Friday, July 31, 2009

Surf's Up

So what's going on here?
From Maine to Florida, the Atlantic seaboard has experienced higher tides than expected this summer. At their peak in mid-June, the tides at some locations outstripped predictions by two feet.

The change has come too fast to be attributed to melting ice sheets or anything quite that dramatic, and it’s a puzzle for scientists who’ve never seen anything quite like it.

“The ocean is dynamic. It’s not uncommon to have anomalies like this but the breadth and the intensity and duration were unique,” said Mike Szabados, director of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s tide and current program.

The unexpected tidal surge is subsiding, has reduced its reach from the entire coast, and is now concentrated just in the mid-Atlantic states.

NOAA is rushing to study the data in an effort to understand what happened. Szabados’ office is already putting the finishing touches on a report that will be released next month on the wind and current patterns that appear to be correlated with the tidal surge.
Maybe it's the aliens?

Carbon Kids

Is having less kids the way towards saving the planet? These folks seem to think so:
Some people who are serious about wanting to reduce their “carbon footprint” on the Earth have one choice available to them that may yield a large long-term benefit – have one less child.

A study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.

The research also makes it clear that potential carbon impacts vary dramatically across countries. The average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. – along with all of its descendants – is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.
But people are already having less kids, population rates are already in freefall in many countries and those nasty carbon emissions are still as high as ever. Maybe Reagan was right and it really is the trees, after all. So does that mean Gaia will just be polluting herself even more after we're gone?

What Would Big Dog Do?

Peter Suderman weighs in on Obama's health-care woes, and why it may make him less successful than Clinton with the rest of his agenda:
One of the things Clinton did was give Congress a lengthy, exceedingly detailed overhaul plan. As the body ostensibly in charge of writing legislation, however, Congress didn't take well to being told exactly what legislation to write and pass. Obama's approach has been to give Congress almost no direction whatsoever, letting them draw up a plan aimed toward universality of coverage. The president's only requirement was that it be paid for.

As a strategy for dealing with feisty personalities in Congress, this may have been savvy (although recent Democratic infighting suggests a little more leadership from the party's most popular figure might have been useful). But as strategy for selling the plan to the public, it's had serious problems. Stories covering health-care reform have necessarily focused on process, which tends to drag down public support. And without backing a specific plan of his own, Obama has been unable to stand as firm as he might have on specific policies.

The result of the president's don't-do-what-Clinton-did strategy has been infighting amongst Democrats, widespread confusion about the various plans for reform, and declining public support—not only for reform, but for Obama. Rather than move Washington beyond politics, as he promised during last year's campaign, Obama, has, despite studied efforts to avoid the mistakes of predecessors, allowed the bickering and factionalism of political dealing to hijack his top legislative priority.

It may be somewhat unfair to blame Obama for this outcome. He was naive, certainly, but that's simply the way Washington works: It's magnetized toward pettiness and politics. But the takeaway, as far as I'm concerned, isn't, as Obama has continually suggested, that we need better politics or better government; instead, it's that we need less.
Clinton at least understood that you can talk like a liberal but you have to govern as a centrist. If Obama doesn't learn that, he will find himself in the same league as a certain other President whose last name began with C.

The Recovery We've Been Waiting For

Is the economy finally beginning to turn around? Maybe:
Despite the overall contraction, the fingerprints of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act could be seen in some aspect of today’s report. Federal government spending grew at an 11% rate in the quarter, adding roughly 0.8% to overall GDP. State and local government spending grew at a 2.4% annual rate, the fastest growth since the middle of 2007. It is clear that the large amount of state aid contained in the ARRA made this growth possible.

Furthermore, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable personal income rose by 3.2% in the quarter, after rising by only 1% in the previous quarter. A large contribution to this increase was made by the Making Work Pay tax credit passed in conjunction with the ARRA, as this was the first full quarter that the credit was in effect. Inflation-adjusted transfer payments (including a one-time payment to Social Security recipients) rose at an annual rate of over 6% in the quarter as well...

The consensus of macroeconomic forecasters is that ARRA contributed roughly 3% to annualized growth rates in the second quarter. This means that absent its effects, economic performance would have resembled that of the previous three quarters, when the economy contracted at an average annual rate of 4.9%. In short, the recovery act turned this quarter’s economic performance from disastrous to merely bad. This is no small achievement, but with even more public relief and investments, the U.S. economy could do much better.
So there's an argument that the stimulus really is working, albeit in a much smaller way than advertised. The Economist is also cautiously optimistic. Of course, this isn't an excuse for a never-ending stimulus of the kind Obama envisioned. But hopefully, this and other good economic news will discourage the need for more. Or, knowing Obama, maybe not...

Off On The Wrong Foot

Personally, I think they've always been on the wrong foot with this, but Josh Marshall outlines why "Reform" will be more difficult to pass than a kidney stone:
The problem is that the White House and the reformers are coming into this month long period pretty wrong-footed. On a big plan like this, it's usually easier to tear down than to build up. Easy to raise concerns and spook people with scare stories than to make a global case for a critical reform. And all the discussion right now seems to be on the negative side of the equation. That wasn't the case six weeks ago; but it does seem like that now.

From one perspective, a president goes into a down month like this with a lot of advantages. He's still president. He can get on TV pretty much whenever he wants. But the Congress is spread out around the country, fragmented and unable -- as they are in DC -- to coordinate and sustain a counter-conversation.

But I don't feel like I'm hearing from the White House any clear narrative, any clear and digestible argument for why this is necessary. I hear the phrase 'public plan'. But it's such a blah-blah gobbledegook phrase that even though I'm fairly deep into the policy details of this debate, half the time even I find myself forgetting exactly what that even means.
If the administration that's supposed to be smarter than the last one can't explain it, how do they expect people to take it-or much else they do-seriously?

Got It In The...

I know most of us would like to give our local politicians swift kicks in the fundament, but this does sound a bit extreme:
A report issued Wednesday by Boise Community Ombudsman Pierce Murphy found that a Boise police officer who used a Taser on a suspect's buttocks violated the police department's use-of-force policy.

The use-of-force violation occurred during an arrest at a Boise home; the address and the names of the occupants have not been released. Police were called to the house after a report of a fight. While on their way, they learned that a man inside the woman's residence had just been released from jail. They were also told a 3-year-old boy in the home, according to details provided in Murphy's report.

Upon arrival, the officers heard the sounds of a struggle and voices coming from inside. The officers yelled for someone to open the door, and were greeted with a profane comment by a man in the residence. The officers had to kick and push the door open; the man inside was pushing against the door for more than 80 seconds. Once they gained entry, the officers said the suspect did not comply with their demands to get on the ground and stop resisting.

The suspect said that he was hit three times with a Taser after he was already handcuffed and face-down on the floor. Murphy's investigation found evidence that the suspect was hit twice with the Taser — once in the back before he was handcuffed and once in the buttocks after he was cuffed.

Murphy said the officer who used the Taser -— described as Officer #3 in the report — also coarsely threatened to use the Taser in the man's anus and genitals. Murphy's report says that use of Taser on a man's buttock's does not violate policy in and of itself; the question is whether it was "reasonable and necessary."
More on taser abuse here. Meanwhile, there's a new one on the market. No word on whether it can be used on multiple rear ends or not.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Fall And Rise Of The Banking Industry

Forbes takes a look at the intriguing practices of post-traditional banking:
They range from new ways to insure mortgages to new models of lending to reliable consumers by bypassing the current banking system. Many others, such as Lending Club and Prosper, are popping up on the Internet, letting investors, rather than credit officers, decide who is creditworthy. It's too early to tell if these attempts will succeed, but it's vital that they occur. Through trial and error, a new world of banking will rise from the ashes of the old one.

Should the government subsidize these efforts? In a New York Times column this spring, Tom Friedman said yes, suggesting that it should dedicate a fraction of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money to promote innovation. Fortunately, several venture capitalists have rejected the idea online, and with good reason: The government's record as a venture capitalist is rather poor.
The new startups may actually show the way towards true free-market financing, away from the subsidized version so favored by Wall Street. I wish them luck.

Failings Of The One

Lexington warns that Obama may have set himself up for an especially hard fall:
Mr Obama has inspired more passionate devotion than any modern American politician. People scream and faint at his rallies. Some wear T-shirts proclaiming him “The One” and noting that “Jesus was a community organiser”. An editor at Newsweek described him as “above the country, above the world; he’s sort of God.” He sets foreign hearts fluttering, too. A Pew poll published this week finds that 93% of Germans expect him to do the right thing in world affairs. Only 14% thought that about Mr Bush.

Perhaps Mr Obama inwardly cringes at the personality cult that surrounds him. But he has hardly discouraged it. As a campaigner, he promised to “change the world”, to “transform this country” and even (in front of a church full of evangelicals) to “create a Kingdom right here on earth”.

Mr Obama is clearly not the socialist of Republican demonology, but he is trying to extend federal control over two huge chunks of the economy—energy and health care—so fast that lawmakers do not have time to read the bills before voting on them. Perhaps he is hurrying to get the job done before his polls weaken any further. In six months, his approval rating has fallen from 63% to 56% while his disapproval rating has nearly doubled, from 20% to 39%. Independent voters are having second thoughts. And his policies are less popular than he is. Support for his health-care reforms has slipped from 57% to 49% since April.

All presidential candidates promise more than they can possibly deliver. This sets them up for failure. But because the Obama cult has stoked expectations among its devotees to such unprecedented heights, he is especially likely to disappoint. Mr Healy predicts that he will end up as a failed president, and “possibly the least popular of the modern era”. It is up to Mr Obama to prove him wrong.
Unfortunately, at this still-early stage, it so far looks like he won't. Any leader who either claims to walk on water or who promises the Sun and Moon is setting themselves up for failure in a democracy, where people can see through demagoguery and overblown promises.

The Smart Ones

The American people aren't so dumb, after all:
A solid majority of Americans don’t want to see Sarah Palin ever become president, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Two-thirds, 67%, said they don’t ever want the former Alaska governor to be president, compared with the 21% who said they would. While it should come as no surprise that 87% of Democrats said they don’t ever want Palin as commander-in-chief, some 43% of Republicans said the same thing—as well as 65% of independents. Even 46% of self-identified conservatives said they do not want Palin as president, as well as 44% of those who voted for Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain in 2008. At 44%, white evangelicals are the largest subgroup supporting Palin as president one day.
Every so often, we as a country do get it right-thank the Lord.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Republican Renaissance?

In spite of all their problems (and they still have many) it looks like there may be some life in the old Elephant yet.
Despite the ongoing hand-wringing among many Republican insiders and pundits about the fate of the party in the Obama age, a mini-resurgence of the moderate GOP brand is quietly taking place in the Northeast.

In almost every state north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Democratic officeholders are struggling and a GOP candidate is polling well. In places like New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, there are signs that moderate Republicans, once considered extinct, are reappearing. Like any endangered creature, they went underground until a better climate appeared.

Elections are about alternatives. If voters don't like the status quo, they're willing to look for other options. But when those options look either as unpalatable or worse, they can fall back to support the devil they know. At this point, Republicans in the Northeast are showing that they understand the need to run candidates with the ability to appeal to the independents who left them in droves over the last two elections.
No dark age lasts forever. The idea that the GOP could make a comeback in the wasteland of the Northeast could signal a real turnaround as skepticism of Obama grows.

Organic Junk Food

Well whaddya know:
Organic food has no nutritional or health benefits over ordinary food, according to a major study published Wednesday.Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said consumers were paying higher prices for organic food because of its perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $48 billion in 2007.

A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.

'A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance,' said Alan Dangour, one of the report's authors.

'Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.'
But it's more politically correct than those evil supermarket finds, which is what matters more than, you know, actual food science.

Rather Obvious

Dan Rather joins the call to save the MSM:
As if the relationship between the Obama Administration and the news media weren’t cozy enough already, former “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather is calling on President Obama to “make recommendations” for the media on how to survive the economic downturn.
Rather spoke at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colo. on July 28 and addressed challenges to the news industry, which he described as challenges to the “very survival of American democracy,” and insisted the president should step in.

“I personally encourage the president to establish a White House commission on public media,” Rather said, according to the July 29 Aspen Daily News.

According to the story, Rather said “corporate and political influence” on newsrooms had damaged the industry and was cause for concern.

“A truly free and independent press is the red beating heart of democracy and freedom,” Rather said in an interview. “This is not something just for journalists to be concerned about, and the loss of jobs and the loss of newspapers, and the diminution of the American press’ traditional role of being the watchdog on power. This is something every citizen should be concerned about.”
Which raises the question of why he thinks government intervention in the name of saving his cherished institution is such a good thing...

Death By Shopping

Can you say "Irony?"
The body of an elderly shopaholic was found underneath a pile of clothing and other items after she died of natural causes, an inquest heard.

Joan Cunnane's bungalow was so crammed with purchases it took five visits to the house before she was found.

She had refused to let her friends into the house in Heaton Mersey, Stockport Magistrates' Court was told.

Her friend Roy Moran said the 77-year-old started shopping to escape youths who once plagued her home.

Mr Moran told the court: 'She said it gave her pleasure to buy things, she only bought things she really liked.'
So I guess this means she died happy?

Temping For The Stimulus

So how reliable are those stimulus jobs? Not very:
In Oregon, where lawmakers are spending $176 million to supplement the federal stimulus, Democrats are taking credit for a remarkable feat: creating 3,236 new jobs in the program's first three months.

But those jobs lasted on average only 35 hours, or about one work week. After that, those workers were effectively back unemployed, according to an Associated Press analysis of state spending and hiring data. By the state's accounting, a job is a job, whether it lasts three hours, three days, three months, or a lifetime.

"Sometimes some work for an individual is better than no work," said Oregon's Senate president, Peter Courtney.

With the economy in tatters and unemployment rising, Oregon's inventive math underscores the urgency for politicians across the country to show that spending programs designed to stimulate the economy are working—even if that means stretching the facts.

At the federal level, President Barack Obama has said the federal stimulus has created 150,000 jobs, a number based on a misused formula and which is so murky it can't be verified.

The White House requires states to report numbers in terms of full-time, yearlong jobs. That means a part-time mechanic counts as half a job. A full-time construction worker who has a three-month paving contract counts as one-fourth of a job.

Using that method, the AP's analysis of figures in Oregon shows the program so far has created the equivalent of 215 full-time jobs that will last three months. Oregon's House speaker, Dave Hunt, called that measurement unfair, though nearly every other state that has passed a stimulus package already uses or plans to use it.

"This stimulus plan was intentionally designed for short-term projects to pump needed jobs and income into families, businesses and communities struggling to get by," Hunt said in a statement. "No one ever said these would be full-time jobs for months at a time."

Still, critics say counting jobs, without any consideration of their duration, isn't good enough.

"You can't let them say, 'Well, we never said it was going to be full-time,'" said Steve Buckstein, a policy analyst for the Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market think tank. For the price of Oregon's $176 million, lawmakers could have provided all 3 million state residents with a one-hour job paying about $60, he said.

"By their definition, that's 3 million jobs," Buckstein said. "Is anybody gonna buy that?"
Well, when it's liberal math, apparently they will.

Captain Caveman

Meet a latter-day caveman:
DANIEL SUELO LIVES IN A CAVE. UNLIKE THE average American—wallowing in credit-card debt, clinging to a mortgage, terrified of the next downsizing at the office—he isn't worried about the economic crisis. That's because he figured out that the best way to stay solvent is to never be solvent in the first place. Nine years ago, in the autumn of 2000, Suelo decided to stop using money. He just quit it, like a bad drug habit.

His dwelling, hidden high in a canyon lined with waterfalls, is an hour by foot from the desert town of Moab, Utah, where people who know him are of two minds: He's either a latter-day prophet or an irredeemable hobo. Suelo's blog, which he maintains free at the Moab Public Library, suggests that he's both. 'When I lived with money, I was always lacking,' he writes. 'Money represents lack. Money represents things in the past (debt) and things in the future (credit), but money never represents what is present.'
Well, except for things like food, furniture, clothing...all that stuff the rest of us like to have around.

Team Euro, Continental Police

You cannot make this stuff up. The European Union, in its drive to legitimize itself, has created its own superhero. Meet: Captain Euro!
He was invented by a firm of 'corporate vision strategists' on the orders of the European Commission. He stars in animated films paid for by taxpayers' money and which are broadcast through the internet and television. The official line is, 'Captain Euro is the symbol of European unity and values.'
The villain opposing him is, naturally, the evil Dr D. Vider -- get it, Divider? Dr Vider is described as 'a ruthless speculator' which in Brussels code means anybody who supports the kind of free market economics the British do best and the French hate.

Captain Euro is tripe. But the propaganda drive he represents is no joke. A report just out today from the Swedish thinktank Timbro gives 25 pages of details on how the European institutions spend hundreds of millions of euros each year on what they call 'communication,' but anyone else would recognise as pro-EU, anti-national propaganda. None of it is information, all of it is taxpayer-funded marketing and advocacy for 'an ever closer union.'
I think the closest we ever had to a propaganda superhero was the ecologically correct Captain Planet (remember him?), and the original Captain America, but even they were created by real capitalists, not government-sponsored propagandists. And we didn't have to pay for him with our tax dollars, either.

The Final Touch

Will the Birthers finally shut up now? staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false. We have posted high-resolution photographs of the document as 'supporting documents' to this article. Our conclusion: Obama was born in the U.S.A. just as he has always said.

FactCheck representatives got a chance to spend some time with the birth certificate, and we can attest to the fact that it is real and three-dimensional and resides at the Obama headquarters in Chicago. We can assure readers that the certificate does bear a raised seal, and that it's stamped on the back by Hawaii state registrar Alvin T. Onaka (who uses a signature stamp rather than signing individual birth certificates).
Well, it's good enough for me, but quite frankly I don't think the Birthers would be satisfied even if somebody went back in time and confirmed that Obama was indeed born in the U.S.A. He'll always be so alien to them that he might as well be one of the aliens in the cult classic They Live, posing as human.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Government Weight Loss Plan

To get people thin, the government is naturally putting out the cash:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government plans to increase funding to battle obesity and views healthcare reform as an opportunity to encourage better eating habits, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Tuesday.

The Obama administration, as part of its economic stimulus package, will give states and local governments more money to control obesity, including investing in public transportation, Sebelius told an obesity conference in Washington.

She added that legislation in Congress to overhaul the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry could boost programs to get more fruits and vegetables into school lunches and encourage grocery stores to sell more fresh produce in poor communities.

"We finally have a plan," Sebelius told the conference, which was sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington.
And the War on Fat People continues. Next up: Taxes, and more taxes. Look, I know fat people are a drain on our health care costs. And we are a nation of fatties. But as any New Yorker can tell you, this isn't so much about health as it is about politically incorrect foods. Man does not live on greens and tofu alone, and shouldn't be forced to.

Poetry In Motion

William Shatner reads Palin's farewell speech as only he can. Dig it, baby.

Meet the New Iraq, Same As The Old One

Like Afghanistan, it's Obama's mess now, and he may be faced with as little choice as Bush was in how to proceed.
The problems are large and many. First, the major Iraqi political parties are based upon ethnosectarian politics, and could lose power if they give that up. Second, there is still fighting in Iraq, and a World Bank study on conflicts found that almost 50% of countries coming out of civil wars fall back into them within five years. Third, there is little consensus in Baghdad on major issues such as oil, and politics are fragmented, which makes it hard to conduct negotiations or find partners. Fourth, there is a lack of accountability as many militants are involved in politics and security with no regret for their past deeds. Fifth, many conflicts and fighting took place within communities, not just between them, which has never been resolved. Sixth, many groups still talk about revenge, and see things in zero-sum terms. Seventh Iraq has been in the throes of elections since 2008, which makes compromising more difficult. Last, Iraq’s neighbors have all interfered in its internal affairs, and continue to do so to this day such as Iran. These problems may never be overcome, which is why the authors are so pessimistic about the country’s future.
Which is why Obama's plan for leaving Iraq is still probably the best option. Whether we have to go back in five or ten years from now will be up to the Iraqis.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Their Wingnuttery Goes Marching On

It seems a number of politicians who apparently have nothing better to do are following Rick Perry and Sarah Palin's lead:
LINCOLN — At least three Nebraska lawmakers want to send a message to the federal government:
Butt out of state business.

Next year they will see if a majority of their colleagues agrees.

The senators are working on resolutions asserting Nebraska's sovereignty under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.

Nebraska wouldn't try to secede from the union under their proposals but would go on record objecting to federal laws that they say go beyond constitutional authority.

“My goal here is to shine light on the fact that the federal government is overstepping its bounds,” said State Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln. “We would be making a statement on behalf of Nebraska.”
I'm no fan of the Fed, but seriously, what are they and their brethren in other states, really hoping to accomplish with these stunts? Did we see any of this from even the most liberal states in the Union during the Bush Years? If these states don't like the Federal government, then the answer is simple: don't take their money when tornadoes or floods hit. We'll see how long "Sovereignty" lasts then.

Know Your Enemy, And Invite Him Over For Lunch

Well, I'm not sure what to make of this:
A concerted effort to start unprecedented talks between Taliban and British and American envoys was outlined today in a significant change in tactics designed to bring about a breakthrough in the attritional, eight-year conflict in Afghanistan.

Senior ministers and commanders on the ground believe they have created the right conditions to open up a dialogue with 'second-tier' local leaders now the Taliban have been forced back in a swath of Helmand province.

They are hoping that Britain's continuing military presence in Helmand, strengthened by the arrival of thousands of US troops, will encourage Taliban commanders to end the insurgency.
There is even talk in London and Washington of a military 'exit strategy'.

Speaking at the end of the five-week Operation Panther's Claw in which hundreds of British troops were reported to have cleared insurgents from a vital region of Helmand province, Lieutenant-General Simon Mayall, deputy chief of defence staff, said: 'It gives the Taliban 'second tier' room to reconnect with the government and this is absolutely at the heart of this operation.'
If true, this could signal the beginning of the end of our engagement in Afghanistan, which would be a good thing in the long run. But how would talking with the Taliban work? It's not the same as dealing with Iran and North Korea, which, after all, are official regimes with diplomatic envoys. It's also not quite the same as getting insurgents to flip on each other to bring peace. The problem here is, how much do we allow the Taliban to "Reconnect" with the country they once ruled with an iron hand?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"You Won't Have Sarah Palin To Kick Around Anyomore"

Well, there she goes:
Plainly feeling liberated, Palin said that the freedom of the press was an important American right and one that members of the military died to protect.

“So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, quit making things up,” she said with an insistent voice, prompting loud applause and cheers from a mostly sympathetic audience gathered at a park here.

Palin didn’t specify what she was accusing reporters of making up, but suggested that she was weary of the attention on her family since being tapped as the Republican vice presidential nominee last summer.

“Our new governor has a very nice family, too, so leave his kids alone,” she demanded.
Immediately after Palin’s speech that man, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican and Palin ally, was sworn in as the state’s governor.

As she stepped down from the stage, Palin’s future remained a mystery.

Concluding her remarks, she only said: “Let’s all enjoy the ride.”
And thus began her journey into historical obscurity.

Today Is Kill Your Boss Day

How they handle pay disputes in a worker's paradise:
About 30 000 Chinese steelworkers clashed with police in a protest over plans to merge their mill with another company and beat the company’s general manager to death, a human rights monitor said on Saturday. Several hundred people were injured in the clash . . . Workers were angry that Chen was paid about $438 000 last year while some retirees received as little as $29 a month, the centre said. Beijing is trying to streamline China’s sprawling steel industry, the world’s largest, by orchestrating a series of mergers aimed at creating globally competitive producers. The mergers often are accompanied by layoffs that sometimes spark complaints that workers receive too little severance pay.
I hate to think of what will happen when the Chinese discover outsourcing. Meanwhile, China's vaunted prosperity engine may only be illusory. Maybe this means our grandkids won't be in hock to them after all?

Jersey Boys

It was a big bust, even by Jersey standards:
Even in the state of "The Sopranos" and "On the Waterfront," where corruption seems institutionalized, the arrest of a neophyte mayor in office a mere three weeks stands out.

Voters might wonder how Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, no grizzled politician but a 32-year-old lawyer with a promising political career, could be accused of taking $25,000 in bribes after watching so many politicians follow the same road to jail.

Authorities said that what he told a government witness wearing a wire - a purported real-estate developer whom Cammarano assured he would treat "like a friend" - not only led to his arrest but also added a new chapter to New Jersey's culture of corruption.

New Jersey, the setting for the HBO mob drama 'The Sopranos' and the 1954 Marlon Brando classic 'On the Waterfront,' filmed in Hoboken about crookedness on the docks, has long been known for government corruption. But over the last five years, hundreds of government officials from both major parties have been charged with crimes involving betrayal of public trust: taking bribes, getting no-show jobs to boost state pension benefits or lavishly spending public money on themselves.

Thursday's arrests snared 43, including three mayors, two state assemblymen, five rabbis and many other public officials. It also brought fresh attention to this 1-square-mile city known as Frank Sinatra's hometown, one of the nation's earliest settlements and more recently a nightlife mecca for the young and hip.

Cammarano insisted he was innocent Friday, calling the charges 'completely baseless,' and he said he will remain in office.

He became mayor only three weeks before his arrest after a bitterly contested mayoral election that forced a runoff, which he won by only 161 votes.

The FBI said Cammarano was so confident about his supporters pre-election that he was caught joking he could secure most of the vote of those born and raised in Hoboken even if he were 'uh, indicted.'

He is the second of the city's last three mayors to face criminal charges. Former Mayor Anthony Russo was sentenced in 2005 to 30 months in prison for accepting bribes in exchange for city contracts between 1994 and 2001, nearly his entire time as mayor.
Maybe they just ought to hold a mayoral lottery next time. The candidate with the least amount of indictments gets the job.

From Hard Sell To Harder Sell

What went wrong? Obama must be scratching his head furiously these days as he tries to figure out why people aren't buying the Fierce Urgency these days:
An Associated Press-GfK Poll shows public confidence has reversed on whether the president's $787 billion stimulus package, passed by Congress in February, will ultimately work to improve the economy.

In January, 58 percent were confident it would. Now, it's the opposite, with 58 percent saying they doubt the stimulus will bring any significant improvement.

Forty-seven percent still think it's too early to pass final judgment on whether the plan is working. But of those who say they are decided, three times as many say the stimulus has harmed the economy than those who say it has helped.

Other polls have shown similar slippage on Obama's economic stewardship, although his overall approval rating remains solid — 55 percent in the AP-Gfk poll conducted July 16-20. Still, that's down nine points from April.

It's been a hard sell.

Fiscally conservative Democrats are skeptical. And Republicans have seized on the change in public sentiment to pound Obama for failing to create or save the jobs he promised while greatly overburdening the federal budget.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint has predicted the health care legislation could be Obama's "Waterloo moment" and could break his presidency — a remark Obama now cites as the kind of partisan politics-as-usual in Washington he is seeking to end.

"I think the Republican attack on the deficit is succeeding because it's real," said Rob Shapiro, a former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton, and chairman of Sonecon, an economic-consulting firm.

Obama is factual in saying he inherited a trillion-dollar-plus deficit from predecessor George W. Bush, "but he made it worse," Shapiro said. The deficit in the current budget year is now estimated to come in at more than $1.8 trillion, pushed higher by the stimulus spending, bailouts and increasing war costs.

Shapiro said he believes White House officials are taking the GOP attacks very seriously. "They're also concerned about long-term deficits and the impact they could have on the economy and on the ability to act two, three years down the road — which of course is moving up to the re-election season," he said.

Obama clearly has been putting more emphasis on the importance of getting spending under control even as he tries to prod a recovery.

"We have to do what businesses and families do. We've got to cut out the things we don't need to pay for the things we do," Obama said at a town-hall style meeting Thursday in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. The meeting followed a prime-time news conference the night before in which Obama sought to rally public support for his health plan.
Well, he says that, but there's still the little problem of what's actually in the bill. And trying to start a war with the CBO for telling the truth won't help. In the end, it may simply be coming down to the silver-tongued orator not being able to deliver as promised. And that doesn't bode well for the rest of his term if he still wants to be taken seriously, including by those in his own party.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

K Street, Come On In

Hmmm. The phrase "Give them an inch" comes to mind when it comes to this:
In a significant change, the Obama administration will now allow lobbyists to meet and have telephonic discussions with government officials regarding economic recovery projects.

The lifting of the ban comes after K Street has cried foul for months and has challenged the White House on its restrictions.

Lobbyists can make their cases -- and agency officials can listen to them -- at 'widely attended gatherings.' Government officials have to ask whether the person they are talking to at such events is a federally registered lobbyist speaking on behalf of a client.

Agency officials are required to promptly disclose on the Internet all oral and written communications with lobbyists concerning policy or projects funded under the recovery act. They also have to disclose any written communications with lobbyists regarding pending applications for competitive funding.

The one caveat, however, is that lobbyists can talk to agency representatives only about logistical issues or general questions regarding stimulus grants. Agency officials have to document any discussion with a lobbyist that veers toward advocacy of stimulus policy or a particular project.

Government officials are still banned from talking to lobbyists representing companies that have already applied for grants and are awaiting a competitive decision. In those cases, agency officials are allowed to accept 'oral communication' only if the matter is purely logistical.
But how long can that last? Obama deserved credit for holding out as long as he did. This just hints at more concessions to come.

"Don't Worry; We're Still With You"

I'm not so sure this is the kind of "Support" Obama had in mind for Obamacare:
The drug industry, the American Medical Association, hospital groups and the insurance lobby are all saying Congress must make major changes this year. Television ads paid for by drug companies and insurers continued to emphasize the benefits of a health care overhaul — not the groups' objections to some of the proposals.

"My gut is telling me that something major can pass because all the people who could kill it are still at the table," said Ken Thorpe, chairman of health policy at Emory University in Atlanta. "Everybody has issues with bits and pieces of it, but all these groups want to get something done this year." As a senior official at the Health and Human Services department in the 1990s, Thorpe was deeply involved in the Clinton administration's failed effort.

President Barack Obama on Saturday continued his full-court press to pass health care reform legislation. In his weekly Internet and radio address, Obama cited a new White House study indicating that small businesses pay far more per employee for health insurance than big companies — a disparity he says is "unsustainable — it's unacceptable."

"And it's going to change when I sign health insurance reform into law," Obama said, adding that he has "a sense of urgency about moving this process forward."

This time, the health care industry groups see a strategic opportunity. As lawmakers squabble, the groups are focused on how to come out ahead in the end game.

"We're still optimistic that we can get health care reform accomplished," said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the main insurance industry trade group. "There is strong support from policymakers and from across the health care sector."
Just not from the people who would be paying for "Free" care...

Camels On Parade

The Saudis really need to get laid:
The judges in Abu Dhabi view camels with different eyes, scrutinizing them from nose to tail and back again, evaluating each according to strict criteria. Her ears must be firm. Her back high, her hump large and symmetrical. A rump that's not too big, with just enough room for a saddle. The hair, of course, must shine. A good head is massive. Her nose should have a strong arch in the bridge, sloping toward a bottom lip that hangs down like a bauble. A long neck appeals. As do long legs. And the judges examine the two toes of the feet, looking for what their guidelines call 'toe-parting length.' Because so many beauty pageants, in the end, do come down to cleavage.
Hey, to each his own. But don't the other livestock get jealous?

Smaller Is Better

Daniel Griswold says fears of immigrants creating a larger underclass are unwarranted:
As plausible as the argument sounds, it is not supported by the social and economic trends of the past 15 years. Even though the number of legal and illegal immigrants in the United States has risen strongly since the early 1990s, the size of the economic underclass has not. In fact, by several measures the number of Americans living on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder has been in a long-term decline, even as the number of immigrants continues to climb. Other indicators associated with the underclass, such as the crime rate, have also shown improvement.
Part of the reason may be that immigrants from the lower ranks of society aren't shut out of the American dream by a stratified society the way earlier generations were. They know the opportunities are there, and most immigrants-legal and otherwise-take advantage of them. And isn't that really the essence of the American way?

The Long Arm Of Bad Law

It sounds like the sort of thing Orwell and Kafka tried to warn us about, but the Twilight Zone world of federal criminal charges really can happen to anyone.
Consider small-time inventor and entrepreneur Krister Evertson, who will testify at today's hearing. Krister never had so much as a traffic ticket before he was run off the road near his mother's home in Wasilla, Alaska, by SWAT-armored federal agents in large black SUVs training automatic weapons on him.

Evertson, who had been working on clean-energy fuel cells since he was in high school, had no idea what he'd done wrong. It turned out that when he legally sold some sodium (part of his fuel-cell materials) to raise cash, he forgot to put a federally mandated safety sticker on the UPS package he sent to the lawful purchaser.

Krister's lack of a criminal record did nothing to prevent federal agents from ransacking his mother's home in their search for evidence on this oh-so-dangerous criminal.

The good news is that a federal jury in Alaska acquitted Krister of all charges. The jurors saw through the charges and realized that Krister had done nothing wrong.

The bad news, however, is that the feds apparently had it in for Krister. Federal criminal law is so broad that it gave prosecutors a convenient vehicle to use to get their man.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Federal law.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Birther BS

Well, I hope that settles that:
In the final months of the 2008 presidential race, Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) campaign learned of a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania that asked the state to strip Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) of the Democratic nomination on suspicion that he was not an American citizen. The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief was filed by Phil Berg, a former deputy state attorney general who left government in 1990 for a series of gadfly political campaigns. His last round of notoriety had come when he filed RICO complaints against George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein and multiple members of the Bush administration for “accountability” for the 9/11 attacks. Still, Berg’s complaint had gotten glancing local media attention, and the Democratic National Committee’s counsel had filed a motion to dismiss it. One lawyer who was doing some work for the campaign was tasked with reading Berg’s lawsuit and gauging its chances of success.

“The conversation was along the lines of ‘this is idiotic, but explain to me why,’” said the lawyer, who spoke under condition of anonymity to TWI. “I looked at whether the lawsuit was going to be dismissed. I said yes.”

While they ruled out any chance of the ‘birther’ lawsuits holding up in court, lawyers for the McCain campaign did check into the rumors about Obama’s birth and the assertions made by Berg and others. “To the extent that we could, we looked into the substantive side of these allegations,” said Potter. “We never saw any evidence that then-Senator Obama had been born outside of the United States. We saw rumors, but nothing that could be sourced to evidence. There were no statements and no documents that suggested he was born somewhere else. On the other side, there was proof that he was born in Hawaii. There was a certificate issued by the state’s Department of Health, and the responsible official in the state saying that he had personally seen the original certificate. There was a birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser, which would be very difficult to invent or plant 47 years in advance.”
Sorry, wingnuts. It looks like G. Gordon Liddy and his ilk will finally have to find something else to do.

Skynet Discovers The Stock Market

It appears some of the biggest wheelers and dealers have found yet another way to get around the Great Recession:
Powerful computers, some housed right next to the machines that drive marketplaces like the New York Stock Exchange, enable high-frequency traders to transmit millions of orders at lightning speed and, their detractors contend, reap billions at everyone else’s expense.

These systems are so fast they can outsmart or outrun other investors, humans and computers alike. And after growing in the shadows for years, they are generating lots of talk.

Nearly everyone on Wall Street is wondering how hedge funds and large banks like Goldman Sachs are making so much money so soon after the financial system nearly collapsed. High-frequency trading is one answer.
In today's financial world, electronic transparancy is apparently for suckers.

No Blue Dogs Allowed?

The Blue Dogs seem to be fed up, and are taking their ball and going home:
The seven Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee stormed out of a Friday meeting with their committee chairman, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), saying Waxman had been negotiating in bad faith over a number of provisions Blue Dogs demanded be changed in the stalled healthcare bill.

“I’ve been lied to,” Blue Dog Coalition Co-Chairman Charlie Melancon (D-La.) said on Friday. “We have not had legitimate negotiations.

“Mr. Waxman has decided to sever discussions with the Blue Dogs who are trying to make this bill work for America,” Melancon said.

Although those Blue Dogs were supposed to be headed back into another meeting of the Energy and Commerce Democrats, their anger was visible.

"Waxman simply does not have votes in committee and process should not be bypassed to bring the bill straight to floor,” Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the lead Blue Dog negotiator, said on Friday. “We are trying to save this bill and trying to save this party.”

Melancon said there would be 40-45 “solid no” votes from the 52-strong Blue Dogs, among other problems throughout the caucus. And Melancon said there are more Democrats who will vote against the bill.

“If they try to bring it to the floor, I think they’ll find out they have more problems than the Blue Dogs.”
Waxman and Pelosi don't seem to understand that their are other voices in the Democratic Party besides their own. They ignore them at their peril.

"Let's Do National Healing"

Apparently realizing that he might have stepped in it, Obama now wants Officer Crowley to come over for a visit:
Obama said the remark he made Wednesday during a nationally televised news conference 'unfortunately... gave an impression that I was maligning' the officer. He said he hoped the public debate surrounding the events would be 'a teachable moment' for the nation.

Obama said he had spoken privately by phone with the officer, Sgt. James Crowley, and the White House said Obama later spoke with Gates. Obama invited Gates to join him and Crowley at the White House in the near future, officials said.

Obama did not say whether his conversation with Crowley constituted the apology for his remarks that some police officials and union leaders have demanded.
But who's to do the teaching? Granted, some of Crowley's actions were questionable. But Obama seemed to want to seize on this as an example of getting arrested while being black, in spite of the fact that Crowley teaches other offices how not to do that. As what I hope will be the final note in all this, why does everything have to be "Teachable" or settled with some sort of group hug moment? Sometimes people just need to say what needs to be said and get on with their lives.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gimme Shelter

Maybe it's just another example of chic survivalism, but bomb shelters are apparently all the rage these days:
The bomb shelter business is booming. At least that's the consensus of the men and women who design, construct and install underground sanctuaries. They attribute the growth in business to Kim Jong Il's erratic missile lobbing, the intransigent Iranian clerics hell-bent on getting nuclear weaponry, the impending total collapse of the global financial system, and the end of the world in 2012, as predicted by the Mayan Calendar.

'For whatever reason—and we're not totally sure ourselves—but business is incredible,' Brian V. Camden, an engineer at high-end shelter builder Hardened Stuctures, says. 'Twenty-twelve, the financial collapse: I just had to hire a new architect Tuesday. Right now we're doing a lot in Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania. All through Appalachia, it's people who share a similar mind-set.'
Well, if you can afford it, why not face doomsday in style? When the end comes, you can always rent out to the post-atomic hordes...

History Lessons

Brian Doherty points to some items of interest to students of libertarian history:
The Mises Institute continues its relentless digitization of previously hard-to-find aspects of the modern American libertarian movement's past.

Faith and Freedom is more general, more homiletic, and in some ways more daring given its focus on first principles in a social and political environment when radical libertarianism was greatly mistrusted and even feared.

Libertarian Review is undoubtedly more sophisticated, more engaged with a wider world of social sciences and history and current events in a manner that could appeal to a reader merely curious, not interested in being preached at. Both make great reading for those interested in how libertarian ideas have been framed and sold in the past 60 years.
The history of modern conservatism really wouldn't be complete without a study of libertarianism and its contributions to 20th century conservative philosophy. Now said students can do just that.

Let's Text About Sex

Some common sense maybe coming to the world of teen texting:
Recognizing that teenagers who e-mail nude or sexually suggestive photos of themselves to friends aren't really child pornographers, New Jersey legislators are proposing alternatives to criminal prosecution that may be more effective in stanching the recent practice.

Pending bills in the state Assembly and the Senate would create a diversionary program, by which minors who are charged with the creation, distribution or exhibition of nude photos can avoid prosecution by completing a course focusing on the consequences of such acts.

The sponsors say teenagers often engage in the practice -- sometimes known by the play on words 'sexting' -- out of a psychological vulnerability, not a criminal mindset, and the law should reflect that.
Dealing with how anal we can be as a society when it comes to young love, or lust, would be a good start, too.

Selective Outrage, Or, Where's My Injustice?

Conor Friedersorf points out:
Isn't it notable that six months into his presidency, the most prominent advocacy President Obama has done on behalf of minorities mistreated by police is to stand up for his Ivy League buddy? Somehow I imagine that Professor Gates would've fared just fine absent help from Harvard's most prominent alumnus.

Whereas if President Obama spoke up at a press conference on behalf of people wrongly imprisoned due to 'testimony' by police dogs, or advocated for those sexually assaulted by an officer, or spoke against prosecutors who block access to DNA testing, or called out the officer who choked a paramedic, or objected to the practice of police killing family pets, or asked the Innocence Project for a clear cut case of injustice to publicize...

I understand, of course, that Pres. Obama was asked about Henry Louis Gates, which is also part of the problem. Wrongly arrest a black men who happens to be a Harvard professor, release him without filing charges, and the national press corps asks the president to comment. Wrongly imprison for years on end a black man who happens to be working class and without celebrity, and the national press corps continues to utterly ignore a criminal justice system that routinely convicts innocent people.
So who are the worse racists here? The system that allows the injustice to happen, or the "Liberal" media that only makes a big deal out of it if the victim in question is sufficiently of the right class or educational other words, people more like them?

"That's Not A Knife..."

Considering the shape his state is in, showing a little levity can't hurt:
Schwarzenegger, under fire for a budget plan announced this week that will see 15 billion dollars in spending cuts from services such as education and health care, said the light-hearted video was intended as a bit of fun.

The movie-star-turned-politician brushed off suggestions from reporters in Sacramento that the video might be viewed by some as being insensitive.

'You know, you sent a governor to Sacramento -- not El Stiffo, like some of the past were, but you sent someone that is a little bit more entertaining and has a little bit more fun with the whole thing,' Schwarzenegger said.

'Not that I have fun with making the cuts; they sadden me. But fun with the job itself, because I think it is the most rewarding job that I've ever done, even though with a huge responsibility.

'So just relax and have a little bit of a sense of humor.'
Well, at least he wasn't pointing a gun at his head...

Life After The New Deal

Via Reason, another look at a New Deal "Project", this one right here in West Virginia, and how it fared afterwards.
Diane Ghirardo wrote of the homestead projects, 'in their day-to-day operation American cooperatives revealed a pronounced drive to implement drastic social changes through the cooperatives by means of paternalistic and ultimately authoritarian control.'

In a 1987 interview, Mrs. Anna Houghton (another original homesteader) talked about the control over their lives by outsiders, stating 'to say 'go ahead and run it your own way' and yet to have somebody else say 'well, this is the way it has to be done if you're gonna get any more money from me' is the problem of any administration,' and there we have the perfect description of the political control applied to Arthurdale from 1934 to 1947. Even Bushrod Grimes (the town's first federal project manager) complained about the 'use of army tactics with the homesteaders.'

On the other hand, the success of Arthurdale as a community has everything to do with the people who stayed on after the politicians packed up and left in 1947. It only began running under its own steam when the homesteaders themselves, the Luziers, McLaughlins, Bucklews and all the others, where able to act of their own free will, guided by their own wants and opinions instead of outsiders' wants and opinions. Only then did the town became the success it is today.
And yet, some people in high places can't seem to learn from history.

"We'll Get Back To You"

So was it all for naught?
President Barack Obama's drive for healthcare reform suffered a setback on Thursday when Senate leaders said they would not be able to pass the measure before leaving for a monthlong August recess.

The day after Obama's prime-time news conference to sell the healthcare proposal, congressional leaders struggled to ease doubts about the plan and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the full chamber would not take up the bill until after its monthlong recess that begins on August 7.

'We'll come back in the fall' to work on the bill in the full Senate, he told reporters.
So the fierce urgency of Obamacare now has been replaced by...we'll pick it up after we get back from vacation. If even Harry Reid doesn't see this as a national emergency, where does that leave Obama?

The Gates Of Stupidity

Zengerle defends Obama in the Gates kerfluffle:

I think it's important to remember what the president didn't say. He did not call the behavior of James Crowley, the arresting officer, racist. He did call Crowley's behavior stupid. And, really, I think it's hard to reach any other conclusion when you consider that Crowley arrested Gates after he realized Gates was 'breaking in' to his own home. That's stupid--and Obama's right to say so.
Fair enough. Getting in a cop's face still doesn't seem to be the smartest thing to do in any situation, though. Coates also believes that maybe Obama had a right to be especially upset over the case:

I would say that this is the sort of thing that angers upper middle-class black people even more than it angers anyone else, because they tend to be individuals who, by society's lights, are very accomplished. They deeply resent being lumped in with the mass. And more than anyone they resent the whole "when you're black, you talk to the police like this" routine. Obama has lived as a member of that class for a large portion of his adult life, or he's had some concentrated exposure to it--the black strivers roll deep on the South Side. It's not shocking that he was pissed.
I too can see why Obama, as the most successful African-American in history, would be angered by the image of another successful African American getting arrested outside of his own home. Even so, there are still two sides to this story, and we will see whether Gates' accusations of genuine malice on the part of Officer Crowley are warranted or not.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Last-Ditch Pitch

I only caught part of it, but from what I could tell I really didn't hear a lot that Obama hasn't said before. Delivery-wise, I thought he was pretty forceful, althoughI thought it was telling that he felt he needed the kind of platform usually reserved for announcing wars and such to try and sell his health care plan one more time. I noticed that he used the word "Inherited" (again), and he got in a couple of good jabs at "Just Say No" and "Hoping for Epic Fail" Republicans. I only wish there'd been a bit more clarification as to how, exactly, his plan will be "Paid for" and why, exactly, he feels that every American needs or even deserves health coverage.

Blue State Blues

Joel Kotkin looks at how a blue State rebellion could hurt Obama big time:
Ultimately, waiting for Obama will not revive the blue states. Instead the best prospect lies in blue states healing themselves. Fortunately, there are some tentative signs of unrest. The same regime failure that stuck to Republicans in the wake of the Bush presidency soon may be felt by Democrats burdened with the failed legacy of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, or New York Governor David Paterson. Even Illinois, the president’s home state, could go Republican, suggests political scientist Simpson, if the Republicans put up a viable, middle-of-the-road candidate.

Powerful signs of mounting resistance have emerged in the most important state of all, California. The massive rejection of the budget agreement last spring was a blow to not only its architects, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrats in the legislature, but the general conventional wisdom that holds increased taxes as the key to addressing the state’s budget problem.

Even in deep blue Los Angeles, the public sector machine built around onetime union organizer and current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has lost some recent battles, including an attempt to create a public sector union monopoly over the city’s solar industry. There is now greater appreciation of soaring public sector pension obligations as groups like the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility expose lists of public employees enjoying mega-pensions.

Even Illinois, the president’s home state, could go Republican, suggests political scientist Simpson, if the Republicans put up a viable, middle-of-the-road candidate. Similar efforts have started in other states, and with private-sector pensions being cut around the country, anger over the emerging privileged class of public workers may well gain traction. Ultimately, more people in blue states will begin to realize that their states need to learn again how to compete against both their red counterparts and the rest of the world.
In many ways, these states are still the home of the "Reagan Democrats" and their offpsring, the "Obamacons." Entrenched Democratic party machines may not be enough to stem the tide of Blue rebellion if they don't feel that they're getting what they paid for.

The Gun Stays Home

When it comes to guns, it seems "States' rights" is relative:
By the narrowest of margins, the Senate’s liberal bloc of Democrats defeated an amendment that would have allowed gun owners to carry their weapons across state lines without regard for stricter laws in many jurisdictions, giving preference to states with looser standards.

In a 58-39 vote, supporters of the looser gun law—including all but two Republicans and 20 moderate Democrats—fell two votes short of the 60 they needed under Senate rules to approve the measure. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), showed the bitter divisions among a Democratic caucus that now holds 60 seats, many of whom got to the Senate by winning in conservative states as they proudly supported gun rights. It also divided the party’s leadership, as Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), campaigning for re-election in 2010, sided with gun rights supporters. His top lieutenants, Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), led the push against the measure.
For all the gun rights types out there who will want to get hot under the collar over this, this actually supports states' rights, IMO, by saying that another state's laws should be respected when you go there. In other words, Federalism in action, not just words.

Mall Of Un-America?

Dissent is patriotic! Oh, wait:
At the end of July, Free Market Warrior will not be allowed at Concord Mills Mall. The kiosk chain's owner shared e-mail correspondence with NewsChannel 36 that explains that the mall management has decided that the items sold are not 'neutral' enough. The lease will be allowed to expire July 31, 2009 without an option to renew.

Spivack, who first leased the space this spring, says the decision came as a shock to him. He says mall management seemed pleased with the kiosk just a few weeks ago.

'Nobody in that mall is selling anything from a conservative perspective. Plenty of people are selling things with a liberal perspective, with a pro-Obama perspective,' he said. 'Given that we are in America and not North Korea, we probably should have some stuff on the other side.'

Spivack says he is careful not to sell things that personally attack a politician and wants a fair exchange of ideas. 'The material that I sell is about politics and ideas,' he told Newschannel 36. 'It's all legitimate criticism.'

Concord Mills, owned by Simon Property Group, would not comment for this story, cited a policy against talking about tenant and landlord situations.
If the mall's owner is a "Generous contributor" to Democratic causes, then how can they complain about a lack of "Neutrality" from one vendor? Politics aside, it goes back to the old issue of how one person's complaint can ruin somebody else's entire business.

The Ad Agency That Sold The Moon

Luna as ad space? It could happen:
Creating images on the Moon provides a commercial incentive for turbo charging space travel technology. Shadows are only the beginning. These advancements will eventually place robots on other worlds building space stations and planting crops.

The full Moon will always be the same. Shadow Shaping only works during partial phases of the Moon using shadows that blend with its natural beauty. If shadows form a logo during a quarter moon, it will be a small price to pay for saving mankind.
Salvation through Madison Avenue? Well, there could be worse things to put up there. Lord knows Cobra Commander tried.

The Incredible Shrinking Yard

Harvard is learning the hard way the price of largess and entitlement.
Over the 20-year period from 1980 to 2000, Harvard University added nearly 3.2 million square feet of new space to its campus. But that’s nothing compared with the extravagance that followed. So far this decade, from 2000 through 2008, Harvard has added another 6.2 million square feet of new space, roughly equal to the total number of square feet occupied by the Pentagon. All across campus, one after another, new academic buildings have shot up. The price of these optimistic new projects: a breathtaking $4.3 billion.

In Allston, a Boston neighborhood just across the Charles River from the school’s main campus, you can view Harvard’s billion-dollar hole in the ground, a vast construction pit. It’s the foundation of Harvard’s most ambitious project of all: the sprawling Allston Science Complex, once scheduled to be completed by 2011 at a cost of $1.2 billion—but now on hold.

It’s become a symbol, that vast hole in the ground, yet another indication that Harvard University is facing the worst, most dangerous financial crisis in its 373-year history. Adding to the instability: the university is on its fourth president in eight years. And every few weeks, or so it seems, Harvard announces the departure of yet another administrator—most recently the university’s executive vice president, Edward Forst, who just last year came to Harvard from Goldman Sachs and intends to step down on August 1.

“They have to do what businesspeople do—they have to make hard decisions,” one Harvard business professor told me, referring to the university’s administrators. But, of course, Harvard is not a business, nor is it being run like a business; it’s a distinguished, high-minded research university, arguably the greatest university in the nation. “Balancing their budget is going to be very traumatic for them,” the professor added, in case I’d missed his point.
Considering that this is where many of our "Financial leaders" and leading politicians came from, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised...

S.O.S.-Save Us, Senate

Nate Silver looks to the Senate for salvation of Obamacare:
The Blue Dogs really do have some leverage here. It's at least conceivable that the House would be unable to approve health care while the Senate would be.

The Senate Democrats operate within a much more narrow band ideologically -- there are proportionately fewer true Blue Dogs, and also proportionately fewer uberliberals. If the White House could get assurances that a few key senators like Nelson, Landireu and Snowe won't filibuster health care -- they don't actually have to vote for the bill -- the Senate landscape actually starts to look reasonably favorable to the bill, possibly more favorable than the House's.
This sounds a tad optimistic IMO. After all, if it stalls or even dies in the House, what chance does Silver think it has in the Senate? As he points out, the Senate is not the place for passionate idealogues-long-winded ones, maybe, but not passionate on the scale of their Congresscritter brethren, and support for the health care bill has been nothing if not ideological.

Obamacare Ultralite

Krauthammer says it's coming regardless of the current qualms from the Blue Dogs:
If he doesn't have it, if he doesn't have a bill, any bill, at the end of the year, his presidency is going to be seriously damaged, and all the mystique will disappear. Which is why...I'm absolutely sure that at the end of the year, he will have a bill. It will have the words 'health-care reform' on it. It will be extremely watered down: All of the ballast that the Blue Dogs were protesting against, including, I'm sure, the public plan, is going to be thrown overboard.

And it will be a very weak version of what we have now, probably even harmless—which will be a great American achievement. But he's going to have something. He won't have it in August, but he will have to have it at the end of the year.
Well, maybe. But a meaningless bill may actually do more damage to Obama with his liberal base than no bill at all. And it won't take effect until Obama's first term is over, anyway. And if he has no bill, then that first term could wind up being his only one.

President Baffle

Speaking of his own party, Obama's troops are increasingly wondering: just what is their Fearless Leader's actual game plan, anyway?
As the prospects for passing health reform by the time Congress leaves for its August recess look bleaker, Democratic grumbling about President Obama is growing louder. One Democratic senator tells CNN congressional Democrats are “baffled,” and another senior Democratic source tells CNN members of the president’s own party are still “frustrated” that they’re not getting more specific direction from him on health care. “We appreciate the rhetoric and his willingness to ratchet up the pressure but what most Democrats on the Hill are looking for is for the president to weigh in and make decisions on outstanding issues. Instead of sending out his people and saying the president isn’t ruling anything out, members would like a little bit of clarity on what he would support – especially on how to pay for his health reform bill,” a senior Democratic congressional source tells CNN.
The time for campaigning is over, Mr. President. If you're going to push something this big, you could at least, you know, do some actual leading on your own major domestic issue.

Waterloo Sunset

Is health care really Obama's Waterloo? And is his own party his Russian winter? Charles Grassley claims so:
A telling episode recounted by Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley reveals the Obama administration might be more worried than they are letting on that a Republican senator's comparison of the healthcare overhaul to Waterloo might be dangerously close to the truth.

Grassley said he spoke with a Democratic House member last week who shared Obama's bleak reaction during a private meeting to reports that some factions of House Democrats were lining up to stall or even take down the overhaul unless leaders made major changes.

'Let's just lay everything on the table,' Grassley said. 'A Democrat congressman last week told me after a conversation with the president that the president had trouble in the House of Representatives, and it wasn't going to pass if there weren't some changes made ... and the president says, 'You're going to destroy my presidency.' '

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Maybe they were too busy trying to figure out how to spin another failure into something they really wanted...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

No More Freebies

Conor Friedersorf has an idea:
Rather than raise taxes on the richest Americans, why not pass a law that freezes them out of receiving federal largess?

Whether measured by income or net worth, those falling above a certain threshold could be means tested out of Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, the ability to deduct interest paid on their mortgage, federal higher education grants and subsidized loans for their children, NEA grants, vouchers to subsidize the cost of transitioning to digital televisions, etc.
As loathe as I am to punish the wealthy just for being wealthy, there is something to be said for cutting of their subsidized allowances. The response should be interesting.

That'll Leave A Mark

How to make a discovery, amateur style:
It took another 15 minutes to really believe that I was seeing something new - I’d imaged that exact region only 2 days earlier and checking back to that image showed no sign of any anomalous black spot.

Now I was caught between a rock and a hard place - I wanted to keep imaging but also I was aware of the importance of alerting others to this possible new event. Could it actually be an impact mark on Jupiter? I had no real idea, and the odds on that happening were so small as to be laughable, but I was really struggling to see any other possibility given the location of the mark. If it really was an impact mark then I had to start telling people, and quickly.
It is good to know that some things in this universe can still be found by people without several initials after their names.

The Nutty Professor

I know there are racist a-holes with badges out there, but this sounds closer to the truth:
Police and Professor Gates offered differing accounts of what happened when officers arrived. According to Professor Ogletree, Professor Gates said he showed the responding officer, Sgt. James Crowley, photo identification, but the sergeant did not believe Professor Gates lived at the home. Frustrated, Professor Gates asked for Sergeant Crowley’s name and badge number, which he refused to give. Professor Gates was arrested on his front porch, where several other officers were standing.

The police said Professor Gates refused to show identification. When told that Sergeant Crowley was investigating a robbery, the police said, Professor Gates yelled, “Why because I’m a black man in America?” and accused the sergeant of racism. The police report said Professor Gates followed the officer outside, yelled at him and was arrested for disorderly conduct.
Screaming "Racism!" after the fact always seems to be a convenient way for these types to deny that they are in fact full of themselves.

Breaking Benjamin

Of all the things to criticize Obama for, offending the Health Police with his pick for Surgeon General should be the least of them.
Critics and supporters across the blogsphere have commented on photos of Benjamin's round cheeks, saying she sends the wrong message as the public face of America's health initiatives.

But others support the 52-year-old founder and CEO of Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, citing new research that shows you cannot always judge a book by its cover when it comes to obesity.

Even the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance -- whose slogan is 'we come in all sizes' -- has jumped to her defense.

"The job of surgeon general is to make health care and policy decisions for the country -- not to look hot in a pair of skinny jeans," said one blogger on "Perhaps her size could actually be an advantage -- she's in a better position to understand obesity and contemplate out-of-the-box ways to roll back ever-expanding American waistlines."
Now, you could say that this is another case of "Do as I say, not as I do," but it would be a good thing if it took a liberal Democratic president to take on the stigma of being overweight.

Turning Around The Argument On Health Care

Peter Suderman has some advice for the GOP on how to do that:
You'd think they'd have an easy enough time opposing a trillion-dollar overhaul of a health-care system in which the vast majority of people are actually fairly satisfied with their coverage. Health-care reform isn't exactly going smoothly for the Democrats, but internal strife is at least as much a factor as Republican opposition, which has been reduced to opportunistic recitals of consultant-scripted talking points and Alfred E. Newmanesque admissions by RNC Chair Michael Steele that he 'doesn't do policy.'

I think the GOP's message that we can't afford to get health care wrong has some merit, but in general, Republicans don't seem to have the foggiest idea about what they actually think about health care—except that they're happy to bash Obama if it might prove politically helpful. What might Republicans do to get a clue? It may be that they've already been marginalized to the point that their tactics won't matter all that much. But if they're looking to regain some relevance with a different message, they could do a lot worse than listen to Arnold Kling, a guy who, unlike Michael Steele, actually knows an awful lot about free-market health-care reform.
They could do worse, indeed.

Kid Stuff

Jesse Walker wonders if some classic childrens' books may have more cynical undertones:
One of the pleasures of reading is finding your own meanings in the text, and that applies to children's books as much as adult literature. Teachers may read The Poky Little Puppy to teach kids the virtue of following the rules, but I can't possibly be the only boy who noticed that the poky puppy came out ahead. (He missed out on one helping of strawberry shortcake, but he got five helpings of both rice pudding and chocolate custard. You do the math.) On that note, I'd like to make my own nomination for the overrated-kids'-books list: a schlocky little story by Marcus Pfister called The Rainbow Fish.

This one wasn't around when I was a boy, so I didn't learn about it til my daughter was born (four years ago today!) and we received a flood of books as gifts. It's about a beautiful fish covered with shiny scales who doesn't have any friends until he gives the scales away. 'Finally,' Pfister concludes, 'he had only one shining scale left. But now, as he swam off to play with his friends, he was the happiest fish in the sea.' The book has been condemned as socialistic for its sharing-is-good message, but that isn't my problem with it. I don't think the story's core moral is It's good to share, no matter what the author intended. The real lesson here is You can buy friends."
Well, I don't know about that. You could argue, though, that the Cat in the Hat was a well-intentioned anarchist, or debate the antiwar message of the Butter Battle Book (a product of its time if there ever was one), and in fact this reading of adult parables into childrens' lit goes back at least to Charles Dickens, the Brothers Grimm and even classic nursery rhymes that date back to the Middle Ages. The fact is, our modern ideas of childhood are actually fairly recent, and the psychology of child-rearing and giving them their own stories-in effect, creating their own culture-is even newer. Modern writers may just be carrying on an ancient tradition of training kids to leave the tribe when they get old enough to hunt for themselves with today's books and their hidden meanings, real or otherwise.

Birthers Of A Nation

They just won't go away, and Marc Ambinder is worried about the wingnut brigade's influence on the GOP:
At least nine members of Congress have cosponsored a birther bill that would require prospective presidents to affirm their U.S. citizenship. What we don’t know is how widespread the belief is among Republicans—and even if the belief is confined to a narrow minority, whether the belief will spread as Republicans begin to pay closer attention to electoral politics in 2010 and 2012. In the same way that Democrats in 2004 always got a stolen election question (which, to be fair, was at least closer to reality than the birther’s claims), Republican presidential candidates need to figure out how to diffuse angry birthers who are bound to show up and demand their attention. .... The buried lede to this post: Rush Limbaugh claimed today that Obama “has yet to prove that he’s a citizen.” Republicans have to be extra careful. If they give credence to the birthers, they’re (not only advancing ignorance but also) betraying the narrowness of their base. If they dismiss this growing movement, they might drive birthers to find more extreme candidates, which will fragment a Republican political coalition.
I think at some point the Republican leadership, such as it is, is going to have to tell the Birthers to take a hike. I think there's time to do this, but it has to happen soon.

The Long Reach Of The Deal

I'm actually more on Berkowitz' side here:
Like it or not, the New Deal is here to stay. It has been incorporated into constitutional law and woven into the fabric of the American sensibility and American society. The utopian dream of cutting government down to 18th-century size can only derail conservatism's core and continuing mission of slowing and containing government's growth, keeping it within reasonable boundaries, and where possible reducing its reach.
I think this is probably the most realistic response that modern conservatives can have when dealing with the now nearly eighty year old New Deal Frankenstein. Obama will be no help, so at best thoughtful Republicans should find ways to minimize the damage without being purely obstructionists. In his response to Mark Levin, Conor Friedersorf asks:
Are we talking about abolishing the Federal Reserve? Ending Social Security? Returning to the gold standard? Reining in the commerce clause? Eliminating the Tennessee Valley Authority? Once we look at the disaggregated specifics of the New Deal, rather than arguing against it as an abstract whole, it is evident how easily the latter approach becomes nonsensical. Hence the bit about the New Deal as "unconstitutional statism" that "has as its aim to destroy the civil society." It is easy enough to see which New Deal programs garner the broadest support. How many Americans would attest that their purpose in favoring, say, the continued existence of Social Security is civil society's destruction?

Near the conclusion of his piece, Mr. Levin writes:

I also believe that conservatism is the only real alternative to statism, and that's especially so given today's soft tyranny. Berkowitz points to Barry Goldwater's defeat in 1960 as evidence that it cannot win at the ballot box. Here again, his methods are sloppy if not troubling. Of course, Ronald Reagan won two smashing landslides in 1980 and 1984 and there was no more articulate spokesman for first principles than he.

Of course, Ronald Reagan spent two terms in office as a popular president, yet there we were in 1988, the New Deal intact, and the federal government larger than ever. It's almost as though, for better or worse, those landslides didn't actually signify an electorate even remotely ready to return the federal government to its pre-New Deal size and scope.
This is, to me, an all too common mistake made by Reagan's most ardent admirers and historical revisionists. Yes, he was a great communicator of common-sense conservative values. No, he really didn't do a whole lot to overturn the New Deal, tax and spending cuts aside. Even he realized getting rid of certain portions of it would have been political suicide for him and his party, regardless of how popular he was. He understood the need for reigning in FDR-era programs, but also believed in trying to fix the ones that people wanted. This is the kind of overhaul the system needs-not a scorched-earth policy, or Obama's never-ending stimulus.

The Mother Of All Stimuluses

Just damn:
A series of bailouts, bank rescues and other economic lifelines could end up costing the federal government as much as $23 trillion, the U.S. government’s watchdog over the effort says – a staggering amount that is nearly double the nation’s entire economic output for a year.

If the feds end up spending that amount, it could be more than the federal government has spent on any single effort in American history.

For the government to be on the hook for the total amount, worst-case scenarios would have to come to pass in a variety of federal programs, which is unlikely, says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the government’s financial bailout programs, in testimony prepared for delivery to the House oversight committee Tuesday.

The Treasury Department says less than $2 trillion has been spent so far.

Still, the enormity of the IG’s projection underscores the size of the economic disaster that hit the nation over the past year and the unprecedented sums mobilized by the federal government under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to confront it.

In fact, $23 trillion is more than the total cost of all the wars the United States has ever fought, put together. World War II, for example, cost $4.1 trillion in 2008 dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service.
You know, it's one thing to say "But Bush did it too!" (and in fact I and others did). But Obama simply cannot use that excuse for this, which makes Bush look like a skinflint by comaprison. Heck, I daresay that the idea of $23 TRILLION would even make FDR say, "WTF???" But this is the era we live in-when we run up a bill that it will take until the Universe winds down from entropy to pay it all back.

Monday, July 20, 2009

And That's The Way He Likes It

You will be shocked to learn that the stimulus was really about politics over recovery after all:
The program crafted by Obama and the Democratic Congress wasn't engineered to maximize its economic impact. It was mostly a political exercise, designed to claim credit for any recovery, shower benefits on favored constituencies and signal support for fashionable causes.

As a result, much of the stimulus's potential benefit has been squandered. Spending increases and tax cuts are sprinkled in too many places and, all too often, are too delayed to do much good now. Nor do they concentrate on reviving the economy's most depressed sectors: state and local governments; the housing and auto industries. None of this means the stimulus won't help or precludes a recovery, but the help will be weaker than necessary.

There are growing demands for another Obama "stimulus" on the grounds that the first was too small. Wrong. The problem with the first stimulus was more its composition than its size. With budget deficits for 2009 and 2010 estimated by the CBO at $1.8 trillion and $1.4 trillion (respectively, 13 and 9.9 percent of gross domestic product), it's hard to argue they're too tiny. Obama and congressional Democrats sacrificed real economic stimulus to promote parochial political interests. Any new "stimulus" should be financed by culling some of the old.

Here, as elsewhere, there's a gap between Obama's high-minded rhetoric and his performance. In February, Obama denounced "politics as usual" in constructing the stimulus. But that's what we got, and Obama likes the result. Interviewed recently by ABC's Jake Tapper, he was asked whether he would change anything. Obama seemed to invoke a doctrine of presidential infallibility. "There's nothing that we would have done differently," he said.
And, apparently, he hasn't.

The Real Valkyrie

At Reason, remembering Claus von Stauffenberg and his failed (and yet ultimately victorious) attempt to dethrone Hitler. More here on the German resistance, which often doesn't get as much credit as the more famous French resistance.

When A Gaffe Becomes Fact, Ignore The Gaffe

Hey, at least he's honest:
"The reforms we seek would bring greater competition, choice, savings and inefficiencies to our health care system," Obama said in remarks after a health care roundtable with physicians, nurses and health care providers. "And greater stability and security to America's families and businesses."

The White House quickly recognized the mistake and inserted a 'sic' in the remarks sent to reporters on Monday afternoon.

Josh Earnest, a White House deputy press secretary, said Obama 'misspoke' in his remarks.
"Everyone knew exactly what he was saying," Earnest said.
Well, just so long as he wasn't "Misunderstanded". Maybe they need a Gaffe Czar...

Atomic Ocean

What could go wrong? Constructed by the state nuclear power firm Rosatom, the 144 by 30 metre (472 by 98 foot) ship holds two reactors with ...