Monday, November 30, 2009

Those Who Don't Remember Government Takeovers Of The Past...

...Are bound to repeat them.
British Leyland, Britain’s largest automaker, faced bankruptcy in 1975. Fearing that its collapse would leave a million workers unemployed, the Labour government nationalized it. The company remained a ward of the state for 13 years. During that time, the British taxpayers invested 11 billion pounds—the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $22 billion today—in a company whose only sign of life was a willingness to spend that money. Though the British economy recovered, British Leyland did not.

If this story sounds troublingly familiar to you, you appear to be nearly alone. Few of the policymakers currently nationalizing the American auto industry seem to remember the British experience, and fewer still seem to have learned anything from it.
The more things change...

It's The Process, Stupid

Clive Crook sums up Climategate:
The closed-mindedness of these supposed men of science, their willingness to go to any lengths to defend a preconceived message, is surprising even to me. The stink of intellectual corruption is overpowering. And, as Christopher Booker argues, this scandal is not at the margins of the politicised IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] process. It is not tangential to the policy prescriptions emanating from what David Henderson called the environmental policy milieu. It goes to the core of that process.
They sold out their scientific principles for ideology. And thoroughly ruined any real arguments that might have been made for climate change in the process.

The Former World Citizen President

Obama just can't seem to get any repsect these days, including from overseas.
The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”
Obama wanted to take a different approach than Bush and help America regain its standing in the rest of the world. That was a good thing. But Obama is now seen as being all talk and no action. And that's just not good for business either abroad or at home.

Anger Management

David Frum on angry Republicans:
For all the anger felt by Republicans, they are not a very radical group of people. They divide 50-50 on whether they wish to see religion exercise more influence in American life than it does today. Only one-fifth of Republicans think abortion should be illegal in all cases. The party still holds a substantial pro-choice minority: 35% think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Half of the Republicans and Republican leaners surveyed said they “never” listen to Rush Limbaugh – more than say they never listen to MSNBC.
Republicans tend to be establishment supporters; they don't go in for populist politics as a rule. Democrats, by comparison, are often angry and radical-even when they're in charge.

Obama's Wars

Andrew Sullivan despairs over Obama's choices in Iraq and Afghanistan:
As Obama appears to be intensifying the lost war in Afghanistan, with the same benchmark rubric that meant next-to-nothing in the end in Iraq, he does not seem to understand that he will either have to withdraw US troops from Iraq as it slides into new chaos, or he will have to keep the troops there for ever, as the neocons always intended. Or he will have to finance and run two hot wars simultaneously. If he ramps up Afghanistan and delays Iraq withdrawal, he will lose his base. If he does the full metal neocon as he is being urged to, he should not be deluded in believing the GOP will in any way support him. They will oppose him every step of every initiative. They will call him incompetent if Afghanistan deteriorates, they will call him a terrorist-lover if he withdraws, they will call him a traitor if he does not do everything they want, and they will eventually turn on him and demand withdrawal, just as they did in the Balkans with Clinton. Obama's middle way, I fear, is deeper and deeper into a trap, and the abandonment of a historic opportunity to get out.

I pray I'm wrong. Maybe Iraq will teeter away from a second implosion. Maybe the Af-Pak strategy is credible in a way Iraq's surge never was. We have yet to hear the president's explanation and we would do well to ponder his proposal as thoroughly as he has.

But I fear Bush's wars will destroy Obama as they destroyed Bush. Because they are unwinnable; and because the US is bankrupt; and because neither Iraq nor Afghanistan will ever be normal functioning societies in our lifetimes.
Lyndon Johnson was destroyed by Vietnam when he allowed that war to become defined by politics. Obama risks doing the same.

Islam's Durn Libruls

An argument for the case that liberal Muslims could reform their religion:
Over the next few decades, it will not surprise me if major Muslim leaders begin emphasizing how Islam preserved the works of great philosophers and fostered scientific learning throughout the Middle Ages as evidence of their faith’s integral relationship with science and modernity. In fact, it’s already pretty common to hear similar talking points from moderate Islamic leaders in the United States and Europe. This narrative may not be completely accurate, but that’s almost beside the point. If the number of liberal Muslims reaches a critical mass, they’ll find ways to justify their political and cultural outlook within a rich theological tradition, just as liberal Christians have done in the West.
Maybe, but it's much easier to promote reform in the democratic states of Europe and North America than it is in their former homelands. Real reform begins at home.

Who Watches The Prosecutors?

Radley Balko on the subject of prosecutorial misconduct:
Prosecutors get no credit for cases they decide not to bring, either because of a lack of evidence or because pressing charges wouldn't be in the interest of justice. They're only rewarded for winning convictions. That's what gets them promoted, or re-elected, or gives them the elevated profile to run for higher office. Every incentive points toward winning convictions. And particularly with prosecutors, there's really no penalty at all for going too far to get a guilty verdict. One real disservice the Duke lacrosse case did for the criminal-justice system is it put in the public consciousness the idea that bad actors like Mike Nifong are regularly disciplined for misconduct. In truth, that case was really exceptional.
Prosecutors are also politicians, and maybe that's part of the problem. When winning votes becomes as important as winning a case (and vice versa) the true intent of the law-and society-suffers.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Giving The World The Finger

Iran has basically told the rest of the world to go screw itself:
Iran angrily refused Sunday to comply with a demand by the United Nations nuclear agency to cease work on a once-secret nuclear fuel enrichment plant, and escalated the confrontation by declaring it would construct 10 more such plants.

The response to the demand came as Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said his cabinet would also order a study of what it would take for Iran to further enrich its existing stockpile of nuclear fuel for use in a medical reactor — rather than rely on Russia or another nation, as agreed to in an earlier tentative deal.

While it is unclear whether Iran has the fuel technology, the declaration appeared intended to convince the West that Iran was prepared to move closer to bomb-grade quality, while stopping short of crossing that threshold.
That threshold seems to be getting closer by the day...

When Chickens Come Home to Roost

It appears there's a Huckabee connection to the Washington State shootings:
Maurice Clemmons, the 37-year-old Tacoma man being sought for questioning in the killing this morning of four Lakewood police officers, has a long criminal record punctuated by violence, erratic behavior and concerns about his mental health.

Nine years ago, then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee granted clemency to Clemmons, commuting his lengthy prison sentence over the protests of prosecutors.

"This is the day I've been dreading for a long time," Larry Jegley, prosecuting attorney for Arkansas' Pulaski County said tonight when informed that Clemmons was being sought for questioning in connection with the killings.
....

News accounts out of Arkansas offer a confusing — and, at times, conflicting — description of Clemmons' criminal history and prison time.

In 1990, Clemmons, then 18, was sentenced in Arkansas to 60 years in prison for burglary and theft of property, according to a news account in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Newspaper stories describe a series of disturbing incidents involving Clemmons while he was being tried in Arkansas on various charges.
....

When Clemmons received the 60-year sentence, he was already serving 48 years on five felony convictions and facing up to 95 more years on charges of robbery, theft of property and possessing a handgun on school property. Records from Clemmons' sentencing described him as 5-foot-7 and 108 pounds. The crimes were committed when he was 17.

Clemmons served 11 years before being released.

News accounts say Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence, citing Clemmons' young age at the time the crimes were committed.
Mike Huckabee, your past is calling...

Order In The Kangaroo Court

Well, I really hope Obama is smarter than this:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed "great regret" in August that the U.S. is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This has fueled speculation that the Obama administration may reverse another Bush policy and sign up for what could lead to the trial of Americans for war crimes in The Hague.

The ICC's chief prosecutor, though, has no intention of waiting for Washington to submit to the court's authority. Luis Moreno Ocampo says he already has jurisdiction—at least with respect to Afghanistan.

Because Kabul in 2003 ratified the Rome Statute—the ICC's founding treaty—all soldiers on Afghan territory, even those from nontreaty countries, fall under the ICC's oversight, Mr. Ocampo told me. And the chief prosecutor says he is already conducting a "preliminary examination" into whether NATO troops, including American soldiers, fighting the Taliban may have to be put in the dock.

"We have to check if crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide have been committed in Afghanistan," Mr. Ocampo told me. "There are serious allegations against the Taliban and al Qaeda and serious allegations about warlords, even against some who are connected with members of the government." Taking up his inquiry of Allied soldiers, he added, "there are different reports about problems with bombings and there are also allegations about torture."

It was clear who the targets of these particular inquiries are but the chief prosecutor shied away from spelling it out.

Asked repeatedly whether the examination of bombings and torture allegations refers to NATO and U.S. soldiers, Mr. Ocampo finally stated that "we are investigating whoever commits war crimes, including the group you mentioned."
I'm all for punishing our soldiers when they commit crimes. But that's what court-martials and our courts are for. There are too many people who would use the ICC as an excuse to punish America for any reason.

Secretary-In-Chief

It looks like the Senate wants to give the HHS power that other Secretaries could only dream of:
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would be awarded unprecedented new powers under the proposal, including the authority to decide what medical care should be covered by insurers as well as the terms and conditions of coverage and who should receive it.

"The legislation lists 1,697 times where the secretary of health and humans services is given the authority to create, determine or define things in the bill," said Devon Herrick, a health care expert at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

For instance, on Page 122 of the 2,079-page bill, the secretary is given the power to establish "the basic per enrollee, per month cost, determined on average actuarial basis, for including coverage under a qualified health care plan."

The HHS secretary would also have the power to decide where abortion is allowed under a government-run plan, which has drawn opposition from Republicans and some moderate Democrats.

And the bill even empowers the department to establish a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation that would have the authority to make cost-saving cuts without having to get the approval of Congress first.

"It's a huge amount of power being shifted to HHS, and much of it is highly discretionary," said Edmund Haislmaier, an expert in health care policy and insurance markets at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
But hey, it's all in the name of "Reform". Or something.

Better Freedom Through Technology

Radley Balko on how technology has become a liberating influence in the 21st century:
I think technology is adding a level of transparency to government we've never seen before, from crowd-source analysis of those 1,000-page bills Congress is so fond of sneaking through, to Google's recent move to make case law available and searchable to the public, to the proliferation of cell-phone cameras and the resulting documentation of police and government abuses for the world to see—be it the Iranian government's crackdown on democracy protesters or a Bay Area cop's killing of a BART passenger.

George Orwell wrote of government power, "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever." He may still be right, but there's now a decent chance someone will be there with a cell-phone camera to post it on YouTube. And exposing abuse of power is half the battle.
It can be a double-edged sword-the same gadgetry that allows a person with a cell phone to upload said video can also give government the power to turn entire neighborhoods into The Village. But the pros outweigh the cons, as evidenced by the fear that regimes like North Korea have of it.

To Stigmatize Or Not To Stigmatize

Mickey Kaus supports the latter:
A stigma placed on cash-like welfare (which food stamps are) remains a positive sign of a healthy work ethic. If you came across two societies–Society A, in which food stamps were stigmatized, with families reluctant to go on the dole even if they were eligible, and Society B, in which they weren’t, you would want to bet on (and live in) Society A. It’s one thing to relax the stigma on welfare in times of epic economic decline. It’s another if the stigma doesn’t return with the possibility of employment.
Therein lies the problem with welfare states: they don't hold out the promise of future employment. They only subsidize poverty-not end it.

The Wimp Factor

Jennifer Rubin on why Obama seems to have it worse than the first President Bush did:
The sole target of his concern has not been the enemy and the horrendous potential consequences of a halfhearted effort. Instead he’s been fixated on his left-wing base. He’s obsessed over an exit strategy, forgetting that his predecessor won a war without one and that George W. Bush’s wartime troubles stemmed not from failing to promise an end date but from letting a losing strategy persist too long. Obama’s also muddied the waters on the identity of the enemy and whether we can achieve “victory,” a word never uttered but essential to leading a war effort.
....

One way for Obama to demonstrate that he takes being commander in chief seriously would be to dismiss his left-wingers’ “tax the war” gambit, designed to undermine support for the effort we are about to undertake. He should be clear that this is sheer hypocrisy (where’s the stimulus surtax?) and won’t be realistically entertained.

Frankly, it might be a good time for the president to battle his left flank and demonstrate some moxie, if he has it. The world and a vast number of centrists in America, not to mention conservatives, think he’s a wimp. This is his time to prove them wrong.
If he can't, he's doomed to the same one-term fate that befell another president he's getting compared to these days.

Time Keeps On Slippin'

We seem to be exporting our obsession with the clock to the rest of the world:
From how business is conducted to the fight to slow the aging process, our unhealthy attitudes are becoming the common thread that ties our flattening world together. As Hoffman writes in her new book Time — an overview of the way humans experience, fight with, warp, and understand the concept — Americans' insecurity with the ticking clock was in some ways born out of the opportunities for growth and expansion that did not exist in other parts of the world. We worked harder and competed with one another because there was a chance for upward mobility. Other nations are now taking our lead — there are still cliches about the striking French and the siestaing Spanish, but citizens of other countries are taking on the longer work hours and the obsession with youth that has plagued the U.S. for generations.
But is that really entirely our fault, or just a side effect of the spread of free markets? After all, the desire to "Keep up with the Joneses" or go beyond them can also give people the freedom to use their time for other, positive pursuits. Not to mention the added income that can generate a healthy, stable society.

Brain Damage

In writing about brain injuries, Jonah Lehrer notes how lying and creativity go together:
Chronic confabulation is often seen in patients with frontal lobe damage. Like SB, these people invent fantastical fictions about their lives, telling stories that make little literal sense. They lie about anything and everything, if only because the truth is too confusing. Such confabulations tells us something important about the mind: spontaneous creativity - the ability to make up a story on demand - is a fundamental feature of human cognition. We're all natural storytellers, weaving narratives out of the confusion. In other words, SB's brain damage didn't lead to some special new mental capacity, which the rest of us are missing. Instead, it released a latent creative capacity that we all have, if only we learned how to stop holding it back.
Hmm. Maybe if more politicians were artists and writers, they'd be happier (and more creative) individuals...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Working Mancession Blues

Why is it tougher for guys to get jobs these days than it is for women?
The unemployment rate for men, 11.4%, based on seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, outpaces the rate for women, 8.8%. We now have the largest jobless gender gap since tracking became possible in 1948. The gap reached its previous peak, 2.5 points, in 1967 and 1978. Today's gap has exceeded that for three months. It's endured at two points or above for an unprecedented length, eight months and counting.

As of the end of October, the U.S. had lost 7.3 million jobs in this Great Recession. Men account for 5.3 million of that loss. The shift is so dramatic that women now constitute 49.9% of the work force and will soon outnumber men.
....

What has happened to men is fundamentally a product of the times. This recession made America's already declining manufacturing sector decline more rapidly. About half of all job losses have been in manufacturing and construction, overwhelmingly male sectors.

Government policy has also exacerbated this trend. The stimulus dollars were disproportionately directed away from those who lost the most jobs. The Obama administration estimated early this year that more than four in 10 stimulus jobs were going to women, about twice women's estimated job losses. There was no major new infrastructure spending, as during the New Deal, in part because women's groups such as the Nation Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority lobbied hard against the president's proposed "shovel ready" stimulus program.
Slowly but surely, guys seem to becoming increasingly irrelevant and unwanted-at least in the eyes of "Women's rights" groups. They now have the power-and are proving just as willing to abuse it as any of those evil males they so often complain about.

Guess Who Came To Dinner

Obama wants an investigation:
President Barack Obama has ordered a full review into how a Virginia couple managed to make their way into the White House for last week's state dinner without an invitation, even getting so far as to meet the president in the official receiving line, according to a White House official.

Three days after a pair of Virginia socialites and reality TV wannabes crashed the administration's first state dinner, the White House acknowledged for the first time Friday that they met Obama himself at the event – raising even more questions about whether the breach could have posed a security risk.

“The men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line everyday to protect us, they are heroes and they have the full confidence of the President of United States,” said White House spokesman Nick Shapiro in a statement issued Friday evening. “The White House asked the United States Secret Service to do a full review and they are doing that. The United States Secret Service said they made a mistake and they are taking action to identify exactly what happened and they will take the appropriate measures pending the results of their investigation.”

The White House and the U.S. Secret Service offered few details about how Tareq and Michaele Salahi, managed to end up in the receiving line.
Somebody dropped the ball, but is Obama more upset about the breach in security-or the fact that the incident embarrassed him? Remember, the grownups are in charge now...

Sand Castles

What do Dubai and governments have in common? They just can't seem to learn from their mistakes.
Dubai is stuck with a glut of real estate that no one wants to buy or rent. Creditors and markets had always assumed that when push came to shove, its oil-rich neighbor Abu Dhabi would bail out Dubai. But that assumption was called into question this week, and the resulting fear that Dubai might not be able to pay its bills sent a wave of uncertainty rippling through markets just as investors thought the worst of the global financial instability was over.

The anxiety reached Wall Street on Friday, sending the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 150 points, as investors worried about hidden debt bombs in other countries and institutions — heavily indebted nations like Greece and even Britain, high-flying emerging markets and even European and American banks that had lent Dubai money.

In a worst-case contagion, Bank of America analysts wrote Friday, “One cannot rule out — as a tail-risk — a case where this would escalate into a major sovereign default problem, which would then resonate across global emerging markets in the same way that Argentina did in the early 2000s or Russia in the late 1990s.”

And not just emerging markets. “Dubai shows us that what we are now facing is a solvency issue, not a liquidity issue,” said Jonathan Tepper, a partner at Variant Perception, a research house in London that has been outspoken on the debt problems facing European economies.
And I don't see anyone coming to them with a bailout or a stimulus anytime soon.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Wanna Be Sedated

The European soccer-fixing scandal seems to be taking a new twist:
FRANKFURT — The international gang suspected in Europe's biggest soccer match-fixing scandal supplied sedatives to team doctors and hotel cooks to drug players in matches to be manipulated, a lawyer for one of the arrested suspects said Friday.

Prosecutors believe the gang did not shy away from "locking up people in basements" or "sedating players," lawyer Burkhard Benecken said.

"According to prosecutors, they were extremely violent," he said.

The doctor of a Slovenian team was given sedatives to use on his own players, and the chefs in luxury hotels were given drugs to disable players, Benecken said.

"Whether it actually happened is not known," he added.
Wow. At least when our athletes take illegal drugs, it's done to win.

Mr. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Scandal

The OC Register wants to know why California's top cop seems to be dragging his feet:
If Mr. Brown is serious about returning to the governor's job, which he held from 1975-83, he will need to get serious about investigating ACORN. If he doesn't, it might cost him at the ballot box. The attorney general's office claims the investigation of the controversial ACORN videos is ongoing, but according to David Lagstein, Acorn's chief organizer in San Diego, the state's top law agency is in ACORN's corner. In a recorded speech he gave to the East [San Diego] County Democrat Club last month, Mr. Lagstein said that every bit of the communication he had with Mr. Brown's office suggests that the fault will be found with the activists who made the videos, not the people with ACORN.

We hope this is not the case. Mr. Brown has proven that he can be a maverick and that he can, on occasion, espouse liberty-advancing principles. Here's an opportunity for Mr. Brown to demonstrate his independence as the top lawmaker in the state despite ACORN's assertions that he is in their corner.
But will he? Or will Prosecutor Moonbeam just prove Acorn's claim for them?

Defending The Indefensible

And people wonder why entertainment types get accused of being disconnected from reality:
The decision to free Roman Polanski is a wise decision. It honors the people who took it. It shows that the arguments developed by the movie director’s partisans—including those published on the French review’s website of La Règle du Jeu—have finally been fruitful. It shows that Polanski’s French lawyers, Hervé Témime and Georges Kiejman, were right to remain tenacious. At this very moment, I am thinking about Emmanuelle, his wife. I am thinking about his two kids who saw their dad’s name ignominiously dragged through the mud. I am mostly thinking about him: Roman Polanski whom I don’t know but whose fate has moved me so much.
And I'm thinking about the girl he gave pills and booze to, and then had his way with. Pardon me while I gag.

At Her Beck And Call

Oh, Lord, I hope not.
Former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin on Wednesday did not rule out running for president alongside Fox News host Glenn Beck in 2012.

Palin was asked during an interview with Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” about the chances that she “would run on a ticket with Fox’s own Glenn Beck,” as the conservative outlet Newsmax reported might be a possibility in 2012.

“I saw that, I saw that; he probably got a kick out of that,” Palin said. “It was just a hoot, too, to hear such a thing.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “We’ll see, we’ll see.”
I can't think of anything that would make Palin look even more unqualified than she already does than to run with Beck. Beck can be entertaining in his own way, but if he believes he's fit to be Commander In Chief, he's even more delusional than Lou Dobbs.

Climategate Lessons

Tigerhawk on the cost of climategate:
Increasingly, the average concerned citizen without a particular ax to grind will no longer trust the climate scientists simply because they say so, or because Al Gore says so on their behalf. So how do we regain that trust? By agreeing that we will not use data or the output from climate models to inform public policy unless they have been developed according to established quality systems for mission critical software and have been audited accordingly by a genuinely disinterested third party. Because of the implications for the global economy and the well-being of literally billions of people over the next century, requiring that the models and the data used to feed the models be subject to at least the process control and auditing that we would require of a medical device seems the absolute least we should do.
The Church of Climate Change turned what might have been a legitimate issue into a propaganda tool for Al Gore and his ilk. Future generations may well wonder why people listened to them in the first place.

Capitalism, A Hate Story

Because the stimulus has worked out so well, a pair of magical politicians (see below), have figured out a new way to "Pay" for it:
Two Democratic congressmen have cooked up a plan to help us out. The strategy entails sucking another $150 billion of capital investment out of the market each year and handing it to an organization that can't balance a budget, borrows money with abandon, runs massive deficits and excels at creating fairy tale jobs.

Under a bill being drafted by Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, every purchase of a financial instrument like stocks, options, derivatives and futures would face an additional .25 percent tax — because capital gains taxes simply haven't been hampering private investment enough.

The idea has the tortured (both logically and linguistically) title, "Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act of 2009." Would legislation mean that the federal government mails $150 billion in refunded tax checks to those who laid out the money for the bank bailout that Perlmutter supported? Of course not.

Half of the $150 billion in tax revenue would go toward "reducing the deficit" — a confusing tidbit made all the more curious when you consider Fazio and Perlmutter have helped spend more of your money in the first year of this presidential administration than any in history, $3.52 trillion in fiscal 2009. Here's a restorative idea: Spend less.

The other half would be deposited in a "Job Creation Reserve." History tells us that any government reserves are actually sieves.
And who are these evil capitalists who should pay up?
Wall Street" isn't stocked exclusively with revolting would-be criminals. It is made up of retirees, small-business owners, entrepreneurs and parents who invest in their kids' college funds. At last count, nearly 50 percent of Americans are, on some level, invested in the stock market.
I'm betting many won't be if this passes. And then there won't be much left "Wealth" to "Redistribute," will there?

The Magical Politician

In writing about the health care boondoggle, John Stossel on why politicians make good magicians:
The key to magic is misdirection, fooling the audience into looking in the wrong direction.

I happily suspend disbelief when a magician says he'll saw a woman in half. That's entertainment. But when Harry Reid says he'll give 30 million additional people health coverage while cutting the deficit, improving health care and reducing its cost, it's not entertaining. It's incredible.

The politicians have a hat full of tricks to make their schemes look cheaper than they are. The new revenues will pour in during Year One, but health care spending won't begin until Year Three or Four.
What's the difference between a magician who's paid to fool people and a politican who's elected to fool them? The magician knows when the act is supposed to be over.

To Bomb Or Not To Bomb

So what if worse comes to worst and the neocons get their way?
First, regardless of perceptions of U.S. complicity in the attack, the United States would probably become embroiled militarily in any Iranian retaliation against Israel or other countries in the region. Given uncertainties about the future of Iraq and a deepening commitment to Afghanistan, hostilities with Iran would stretch U.S. military capabilities at a particularly difficult time while potentially derailing domestic priorities.

Second, an Israeli strike would cause oil prices to spike and heighten concerns that energy supplies through the Persian Gulf may become disrupted.
....

The United States has a strong interest in domestically generated regime change in Iran. Although some argue that the popular anger aroused in Iran by a strike would be turned against a discredited clerical regime that seemed to invite foreign attack after its bloody postelection repression of nonviolent opposition, it is more likely that Iranians of all stripes would rally around the flag. If so, the opposition Green movement would be undermined, while the ascendant hard-line clerics and Revolutionary Guard supporters would face fewer constraints in consolidating their hold on power.
And, on the heels of this news, it seems that another major war might be avoided-for now.

Reading Material

As we approach the end of the year-and the decade-it's only natural that we should start seeing Best Of lists for the past ten years. I'm glad to see that Wired and The Atlantic both made this one.

Happy Holidays, Nannystate Style

How politically correct has eating become in the Big Apple? Even the homeless are being affected.
When a small church comes to the Bowery Mission bearing fried chicken with trans fat, unwittingly breaking the law, they’re told “thank you.” Then workers quietly chuck the food, mission director Tom Bastile said.

“It’s always hard for us to do,” Basile said. “We know we have to do it.”

A Manhattan deli going out of business delivered a pickup truck’s worth of lettuce, sundried tomatoes, hamburgers, sausages and other food to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen last week.

With 1,400 meals to serve daily, Operations Manager Michael Ottley was extremely grateful. He didn’t check the trans fat content of the food.

Lines at soup kitchens are up by 21 percent this year, according to a NYC Coalition Against Hunger report released yesterday. The city’s law banishing trans fat took effect in July 2008 and touched everyone with Health Department food licenses — including emergency food providers.
I'm guessing Hizzoner Bloomberg doesn't have to worry about whether there is any trans fat in his holiday turkey or ham. The only fat is in his head.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dear Dad

Wow. Imagine if this happened to you:
A MAN who went in search of his biological father was shocked to learn it was famed serial killer Charles Manson.

Matthew Roberts, a 41-year-old DJ who lives in Los Angeles, said the shock of discovering his father sent him into depression.

See a photo of Matthew Roberts here

"I didn't want to believe it. I was frightened and angry. It's like finding out that Adolf Hitler is your father,” Mr Roberts told The Sun.

"I'm a peaceful person - trapped in the face of a monster."

Despite his revulsion Mr Roberts has been exchanging mail with Manson, who is serving life in Corcoran State Prison in California over nine murders committed by his “Family” of followers in 1969.

“He sends me weird stuff and always signs it with his swastika,” Mr Roberts said.
I'm guessing they won't be spending a lot of time together this holiday season...

Season's Greetings

Oprah and The One are teaming up to bring us some seasonal propaganda, er, holiday cheer:
The queen of daytime will interview the president of the country during an ABC holiday special that brings together Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama.

The network has announced "Christmas at the White House: An Oprah Primetime Special," which includes an interview with the president, a conversation with the First Couple and tour of the White House. The special will also go behind-the-scenes as staffers prepare the White House for the holiday season.

The special marks the first time Winfrey has interviewed Obama since he took office. "Christmas at the White House" will air Sunday, Dec. 13, at 10 p.m.

Winfrey, who has never endorsed a presidential candidate before, was a strong supporter of Obama during his presidential campaign, stumping for him in key states.
Considering that we're getting Scrooged on spending by this administration, I guess playing Santa for the declining numbers of people who still support him is the least Obama could do.

A New World Record

Well, I guess it's some kind of an accomplishment:
President Obama has shattered the budget record for first-year presidents -- spending nearly double what his predecessor did when he came into office and far exceeding the first-year tabs for any other U.S. president in history.

In fiscal 2009 the federal government spent $3.52 trillion -- $2.8 trillion in 2000 dollars, which sets a benchmark for comparison. That fiscal year covered the last three-and-a-half months of George W. Bush's term and the first eight-and-a-half months of Obama's.

That price tag came with a $1.4 trillion deficit, nearly $1 trillion more than last year. The overall budget was about a half-trillion more than Bush's for 2008, his final full fiscal year in office.
And we still have at least three more years to go...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Scandal? What Scandal?

As the Climategate scandal continues to emerge, Newsbusters notes how the MSM still doesn't want to hear about it:
An hilariously bizarre situation is happening in the wake of the growing Climategate scandal. Many of the mainstream media stories about global warming are simply pretending it doesn't exist. Perhaps they feel that by ignoring Climategate entirely that it will just go away. Unfortunately for them, the readers of these global warming stories keep bringing up the inconvenient truth of Climategate by mentioning the scandal in the comments section over and over and over again.
How dare the readers bring up the truth! Don't they know the media can't handle the truth?

Change Arrives, Women And Minorities Hardest Hit

The more things Change, the more they get worse:
Joblessness for 16-to-24-year-old black men has reached Great Depression proportions -- 34.5 percent in October, more than three times the rate for the general U.S. population. And last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment in the District, home to many young black men, rose to 11.9 percent from 11.4 percent, even as it stayed relatively stable in Virginia and Maryland.
....

The jobless rate for young black men and women is 30.5 percent. For young blacks -- who experts say are more likely to grow up in impoverished racially isolated neighborhoods, attend subpar public schools and experience discrimination -- race statistically appears to be a bigger factor in their unemployment than age, income or even education. Lower-income white teens were more likely to find work than upper-income black teens, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, and even blacks who graduate from college suffer from joblessness at twice the rate of their white peers.

Young black women have an unemployment rate of 26.5 percent, while the rate for all 16-to-24-year-old women is 15.4 percent.
So when will we start hearing about how racist the Obama administration is?

"I Think, Therefore I Win"

Ross Douthat counters the notion that a wonk can't win with today's Republican voters:
Look at the case of Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker is still an influential figure in conservative politics, years after his salad days, largely because he’s one of the few Republicans who actively cultivates a reputation as a policy thinker. (He polls respectably in primary heats, too, for someone who hasn’t held elective office in over a decade.) If Gingrich can keep his profile high by acting like he has bold policy ideas even when he really doesn’t, surely there’s room for a Republican who actually has fresh ideas to make a name for himself as a policy innovator.

Indeed, the example of Gingrich — the way that he’s sought after as a wise man by Republicans, and the way that both the right-wing media and the mainstream press tend to give him more credit as a thinker than he deserves — suggests that precisely because the G.O.P. currently has a reputation for being anti-intellectual, there’s a huge upside for a Republican politician in being identified as that rarest of species — a “conservative with domestic policy ideas.” (For a small-bore example of how this works, look at Paul Ryan, who’s made a substantial name for himself by being one of the few House Republicans willing to get into the weeds on health care reform.) Of course identity politics and symbolic appeals will always matter more than substance, and political careers will never be made on wonkery alone. But even — or especially — in today’s Republican Party, being known as a thoughtful politician seems much more likely to help you than to hurt you.
I think there's a hunger for someone who's serious on the Republican side to go up against Obama. Eventually, people want to know what you're actually going to do if elected. Again, you don't need to be an egghead to do this-but you don't need to act like policy is just for eggheads, either.

This We Command

Speaking of the Republicans, they still seem more intent on purity rather than purpose:
The "Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates" outlines 10 conservative principles the group of signees wants potential candidates to abide by. The principles include support for:

(1) Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill
(2) Market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;
(3) Market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
(4) Workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check
(5) Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
(6) Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
(7) Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat
(8) Retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
(9) Protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
(10) The right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership

"President Ronald Reagan believed, as a result, that someone who agreed with him 8 out of 10 times was his friend, not his opponent," the resolution states.

But if a candidate disagrees with three of the above, then the group wants the RNC to withhold financial assistance and an endorsement from that candidate.
So much for Reaganism. I actually agree with most of these, but can we stop with the purges already? The GOP needs all the help it can get. They have momentum now, and will probably still kick the Democrats' rears next year, but if they are still seen as being rigid and exclusionary, or if the "Base" jumps ship to follow a third-party movement, no "Resolution"-especially one that contains a purity test-is going to help them in the future.

One Man's Redistribution Is Another Man's Insurance Policy

David Frum sums up why taxes are the kiss of death for real health care reform:
Smart Democrats from FDR onward have always understood that the secret of popularity for a government program is to appear non-redistributive: everybody pays, everybody gets. Then you can say: It’s insurance, not welfare. With this measure, Medicare becomes more welfare-like and therefore more politically vulnerable.
....

Whether healthcare passes or not, the combination of rising Medicare spending plus baby boom retirement has put the U.S. on a glided path toward a substantially bigger government for the next 30 years. Barring unprecedented and improbable cuts in spending, especially on Medicare, the federal tax take will rise from the 20% of GDP that prevailed in the 1990s to 25% or more. The big question for the next generation of American political leaders will be: what form should these tax increases take? Bartlett argues that if Republicans do not step forward to propose economically rational revenue measures that protect saving, investment, and economic growth, the liberal wing of the Democratic party will dominate the debate and heap rising progressive taxes on upper income earners.
The problem is, right now most of the GOP is running on being anti-Obama rather than offering those alternatives. Maybe that could come later-but by then it might be too late.

The Kiss Seen 'Round The World

Adam Lambert explains himself:
Adam Lambert's sexually suggestive choreography -- including kissing another male -- on the American Music Awards stage Sunday night happened "in the moment," the singer told CNN.

Lambert, who is openly gay, said it is "a form of discrimination and a double standard" for anyone to object since "women performers have been pushing the envelope" for decades.
....

"I do feel like there's a bit of a double standard in the entertainment community, on television, on radio," Lambert told CNN backstage. "I feel like women performers have been pushing the envelope, especially, for the past 20 years. And all of the sudden a male does it and everybody goes 'Oh, we can't show that on TV.' For me, that's a form of discrimination and a double standard. And that's too bad."
Well, he has a point there. And I really don't care about his sexuality. Even so, there comes a point where it just becomes bad taste in self-promotion.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Peace In Space

Does a space station deserve a prize?
Jeff Foust’s Space Politics blog has reported on an interesting proposal being advanced by Alan Ladwig, the new deputy associate administrator for communications for public outreach at NASA. Alan Ladwig is proposing that the International Space Station (ISS) be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

"He then added, ‘One of the things my office is going to try and promote this year is to try and get the International Space Station nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s been going on now for ten years. It’s the largest technological international endeavor ever undertaken, and it seems to be going pretty well… I think it’s a pretty good testament to what can be done when we collaborate together.’”
The station is a remarkable achievement of technology and international cooperation, but it's still just a place. Maybe the award should go to the engineers who designed it instead?

Trip To Nowhere

So what did Obama's excellent adventure get him? Not much:
The mood in Obama's foreign policy team is tense following an extended Asia trip that produced no palpable results. The "first Pacific president," as Obama called himself, came as a friend and returned as a stranger. The Asians smiled but made no concessions.

Upon taking office, Obama said that he wanted to listen to the world, promising respect instead of arrogance. But Obama's currency isn't as strong as he had believed. Everyone wants respect, but hardly anyone is willing to pay for it. Interests, not emotions, dominate the world of realpolitik. The Asia trip revealed the limits of Washington's new foreign policy: Although Obama did not lose face in China and Japan, he did appear to have lost some of his initial stature.
....

Obama visited a new China, an economic power that is now making its own demands. America should clean up its government finances, and the weak dollar is unacceptable, the head of the Chinese banking authority said, just as Obama's plane was about to land.

Obama's new foreign policy has also been relatively unsuccessful elsewhere, with even friends like Israel leaving him high and dry. For the government of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, peace is only conceivable under its terms. Netanyahu has rejected Obama's call for a complete moratorium on the construction of settlements. As a result, Obama has nothing to offer the Palestinians and the Syrians. "We thought we had some leverage," says Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel under the Clinton administration and now an advisor to Obama. "But that proved to be an illusion."

Even the president seems to have lost his faith in a genial foreign policy. The approach that was being used in Afghanistan this spring, with its strong emphasis on civilian reconstruction, is already being changed. "We're searching for an exit strategy," said a staff member with the National Security Council on the sidelines of the Asia trip.
....

Obama's advisors fear a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with Bush. Prominent Republicans have already tried to liken Obama to the humanitarian from Georgia, who lost in his bid to win a second term, because voters felt that he was too soft. "Carter tried weakness and the world got tougher and tougher because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators, when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead," Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker in the House of Representatives, recently said. And then he added: "This does look a lot like Jimmy Carter."
That might actually come to seem like an insult to Carter...

I appreciated the new tone that Obama wanted to take after years of Bush's go-it-alone, "You are either with us or against us" policy. But part of the job of the American president is to actually get something in return for America for his troubles. Theodore Roosevelt said speak softly and carry a big stick. Obama wants to speak softly, but is discovering that words alone sometimes won't carry the weight he needs.

The Bill Comes Due

If Obamacare passes, expect it to be added to an already huge tab:
Treasury officials now face a trifecta of headaches: a mountain of new debt, a balloon of short-term borrowings that come due in the months ahead, and interest rates that are sure to climb back to normal as soon as the Federal Reserve decides that the emergency has passed.

Even as Treasury officials are racing to lock in today’s low rates by exchanging short-term borrowings for long-term bonds, the government faces a payment shock similar to those that sent legions of overstretched homeowners into default on their mortgages.

With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically. Other forecasters say the figure could be much higher.

In concrete terms, an additional $500 billion a year in interest expense would total more than the combined federal budgets this year for education, energy, homeland security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the article notes, this has gone on for years, even decades, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. But what, if anything, has Team Obama decided to do about it, except pay lip service to cutting spending? Clinton was at least smart enough to recognize the need for controlling spending, and he actually got a surplus. The only thing Obama seems interested in is helping out those who get his agenda passed.

Skepticism We Can Believe In

While the Democrats claim victory over their vote to have a debate over a vote, the public is losing faith in the era of Change:
Just 38% of voters now favor the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. That’s the lowest level of support measured for the plan in nearly two dozen tracking polls conducted since June.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% now oppose the plan.

Half the survey was conducted before the Senate voted late Saturday to begin debate on its version of the legislation. Support for the plan was slightly lower in the half of the survey conducted after the Senate vote.

Prior to this, support for the plan had never fallen below 41%. Last week, support for the plan was at 47%. Two weeks ago, the effort was supported by 45% of voters.
The USS Hope And Change seems to be hitting some rough waters these days...

In The Dumps

ACORN can't seem to get rid of incriminating evidence fast enough:
the local head ACORN organizer in California, David Lagstein was caught on tape earlier this month speaking to an East County Democratic Club.

Mr. Lagstein stated: “…the attorney general is a political animal, but certainly every bit of the communication we have had with them has suggested that the fault will be found with the people that did the video and not the people with ACORN.”

Continuing, Mr. Lagstein stated: “…we are fully cooperating, some of the investigators visited our office this morning and I think they really understand what’s going on.”

Shockingly, we now learn that the ACORN office in National City (San Diego County) engaged in a massive document dump on the evening of October 9th, containing thousands upon thousands of sensitive documents, just days prior to the Attorney General’s visit.

BigGovernment.com has learned that not only did this document dump occur, but the documents in question were irresponsibly and brazenly dumped in a public dumpster, without considering laws and regulations as to how sensitive information should be treated.
Well, they apparently never considered the law before, so...

Once Smitten, Twice Shy

Wow. Now even Chris Matthews has turned on the man of his dreams:
Chris Matthews appears to have lost that loving feeling for Barack Obama.
On 'The Chris Matthews Show' Sunday, the once smitten MSNBCer called some of Obama's recent mistakes 'Carteresque':

In the Carter presidency, the optics were not exactly robust, and Ronald Reagan rode that to a big victory in 1980. Is the Obama White House sending some Carteresque signals these days?

These 'signals' included bowing to the Emperor of Japan, getting nothing on his trip to China, and deciding to try terrorists in New York City.

Potentially as surprising as Matthews bringing these issues up was the Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and David Ignatius agreeing with him.
Along with Saturday Night Live, this appears to be turning into Obama's winter of discontent.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's 1979 All Over Again

Shades of the Carter years:
Authorities at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant were investigating what caused a weekend radiation leak that resulted in 150 workers being sent home, officials said Sunday.

An airborne radiological contamination alarm sounded about 4 p.m. Saturday in the Unit 1 containment building, according to a statement from Exelon Nuclear, which operates the Three Mile Island plant near Middletown, Pennsylvania. The unit had been shut down since October 26 for refueling, maintenance and steam generator replacement, the company said.

"A monitor at the temporary opening cut into the containment building wall to allow the new steam generators to be moved inside showed a slight increase in a reading and then returned to normal," the company said. "Two other monitors displayed normal readings."
All we need now is a hostage crisis. Oh, wait.

Speak Klingon Or Die

How to tell when your dad is a huge nerd:
d'Armond Speers spoke only Klingon to his child for the first three years of its life.

Klingon? Not Spanish, French, Mandarin? Not some gutteral genuflecting concoction from the deepest recesses of Borneo? Klingon? You heard it right. (And if you don't know about the Klingon Empire, look it up.)

"I was interested in the question of whether my son, going through his first language acquisition process, would acquire it like any human language," Speers told the Minnesota Daily. "He was definitely starting to learn it."
"What were you, raised by Klingons?" "Well, yes, I was, you worthless p'tak. Why do you ask?"

Climategate Pratfalls

Those hacked emails are showing that some scientists were regarded as more equal than others:
Scientists who disagreed with orthodox views on climate change were variously referred to as "prats" and "utter prats." In other exchanges, one climate researcher said he was "very tempted" to "beat the crap out of" a prominent, skeptical U.S. climate scientist.

In several of the emails, climate researchers discussed how to arrange for favorable reviewers for papers they planned to publish in scientific journals. At the same time, climate researchers at times appeared to pressure scientific journals not to publish research by other scientists whose findings they disagreed with.

One email from 1999, titled "CENSORED!!!!!" showed one U.S.-based scientist uncomfortable with such tactics. "As for thinking that it is 'Better that nothing appear, than something unacceptable to us' … as though we are the gatekeepers of all that is acceptable in the world of paleoclimatology seems amazingly arrogant. Science moves forward whether we agree with individual articles or not," the email said.
In the Climate Change Church, heresy will not be tolerated. A hard lesson that was apparently learned early on.

Acting Versus Governing

Wow. Maureen Dowd says Obama is no Reagan:
He’s a highly intelligent man with a highly functioning West Wing, and he’s likable, but he’s not connecting on the gut level that could help him succeed.

The animating spirit that electrified his political movement has sputtered out.

People need to understand what the president is thinking as he maneuvers the treacherous terrain of a lopsided economic recovery and two depleting wars.

Like Reagan, Obama is a detached loner with a strong, savvy wife. But unlike Reagan, he doesn’t have the acting skills to project concern about what’s happening to people.

Obama showed a flair for the theatrical during his campaign, and a talent for narrative in his memoir, but he has yet to translate those skills to governing.

As with the debates, he seems resistant to the idea that perception, as well as substance, matters. Obama so values pragmatism, and is so immersed in the thorny details of legislative compromises, that he may be undervaluing the connective bonds of simpler truths.
Reagan had his faults, but he understood those truths. And, with all her faults, so does Palin-at least, more so than Obama. If Palin is surging, as perhaps a Goldwater if not a Reaganesque figure, it's because Obama is stumbling with the normal people he seems to praise on the one hand and dismiss on the other.

Toward The Finish Line

Well, now it's off to Round Two.
A sweeping healthcare overhaul narrowly cleared its first hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Saturday, with Democrats casting 60 party-line votes to open debate on the biggest healthcare changes in decades.

In the first Senate test for President Barack Obama's top domestic priority, Democrats unanimously backed a procedural motion to open debate over the opposition of 39 Republicans. Republican George Voinovich did not vote.

Democrats needed 60 votes to approve the motion in the 100-member Senate and had no margin for error -- they control exactly 60 votes.

The Democratic victory was assured earlier in the day when the party's last two holdouts, Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu, said they would support the motion but would not commit to backing the final bill without changes.

"I believe that it is more important that we begin this debate to improve our nation's healthcare system for all Americans rather than just simply drop the issue and walk away," Lincoln said in a speech hours before the vote.

The debate will begin on Nov. 30 and is expected to last at least three weeks. The House of Representatives has passed its own version, and differences in the two would have to be reconciled in January before Obama could sign a final measure.
The Chinese have a curse: "May you live in interesting times." In that case, the coming weeks and months could be very interesting, indeed.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Night's Alright for Voting

Here it comes:
Invoking the name of the late Edward M. Kennedy, Senate Democrats sealed a 60-vote majority needed to advance health care legislation Saturday ahead of an evening showdown with opposition Republicans eager to inflict a punishing defeat on President Barack Obama.

Two final holdouts, Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, announced in speeches a few hours apart on the Senate floor that they would join in clearing the way for a bruising, full-scale health care debate after Thanksgiving.

At a 10-year cost approaching $1 trillion, the measure is designed to extend coverage to roughly 31 million who lack it, crack down on insurance company practices that deny benefits and curtail the growth of spending on medical care nationally.
It must be expensive, because it's still huge:
The real star of the health care debate this weekend has been the 2,074-page bill — a physical manifestation of the size and scope of what's at stake as senators consider the overhaul of one-sixth of the nation's economy.

"It's a massive increase in government, as shown by this bill," Mr. Ensign told a reporter off the floor later, spreading his arms wide as if to encompass the stack of papers that comes in at more than a foot tall and, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, weighs in at more than 20 pounds.

The bill contains the word "tax" 511 times and includes 18 tax hikes, according to Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative lobby group. It uses the word "require" more than 1,000 times, the word "shall" more than 3,500 times, and talks about studies required by the bill 150 times.
And how are they going to pay for that trillion? With things like this:
In an attempt to illustrate the real world consequences of reform's taxes, Senate Republicans are pointing out a provision that would tax the makers of swine flu vaccines and drugs. The provision raises $2.3 billion annually from drug makers who sell their products through government programs.

“When everybody is coming together to fight a possible pandemic the last thing the government should be doing is taxing the people who manufacture the vaccines and the drugs to treat H1N1 flu,” said a Senate Republican leadership aide.
Hold on to your hats-and your wallets. And you can thank "Reform" when it takes longer than before to get new drugs, or new medical equipment, or any real innovation.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Friend In Need Is A Friend For Life

How's this for ethics? Obama seems to know how to take care of his friends:
A GOP congressional report accuses the White House of doing favors for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and prominent ally of President Barack Obama.

The report was spearheaded by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The investigation also found evidence that D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee handled “damage control” after allegations surfaced of sexual misconduct against Johnson, her now-fiancé.

The probe was launched after an AmeriCorps inspector general, Gerald Walpin, was abruptly fired in June by White House lawyer Norm Eisen. Walpin, who was appointed to his position during the Bush administration, was pursuing allegations that Johnson misused some of the $800,000 in federal AmeriCorps money provided to St. Hope Academy, a nonprofit school he headed for several years.

Among the accusations: AmeriCorps-paid volunteers ran personal errands for Johnson, washed his car and engaged in political activities.

Walpin’s firing caused an uproar, with his defenders arguing that his removal was politically motivated and that Walpin was an effective watchdog who blew the whistle on the president’s friends and pet causes.
....

During the course of Walpin’s investigation into Johnson’s activities, according to the Grassley-Issa report, Walpin’s team received complaints that Johnson made inappropriate advances toward three young woman involved in the St. Hope program and that Johnson offered at least one of those young women hush money.

In one particularly incendiary passage in the report, one of the girls who had accused Johnson of inappropriately touching her said she told federal agents that he offered to pay her $1,000 a month to keep quiet.

Johnson’s spokesman vehemently denied the reports charges.

"There is absolutely no merit to these politically-motivated allegations,” said Steven Maviglio. “They are categorically false. It is sad and unfortunate that the right-wing minority in Congress is playing politics with rehashed allegations that have been dismissed by professional prosecutors, the Republican U.S. Attorney, and federal officials at AmeriCorps from both political parties."
Spoken like a man with something to hide...of course, Team Obama is standing firm:
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt issued a statement standing by the decision to remove Walpin. 



“By contrast to today’s partisan criticism, the bipartisan Board of [Corporation for National and Community Service, CNCS] unanimously endorsed the President’s decision,” he said. “And the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee found that the White House ‘met the letter and spirit of the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008’ with respect to the required congressional notifications.

“There is nothing new in today’s report, which ignores the multiple bases for Mr. Walpin’s removal and doesn’t provide a shred of evidence that suggests he was removed for any reason other than performance issues,” he continued.

LaBolt declined to comment on whether anyone in the White House, including Obama, knew about the sexual misconduct accusations against Johnson at the time of Walpin’s firing.
What did Obama know and when did he know it? Was Walpin fired for being too good at his job?

So much for "Transparancy."

"Bring Out Your Dead!"

How do you know when your city is dying? When it can't afford a decent burial:
The abandoned corpses, in white body bags with number tags tied to each toe, lie one above the other on steel racks inside a giant freezer in Detroit’s central mortuary, like discarded shoes in the back of a wardrobe.

Some have lain here for years, but in recent months the number of unclaimed bodies has reached a record high. For in this city that once symbolised the American Dream many cannot even afford to bury their dead.

“I have not seen this many unclaimed bodies in 13 years on the job,” said Albert Samuels, chief investigator at the mortuary. “It started happening when the economy went south last year. I have never seen this many people struggling to give people their last resting place.”
I don't know which is worse-the humiliation of dying in Detroit-or having to live there.

The Verdict

With all the hue and cry over KSM, it should be noted that we can actually convict terrorists in court:
The ringleader of a group described by prosecutors as plotting terror attacks on Chicago's Sears Tower and FBI offices in hopes of sparking an anti-government insurrection was sentenced Friday to 13 1/2 years in prison by a federal judge.

Narseal Batiste, 35, dabbed at his eyes with a tissue when U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard wondered in court how he was transformed from a hardworking family man struggling to build an inner-city construction business to the unquestioned leader of a quasi-religious, paramilitary group seeking support from Al Qaeda for terrorism.

"You've done great harm to yourself, your family, the young men who were your followers, and you've violated the trust of your country," Lenard said.

Batiste, who faced a maximum of 70 years in prison, was convicted in May of conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda, plotting to blow up buildings and conspiracy to wage war against the U.S. Four other men described as Batiste's soldiers were also convicted and sentenced to between six and 10 years behind bars.
....

The conviction was built on dozens of FBI recordings, mainly of meetings between Batiste and an FBI informant posing as an emissary from Al Qaeda. One key piece of evidence was a ceremony in which Batiste and his followers each pledged loyalty to Al Qaeda and Usama bin Laden, and the group also took photos at the informant's direction of Miami's FBI office and several downtown government buildings.

There were two mistrials and two men were acquitted before prosecutors finally won the case earlier this year. Batiste testified at all three trials that he never aspired to be a terrorist and only went along in hopes of scamming the FBI informant out of $50,000.

At the sentencing hearing, Batiste apologized to his family and the young men who became his followers, and blamed his "arrogance and pride" for leading him down the wrong path.

"I wanted respect. I wanted to be this person that I really wasn't," he said. "I've never been a violent person."
For his "Respect" he's getting sent to prison where he can continue to be nonviolent and reflect on his arroagance and pride. Good riddance.

Blowing Up Their Bridges Behind Them

Should we be worried about this?
Colombia warned its forces were on "maximum alert" and were prepared to defend against any attack, amid rising tensions with neighboring Venezuela.

Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva issued the warning after a meeting of the country's national security council in Arauca, a city on the eastern border with Venezuela.

He said President Alvaro Uribe and the military forces of Colombia were intent on remaining calm "because they know there are provocative forces on the border that must be avoided at all cost."

But this "does not mean that we are not prepared or are not on maximum alert to prevent any aggression against Colombia, against Colombians or against our territory."

Uribe's national security council met for five hours in Arauca with military and police commanders in the border area a day after Bogota charged that Venezuelan troops had blown up two footbridges across the border in northeastern Colombia.

Silva said the destruction of the bridges was an aggression against the civilian population.

"Those bridges were built more than 30 years ago, it was infrastructure built to bring the community together, to work together," he said.

Venezuela said Thursday the bridges were destroyed because they were being used by drug traffickers and smugglers.

The two neighbors have long been at odds, but tensions have sharpened in recent months over a US-Colombian agreement giving the US military access to seven Colombian bases.
Colombia is a major American ally. Perhaps Baby Hugo should think twice before making waves.

Eat Me-Literally

H+ speculates about the future of lab-grown meat, which includes the following:
Humans are animals, so every hipster will try Cannibalism. Perhaps we'll just eat people we don't like, as author Iain M. Banks predicted in his short story, "The State of the Art" with diners feasting on "Stewed Idi Amin." But I imagine passionate lovers literally eating each other, growing sausages from their co-mingled tissues overnight in tabletop appliances similar to bread-making machines.
Maybe we could see Fried Hitler Chops, or Smoked Saddam Steaks...I'd like to try Rasputin Stew, myself.

Hidden Nuts

Well looky here:
The community organizing group ACORN mismanaged about $200,000 received from the Justice Department, which failed to track how the allocated money was used, according to a report by the department's watchdog.

The news is the latest blow to a group whose public image has taken a beating in recent months after some of its employees were caught on video trying to help a couple posing as a prostitute and pimp evade tax laws.

"It's ironic that the Justice Department provided ACORN affiliates with funding to help prevent crime when many of ACORN's own employees have come under criticism for possible criminal conduct," said Sen. Lamar Smith, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

Smith called on the inspectors general of federal agencies that have provided millions to ACORN to initiate similar investigations.

"The Justice Department's IG's report may prove to be just the tip of an iceberg-sized fraud," he said.
Will the last one to leave the Titanic please turn out the lights?

When The Chips Are Down, Keep Them That Way

Free market? What's that?
the Feds must have better things to worry about than whether two little Pennsylvania pretzel companies pose a danger to the American economy. This month Snyder's of Hanover and Utz Quality Foods, both in Hanover, just over the state line from Carroll County, halted a planned merger after regulators intervened.

In deciding to extend its review of the deal, the Federal Trade Commission sought documents that would have cost the companies millions of dollars and months of uncertainty.

"They were asking for a lot of data - obviously a very expensive process" says Utz President Tom Dempsey. "We looked at it and said, 'We've got to make a business decision here.' We just decided this isn't something we're prepared to go forward on."

Too bad. The merger, which the companies said would have been layoff-free, could have given them fighting weight to compete against monsters Frito-Lay and Kraft. It would have been good for Hanover, where they employ a couple of thousand people.

Not in anybody's imagination (except maybe an antitrust regulator's) could it have hurt consumers.

Between them Frito-Lay and Kraft control well over half of the U.S. snack market. Frito-Lay makes the eponymous chips and other junk food. Kraft makes Ritz and Triscuit crackers and Mister Salty pretzels.

Snyder's market share, by contrast, is about 2 percent. Utz's is even less. Combined, they would control a smaller portion of the snack business than Microsoft's share of Web-search activity. Believe me, that's small.
But apparently not small enough for the Merger Police. I thought antitrust regulations were supposed to help small businesses compete against the big guys, not the other way around.

One Man's Obstruction Is Another Man's Democratic Process

James Taranto counters John Kerry (remember him?)
Is Congress really "the most obstructionist" it has been during Kerry's tenure? If so, perhaps the answer is to elect more Republicans. The House currently has a 258-177 Democratic majority, which is as many Democrats as it has had at any time during Kerry's congressional tenure except the administration of George H.W. Bush, when the Democratic total reached as high as 267. The Senate Democratic caucus has 60 members, 58 of whom are formally Democrats, making it the most Democratic Senate since Kerry's arrival (the previous high was 57, in 1993-95).

If this Congress is unusually "obstructionist," it is because the president is giving it so much to obstruct. Massachusetts Democrats like Kerry may support a government health-care takeover and massive taxes on energy, but the American people on the whole--including those who elected many of the Democrats in those big majorities--do not. What really frustrates Kerry is not "obstructionism" but democracy.
I guess it's only obstructionist if you're the ones out of power. But what if you're the ones supposedly in charge?

Climategate

It looks like there could be a big scandal brewing for the climate change crowd:
Hackers broke into the servers at a prominent British climate research center and leaked years worth of e-mail messages onto the Web, including one with a mysterious reference to a plan to "hide the decline," apparently in temperatures.

The Internet is abuzz about the leaked data from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (commonly called Hadley CRU), which has acknowledged the theft of 61MB of confidential data.

Climate change skeptics describe the leaked data as a "smoking gun," evidence of collusion among climatologists and manipulation of data to support the widely held view that climate change is caused by the actions of mankind. The files were reportedly released on a Russian file-serve by an anonymous poster calling himself "FOIA."

In an exclusive interview in Investigate magazine's TGIF Edition, Phil Jones, the head of the Hadley CRU, confirmed that the leaked data is real.

"It was a hacker. We were aware of this about three or four days ago," he told the magazine, noting that the center has yet to contact the police about the data breach.
....

The Telegraph has posted some of the more scathing excerpts from these emails, which the newspaper suggests points to manipulation of evidence and private doubts about the reality of global warming, though the much of the scientific language in the e-mails is esoteric and hard to interpret.
What won't be hard to interpret is the idea of these "Experts" fudging data to make it more ecologically correct.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Say It Ain't So, O

No more free cars?
After more than 20 years at the top of the daytime talk show game, Oprah Winfrey's calling it quits.

According to insiders, Winfrey informed her staff of her decision late this afternoon in a company meeting, described as "emotional, supportive and respectful."

This afternoon, Tim Bennett, president of Winfrey's Harpo production house, announced that the media mogul will step off the "Oprah" set in September 2011. He said Winfrey will confirm the news on Friday's edition of her show.

"The Oprah Winfrey Show" will not move on to the cable Oprah Winfrey Network or OWN.
So what does this mean for the future? Book tours? Film? Or maybe she'll start a new religion.

Senator Giuliani?

Now this could be interesting:
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has decided against running for governor, but is strongly considering running for U.S. Senate instead, sources told the Daily News.

The Republican heavyweight was considered the GOP's best shot at reclaiming the governor's mansion.

The only declared candidate on the Republican side is little-known former Long Island Rep. Rick Lazio.

One source said Giuliani is prepared to run for U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2010 to fill out the remaining two years of Hillary's Clinton's term.

But a number of sources close to the former mayor said no decision has been made and a Giuliani spokeswoman downplayed the reports.

"Rudy has a history of making up his own mind and has no problem speaking it," she said. "When Mayor Giuliani makes a decision about serving in public office, he will inform New Yorkers on his own."
Which means he's probably seriously considering it. And could there be anyone better to represent New York than an actual New Yorker, particularly one with his national standing?

Climate Catastrophe On Hold, Again

It just keeps getting worse for Al Gore. First, people protest at his speeches, and now the weather itself isn't cooperating.
Global warming appears to have stalled. Climatologists are puzzled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years. Some attribute the trend to a lack of sunspots, while others explain it through ocean currents.

At least the weather in Copenhagen is likely to be cooperating. The Danish Meteorological Institute predicts that temperatures in December, when the city will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference, will be one degree above the long-term average.

Otherwise, however, not much is happening with global warming at the moment. The Earth's average temperatures have stopped climbing since the beginning of the millennium, and it even looks as though global warming could come to a standstill this year.

Ironically, climate change appears to have stalled in the run-up to the upcoming world summit in the Danish capital, where thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, business leaders and environmental activists plan to negotiate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Billions of euros are at stake in the negotiations.

Reached a Plateau

The planet's temperature curve rose sharply for almost 30 years, as global temperatures increased by an average of 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.25 degrees Fahrenheit) from the 1970s to the late 1990s. "At present, however, the warming is taking a break," confirms meteorologist Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in the northern German city of Kiel. Latif, one of Germany's best-known climatologists, says that the temperature curve has reached a plateau. "There can be no argument about that," he says. "We have to face that fact."

Even though the temperature standstill probably has no effect on the long-term warming trend, it does raise doubts about the predictive value of climate models, and it is also a political issue. For months, climate change skeptics have been gloating over the findings on their Internet forums. This has prompted many a climatologist to treat the temperature data in public with a sense of shame, thereby damaging their own credibility.

"It cannot be denied that this is one of the hottest issues in the scientific community," says Jochem Marotzke, director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg. "We don't really know why this stagnation is taking place at this point."
Maybe Gaia is just getting tired of humans telling it how it should behave?

Botax Time

Well, this won't mamke Hollywood-or John Kerry or Nancy Pelosi-very happy:
SEC. 9017. EXCISE TAX ON ELECTIVE COSMETIC MEDICAL PROCEDURES.

(a) IN GENERAL.-Subtitle D of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended by this Act, is amended by adding at the end the following new chapter:

''CHAPTER 49-ELECTIVE COSMETIC MEDICAL PROCEDURES ''Sec. 5000B. Imposition of tax on elective cosmetic medical procedures.

''SEC. 5000B. IMPOSITION OF TAX ON ELECTIVE COSMETIC MEDICAL PROCEDURES.
''(a) IN GENERAL.-There is hereby imposed on any cosmetic surgery and medical procedure a tax equal to 5 percent of the amount paid for such procedure (determined without regard to this section), whether paid by insurance or otherwise.
''(b) COSMETIC SURGERY AND MEDICAL PROCEDURE.-For purposes of this section, the term 'cosmetic surgery and medical procedure' means any cosmetic surgery (as defined in section 213(d)(9)(B)) or other similar procedure which-
''(1) is performed by a licensed medical professional, and
''(2) is not necessary to ameliorate a deformity arising from, or directly related to, a congenital abnormality, a personal injury resulting from an accident or trauma, or disfiguring disease.
''(c) PAYMENT OF TAX.-
''(1) IN GENERAL.-The tax imposed by this section shall be paid by the individual on whom the procedure is performed.
''(2) COLLECTION.-Every person receiving a payment for procedures on which a tax is imposed under subsection (a) shall collect the amount of the
tax from the individual on whom the procedure is performed and remit such tax quarterly to the Secretary at such time and in such manner as provided
by the Secretary.
''(3) SECONDARY LIABILITY.-Where any tax imposed by subsection (a) is not paid at the time payments for cosmetic surgery and medical procedures are made, then to the extent that such tax is not collected, such tax shall be paid by the person who performs the procedure."
So when do we get to see a Tea Party in Bel Air or Malibu?

Jesse Goes There

Oh no he din't!
The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Wednesday night criticized Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) for voting against the Democrats’ signature healthcare bill.

“We even have blacks voting against the healthcare bill,” Jackson said at a reception Wednesday night. “You can’t vote against healthcare and call yourself a black man.”

The remark stirred a murmur at the reception, held by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Foundation as part of a series of events revolving around the 25th anniversary of Jackson’s run for president. Several CBC members were in attendance, including Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who’d introduced Jackson.

Davis, who is running for governor, is the only black member of Congress from Alabama.

He is also the only member of the CBC to have voted against the healthcare bill earlier this month.
I thought we were supposed to be beyond racial politics in the Obama Era. At any rate, it just further proves how utterly useless and irrelevant Je$$e Jackass is.

Epic Union Fail

The unions are all about what's best for their members-except when those things work too well:
The Boston Teachers Union staunchly opposes a performance bonus plan for top teachers - launched at the John D. O’Bryant School in 2008 and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Exxon Mobil foundations - insisting the dough be divvied up among all of a school’s teachers, good and bad.

“It’s insanity,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of the nonpartisan Pioneer Institute. “They’re less concerned about promoting the interest of individual members than maintaining control over their members.”

The incentive program pays Advanced Placement teachers $100 bonuses for each student who passes the test, and up to $3,000 a year for meeting other goals. Students also can also receive $100 for passing.

“(The union) is standing in the way of innovation,” school Superintendent Carol R. Johnson told the Herald. “I think we have to realize we can’t do business as usual. . . . We have to be willing to make changes and give kids the opportunities they need.”
But the union is doing business as usual. What else were you expecting?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Obama, The Sort-Of Federalist

Obama appears to have decided that some Federalist ideas are more equal than others:
Not yet a year into his administration, Obama's record on 10th Amendment issues is already clear: He'll let the states have their way when their policies please blue team sensibilities and he'll call in the feds when they don't. Thus, he'll grant California a waiver to allow it to raise auto emissions standards, but he'll bring the hammer down when the state tries to cut payments to unionized health care workers....

Our federal system shouldn't be a red team/blue team issue, respected or flouted depending on who's up and who's down. Conservatives are learning to rue their abandonment of federalist principles during the last administration; liberals may come to regret their rush toward centralization during the next.
It's true that Bush practially abandoned federalism along with most other conservative principles. But Obama's pick-and-choose method is little better. When you're President, you shouldn't play favorites when it comes to Constitutional ideals no matter which party you come from.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Along with his excellent adventure in China, Obama may be channeling Nixon in more ways than one:
Obama, a former constitutional law professor, insisted that he wasn’t trying to dictate the result.

“What I said was, people will not be offended if that's the outcome. I'm not pre-judging, I'm not going to be in that courtroom, that's the job of prosecutors, the judge and the jury,” Obama said. “What I'm absolutely clear about is that I have complete confidence in the American people and our legal traditions and the prosecutors, the tough prosecutors from New York who specialize in terrorism."
KSM is a scumbag of the first order and I will shed no tears if and when he gets his just reward. But Obama is the one saying that the rule of law matters. So why not just let the law do its job?

Club Gitmo Is (Still) Open For Business

As someone who believes Gitmo should go, this is disappointing-although, given The One's track record in actually keeping any of his promises, not too surprising:
President Obama directly acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay will not close by the January deadline he set, but he said he hoped to still achieve that goal sometime next year.

Obama refused, however, to set a new deadline.

In an interview in the Chinese capital with Major Garrett of Fox News, Obama said he was "not disappointed" that the Guantanamo deadline had slipped, saying he "knew this was going to be hard."

"People, I think understandably, are fearful after a lot of years where they were told that Guantanamo was critical to keep terrorists out," Obama said. Closing the facility, he added, is "also just technically hard."
So, apparently, are most of the things he ran on, and which he has now put on hold.

"I Am What I Am, You Betcha"

Should Sarah Palin change if she wants to be taken more seriously? Rich Lowry says no:
Why should Palin change? She represents less a philosophical strain on the right than an affect and a demographic. What makes her otherwise orthodox conservatism different is the plain-spoken, combative way she expresses it and the constituency she attracts. Her supporters identify with her populist, unaffected vibe and tend to be disaffected with politics as usual — they’re Palin Perotistas. A drastic image makeover would only drive them away.

Republicans need these voters more than ever given the roiling grassroots revolt against Obama’s governance. Without them, they can’t get a majority; they’d be doomed if they were ever to slide into a splinter party. If Palin is their voice and channels their energy productively, she’s part of the Republican answer to Obama, no matter what presidential politics ultimately holds for her.
I say there are others who would provide a better-and more credible-answer to Obama. Palin is an emotional response to Obama; the Republicans need a rational one. If they can summon the courage to support such a person, that is.