Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bloggin' In The Years: 1983

Requiem for a TV series:
For half an hour each week, hawk and dove could sit together in front of the TV set and agree: war is an existential hell to which some pretty fine people had been unfairly assigned; now they were doing their best to do good and get out. As the Viet Nam War staggered to a close and M*A*S*H generated the momentum any TV series needs to sustain its quality after the first few seasons, the show revealed itself as a gritty romance about the finest American instincts. Here were gruff pragmatism, technical ingenuity, grace under pressure, the saving perspective of wit. The men and women of 4077 MASH could be seen as us at our worst hour, finding the best part of ourselves.
You might say, "Well, it was just a TV show." But what a memorable show it was. Whether you agreed with its politics or not, whether you thought-as I did-that it got too sentimental in its final years, M.A.S.H. and the 4077th crew set a standard that will be hard for future ensemble casts to top, if ever. Goodbye, farewell, and amen, indeed.

More Sugar

So all those things you were told about sugar while growing up were just urban myths?
Nearly everyone has always accepted the belief that sugar makes kids hyperactive; in fact it's so deeply ingrained that even some researchers have had trouble accepting their own results. In one study, 35 children reported by their mothers to be 'behaviorally sugar sensitive' were separated into two groups. Half were told they were given a sugary drink, half were told it was a sugar-free drink. Then the mothers played with the children and were individually interviewed. Overwhelmingly, mothers who were told their child was given sugar rated their behavior as hyperactive. In fact, all children received the same sugar-free drink. In this case, the perceived affect was confirmation bias by the mothers — where they picked up only on cues that supported their pre-existing conviction.

Another similar study found that 50 children whose mothers 'knew' that their children's behavior was worsened by sugar were given a blinded test where the children were given either sugary or a sugar-free drink, and then observed — but this time the mothers didn't know which was which. No differences between the groups could be ascertained over three separate trials. And the lack of an effect extends to classroom performance, too. 16 hyperactive boys were given controlled diets of either sugar drinks or sugar-free drinks at measured intervals throughout two school days and were regularly given behavioral and cognitive tests. Again, there was no difference in performance between the groups.
Of course, sugar can do other things-like cause diabetes-so it's not totally off the hook. But it's ironic to know that you could have had your share of it as a kid and not blame it for making you hyper after all.

The Post Stimulus Economy

Call it the cliffhanger economy:
Will our economy and society emerge so risk-averse after these experiences that years will have to pass before we return to a system naturally generating vibrant economic growth and a renewed willingness to both borrow and lend? Or will we head in the opposite direction, where faith in ultimate bail-outs will justify the wildest kind of risk-taking? Or will the entire structure collapse from government debts and deficits that turn out to be so unmanageable that chaos is the ultimate result?
I really hope that it will be the first choice, because over-reliance on the second could ultimately produce the third, which is not what we want.

Working for A Better Living

Some people might not be as bad off after all:
Even as the economy did a cliff dive in the last quarter, productivity rose an impressive 3.1 per cent. And since, in theory, workers get paid more the more productive they are, their increased productivity has helped them avoid pay cuts.
It could be that people are working longer hours to get what extra pay they can. Or it could signal an eventual turnaround. We'll see.

All In The Family

A new tome examines the Bin Ladens' priveleged, yet highly disturbed, background:
The Bin Ladens is not so much a book about Osama bin Laden himself, or his terrorist network and political aspirations, as about the power structures of modern Saudi Arabia. And in this it is most informative. Against much contemporary writing about the Arab world, which tends to explain political and social behavior by analysis of culture and religion, Coll's book is about more secular matters—about sibling rivalry; fascination with modern technology, particularly planes and means of communication; about the attraction of women; and above all, for all the talk of piety, about money.
In other words, they're like the Middle Eastern version of the Sopranos: another dysfunctional mob family.

Friday, February 27, 2009

New World Depression

The future doesn't look good:
The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave many tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow.
Maybe Obama really is FDR. The rest of the world seems to be trending accordingly...

Meet The New Charge, Same As The Old Charge

Well, this is original:
Top Republicans charged President Barack Obama with driving the United States toward socialism on Friday, opening an ideological attack on his big spending plans.

While the tough rhetoric was certain to rev up hard-line Republicans—many of whom regard “socialism” as anathema to American life—it was unclear how much it would change the debate in the Democratic-led Congress, which begins hearings next week on Obama’s $3.55 trillion budget proposal.
My guess is...not a whole lot. There's no doubt that this is big-government liberalism on a scale that we haven't seen in at least forty-five years. But it only reinforces the notion that the Republicans have no new ideas of their own to counter it with, and why they seem as intellectually bankrupt as the country is financially.

Living Outside The Echo Chamber

Marc Ambinder asks:
Righties interviewing righties has gotten so boring and repetitive; lefties fawning over lefties is lazy. Who's going to be brave enough to reach out to an ideological or intellectual opponent, promote their new book, or interview them?
Laziness seems to be mostly what the pundits on both sides have in abundance. It's easy to talk to somebody who agrees with you. Real outreach takes work. Maybe this is why bipartisanship is so difficult to achieve in Washington.

Dirty Old Voters

Now this is funny:
Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year's presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama. Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage.
This might explain some of the anger out there. Maybe Sarah Palin needs to do a few photo shoots for Playboy to calm them down.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Post-Stimulus Age

So what do liberals do if the stimulus actually doesn't work?
There is a very real possibility that in two or three years, America will be in worse shape than it is now--unemployment in the double digits, GDP down by same, corporate and government budgets peeling apart at the seams. I will be curious to see whether the new armchair empiricists of the left see this as casting any doubt on their central theories, or whether they will simply argue the counterfactual.
It would seem to me that the Republican presidential candidate who can effectively rebut their arguments-and come up with ones of his own without sounding like a wingnut-is the one who could replace Obama in the White House. But that Republican will have to come without the current post-Bush baggage first.


An argument for legalization uses the differences between America and the Dutch for how it could work.
Because Dutch policies are out of step with those in Germany, Belgium, France and Britain, lots of drug tourists, mainly young, stupid and male, pour into Dutch cities to make trouble. The state balances its tolerant drug policies with public health programs for its population — safe drug use education, etc. — but those policies don’t catch the German 19-year-old boys on a weekend ecstasy and pot binge. If a single US state were to implement similar policies, especially a small state, it would encounter similar problems. If the US implemented them on national scale, it would encounter no such problems; the US is huge.
There, you see? Legalization would help keep out the riff raff! Or they could go back to the Dutch...


John Derbyshire takes on the current conservative climate:
In place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar. Gone are the internal tensions, the thought-provoking paradoxes, the ideological uneasiness that marked the early Right. But however much this dumbing down has damaged the conservative brand, it appeals to millions of Americans. McDonald’s profits rose 80 percent last year.
I think there's still a place for serious discourse on the right-you just won't find it on talk radio. Not everybody wants fast food, all the time. Occasionally you do want to go out to a decent restaraunt once in a while.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Futurism Is Now

J. Storrs Hall sums up why futurists are necessary:
When times are bad, people need futurists more than at other times. Bad economic times come because people have been walking in the dark, in lockstep, and hit a wall. There is a surfeit of people whose efforts the current state of knowledge cannot organize productively. The job of a futurist is to turn on the lights, to show what paths could actually lead to prosperity.
Where science fiction ends, futurism begins. One day there may be a happy medium where the two can merge and find common ground in creating the future, instead of just speculating about it.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1984

President Reagan may have called it a "Redeployment," but one thing is clear: The Marines are moving out.
Compared with the withdrawal of the Italian force, which took place in the streets of the city and had an elegant, professional quality, the departure of the Marines was casual and at times almost furtive. The difference was not merely of style; throughout their stay, the Italians were able to maintain their role as peace keepers, while the American force came to be seen as an active supporter of the government of Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, a Maronite Christian. With the departure of the British, the Italians and the bulk of the American contingent, the 1,250-man French unit was the only component of the Multi-National Force left hi Lebanon. French officials said again last week that they hoped to stay on until some different kind of inter-I national force replaced them.

The Marines spent their last days in Lebanon doing routine chores like reinforcing the sandbag bunkers they were about to leave behind. They also played football and watched the play-by-play artillery exchanges between rival Lebanese forces. Using sophisticated electronic equipment for pinpointing artillery targets, some passed the time making a sweepstakes of the hits and misses, as Lebanese shells exploded in the nearby mountains. Watching the Shi'ite residents of a Beirut suburb, Second Lieut. John La Torre remarked ruefully, 'I guess they're just like other people, except that they've had a civil war going on for most of their lives.'
And now, thankfully, they will no longer be in the middle of it.

Thou Shall Not Erect

I think this is a good ruling, but we'll see:
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday, in one of the most closely watched free speech decisions in years, that a tiny religious sect could not force a Utah city to let it erect a monument to its faith in a public park.

The fact that there is already a Ten Commandments monument in the park in Pleasant Grove City does not mean that city officials must also allow the religious group called Summum to place a monument there to the Seven Aphorisms of its faith, the justices ruled.
Is it a case of some monuments being more equal than others? Or just common sense that not every cult needs to have its bad taste on public display?

Onward Christiania Soldiers

Old hippies confront 21st Century real estate blues:
Christiania, a scruffy micronation that sits in the heart of Copenhagen's upscale, canal-incised Christianhavn district, sprang to life in 1971 when a band of utopian rebels expropriated an 85-acre former army barracks. But as Charles Hayes writes, Christiania is now facing both an existential and a property rights crisis, with an aging population of ’60s counterculturalists battling a less tolerant and increasingly antagonistic national government that sees great untapped value in the commune’s waterfront land.
If they just moved in and took over vacant property, as hippies are wont to do, then I don't think they have much of a case. It still appears to be state property. Of course, the government could always give them the money to buy it from them. It seems to be all the rage these days...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"We Are All Plutonians Now"

The Illinois state legislature has a new mission:
Like some sort of rulers of the universe, state lawmakers are considering restoring little Pluto's planetary status, casting aside the scientific community's 2006 decision downgrading the distant ice ball.

An Illinois Senate committee on Thursday unanimously supported planet Pluto and declaring March 13 'Pluto Day...' The push for a state decree on Pluto comes from state Sen. Gary Dahl, a Republican whose downstate district includes Streator, birthplace of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh. Dahl told colleagues Pluto is important to the local community, which considers the vote to downgrade Pluto to 'dwarf' planet was unfair.
They must not have a whole lot to do now that Hot Rod is going to the hoosegow.

The Forgotten Occupation?

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of leaving Iraq may be premature.
It seems to me that by vowing to get out of Iraq in 16 months, President Obama is not departing from the mistakes of George Bush, but repeating them. That is, Bush was persistently overoptimistic about Iraq. His original war plan assumed that the United States would get down to 30,000 troops in Iraq by the fall of 2003. Instead, here we are more than five years later with more than four times that number of troops mired in Iraq. I hope we can stop planning for Iraq only on best-case assumptions.
Since we are also faced with the prospect of an equally long presence in Afghanistan, that might be a good idea.

One Health Care System, One Payment

John Cole fears that some form of national health care may be coming whether we like it or not:
Only a fool can not see the writing on the wall- we are going to have to move to single-payer at some point, because businesses can not compete and the largest problem for Detroit is… their health care obligations and other retiree benefits. Likewise, we spend an enormous amount of our GDP on health care yet have rankings that look third world on issues like infant mortality. Something has to give.
I suppose the question is how much it will cost and how much freedom patients will have under it. The problem is, I doubt the government will be able to provide reasonable answers to these questions.

Takeover, Stat!

Josh Marshall says it's not quite the same as true nationalization:
The choice is between keeping a series of de facto insolvent banks on long-term life support, subsidizing them with vast amounts of tax payer money and involving the government in various aspects of their management or biting the bullet, take them over for a while and reprivatize them as totally private banks. Like I said, it's really no different from what the FDIC does to a couple banks every week this year.
Maybe, but the worry here is that it is such a huge effort that it might be called nationalization lite. It might be the lesser of two evils, but what of tomorrow?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Whose Economy Is This, Anyway?

The stimulus might not be popular, but Clive Cook argues that Republican hopes for support might be premature:
Congressional Republicans have done nothing to help themselves by almost unanimously opposing the massive stimulus package. Indeed, they look increasingly isolated: a narrow party that is looking inward for sustenance. Selecting former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to be national party chairman is about the only intelligent thing that Republicans have done since Election Day. At this point, a Republican rebound seems more contingent upon a Democratic collapse than anything else.
Hoping for epic fail seems to be what the Party is about these days. They may indeed have better ideas, but so far they haveb't been able to articulate them. And the wandering in the desert continues...

Depression Shopping

I know how this woman feels:
Edick often skimps on food, some weeks spending little more than $10 on groceries, about one-quarter what the federal food stamp program calculates is needed for three 'thrifty meals' a day. She patronizes the grimy discount stores whose prices run even lower than Wal-Mart's, and can tick off their notable sales going back for months. 'I had some oranges,' she recalls with a self-deprecating smile. 'A couple of months ago, they had grapes on sale.' And, 'If it's less than three dollars for a package of six steaks, that looks like a good deal to me.' (She tries not to think too hard about the quality of a 50-cent steak.) Her staples include PB&J, canned ham salad, soup: 'I'll get chicken noodle or Campbell's Chunky. There's meat in there. You can pour it over noodles and put butter on it. It's like a delicacy.'
Hey, it beats going to a soup kitchen...

Smart Like Me

Why has the GOP had such a hard time getting the educated vote?
Republicans face an array of challenges with these voters. The GOP's anti-tax arguments that still stir business owners and executives appear to resonate less strongly with these professionals, even though Clinton raised taxes on many of them and they are again in the crosshairs of Obama's pledge to repeal Bush's tax cuts for the very wealthy.

'Some people, as they get more affluent, are OK with spending more money if the services are in line,' says DuHaime, now a managing director at Mercury Public Affairs. Other analysts say that the combination of Clinton's fiscal rectitude and the huge deficits racked up on George W. Bush's watch erased any fiscal-responsibility advantage that Republicans once enjoyed with these voters.

The larger current is that many educated voters have recoiled from the same conservative cultural and foreign-policy positions that have attracted many blue-collar voters to the GOP. The backlash against the Iraq war, for instance, has hurt the GOP among college-educated voters, who generally respond more favorably than other voters to a foreign policy that emphasizes diplomacy.
I would add that the strong anti-intellectual streak in the current conservative movement, which tends to view all those with degrees as suspect, has also hurt the Republican Party. The educated population is growing larger and the Republicans have to find a way to resonate with them unless they want to be a permanent minority and regional party.

The Slumdog Way

What can we learn from India? Quite a bit, actually.
For decades would-be entrepreneurs staggered under the weight of corruption and bureaucracy. Want to import a computer for your business? You'd have to get permission from a bureaucrat. Want to sell food from a small cart? You'd need all kinds of licenses.

But in the 1990s, India emerged as a high-tech powerhouse. What changed?

'In the 1990s India started liberalizing its economy,' says Dalmia, 'and it did three things: cut taxes, liberalized trade, and deregulated business.' Although they failed to cut the kind of red tape that entangled Slumdog's orphans, the reforms did make it easier for more Indians to start businesses and hire employees.

'One IT company doesn't just employ computer professionals,' says Dalmia. 'It also needs landscaping services, cleaning services, and restaurants. There was this tremendous spillover effect that allowed people to lift themselves out of poverty.'

Since the early 1990s, India has cut its poverty rate in half. About 300 million Indians—equivalent to the population of the entire United States—escaped the hunger and deprivation of extreme poverty thanks to pro-market reforms that increased economic activity.

Yet here in America we're turning away from market reform. Says Dalmia, 'It's just this great conundrum that at the same time that deregulation and markets have produced such dramatic results in India, they are falling into suspicion in America.' Dalmia's prescription for India is at odds with what politicians have chosen to 'stimulate' the United States. 'What India needs to do is continue apace with its liberalization effort, but expand it to include the poor. Release them from the shackles of government corruption and government bureaucracy.'
India is the world's biggest democracy and has the world's second-largest population, and still has widespread poverty. Yet they turned away from big-government solutions to their problems. Can we learn to do the same thing again?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What Hath Santelli Wrought?

James Pethokoukis on the growing stimulus revolt:
Rick Santelli simply vented the frustration of millions of Americans who are working, continue to pay their bills and are very angry at being forced to reward the 'Bad boys'(Wall street greed and homeowner greed) or the world comes to an end. Perhaps the focus should be on rewarding the prudent. The economy has slowed to a trickle because prudent people can't tell who's honest and who's isn't. That is as true of the bankers as it is of ordinary Americans. Everyday there's a new scandal in the news and so far the only accounting has been from the same senators and government entities that ignored the red flags in the past.
Indeed. But it appears people are now paying attention to how much it's going to cost to "Save" them. Complacent politicians, beware.

It's Good To Be The MP

And you thought Obama had problems finding an honest politician.
Members of the European Parliament are earning up to £1 million in profit in just one five-year term in office through expenses and allowances, a leaked report has revealed.

The report sparked calls for a police investigation into the systematic abuse of taxpayers' money.

The internal report into the system of allowances - conducted by Robert Galvin, a European Union internal audit official - was kept secret when it was carried out last year.

But a leaked copy of the 92-page document details the full extent of "corruption, dodgy dealing and poor financial controls" in the European Parliament, according to the Taxpayers' Alliance. It revealed that some MEPs claimed money for assistants that were neither accredited nor registered with the parliament.

Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "Having acquired the report, we felt it was right to publish it so taxpayers across the EU could see the widespread evidence of corruption, dodgy dealing and poor financial controls in the European Parliament.

"It should never have been kept secret, and there must now be a proper investigation by the police.

"Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent, and if anyone is stealing from them. The EU Parliament must publish the full details of all MEPs' expenses and allowances, and name the people this report found to be ripping taxpayers off."
So along with nannystates, the Europeans have basically been subsidizing their politicians' lifestyles. You'd think they were CEOs or something.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friend Of The Devil's Court

I guess he can't claim the Devil made him do it:
A Billings man in prison for drug possession has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against Yellowstone County for alleged civil-rights violations, including interference with his satanic religious practices.

Jason Paul Indreland claims in the U.S. District Court lawsuit that county jail staff took from him a religious medallion, denied him access to religious material and ridiculed and punished him for his religious beliefs.

The lawsuit also alleges that Indreland was denied medical care for his drug addiction, that he was placed in situations where violence was expected and that he suffered harassment and retaliation while incarcerated.

Indreland said he has been a practicing Satanist for the past decade and the confiscated medallion was a 'protective symbol' in his religion. The lawsuit claims jail staff refused to return the medallion or allow Indreland access to a 'Satanic Bible or Book of Satanic Rituals.'
No real satanist leaves home without one, after all.

The I-Word

It's the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.
Even as one piggy bank after another astounds us with its emptiness, there have been only the faintest whispers about the possibility of an actual default by the U.S. government. Somewhat louder whispers can be heard, though, about the gradual default known as inflation. Just three or four years of currency erosion at, say, 10 percent a year would slice the real value of our debt -- public and private, U.S. bonds and jumbo mortgages -- in half.

Anyone who regards the prospect of double-digit inflation with insouciance is either too young to have lived through it the last time (the late 1970s) or too old to remember. Among other problems, inflation works only as a surprise or betrayal. It can never be part of any public, official plan. Plan for 10 percent inflation, and you'll get 20. Plan for 20 and you'll need a wheelbarrow to pay for your morning Starbucks.
This is the problem with planning for bankruptcy: you may wind up getting what you wished for in spades.

Hell No We Won't Pay

It's turning into a real movement.
As unemployment soars and anger over Wall Street bailouts mounts, public outrage will seek an outlet. Populism could go in many directions — and could easily ebb when the economy revives. But if it takes shape as an anti-spending movement, it could revive conservatives much as the 1970s tax protests did.

To be sure, the protest sizes so far are a far cry from the left’s anti-globalization and anti-war demonstrations of the past decade. But they appear to have grass-roots origins. The organizer of the Kansas protest, Amanda Grosserode, calls herself a home-schooling mom who is “fed up” with the spending in Washington. She has been a member of Fair Tax Kansas City since last fall.

“My husband and I were feeling frustrated that the stimulus had passed with very little debate and no one had read it,” she told IBD. “I said, ‘We need to do something.’ ” She began contacting family and friends, and eventually received attention via Fair Tax Kansas City and local talk radio.
It seems quite a few people are taking Rick Santelli's call to arms seriously. Could this be the sentiment that defines the Obama era?

It's His Economy Now

It looks like the early optimism is gone:
Investors looked forward to the economic policies crafted by Democrats in Congress and the White House. More pointedly, they wanted decisive, well-crafted action on the banking crisis. Hence the Dow soared 6.5% Nov. 21 on news that Timothy Geithner, the highly-respected head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, was Obama’s pick for Treasury Secretary.

Yet, from Nov. 4, 2008 through Feb. 12, 2009, the DJI overall fell 18% — a larger drop than during the Sept-Oct plunge. In January, when the Obama plan, promising far greater deficits than the two much smaller “emergency stimulus” plans signed by Pres. George W. Bush in 2008, was unveiled, the market tanked – the worst January performance in 113 years.
Saving the economy by tanking it? At least Bush was honest when he said he had to abandon free market princples.

Friday, February 20, 2009

"So That's Where All That Extra Ice Came From"

A glitch in satellite sensors caused scientists to underestimate the extent of Arctic sea ice by 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles), a California- size area, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said.

The error, due to a problem called “sensor drift,” began in early January and caused a slowly growing underestimation of sea ice extent until mid-February. That’s when “puzzled readers” alerted the NSIDC about data showing ice-covered areas as stretches of open ocean, the Boulder, Colorado-based group said on its Web site.

“Sensor drift, although infrequent, does occasionally occur and it is one of the things that we account for during quality- control measures prior to archiving the data,” the center said. “Although we believe that data prior to early January are reliable, we will conduct a full quality check."
Hey, it could happen to anybody. Just don't tell Al Gore. He needs as much inaccurate data as he can get.

The Dust Belt

This is how a state dies: drop by drop.
Federal water managers said Friday that they plan to cut off water, at least temporarily, to thousands of California farms as a result of the deepening drought gripping the state.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said parched reservoirs and patchy rainfall this year were forcing them to completely stop surface water deliveries for at least a two-week period beginning March 1. Authorities said they haven't had to take such a drastic move for more than 15 years.

The situation could improve slightly if more rain falls over the next few weeks, and officials will know by mid-March if they can release more irrigation supplies to growers.

Farmers in the nation's No. 1 agriculture state predicted it would cause consumers to pay more for their fruits and vegetables, which would have to be grown using expensive well water.

'Water is our life - it's our jobs and it's our food,' said Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the farm bureau in Fresno County. 'Without a reliable water supply, Fresno County's No. 1 employer - agriculture - is at great risk.'
Agriculture is to California what the auto industry was to Michigan and Ohio. Unfortunately California now looks like Detroit did in the Seventies, which isn't good.

Nipped In The Bud

President Barack Obama on Friday rejected his transportation secretary's suggestion that the administration consider taxing motorists based on how many miles they drive instead of how much gasoline they buy. 'It is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration,' White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, when asked for the president's thoughts about Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's suggestion, raised in an interview with The Associated Press a daily earlier.

Gasoline taxes that for nearly half a century have paid for the federal share of highway and bridge construction can no longer be counted on to raise enough money to keep the nation's transportation system moving, LaHood told the AP.

'We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled,' the former Illinois Republican lawmaker said in the AP interview.

LaHood spokeswoman Lori Irving said Friday that the secretary was speaking of the idea only in general terms, not as something being implemented as administration policy.
The problem is, there are enough bad ideas being floated around out there that one or more of them may eventually come to pass.

Leave The Good Times To Us

Not everybody seems to be hurting these days.
The deepening economic recession hasn't stopped members of Congress from throwing lavish events to raise campaign money for the 2010 election.

This weekend, donors to a political action committee run by Rep. Jeb Hensarling are invited to the Snake River Lodge & Spa near Jackson Hole, Wyo., for a ski outing hosted by the Texas Republican. The minimum donation: $2,500, according to the invitation, which touts opportunities to take sleigh rides to an elk refuge and snowmobile excursions to the Continental Divide.

Skiing also is on the agenda at a fundraiser this weekend in Vail, Colo., for Democrat Ed Perlmutter. Donations range from $2,400 for an individual to $5,000 for a political action committee.

Donors seeking warmer climes could have joined veteran Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii for a 'Weekend of Aloha' fundraiser at a resort on Honolulu's Waikiki Beach. Inouye's event, held last weekend, started two days after lawmakers passed President Obama's $787 billion plan aimed at jump-starting the economy. Lawmakers are on a week-long break and return Monday.

'Everyone is tightening their belts, but lawmakers are doing what they have always done: holding fundraisers in exotic locales,' said Nancy Watzman, who tracks political fundraising events for the watchdog group Sunlight Foundation. 'This is the kind of thing that's out of reach to most people, and it's pretty much hidden from the public.'
I guess it's all in the name of transparency, or something.

Dude, Where's My Hope?

Bill Clinton says President Obama needs to keep hope alive.
Regarding Obama's bleak warnings that 'the economy could get worse before it gets better,' and that the economic stimulus program is only the beginning of the end of the economic crisis, Clinton said, 'I like the fact that he didn't come in and give us a bunch of happy talk. I'm glad he shot straight with us.'

But he added, 'I just want the American people to know that he's confident that we are gonna get out of this and he feels good about the long run.'

Clinton thinks Obama should talk to the public in greater depth about the economy.

'I like trying to educate the American people about the dimensions and scope of this economic crisis,' Clinton said. 'I just would like him to end by saying that he is hopeful and completely convinced we're gonna come through this.'
Reagan got America out of its post-Seventies funk by proclaiming it was a new day and by putting his enemies on the defensive. The same thing could work for Obama, if he's serious about real Change.

Best. Correction. Ever.

It's certainly become the topic of the moment:
John Gibson Did Not Compare Eric Holder To Monkey With Bright Blue Scrotum (UPDATED) — UPDATE: The Huffington Post has learned that the below video has been doctored. We regret the error and apologize to Mr. Gibson. John Gibson never compared Eric Holder to a monkey with a bright blue scrotum.
There seems to be an obsession with simians as of late. As far as I'm concerned, their scrotums are their own business.

Beer Drinkers And Former Hell Raisers

Well, it's not like they haven't earned it:
Among the perks available to residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home: beer machines.

In the canteen, at the golf course and at various spots in hallways throughout the compound, you’ll find vending machines that dispense cold beer.

Any time, day or night, folks with a thirst and some spare change can grab a Miller, Miller Lite, Michelob or Budweiser for $1.50 a can.
Have a cold one on me, guys...

Show Them The Real Money

Honesty has its price.
For his first annual budget next week, President Obama has banned four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller. The price of more honest bookkeeping: A budget that is $2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear, according to administration officials.

The new accounting involves spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare reimbursements to physicians and the cost of disaster responses.

But the biggest adjustment will deal with revenues from the alternative minimum tax, a parallel tax system enacted in 1969 to prevent the wealthy from using tax shelters to avoid paying any income tax.

Even with bigger deficit projections, the Obama administration will put the country on “a sustainable fiscal course” by the end of Mr. Obama’s term, Peter R. Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Thursday in an interview. Mr. Orszag did not provide details of how the administration would reduce a deficit expected to reach at least $1.5 trillion this year.

Mr. Obama’s banishment of the gimmicks, which have been widely criticized, is in keeping with his promise to run a more transparent government.

Fiscal sleight of hand has long been a staple of federal budgets, giving rise to phrases like “rosy scenario” and “magic asterisks.”

The $2.7 trillion in additional deficit spending, Mr. Orszag said, is “a huge amount of money that would just be kind of a magic asterisk in previous budgets.”

“The president prefers to tell the truth,” he said, “rather than make the numbers look better by pretending.”
It's actually refreshing to have a President who isn't cooking the books. It would have been interesting to see what Bush's real numbers were when his party was the one spending money like water.

A Dog's Life

I guess it's better than the real thing:

A two-year-old boy has been 'married' to a dog in eastern India to 'ward off evil spirits and bad luck'.

The 'marriage' took place in a village in Jajpur district on Monday.

The 'groom', Sagula Munda, was taken to the house of the dog, called Jyoti, in a highly decorated rickshaw and priests solemnised the ceremony.

The boy's father said such 'marriages' were a tradition and would help ease the bad omen of the tooth rooted in Sagula's upper gum.

Tribal deity

The 'marriage' was in the tribal-dominated Patarpur village.
Like in every Hindu marriage, the priests chanted Sankrit prayers and hymns and there was an accompanying feast.

The boy's father, Sanrumula Munda, said of the wedding: 'Tribals not only in this state but also in neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, observe such practices to keep the evil spirits away.'

Arranging 'marriages' with dogs kept children protected from ghosts and bad luck, he said.

So, if the kid gets to go to an orthodontist later on, is the marriage anulled?

The Union Of European Socialist Republics

As someone who lived under Communism, he ought to know.
The European Union has turned into an undemocratic and elitist project comparable to the Communist dictatorships of eastern Europe that forbade alternative thinking, Czech President Vaclav Klaus told the European Parliament on Thursday.

Klaus, whose country now holds the rotating EU presidency, set out a scathing attack on the EU project and its institutions, provoking boos from many lawmakers, some of whom walked out, but applause from nationalists and other anti-EU legislators.

Klaus is known for deep skepticism of the EU and has refused to fly the EU flag over his official seat in Prague during the Czech presidency, saying the country is not an EU province.
He said current EU practices smacked of communist times when the Soviet Union controlled much of eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic and when dissent or even discussions were not tolerated.

'Not so long ago, in our part of Europe we lived in a political system that permitted no alternatives and therefore also no parliamentary opposition,' said Klaus. 'We learned the bitter lesson that with no opposition, there is no freedom.'

He said the 27-nation bloc should concentrate on offering prosperity to Europeans, rather than closer political union, and scrap a stalled EU reform treaty that Irish voters have already rejected.

Klaus said that questioning deeper integration has become an 'uncriticizable assumption that there is only one possible and correct future of the European integration.'
I would say the European governments want it both ways-prosperity and nannystating. The problem is, they've already got so much of the latter that the former may forever elude them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Yo The GOP Raps

No, it's not from The Onion:
Newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele plans an “off the hook” public relations offensive to attract younger voters, especially blacks and Hispanics, by applying the party’s principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”


“It will be avant garde, technically,” he said. “It will come to table with things that will surprise everyone – off the hook.”
Somebody call Kanye West-there may be a job opening for him here...

Enter Sebelius

For Obama's sake, I hope this one paid her taxes.
WASHINGTON — Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, an early Obama ally with a record of working across party lines, is emerging as the president’s top choice for secretary of health and human services, advisers said Wednesday.

Should she be nominated, Ms. Sebelius would bring eight years of experience as her state’s insurance commissioner as well as six years as a governor running a state Medicaid program.

But with President Obama about to begin a drive to expand health coverage, an issue on which the two parties have deep ideological divisions, her strongest asset in the view of the White House may be her record of navigating partisan politics as a Democrat in one of the country’s most Republican states.

Ms. Sebelius resolved a state budget crisis on Tuesday and plans to be in Washington from Saturday through Tuesday for a meeting of the National Governors’ Association.

Asked about the health and human services job, her spokeswoman, Beth Martino, said the governor was “focused on the economic challenges currently facing Kansas, including our state budget and the impacts of the federal stimulus package.”
She at least sounds competent-more so than the Clinton insiders Obama's been bringing on board. It would be nice if somebody he picked was.

Who Watches The Spenders?

It would have been nice if they had done this when they were in the majority. Still, better late than never.
Republicans are preparing to pounce on any wasteful spending in the $787 billion stimulus package as they refocus their criticisms of a measure whose success could hurt their 2010 election prospects.

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats also promise rigorous oversight, including a new Web site to help people track various projects funded by the massive bill. But the two parties will reap different political rewards if they find waste or abuse, which is virtually inevitable when the government tries to spend so much money so fast, authorities say.

Democrats want the plan to unfold as smoothly as possible, because voters see it as the product of their party and Obama. Congressional Republicans, however, opposed the bill almost unanimously, and any embarrassing examples of misused funds or other shortcomings will let them say, 'I told you so.'

House Republicans are setting up 'a stimulus-watch program' that will allow watchdog groups and private citizens to report findings as contractors and agencies start spending billions of dollars on roads, schools, renewable energy projects and other initiatives, said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor.

'We'll be taking a look in detail' and 'really providing accountability and transparency,' Cantor said in an interview Wednesday."
Of course it would be better if they had an actual plan of their own to fall back on if the stimulus doesn't work. But it's a start.

Dude, Where's My Objectivity?

George Will notes on how a bad idea could come to pass:
Brian Tierney is CEO of Philadelphia Media Holdings, which publishes Philadelphia's Inquirer and Daily News and has missed loan payments since June. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's spokesman says Tierney has had 'a number of conversations' with Rendell about receiving state money that 'could come from a number of revenue streams.'

The Wall Street Journal designated this 'the worst bailout idea so far' and 'nuts in eight different ways,' noting that the investors Tierney led in purchasing the two newspapers put up only 20 percent in equity, making them typical of 'Americans who borrowed too heavily during the credit mania.' In response to Rendell's spokesman saying that newspapers are 'the lifeblood of democracy,' the Journal said 'newspapers aren't the lifeblood of anything if they are merely an adjunct of the state' and are 'dependent on the politicians [they are] supposed to cover.'
There are so many problems with a government bailout of the press, be it state or otherwise, that it may border on unconstitutional at best. Of course, when you have a nannystating agenda, that doesn't really matter, does it?

The Involuntary State

Oh, this will go down well.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told consumer groups, farm groups and meat industry leaders Tuesday that he will ask the meat industry to voluntarily follow stricter guidelines for new package labels designed to specify a food’s country of origin…

If the industry does not comply with the stricter guidelines, the administration will write new rules, according to those who spoke with Vilsack on Tuesday.
I for one welcome our new product label overlords...

You Can Have Your New Job And Save It, Too

It looks like Obama's given himself an out on whether the stimulus will work or not:
The expression 'create or save,' which has been used regularly by the President and his economic team, is an act of political genius. You can measure how many jobs are created between two points in time. But there is no way to measure how many jobs are saved. Even if things get much, much worse, the President can say that there would have been 4 million fewer jobs without the stimulus.
Say what you will, nobody can ever accuse him of being a dummy. He's given himself some nice political cover, at least.

The Last Neocon Colony

Max Boot says we need to stay:
If we leave now, the Taliban will take over a substantial portion of the country, perhaps even Kabul, once again. The terrorist safe havens that have been established in Pakistan will migrate across the border and U.S. prestige will suffer a crippling blow -- just as the prestige of the Soviet Union suffered from its defeat in Afghanistan. Bad as the situation is in Pakistan today, it will get worse if the U.S. is chased out of the region.
It is not Vietnam, yet it is? Is this the argument we're getting from the diehard neocons out there? But there's hope for a more realistic attitude:
"Serving in Afghanistan is, I think, for anyone a humbling experience. You are continually humbled by the geography, the complexity of the society, and the weight of history. Understanding in your bones how long a drive thirty miles is without a road. Feeling in your stomach eyes watching you from canyon rims. Seeing the mixture of sorrow and hope in a child's eyes and the disillusioned stare of an adolescent with no options. That stays with you and gives a texture and reality check that is valuable when sifting through dry memoranda and contemplating strategic options," - Craig Mullaney, rumored to be soon named the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Central Asia and author of The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education.
I think one way or another we will have to decide whether we want Afghanistan to be either another test for Wilsonian nation-building or a less intrusive foreign policy. The Soviet Union was broken by Afghanistan. Let's hope we'll learn not to make the same mistakes they did.

"Just Follow Our Lead"

Iraq may becoming more like us than we'd like:
43% of all jobs in Iraq and 60% of full time work was provided by the public sector. The number of people working for the government doubled from 2005 to 2008. As reported earlier, a breakdown of jobs across Iraq’s provinces found that the government was the largest employer in fourteen of eighteen provinces, and tied for first in one more.
In a few years, maybe they can promise their people massive government stimulus packages, too...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Governance By Girlymen

This might actually explain a few things:
Hobbes argued that men’s violent hypermasculinity made them ineligible for the disciplined and mature enterprise of self-government; he believed that only an absolute monarch could control men for purposes of collective peace. Filmer also argued that men were generally incompetent for self-government. But unlike Hobbes, he argued that men were psychologically infantile and thus insufficiently manly for self-government. Filmer insisted that only the king had the requisite manliness of a powerful father and that men required the former’s love and guidance while they owed him complete obedience. The American colonists constructed a new understanding of male identity, one that was compatible with the logic of self-government in their constitution.
Bush may have been a throwback to royalty in more ways than one. Do we really still want a father figure leader at heart? Or were the Founding Fathers rebelling against Dad?

He Was For Protectionism Before He Was Against It

Canada can relax.
After he secured the Democratic nomination, however, Obama indeed backed away from his hard anti-NAFTA rhetoric. During a June 2008 interview with Fortune, Obama said that he would not unilaterally seek to reopen negotiations concerning NAFTA. Even though he had once described NAFTA as 'devastating' and as a 'big mistake,' he brushed those comments aside as 'overheated and amplified' campaigning.

An article appearing in today's New York Times describes Obama's latest statements regarding NAFTA. Obama discussed the importance of Canada as a trading partner during an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. The interview took place in advance of his scheduled trip to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday.

The article confirms prior reports which reveal that Obama has substantially backed away from his anti-NAFTA rhetoric and appears unwilling to renegotiate the terms of the agreement.
More of the Same we can believe in!

The World's Policeman Retires?

A discouraging look at the effect the economic climate may have on foreign policy:
The resources available for policing the world are certain to be reduced for the foreseeable future. That will be especially true if foreign investors start demanding higher yields on the bonds they buy from the United States or simply begin dumping dollars in exchange for other currencies. Economic volatility, plus ethnic disintegration, plus an empire in decline: That combination is about the most lethal in geopolitics. We now have all three. The age of upheaval starts now.
I'm not an interventionist, but there will be times when our overseas interests are genuinely threatened. If the sun is indeed setting on the American empire, somebody else will have to pick up the pieces. The question is, who?

Sign Language Theater

Movie theaters have fallen victim to the crime of being politically incorrect.
For most cinema buffs, silent movies went out with the Coolidge administration eight decades ago.

But for film fans who are hard of hearing, today's theaters offer little beyond an indecipherable silence. Captioned showings remain rare, and existing technology that would allow attendees to read along at their seats is rarely used.

Now, a small group of Washington residents hopes to change that through a lawsuit filed earlier this month in King County Superior Court.

As others have around the nation, the lawsuit's proponents claim that most King County theaters are violating disability laws by failing to make the movies accessible to people with limited hearing.

'We can only go so far ourselves, and then we need a little help from other people so we can participate fully in life,' said John Waldo, an attorney with the Washington State Communication Access Project, which filed the suit. 'What we would like is just a much more equal opportunity.'

"The dream," he said, is "that we'd be able to go to any movie, any time and understand it."
I'm sorry, but I must have missed the part where everything in life had to be equal. Besides, wouldn't you rather see a close-captioned movie at home where you don't have to pay ten bucks for snacks anyway?

Best President Ever?

Is Warren G. Harding underrated?
The latest ratings of presidential greatness tells us more about the priorities of historians than it does about the presidents. The following were rated as the greatest presidents: Lincoln, Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

Rated by the historians in the 'worst' category, by contrast, is, you guessed it, Warren G. Harding: a president who successfully promoted economic prosperity, cut taxes, balanced the budget, reduced the national debt, released all of his predecessor's political prisoners, supported anti-lynching legislation, and instituted the most substantial naval arms reduction agreement in world history. Go figure.
Harding was a product of the post-Progressive, post-World War One era. In many ways he, perhaps even more so than Teddy Roosevelt, was the first modern Republican president. Of course his administration was marred by scandal. But Mr. Harding did his job, and for that he deserves the thanks and better rememberance of a grateful nation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Climate Change Is The Devil's Work

Are fundamantalists to blame for global warming denial?
One possible reason that global-warming denialism is more prevalent in the U.S. than elsewhere is that more Americans than Europeans are Biblical literalists. That involves believing that all biologists and paleontologists are either massively incompetent or deliberately trying to mislead the public about the central facts of their disciplines. [The alternative theory, held by some, is that the entire fossil record is a trick by Satan, intended to deceive those whose faith isn't firm.]
I'm not sure I totally buy this, but a certain faction of American conservatives has a vested interest in disproving any and all climate change, and their fortunes are often closely tied with those of the religious right. Maybe Jesus can set them straight when He comes back.

Recession Splurging

How to spend well without looking ostentatious:
If you can afford it, then this is exactly the moment to redo your kitchen or buy a car. Not only will you be able to get a good deal, but your spending will help revive the economy. The economist John Maynard Keynes convincingly argued 70 years ago that thrift was no virtue during a recession.
You can always get more bling when the economy recovers. In the meantime, spend smartly, not snobbishly.

Shadow Bugs

We may not be alone:
Aliens may be living among us, but we wouldn't know it because they'd be microbes that do not have the standard biochemistry of Earth-dwelling organisms.

As well as the many forms of life based on DNA that are known to science, the Earth may be home to 'shadow life,' a second creation of organisms that make up an unnoticed realm of 'life as we don't know it,' according to Paul Davies of Arizona State University, a cosmologist and theorist of extraterrestrial life.

Such 'weird life' would never have been identified by scientists because the techniques we use for studying microbes are based on the familiar biological processes that drive the living things we understand, Davies told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago on Saturday.

The identification of such life on Earth could aid efforts to find life on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system.

A second terrestrial creation would also indicate that life arises easily when the conditions are right, suggesting that it is common throughout the universe.

The search for aliens should thus begin at home in a 'mission to Earth,' Davies said.
If they're already here, should we notify the MIB or the Orkin Man?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Bong Shall Set You Free

After all the hoopla, it comes down to this.
Now that Michael Phelps won't face drug charges, he can try to distance himself from a photo that showed the Olympian smoking a marijuana pipe.

A South Carolina sheriff decided Monday after a highly publicized investigation that he simply didn't have enough physical evidence to charge the 14-time gold medalist.

'We had a photo and we had him saying he was sorry for his inappropriate behavior. That behavior could've been going to a party,' Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.

'He never said, 'I smoked marijuana.' He never confessed that,' the sheriff said.
So Phelps is a free man. And Sheriff Lott can go back to doing...whatever it was he was doing before he decided to make a big deal about this case.

I Married An Axe Murderer

Orchard Park police are investigating a particularly gruesome killing, the beheading of a woman, after her husband — an influential member of the local Muslim community — reported her death to police Thursday.

Police identified the victim as Aasiya Z. Hassan, 37. Detectives have charged her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, 44, with second-degree murder.

'He came to the police station at 6:20 p.m. [Thursday] and told us that she was dead,' Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz said late this morning.

Muzzammil Hassan told police that his wife was at his business, Bridges TV, on Thorn Avenue in the village. Officers went to that location and discovered her body.

Muzzammil Hassan is the founder and chief executive officer of Bridges TV, which he launched in 2004, amid hopes that it would help portray Muslims in a more positive light.
Well, so much for public relations...

The Hunt For French October

I know England and France traditionally don't like each other, but jeeze.
Defence chiefs are facing an inquiry into the safety of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent after British and French submarines, each laden with missiles powerful enough for 1,248 Hiroshima bombings, collided while submerged in the mid-Atlantic.

HMS Vanguard, the lead boat of Britain's fleet of four V-class submarines armed with Trident nuclear missiles, limped back into its home port of Faslane in Scotland on Saturday showing significant damage. Witnesses said the hull was scarred with dents and scrapes.

For many years, Britain and France have maintained their nuclear deterrent by ensuring they have at least one of their missile-carrying submarines at sea 365 days a year with the ability to launch within seconds' notice. Vanguard and Triomphant, which was at the end of a 70-day tour, each carry 16 intercontinental missiles, armed with between six and eight warheads in each.

Politicians said the incident raised serious questions about the precautions to protect the V-class nuclear vessels, which, at nearly 16,000 tonnes and 150m long, are among the largest submarines ever built. Similar questions were being asked in France, where the 14,335-tonne Triomphant returned to its base at L'Ile Longue, near Brest. The boat will spend up to four months in dry-dock undergoing repair. The French Navy intially claimed the submarine had been in a collision "apparently with a container".

Angus Robertson, the leader of the SNP in Westminster, said: "The MoD needs to explain how it is possible for a submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction to collide with another submarine carrying weapons of mass destruction in the middle of the world's second-largest ocean."

Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "While the British nuclear fleet has a good safety record, if there were ever to be a bang it would be a mighty big one. The public entrust this equipment to the Government confident that all possible precautions are being taken."
In the meantime, if you see something glowing in the water, run away.

Memories Aren't Made Of This

I can see where this could be a problem:
A drug which appears to erase painful memories has been developed by scientists.The astonishing treatment could help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder and those whose lives are plagued by hurtful recurrent memories. But British experts said the breakthrough raises disturbing ethical questions about what makes us human. They also warned it could have damaging psychological consequences, preventing those who take it from learning from their mistakes.

Professor John Harris, an expert in biological ethics at the University of Manchester, said: "It is obviously up to the individual whether or not she wishes to risk the possible effects, including psychological discontinuity, of erasing unpleasant memories.
"An interesting complexity is the possibility that victims, say of violence, might wish to erase the painful memory and with it their ability to give evidence against assailants.
"Similarly criminals and witnesses to crime may, under the guise of erasing a painful memory, render themselves unable to give evidence."
It sounds like something politicians would use, too...

Their Fair Share

Jerry Pournelle comments on why California is in the shape it's in:
It’s not so much that the voters vote themselves largess from the public treasury, although that certainly happens; it is that those with a particular interest, such as civil servants including teachers and prison guards unions will always organize effectively while those who are affected less directly won’t, and the result will go in one direction. We’re certainly getting an illustration of that in California.
In other words, some beneficiaries of largess are more equal than others.

One Professor's Fascism Is Another Person's Free Speech

Ahh, diversity:
Student Jonathan Lopez told the Times that the professor, John Matteson, called him a 'fascist bastard' and refused to let him finish his speech during a public speaking class last November, weeks after California voters approved Proposition 8 banning gay marriage.

Lopez also said the teacher threatened to have him expelled when he complained to college authorities.

Lopez is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and co-founded by evangelical leader James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Alliance staff counsel David J. Hacker told The Times Lopez was a victim of religious discrimination.
I don't agree with Proposition 8, but I'll defend to the death another person's right to support it. "Fascism" cuts both ways, Professor.

Some Employees Are More Equal Than Others

In New York, the motto seems to be, freezes for thee, but not for me.
ALBANY - Gov. Paterson has secretly granted raises of as much as 46 percent to more than a dozen staffers at a time when he has asked 130,000 state workers to give up 3 percent pay hikes because of the state's fiscal crisis, The Post has learned.

The startling pay hikes, costing about $250,000 annually, were granted after the governor's 'emergency' declaration in August of a looming fiscal crisis that required the state to cut spending and impose a 'hard' hiring freeze.

One raise was approved as recently as last month - when Paterson claimed the budget deficit had reached an unprecedented $15.5 billion.

The raises, which have stunned the few state workers who know about them, are outlined in data obtained from the office of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, prepared at The Post's request.

Two of the raises were tied to publicly proclaimed promotions - granted despite the supposed hiring freeze - of some of Paterson's most important appointees, although the announcements didn't include disclosure of the pay hikes.

The remaining 14 raises appear to have gone to individuals who remained in their same positions, despite claims by a spokesman for Paterson that they had been promoted.
'These are not raises for old positions, rather new salaries for new positions,' Paterson spokesman Errol Cockfield insisted.

But a DiNapoli spokesman, Dennis Thompkins, said flatly, 'These are individuals who stayed in their same position and received a salary increase.'
But hey, at least Paterson didn't get caught with a hooker...

The Oregon Tax Trail

I know times are tough all over, but this sounds extreme, even for Oregon.
Five Oregon state lawmakers want to impose a hefty tax on beer and have introduced a bill that brewers say would cripple them.

Four Portland legislators joined a Springfield senator to introduce Oregon House Bill 2461, which would impose a $49.61 tax on each barrel of beer produced by Oregon brewers.

The tax would raise revenue for the state at a time when budgets are running in the red. Specifically, the bill says it would fund prevention, treatment and recovery programs for those addicted to alcohol and other substances.

The bill's language defends the tax by arguing alcoholism and “untreated substance abuse” costs the state $4.15 billion in lost earnings as well as more than $8 million for health care and nearly $1 billion in law enforcement-related expenditures.
I guess the good news would be that people won't be able to afford to become drunks, therefore they won't need these programs.

The Nationalization Virus

It could spread if we're not careful.
One of the obvious concerns about having the government nationalize major banks is that it will create a contagion effect, scaring private capital away from all banks, not just the obviously insolvent ones. If that happens, the result will be that instead of only having to recapitalize a few banks, the government will end up having to recapitalize most or all of them, expanding the costs to taxpayers and making it more likely that the government will end up running most of the banking system for an extended period of time.
I think the argument that this is actually reorganization is probably more accurate. Still, the risk is there. Given what happened in Japan in the '90's, do we really want to go down that road?

Hooked On Fundamentalism

The Republicans need to break the habit:
Most Americans have a healthy respect for religious teaching but in their lives give greater preference to common sense and practical experience. That includes almost all religious groups as well - Catholics, in particular, show conservative tendencies. The exceptions? Evangelicals and Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses - who are trained to forego practical reasoning for abstract truths based on unquestionable authority. Evangelical Christians are much less conservative than American Muslims, for example.

The Republican party is not, at this point in time, a conservative party, as Burke would understand it. It's a fundamentalist religious party. Until the influence of evangelicals and Mormons is reduced, it will find these tendencies reinforce each other.
What would Burke do? He would most likely be the first to call out today's Republicans for the addicts in denial that they are.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hard Times

Times are tough for everyone these days, including Filipino terrorists.
In the south, the Moslem fighters of two rogue MILF commanders, are beginning to desert or surrender to the army. The MILF commanders made big promises to their followers, to encourage them to take part in the attacks on Christian villages. This began last August, and initially, hundreds of thousands of civilians were chased out of their villages, which the MILF men looted. But since the army quickly intervened, there's been less loot, and more getting shot at by soldiers. This is not what a lot of MILF guys signed up for and they are not happy about it. Even some of the lower ranking MILF commanders are quitting, disgusted with the lack of progress in peace negotiations, and the poverty brought on by the ceasefire (which has halted the plundering and looting the MILF typically used to maintain themselves).
Maybe they should ask Al Qaeda for a stimulus...

Two For The Vote Of One

Maybe we should try something like this:
Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu, who fought a close election last week in Israel, should share power and agree to a rotation arrangement whereby each will serve two years as prime minister, members of Livni’s Kadima Party said.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party rejected the idea today, saying that Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, should join a coalition government in which only Netanyahu presides as prime minister.

While both Livni and Netanyahu declared victory after the Feb. 10 vote, Netanyahu has more support from smaller allied parties and a better chance at assembling a majority in the 120- seat Knesset. Kadima won 28 seats in the election and Likud 27.

“Livni was the preferred choice of the public and Netanyahu has to admit it,” Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, a member of Kadima, said in an interview with Israel Radio. “A rotation is the minimum that Kadima can demand so that a stable government sees the light of day.”
Parliamentary politics has its faults, but the ability to reach a compromise isn't one of them.

The Culture War That Matters

Andrew Bacevich has a simple message for conervatives to follow:
When it comes to the culture, conservatives should promote an awareness of the costs of unchecked individual autonomy, while challenging conceptions of freedom that deny the need for self-restraint and self-denial. When it comes to economics, they should emphasize the virtue and necessity of Americans, collectively as well as individually, learning to live within their means. When it comes to foreign policy, they should advocate a restoration of realism, which will necessarily entail abandoning expectations of remaking the world in America's own image.
A little more restraint-in tone as well as action-could do the conservative movement a world of good right now.

The Dependent Elephant In The Room

If the Republicans were smart, they could take advantage of this.
If Dems seem determined to reinstate dependency–or at the least blind to the dangers of dependency–voters aren’t going to trust them to spend trillions on universal health insurance and fortified pensions. It’s hard to believe Obama doesn’t realize this . . . Welfare is a liberal sore spot that, if Republicans play it right, could become a bleeding open wound for the administration. Voters probably thought they’d settled the dole-vs.-work issue back in 1996. Obama will be fulfilling the crude GOP stereotype of his party if he even waffles on reopening it.
Say what you will about Clinton, welfare reform was perhaps his signature domestic achievement. And Obama would indeed be foolish to mess with it.

Money For Your Life

A new study suggests that there's more to money than just getting stuff:
According to SFU’s February 7 press release, the study by Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at SFU, “demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality — a feeling of being alive.”
In these tough times, that might be something to consider.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Clintonomics Is Dead, Long Live Obamanomics

Has the Obama administration killed Clintonomics?
One of the few undisputed triumphs of American government of the past 20 years – the sweeping welfare reform programme that sent millions of dole claimants back to work – has been plunged into jeopardy by billions of dollars in state handouts included in the president’s controversial economic stimulus package.

As Obama celebrated Valentine’s Day yesterday with a return to his Chicago home for a private weekend with family and friends, his success in piloting a $785 billion (£546 billion) stimulus package through Congress was being overshadowed by warnings that an unprecedented increase in welfare spending would undermine two decades of bipartisan attempts to reduce dependency on government handouts.

Robert Rector, a prominent welfare researcher who was one of the architects of Clinton's 1996 reform bill, warned last week that Obama’s stimulus plan was a “welfare spendathon” that would amount to the largest one-year increase in government handouts in American history.

Douglas Besharov, author of a big study on welfare reform, said the stimulus bill passed by Congress and the Senate in separate votes on Friday would “unravel” most of the 1996 reforms that led to a 65% reduction in welfare caseloads and prompted the British and several other governments to consider similar measures.

Rector, a senior scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, argued that Obama’s spending proposals in effect encouraged individual states to add more families to their welfare rolls; the more Americans sign on to the dole, the more state budgets will benefit from US Treasury payouts.

“They have completely overturned the fiscal and policy foundations of welfare reform,” Rector complained.
Clintonomics showed how a Democratic president could take advantage of a good economy. Unfortunately, Obamanomics may be a reminder of how a Democratic president can prolong a bad one.

Continental Blues

Well, this isn't good news:
Europe sank even deeper into recession than the United States in the closing months of last year, according to figures published Friday, as finance ministers of leading industrialized nations gathered in one of the worst-affected countries, Italy, for discussions on the crisis.

In the fourth quarter, the economy of the countries sharing the euro declined by 1.5 percent, according to the European Union's statistics office. That is even worse than the 1 percent decline in the U.S. economy during that period, compared with the previous quarter.

'Today's data wipes out any illusion that the euro zone is getting off lightly in this global downturn,' said Jörg Radeke, an economist at the Center for Economics and Business Research in London.
I think we all kno what happened the last time European economies went under. Is it happening again? I wish I could say for certainty that it wasn't.

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Extortionist

Corruption is a family affair for Blago.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother solicited U.S. Sen. Roland Burris for up to $10,000 in campaign cash before Blagojevich named Burris to the coveted post — something Burris initially failed to disclose under oath before an Illinois House impeachment panel, records and interviews show.

Burris acknowledges being hit up for the money in a new affidavit he has sent to the head of the House committee that recommended Blagojevich be removed from office.

The affidavit is dated Feb. 5 — three weeks after Burris was sworn in to replace President Obama in the Senate.

Burris — who did not give money to the Blagojevich campaign fund in response to the previously undisclosed solicitation — provided a copy of the sworn statement to the Chicago Sun-Times Friday in response to questions about his contacts with the Blagojevich camp about fund-raising.

Burris acknowledged having three conversations with Robert Blagojevich, who headed the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund — and one of those was likely recorded by the FBI.
Burris’ statement offers the third version of events he has given about his discussions concerning the Senate seat, to which Blagojevich appointed him in late December, after Blagojevich was hit with federal corruption charges that included an allegation he tried to sell the Senate appointment.
You know you're out of the game when you can't buy people like you used to...

A Lean, Mean Recession Machine

Americans are spending less on their overweight behinds:
Consumers have cut back sharply on food spending, shunning restaurants, opting for generic products over brand names, trading in lattes for home-brewed coffee and shopping for bargains. That is hurting sales and profits at many food processors, grocery chains and restaurants.

In 2008's fourth quarter, consumer spending on food fell at an inflation-adjusted 3.7% from the third quarter, according to data from the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis. That is the steepest decline in the 62 years the government has compiled the figure. The report is based on receipts from a sampling of food-oriented businesses across the country.
Is this actually healthier? Maybe, but the most economically distressed areas also tend to be notoriously obese. But perhaps people will be forced to slim down in spite of themselves.

"Who, Us?"

They are, yet they aren't.
After Election Day, the BBC declared that times are uncertain for the Religious Right. In September 2008, Newsweek declared a Religious-Right Revival after Sarah Palin was nominated vice president. Even after the election, the term “Religious Right” or “Christian Right” appeared in recent obituaries as journalists searched for words to describe Paul Weyrich, cofounder of the Moral Majority, and the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, founder of Catholic journal First Things.

However, several politically conservative evangelicals said in interviews that they do not want to be identified with the “Religious Right,” “Christian Right,” “Moral Majority,” or other phrases still thrown around in journalism and academia.
Is it jut political expediency to distance themselves from an unpopular "Brand?" Or are some of them finally realizing that maybe the rest of the country isn't as fundamentalist as they thought?

Post-Crash America

Is a permanently Blue landscape invevitable?
The landscape of the future seems more favorable to Democrats than Republicans. And the country seems at risk of dividing into wealthier, better educated, more liberal cities, where new populations will flow, and poorer, less educated, more conservative suburbs and rural areas, where the populations will grow sparser. This transformation might usher in a new era of liberal ascendancy, but it will bring new problems, new inequalities, new resentments.
If the Republicans really want to think long-term, they will have to do better than appealing to dwindling population areas, and Twitter alone won't do it.

Do The Evolution

Our long muddle through the Dark Ages may be turning a corner.
Hundreds of churches this week will revisit the question of whether man evolved from lower order species or was created whole by a higher being as part of Evolution Weekend.

Participation through sermons, Sunday school lessons and even evolution dances has expanded into 974 congregations across the country, more than doubling since the weekend began in 2006, said founder Michael Zimmerman, dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Organizers said the churches include a growing number of conservative groups, among them black and Muslim groups typically linked to more traditional views.

Participants say they're not abandoning the Bible's story of Adam and Eve. Rather, they want to blend theories in a way that helps today's faithful reconcile their modern world with Biblical teachings.

'We have to give God a lot more credit than we give him now - we need to give him the benefit of the doubt that his word includes evolution,' said Mike Ghouse, president of the World Muslim Congress, a Dallas-based union of 3,000 Muslims that hosted its first ever Evolution Weekend discussion Friday.
Will we finally stop refighting the Scopes Trial? It would be nice if we did.

Trump Trumped

Even The Donald is going through hard times.
Donald Trump resigned from the board of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., the debt-laden casino company he founded, ahead of a possible involuntary bankruptcy filing next week.

“I’m not managing it, it’s not me that’s responsible for managing,” Trump, who was chairman, said in a telephone interview today. “Unless we’re going to be responsible for management it’s just not something that’s worthwhile.”

Trump’s departure comes ahead of a Feb. 17 deadline to make a $53 million bond payment originally due on Dec. 1. The Atlantic City, New Jersey-based casino operator said at the time it needed to conserve cash and hold debt-restructuring talks with lenders. Since an initial grace period ended on Dec. 31, Trump Entertainment’s deadline has been extended four times.

The 62-year-old real estate entrepreneur has “no idea” whether there will be a bankruptcy filing, he said. Trump is “not thrilled” the company may continue to use his name.
I knew things were bad when I saw his hair holding atin cup on the boardwalk...

Octomom Nation

Peggy Noonan is worried:
We're still making Sullys. We're still making those mythic Americans, those steely-eyed rocket men. Like Alan Shepard in the Mercury rocket: 'Come on and light this candle.'

But Sully, 58, Air Force Academy '73, was shaped and formed by the old America, and educated in an ethos in which a certain style of manhood—of personhood—was held high.

What we fear we're making more of these days is Nadya Suleman. The dizzy, selfish, self-dramatizing 33-year-old mother who had six small children and then a week ago eight more because, well, she always wanted a big family. 'Suley' doubletalks with the best of them, she doubletalks with profound ease. She is like Blago without the charm. She had needs and took proactive steps to meet them, and those who don't approve are limited, which must be sad for them.
It's only sad in the sense that there do seem to be more of her than there are of real heroes like Sully. It's also sad to think that Sully may be truly representative of the phrase "Dying breed." It's sadder still to think that the rest of us will be subsidizing Octomom's "Right" to simply breed.

Here We Go Again

Aren't we done with this crap yet?
Tennessee Reps. Eric Swafford, Stacey Campfield, Glen Casada and Frank Niceley have all agreed to be plaintiffs in a planned legal action by a Russian immigrant in California who has challenged whether Obama meets constitutional criteria to be president.

The lawsuit from the Defend Our Freedoms Foundation, which has not been filed, will be among several court challenges to Obama's citizenship.

One of the cases reached the U.S. Supreme Court late last year, and the court declined without comment to take it up, a move many interpreted as meaning the issue was dead.

The campaign posted a copy of his certificate on a page intended to counter rumors about Obama.

Swafford's letter states 'I agree to be one of the plaintiff's in a legal action filed by Dr. Orly Taitz, Esquire for a Writ of Mandamus to obtain birth certificate, immigration records, passports and other vital records for Barry Soetoro, aka Barack Hussein Obama.'

The letter from the Pikeville Republican is written on the letterhead of the House of Representatives.

Niceley, Campfield and Casada, who are also Republicans, confirmed that they have agreed to be plaintiffs.
Will somebody please wake me when the Stupid Party Era is over? I may have white hair and wrinkles by then, but I'd like to think I'd still be alive to see it happen.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Constructive Opposition

Matt Welch has some words of comfort for libertarians who may be discouraged right now.
In my blinkered view, libertarianism as an outlook is all at once oppositional, constructive, and optimistic. Oppositional to whatever 19th century political party is in power, because chances are near 100 percent that their overriding M.O. will be anathema to limited-government principles. Constructive because, hey, libertarians actually have some pretty helpful ideas about how to make tax dollars more effectively accomplish such tasks as building roads, educating poor people, and (to cite an Obama favorite) creating jobs. When the politicians run out of money (and they always do), we’ll have some plausible suggestions.
When the pendulum swings the other way, as it inevitably will, libertarians will be there to help pick up the pieces. The question is, will the Republican Party still be strong enough to take it?

The Fairness Crusade

They're crawling out of the woodwork these days:
More and more Democrats in Congress are calling for action that Republicans warn could muzzle right-wing talk radio.

Representative Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from New York is the latest to say he wants to bring back the 'Fairness Doctrine,' a federal regulation scrapped in 1987 that would require broadcasters to present opposing views on public issues.

'I think the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated,' Hinchey told CNNRadio. Hinchey says he could make it part of a bill he plans to introduce later this year overhauling radio and t-v ownership laws.
But dissent is patriotic! Or something...

Alternative Sloganeering

The Republicans are looking beyond the drill bit:
“This year, everyone’s thinking maybe they’ll actually come up with grown-up things to say,” said Republican energy lobbyist Michael McKenna, president of MWR Strategies. “‘Drill, baby, drill’ impeded the conversation. We energy guys hated it.”


“‘Drill, baby, drill’ is a great slogan, but it’s not enough,” he (Gov. Tim Pawlenty) said. “We need to identify with emerging issues and get ahead of them.”

All eyes are now turning to new Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who coined the phrase, and some lawmakers hope he might crank out another infectious slogan.
Call me crazy, but better ideas might help, too...

A History Lesson

Bush actually had more cooperation from the opposition party than Obama is getting today:
It's worth noting that 28 House Democrats and 12 Senate Democrats voted for the final passage of Bush's big tax cut in 2001. (And remember, too, that Bush had barely won the presidential election the year before.) The size of that 2001 tax-cut package? $1.35 trillion.
Of course, that was in the days when "Reaching out" wasn't just a Democratic perogative.

Drift Away

LoJack has some good news for anyone who has a wandering relative:
Yesterday, the company announced a 'diversification strategy' to 'track and rescue people at risk of wandering, including those with Alzheimer's, autism, Down syndrome and dementia.'

The Alzheimer's market looks pretty lucrative. LoJack anticipates up to 16 million Alzheimer's patients by 2050, most of whom wander away at some point. But the company also notes that 'autism, which is the fastest growing developmental disability that now afflicts one in every 150 babies born, can also cause children to wander.' In fact, LoJack aims to address the whole range of potential wanderers. According to CEO Ronald Waters, 'This offering is a natural extension of LoJack's family of products and services and takes our solutions beyond ‘getting the bad guys' off the streets to now protecting those afflicted with cognitive disorders.'
This could also be useful for sleepwalkers, etc, or anyone who literally needs somebody to watch over them.

Ice Age On Hold

How to use global warming to prevent global cooling:
Professor Shaffer made long projections over the next 500,000 years with the DCESS Earth System Model to calculate the evolution of atmospheric CO2 for different fossil fuel emission strategies. He also used results of a coupled climate-ice sheet model for the dependency on atmospheric CO2 of critical summer solar radiation at high northern latitudes for an ice age onset.

The results show global warming of almost 5 degrees Celsius above present for a 'business as usual' scenario whereby all 5000 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon in accessible reserves are burned within the next few centuries. In this scenario the onset of next ice age was postponed to about 170,000 years from now.

"It appears to be well established that the strong ice ages the Earth has experienced over the past million years were ushered in by declining levels of atmospheric CO2. Our present atmospheric CO2 level of about 385 parts per million is already higher than before the transition to these ice ages" Professor Shaffer notes and adds that "The Earth's orbit is nearly circular at present meaning that the present minimum in summer radiation at high northern latitudes is not very deep. We have already increased atmospheric CO2 enough to keep us out of the next ice age for at least the next 55,000 years for this orbital setup".
Global warming can actually be good for you? Nobody tell Al Gore...

Locking Out Lech

What's old is new again: Lech Welesa meets latter-day Communism:
Nobel laureate, former Polish prime minister, and hero of the Cold War Lech Walesa will not be allowed to visit Venezuela ahead of that country's referendum on extending the rule of Hugo Chavez. El Jefe told Venezuelan media that Walesa was unwelcome in Caracas, where he was set to meet with opposition student groups, and would be prevented from entering the country. After Walesa cancelled his visit, Chavez claimed that he would, in fact, be allowed through customs but would be 'closely monitored' on his visit.
Well, at least he's familiar with such tactics. Funny how they're no longer practiced in his native Poland.

"Keep Up The Good Work"

Apparently this is the light at the end of the tunnel.
[Former U.S. Drug Czar John] Walters said increased violence in border areas of Mexico was partly a result of criminal organizations compensating for reduced income from the supply of drugs by turning to other activities, such as people-smuggling, and continuing to fight over turf.

U.S. law-enforcement officials — as well as some of their counterparts in Mexico — say the explosion in violence indicates progress in the war on drugs as organizations under pressure are clashing.

“If the drug effort were failing there would be no violence,” a senior U.S. official said Wednesday. There is violence “because these guys are flailing. We’re taking these guys out. The worst thing you could do is stop now.”
Well, I'm sure the people who live in the border towns will be so gratified to know that their suffering is all for a good cause.

Silent Reading

Neil Gaiman responds to an iffy claim by Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken:
When you buy a book, you're also buying the right to read it aloud, have it read to you by anyone, read it to your children on long car trips, record yourself reading it and send that to your girlfriend etc. This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one's going to confuse it with an audiobook. And that any authors' societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what's good about them with it.
To summarize: if you took Aiken's argument to its extreme, a teacher couldn't read a book out loud to her students, and a parent couldn't read copyrighted material out loud to his/her kids. And you thought the RIAA was bad...

Unfair Play

Some politicians are more equal than others: In the case of Clinton’s email probe, Comey relates numerous issues with Lynch’s actions that ...