Tuesday, March 31, 2009

They'll Send You Home Again, Kathleen

OK, this is getting ridiculous.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius recently corrected three years of tax returns and paid more than $7,000 in back taxes after finding "unintentional errors"—the latest tax troubles for an Obama administration nominee.

The Kansas governor explained the changes to senators in a letter dated Tuesday that the administration released. She said they involved charitable contributions, the sale of a home and business expenses.

Sebelius said she filed the amended returns as soon as the errors were discovered by an accountant she hired to scrub her taxes in preparation for her confirmation hearings. She and her husband, Gary, a federal magistrate judge in Kansas, paid a total of $7,040 in back taxes and $878 in interest to amend returns from 2005-2007.

Asked by The Associated Press to comment on the amended tax returns as she left a Capitol Hill restaurant Tuesday night, Sebelius said, "We put out a statement and the statement speaks for itself."

Several Obama administration nominees have run into tax troubles, notably the president's first nominee for HHS secretary, former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle. He withdrew from consideration while apologizing for failing to pay $140,000 in taxes and interest.
One or two nominees getting aught owing back taxes might be an understandable mistake. But now it's getting to the point where Obama might not be able to fill cabinet positions until, say, Labor Day. On the other hand, that might not be a bad thing...

The War On Carbons

Moving right along, the ruling party is continuing its Great Climate Change Leap Forward:
Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a plan to tackle climate change by cutting greenhouse gases by one-fifth over the next decade, a faster clip than urged by President Barack Obama.

The proposal, seen as the first step toward Congress enacting climate legislation this year, was crafted to attract broader support among centrist Democrats. The plan includes measures to spur energy efficiency and to support technology to capture carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, from coal burning power plants.

The 600-page 'discussion draft' will be the basis for climate debates in the coming weeks as the House Energy and Commerce Committee works to craft a bill by mid-May.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the draft 'a strong starting point' and has told colleagues that she would like to get a climate bill passed before Congress departs for its summer recess in August.
How they plan to do this is the question that nobody seems to want to answer. The main idea seems to be to force power companies to use more expensive alternative energy sources in a recession. Yeah, that'll work, won't it?

The Rust Bowl

Yglesias is skeptical about Obama's GM "takeover":
This isn’t going to prevent the conditions facing the population of Michigan from further deteriorating. That state more-and-more looks like it’s going to be the 21st century version of the Great Depression’s Dust Bowl. The most important policy question facing us in this regard thus continues to be what can be done to help the people of the Rust Belt that doesn’t just involved indefinitely propping up shrinking firms. The first step is simply to turn around the shrinkage in the larger economy, but the question will remain even if recovery reaches the rest of the country.
I personally think allowing the automaker to break up into smaller companies would be the best way to go. Long-term government intervention in business is an iffy proposition at best. If GM were broken up, the free market would be better able to do its thing.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dead Companies Walking

When it comes to what to do with zombie companies, replacing the guy at the top isn't always the best answer.
The lesson from AIG is that replacing a CEO is no panacea. There is no love lost for the poor management of Rick Wagoner. He is the one who went to the government, hat in hand -- and when the government is paying the piper, it can call the tune. But replacing him won't solve GM's long-term problems of too many brands and too large a workforce. And it is increasingly clear that the bailout itself is an impediment to effective restructuring.

The prospect of an ever-increasing supply of tax dollars is leading parties with auto industry contracts -- unions, bondholders, dealers and others -- to play a game of chicken. No one wants to renegotiate a contract when they think the government will come in with more money to cover the losses....

To say that consumers would be discouraged from buying a car from a company in bankruptcy misses the point. Consumers would be more likely to buy a car from a company restructured by a bankruptcy court, as they buy tickets from once-bankrupt airlines, than [to buy] vehicles from zombie companies dependent on the next government bailout. This delay likely hurts 'satellite' companies like auto parts makers more than a bankruptcy would.
The problem isn't so much the bosses-it's the culture of corruption that business getting into bed with politics breeds. And as we've seen, the zombies are taking us down with them.

The Living Years

In his analysis of Obama's health care plan, David Gratzer notes:
This much is true: Americans live fewer years than people in Canada, Britain and France. But how long a person lives isn't simply about access to health care but reflects various factors: tobacco and alcohol use, genetics, diet, crime rates. Economist Robert Ohsfeldt and John Schneider observe that deaths from accidents and homicides in America are much higher than in any other developed country. Exclude these unintentional deaths from the statistics, and Americans come out on top in life expectancy.
And it should be noted that Great Britain's vaunted National Health is nothing to cheer about. In the end, lifestyle and eating habits have more to do with our well-being than any nanny-stating meausures.

One Man's Corruption Is Another Man's Representation

John Murtha defends his tax-grabbing:
If I'm corrupt, it's because I take care of my district....My job as a member of Congress is to make sure that we take care of what we see is necessary. Not the bureaucrats who are unelected over there in whatever White House, whether it's Republican or Democrat. Those bureaucrats would like to control everything. Every president would like to have all the power and not have Congress change anything. But we're closest to the people.
Well, technically he's right. It is part of his job as a Congresscritter to get cash for his district. But does he really need so much of it?

Running In Place

It looks like there are no easy solutions when to Afghanistan.
The U. S. military has already been in Afghanistan half as many years as it was in Vietnam, and with troops pulling out of Iraq and talk of a multi-year hard slog ahead here, Afghanistan is on track to becoming America’s longest war. To that end, significant numbers of American officers and civilian contractors will be embedded in Afghan government ministries for years to come, helping to run things. But does the home front have the stomach for it? Our reaction to the fighting about to unfold this summer will speak volumes.
This is not "Obama's war," as some on the right have been harping. But it is our war, and like the other foreign powers that have tried to control Afghanistan in the past, we will ultimately have to decide what to do with it.

Not The Mommy

With all the talk about bias against fathers, it seems that moms are also becoming targets:
In one experiment, about 200 undergraduates were asked to rate paired applications for an imaginary mid-level managerial job. Both female and male students rated mothers lower on competence and commitment, recommended lower salaries for them, and judged them less worthy of promotion than childless women.
It appears there's anti-parent prejudice all around. And that's not a good thing.

The Urban State

The cities are continuing their rapid growth:
By 2100, the United Nations estimates that the global population will level off at about 10 billion, thanks to rising living standards and more widespread population control. By the end of 2008, slightly less than 50 percent of the global population lived in cities. If economic development proceeds at today’s pace, over the next century or so it is highly likely that 8 billion people will live in urban centers, up from today’s roughly 3.3 billion.
What will this mean for politics as city populations become more diverse and better-educated while the countryside and the suburbs diminish? What will this mean for economies? Will they be allowed to become more decentralized and privatized, or will government interference only increase? How do we preserve free markets and individuality in an increasingly centralized setting?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Merkel 1, New Deal 0

How bad is it for Gordon Brown? Even his fellow Europeans are saying enough is enough.
GORDON BROWN’S carefully laid plans for a G20 deal on worldwide tax cuts have been scuppered by an eve-of-summit ambush by European leaders.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, last night led the assault on the prime minister’s “global new deal” for a $2 trillion-plus fiscal stimulus to end the recession.

“I will not let anyone tell me that we must spend more money,” she said.

The Spanish finance minister, Pedro Solbes, also dismissed new cash being pledged at Thursday’s London summit.

“In these conditions I and the rest of my colleagues from the eurozone believe there is no room for new fiscal stimulus plans,” he said.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has insisted that “radical reform” of capitalism is more important than tax cutting.
I agree, the call for tax cuts has become a worn-out canard, especially in this country. But it says something about the level of skepticism there is towards economic shock therapy when the patients don't want it.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1987

The ultimate soap opera for guys is right around the corner. Now in its third year, its appeal is bigger and badder than ever:
While sophisticates sneer and cynics snort, the federation bills its product as ''family sports entertainment.'' The emphasis is distinctly on the entertainment; the ''sport'' is unmistakable camp. Though surveys show that a surprising number of adult fans actually believe the matches aren't fixed, pro wrestling's true appeal is in bringing comic-book-like heroes to life. The colorful performers and even more colorful managers are entangled in such a complex web of running feuds and instant grudges that it takes an especially alert 4-year-old to sort them out.

The formula has given the W.W.F. an incredibly broad appeal in which, says Mike Weber, its media coordinator, toddlers respond to easily identifiable characters, adult women are attracted by the flashy robes and muscled hulks underneath, and adult men appreciate the athleticism of a 275-pounder's back flip, even one executed in pursuit of a seemingly obvious dive.
But what would happen if the heroes became the bad guys, and vice versa? Would it still have its appeal? I don't know if Vince McCmahon wants to take that risk,let alone get involved in the ring himself.

V-Day

He's baaaack:
His party may have taken a severe beating in last year's elections but Republican Sen. David Vitter's political career, once seemingly crippled by a sex scandal, appears to be on the rebound as he takes on a high-profile role of being critical of congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama.

Even before Obama took office, Vitter was becoming more visible, speaking out against the automobile industry bailout. Then he became a chief Senate critic of the $787 billion dollar stimulus bill that passed in February. He also shook up debate on another spending bill with his attempt to add an amendment canceling future automatic pay raises for members of Congress.

'He's been able to not only emerge from a quiet period, he's come on like gangbusters,' said Baton Rouge-based political analyst Bernie Pinsonat.

This is familiar territory for Vitter, who rose to prominence in the Louisiana Legislature by doggedly pushing agendas often unpopular with colleagues in both parties, most notably a successful effort to limit legislators to three consecutive terms.

Obama administration spending measures, upper-income tax increases and budget proposals opposed by Louisiana's oil and gas industry have presented an opportunity for Vitter to regain his political footing in a conservative state that went overwhelmingly for Republican John McCain last fall, Pinsonat said.

'It's just worked out perfect for him. A lot of the stuff on Obama's agenda is very unpopular in Louisiana and who better than David Vitter to go out and champion the opposition,' Pinsonat said.
I understand that the Republicans are looking for real leadership as they rally against Obama, but is a guy who got caught with his pants down really who they want?

From Soap To Nuts

Will the prohibitionists never learn?
It's not easy to get sparkling dishes when you go green.

Many people were shocked to find that products like Seventh Generation, Ecover and Trader Joe's left their dishes encrusted with food, smeared with grease and too gross to use without rewashing them by hand. The culprit was hard water, which is mineral-rich and resistant to soap.

As a result, there has been a quiet rush of Spokane-area shoppers heading east on Interstate 90 into Idaho in search of old-school suds.

Real estate agent Patti Marcotte of Spokane stocks up on detergent at a Costco in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and doesn't care who knows it.

'Yes, I am a smuggler,' she said. 'I'm taking my chances because dirty dishes I cannot live with.'

(In truth, the ban applies to the sale of phosphate detergent - not its use or possession - so Marcotte is not in any legal trouble.)

Marcotte said she tried every green brand in her dishwasher and found none would remove grease and pieces of food. Everybody she knows buys dishwasher detergent in Idaho, she said.
Supporters of the ban acknowledge it is not very popular.

'I'm not hearing a lot of positive feedback,' conceded Shannon Brattebo of the Washington Lake Protection Association, a prime mover of the ban. 'I think people are driving to Idaho.'
I can see it now: soaprunners bringing in the real stuff from across the border, trying to outrun the T-Men...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

They Durk Ur Essays

Outsourcing is everywhere these days:
In a previous era, you might have found an essay mill near a college bookstore, staffed by former students. Now you'll find them online, and the actual writing is likely to be done by someone in Manila or Mumbai. Just as many American companies are outsourcing their administrative tasks, many American students are perfectly willing to outsource their academic work...

The writers for essay mills are anonymous and often poorly paid. Some of them crank out 10 or more essays a week, hundreds over the course of a year. They earn anywhere from a few dollars to $40 per page, depending on the company and the subject. Some of the freelancers have graduate degrees and can write smooth, A-level prose. Others have no college degree and limited English skills.
Well, at least it'll prepare them to work in tech support...

Let's Not Talk About Sex

The silence is deafening:
When it comes to taking sex education seriously, most kids are getting left behind. Only one state in the country requires schools to spend any specific amount of time teaching students about sex, one-third don't require any sex education at all, and the rest leave it up to schools--and sometimes individual teachers--to determine whether 'sex ed' means an hour-long assembly kids attend once during their school career or an established curriculum that extends over years and helps them figure out how to develop healthy relationships and make decisions about sex.

Are public schools even the right place to be teaching kids about sex? Maybe not. But parents aren't really stepping up--surveys of parents and teens continue to show a significant gap between the percentage of parents who say they've talked to their kids about sex and the percentage of kids who report their parents have done so.
This is one area where the public schools could be doing the most good, if the subject could be taken out of the hands of people with agendas. If Obama is serious about fixing our schools, this would be a good place to start.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Childrens' Hour

Justice is served.
The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court said it would overturn the convictions of hundreds of juveniles sentenced in the midst of the Luzerne County kickback scheme.

Calling it a 'first step,' the court wielded a little- used proceeding to throw out and expunge the case records of first-time offenders convicted of minor crimes who appeared before Luzerne County Juvenile Court Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. between 2003 and 2008.

In a report to the Court, a specially appointed judge, Arthur E. Grim, said his investigation uncovered 'routine deprivation of children's constitutional rights to appear before an impartial tribunal and have an opportunity to be heard.'

Today's ruling, which authorizes Grim to overturn the cases, affects as many as 1,200 juveniles, he said. Their cases will be reviewed individually to determine if they meet the court's conditions.

Ciavarella and another former Luzerne County judge, Michael T. Conahan, have pleaded guilty earlier this year to taking $2.6 million in secret payments from the former owner of two juvenile detention centers.

The judges admitted that they helped the centers secure a county contract worth millions of dollars. Ciavarella routinely sentenced children to them.

Both men have agreed to spend 87 months in prison. They are free on bond while a federal judge considers the plea deal.
Sometimes the good guys do win. Good riddance to these creeps.

Rock Star Blues

Bob Lefsetz tells John Mellencamp to get with the times:
The problem is not record companies or radio, but America in the twenty first century. In today’s world, where people use Google to search for exactly what they want, where ads are targeted to their exact desires, do you truly expect everyone to listen to the same damn music?....

The old systems have broken down. Because they don’t comport with the new reality. Are we at the final destination yet? Not even close. But to lament the loss of the past is to miss the point.

Sure, if you want to make a lot of money overnight, you can sell out to a major corporation. But even they don’t have that much money or reach anymore. And playing the Super Bowl didn’t make Bruce’s new album a hit. No, in today’s world, first and foremost you’re a musician, not a star.

Hey Mellencamp! You’re talented, you’ve written some great songs, but you’re not entitled to live your life and guide your career the same way you did twenty years ago. There’s no longer guaranteed employment at the corporation and you have to go through career changes, just like the rest of the American population. Why should you be different, just because you’re a musician?
The days of "Rock Royalty" are over. Some of the royalty, like Prince and Radiohead, realize that. If guys like John Mellencamp can't, they deserve to burn out and fade away.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Few Good Flunkies

It's apparently trendy to work in D.C. these days.
Two months after President Obama took office vowing to make federal service cool again, career services specialists report an increase among college students who want to work for the government.

'Lots and lots of students lined up for the federal government,' said Alan C. More, employer in residence for U.S. government programs at GMU.

'What we've seen across the board is an increased interest in government,' said Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. 'We're hearing from schools that they see government as an employer of choice. Government has been the afterthought option. It's no longer a second choice.'
But should it be the only choice for eager young grads? When Kennedy asked what you could do for your country, at least he meant for the country, not just for Uncle Sam.

Rice And Reason

It must be increasingly lonely for Dick Cheney. Here's Condi Rice:
"I know what it's like to have people chirping at you when they perhaps don't know what's going on inside. These are quality people. I know them. They love the country. And they won't make the same decisions, perhaps, that we did. But I believe they'll do what they think is best for the country and I'll give my advice privately and keep it to myself."
Of course, such statements require a degree of class, which Cheney doesn't have.

Slower Sharks

James Surowiecki on why Europe isn't following our lead:
Europe is refusing to carry its share of the global economic burden and is piggybacking on us. But it’s hard to see how things could have turned out otherwise. The U.S. economy, much more than Europe’s, is like the proverbial shark: if it doesn’t keep moving forward, it dies (or at least creates a lot of misery). In some sense, we need economic growth more than Europe does. It’s not surprising that we’re going to be the ones who end up paying for it.
As has been reported elsewhere, many European governments seem to be figuring out that the welfare state doesn't work anymore. They also have smaller economies than we do, and are understandably reluctant to shoulder the burden of helping to pay their bloated American cousins' bills. At some point, we are going to have to realize that we can't have our proverbial cake and eat it without paying for it, too.

Will He Or Won't He?

Joe Klein shares the concern over Obama following Bush's foreign policy path:
Will the 'demons' rot away his policy judgment? Will he exaggerate Iran's power, as the Israelis and neoconservatives routinely do, turning a relatively modest regional player into an existential threat — mad mullahs ready to blow up the world? Will he allow Republicans to force him into a tough-guy pose for domestic consumption? Will he suffer the delusion that U.S., or Israeli, power can 'take out' the Iranian nuclear program without disastrous retribution?
I don't think Obama will necessarily make that kind of mistake, although it increasingly looks as if the Israelis might. He has his plate full with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea as it is. I can see how the previous eight years could give cause for concern-I just don't think it's that warranted.

Moderate Like Me

Who owns the center? Believe it or not, the evidence says it's the Democrats.
Liberals aren't as big a component of the Democratic coalition as many of the Left's leaders believe. Moderate voters are much more important to Democratic success than liberal voters. And liberals are also less important to Democrats than conservatives are to Republicans. That means liberals generally have less leverage than they recognize in these internal party arguments-and less leverage than conservatives can exert in internal struggles over the GOP's direction. 'Liberals are less central to the Democratic coalition than conservatives are to the Republican coalition,' says Andy Kohut, director of the non-partisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

That contrast is apparent from two different angles: identification and behavior. In cumulative Pew data for 2008, Kohut says, only one-third of self-identified Democrats described themselves as liberals; the rest identified as moderates or conservatives. For Republicans the proportions were reversed: two-thirds of Republicans considered themselves conservatives, while only one-third identified as moderates or liberals. Gallup's findings are similar: in their cumulative 2008 data, just 39% of self-identified Democrats described themselves as liberals, while 70% of Republicans identified as conservatives.

Looking at Obama's actual vote in 2008 reinforces the story. According to the Edison/Mitofsky Election Day exit polls, liberals provided only 37% of Obama's total votes. Moderates (50%) and conservatives (13%) provided far more. By contrast, conservatives provided almost three-fifths of John McCain's votes, with moderates contributing only about one-third and liberals a negligible 5%.

The bottom line is that, compared to Republicans, Democrats are operating with a much more diverse electoral coalition-and one in which the party's ideological vanguard plays a smaller role.
Of course, there are things about Obama that aren't so centrist-like his budget, for example-but in terms of overall appeal the Democrats seem to have rediscovered what the Republicans have forgotten-that, in order to win, you need the vast middle. If the Left had the influence they wish they had, the Blue Dogs who are concerned about Obama's spending wouldn't nearly be as vocal as they are. Meanwhile, dissenters within the Republican Party have to apologize to Rush Limbaugh.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Freedom From Your Kids

Why should Social Security be saved? It helped free parents from their children, and vice versa:
Economists Robert F. Schoeni of the University of Michigan and Kathleen McGarry of Dartmouth analyzed the living arrangements of older Americans using Census data. They showed that the decline in older parents living with their children began in 1940, the year that Social Security first began paying out benefits. This indicates that older parents did not desire to live with their children – or the children did not desire to live with their parents -- but were forced to by need. As Social Security alleviated that need, older parents continued to live independently.
Of course, with recent trends showing that kids are moving back in with Mom and Dad again, maybe the kids need another incentive. Or be told to grow up...

Bloggin' In The Years: 1933

In his new book, Mr. Wells reflects on the overseas reaction to President Roosevelt's presence among them:
Everywhere as the Conference drew near men were enquiring about this possible new leader for them. “Is this at last the Messiah we seek, or shall we look for another?” Every bookshop in Europe proffered his newly published book of utterances, Looking Forward, to gauge what manner of mind they had to deal with. It proved rather disconcerting reading for their anxious minds. Plainly the man was firm, honest and amiable, as the frontispiece portrait with its clear frank eyes and large resolute face showed, but the text of the book was a politician’s text, saturated indeed with good will, seasoned with much vague modernity, but vague and wanting in intellectual grip. “He’s good,” they said, “but is this good enough?”
If we are to believe Mr. Wells, then no-but then again, the London Conference seems to be fixiated on the outdated model of saving the Gold Standard. The current economic crisis requires something different. At any rate, Roosevelt is the American president; his cause is America's economy, not solving Europe's economic woes, although if recent trends in Germany are any indication, they may well impact on our own policy whether we wish it or not.

The Border Feed

Hillary says it's our fault.
An 'insatiable' appetite in the United States for illegal drugs is to blame for much of the violence ripping through Mexico, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.

Clinton acknowledged the U.S. role in Mexico's drug cartel problem as she arrived in Mexico for a two-day visit where she will discuss U.S. plans to ramp up border security with President Felipe Calderon.

A surge in drug gang killings to 6,300 last year and fears the violence could seep over the border has put Mexico's drug war high on President Barack Obama's agenda, after years of Mexico feeling that Washington was neglecting a joint problem.

'Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the death of police officers, soldiers and civilians,' Clinton told reporters during her flight to Mexico City.

'I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility.'
I can see her point-we do have a large appetite for drugs in this country, but Mexico hasn't exactly been a model of law enforcement itself. Now we're having to deal with their mess, and it won't be easy.

Obama The Great

Who knew we'd get a real-life Ozymandias?
At the White House’s celebration of Greek Independence Day Wednesday afternoon, President Obama got a little unexpected flattery from Archbishop Demetrios, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States

Listing a series of challenges Obama will need to deal with as president, Demetrios predicted: Demetrios to Obama: 'Following the brilliant example of Alexander the Great...you will be able to cut the Gordian knot of these unresolved issues.'
Well, it could be argued that there are aspects of Obama's presidency that have the elements of a Greek comedy...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Man And His Plan

Christopher Carroll says everybody should just calm down:
When fuller details emerge, it would be useful if the economics profession and the financial community could have a mature conversation about whether the plan could be improved before it goes into operation. For example, it may be necessary to make any bank that participates agree to the sale of all their toxic assets, to prevent the kind of cherry picking that has contributed to the shutdown of these markets so far. And there is good reason to be very careful to minimize the possibility of “heads-I-win, tails-the-government-loses” kinds of bets.

But broad-brush denunciations are unhelpful, whether they derive from preconceived prejudices of the left (which needs to recognise the important distinction between the greedy people who got us here and the wise captains of finance who can help us get out), or the right (which espouses a destructive ideology according to which all government action of any kind is a mistake).
Economic purists can be as detrimental to the discussion as social-issues ones. There is a great deal to criticize about Geithner's plan, but it calls for a grown-up analysis and response, not knee-jerk politics. Leave that stuff to the ranters on both sides who don't know what they're talking about.

Jumping Ship

It looks like the rats are leaving early:
A handful of senior executives working within American International Group Inc’s controversial financial products unit have resigned, said a company spokeswoman late on Monday.

The division is at the heart of the financial problems that brought AIG to the brink of bankruptcy last September, saved only by a taxpayer bailout that has now swelled to as much as $180 billion.

The spokeswoman declined to specify the exact number of resignations, noting they were expected to be “manageable,” and said there were indications that more will follow.
I'm sure they'll get as far away as their portfolios can take them.

Population Bum

Once again, people are to blame:
JONATHON PORRITT, one of Gordon Brown’s leading green advisers, is to warn that Britain must drastically reduce its population if it is to build a sustainable society.

Porritt’s call will come at this week’s annual conference of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), of which he is patron.

The trust will release research suggesting UK population must be cut to 30m if the country wants to feed itself sustainably.

Porritt said: “Population growth, plus economic growth, is putting the world under terrible pressure.

“Each person in Britain has far more impact on the environment than those in developing countries so cutting our population is one way to reduce that impact.”

Population growth is one of the most politically sensitive environmental problems. The issues it raises, including religion, culture and immigration policy, have proved too toxic for most green groups.
Well, there is a reasonable solution to this-get more people living and working in space. But that requires evil things like technology and free markets.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1989

This is what happens when you don't plan ahead.
Until the Exxon Valdez disaster, Alaska was reluctant to officially recognize that a major oil spill was possible in Prince William Sound. Environmental studies and state reports dating almost to January 1968, when huge oil reserves were discovered on Alaska's North Slope, predicted that a major spill was so unlikely that planning for one would be unnecessary.

An influential state study in 1971, for instance, said that the chance of a spill in Prince William Sound of more than 70,000 barrels was ''minute.'' A plan prepared in 1987 by Alyeska said the ''most likely'' oil spill from tankers in Valdez harbor or Prince William Sound would amount to no more than 42,000 barrels and a spill of 200,000 barrels was ''highly unlikely.'' The Exxon Valdez accident spilled from 240,000 to 260,000 barrels of oil into Prince William Sound, according to estimates by Exxon and the state.

Accepting Blame

Residents here said they are heartsick over the accident that has stained hundreds of square miles of Prince William Sound to the color of dark tea. Yet they also realize that in many ways they must share part of the blame for the spill, a disaster many now say seemed almost inevitable.
When you practically live off of black gold, it can become very easy to forget that there's a certain amount of responsibility involved. Will Alaska have more responsible officials in the future? Time will tell.

They Durk Ur Trojans

Now this is hitting below the belt:
In a move expected to cost 300 American jobs, the government is switching to cheaper off-shore condoms, including some made in China.

The switch comes despite implied assurances over the years that the agency would continue to buy American whenever possible.

'Of course, we considered how many U.S. jobs would be affected by this move,” said a USAID official who spoke on the condition that he would not be named. But he said the reasons for the change included lower prices (2 cents versus more than 5 cents for U.S.-made condoms) and the fact that Congress dropped “buy American language” in a recent appropriations bill.

Besides, he said, the sole U.S. supplier — an Alabama company called Alatech — had previous delivery problems under the program.
I guess they just couldn't "Keep it up", then? Are the days of American-made rubber over?

In Space, No One Can See You Sweat

The Japanese have come up with the ultimate odor-eaters.
Wakata's clothes, developed by researcher Yoshiko Taya, are designed to kill bacteria, absorb water, insulate the body and dry quickly. They also are flame-resistant and anti-static, not to mention comfortable and stylish.

Japanese astronaut Takao Doi gave the clothes a trial run during a shuttle mission last year. Even after a vigorous workout, Doi's clothes stayed dry.

'The other astronauts become very sweaty, but he doesn't have any sweat. He didn't need to hang his clothes to dry,' Yanagawa said.

J-ware should reduce the amount of clothing that needs to be sent to the space station, which has no laundry facilities. Toting cargo into orbit is expensive, so having clothes that stay fresh for weeks at a time should result in significant savings.

The Japanese space agency plans to make the clothes available to NASA and its other space station partners once development is complete. A commercial line also is in the offing.
Mother of mercy, is this the end of Right Guard?

Bounding Beckism

As Andrew Sullivan explains, "Movement" conservatives really don't know what to do with themselves now that they have to be content with being Dittoheads:
For all sorts of reasons, most of the current tea-partiers backed the GOP under Bush and Cheney, although some, to be fair, did complain about some of it. The pent-up frustrations behind conservatism’s collapse under Republicans were trumped, however, by the fruits of power, partisan hatred of “the left”, defensiveness over the Iraq war and torture, and, above all religious devotion to the Leader. Now that Bush has been removed, the massive damage done, and a pragmatic liberal is trying to sort out the mess in a sane, orderly fashion, they’ve gone nuts.

Think of someone like Glenn Beck.

He sat back and watched Bush preside over the worst domestic attack in US history, explode the entitlement state, engage in unending projects of nation-building in two of the most dysfunctional countries on earth, rip up the Constitution, and bequeath as his legacy a trillion dollar deficit, unprecedented domestic discretionary spending, a banking collapse and the worst recession in many many years. The right will take some time to absorb this but Bush was Carter II - with two full terms. All that rage at what has actually happened – bottled up by rank partisanship for years – has come bounding out. Hence the bizarre spectacle of a president just two months on the job being treated on the right as if he’s already Robert Mugabe. Throw in a little racial and cultural panic, add a world of genuine economic pain … and you have the Malkin surge.
Maybe it's because some on the left see Obama as Bush Lite that they're doing this, or maybe it's because they're venting at a target who's conveniently no longer there, but at any rate Denial River runs deep these days.

Bachman Ranter Overdrive

Oh, jeeze:
“I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us ‘having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people – we the people – are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States.”
Remember when it was the loony left that said stuff like this? But it's from Michelle Bachman, so I guess it's OK when "Our side" does it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Car For The Depression

No-frills driving comes of age.
The Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car, has been launched in India.


Costing just 100,000 rupees ($1,979; £1,366), the Nano will now go on sale across India next month, with deliveries starting in July.

Tata hopes the 10-foot (3-metre) long, five-seater car will be cheap enough to encourage millions of Indians to trade up from their motorcycles.

Tata owner Ratan Tata has described the Nano as a 'milestone'. Analysts say it will not make a profit for six years.

Tata's managing director Ravi Kant said that from the first orders, a ballot would then select the initial 100,000 people to get their Nano.

'I think we are at the gates of offering a new form of transport to the people of India and later, I hope, other markets elsewhere in the world,' Mr Tata added.

'I hope it will provide safe, affordable four-wheel transportation to families who till now have not been able to own a car.'
....

The basic model has no airbags, air conditioning, radio, or power steering. However, more luxurious versions will be available.

A slightly bigger European version, the Nano Europa is due to follow in 2011, and is expected to cost nearer to £4,000.
Consider it the gift for the person who's lost everything...

Who's Sorry Now?

Um, weren't these guys on the anti-slavery side during the Civil War?
Connecticut legislators are considering making their state the first in New England to apologize for slavery and other racist policies of old.

A legislative committee heard testimony Monday on a resolution that would issue a formal, general apology and express the General Assembly's 'profound contrition' for the official acts that sanctioned and perpetuated slavery hundreds of years ago.

The state's African-American Affairs Commission, a liaison between black communities and the government, is urging legislators to pass the resolution, which it has called 'an exercise in reconciliation' and not an effort to determine fault for slavery.

The commission's legislative analyst, Frank Sykes, told the legislature's Government Administration and Elections Committee that 'opportunities like this must be seized,' especially in light of the 'giant stride' the country took last November in electing its first black president, Barack Obama.

'While this is encouraging,' Sykes said, 'it should inspire us and challenge us to continue peeling away at the layers of racial discrimination and intolerance.'
Considering that we now have a black President, I'm not sure how much peeling away we really have to do anymore.

When Basket Cases Attack

Why Pakistan is scarier than Iran or North Korea:
Pakistan is 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the U.S. Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn't control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence service don't follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue state within a state. We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems. . . . The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today.
While the right continues talking about the diminished Axis of Evil, one of our "Allies" could be on the brink. Remember when Obama was mocked for saying he'd use force in Pakistan during the campaign? It doesn't sound so crazy now, does it?

National Journalism

Peter Suderman points out why a government bailout of the newspapers is a bad idea:
If you follow debates about health care, you may be familiar with the idea of crowd-out — insurance plans that go through a government connector (and thus are bound by its rules) eventually drive out private plans. In Canada, health-care administrators make it as difficult as possible for private plans to compete with the public system. It’s the nature of government enterprises, and I can’t imagine that wouldn’t be the case under any system resembling what Nichols and McChesney suggest. In the end, what they’re asking for isn’t a free press but a captured press. If that’s saving journalism, perhaps we ought to let it die.
I do find it somewhat strange that the same media types who distrusted government influence of the media under Bush are now willing to trust it with their first amendment rights as they're going out of business one by one. The irony seems to be lost on them.

The Disappearing Generation

The recession is hittimg men where they live:
Doctors around the United States are reporting a sharp increase in the number of vasectomies performed since the economy soured last year, with one noting that many of his clients are from the beleaguered financial industry.

Their best guess is that the trend is due both to a decreased desire to have children because of the expense involved, and an increased desire to get such medical procedures done before their jobs -- and health insurance -- disappear.
Sounds like those aren't the only things "Disappearing..."

Storming The Bastille

Felix Salmon is worried:
As inequality grew in America over the past 30 years, there was always the risk that it would snap back violently and dramatically.

That day is not yet here, but it's closer than it has ever been, and its possibility cannot be discounted. Barack Obama smells the public mood, and is trying to respond to it in a grown-up and non-incendiary way. Congress smells it too, and is being rather less grown-up about things. And Wall Street still largely remains inside its bubble, watching the tour buses on the outside with fear and incomprehension. But unless some very senior executives start smelling the coffee sharpish, they might end up facing the biggest tail risk of them all.
I don't think we're at the point of pitchforks and torches yet. But a day of reckoning may not be far off, and not even the Wall Street swells are immune.

This Too Shall Pass

The Washington Times suggests that the easily offended need to lighten up:
The fundamental right of freedom of speech in this country applies to presidents as much as anyone. Obama is allowed as to say impolitic things as long as they don't hurt the country. It also lent humanity to Mr. Obama, something rarely displayed by presidents in public and that certainly would not have been on display had he stuck with the canned responses he surely discussed with his White House handlers in advance. Most importantly, the President has real problems to address beside hurt feelings. The PC police need to relax and learn to take a joke.
I think it's actually kind of refreshing to have a President who can still be politically incorrect. It's not as if he's the first we've ever had, after all.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Will The Last Terrorist To Leave The Cave Please Turn Out The Lights?

And you thought your job sucked.
An intense, six-month campaign of Predator strikes in Pakistan has taken such a toll on Al Qaeda that militants have begun turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say.

The pace of the Predator attacks has accelerated dramatically since August, when the Bush administration made a previously undisclosed decision to abandon the practice of obtaining permission from the Pakistani government before launching missiles from the unmanned aircraft.

Since Aug. 31, the CIA has carried out at least 38 Predator strikes in northwest Pakistan, compared with 10 reported attacks in 2006 and 2007 combined, in what has become the CIA's most expansive targeted killing program since the Vietnam War.

Because of its success, the Obama administration is set to continue the accelerated campaign despite civilian casualties that have fueled anti-U.S. sentiment and prompted protests from the Pakistani government.

"This last year has been a very hard year for them," a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said of Al Qaeda militants, whose operations he tracks in northwest Pakistan. "They're losing a bunch of their better leaders. But more importantly, at this point they're wondering who's next."

U.S. intelligence officials said they see clear signs that the Predator strikes are sowing distrust within Al Qaeda. "They have started hunting down people who they think are responsible" for security breaches, the senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said, discussing intelligence assessments on condition of anonymity. "People are showing up dead or disappearing."
But they had such a great health benefit plan...

Life Without W

Gay Patriot wonders:
Is is that leftists in the blogosphere today are so humorless so self-righteous that they can’t abide the least bit of mockery, criticism or a combination of both?

Or, maybe it’s since they don’t have George W. Bush to kick around any more, they’ve decided to start going after prominent blogresses?

Perhaps it’s something else. Maybe Klein has a case of ADS (Althouse Derangement Syndrome), a syndrome afflicting partisans who can’t understand how a blogress can gain a following without subscribing to any ideology.
While the right may be rudderless, the left seems to have had a lot of the wind taken out of its sails now that Dubya is gone. Which makes these goofs all the more amusing. Don't they know that their guy won?

Ghosts Of McCain-Feingold

I kind of like Bill Richardson, so this is too bad.
The New Mexico Legislature on Saturday gave final approval to the first-ever limits on campaign contributions to statewide elected officials and lawmakers.

New Mexico is one of just five states that doesn't put any caps on contribution amounts.
Gov. Bill Richardson, for example, has gotten multiple donations of $100,000.

Richardson, whose term ends in 2010, has proposed contribution limits as part of a package of ethics reforms but hasn't said he will sign this particular bill.

'I think this is an important step forward, in that it cuts out some of the gigantic contributions,' said Steve Allen, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. 'It's good for New Mexico.'
"Reform" didn't work when McCain used it as his rallying cry, and I don't think it will work here. Free speech issues aside, this will in fact only encourage more corruption as politicians look for loopholes.

The Next Sahara?

If you want to make the case for climate change, Europe's rain-or a lack thereof-might provide clues.
Between 1925 and 1999, the area between 40 and 70 degrees north latitude grew rainier, while the area between zero and 30 degrees north grew drier. In keeping with this broad trend, northern Europe seems to be growing wetter, while the southern part of the continent grows more arid. The Spanish Environment Ministry has estimated that, owing to the combined effects of climate change and poor land-use practices, fully a third of the country is at risk of desertification. Meanwhile, the island of Cyprus has become so parched that in the summer of 2008, with its reservoir levels at just 7 percent, it was forced to start shipping in water from Greece.
You don't need to be a doomsaying raver like Al Gore to see that something is going on. The question is, can we still do something about it without resorting to phony "Carbon credit" schemes?

Get Me To The Shrink On Time

It's not the same as going to church:
Mainstream psychiatry remains firmly materialist - usually re-explaining experiences that many people attribute to spirits, forces or unseen influences as biological dysfunction. So, in the most fundamental sense, the practice of psychiatry is typically contra-religious.

You could argue that this is 'replacing' religion through colonising the spiritual sphere of explanation, but this makes it no more a religion than physics or evolutionary biology.
Combining the two-like the feel-good pop psychology of the Seventies-tends to have mixed results at best. Religion serves spiritual needs; psychiatry is a science, and people shouldn't try and confuse the two.

Depression Dining

It's one of the unanswered questions of the new economy:
Are we looking at a future with more bistro-esque street carts, hidden restaurants, and bargain gastronomy? Will restaurant critics' best-of lists need to include a place that doesn't even have a listed address? And could you end up having the best meal of your life in some dude's living room, with mismatched silverware and uneven tables? From what I've seen so far, the answer is yes.
In other words, most of us may well wind up eating like we did in college?

Life Without A Teleprompter

So he really is the second coming of History's Worst Monster?
The guy just doesn’t know what to say. He can’t connect. Emotions are here, he’s over there. He can’t get the words to match the situation.

This began, I’d argue, from the first moment. He punted on the inaugural. Everybody ran around like crazy trying to praise it because if Barack Obama couldn’t give a speech then what?

But now, at week 11, we’re face-to-face with the reality, the man can’t talk worth a damn. . . . It’s instructive and humorous to remember that Carter ran a brilliant campaign that succeeded largely because his voice was new. Simple, direct, basic, human. And then, of course, he turned into a sad-sack twit.
I think that's a little unfair-Obama seems at least a little more competent than Jimmy. But if Obama can no longer deliver with a golden tongue, a lot of people are going to be looking for Change again come 2012.

The Blue Guns

There's more dissent from within the ranks:
Sixty-five House Democrats said Wednesday that they would oppose any attempt by the Obama administration to revive a ban on military-style weapons that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994 and President George W. Bush let expire.

The pro-gun Democrats, led by Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., wrote Attorney General Eric Holder that they would “actively oppose any effort to reinstate the 1994 ban, or to pass any similar law.”
They urged the administration to avoid a “long and divisive fight over a gun control issue” at a time when Washington needs to concentrate on the economic crisis.

The House letter came a day after Montana’s two Democratic senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, wrote a similar letter to Holder saying the Justice Department should enforce existing laws before considering new gun ownership restrictions. “We will strongly oppose any legislation that will infringe upon the rights of individual gun owners,” they said.
I knew there was a reason these guys won in conservative areas. The Blue Line starts here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Walking Dead Publishers

Kassia Krozer is fed up with old-school publishers not getting it:
Give. Me. A. Break. It’s only new for those of you who’ve been pretending change is something you get from a dollar bill. Now you’re wondering how to interact with blogs? Now you’re learning that there’s an entire conference devoted to change in the industry?

I’m so sorry, but it must be said. The future of publishing is already happening. People are doing it and they’re doing it really well. If you’re still worried about engaging bloggers, you are worrying about the wrong thing.
If the newspapers areany indication, it may take a while for these people to realize that they are extinct, and maybe not even then.

The Art Of Capitalism

Have we forgotten it?
America's comparative advantage has always lain in its superior ability to make creative use of disruption; if the Chinese are mastering that art, while the Americans are losing their taste for it, then the country really is in trouble.
If the Chinese can figure out how free markets work and that it's not a good idea to send godd money after bad (as in the case of giving us more loans), then who are the real socialists?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dickonomics

How to sum up the meltdown:
The best way to understand the financial crisis is to understand the meltdown at AIG. AIG is what happens when short, bald managers of otherwise boring financial bureaucracies start seeing Brad Pitt in the mirror. This is a company that built a giant fortune across more than a century by betting on safety-conscious policyholders — people who wear seat belts and build houses on high ground — and then blew it all in a year or two by turning their entire balance sheet over to a guy who acted like making huge bets with other people’s money would make his dick bigger.
If these guys were looking for a cure for impotency, they didn't find it.

A Shoulder To Cry On

Andrew Sullivan has a regular feature titled "The View From Your Recession". This particular item, about the life of a dating coach, caught my eye:
Business is good. In fact, business is better than ever. And it keeps pouring in. I'm booked through the end of April coaching guys in four different major cities, sometimes making four figures in a single night out on the town. Then I go home, sleep until 3PM and do it again the next night.

But what surprises me more than the fact that all of these men are turning for help in their love lives, is HOW DESPERATELY they're turning for help.

Guys have been paying me with the last remnants of their bank accounts, deferring rent and bill payments, digging deeper into their credit card debt, even asking me to set up monthly payment plans for a single night out -- a night that typically nets a client only a few phone numbers and maybe a date or two.

I talked to another coach in the industry about it. And we agree that it's gone beyond the simple tripe of 'sex sells.' These single men who have become demoralized financially are seeking their solace not in some sort of economic recovery, but in the arms of a woman. The loss of financial security drives them to seek emotional security.
Maybe it's the loss of self-esteem, or maybe it's that most guys really do want their mothers to comfort them in the end. I'm thinking that more guys are going to be needing good therapists along with a good woman these days.

Toking Like Me

Broadcaster Rick Steves argues that marijuana laws have made some pot smokers more equal than others:
It's racist and classist. White rich people can smoke marijuana with impunity and poor black people get a record, can't get education, can't get a loan, and all of sudden go into a life of desperation and become hardened criminals. Why? Because we've got a racist law based on lies about marijuana.

There's 80,000 people in jail today for marijuana. We arrested 800,000 people in the last 12 months on marijuana. Even in my rich little white suburban community of Edmonds, Wash., 25 percent of police action is marijuana-related. Everybody knows it's silly. I'm not saying I'm pro-drug. I'm just saying it's parallel to alcohol prohibition. When they rescinded the laws against alcohol, nobody said booze is good, they just said it was stupid to make it a crime, that you're creating organized crime and people are dying.
Fortunately, America's first black President seems to be realizing this. But it will take time.

Too Much, Too Soon?

Even Joe Klein is getting concerned:
Sure, I'm worried that Obama isn't dealing decisively enough with the banking crisis--but, on the other hand, this is uncharted territory and maybe a cautious, case-by-case strategy will prove to be the right one. And yes, I'm worried that Obama is deferring a bit too much to the snails and toads (of both parties) in the Congress--but, on the other hand, savvy aides like Joe Biden, Rahm Emanuel and congressional liaison Phil Schiliro will focus and massage the legislative packages that will be forthcoming. It is entirely possible, as this magazine surmised last week, that Obama has taken on too much, too soon. Or maybe not.
I tend to agree that it's too early to say if Team Obama is already failing or not. But jeeze, for people who are supposed to be smarter than the last bunch you'd think they'd stop looking like they're tripping over their own feet by now.

Bloggin' In The Years: 2003

The war against Iraq has begun. However you might feel about it, support the troops and their mission. The hard part will undoubtably come later.

The Worst Job In The World

Seemingly lost in the hue and cry over AIG are the folks who work there:
The handful of souls who championed the firm’s now-infamous credit-default swaps are, by nearly every account, long since departed. Those left behind to clean up the mess, the majority of whom never lost a dime for AIG, now feel they have been sold out by their Congress and their president.

“They’ve chosen to throw us under the bus,” said a Financial Products executive, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. “They have vilified us.” . . .

If they did walk out the door, who would volunteer to work at the Chernobyl of the financial world? And what would become of the mammoth portfolio that remains?

“It would become the biggest naked position on Wall Street,” one longtime Financial Products executive said, “and everybody would exploit it.”
Hell hath no fury like a financier scorned.

Mrs. Obama, How Does Your Garden Grow?

It's planting season at the White House:
While the organic garden will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at time when obesity has become a national concern.
***
The Obamas will feed their love of Mexican food with cilantro, tomatilloes and hot peppers. Lettuces will include red romaine, green oak leaf, butterhead, red leaf and galactic. There will be spinach, chard, collards and black kale. For desserts, there will be a patch of berries. And herbs will include some more unusual varieties, like anise hyssop and Thai basil. A White House carpenter who is a beekeeper will tend two hives for honey.
This is actually a pretty cool thing to do, at a time when economic necessity may make gardening more popular. And it is a good way to teach kids about healthy eating (aside from keeping them away from Micky D's). It's certainly better than Hillary's garden, which was mostly black roses and hemlock.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How To Save Social Security

Philip Moeller has some ideas:
For starters, the retirement age can be bumped up a year or two. Life spans and working careers are expanding even more, so boosting the age at which people get full Social Security benefits is hardly unfair. It would be unfair to people just about to retire, but even here, a delayed trigger for higher retirement ages would go a long way toward returning the program to financial self-sufficiency. The next big source for a fix, and one that will be a major battle ground, is raising the earnings ceiling on Social Security contributions. Again, we're not talking about confiscatory behavior by the Feds, although any increase in taxes is hard to accept when one considers how poorly Washington has looked out for our money. The third 'easy fix' target is the annual inflation adjustment for Social Security payments, which could be unsweetened a bit.

If these changes were put in place and meaningful progress was also made on restraining the pace of health-care inflation, retirees would come out way, way ahead. Mandatory Medicare premiums will soon eat up 15 to 20 percent of a typical retiree's Social Security check. Out-of-pocket medical expenses can do even more financial damage.
I would add partial privatization, which I still think is a good idea overall. The more control people have over their money when they can no longer work, the better off they-and the rest of us-will be.

The Beautiful One

The Governator goes gaga:
“When have you ever seen a president be that out there?”

That was a mesmerized Arnold Schwarzenegger after Obama’s town hall meeting.

“I’ve never seen that,” Schwarzenegger said to a couple reporters as he and his wife, Maria Shriver, tried to make an exit. “Usually people are so guarded. The aides are always so guarded. They’re so afraid that you will blow it or that you will make news that’s unintended and all those things.”

Schwarzenegger continued to gush about Obama.

“But I think he’s so smart,” he said. “He’s so clear with his thinking and he’s so well informed and has been dealing with policy in all this and is also very philosophic it’s almost like. I think he’s just like – I think it’s beautiful.”
There are things I like about Obama (as well as much I don't) but you can only take Obamamania so far before it starts sounding ridiculous. It sounds like Obama sent a thrill up Arnold's CPU.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1987

Jimmy's out:
The Rev. Jim Bakker, a leading television evangelist, has resigned his ministry, asserting that he was maneuvered into a sexual encounter six years ago and subsequently blackmailed.

Mr. Bakker, a protege of the Rev. Pat Robertson, the founding father of television ministries, has become one of the nation's most prominent broadcast evangelists in the decade since he assumed the spiritual and financial leadership of the PTL Club in Charlotte, N.C. He has repeatedly drawn the attention of Federal investigators because of his fund-raising techniques, which yield more than $100 million annually.

His leadership of the PTL ministry - the letters stand for Praise the Lord and People That Love - will be assumed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Mr. Falwell is host of his own widely viewed television ministry program, ''The Old Time Gospel Hour,'' and is founder of the conservative lobby Moral Majority.

In an emotional statement to The Charlotte Observer on Thursday, Mr. Bakker said he had been ''wickedly manipulated by treacherous former friends'' who ''conspired to betray me into a sexual encounter'' in Florida in December, 1980. As a result of the incident, he said, he ''succumbed to blackmail'' to protect his ministry and family.
Well, he certainly succumbed to something...

It's Not Delivery, It's Dear Leader's

Call it a triumph for the Revolution.
It has taken almost 10 years of work, but North Korea has acquired the technology to launch a project very dear to its leader's heart - the nation's first 'authentic' Italian pizzeria.

The launch of Pyongyang's first Italian restaurant meanwhile brings to fruition a ten-year effort by Kim Jong-il - a renowned gourmand and lover of western food - to create the perfect pizza and pasta in his homeland.

Last year a delegation of local chefs was sent by Kim to Naples and Rome to learn the proper Italian techniques after their homegrown efforts to mimic Italian cuisine were found by Kim to contain "errors".

In the late 1990s Kim brought a team of Italian pizza chefs to North Korea to instruct his army officers how to make pizza, a luxury which is now being offered to a tiny elite able to afford such luxuries in a country that cannot feed many of its 24 million inhabitants.
In another ten years they'll figure out the mystery of garlic bread and pizza sticks. That'll show those Western devils...

Magic Man

It's tough to be a master of the dark arts these days:
The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai’a) in Al-Ahsa arrested a sorcerer who dealt in magic and provided his services to several men and women, who turned to him out of a lack of religious motivation and ignorance, that sorcery became the talk of the town.

Sheikh Adel Faqih, an expert in such matters and director of the Hai’a branch of sorcery in Riyadh, said, “We are in an Islamic country which is governed by Islamic law which prohibits polytheism. Sorcery and magic are considered polytheism in Islam. Unfortunately, sorcery is not a new phenomenon. It is a problem that has existed since the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”

Sheikh Faqih explained that a sorcerer can be identified when he asks for the name of a patient and for the name of the patient’s mother or if he is seeking to buy an animal with certain features. He can also be identified if he asks for a sheep to be killed without mentioning Allah’s name and asks to stain the body with the animal’s blood or if he asks for similar unusual things.
So, word to Gandalf or Harry Potter wanna-be's: stay out of Saudi!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Against The Grain

Let's see how the anti-GM crop crowd responds to this.
Hundreds of agricultural experts meeting in Mexico have issued an urgent warning about a particularly virulent form of the plant disease stem rust. The disease can cut wheat yields 80 percent and could spread to southern Asia and southern Africa from spots where it has been found in Africa and the Middle East.


In a news release, scientists at the meeting, held at a branch of the nonprofit International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, estimated that 90 percent of the wheat varieties planted by farmers around the world lack resistance to the rust variant, called Ug99 after its discovery in Uganda in 1999. But the scientists said that new wheat varieties (small pdf), developed as a result of an aggressive international breeding project, are not only resistant to the fungus but produce better yields than many conventional wheat types. The effort to develop and test the new strains has involved shuttling them from research centers in Syria and Mexico back to test plots in Africa, according to the organizers of the conference.
The Ug99 strain of the reddish, wind-borne fungus has been detected in fields in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen and Iran.
....

In a statement on Tuesday, Dr. Borlaug again pressed the world’s wealthy nations to increase support for this research. The need was particularly urgent, he said, given projections that the wind will carry the fungus toward South Asia, which produces 19 percent of the world’s wheat in a region with over 1.4 billion people. “Our scientists are making incredibly rapid progress,” Dr. Borlaug said. “But we should have no illusions: a global food crisis is still a distinct possibility if governments and international institutions fail to support this rescue mission.”
And Iran, which is working on a nuclear bomb, is exactly the kind of country we want to see risk starvation, right?

The time is past for bogus quacks to rant and for celebrities to do something fasionable, like hold a rock concert or two and hope that will make the problem go away. Dr. Borlaug is asking for real action. Unfortunately, that action is considered too politically incorrect by many in the "Developed" world. As long as it's happening in the poorer countries, the Luddites simply won't care.

Late Night With Barack Obama

As has been reported, Barack Obama is having a sit-down with Jay Leno.
In a career studded with historic firsts, President Obama is preparing for yet another: hitting the late-night comedy circuit to pitch his economic recovery plan.

It's hardly a laughing matter, with the country in its worst economic shape in decades. And it certainly doesn't approach the import of Obama's election as the nation's first black president.

However, by taking a seat Thursday night on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," Obama will become the first sitting president to appear in such an unlikely venue, erasing -- perhaps once and for all -- any vestige of the line that separates news from entertainment.

It will also extend Obama's habit of speaking past the Washington press corps and ditching the capital for events that distance him from the Beltway status quo; for those keeping accounts, Obama may be sending a signal by going on the "Tonight Show" and then skipping Saturday night's Gridiron Club dinner.
Is it gimmicky? Maybe. But it is a way for Obama to bypass the MSM, which might explain this response:
The president sets the tone of the conversation in America. As much as President Obama would like to be a man of the people, a "regular guy," he's not anymore. His job description encompasses being Commander-in-Chief, leader of the Executive Branch of government, and Head of State. He's "The Leader of the Free World." Doing Jay Leno lessens the stature of the office, and diminishes the man. On Leno, he becomes just one more talk show guest, a celebrity on the circuit promoting his latest movie or book.
In this case, however, Obama is pitching his economic recovery plan. Of course, you could say that if he thought his plan was so great, he'd be back in Washington trying to get it passed through Congress. So, is this undignified? By the standards of a previous era, maybe. But we live in a media-centered age, and if there's one thing Obama knows how to do, it's take advantage of that. Whether it will translate into support in Congress is another matter.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Bailed Out And The Furious

Hilzoy explains the anger:
I think of people I've known who have worked hard all their lives for not very much money, only to be completely bankrupted by unforeseen medical catastrophes, and I imagine these people being asked to support investment bankers in the style to which they have become accustomed, and fury feels like exactly the right response.
The question is, will the politicians heed the anger? And will the AIG goons ever truly be held accountable?

Stuck On Abstinence

Pope Benedict continues with his enlightened ways.
In his first public comments on condom use, the pontiff told reporters en route to Cameroon that Aids 'is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems'.

Pope Benedict has previously stressed that the Roman Catholic Church is in the forefront of the battle against Aids. The Vatican encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of the disease.

After his election as Pope, Benedict described Aids as a 'a cruel epidemic which not only kills but seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent', but reiterated the Vatican ban on the use of condoms.

He said the "traditional teaching of the Church" on chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it had proved to be "the only sure way of preventing the spread of HIV and Aids".
When the Church learns to accept reality, I'm sure the Africans will be willing to listen.

Fire As I Say, Not As I Do

It seems the Governator forgot about these folks:
From June 2008 to February 2009, most state agencies either increased or kept the same number of full-time employees, according to a [Sacramento] Bee analysis of personnel data. The state also failed to lay off as many part-time employees during the crisis as promised by the governor.

While legislators and Schwarzenegger debated how to close a $40 billion budget deficit, 66 state agencies saw a net gain of full-time employees, 35 kept the same number of employees and 55 lost employees, data from the state controller's office show.

The overall number of full-time state employees increased by roughly 2,000, or 1 percent, excluding the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, which always shrinks sharply outside of fire season, the figures show.
Somewhere, Grey Davis is laughing.

Detainee Hot Potato

It seems some countries are having second thoughts about taking some of those detainees off our hands.
European countries that have offered to help the Obama administration close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have begun raising questions about the security risks and requirements if they accept prisoners described by the Bush administration as “the worst of the worst,” according to diplomats and other officials.

The concerns, and a deep suspicion of whether the American intelligence community will share full information on the prisoners, are likely to complicate the resettlement effort, which is critical to President Obama’s fulfilling his pledge to close Guantánamo within a year of his taking office.

The offers, from Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland and other countries, have been widely seen as efforts to win favor with the new administration by helping to close the camp, which was a contentious issue during the Bush years.

Still, with a first round of talks on the Guantánamo issues scheduled for Monday in Washington between Obama administration officials and a high-level delegation from the European Union, several European leaders have recently emphasized that they can make no firm commitments until they are given complete details on the prisoners.

“We’d have to study concrete cases,” María Teresa Fernández de la Vega Sanz, Spain’s deputy prime minister, said in an interview last week.
Closing Club Gitmo is something that I support, and still hope Obama is able to carry out. Even so, we'll need a place to keep these people if the Europeans don't want them. The good news is, there are such places available for what amounts to a relatively small number of inmates. So maybe the Europeans won't have to worry so much after all.

Cheese We Can Believe In

Reason reports on a free-trade victory:
The U.S. Trade Representative's office has announced that a looming 300 percent tax on Roquefort will be postponed for a month, and possibly done away with.

Prices were already inflating in anticipation of a March 23 deadline, courtesy of a parting gift from the Bush administration, which slapped the tax increase on the stinky blue sheep's cheese as part of a spat with France over importation of American beef.
So the smelly stuff will now be easier to get, if you want it. At least it'll never be mistaken for "Freedom Cheese."

Why Shepherd Smith Makes Fun Of Beckmania

Because of stuff like this:
The audience for Beck’s Friday night special were each given copies of two books. One of them was Cleon Skousen’s Five Thousand Year Leap. Skousen, who died in 2006, is one of the legendary cranks of the conservative world, a John Bircher, a grand fantasist of theories about secret conspiracies between capitalists and communists to impose a one-world government under the control of David Rockefeller.
When he was on CNN, I thought they kept him there as their idea of what a conservative was, since nobody could possibly take him seriously. Apparently Fox News doesn't get the joke.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The School Of Economic Hard Knocks

Is it a recession-or just a hard lesson in free-market reality?
There is no denying that some people have suffered real pain and hardship, including the millions who have lost their jobs, been evicted from their houses, or seen their retirement savings plummet. But as painful as this situation is, it needs to be looked at for what it really is -- a transfer payment from owners to buyers -- and not what it is being portrayed as, which is a dramatic decline in societal wealth.
Maybe so, but that still doesn't make it any easier for the people who played by the rules and are still suffering.

Malcom In The Right

Shelby Steele on why white liberals don't get it:
The appeal of conservatism is the mutuality it asserts between individual and political freedom, its beautiful idea of a free man in a free society. And it offers minorities the one thing they can never get from liberalism: human rather than racial dignity. I always secretly loved Malcolm X more than Martin Luther King Jr. because Malcolm wanted a fuller human dignity for blacks -- one independent of white moral wrestling. In a liberalism that wants to redeem the nation of its past, minorities can only be ciphers in white struggles of conscience.
After their deaths, the civil rights movement was co-opted by opportunists and hustlers like Jesse Jackson who routinely used white liberal guilt to their advantage. For all its faults, the Obama administration is a step away from that, and an important one.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Incoherent Age

Why the religious right has lost the culture wars:
The days when America’s leading intellectuals contained a strong cadre of serious Christians are over. There is no Thomas Merton in our day; no Reinhold Niebuhr, Walker Percy or Flannery O’Connor. In the arguments spawned by the new atheist wave, the Christian respondents have been underwhelming. As one evangelical noted in The Christian Science Monitor last week, “being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence”.
The rejection of intellectual discourse is one of the things that has contributed to the conservative movement's fall from grace, and the religious argument is sadly no exception.

The Credit Class

Does extending credit to all contribute to resentment and class warfare?
Some rely on credit in emergencies, but many choose to revolve credit to keep spending more than they make...the rest of us need to spend more (and go into debt) to feel like we are keeping up, or we need to make the difficult and somewhat isolating choice to fly in the face of new social norms—forgoing the stuff that seems to have become de rigeur for our social class. We experience a kind of declassing even if we are content with what we have. Credit being extended to traditionally poor credit risks exacerbates that tendency further—those we considered beneath us suddenly seem to have more of life’s good things than we do. All of which is to say that accessibility to credit accelerates the cycling through of class signifiers and inflates the value of all of the ones in play. This seems highly unstable—financially and emotionally.
Attempts to help those who couldn't afford their loans in the first place, no matter how well-intentioned, only seem to increase the dependency and the attitude that being more careful with your money doesn't matter. Naturally, those that play by the rules are going to be displeased.

The California Nations

California's state government may be in dire straits, but that doesn't necessarily apply everywhere.
The “California economy” is not evenly spread across the state, but rather it is driven by a few metropolitan areas. The Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas are responsible for more than half the state’s economic clout. Along with San Diego and San Jose, they together contribute 72 percent of the state’s GDP. True, if California were its own country it would have the eighth largest GDP in the world, but if these four metros alone were a separate nation, they would outpace India, Mexico, South Korea, and Australia.
I see this trend increasing as the economic focus continues to be on cities overall. These micro-economies will play a large part in determining the future of the whole. The question is, do we let them succeed, or continue to let big government mess things up?

The Morning After

It looks like the post-honyemoon hangover is here:
Among those who follow government closely, there has been an unmistakable change in tone in the past few weeks. These are not little Rush Limbaughs hoping that Obama fails. They are politicians and journalists measuring him with the same skeptical eye they apply to everyone else. . . . Meantime, on the main challenge — the economy — the criticism has begun to infect the mainstream media as well as the conservative wing.
I hate it when couples break up. Think of the children!

Chinese Takeout

Did you think we'd ever see the day when communists would be worried about big government?
What the Chinese are worried about is not that the United States government will default on its bonds. That obviously won’t happen. The Chinese concern, now being expressed openly for the first time, is that the U.S. will adopt the standard debtor’s remedy of inflating its currency and paying back its debts in shrunken dollars. Why are the Chinese worried about this? Because Barack Obama’s budget proposes to borrow trillions of dollars, injecting them into the U.S. economy without any offsetting wealth being created. . . . With their shot over the bow, I think the Chinese are telling Obama that they don’t like his budget.
Eventually, the bill will come due. The question is, are they going to give us more time to pay them back, or send somebody over to break our legs?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Too Much Of Awesome

Is the rest of the world not yet ready for the awesomeness of the One?
We may have entered a new era, but much of the world is still Obamaless and mired in the fear and mistrust of pre-Obama times. It will be up to us to help assure the world that Obama’s hope and change is for them as well. They need to know that if Obama’s actions seem stupid or insulting to them, it’s only because they are not yet able to understand his splendor. We must remember that while Obama’s brilliant radiance may fill us with awe, it could actually hurt the eyes of those unused to such light.
Of course, it may be that some of hese countries are used to cults of personality in their history, and so are asking, "What else is new?"

It's Not Easy Being Green In A Recession

Recylying is becoming another victim of the economy:
In a bad economy, it's often the good environmental practices—using energy-efficient light bulbs, insulating homes, driving less, eating less meat—that end up prevailing, in part because they save people money. But that's actually not true of recycling, which, for better or worse, is intimately tied to the health of international markets—and the willingness of countries like China to buy our recycled materials. Right now, demand for those materials has shriveled up, which has been a huge blow to recycling plants.
It would seem that the growth of recycling and consumerism during boom times are closely related. What does this say about environmental awareness in a free-market economy? That we can only afford it when we have more cash to spend?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Depression Delayed?

You know that impending economic catastrophe that was said to be coming? Well, not so fast.
Confronting misgivings, even in his own party, President Barack Obama mounted a stout defense of his blueprint to overhaul the economy Thursday, declaring the national crisis is 'not as bad as we think' and his plans will speed recovery.

Challenged to provide encouragement as the nation's 'confidence builder in chief,' Obama said Americans shouldn't be whipsawed by bursts of either bad or good news and he was 'highly optimistic' about the long term.

The president's proposals for major health care, energy and education changes in the midst of economic hard times faced skepticism from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, as senators questioned his budget outlook and the deficits it envisions in the middle of the next decade.

But Obama, speaking to top executives of the Business Roundtable, expressed an optimistic vision and called for patience.

Richard Parsons, chairman of beleaguered Citigroup Inc., asked if Obama could offer some help in a national battle 'between confidence and fear.'

'A smidgen of good news and suddenly everything is doing great. A little bit of bad news and ooohh , we're down on the dumps,' Obama said. 'And I am obviously an object of this constantly varying assessment. I am the object in chief of this varying assessment.'

'I don't think things are ever as good as they say, or ever as bad as they say,' Obama added. 'Things two years ago were not as good as we thought because there were a lot of underlying weaknesses in the economy. They're not as bad as we think they are now.'
In the long term he may be right. The problem is, Obama is the one who's been sounding like a pessimist-in-chief. Maybe more caution and less call for Change might not be a bad thing from now on.

The Red Debt Menace

China's bill collectors come calling.
China's premier expressed concern Friday about its massive holdings of Treasuries and other U.S. debt, appealing to Washington to safeguard their value, and said Beijing is ready to expand its stimulus if the economy worsens.

Premier Wen Jiabao noted that Beijing is the biggest foreign creditor to the United States and called on Washington to see that its response to the global slowdown does not damage the value of Chinese holdings.

'We have made a huge amount of loans to the United States. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I'm a little bit worried,' Wen said at a news conference following the closing of China's annual legislative session. 'I would like to call on the United States to honor its words, stay a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets.'

Wen's comments foreshadowed possible appeals to President Barack Obama, who will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao at a London summit of leaders of the G-20 group of major economies on April 2 to discuss the global financial crisis.
Creating a culture of entitlement through bad loans from the government, not smart. Trying to do the same with Chinese communists, not so smart either.

Saterrite Of Rove

Well, I hope Mini-Me's happy.
Japan today threatened to shoot down a satellite that North Korea plans to launch early next month if it shows any signs of striking its territory.

Tokyo's warning that it would deploy its multibillion-dollar missile defence system raised tensions in the region after North Korea said that it had identified a potential 'danger area' near Japanese territory along the rocket's flight path.

The regime told the International Maritime Organisation that the missile would be launched during daylight between 4 and 8 April, and that its boosters would fall into the Sea of Japan – about 75 miles (120km) from Japan's north-west coast – and the Pacific Ocean.

Officials in Tokyo said they reserved the right to destroy any threatening object in mid-flight, despite North Korean warnings that it would consider such a move an act of war.

'Under our law, we can intercept any object if it is falling towards Japan, including any attacks on Japan, for our security,' Takeo Kawamura, the chief cabinet secretary, told reporters.
Isn't this what Godzilla is for?

National Health Lite

I'm afraid I have to agree with this:
If we get national healthcare, we will not get anything like the neat little systems proposed by academics who can assume away many of the political problems. I am aware that proponents would rejoinder, that yes, they know it won’t be perfect, but . . . But I’m not making the perfect the enemy of the good. A national healthcare system in the United States will not merely be something sadly less than ideal—it will be nothing like most of the internally coherent proposals. It will be something jury rigged out of Medicare, S-Chip and insurance mandates, ugly and very expensive.
We already have layers of bureaucracy when it comes to free-market health care. Imagine if we combined the government health care we already have with HMOs. No thanks.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Welcome To The Graybar Suite

It's definitely a step down:
His sprawling East Side duplex is just a memory, replaced by a 7-1/2-by-8-foot cell. After 45 years of waking up with wife Ruth, Madoff may share his room with another inmate.

Instead of a leisurely weekend brunch, the 70-year-old Madoff gets a 6 a.m. wake-up call with breakfast served 30 minutes later.

Rather than a tasteful custom-tailored gray suit, he'll don a baggy brown prison-issued outfit.

Lunch is at 11:30 a.m., and dinner at 5 p.m. Lights out is at 11 p.m. sharp. Depending on the location of his cell, Madoff might catch a glimpse of Manhattan's bright lights from its small single window.
Well, maybe the inmate will become his new wife...seriously, it couldn't have happened to a nicer creep.

"Why Are They So Mean To Us?"

Oh, this is rich:
Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., said the U.S. can rescue its banking system by the end of the year if officials start cooperating and stop the “vilification” of corporate America.

“If we act like a dysfunctional family and we don’t finish these things and we’re forever debating them, I think this will go on for several years,” Dimon, 52, said at a conference hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. “It’s completely up to us at this point.”

Congress called Dimon and seven other bank CEOs to Washington last month to face criticism for outsized pay packages and executive perks at a time when losses were rising and the U.S. was pumping billions of dollars into their companies. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd led an effort to put new restrictions on banks that receive government support.

“When I hear the constant vilification of corporate America, I personally don’t understand it,” Dimon said in his speech. “I would ask a lot of our folks in government to stop doing it because I think it’s hurting our country.”
As opposed to stealing from your investors and making risky bets while paying yourselves a ton of money, I suppose?