should both recognize in Obama a real symbol of morally meaningful cultural change and attack the romance of democracy and the cult of the presidency — because that is the direction of further moral progress.
Obama looks to be different than Clinton or Carter-he seems to have Carter's idealism minus Carter's incompetence and Clinton's charisma minus the sleaze. Conservatives will actually have to argue on ideas and ideals rather than on personality. This is why the Ann Coulters and Sean Hannitys may have a harder time of it in a post-Bush world. Going after Obama requires some degree of intelligent discourse.

President Bookworm

Have we gone from an action hero President to a Philosopher-In-Chief?
Bush always seemed to think of leadership as akin to sports — focus, endure, keep your energy up, and will away any potential obstacles. Obama, I would guess, will treat it as a complex, perhaps philosophical, piece of fiction, and he will likely want to shape it into something he finds both elegant and true. Of course, I suspect that most every American president sees themselves as the hero of their own story, though what type of story that is varies. Bush seemed to think he was in an old war movie; Nixon in a paranoid thriller; Reagan, a global-scale western; Clinton, a serio-comic legal farce. What story Obama believes he is at the center of will, in part, determine how he leads and how he governs.
Obama is certainly not the first intellectual we've had in office. But he may be the first one to make being a geek cool. As a former geek, that might not be so bad.

That Sound You Hear Is Sean Hannity's Head Exploding

Obama just gave the second biggest speech of his life (the first being at the Democratic Convention). I'm sure I'm not the only one who took notice of this part:
We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy.
This to me represents the biggest break with the Bush years (and did anyone else notice Cheney sitting there in his wheelchair?) Overall, I thought the speech was pretty good-although I wish he would have stressed personal responsibility more than asking what you could do for his national service agenda. Still, it was tough on the terrorists while emphasizing diplomacy where it counted. The closing was pretty good, too.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Save The Bomb

Thomas P.M. Barnett argues that we still need it:
There is no good reason whatsoever to lower the threshold of great power war at this time in history. Not suffering great-power wars is a key aspect of our success in spreading globalization. Abolishing nukes also has NOTHING to do with the global war on terror--NOTHING WHATSOEVER.
We can slow down proliferation, as we should. But the idea of getting rid of our nukes completely was a reaction to the Cold War, when deterrence could be counted on to keep the Russkies in check. That doesn't work with terrorists. Which is why we need to continue to engage our former enemies in keeping the bomb out of the hands of the bad guys.

Real World Blues

Reality is returning early, at least overseas:
Though much of the world will party through the night Tuesday after Obama is sworn in as America's 44th president — just as it did when he was elected — there are signs the ardor is cooling as the sheer weight of his challenges sinks in.

A deepening global recession, new hostilities in the Middle East, complications in closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan — an impatient world has a stake in all of them and is asking how much change Obama can deliver.

'Just two months ago, the future president seemed a cross between Superman and Merlin the magician,' Massimo Gramellini wrote in a commentary for Italy's La Stampa newspaper. 'Now he himself admits he won't be able to keep all his promises, and who knows? Maybe someone will ask for his impeachment by the end of next week.'

'The idealism has diminished,' said Samuel Solvit, who heads an Obama support network in France. 'Everyone was dreaming a little. Now people are more realistic.'
I've never believed that Obama would be able to magically solve everything. But he at least seems intelligent enough to realize when things aren't working-unlike his predecessor. Of course the dreamers won't be pleased, but that's what waking up is all about.

Mr. Jones

Call them the anti-Boomers:
Jonathan Pontell has gained some fame coining a new category: Generation Jones, as in the slang word ‘jonesing,' or craving, and as in a generation that's lost in the shuffle.

Jonesers are idealistic, Pontell says, but not ideological as boomers are. 'Boomers were flower children out changing the world. We Jonesers were wide-eyed, not tie-dyed.'

And Obama, he says, is 'a walking, living prime example of Generation Jones. He's a classic practical idealist. It's not the naive idealism of the '60s.'
The Jonesers came of age in the Reagan and Clinton years. One was a conservative icon for the right reasons, while the other was essentially a centrist. We could certainly do with a little more pragmatism these days.

"Save Us, Super President!"

I was wrong. He's not the Second Coming. He's Superman.
According to a survey published last night, 71 per cent of Americans believe the economy will improve during the first year of the Obama presidency and 65 per cent said they think unemployment will drop.

Asked about cash-strapped Wall Street, 72 per cent said they thought the stock market would recover.

Some 63 per cent were confident that their personal financial situation would improve.'He cannot not succeed. He has to succeed because the world really depends on him right now,' said Richard Kern, 51, who works in a home remodeling business in Bernalillo, New Mexico.

'We're all hanging in by the treads of our shoes, waiting for the economy to break. We need good news.'
The expectations are set pretty high for The One. So what happens if he can't deliver?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bluer Than Blue

Are the Blue Dogs the ones who will be able to keep their fellow Democrats in check? Congressman Jim Cooper seems to think so.
With the victories of a number of conservative Democrats in the last election, the Blue Dogs have grown to 51 in number from 46, with more applications pending. 'For a long time we had to limit our numbers because we actually need to be able to fit in one room,' he tells me. 'So it's been an increasingly popular, and I think influential, group.'

Indeed, the way the Blue Dogs flex their muscle may become one of the defining issues of the Obama administration's opening months. If they are inclined to wrangle with Nancy Pelosi and the more liberal contingent in the Democratic Party, they will drive policy, especially as a check on spending. 'Ideally the White House will see things our way, so they will present legislation on the Hill that we find acceptable,' Mr. Cooper says. 'If they stray too much from that or if a certain part of Congress strays too much from that, then we may have to object.'

So far, however, the Blue Dogs seem to believe that Barack Obama is one of them, a fiscal reformer, and their last best hope for true change on entitlement spending and economic responsibility. Mr. Obama has announced he will convene a fiscal responsibility summit in February to bring together Blue Dogs and other folks to discuss the long-term problems of the economy, including entitlement spending. 'We've kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road,' the president-elect told the Washington Post this week.
Obama talked a lot about excessive spending on the campaign trail. But Nancy Pelosi has other ideas. Will he be able to live up to his word after he's sworn in?

Allah's End Times

A new book offers a look inside the mindset of Islamist theocrats:
These are people who believe an end-of-the-world battle between the forces of good and evil is forthcoming. Belief in the imminence of the end of time has been on the rise in the Muslim world since the late 1970s, and in a fascinating new book, Jean-Pierre Filiu investigates the origins of Islamic apocalyptic thought and its disturbing modern manifestations. Filiu examines both the Shiite and Sunni traditions from the seventh to the 21st century, and shows that the past two decades have seen a spectacular rise in the scope and popularity of apocalyptic literature.
The difference in this country is that we have those darned secular laws to keep such lunatics from gaining too much power.

McChurch

Has that old-time religion simply become outdated?
Only a quarter of Americans attend church weekly. Yet moral chaos has not broken out; society has grown more prosperous as secularism expands. Empathy with others, an awareness of the necessity of the Golden Rule, survive the radical transformation of religious belief, it turns out. Perhaps because a moral sense is the foundation, not the result, of religious ethics.
This is why, IMO, the Culture Warriors have lost the culture war. They equated a growing lack of churchgoing with a growing immorality in society, when that hasn't actually been the case. Many people are as moral and upright as they've ever been-they just don't like being told how to show it.

The Toking Stops Here

Could legalizing the evil weed save the economy?
As long as marijuana is illegal, we’ll still be directing billions to enforcement, prosecution and incarceration. And we still won’t realize the revenues that regulation and taxation can bring.

We could use those lost billions right now. Estimates of the combined savings from legalizing marijuana, and revenues from taxing it like alcohol or tobacco, range from $13.94 to $41.8 billion per year. That’s enough to pay for all or most of President-elect Obama’s proposed ten-year, $150 billion alternative energy investment. Or it could contribute roughly one-fifth to one-half of the $75 billion per year estimated cost of Obama’s proposal to extend health insurance to all.
That might be a tad optimistic. But would a pot tax really be all that bad?

Red Alert Nation

Mark Steyn comments on how everything-inclouding the inauguration-has now become a national emergency:
The metastasization of FEMA teaches several lessons – the first and most obvious being that any new government program, agency or entitlement will always outgrow whatever narrow purpose it was created for. Which is why we small-government types are wary of creating any new ones in the first place. Thus, an itsy-bitsy bit of inconsequential government tinkering on the periphery of the mortgage market expanded to the point where federally mandated home loans to the uncreditworthy came close to collapsing not just the U.S. property market but the global financial system.

If you'd suggested in the Seventies a new federal agency to cope with municipal snow removal in Connecticut, you'd have been laughed out the room. But, with government, mission creep isn't a bug but the defining feature. In mid-September, the 'bailout' was a once-in-a-lifetime emergency measure to save the planet. A mere four months later, it's the new baseline.
You know there's a problem when the definition of emergency has come to include just about anyone and anything that wants a truckload of cash. Barack Obama is not bringing back big government. He's just adding to it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hypocrisy We Can Believe In

At least they were consistent in their inconsistency.
Of seven newly minted freshman Democratic senators, six voted for releasing the second half of the $700 billion TARP funds in what is being considered Obama’s first major test of strength on the Hill. This would be rather uncontroversial had not five of them, to some degree or another, campaigned against the original, unpopular bailout bill to win their seats.
Now they can proudly say they were against it before they were for it.

God's Holodeck

Are we all just Sims?
For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into 'grains', just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. 'It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,' says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: 'If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.'
This is all very deep stuff, but it might explain why our world is so bizzar. The next time you see something or someone that makes you say, "If that didn't exist, you'd have to make it up," is it because somebody Out There actually did?

The Buck Comes Here

Is this the way it was supposed to be?
After the 2000 Census, the richest county in America was Douglas County, Colorado. By 2007, Douglas County had fallen to sixth. The new top three are now Loudon County, Virginia; Fairfax County, Virginia; and Howard County, Maryland. All three are suburbs or exurbs of Washington, D.C. . . . All of this is fine if you happen to live in the D.C. area. It’s not so great for the country as a whole. . . . The problem is that, save for the tech corridor in D.C.’s Virginia exurbs, the Washington Metro area doesn’t actually produce anything. Washington doesn’t create wealth, it just moves it around—redistributes it. As government grows and takes control of more and more of the private economy—either through spending, regulation, or taxes—more and more wealth that’s created elsewhere comes to Washington to be devoured.
And the Democrats think this is the environment from where they think they can share the wealth. It appears some redistribution is more equal than others.

Disappearing Act

Hmm. A sign of the times?
Arthur Nadel, a hedge-fund manager in Sarasota, Florida, has disappeared and clients are concerned they may have lost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to law enforcement officials.

Nadel, 76, is president of Scoop Management Inc., which oversees funds including Valhalla Investment Partners LP. He was reported missing three days ago after he called his stepson, Geoff Quisenberry, and told him to go to his house where he had left a note, Lieutenant Chuck Lesaltato of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Nadel’s wife, Peg, and Quisenberry, were “concerned about his welfare,” Lesaltato said. Nadel had sounded “distraught,” Lesaltato said, citing the note. Nadel’s partner, Neil Moody, said today he believes Nadel is alive and has spoken to his wife since then.
I'm sure Bernie Madoff probably thought of doing this. But then he wouldn't get to stay in his penthouse.

It's Nothing Personal; It's Strictly A Stimulus

It looks like that museum dedicated to Las Vegas's founders may be put on hold.
As debate over the size and scope of a federal stimulus bill intensifies in Washington, regional leaders could soon be engaged in a turf war for their piece of the pie.

Local jurisdictions have compiled lengthy wish lists of potentially “shovel-ready” projects, or those that could be under construction within 180 days. Among them: a $200 million project to build a more efficient ramp from the airport connector onto eastbound Interstate 215, $63 million in regional road repair and, of course, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s proposed $60 million mob museum downtown — a request that is being roundly rejected on Capitol Hill.

On Thursday, the day an $825 billion stimulus bill was pitched by House Democrats, Clark County Manager Virginia Valentine submitted a lengthy list of projects — including the mob museum — to the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition. The coalition, an area advisory group, approved the list, passing it on to the state’s congressional delegation.
I just hope somebody doesn't wind up sleeping with the fishes when the Mayor doesn't get his money...

Uncle Sam's ATM

Here it comes:
The incoming Obama administration is considering setting up a government-run bank to acquire bad assets clogging the financial system, a person familiar with the Obama team's thinking said on Saturday.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, Treasury and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp have been in talks about ways to ease a banking crisis that is once again deepening -- and a government-run 'aggregator bank' is among the options.

Outgoing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair both said on Friday a government bank was one of a number of ideas U.S. regulators had been discussing.

The source said advisers to President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office on Tuesday, were also considering the idea of an aggregator bank among a range of options that could be pursued.

David Axelrod, a top adviser to Obama, told Reuters the new administration would have something to say about a fresh approach to the financial crisis in 'the next few days.'
The government handling your assets and mine? Oh, this will be a great idea. And the nationalization of our savings accounts continues.

Keeping It Clean

Well, there go the politicians' dates for the festivities.
District police have placed signs along 5th and I Streets. They read, 'Warning, Prostitution Free Zone.' Those who disobey could be fined 300 dollars, and even jailed. But will the city's plan work?

DC City Councilman Jim Graham said officers cannot enforce loitering laws, which is the reason for these signs.

'Because this is focused, its limited in time, its aimed at a very specific issue, if you don't move along, well put you in the car,' he said.

John Thompson lives in the neighborhood, and he said prostitution is a major problem. He hopes the signs make a difference, but what will visitors think?

'I'm not concerned with what visitors think. I'm concerned about the problem that exists,' Thompson said.
Meanwhile the elected whores should be safe to go about their business otherwise.

Urban Like Me

It was the cities that helped Obama win:
The future of America is an urban one — among the twenty largest metropolitan areas in 2000, nineteen had added population by 2007, a trend likely to sustain itself as rising gas prices place more pressure on exurban commuters. Republicans trail Democrats among essentially every fast-growing demographic except the elderly — the youth vote, the Latino vote; they never had the black vote. It is long past time that they hone their pitch to urban voters, and find their shining city upon a hill.
This is something that's been happening for the past several years now, as the kids leave the suburbs behind for the now-hip cities that their parents and grandparents abandoned. The Republicans, with their mindset set in the past, have been looking for votes in the wrong places. Reagan foresaw the age of the shining city. Well, now it's here. Where are the Republicans who will be able to acknowledge it?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dude, Where's My Tax Cut?

Obama's Great Tax Cut may be put on hold:
A few days ago, Obama was promising that 95% of working people would get a tax cut. The House has scaled that back to make it more affordable. It will be interested to see how the burgeoning young professional class that disproportionately supported Obama--the folks who are making good money, but living in expensive cities and still struggling with rent and loans--will take this.
Well, for one thing, they may have to move out of those expensive but oh-so-hip cities and commute like the rest of the country. In other words, they may have to settle for being-gasp!-middle class.

"What About Us?"

Is Nancy Pelosi ignoring her own Congress? Some of them think so:
As congressional Democrats take the lead in responding to the sinking economy, subcommittee and even some full-committee chairmen — who normally wield significant influence in writing legislation — have been forced to wait on the sidelines as monumental bills are written in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office.

That often leaves room for cursory input from lawmakers who have carved out expert niches for themselves.

Many of these members are complaining louder and more often to Democratic leaders that a return to regular order, where bills are written in committee, is long overdue. And some warn that if the closed-door, truncated legislative process doesn’t end with the economic recovery bill, frustration could boil over, perhaps onto the floor.

“This is really set to come to a head soon,” said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Oversight subcommittee. “The question is: Are we actually going to get a chance to legislate? There’s an opportunity to turn this corner, but we have not done that yet.”

A number of Democrats have said caucus meetings are growing contentious as promises from their leaders to return to a regular process have again been postponed because of “emergency” legislation.
Well, they wanted someone to take charge when they thought Obama wasn't moving fast enough. Should they really be all that surprised if their own boss took their advice?

The Culture King

From a Culture War to a Culture Czar?
A call for President-elect Barack Obama to give the arts and humanities a Cabinet-level post -- perhaps even create a secretary of culture -- is gaining momentum.

By yesterday, 76,000 people had signed an online petition, started by two New York musicians who were inspired by producer Quincy Jones. In a radio interview in November, Jones said the country needed a minister of culture, like France, Germany or Finland has. And he said he would "beg" Obama to establish the post.

Listening in New York, Jaime Austria, a bass player with the New York City Opera, and Peter Weitzner, also a bassist, took his suggestion to heart and started the online campaign.

Depending on how you define culture, the portfolio could cover many areas, supporters say. "We are not quite sure, especially in this environment, what the secretary of the arts could provide, but foremost is advocacy for arts education and awareness of the financial rewards the arts bring to a community," said Weitzner, the host of a chamber music series at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Jones, who has been promoting the idea for at least 10 years by his count, said yesterday that he has specific responsibilities in mind for the office. He wants an education system that teaches the history and personalities of the arts, particularly music. "I have traveled all over the world all the time for 54 years. The people abroad know more about our culture than we do," he said. "A month ago at my high school in Seattle, I asked a student if he knew who Louis Armstrong was. He said he had heard his name. I asked him about Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. He didn't even know their names. That hurts me a lot," Jones said.
I'm sure it does. But do we really need another Czar to tackle something like this? What have we been giving the NEA all that money for, if not to promote the arts?

Thank You Rod?

Rod Blagojevich may have done more for the cause of reform than any politician in recent memory.
Good-government advocates have stepped up their calls for states and the federal government to crack down on money in politics, particularly so-called pay-to-play practices in which businesses give favors or gifts to politicians in the hope of getting some benefit in return. State legislatures across the U.S. are considering laws curbing campaign contributions, efforts that civil-liberties proponents say could threaten free speech.

[...]

'Blagojevich has put pay-to-play on the agenda' nationwide, says Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, a Washington nonprofit that advocates for campaign spending limits. Mr. Holman says he has received requests in the last two weeks to work on possible play-to-play legislation in Georgia, Montana and Pennsylvania.
I guess it's comforting to know that Hot Rod is good for something.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

If...

I'll be damned. I'm actually agreeing with Hugh Hewitt.
If President Obama oversees the payout of more than a trillion bucks and cannot point to anything but statistics to show for it in two years, he'll have a political nightmare on his hands, and he'll deserve it. The enormous size of the stimulus is a never-before-seen-in-American-history splurge, and the Democrats thus far show no sign of treating it as other than a vast payout to their friends.

If President Obama was to demand the funding for and enabling legislation to kick start the construction of the dozens of new nuclear power plants this country needs, as well as the wind turbines envisioned by T. Boone Pickens and the grid expansion everyone knows is necessary, not only would he be creating thousands and thousands of great jobs, he'd be powering the U.S. up for a second American century.
Therin lies the rub, as the Neverending Bailout is so far showing the Democrats at their crass, cynical worst. Obama may make them behave-or maybe not.

The Heart Of The Machine

Max Borders on likening the economy to an ecosystem:
...the whole idea of fixing, running, regulating, designing, or modeling an economy rests on the notion that, if the right smart guys are at the rheostats, the economy can be ordered by intelligent design. But the economy is no mechanism. There is no mission control. Government cannot swoop down like a deus ex machina to explain the inexplicable and fix the unfixable. Why? Because the knowledge required to grasp each of the billions of actions, transactions and interconnections would fry the neural circuitry of a thousand Ben Bernankes. This is what F. A. Hayek called the knowledge problem. Knowledge, Hayek reminded us, is not concentrated among a few central authorities but is dispersed around society. That's why bad unintended consequences follow government interventions like black swans.

A few economists have not succumbed to the 'fix it' fixation. They know that society is not like a machine at all, but an ecosystem. Faster than you can say market fundamentalism, a Keynesian will scoff at this metaphor. But his favorite trope has helped to stagnate many an economy; making Rube Goldberg apparatuses out of means-ends networks, perversion out of productivity. As Czech President Vaclav Klaus wisely notes: 'The market is indivisible; it cannot be an instrument at the hands of central planners.'
Government advisors treat the economy like a bureaucracy, perhaps because that's what they're familiar with. But true free markets aren't rigid. They are fluid; they have their ups and downs and are subject to something much like the forces of nature. Perhaps we need fewer mechanics, and more economic naturalists.

Continuing With Plan A

It looks like the big government salvage operation that Bush started is likely to continue apace.
A top economic adviser to the incoming Obama administration unveiled a plan today to radically rethink the global financial system, including a host of measures that would dramatically expand government control over banking and investment in the United States.

The plan -- which recommends limiting the size of banks, setting guidelines for executive pay and regulating hedge funds -- offers the first hint of the kind of changes to the financial system President-elect Barack Obama might push for in the coming weeks and months. Obama has pledged to present a comprehensive series of changes to prevent a repeat of the current financial crisis before world leaders gather in London for a major economic summit in April.

The report today was issued by the Group of 30, an organization of international economists and policy makers. But the recommendations were immediately seen by observers as a building block to an Obama plan because the lead author is Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve during the Carter and Reagan administrations who will serve as a special Obama White House adviser. Part of Volcker's role is to help mastermind what could ultimately be the biggest overhaul of the U.S. financial system in decades.

Volcker said he would press the new administration to consider the measures, "but it's up to the administration to decide what they want to do."
....

"The issue posed by the present crisis is crystal clear: How can we restore strong, competitive, innovative financial markets to support global economic growth without once again risking a breakdown in market functioning so severe as to put the world economies at risk?" Volcker said in a statement. "We hope that our proposals, which explicitly relate to the weaknesses that have become evident in the financial system over the last year, will be a useful contribution to the debate about needed reforms both by private financial institutions and by public authorities."

The proposal suggests that the U.S. government should clarify the status of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, either making them into government agencies or regulating them as independent mortgage brokers.
This part is actually probably a good idea. As for the rest...

Viva Le Number Six

Via Reason, a look at how the late Patrick McGoohan became a libertarian hero in France.
The Prisoner was arguably the most popular vehicle of libertarian ideas in socialist France over the past half-century. Ask a Parisian to name an Ayn Rand book and he'll give you a blank stare; mention The Prisoner and you'll likely hear back the French version of the series' catch-phrase, "Be seeing you"–Bonjour chez vous! Unveiled just months before the May '68 riots, this philosophical and rebellious series struck a nerve in an overwhelmingly Catholic country at a time when its long-haired youth were loudly questioning authority.

....

With total artistic freedom granted by legendary TV producer Lew Grade, McGoohan was the creator, executive producer, star, and frequent director of the show, playing the obsessive and resourceful Number 6. He spent 17 episodes plotting to escape and trying to identify the ruler in charge of the Village, Number 1, who turns out (in that final episode) to be none other than himself. McGoohan, an Irish-American and self-described "devout Roman Catholic," certainly believed that evil exists in man, but also that freedom could be achieved through inner sovereignty.

Which turned out to be a potent combo for communitarian France. For young French people to watch the Village community hound and almost lynch Number 6 in this episode for the sin of being "unmutual" (that is, for insisting on his privacy instead of happily joining the collective), was to turn a cherished French ideal on its head. In the episode, those who refuse to conform are subjected to "instant social conversion" via frontal lobotomy. When French fans felt outrage at this brain-deadening cure to "individualism"—a word almost always used as a pejorative in France—they were unwittingly swallowing a libertarian message without ever having heard the word.
I'm sure the irony of living to see Britain become the kind of Big Brother surveillance society that his character rebelled against wasn't lost on McGoohan. Be seeing you, indeed.

The Obama Economy

Apparently, according to John King, everything will automatically become Obama's fault come next Tuesday:
Politically, every day we get closer to that inauguration, and then, on Tuesday, this becomes Barack Obama’s economy. It’s Barack Obama’s bailout money. And it’s Barack Obama who is paying the price for the anxiety. He has a lot of goodwill. He has high public approval.

Even many people who didn’t vote for him want him to succeed. But guess what? They’re still mad about the economy, still don’t think this bailout is a good idea, don’t know where the money is going, and don’t think it’s getting to them on Main Street USA or to the bank on the corner of their street.

And that is now becoming increasingly—and is about to become completely—Barack Obama’s political problem, not John McCain’s, not George W. Bush’s, not the Republican Party’s.
Now, I understand that as Commander In Chief Obama will get both the blame and the credit for the economy. But what is King saying? That the previous administration's screwups won't matter? If Reagan was responsible for the economic boom that Clinton enjoyed, why shouldn't Bush be remembered for what began on his watch? Liberals aren't the only ones who have selective memories when it comes to past Presidents.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1870

Thomas Nast has contributed the following (and, I might add, highly amusing) portayal of the Democratic Party to Harper's Weekly:
Braying Jackasses, indeed. Unfortunately they have done little to redeem themselves since the war, and will no doubt continue that trend in the future.


The Poetry Man

Camille Paglia on Jesus as an artist:
Furthermore, as a literary critic, I hear a very distinct speaking voice in the sayings attributed to Jesus. This was a brilliant poet who was able to find simple, universal metaphors (a coin, a tree, a mustard seed) to convey spiritual truths to the masses. He was also a performing artist with startling improvisational gifts. Whether or not he himself thought he was the Messiah is unclear.
Hmm. Maybe he really was the first hippie, after all...

But I think it shows how Jesus has come to be all things to all people. Whoever or whatever he really was, people have come to use him as a template for their own idealogies, and that's the wrong attitude to take. The message is universal. It's not just intended for a small core of followers.

El Implosion

Is Mexico in trouble?
Mexico is one of two countries that 'bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse,' according to a report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command on worldwide security threats.

The command's 'Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008)' report, which contains projections of global threats and potential next wars, puts Pakistan on the same level as Mexico. 'In terms of worse-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

'The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.'
I would say that Mexico has been a basket case for a long time, it's just that the craziness was mostly confined to their side of the border. I guess the good news is, with Iraq winding down, we may finally have the troops we need to secure the borders.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Change They Don't Believe In

A word of warning for Obama:
Left, Right or Middle - the real battle in politics rarely if ever engaged effectively since Reagan is DC versus the rest of the country. Obama wants to govern and he wants to be part of DC more than anything right now. If you believe Right versus Left down here on the Potomac is at each other's throats the way the base sometimes is , you probably think professional wrestling is real, too. Sorry if the wrestling comment offends anyone. I know how seriously some folks take it. Yes, Washington is broken. But it still rules the roost. And if you come here looking to change it and are more Carter than Reagan, it will change, or destroy you.
Unfortunately for the idealists on both the left and the right out there, it's a truism that Washington is filled with entrenched benchwarmers who are notoriously difficult to persuade. I think Obama is smart enough to realize this, which is why he chose somebody like Biden to help him deal with them. But does that mean he can change them-or that he expects them to try and change him?

Curves Ahead

Megan McArdle adds to Krugman's concerns about the current spending spree:
The tendency to attribute outright magical powers to government spending has gotten slightly out of control. It's appropriate to ask the same question that should have been asked of Republicans in 1980: if all this is so marvelous, why don't we just do it indefinitely--slash tax rates to zero, borrow and spend forever?

The answer is that there are declining returns to all of this. At some point, the Laffer Curve maximizes, and any further cuts cost the government money. Similarly, the trillionth stimulus dollar probably isn't nearly as effective as the first.
The answer is to stop the spending before it starts. You can't have it both ways-as the Republicans proved when they were the ones doing the spending.

Art For Satire's Sake

As Voltaire once noted, some people just don't get it.
As countries digested depictions of their character, such as a Dracula-inspired theme park (Romania), a rudimentary lavatory (Bulgaria) and a flooded land with minarets poking through (the Netherlands), the Czech presidency was forced into a public apology.

“I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that the creator of the work of art, ‘Entropa’, was in fact David Cerny and that it is not made by 27 artists representing all the EU member states,” said Alexandr Vondra, the Czech deputy prime minister for the EU. “In this situation we are now considering which steps to take.”

Mr Cerny quickly owned up to being the work’s author and apologised for misleading his ­government.

Other national depictions in the artwork include: Luxembourg as a lump of gold on sale to the highest bidder; France emblazoned with the word grève, or strike; Denmark made of Lego; and Sweden lying within an Ikea flatpack. Britain is simply missing – supposedly a reference to its euro­scepticism.
An artist's lot is never an easy one. Especially when his fellow Eurotrash are the targets.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Cost For What Ails You

Hmm. It seems Massachusetts' highly vaunted health care program isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
Just a year after the universal coverage law passed, The New York Times reported, state insurers were already jacking up rates to twice the national average. According to Dr. Paul Hsieh, a physician and founding member of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine, 43 mandatory benefits — including those that many people did not want or need, such as invitro fertilization — raised the costs of coverage for Massachusetts residents by as much as 56 percent, depending upon an individual’s income status. So much for “affordable” health care.

Small businesses with more than 10 employees were required to provide health insurance or pay an extra fee to subsidize uninsured low-income residents, yet the overall costs of the program increased more than $400 million — 85 percent higher than original projections. To make up the difference, payments to health care providers were slashed, so many doctors and dentists in Massachusetts began refusing to take on new patients. In the state with the highest physician/patient ratio in the nation, some people now have to wait more than a year for a simple physical exam.

The irony is that Massachusetts officials reluctantly admitted that, despite increased enrollment, the state is still far from universal coverage — the original goal of the landmark law. To make matters worse, Massachusetts is grappling with a multibillion-dollar deficit while Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick desperately tries to slow down those still-spiraling health care costs, which he said last week were “not sustainable.”
Socialism. Sometimes the "Cure" is worse than the disease.

California Nightmarin'

Shannon Love elaborates on California's current woes and most likely grim future:
California has followed the grim path of the Great Lakes states.

As I wrote before, those states where once the industrial dynamo for the entire Earth, yet they destroyed that enormous economic dominance by political policies hostile to economic creativity. Likewise, California had a golden era as an economic and cultural dynamo. Well up until the late 1980s California was the place to go to make it big. People moved from other states to California. Now, internal migration has reversed. California looks less like a dreamland and more like basket case waiting to happen.

It seems that in post-New Deal America, economic and civil success sow their own seeds of destruction. When things are going good, socialist experimentation seems harmless. A booming economy can pay for increased government spending and an ever-increasing scope of government power. Eventually, however, socialism strangles the economic engine and destroys civil society.
And now the bill is coming due. Other states (particularly in the often-reviled South) have become more economically attractive. Will the cycle start there all over again, or will people (and politicians) finally learn from the hard lessons of Detroit and Los Angeles?

Right Like Me

Jennifer Rubin notes how Obama's agenda could be an even bigger threat to the GOP than Obama's party:
As the realities of governance set in (on everything from the challenges of a world still fraught with Islamic terrorism to a recession that simply can’t be cured by shovel-ready projects alone), President-elect Obama is dumping the Left — and with it, its agenda. He’s hired center-right advisers, thrown out tax hikes, and is talking down expectations for his own campaign agenda. He not only wants to succeed, but he wants to be re-elected and utterly defang the Republicans. If he keeps this up, he will do all three.

That brings us to the dilemma for Republicans. They are left picking fights over nothing. (Oh he’s calling for “shared sacrifice!”) Or, trying to trim around the edges of an enormous spending plan (”Not a dime more than $750B!”). And of course, there is the old standby of moaning about President Bush’s advice not to exclude minorities. (”No, we like our diminishing electorate just fine!”)

To say that the Republicans lack both a message and leaders is to understate the depth of the problem: if Obama has his way they will lack a reason for existence.
If this keeps up, the Republicans won't have to blame Democrats or the media for their next thumpin'. They'll have self-destructed all on their own.

The Blog Down Under

I am so there:
Australia's Queensland Tourist Board is using the strained world economy as part of a new campaign giving job-seekers the opportunity to live six months rent-free on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef and make $150,000! In addition to basking in the sun all day, the job requires that the 'island caretaker' keep a blog of their stay.
Seriously, where can I sign up? The only way to get paid huge amounts money for doing nothing in this country is to ask for a bailout.

Taxi Driver

Cuba's cabbies have found themselves at the forefront of free-market reform.
Cubans with classic American cars - or even rusty Russian sedans - are being encouraged to apply for taxi licenses and set their own prices for the first time in nearly a decade as the communist government turns to the free market to improve its woeful transportation system.

Under regulations published into law this week, Cuba is applying a larger dose of supply-and-demand to an economy that remains 90 percent under state control.

The move by President Raul Castro's government also breaks with the policies of his ailing brother Fidel, who long accused private taxis - legal and otherwise - of seeking 'juicy profits' and fomenting a black market for state-subsidized gasoline that Cuba 'had sweated and bled' to obtain.
It may not be the same thing as driving a venerable yellow cab here in the States, but it's a start. They may even figure out that subsidized gasoline doesn't work, either.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bad Medicine

Over at In The Pipeline, Derek Lowe responds to the notion that alternative medicine is becoming the wave of the future:
My idea of a good trial of Qi Gong would involve one group of patients getting the full hand-waving treatment according to the best practitioners of the art. The other cohort gets random hand motions from a system I will gladly invent on request, and which I will have to be forcibly restrained from naming Don Ki Kong. It’ll be full of talk about holistic energies and connections to the universal flow, don’t you doubt it, and I’ll round up some impressive-looking worthies to administer the laying on of hands. Their passes and taps will be carefully screened by the Qi Gongers beforehand to make sure that none of them, according to their system, have any chance of actually having any effects on the Qi (assuming that any of them can agree).
So, are there any good snake-oil salespeople out there? Any experience with actual voodoo medicine, including Scientology and faith healing, would be helpful.

The Power Behind The Power

Liberals love to complain about the "Rich and powerful," but how much power do they really have over our lives? Maybe not that much after all:
With all that money, what can they force us to do? Can they take our house to make room so that another person can build an auto dealership or a casino parking lot? Can they force us to pay money into the government-run retirement Ponzi scheme called Social Security? Can Buffett and Gates force us to bus our children to schools out of our neighborhood in the name of diversity? Unless they are granted power by politicians, rich people have little power to force us to do anything.

A GS-9, or a lowly municipal clerk, has far more life-and-death power over us. It’s they to whom we must turn to for permission to build a house, ply a trade, open a restaurant and myriad other activities. It’s government people, not rich people, who have the power to coerce and make our lives miserable. Coercive power goes a long way toward explaining political corruption.
The real movers and shakers are often the ones we rarely hear about, but often have to deal with in our daily lives. They're "The system" that breeds the Rod Blagojeviches of the world.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Not So Fast

Is Obama backtracking?
President-elect Barack Obama said this weekend that he does not expect to close Guantanamo Bay in his first 100 days in office.

“I think it’s going to take some time and our legal teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do,” Obama said in an exclusive “This Week” interview with George Stephanopoulos, his first since arriving in Washington.

“It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize,” the president-elect explained. “Part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication. And some of the evidence against them may be tainted even though it’s true. And so how to balance creating a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo-American legal system, by doing it in a way that doesn’t result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up.”

But Obama said unequivocally that it will close. “I don’t want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our Constitution. That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values.”
So Gitmo is still going to be shut down, just not right away. Obama may not be moving as fast as the liberals who wanted everything done overnight wanted, but it's still a vast improvement over an administration with an anything goes attitude towards terrorism suspects.

The Indians' Burden

The Economist has a worrisome article about India's outlook:
India’s task remains daunting. Some 65% of Indians live on agriculture, which accounts for less than 18% of GDP. Shifting them to more productive livelihoods—and so reducing poverty—would be hard even if the number of people of working age was not growing so fast. Roughly 14m Indians are now being added to the labour market each year, and that number is rising. Half of India’s people are under 25 and 40% under 18 (see chart 2). They cannot all work for Infosys. Indeed, because of India’s historic underinvestment in education, many are not obviously skilled at anything. By one estimate, which may be optimistic, only 20% of job-seekers have had any sort of vocational training. If India cannot find employment for this lot, poverty will not be reduced and India may face serious instability.
For all we complain about outsourcing, we should remember that India has experienced a "Brain Drain" that leaves behind a much larger and under-edcuated population than we can comprehend. That can make them targets for recruitng by extremists, which should concern everyone in the region.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Not So Golden State

Are Californians finally realizing that they're in the same recessionary boat as the rest of us?
California voters want it all — more of everything government promises and low taxes. So the Republicans (thankfully) say no to higher taxes, but the public doesn’t want anything cut. And the Democrats try to mess with tax-limiting Prop. 13 restrictions, such as their latest plan to call many taxes “fees” as a shameless way to avoid the legislative two-thirds vote requirement for tax hikes, but the public doesn’t have any appetite for their tax plans, either.

Maybe California is just a magnified version of the “we can have it all” mentality that pervades the entire nation, but things certainly are magnified here.

The good news: The budget stalemate, driven by endemic political problems and exacerbated by a hard-hit consumer-oriented economy, could signal a return to reality in this perennially unrealistic place. Newport Beach will never resemble Saginaw, Mich., but all of a sudden California is learning that, perhaps, there are consequences to decisions, that the California economy might actually enter into a severe recession, that state policies might result in a lower standard of living for all of us. Culturally, Californians already might be learning that owning a BMW and a million-dollar house might not be our birthright.
I used to live in California-San Diego to be precise, where I grew up. It always felt wealthier than the rest of the country, and for decades Southern California in particular seemed somewhat insulated from the economic ups and downs that prevailed elsewhere. But those days may be coming to an end. Welcome to the real world, California.

If You Don't Want Them To Build It, They Won't Come

Arnold Kling points out an unpleasant, but core truth about the free market:
You will hear Keynesians cry over the “lost output” that results from having unemployment. That is somewhat misleading. The reason we are getting less output from home builders, mortgage securitizers, and auto makers is that we do not want so much from them. Putting them back to work doing stuff people don’t want may produce output in an accounting sense, but in economic terms it is still lost output.
Giving these people more money to make stuff isn't going to make people want to buy that stuff from them. Especially when the government wants said customers to give them that money in the first place.