Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lessons From The New Deal

From the 1930's comes a reminder of why socialism simply doesn't work in real life:
[New Deal officials] constructed a town for 200 garment-worker families (selected from a pool of about 800 applicants). Each family paid $500 - about a year's rent in New York—to become a member of the cooperative.

Proponents included Albert Einstein; detractors included William Randolph Hearst's New York Evening Journal, which called the project 'Boondoggle Manor.'

Almost immediately, [resident] Ticktin says, 'the dream collided with reality.'

There were many problems, including opposition by the New York-based garment workers union and a recession in 1937.

Above all, photographer and local resident Edwin Rosskam observed in a 1972 memoir that the workers were inexperienced in managing a factory in such a cutthroat industry and more concerned about their own wages and working conditions than the factory's success.

Each worker thought he knew best, Rosskam wrote, and 'idealist cooperators were few. You didn't think people would strike against themselves. But they did.'

The farm was no better. Most of the factory workers were unwilling to till the soil for a lower wage, according to a 1942 federal study. Many weren't good at it. 'My father used to say that most of them didn't know which end of an onion to put in the ground,' says Shirley Marcus, 75.
Thirty years later, hippies would try the same thing with communes that also didn't work for many of the same reasons. These Utopian schemes aren't new, but for some reason people keep trying them anyway, with the same result.

Use Your Climate Change Illusion

E.D. Kline opines:
Carbon credits, like papal indulgences, don’t actually limit carbon emissions anymore than indulgences sped one’s soul to heaven. Perhaps in theory they do, but in reality the concessions to industry are always too great, the compromises entrenching industry status quo and crowding out innovators and alternative energy start-ups. But meaningless legislation does wonders to ease a guilty conscience – the conscience of a liberal, perhaps, who sneers that opponents of Waxman-Markey have a “contempt for hard science” that is “unforgivable.”

Perhaps doing nothing is not, in fact, the worst course of action, when doing something is little more than an expensive illusion.
But the illusion seems so much easier to sell, doesn't it?

Iraq, After

Tom Ricks is worried about what happens next:
All the basic issues that faced Iraq before the surge are still hanging out there: How to share oil revenue? What is the power relationship between Shia, Sunni and Kurd? Who holds power inside the Shiite community? What is the role of Iran, the biggest winner in this war so far? And will Iraq have a strong central government or be a loose confederation? And what happens when all the refugees outside the country and those displaced inside it, who I think are majority Sunni, try to go back to their old houses, now largely occupied by Shiites and protected by Shiite militias?
All of these are valid concerns. The important thing is, they can now be called Iraq's problems.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Nation Of Borrowers

When it comes to our debt, how bad is it? As a country, we're apparently in hock up to our collective eyebrows:
Foreigners now hold nearly 50 percent of the federal government's publicly held debt. If foreign investors significantly reduce their purchase of future U.S. Treasury debt securities, without even dumping their current holdings, U.S. interest rates could soar and the dollar could collapse, analysts fear.

At minus $3.47 trillion, America's net debtor status with foreigners represents nearly 25 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, the highest level in history.

'Three decades of massive [trade] deficits have converted the United States from the world's banker - able to 'pay any price and bear any burden in the cause of freedom' - to the world's largest debtor, utterly dependent on China and other foreign interests,' said Charles McMillion, chief economist of Washington-based MBG Information Services.
Is it too late to change this? Our economic fortunes are now entwined with those of China, so on the one hand they still need us-but for how much longer? What happens when we can't beg or borrow any more?

The Cristina Effect

I wonder if she'll try and stage a coup:
Hurt by a faltering economy and her own confrontational style, Mrs. Kirchner saw her faction of the governing Peronist party lose control of both houses of Congress. Meanwhile the Congressional slate headed by her husband and predecessor, Nestor, lost in Buenos Aires province, the most populous and economically important. Kirchner-backed legislative candidates even lost in Nestor's home state of Santa Cruz.

Analysts said the vote was a rejection both of the Kirchners' combative style and the populist policies, including price controls, high farm taxes and heavy intervention in the economy. 'Argentina has shifted towards the center,' says Carlos Germano, a Buenos Aires political consultant. 'Argentines voted for moderates who seek dialogue and build consensus.'
The article goes on to note that this is a largely symbolic victory for her opponents, but it should be a warning not just to other Latin American lefties but to Team Obama and the Democrats that the same thing could happen to them. When it plays its cards right, the center cannot only hold, it can thrive and prosper.

Memories Are Made Of This

Shades of Philip K. Dick:
Scientists have achieved a new milestone in brain imaging: we have seen a memory in the process of being formed. Using brain cells from a lowly sea slug, which actually makes a good model for our brains, images were captured of proteins forming between the neurons. These proteins distinguish the memory as a long-term one rather than short-term, as the proteins solidify the memory in the neurons. This process had been suspected but not visualized until now.

Kelsey Martin's team at the University of California focused their imaging on the synapse, the communication junction between two neuron cells. Scientists first coated certain proteins with a fluorescent dye that starts out green, but turns red when exposed to UV light. They blasted the neurons with UV light and shifted everything to red, just to prove the dye was there. Then they bathed the cells in serotonin, a chemical that can stimulate memory formation. They were then able to watch as new green fluorescent proteins were created as the memory was made.
This could have huge medical and legal implications. False and supressed memories could be revealed or discounted, for example. Of course we're not yet at the stage where they can actually be photographed, but it looks like we're getting there.

What Happened In Honduras

Perhaps Team Obama should take a closer look at who it is they're defending:
Mr. Zelaya declared the vote on his own and had Mr. Chávez ship him the necessary ballots from Venezuela. The Supreme Court ruled his referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do.

The top military commander, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, told the president that he would have to comply. Mr. Zelaya promptly fired him. The Supreme Court ordered him reinstated. Mr. Zelaya refused.

Calculating that some critical mass of Hondurans would take his side, the president decided he would run the referendum himself. So on Thursday he led a mob that broke into the military installation where the ballots from Venezuela were being stored and then had his supporters distribute them in defiance of the Supreme Court's order.
Is the military's behavior the best way to handle this? If history is any indication, probably not, but it's not quite the same as a generalissimo simply taking over and installing himself as el presidente.

They Can't Handle The Truth

Let's hear it for transparency!
A top Republican senator has ordered an investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency's alleged suppression of a report that questioned the science behind global warming.

The 98-page report, co-authored by EPA analyst Alan Carlin, pushed back on the prospect of regulating gases like carbon dioxide as a way to reduce global warming. Carlin's report argued that the information the EPA was using was out of date, and that even as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased, global temperatures have declined.

'He came out with the truth. They don't want the truth at the EPA,' Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, a global warming skeptic, told FOX News, saying he's ordered an investigation. 'We're going to expose it.'

The controversy comes after the House of Representatives passed a landmark bill to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, one that Inhofe said will be 'dead on arrival' in the Senate despite President Obama's energy adviser voicing confidence in the measure.
The Bush administration as rightfully criticized for distorting medical science in the name of supporting a fundamentalist agenda. The fact that Team Obama seems to be doing the same thing when it comes to the environment shouldn't excuse it, but with liberals it apparently is.

The Handover

The Iraqis are happy, Dick Cheney, not so much. Meanwhile, Marc Lynch points out:
American forces have been drawing down in line with the Status of Forces Agreement expectations for months now --- it's not like tomorrow all of the Americans will suddenly click the heels of their ruby slippers and vanish in a puff of smoke. Tomorrow's deadline is far more important symbolically than practically. And here, the Obama administration and General Odierno's team deserve a lot of credit for their careful, rigorous, and publicly affirmed adherence to the agreement.
Perhaps someone should remind Cheney that the agreement began under his old boss's watch. And the Awakening Councils had as much to do with the political turnaround that made this possible as anything Obama might have done. At any rate, Iraq is increasingly being turned back over to the Iraqis, and that's a good thing.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

He Was Against It Before He Was For It

And it looks like another campaign promise may soon fall by the wayside.
The White House left open the possibility Sunday that President Barack Obama might pay for his health care overhaul by taxing employer-provided health insurance even though he had campaigned on not raising taxes on middle-class families.

White House adviser David Axelrod said the administration wouldn't rule out taxing some employees' benefits to fund a health care agenda that has yet to take final form. The move would be a compromise with fellow Democrats, who are pushing the proposal as a way to pay for the massive undertaking without ballooning the federal deficit.

'There are a number of formulations and we'll wait and see. The important thing at this point is to keep the process moving, to keep people at the table, to the keep the discussions going,' Axelrod said. 'We've gotten a long way down the road and we want to finish that journey.'

But if Obama compromises on that point, it would reverse his promise not to raise taxes on those earning less than $250,000.

'I pledge that under my plan, no one making less than $250,000 a year will see any type of tax increase,' Obama told a crowd in Dover, N.H., last year. 'Not income tax, not capital gains taxes, not any kind of tax.'
Considering the administration's recent track record on pledges, I'm not holding my breath.

The Final Pitch

It's the end of an era in the infomercial world:
Billy Mays, the burly, bearded television pitchman whose boisterous hawking of products such as Orange Glo and OxiClean made him a pop-culture icon, has died. He was 50.

Tampa police said Mays' wife found him unresponsive Sunday morning. A fire rescue crew pronounced him dead at 7:45 a.m. It was not immediately clear how he died. He said he was hit on the head when an airplane he was on made a rough landing Saturday, and his wife, Deborah Mays, told investigators he didn't feel well before he went to bed about 10 p.m. that night.

There were no signs of a break-in at the home, and investigators do not suspect foul play, said Lt. Brian Dugan of the Tampa Police Department, who wouldn't answer questions about how Mays' body was found because of the ongoing investigation. The coroner's office expects to have an autopsy done by Monday afternoon.

'Although Billy lived a public life, we don't anticipate making any public statements over the next couple of days,' Deborah Mays said in a statement Sunday. 'Our family asks that you respect our privacy during these difficult times.'
This guy was just on The Tonight Show recently. His was the kind of delivery that was either annoying or exciting, depending on your POV. R.I.P.

Information, Please

In noting how little substance there seems to be at the official White House website, Jim Harper may have coined a new word:
Information is harder to find on the Obama Web site than it was on the site created and run by the Bush administration, according to Web site experts.

“It doesn’t seem to be quite in line with the notion of the pillars of government 2.0 being openness and transparency. It seems just the opposite,” said Mark Drapeau, a columnist for Federal Computer Week who writes frequently on the ways that new technologies can be used by the government…

“It’s lots of PR and not a lot of data,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, who called the site “brochureware.”
Well, if you have to advertise, do it well, I suppose.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

If You Print It, They Will Come

Welcome to the age of printable buildings:
The thin layers of the structure are held together by an inorganic binder, not the normal steel reinforcements that most buildings have. This allows for strength and design freedom not available before. The structure was designed using CAD/CAM software and then exported directly to the printer. Once printed, it only takes about 24 hours for the material to fully set. The process is also pretty environmentally sound, and if any of the building material remains unused, it can be recycled.

So far only a 3-by-3-by-3 meter model has been made of the Radiolaria Pavilion, but that's enough to prove the process works. Considering the ease of moving from design programs to finished building, this could transform building construction. Without the need for rigid steel reinforcement, it could also usher in an era of more free-flowing and organic architectural design. Soon we might be living in printed sandstone buildings that rival those on Tattooine.
Not too shabby. Now, if they could come with one of those aircars like the one Luke Skywalker had...

Kaus for Celebration

Has it really been ten years? Congrats, then, and to the other bloggers (Sullivan, who explained why he blogs here, Glenn Reynolds, etc) who have been able to stay in the game for so long.

Fox On The Run

Maybe this is why Obama has a problem with them:
THE 'fair and balanced' network is heading for its best year of ratings ever, averaging 2.1m viewers while CNN plunges to 805,000 and MSNBC rises to 787,000. James Hibberd of the Hollywood Reporter theorises that 'a dominant political party... can fuel the popularity of opposing voices', and Fox is going through the boom that Rush Limbaugh experienced during the Clinton years and Jon Stewart experienced during eight years of George W. Bush.
I don't know that it's just Fox that will benefit from being critical of Obama. When even Bill Maher is criticizing Obama (albeit from a liberal POV), it seems that opposition can make for some strange bedfellows.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Apocalypse Not Yet

Wired has a good article on how the Swine Flu apocalypse isn't living up to the hype:
H1N1 had an RØ of about 1.3, high enough to spread the virus but low enough that a strong isolation program could break its back. Its case fatality rate was a wussy 1.9 percent in Mexico and 0.1 percent worldwide. By comparison, the 1918 Spanish flu had an RØ of 2.7 and a case fatality rate of up to 5 percent, making it far more deadly. A real apocalypse, like the killer flu in The Stand — Stephen King's opus of epidemiologic eschatology — would be off the chart, with an RØ of 5 to 6 and a case fatality rate of 99 percent.
Ther'es more information at the link, along with charts and maps. So apparently there's no fear of Captain Trips, at least for now.

Does Everything, Solves Nothing

Arnold Kling points to four areas as examples of how Obama seems to want to do less with too much:
1) The stimulus failed to meet Larry Summers’ famous criteria of timely, targeted, or temporary.

2) The cap and trade legislation maximizes rent-seeking (favoritism toward particular businesses) and minimizes carbon reduction.

3) The proposed financial reforms are mostly cosmetic and fail to address the key issues of housing policy and regulatory capital arbitrage.

4) In championing health care reform, the President stresses the unsustainability of our current system, while insisting that nothing will change (you can keep your insurance, keep your doctor, etc.).

The pattern that I see is one of following the path of least political resistance, even if it means failing to make any significant contribution to solving the actual public policy problem.
In other words, Obama seems to want to let the problems take care of themselves while giving them lip service. Didn't we have that in the last administration?

The Return Of The Birchers

Is the John Birch Society making a comeback?:
For some, that name means nothing. Or it sparks flashbacks to the 1960s, when the John Birch Society was synonymous with seeing red here, there and everywhere.
....

Yet for others, the John Birch Society is urgently relevant to the matters of today, in its support of secure borders and limited government, its distrust of the Federal Reserve and the United Nations, and its belief in a conspiracy to merge Mexico, Canada and the United States.

This so-called North American Union, it asserts, is part of a larger plot by an amorphous, amoral group of powerful elite — including but not limited to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Rockefellers — to take over planet Earth. Call it the New World Order.

Some of these theories may sound like cable television chatter, or the synopsis of a Dan Brown bestseller. But Birch leaders say this plot is real, with roots going back more than 200 years to a secret, insidious brotherhood called the Illuminati, and with most American presidents among its many dupes and abettors.

“We’ve always referred to it as a Satanic conspiracy,” said Arthur Thompson, the society’s chief executive, sitting beside an American flag.

The society, which was established in 1958, says its membership has doubled in recent years, thanks to rising interest in these beliefs and, lately, to the policies of the Obama administration. But it will not provide firm numbers, other than to say it has tens of thousands of members.

“We don’t want to let our enemies know our strengths or our weaknesses,” Mr. Thompson explained.
I suppose that includes the three or four people in Mr. Thompson's basement...

You might call the Birchers the original paleocons, but I have the feeling they'd have felt right at home on the Internets.

Cap'n'Cost

So how much will cap and trade cost? Nate Silver takes a look:
There is a fair amount of state-to-state variance, although it is exaggerated somewhat by the presence of a couple of outliers: Florida and D.C. on the one side and Wyoming and Alaska, which I think are being punished for the use of personal jet travel, on the other. The key question for the bill's passage might be whether Democrats can pick up some Republican votes in large, coastal states like Florida, California, New York, and North Carolina, each of which appears to be associated with below-average costs to end-users. Conversely, most of the places with the highest direct costs are places where the Democrats weren't likely to pick up many votes anyway, although this does suggest that votes like Mark Begich's in Alaska and Mary Landireu's in Louisiana will be tough ones if this gets to the Senate.
So, are Democratic states more equal than others? Meanwhile, Matt Steinglass says critics should just shut up and take their medicine:
The hour of geeky wonkitude is past. Now we are where we are. This is the bill we have. The question is whether it will go through or not. That’s the only question. If the bill fails, it will mean victory has gone to those forces who are quite literally working to destroy Planet Earth. That is all that is happening here. There is no room here for skeptics and doubters and cavillers and doomsday-morning quarterbacks.
Well, pardon me if I'm more on the side of those who are "Destroying the Earth" here. Speaking of which, Jim Boehner wants a filibuster. It probably wouldn't work, although considering that the Dems apparently don't want the Republicans invited to their Greening of America party, I'm not surprised.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Dark Side Of The Man In The Mirror

Much will be said about Michael Jackson's legacy over the coming days, but Andrew Sullivan sums up what ultimately destroyed him:
Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.

I loved his music. His young voice was almost a miracle, his poise in retrospect eery, his joy, tempered by pain, often unbearably uplifting. He made the greatest music video of all time; and he made some of the greatest records of all time. He was everything our culture worships; and yet he was obviously desperately unhappy, tortured, afraid and alone.

I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours' and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out.
Michael Jackson seemed to represent the two-sided face of fame better than few other performers in our era. Elvis was one; so was Marilyn Monroe. Like them, Jackson reached a level of fame through a culture that has a habit of building up its icons and then tearing them down. His music will endure for a thousand years. Hopefully, the cynicism of the mass pop culture that he was a part of won't.

The King Is Dead? UPDATE: Michael Jackson Dead At 50

Drudge has a siren and headline on this developing story, which at this point seems to be that Michael Jackson is in a coma and may be dead or dying. If so, that makes him number three, and a huge one at that.

Update: It now looks official:
Pop giant Michael Jackson, who took to the stage as a child star and went on to set the world dancing to the thumping rhythms of his music for decades, died Thursday, TMZ website reported. He was 50.

"We've just learned Michael Jackson has died," TMZ said.

"Michael suffered a cardiac arrest earlier this afternoon and paramedics were unable to revive him. We're told when paramedics arrived Jackson had no pulse and they never got a pulse back," the entertainment site said.


Regardless of what you might think of him now, here he is in better days. R.I.P.

The Veto Starts Here

You hve to admit, it's more than President Bush ever did:
The U.S. House of Representatives was poised to approve on Thursday a $550.4 billion defense authorization bill for fiscal 2010 that has drawn a veto threat from President Barack Obama because it contains money for fighter jets he does not want.

The bill also authorizes $130 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the fiscal year that begins October 1.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said it supported the overall bill but the president's senior advisers would recommend a veto unless some provisions were dropped.
One congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the White House veto threat as 'a bargaining tool.'

The Senate Armed Services Committee was to unveil its defense authorization bill for 2010 later on Thursday, but the legislation was unlikely to be approved by the full Senate until September. House and Senate negotiators must then hammer out a compromise version before final passage.
Some defense contractors (and the politicians who provide them with their pork) might not be happy, but Obama deserves some credit for paying attention to stuff like this.

The Scarlet Sign

Apparently deciding that it hasn't gone far enough in being the health police, the city of New York has decided to shame cigarette sellers out of business.
The New York City health department is moving forward with a plan that would require about 12,000 cigarette retailers to post large anti-smoking signs.

It's billed as the first such regulation in the United States.

The eye-level signs would have information about the harmful effects of smoking, possibly with an image.

The assistant commissioner for tobacco control, Sarah B. Perl, says it can be effective to display gruesome health effects such as amputations and throat cancer.

The city's Board of Health is now seeking public comment. At the earliest, it would vote in September.

If the proposal is passed, the department says it's poised to fend off lawsuits.
I'll be they are. Meanwhile, the nannystating will continue on schedule.

The Health Care Bomb

Apparently I wasn't the only one who didn't watch it:
President Obama's town hall meeting on health care delivered a sickly rating Wednesday evening.

The one-hour ABC News special 'Primetime: Questions for the President: Prescription for America' (4.7 million viewers, 1.1 preliminary adults 18-49 rating) had the fewest viewers in the 10 p.m. hour (against NBC's 'The Philanthropist' debut and a repeat of 'CSI: NY' on CBS). The special tied some 8 p.m. comedy repeats as the lowest-rated program on a major broadcast network.
Questions about Obamacare aside, this doesn't look good for the man who's supposed to be such a gifted speaker (or maybe that's only when he's campaigning). But if you consider it an actual informercial, then it was probably on par with the rest of them.

Match Game

It looks like retirement may soon be a luxury most companies can't afford to give their employees:
About a quarter of companies have either suspended their 401(k) plan match or are considering doing so because of the economic downturn, according to a recent survey by CFO Research Services and Charles Schwab. The list of companies that have suspended matches includes Hewlett-Packard, Sears Holdings, Starbucks and Eastman Kodak.

However, a recent survey by Watson Wyatt found that nearly half of large companies that have reduced or suspended their 401(k) match plan to reinstate it within 12 months. Only 5% of companies said they don’t plan to reinstate the match.

But some companies are considering changing the amount of the match, or the way it’s calculated, employee benefits analysts say.
With an older population and a graying work force already in play, getting older seems to be an increasingly expensive proposition.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Heads Or Tails

In his response to Jeffrey Rosen's critique of Sonia Sotomayor, Jacob Sullum concludes:
Sotomayor is not only a mixed bag from a libertarian point of view; according to Rosen, she is all over the map methodologically. After six years as a trial judge and 11 years on the 2nd Circuit, Rosen writes, 'Sotomayor still hasn't settled on a consistent judicial philosophy....She samples from different judicial philosophies in different cases. Sometimes Sotomayor sounds like a textualist in the Scalia style, and sometimes she sounds as enthusiastic as Justices Ginsburg and Breyer in her devotion to international law and the living constitution.' This inconsistency is not exactly encouraging, but even if Sotomayor chooses sides by flipping a coin she might still turn out better (or at least no worse) than David Souter, and Obama easily could have chosen someone more consistently bad.
This is one area where Obama's vaunted pragmatism seems to have come through. I only wish he showed more of it on the economy and health care, as well.

Twittering The Great Firewall

What hath Twitter wrought? First Iran, now China?
The People’s Republic of China has apparently barred its citizens from visiting a host of Google properties, including the main search engine, Google Apps, Google Reader and Gmail. A search on Twitter reveals that many Chinese are complaining, particularly about not being able to use the search engine, although it appears Google.cn can still be reached at this point.
It makes me wonder what might have happened had twitter been available in 1765, when the Stamp Act was passed and the first real stirrings of American independence began. Would the American Revolution have happened ten years early?

Southbound And Gone

The left has succeeded in driving those evil capitalists out of California. So, where have they gone? To a part of the country that's actually succeeding in creating new jobs:
If you wonder how 'soak the rich' liberalism will play out with the New Left regime in D.C., just look at California. As Ronald Reagan said, 'People vote with their feet.' The reason Texas, Tennessee and Florida (all zero-income-tax-states) grow is because entrepreneurs flee high-tax states, and bring their businesses and jobs with them. I joke that my home state, Tennessee, is called 'The Volunteer State' because they can't make you live there. Yet few leave.
The South gets a lot of knocks, some of it deserved, but one thing it can do is rebuild and reinvent itself. And it doesn't need to "Redistribute income" to do it.

Durability Endures

Finally, some good economic news:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An unexpected jump in U.S. durable goods orders last month backed hopes the economy was healing, a prospect cautiously supported by the Federal Reserve on Wednesday.

The Federal Reserve said the economy was now contracting at a more moderate pace, as it left interest rates at the current range of zero to 0.25 percent, as expected, at the close of its two-day policy meeting.

News from the hard-hit housing market remained mixed, however, underlining the challenges to an economic recovery.

The Commerce Department reported that new orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods rose by 1.8 percent in May, surprising analysts who had expected a decline.

Manufacturing accounts for about one-third of the economy, and provides a good barometer for overall business health.

"The data is another positive sign for the U.S. economy," said Brian Kim, a currency strategist at UBS in Stamford, Connecticut.
Does this mean that spending is making a comeback? If so, will the Democratic hopes for more economic intervention be rendered unecessary? One can only hope.

The Neocon Within

Reihan Salam says Obama should pick up where Bush left off:
Rather than reassure the Iranians with a wink and a nod that we’re ready to do business, President Obama should be building an international coalition to isolate a recalcitrant Iran as thoroughly as the the West once isolated apartheid-era South Africa. Bush, to the chagrin of the neocons, could never pull this off. But Obama can.
But the question is, should he? Once again, the neocons seem to be looking at Iran through their own prism of how things should be, when it's not about us.

The Girl From Argentina

Well, I guess this explains a few things:
South Carolina GOP Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday to an affair, and resigned his position as chair of the Republican Governor's Association following a strange week in which the governor dropped off the grid and could not be located.

Later in the day, Sanford's wife Jenny released a statement saying the couple had begun a trial separation two weeks ago.

“I have been unfaithful to my wife. I developed a relationship with what started out as a dear, dear friend from Argentina,” Mark Sanford said in a rambling and often emotional news conference at the state capital in Columbia.

“I’m a bottom line kind of guy I’m just gonna lay it out. It’s gonna hurt and I’m going to let the chips fall where they may,” said Sanford, often touted as a potential 2012 presidential hopeful.
I think it's safe to say those chances have now pretty much disappeared. First John Ensign and now this. It has not been a good month for would-be Obama challengers.

The Health Ration Board

From Slate, a look at where we might be headed:
The concern isn't who writes the checks or who writes the bills. The real question is who makes the tough decisions about the limits of the checks and bills—in other words, who ultimately rations the money. Not everybody can have everything, and the sooner we admit that, the sooner our health care debate will get realistic.

In the haphazard Massachusetts plan, rationing fell to individuals, who then skimped on important prescriptions and routine visits. Gawande would leave rationing to properly incentivized doctors, but we have no data about whether this can be done widely. Others advocate for bodies like the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (an impartial medical Federal Reserve Board), which can make the hard calls to promote and limit certain kinds of medical care. Britain, for example, has a national institute that makes precisely these decisions, like limiting drug-eluting stents for coronary artery disease and certain pricey drugs for kidney cancer. And health insurance executives here are again talking about 'capitation,' or fixed global budgets in which a group of health providers gets fixed monthly fees to handle all of a person's health needs.

In the meantime, one thing is sure: Without a smart plan to ration our resources well—that is, stick to a budget—and improve health, simply mandating that employers and individuals buy health insurance will only worsen the mess.
Unfotunately, making things worse tends to be one of the few things government is good at. But I'm sure Obama will appoint a "Ration Czar" to deal with the problem like he has everything else.

Looking For Mr. Sanford

So just where the heck was he?
On Tuesday, sources told News 4's Nigel Robertson that a state vehicle is missing and was tracked down, not to the Appalachian Trail, but to the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. Sources told Robertson that a federal agent spotted Sanford in the airport boarding a plane. Robertson was told that the governor was not accompanied by security detail.
This story seems to be getting odder and odder. I initially bought Sanford's claim that he just needed to clear his head, but now I just don't know.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Skepticism We Can Believe In

Maybe this is why he's been having trouble selling Obamacare on Capitol Hill:
Just a few months after congressional passage of the administration's whopping $787-billion economic stimulus plan, a new national poll shows Americans' confidence in its efficacy fading, especially in the Midwest, where Biden is heading.

Just about half (52%) believe the much-touted stimulus plan will or has had any impact restoring the economy, down from 59% in April. The Washington Post-ABC Poll found Obama's personal popularity remains high, in part because his Republican opposition remains in such disarray unable to offer a coherent political alternative.

The poll found:

The shift in public assessments of the stimulus package has clear political ramifications: At the 100-day mark of Obama's presidency, 63 percent of people in states that were decided by fewer than 10 percentage points in November said the stimulus act had or would boost the economy.

Today, in the telephone poll of 1,001 Americans conducted Thursday through Sunday, the number has plummeted to 50 percent in those closely contested states, with nearly as many now saying the stimulus program will not help the national economy.


The new poll confirms other surveys showing the president's popularity dipping slightly, his disapproval rating jumping about 5% and particular unhappiness focused on his handling of the automobile manufacturing crisis and the federal deficit.
Given half a chance, the average American will usually display more common sense than most politicians. Of course, that may be because most of them live in the real world, where they have to deal with the financial fallout of government actions.

Big Czar Is Watching You

Well, this is discouraging:
Citing White House sources, Time magazine on Friday identified the the former head of the Government Reform Committee as the president’s number one candidate for the new position. Davis’ reputation as a tech-smart moderate who knows his way around D.C. makes him an attractive pick for the administration, the magazine reported.

But an examination of Davis’ record in Congress shows that he’s been on the wrong side of key privacy issues, including the controversial REAL ID Act, which aims to turn state driver’s licenses into a de facto national identification card linked by shared databases and strict federal authentication standards.

“Given his role in REAL ID, Tom Davis would not be a good choice for privacy, which is something that President Obama specifically promised to protect in his remarks on the cyber security strategy,” says Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Many cyber security planners refer obliquely to ‘authentication’ and ‘identity management’ programs that would devastate privacy, anonymity and civil liberties. Davis would probably work to roll past these issues rather than solve them.”
Maybe we need a Privacy Czar to counteract the impact of the Orwellian Czar. Or would that be just one Czar too many?

City High

According to this interview, L.A. has apparently become the pot capitol of Southern California (which is saying something).
JEFF TYLER: In some Los Angeles neighborhoods, there are more medical marijuana dispensaries than there are Starbucks or McDonald's. Most sell more varieties of weed than Baskin-Robbins has ice cream flavors. City councilman Dennis Zine says calling it a boom is an understatement.

DENNIS ZINE: It's bigger than a boom. It's a major explosion with these facilities opening up, and they're opening up every single day in the city of Los Angeles.
At last count, there were 600 medical pot clinics in Los Angeles. That's right — 600.
....

Zine says the city council is working on new regulations to crack down on these free-wheeling pot pharmacies. Many will be closed.

Zine: Oakland, for example, has four medicinal marijuana facilities. That's easy to regulate and control. When you have 600, you can't regulate and control. We will bring this down to a reasonable number.

While the city tries to curb the growth of pot clinics, the marijuana economy in California seemingly can't be stopped.
To be quite honest, if I were one of those still trapped in California, I'd probably want to get high, too. Now, I can be as libertarian as the next person when it comes to this stuff. But the clinics were supposed to be for people with, you know, real medical needs. An excuse to get legally stoned doesn't seem to be one of them.

Dead Politicians' Party

What happens to a party on a long losing streak? They join the ranks of the undead:
Zombie parties are a recurrent feature of electoral democracies. Unable to articulate any coherent or workable governing philosophy, they mindlessly jab at cultural hot buttons, mechanically repeat hardwired tropes ('cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes'), nurse tribal resentments, ostracize independent thinkers. Above all, they feel positively proud of their doggedness. You can’t talk them out of it. Think of the Republicans in the FDR years, the Democrats in the Reagan years, the British Labour Party in the Thatcher period, and the British Conservative Party in the Blair period. Think of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party for most of the past half-century, or France’s Socialists today. To get a new brain, zombie parties usually need to spend years out of power or wait until a new generation rises to leadership.
Or they can just eat their followers and turn them into zombies, too...

A party that spends years in the wilderness typically faces two choices-they can evolve and adapt to their new environment until they're ready to return to the food chain, or they can face extinction. Or, like birds, they can evolve from their ancestors into something more attractive, and useful to their environment.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sotomayor Still A Go?

Apparently the anti-Sotomayor train isn't running anymore:
Nearly a month after President Barack Obama picked her for the Supreme Court, Republican senators say Sonia Sotomayor isn’t serving as the political lightning rod some in their party had hoped she would be.

“She doesn’t have the punch out there in terms of fundraising and recruiting, I think — at least so far,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who most likely will be elected as the No. 4 Republican in Senate leadership this week.

The calculus could certainly change when Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings begin July 13. But the Republican senators’ initial review of Sotomayor’s record, together with the meetings they’ve had with her, have left them doubting that she’ll be controversial enough to help them or hurt the Democrats heading into the 2010 elections.
It does appear that her own record is actually closer to where the current Court is on some issues than some liberals and libertarians would like. Are the Republicans finally facing reality? Or do they need Limbaugh's permission first?

When Rappers Attack

So Perez Hilton apparently got beat up for calling 'em as he sees 'em:
Hilton, who is openly gay, said in interview with The Associated Press that he called will.i.am a 'faggot,' a gay slur, inside the club after the musician told the blogger not to write about his band on his Web site.

'He was like 'You need to respect me.' He was in my face. He was obviously trying to intimidate me and scare me,' Hilton said. 'I was like 'I don't need to respect you. I don't respect you and I did say this, and I knew that it would be the worst thing I could possibly say to him because he was acting the way he was. I said 'You know what, I don't respect you and you're gay and stop being such a faggot.'"
Fisticuffs aside, I have to wonder about this, given the amount of homophobia there is in rap music (more about that here). At any rate, rappers do seem to have thin skins when it comes to questioning their manhood.

One Of Our Governors Is Missing

You can all relax-he's just fine.
South Carolina GOP Gov. Mark Sanford is safe and secure, his office said Monday afternoon, moving to tamp down speculation that he had gone missing.

Sanford has not been in touch with his office since Thursday and left Columbia without his state police detail.

His communications director, Joel Sawyer, wouldn’t disclose Sanford’s location but said that before the governor left town last week “he let staff know his whereabouts and that he'd be difficult to reach.”

“Should any emergencies arise between the times in which he checks in, our staff would obviously be in contact with other state officials as the situation warrants before making any decisions,” said Sawyer.

Sanford’s wife, Jenny, told The Associated Press Monday that she was unconcerned and that the second-term governor is “writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids.”

Sawyer added: “The governor put in a lot of time during this last legislative session, and after the session winds down it's not uncommon for him to go out of pocket for a few days at a time to clear his head. Obviously, that's going to be somewhat out of the question this time given the attention this particular absence has gotten.”
But it does raise an interesting question of just how much privacy a public official has these days. Is it saying something that taking a little time off can now be cause for concern? Or is it just that the media in South Carolina might just have a little too much free time on its hands?

Too Big To Borrow

Robert Samuelson has some dire warnings on the future of our health care under Obamacare:
The system has promised more than it can realistically deliver. We are borrowing not to finance investment in the future but to pay for today’s welfare — present consumption. Sooner or later, the huge debt will weaken the economy. Nor would paying for all promised benefits with higher taxes be desirable. Big increases in either debt or taxes risk depressing economic growth, making it harder yet to pay promised benefits.

The U.S. welfare state is weakening; insecurity is rising. The sensible thing would be to decide which forms of public welfare are needed to protect the vulnerable and to begin paring others. Our inaction poses another dreary parallel with GM. It was obvious a quarter-century ago that GM the auto company could not support GM the welfare state. But the union wouldn’t surrender benefits, and the company acquiesced. Inertia prevailed, and the reckoning came.

The same cycle, repeated on a national scale with sums many multiples higher, would be correspondingly more fearsome.
It's this tendency to borrow as if there was no tomorrow, which the Bush administration also did, that has brought us to this state of affairs. Ultimately, as California has shown, such a system will be unsustainable. Right now, health care seems "Too big to fail." The scary part is, eventually it might not be.

Promises Not To Keep

You can call him the Great Promiser, if nothing else:
Of the six campaign promises PolitiFact says Obama has unquestionably broken, five would have limited his own power, provided tax breaks, or provided more accountability and transparency to the federal government. One was mostly symbolic (recognizing the Armenian genocide). So far, he hasn't broken a single promise that would grow or expand the government, though he has compromised on a few, and many have been stalled.

PolitiFact also gives Obama more credit than he deserves on some promises. For example, Obama's promise that 'Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes,' was broken when he signed a bill raising taxes on cigarettes to pay for an expansion of the SCHIP program. PolitiFact calls this a 'compromise.' But 'not any of your taxes' seems pretty clear. Obama didn't say, 'not any of your taxes, so long as you don't smoke' or 'so long as you don't have habits the government finds distasteful.'

In short, I think it's safe to say that Obama has been willing to spend plenty of political capital on his promises that vastly expand the size and scope of the federal government, and relatively little on promises related to eliminating waste, putting limits on his own power, or making the government more transparent and accountable.
But maybe he'll eventually "Compromise" on those, too. After all, he wouldn't want people to think he was actually lying, would he?

California, Here We Don't Come

How bad are things in the Golden State? Even illegals don't want to work there these days.
Since 2006, illegal immigration to the United States seems to be leveling off, after a huge spike in the 1990s and early '00s. These days, we're holding steady at a crop-pickin', lawn-mowin', dish-washin' 11.9 million.

The immigrants who do come, according to today's Pew Daily Number, have been shifting to states other than the traditional California option. Since the state is in a spending binge, population bleed, and general downward spiral, you have to give the illegals credit for being forward looking.
Like everybody else, they know where the jobs are. Maybe they won't need that fence after all...

The War On Cereal

You cannot make this stuff up:
The FDA sent a warning to Cheerios maker General Mills Inc. that it is in serious violation of federal rules.

'Based on claims made on your product's label, we have determined that your Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease' the FDA letter said. '[Cheerios] may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application.'
So what about whole grain cereals or Healthy Choice dinners? Is all food whcih claims to be healthy-even if those claims are generally true-now to be considered in the same vein as crack? Which is apparently what these bureaucrats have been smoking?

The Obama Effect

Over at Politico, Carl Owen gives Obama credit for what's been happening in the Muslim world:
Since Barack Obama has taken the presidential oath of office we have witnessed: a) Hezbollah lose a shoo-in election in Lebanon, b) Pakistan begin serious efforts to control the Taliban and al Qaeda elements inside its borders, c) Netanyahu of Israel mumble support about a two state solution and rethink settlements and, d) A major awakening of the Iranian citizenry against the heavy-handedness of the mullahs. What hasn't changed? The simple-minded thuggery of the Right when it comes to foreign policy (and Grover Norquist, someone should gently remind him that it's 2009, not 1989). They have long preferred a modified Teddy Roosevelt approach. Speak loudly and wail away with the biggest stick you can find. I don't know if all this is the results of one speech in Cairo by the President but if it is I hope he gives a second, and soon.
I think this is sort of simplistic, just as blaming Bush was for the Left, but there is a segment of the Right that seems bent on not allowing the Islamic world to change on its own. And there is something to be said for a less confrontational attitude towards that part of the world. Not all of this is Obama's doing, of course. But to deny that he's had any effect at all is the mark of a movement that has no ideas of its own when it comes to foreign policy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

That's The Chicago Way

Team Obama apparently learned it from the worst:
The use of political muscle may be prohibited in the mythic transcendental fairyland where much of the Obama spin originates, sprouting green and lush, like the never-ending fields of primo Hopium.

But our president is from Chicago. Obama’s Media Merlin David Axelrod and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel come right from Chicago Democratic machine boss Mayor Richard Daley. They don’t believe in fairies.

Daley can’t wait to be rid of his own inspector general, David Hoffman, who had the audacity to question why Daley’s nephew received $68 million in city pension funds to invest. The mayor insists he didn’t know anything about it. Nobody with a functioning brain believes the mayor.
Well, a little nepotism and despotism can go a long way in politics. Just ask the Bushes or the Clintons...

Some Forms Of Speech Are More Equal Than Others

The Calgary Herald goes after those Canadian "Human Rights" Commissions:
In these despotic forums, the vehicle of choice for those who wish to silence those whose opinions they don’t like, what is conventionally called a human rights complaint is less accusation, than old-style Soviet denunciation. Not surprisingly, with no right to plead truth or fair comment, and with no obligation upon the prosecution to prove intent or follow rules of evidence–circumstantial evidence and hearsay is accepted in human-rights cases — defendants hardly ever emerge victorious from these proceedings.
But remember, it's all in the name of "Diversity."

Change He Doesn't Believe In?

First it was gay rights, now it's health care. Here's what Obama told the AMA just last week:
"No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people," Obama said Monday, addressing the American Medical Association. "If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what."

He didn't let up.

"If you like what you're getting, keep it," Obama said. "Nobody is forcing you to shift."
Now, here's what his own people are saying this week:
White House officials suggest the president's rhetoric shouldn't be taken literally: What Obama really means is that government isn't about to barge in and force people to change insurance.

That very issue became a huge political problem for former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. His proposal would have required many employees to change how they got insurance, by joining new purchasing co-ops. Opponents branded it a big-government power grab.

The last thing Obama wants is a groundswell of opposition, driven by Americans' fears of being forced to change their insurance or losing it.

"The president is committed to enacting reform that will lower costs, protect choice of doctors and plans, and assure quality and affordable health care for all Americans," said Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for the White House health reform office. "He has made it clear that we would not support a reform plan that would require people to leave their current insurance plans."
If Obama "Really means" something other than what he said, why can't he just come out and say what he originally meant? Instead of Change, how about some consistency we could believe in?

The Buck Used To Stop Here

From their website, the Cato Institute offers some old but true advice:
The Cato Institute argues that well-crafted budget cuts would be positive from many perspectives. They would enlarge personal freedom and responsibility, they would allow the economy to expand more rapidly, and they would leave a positive fiscal legacy to the next generation.
Check out the links provided. They may prove useful some day.

Sachs Of Gold

Well, this should surprise no one:
Staff at Goldman Sachs staff can look forward to the biggest bonus payouts in the firm’s 140-year history after a spectacular first half of the year, sparking concern that the big investment banks which survived the credit crunch will derail financial regulation reforms.

A lack of competition and a surge in revenues from trading foreign currency, bonds and fixed-income products has sent profits at Goldman Sachs soaring, according to insiders at the firm.
Who says a depression can't be profitable?

The Decline And Fall Of Neoconservatism

When it comes to the "We are all Iranians now" crowd, Steven Benen notes how they're marginalizing themselves on Iran:
We’re not dealing with a dynamic that pits the left vs. the right, or Dems against Republicans. Rather, this is a situation featuring neocons vs. everyone else.

You’ll notice that President Obama’s strategy has not only been endorsed by Democratic lawmakers, but also prominent Republicans who are in office (Dick Lugar), served in Republican administrations (Henry Kissinger, Gary Sick, and Nick Burns), or are prominent Republican voices in the media (George Will, Peggy Noonan, and Pat Buchanan).
In other words, this is the moment when sane conservatives and Republicans are finding their voice. While Obama has been wisely sepping back (IMO), the neocon holdovers from the days of "Spreading democracy" are finding themselves increasingly sidelined as historical events take place without them. And they can't figure out why.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Risk On, Risk Off

From Forbes, how we became a society too afraid of risk to even allow it.
Unfortunately, our federal and local governments think it's their job not to help us manage risk but to get rid of it for us. Their nanny-state strategies have gone too far. Consider the New Jersey Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling's proposal to ban Brazilian waxing after just two cases where women who underwent the procedure suffered infections because of unsanitary practices. The proposal was thwarted only after women (and men?) cried out against what they saw as the product of state overreaction.

In a similar vein, the Wall Street Journal reported that 14 states have outlawed the unusual practice of fish pedicures, in which you dip your feet in a specially designed tank so that tiny fish can munch the dead skin off of them. Even if such a practice constitutes a health risk (which I doubt), it is trivial enough to leave under the personal purview of individuals.

The fact of the matter is that you can never escape risk. For example, all medications carry risks--even trusted, over-the-counter drugs like aspirin. But if items like aspirin, penicillin or many other everyday drugs were submitted for FDA approval today, the FDA--under its current risk-averse criteria--would likely reject the medicine for being too dangerous. It happens with potentially lifesaving drugs all the time, making the pharmaceutical industry less willing and less able to develop innovative drugs that could benefit countless consumers. In this way, hyper-vigilance in minimizing risk can even endanger those who are being 'protected.'
Ultimately, such protection in the name of keeping us safe from ourselves is no protection at all. At some point in life, you have to take the training wheels off, learn how to walk on your own, and so forth. In its desire to be our superparent, however, Nanny Government won't even allow that much these days.

Speaking In Rhetorical Tongues

In a post about health care reform and the rhetoric used to support it, Tim Cavanaugh recalls why it failed in California as a warning to the rest of us:
Back when I was merely middle-aged and the Golden State was considering a mandated-insurance statewide health care reform proposal, I had fun trying to get Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to use the word 'coercion' in describing how he was going to get hundreds of thousands of Californians who didn't want to buy insurance to buy insurance. His response -- that he was seeking to change the 'mentality of people' in order to make Californians more closely resemble the Austrians he once bragged about fleeing -- was instructive. Schwarzenegger's health care overhaul failed specifically because its breezy assumptions couldn't survive the light of day. And that was in the land of the nuts and the fruits. Imagine how much bogus language remains to be unpacked as the realities of multi-trillion-dollar state-run programs and death's inescapable victory reveal themselves through the summer.
If there's one thing politicians and bureaucrats love, it's the use of language to make something much more complicated-and expensive-than it has to be.

When In Doubt, Spin

First, they were in denial mode over the scope of what's happening in Iran. Then they were in hoping for epic fail mode. Now that the protests have gained some real steam, the neocons are going in for revisionist history.
Veteran spinmeister Ari Fleischer, a former Bush White House spokesman, appears to have been the first out the box, at 11:55 a.m., with an interesting analysis. No one yet knew the final outcome, he wrote in an e-mail to our colleague Glenn Kessler, but 'one of the reasons there is a substantial reform movement in Iran -- particularly among its young people -- is because of George W. Bush's tough policies.' He noted that Bush's policies in Lebanon also helped in the recent elections there.

'A big push for reform is because of the desire of Iranians to get out from sanctions, to put an end to the country's international ostracism,' Fleischer wrote and, most interestingly, 'because Shiites in particular see Shiites in Iraq having more freedoms than they do. Bush's tough policies have helped give rise to the reformists and I think we're witnessing that today.'

Plus there was all this 'outreach to the people of Iran,' he wrote, at the State Department, with those 'people-to-people exchange programs' involving artists and doctors and film folks and so forth. We especially recall the 14 artists then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met two years ago. All in all, they doubtless reached more people than Obama did with his Cairo speech on June 4."

So "I think it's fair to say the George Bush's Freedom Agenda planted seeds that have started to grow in the Middle East," Fleischer concluded.
Really? You could also make the counter-argument that sanctions helped keep Ima Dinnerjacket in power by giving him the Great Satan as a convenient target.

Bush did remove two brutal dictatorships in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that's to his credit. But real reform ultimately comes from within, claims of how much we did to the contrary. Giving Bush all the credit for what's going on in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East is just as narrow and ultimately arrogant as blaming him for all the world's ills over the last eight years. Just as not everything was his fault, so too is not everything his success.

The Iranian Conservative Versus the Iranian Fundamentalists

Mousavi has issued his latest statement in support of his followers. This part caught my attention:
I had come to show that it was possible to live spiritually while living in a modern world. I had come to repeat Imam’s warnings about fundamentalism. I had come to say that evading the law leads to dictatorship; and to remind that paying attention to people’s dignity does not diminish the foundations of the regime, but strengthens it.

I had come to say that people wish honesty and integrity from their servants, and that many of our perils have arisen from lies. I had come to say that poverty and backwardness, corruption and injustice were not our destiny. I had come to re-invite to the Islamic revolution, as it had to be, and Islamic republic as it has to be. In this invitation, I was not charismatic [articulate], but the core message of revolution was so appealing that it surpassed my articulation and excited the young generation who had not seen those days to recreate scenes which we had not seen since the days of revolution[1979] and the sacred defense. The people’s movement chose green as its symbol. I confess that in this, I followed them.
You'll note that he's not rejecting the original 1979 revolution, but what it became. Essentially, Mousavi is waging a fight against those whom he feels hijacked the revolution's original ideals-much as many conservatives in this country have been complaining about the religious right. This is essentially a conservative revolt against fundamentalism. It may not necessarily be about democracy and "Freedom" as we understand them (or as our politicians love to hyperbolize), but it is a way past the ideology that has consumed Iran for so many years.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"We Are Not All Iranians Now"

Peggy Noonan responds to the neocons:
To insist the American president, in the first days of the rebellion, insert the American government into the drama was shortsighted and mischievous. The ayatollahs were only too eager to demonize the demonstrators as mindless lackeys of the Great Satan Cowboy Uncle Sam, or whatever they call us this week. John McCain and others went quite crazy insisting President Obama declare whose side America was on, as if the world doesn't know whose side America is on. 'In the cause of freedom, America cannot be neutral,' said Rep. Mike Pence. Who says it's neutral?
Apparently we're too neutral if the President prefers caution over doing or saying something that would only encourage the Supreme Leader or Ima Dinnerjacket and his Basiji thugs. Roger Cohen adds his thoughts. Jonathan Chait responds to the latest neocon attacks here.

It does seem that some on the right are desperate to keep Dinnerjacket in power just so that they can have an enemy for the next few years at least. Remember when conservatives were supposed to be for freedom?

They Write The Songs And Make The Whole World Pay

I really hope this loses on appeal:
The Universal Music Group, owned by Vivendi, and other record labels were awarded $1.92 million on Thursday in the retrial of a Minnesota woman accused of swapping music over the Kazaa Internet service.

The federal jury in Minneapolis said the woman, Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 32, of Brainerd, should pay $80,000 for each of the 24 songs that were posted on the site so others could download them.

The first time the case went to trial, in 2007, a jury awarded $9,250 a song, or $222,000.
....

After the verdict, Ms. Thomas-Rasset, a natural resources coordinator for the Mille Lacs Band of the Ojibwe, said she was disappointed that she had not been able to convince the jury that she had not posted the songs. “The only thing I can say is good luck trying to get it, because you can’t get blood out of a turnip.”

Her lawyer, Kiwi Camara of Camara & Sibley in Houston, said Ms. Thomas-Rasset might appeal the verdict, or try to negotiate a settlement.

“The disproportionate size of the verdict raises constitutional questions,” said Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer with the consumer group Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has criticized the music industry’s tactics.
More on the history of recording industry lawsuits here. The classic South Park response here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Too Socialist To Fail

From the People's Republic of Venezuela comes the latest success story of the Revolution.
Chavez began regulating access to dollars and making it harder for businesses and people to transfer money in 2003, after confidence in his government was shaken by a failed coup and a subsequent strike. Venezuelans must now apply to the currency agency Cadivi for dollars at the official rate of 2.15 bolivars to import goods or take vacations.

These controls have backfired with a vengeance _ businessmen, companies and private citizens transferred some $72.7 billion out of Venezuela over the last six years _ nearly double the outflow of the previous six years, according to the Central Bank _ distorting the economy, fueling inflation and discouraging private investment.

But the controls themselves haven't led to a political backlash, perhaps because Venezuelans with means tend to be opposed to Chavez's socialist policies already. Poorer Venezuelans haven't been as affected, partly because the government subsidizes food and free health care.

That could change now that oil income has plunged from last year's record highs. Oil represents 93 percent of Venezuela's exports, and with crude prices at 52 percent below their July peak, the inflow of dollars is expected to drop by half this year to about $42 billion, said Alejandro Grisanti, an economist at Barclays Capital in New York.

The oil price drop has roughly cut in half the amount of goods Venezuela can afford to import, so the government has had to tighten currency controls even more and ration the dollars it supplies to travelers and importers in response, Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said.
When you can't afford a Revolution, the people tend to notice it. This is how capitalism begins.

It's The Symbolism, Stupid

Here we go again:
The Senate has unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and racial segregation and sent the measure to the House.

Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin first introduced the measure years ago but wanted it passed Thursday on the eve of Juneteenth - a day of celebration commemorating the end of the Civil War and the release of African Americans from slavery. He said the House is to take it up soon and that a formal celebration will be held next month in the Capitol Rotunda.

The Senate has passed such nonbinding but highly symbolic resolutions before, apologizing for such things as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The resolution passed Thursday includes a disclaimer saying that nothing in it supports or authorizes reparations by the United States.
At some point, we will be able to clone Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. Then the former can apologize to the latter for wiping them out, and the cycle of applogy can be complete.

It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Super Regulator!

As expected, not everyone is on board with the idea of creating the mother of all government programs:
President Barack Obama's plan to transform the Federal Reserve into a super-regulator ran into skepticism Thursday from lawmakers who worry that the central bank is not the best suited to keep an eye on firms deemed so big and influential that their demise could hurt the economy.

Senators voiced misgivings as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner began a marathon day of selling Obama's financial regulatory plan to give the Fed more authority, create a new consumer protection agency and bring unregulated sectors of the financial markets under government oversight.

'I do not believe that we can reasonably expect the Fed or any other agency to effectively play so many roles,' said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., noting that it also sets monetary policy, regulates banks and handles an array of other functions.

Some lawmakers have proposed that the job of overseeing large institutions be left to a council of regulators, not a single agency.

Geithner anticipated that point in his testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, saying in his opening remarks: 'You cannot convene a committee to put out a fire.'
But feeding that fire by creating another tinderbox doesn't seem to be the answer either, does it, Mr. Geithner?

They Rant, Therefore They Are

In writing about talk radio, Conor Friedersorf points out what sensible conservatives have always known:
Effective opposition requires a clear-eyed, unsentimental assessment of reality, not paranoid, uncharitable rants. The right understood this very well when they talked about The Angry Left, and how its visceral hatred for George W. Bush distorted its judgment. Too many seem to have forgotten this lesson, and aren't the least bit skeptical at analysis offered by a man assuming of his opponent the most awful motivations imaginable.
At its best, this stuff might be good for catharsis and populist venting. But ultimately conservatism has to be won in the arena of ideas, not just angry rhetoric. Talk radio hosts-and, for that matter, some areas on the Intertubes-aren't necesasarily the best place for that these days.

The Graduates

If you want some of that fancy book-learning, it turns out that the profit motive can help you out just as well, if not better than, public colleges.
One might expect students at for-profit colleges to fare less well than their peers at other types of institutions, and by at least one measure they do, the study acknowledges: Smaller proportions of full-time and part-time freshmen in four-year programs at career colleges return the following fall than at private nonprofit and public colleges, although career colleges retain students in two-year programs at better rates than do community colleges, according to the Imagine America study.
....

But the picture looks very different when you examine students at institutions that serve significant numbers of low-income students, the study suggests.

At institutions where at least 75 percent of the students are eligible for Pell Grants, for instance, about 55 percent of career college students graduate, compared to 39 percent at four-year private and 31 percent at four-year public universities, and 45 percent of two-year private and 24 percent of two-year public colleges.

And when looking at graduation rates by race, career colleges fare better than public colleges and within reach of private nonprofit institutions, the study finds.
Darn that evil profit motive, helping students get real jobs!

Don't Regulate On Me

Who knew that a liberal Democratic president would be able to do so much for the Second Amendment?
The Montana Firearms Freedom Act seeks to exempt from federal regulation any firearm, gun component or ammunition made and kept within the state's borders. The legislation, signed by Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, becomes law Oct. 1, though federal officials will likely act quickly to keep the measure from taking effect.

Legal experts are skeptical Montana will prevail in court, and even some proponents express their doubts. But supporters say the fight is a necessary step to change Washington's attitude. Similar bills have been introduced in nearly a half dozen states, and lawmakers in about a dozen more have expressed interest.

'We need 15, 25, 30 states to pass these types of legislation, so that we send a clear message to the country and to the national government,' said Utah Rep. Carl Wimmer, a Republican from suburban Salt Lake City.

In addition to supporting a version of Montana's gun law, Wimmer is drafting legislation that would forbid local authorities to help enforce federal statutes inside Utah -- another bill that, if passed, would surely trigger a court fight.
Some of this-such as Mark Sanford, Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry's refusal to take stimulus money-is political grandstanding. But there does seem to be a real undercurrent out there, one that's not necessarily limited to the fringe. Again, this is something the Republicans could take advantage of-if they could ever get their act together.

Too Big To Risk

If more Americans are expressing their doubts over Obama's grand schemes (see below), this is part of the reason why:
The administration's plan would create what are essentially government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in every sector of the financial economy—insurers, securities firms, finance companies, bank holding companies, and hedge funds—where these specially regulated firms are to be designated. The result will be devastating for competition. Larger firms will squeeze out smaller ones and aggressive small companies will have less opportunity to overcome the government-backed winners.

Moreover, the administration's proposal to provide a special bailout mechanism for large firms confirms the likelihood that these firms will never be closed down or liquidated. Citing the market turmoil that followed Lehman's collapse, the administration will argue that failures like this are 'disorderly.' But failure comes from risk-taking—the very source of our economy's strength—and it is ultimately risk-taking and its consequences that the administration's plan is intended to prevent.
But when you have the government there to enable you every time, why bother with risk? The administration seems to want to treat the economy like educators now treat kids-as those who must be protected from themselves at all costs, so that they won't ever have to face disappointment and failure. The problem is, encouraging such an attitude will only ensure that they won't know what to do when they do fail at some point-and we're the ones who are going to have to pay for cleaning up the mess.

Change We No Longer Believe In

A growing number of Americans are becoming skeptical of Obama's plans. As Jacob Sullum reports:
Asked whether Congress should worry more about 'keeping the deficit down' or 'boosting the economy,' 58 percent said the former, 35 percent the latter. Since the economy is still in recession and the question assumes that stimulus spending will work as intended, that's a pretty remarkable finding. The stimulus package that Obama insisted was necessary to save us from a never-ending recession might still get some of the credit once the economy improves, although the timing seems to be off.

Notably, a lot more of the respondents (46 percent) blamed George W. Bush for the budget deficit than blamed Obama (6 percent), which is fair enough for the current fiscal year (although spending supported by Obama made the deficit he inherited bigger) but will not be tenable going forward. Given Obama's fiscal plans, he may soon be perceived (accurately) as continuing, if not amplifying, his highly unpopular predecessor's mistakes. Another sign that's ominous for Obama (but encouraging for advocates of limited government) is that 69 percent of respondents said they were concerned 'a great deal' or 'quite a bit' about expanded government intervention in the economy, as exemplified by the nationalization of G.M. and a greater role in health care.
If the GOP wasn't currently run by jackasses, they might be able to tap into this and look forward to regaining the House in 2010. As it is, the public may just have to start the conservative revival without them.

Lowering The Bar

The Ted Stevens case has exposed a whole host of problems within the ranks of the supposed watchdogs.
Two months after prosecutors abandoned the criminal conviction of former senator Ted Stevens, the Justice Department unit that polices public corruption remains in chaos, coping with newly discovered evidence that threatens to undermine other cases while department leaders struggle to reshuffle the ranks.

William Welch and Brenda Morris, senior managers in the department’s Public Integrity Section who supervised the case against the Alaska Republican, have been moved into other roles following the transfer this month of two of their subordinates, who worked on lengthy investigations of Alaskan influence peddling, according to four sources.

At the same time, document-sharing lapses that provoked the Stevens turnaround are also affecting other bribery prosecutions in the state, prompting authorities to take the extraordinary step of releasing two Alaska lawmakers from prison late last week. A new team of government lawyers and FBI agents is reviewing thousands of pages of evidence, trying to assuage the concerns of judges and fielding complaints from defense attorneys.
Bush may be gone, but it seems the attitude he created towards little things like evidence and rule of law remained behind.

The Right Course

Matt Steinglass has some words of caution for those who want Obama to do more than he has on Iran:
It would be similarly cruel and immoral to give Iranian demonstrators the false idea that we in the democratic world can offer them anything more than our sympathy. We can’t. We will not invade Iran, and nothing else we do will have much of an effect on the behavior of a regime fighting to retain its hold on power. The demonstrators in Iran must know that they have to win the struggle for a fair election on their own, and must be prepared to face the consequences of failure. And they do know this. That is precisely what makes them so courageous. It would be stupid and irresponsible of the US to use their struggle as an occasion for ineffectual rhetorical grandstanding, and fortunately President Obama, unlike our last President, seems able to resist the temptation.
Neocon dreams of a massive air strike on Iran are just wishful thinking on their part. This is Iran's moment to remake itself, not ours to do it for them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

From One Infomercial To Another

The GOP has planned a video response of their own to ABC's Obama show:
On Wednesday, June 24th, the ABC News network will devote an entire day of programming to President Barack Obama’s health care agenda. According to an ABC News report, in addition to a primetime health care reform “town hall” at the White House, Good Morning America, World News, Nightline and ABC’s web news “will all feature special programming on the president’s health care agenda.”

The Republican National Committee asked ABC News to include Republicans in their health care reform programming on June 24th but our request was denied. This means that President Obama and the Democrats will have an entire day to push their government-run health care agenda without hearing Republicans’ policy ideas and principles on health care reform.

Next Wednesday, the RNC will make our television studio available, for the entire day, for House and Senate Republicans to conduct satellite interviews with local network affiliates in their home states or congressional districts, including the 211 ABC affiliates nationwide. The RNC will absorb the cost of the satellite time and offer assistance in setting up the satellite interviews with the local affiliates. Republican Members of Congress can use this opportunity to discuss his or her views on health care reform as well as to respond to President Obama’s health care plan.
Of course, considering the shape they're in, I have to wonder how many people will actually be able to see this rebuttle and which affiliates will actually go for it. Still, I guess they should be given credit for trying.

Iran, Meet Internet

Try as they might, the Iranian government can't stop everyone from tweeting the revolution:
Iran clamped down Tuesday on independent media in an attempt to control images of election protests, but pictures and videos leaked out anyway — showing how difficult it is to shut off the flow of information in the Internet age.

The restrictions imposed by the government made such social-networking sites as Twitter and Flickr more prominent — with even the U.S. State Department calling on Twitter to put off a scheduled shutdown for maintenance.

Iranians were posting items online, but it wasn't known how much of that information was being seen by others inside the country. And although some of the posts on Twitter appeared to be from users in Tehran, others clearly were not.

Following a massive opposition rally Monday, authorities restricted journalists — including Iranians working for foreign media — from reporting on the streets. They could effectively only work from their offices, conducting telephone interviews and monitoring official sources such as state TV.
You'll note that other thuggish regimes, from North Korea on down, also have strict control over the Intertubes and things like cell phones. Dictators around the world must be looking at what is going on and wondering how long before the next Web revolt starts in their back yards.

Meanwhile, a Sullivan reader points out the differences between the reaction from today's neocons and how Reagan would have handled things, Mike Pence can't seem to decide whose side he's on, some Republicans try to make the protests all about them, and John Cole wonders why these same people can't seem to remember their history. It does seem to be a far cry from the Republican Party of old these days.

"That's Not A Knife"

Well, it is, sort of:
Industrial designer and aichmophobic, John Cornock, has designed a kitchen knife with a rounded edge making it almost impossible to stab your relatives during a tedious Christmas dinner. Mr Cornock was inspired to make the knife after watching a documentary in which doctors advocated banning traditional knives. 'It can never be a totally safe knife, but the idea is you can't inflict a fatal wound. Nobody could just grab one out of the kitchen drawer and kill someone,' Cornock said. The knife will sell for between £40-50.
Next up: the anti-shooting gun, the anti-sticking fork, and other deterrents against murderous relatives.

The Senator Was Indiscreet

From Nevada comes more on the odd details of John Ensign's affair:
Sen. John Ensign acknowledged Tuesday that he had an affair with a campaign staffer — an admission that stunned his colleagues, hurt his chances for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and called into question his future as a leader of the Senate GOP.

The Nevada Republican admitted in Las Vegas Tuesday that he had “violated the vows” of marriage by having an affair with a staffer. He did not identify the woman except to say that she and her husband were both “close friends” who worked for him, and that “the closeness” of their relationship had “put me in situations which led to my inappropriate behavior.”

But current and former aides to the Nevada Republican say the woman was 46-year-old Cynthia Hampton, a campaign staffer whose husband was a top aide in Ensign’s Senate office.

“It was known in [Ensign’s] inner circle that they were involved,” a former aide told POLITICO.
....

Hampton is married to Douglas Hampton, who, according to Senate records, served as Ensign’s administrative assistant in his personal office from November 2006 to May 2008 — around the same time Cynthia Hampton left Ensign’s committees.

A call to the Hamptons’ Las Vegas home Tuesday night was not returned; in a statement, Ensign’s wife said the situation has “been difficult on both families.”

Douglas Hampton was paid about $101,000 in 2008 and $144,000 in 2007 as Ensign’s administrative assistant. But a financial disclosure form he filed in 2007 and 2008 – required for senior congressional staffers - showed only checking and savings account worth a maximum $30,000 combined.
Does this mean anything? Maybe, maybe not. But you'd think the Republicans would have learned something from Vitter-who at least never had to pay anybody off, at least as far as I know.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Obama Broadcasting Company

State-run media? What state-run media?
On the night of June 24, the media and government become one, when ABC turns its programming over to President Obama and White House officials to push government run health care -- a move that has ignited an ethical firestorm!

Highlights on the agenda:

ABCNEWS anchor Charlie Gibson will deliver WORLD NEWS from the Blue Room of the White House.

The network plans a primetime special -- 'Prescription for America' -- originating from the East Room, exclude opposing voices on the debate.

The Director of Communications at the White House Office of Health Reform is Linda Douglass, who worked as a reporter for ABC News from 1998-2006.
But ABC News assures us it's all good:
"ABCNEWS prides itself on covering all sides of important issues and asking direct questions of all newsmakers -- of all political persuasions -- even when others have taken a more partisan approach and even in the face of criticism from extremes on both ends of the political spectrum. ABCNEWS is looking for the most thoughtful and diverse voices on this issue.

"ABCNEWS alone will select those who will be in the audience asking questions of the president. Like any programs we broadcast, ABC News will have complete editorial control. To suggest otherwise is quite unfair to both our journalists and our audience."
Yeah, except they'll essentially be shilling for the Obama administration. There's bias-which we've come to expect from the MSM-and then there's blatant propaganda. Ethical concerns, indeed.

Three Con Kings

If you've ever gotten one of their calls, you'll be glad to know that the three companies behind it have been busted.
Court documents filed last month in a Federal Trade Commission civil lawsuit against the three companies allege that their illegal calls have resulted in at least $10 million of ill-gotten gains since 2007. The FTC alleges that the firms' deceptive practices violated the Federal Trade Commission Act by misrepresenting or omitting material facts in their sales pitches, and that they violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule by 'flatly ignoring' rules that prerecorded calls disclose the identity of the seller 'promptly, and in a clear and conspicuous manner,' according to court documents.

Those documents contained few details about Cowart, the Dunnes and Kohlfeld. But a FOXNews.com investigation of the four reveals misleading online resumes, lengthy criminal histories, claims of innocence all around — and a great deal of finger-pointing.
There is a special place in Hell reserved for these particular scam artists and their truly annoying phone calls. Hopefully other attorney generals will now have better luck against similar operations elsewhere.

In The Room

Team Obama says who its visitors are is none of your business:
The Obama administration is fighting to block access to names of visitors to the White House, taking up the Bush administration argument that a president doesn't have to reveal who comes calling to influence policy decisions. Despite President Barack Obama's pledge to introduce a new era of transparency to Washington, and despite two rulings by a federal judge that the records are public, the Secret Service has denied msnbc.com's request for the names of all White House visitors from Jan. 20 to the present.
Obama knows who his friends are. He just doesn't want anyone else to.

Who's Your Mommy?

Science, icky though it may be, marches on:
The mere idea of lesbian couples (or gay men using a surrogate mother) having a baby with their own genetic material is sure to horrify some people.

As the religious mother of one of the women in “The Baby Formula” says: “Who do you think you are, God? ... You’re stealing the Immaculate Conception from Jesus.”

Yet Caulfield wonders if safety issues could someday be overcome, “is there anything inherently wrong with allowing a lesbian couple to give birth. I don’t know that there is.”

“I think we have to move beyond the sort of yuck response,” he says. “When we start regulating and curtailing technologies and setting up barriers, I do think we need to do it on a principle basis.”

It wasn’t that long ago that sperm donation and test-tube babies were thought disgusting by some, he says. Now they’re accepted practice.

“I think the yuck response is a good reason for caution and a good reason for reflection, but it’s not a justification for prohibition.”
I have to agree, even though the thought of medical science making guys even more irrelevant is less than appealing. Maybe we'll all wind up on reservations, swapping genetic material of our own someday...

The Joker

So, Letterman apologizes for real this time. But some people still aren't satisfied.

I'm sorry, but at some point people are going to haveto move on from this. Letterman was an ass, but sometimes that's what a comedian is. I doubt they're going to can him over this, and at any rate, you'd think conservatives would have bigger fish to fry what with Obamacare and all instead of a grumpy, once-hip talk show host. This is the sort of thing that can make the right look foolish over time, and they certainly don't need any more of that right now.