Thursday, January 28, 2010

They Want Names

The President who promised to keep up the fight against "Special interests" may have to answer some questions about his own backroom dealings:
Hours before President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address, Republicans and Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee agreed to pursue a revised GOP request for additional documentation about the talks that led to a series of controversial administration agreements with doctors, hospitals and drug makers at the outset of the health care debate.

The rising tide of anger against those industry-endorsed pacts — coupled with voters’ frustration about other last-minute concessions party leaders made to wavering Democrats — helped propel Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts in a shocking result that has imperiled health care reform on Capitol Hill.

Under the agreement Chairman Henry Waxman brokered with Texas Republican Rep. Michael Burgess, the California Democrat has offered to help Republicans get a comprehensive list of meetings the White House held with industry representatives, as well as records documenting calls and e-mails between outside groups and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I have long been an advocate for transparency in government,” Waxman said. “At the same time, I believe Congress should wield its oversight power judiciously.”
....

Waxman himself has been a critic of the White House deals and said Wednesday that he, too, would like the administration to offer up more information about those agreements. Other Democrats complained that Republicans aren’t the only ones whose requests for information often go ignored.

“We don’t get our letters answered, either,” said Rep. Gene Green, a Texas Democrat, during the committee meeting.

The Burgess inquiry stems from a series of deals the administration cut with various players in the health care fight.
When you promise transparency, don't be surprised if people expect you to actually deliver...

"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."

"I hope to hell that when I do die somebody has the sense to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetary. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody."

J.D. Salinger has died:
For several generations of American high school students, the "Catcher in the Rye" was a seminal coming-of-age work assigned in English class, and the tormented teenager Holden Caulfield became a synonym for alienated adolescence. The book was released in 1951 and has been a top seller ever since. It has sold 60 million copies worldwide.

A statement released by his literary agency today said "Salinger had remarked that he was in this world but not of it. His body is gone but the family hopes that he is still with those he loves, whether they are religious or historical figures, personal friends or fictional characters."

The Modern Library and its readers has named it one of the 100 Best Novels in the English Language in the 20th Century.
The NY Times has more, including a look at the rumors of unpublished manuscripts that surrounded Salinger:
Was he writing? The question obsessed Salingerologists, and in the absence of any real evidence, theories multiplied. He hadn’t written a word for years. Or like the character in Stephen King’s novel “The Shining,” he wrote the same sentence over and over again. Or like Gogol at the end of his life, he wrote prolifically but then burned it all up. Ms. Maynard said she believed there were at least two novels locked away in a safe, although she had never seen them.

There's also a less than flattering portrayal of what he was like as a husband and a father, but the fact remains that Catcher in the Rye is probably one of the seminal literary works of the 20th century. Considering how many times his work has been banned over the years, maybe he had a right to be a reclusive SOB. R.I.P.

Alito Vs. Obama

Apparently a lot of people saw Alito not willing to take any of Obama's guff over the Supreme Court:



Randy Barnett objects to Obama's attitude:
In the history of the State of the Union has any President ever called out the Supreme Court by name, and egged on the Congress to jeer a Supreme Court decision, while the Justices were seated politely before him surrounded by hundreds [of] Congressmen? To call upon the Congress to countermand (somehow) by statute a constitutional decision, indeed a decision applying the First Amendment? What can this possibly accomplish besides alienating Justice Kennedy who wrote the opinion being attacked. Contrary to what we heard during the last administration, the Court may certainly be the object of presidential criticism without posing any threat to its independence. But this was a truly shocking lack of decorum and disrespect towards the Supreme Court for which an apology is in order.
And, this:
The president's statement is false.

The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign nationals, specifically defined to include foreign corporations, are prohibiting from making "a contribution or donation of money or ather thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State or local election" under 2 U.S.C. Section 441e, which was not at issue in the case. Foreign corporations are also prohibited, under 2 U.S.C. 441e, from making any contribution or donation to any committee of any political party, and they prohibited from making any "expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication... ."

This is either blithering ignorance of the law, or demogoguery of the worst kind.
I don't know about demagoguery, but it was stretching the facts a bit. As a law professor, shouldn't Obama have known better?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Anti-Incumbency Era

Mike Lillis cautions Republicans on assuming that the Brown revolt is necessarily a vote for them:
A number of political experts are warning that the country’s restless anxiety — as evidenced not only in Massachusetts, but in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Florida as well — is less a backlash against Democrats in particular than a rebuke of the business-as-usual politics of Capitol Hill in general. Even as unemployment soared and housing markets tanked, voters have watched lawmakers bicker endlessly over a stimulus bill that proved too small and a health reform proposal that remains unfinished. Meanwhile, the banks have bounced back on the wings of a taxpayer bailout, paying out billions of dollars in employee bonuses this month while the jobs crisis outside Wall Street only worsens. In such an environment, some experts caution, incumbents on both sides of the aisle could find themselves surprisingly vulnerable in November.
Fair enough, as the Tea Partiers themselves are a reaction against complacent Republicans. But is this a real third-party movement in the making, or just anti-incumbency with nowhere to go but the other party?

Mr. Spock Loses His Cool

The Anchoress wonders:
I am beginning to worry that Obama is showing evidence of a real problem, and it is a problem of insecurity, identity, aloofness, self-protection and, I am sorry to say it, but delusion.

Is Barack Obama headed for some sort of meltdown? Is he clinging to his podium and teleprompters because he has lost his protective shields and does not trust himself without them? The starry-eyed adulation of the press has simmered down to a mere gaze of hopefulness and longing, accompanied by the barest of criticisms, and Obama translates that as the press being “against” him.

Barack Obama is making flimsy excuses or outright lying; he is saying downright weird things like “I am happy to own up to the fact that I have not changed Congress and how it operates…” He has become more self-referential than Bill Clinton. He is throwing transparent boondoggles and doublespeaks at an American public he clearly thinks is too stupid to understand much of anything.

Some are talking about Linus and his security blanket. To me Obama more accurately resembles the responsibility-shirking Captain Queeg, with this marbles. What is going on with him?
It is kind of troubling to think that Joe Biden might be the sane one...

The Case That Isn't?

As we begin to learn more about the O'Keefe case, it seems that many (including yours truly) may have jumped the gun a bit and that Allahpundit is right:
The affidavit didn’t accuse the group of “wiretapping” but of “willfully and maliciously interfering” with a government phone system, which may mean something less sinister in practice (albeit possibly still in violation of the statute). Sorry for the error. If it’s any consolation, WaPo’s reporter made the same mistake — the same reporter, in fact, who famously made the mistake (later corrected) of claiming O’Keefe had a racial motive in targeting ACORN. Fancy that.
Considering that this is Mary Landrieu's Democratic machine, I wouldn't be surprised if AlexinCT over at Right-Thinking might also be on to something:
Here is what I think O’Keefe was up to. For weeks now the story has been that people calling Landrieu to complain about the $300 billion tax payer pay-off to buy here healthcare vote in favor of the government takeover plan have encountered busy signals. There are a lot of angry constituents and they are not getting through to her to tell her so. It would not be far fetched to guess that O’Keefe, like I definitely do (we are talking about democrats here and these people make Tony Soprano look like a saint), figured out Landrieu and her people had tampered or outright disabled their phones so they would not need to be bothered by the peasants, and that they thus had another sting to show that. They then concocted a plan to go in, film themselves calling the phone number and the unused phone(s) not ringing, and then try to take a peek at the phone closet where the phones were disabled.

From what I read in the affidavit discussed here, it looks like that’s exactly what they were doing. The fact that they had O’Keefe filming the whole thing is telling. Now these morons might be trying to use the threat of wire-tapping charges as a means to bludgeon O’Keefe and those with him into silence, but I am betting it backfires. From where I stand it looks like O’Keefe caught the Landrieu offices with their phones turned off, and the Louisiana democrat political machine is desperately trying to save face, and going all out to do so.
Finally, David Frum adds:
I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict: the James O’Keefe/Landrieu phone interference case will be resolved with a very stern talking to by a judge, no criminal record, and 100 hours of community service each for the four arrested young people. Which seems about right.
Is this going to be another black eye for the Dems? If that's the case, O'Keefe may be laughing all the way to the courthouse.

The Coming Budgetary Apocalypse

The CBO just keeps raining on the Hope'n'Change recovery parade:
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the government’s official fiscal scorekeeper, said Tuesday that the government faces a “daunting” fiscal future. The 2010 federal budget deficit will be $1.35 trillion, nearly as large as last year’s record $1.4 trillion budget shortfall, and deficits will average $600 billion over the next decade, according to CBO’s budget outlook.

“U.S. fiscal policy is on an unsustainable path to an extent that cannot be solved by minor tinkering,” said CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf.

He warned large amounts of debt often crowd out private investment, hampering worker productivity and income.

But the CBO report also gave ammo to those on the left concerned about cutting back on spending while the unemployment rate remains high.

The unemployment rate will average more than 10 percent for the first half of this year and then decline at a slower pace than in past recoveries, the CBO said. The jobless rate won’t return to a sustainable level of 5 percent until 2014, the budget office predicted.
So, what good will come out of Obama's proposed spending freeze?
White House officials acknowledged the freeze wouldn’t fix the country’s red ink problem but would show the government is concerned about it.
Well, I feel so much better now.

Birthers For Barack

Because the Democrats felt they weren't being stupid enough:
Democrats are looking for someone to blame for their electoral woes — and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez is working hard to make sure it’s not him.

Showing that they’ve learned the lesson of Massachusetts, Menendez and his staff will distribute a memo Tuesday advising Democratic campaign managers to frame their opponents early — and to drive a wedge between moderate voters and tea-party-style conservatives.

“Given the pressure Republican candidates feel from the extreme right in their party, there is a critical — yet time-sensitive — opportunity for Democratic candidates,” the DSCC writes. “We have a finite window when Republicans candidates will feel susceptible to the extremists in their party. Given the urgent nature of this dynamic, we suggest an aggressive effort to get your opponents on the record.”

The memo urges Democratic candidates to force their opponents to answer a series of questions:

“Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen? Do you think the 10th Amendment bars Congress from issuing regulations like minimum health care coverage standards? Do you think programs like Social Security and Medicare represent socialism and should never have been created in the first place? Do you think President Obama is a socialist? Do you think America should return to a gold standard?”

If a Republican candidate says no to any of the questions, the memo says Democrats should “make their primary opponent or conservative activists know it. This will cause them to take heat from their primary opponents and could likely provoke a flip-flop, as it already has several times with Mark Kirk in Illinois.”
So, this guy's plan is to make Republicans look like extremists by...bringing up extremist questions. Yeah, this'll work...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

(Don't) Get A Job

The era of Change:
The U.S. economic recession has taken a particularly heavy toll on young Americans, with a record one out five black men aged 20 to 24 neither working nor in school, according to research released on Tuesday.

Teenagers have found it significantly harder to get a job since the recession began in late 2007, with black youths and young people from low-income families faring the worst, wrote Andrew Sum of Northeastern University in Boston, a employment researcher commissioned by the Chicago Urban League and the Alternative Schools Network.

"Low-income and minority youth, who depended on part-time jobs as a significant stepping stone to future employment, have been forced out of the job market and economically marginalized," Herman Brewer of the Chicago Urban League said in a statement.

Overall, 26 percent of American teenagers aged 16 to 19 had jobs in late 2009, said the report, which was based on U.S. Census Bureau data. That figure is a record low since statistics began to be kept in 1948, the researchers said.
Remember, the Obama economy is for the children...

Life Behind The Wall

So how's that pay wall thing working out? Not so well, as it turns out:
In late October, Newsday, the Long Island daily that the Dolans bought for $650 million, put its web site, newsday.com, behind a pay wall. The paper was one of the first non-business newspapers to take the plunge by putting up a pay wall, so in media circles it has been followed with interest. Could its fate be a sign of what others, including The New York Times, might expect?

So, three months later, how many people have signed up to pay $5 a week, or $260 a year, to get unfettered access to newsday.com?

The answer: 35 people. As in fewer than three dozen. As in a decent-sized elementary-school class.
This is the model the NY Times wants to follow? But the Times is competent when compared to Newsday:
In the short time that the Dolans have owned Newsday, it's been a circus. When they were closing the deal to buy the paper in May 2008, they had their personal spokesman scream at an editor who assigned a reporter to visit the Dolans, seeking comment; there was a moment back in January of last year, when Newsday editor John Mancini walked out of the newsroom because of a dispute over how the paper was handling the Knicks; in the summer, the paper refused to run ads by Verizon, a rival; Tim Knight, the paper's publisher, and John Mancini, the editor, eventually both left.

The paper, which traditionally has been a powerful money maker, lost $7 million in the first three quarters of last year, according to Mr. Jimenez at last week's meeting.

In October, the web site relaunched and was redesigned. One of the principals behind the redesign is Mr. Mancini's replacement, editor Debby Krenek.

To say the least, the project has not been a newsroom favorite. "The view of the newsroom is the web site sucks," said one staffer.

"It's an abomination," said another.

And now the paper is in the middle of a labor dispute in which it wants to extract a 10 percent pay cut from all employees. The vote was turned down by a risibly high factor, of 473 to 10, this past Sunday.

Things are bleak in old Hellville, the pet nickname some reporters have established for life on Long Island.
Welcome to life behind the online curtain, guys...

You've Been Pied

Statistically speaking, I guess it was bound to happen:
Activists protesting the seal hunt laid claim Monday to having pied the fisheries and oceans minister, adding Gail Shea's name to a list of politicians who have tasted that most peculiar of political protests.

Shea was delivering a speech at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters to open the Aquatic Life Research Facility, west of Toronto, when a woman stood up in the front row and pushed the pie squarely into her face.

While police called it a "shaving cream pie" the animal rights group that took responsibility for the act called it a "tofu cream pie."

Whatever the filling was made of the incident resulted in an assault charge against an American resident.
A history of pieing can be found here.

Reach Out And Tap Someone

Regardless of what you might think of ACORN, this is a pretty dumb move:
Alleging a plot to tamper with phones in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown New Orleans, the FBI arrested four people Monday, including James O'Keefe, 25, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group's credibility.

Also arrested were Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, who is the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, the office confirmed. All four were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.

According to the FBI affidavit, Flanagan and Basel entered the federal building at 500 Poydras Street about 11 a.m. Monday, dressed as telephone company employees, wearing jeans, fluorescent green vests, tool belts, and hard hats. When they arrived at Landrieu's 10th floor office, O'Keefe was already in the office and had told a staffer he was waiting for someone to arrive.
....

ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan said the arrest calls O'Keefe's credibility into question, and used the opportunity to point out that he "edited (ACORN videos) to make things look as bad as possible."

But he also acknowledged that O'Keefe's undercover ACORN footage showed truly improper conduct by ACORN staff.

"ACORN's leadership and grassroots leaders have taken a whole series of steps, including commissioning an independent report that shows actually there wasn't illegal conduct by any of the ACORN employees involved, although we fired people involved for improper conduct," Whelan said.
Well, thanks to O'Keefe, ACORN now has a legitimate legal case against him and his crew. Conrgatulations for ruining the reputation of a lot of ACORN opponents who had genuine concerns, moron.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Big Freeze

Obama finally channels his inner fiscal conservative:
President Barack Obama will Wednesday call for a three-year partial freeze on spending that would save 250 billion dollars over a decade, in a bid to show he is serious about cutting the huge deficit.

Obama will unveil the plan to cap discretionary non-security government spending in his State of the Union address, a showpiece event shaping up as a chance to recast his presidency amid a fierce political storm.

"We are proposing a hard freeze in non-security discretionary spending in 2011, and then continuing that freeze in 2012 and 2013," a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.

"The savings from the three-year freeze will amount to 250 billion dollars over the next decade," the official said.

The fiscal straitjacket will lead to painful decisions on some government programs beloved of Democratic leaders and lawmakers in Congress and will crimp the spending plans of some of the members of Obama's own cabinet.
Is he finally waking up and seeing the writing on the wall for Democrats this year? If he's serious, will he stop pushing for Obamacare, or Son of Stimulus? It would be nice to think he's smart enough to admit so.

They Want A Do-Over

When even CNN reports that the Dems are unpopular, you know something's up:
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday also indicates that 7 in 10 Americans believe that the Democrats' loss of their 60 seat supermajority in the Senate is a positive move for the country.

Forty-five percent of people questioned in the poll said Democratic control of Congress is a good thing, with 48 percent disagreeing. The margin is within the survey's sampling error. But the results are a shift from last June, when 50 percent felt that Democratic control of both chambers of Congress was good and 41 percent felt it was bad for the country.
....

"The poll provides more evidence of the dwindling appeal of the Democratic party in the wake of last week's special election in Massachusetts," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Fewer Americans have a favorable view of the Democrats, and fewer support Democratic control on Capitol Hill."
I wonder how long it will be before we start hearing complaints of media bias from the left now...

The Incredible Shrinking Recovery

Veronique de Rugy examines the ongoing impact of the stimulus (or lack thereof):
Using data from the administration’s website Recovery.gov and from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this accompanying chart shows the monthly increase in the number of unemployed workers and the shrinkage of the civilian labor force in tandem with the administration’s stimulus spending. In other words, it shows how not only that many workers have lost their jobs since the administration started spending stimulus funds, but also that many more workers have exited the labor market. The civilian labor force shrinks when individuals who were looking for work or were employed decide that their labor market prospects are not good enough to keep looking for a job or to stay employed.
....

Two things are sure. First, if it weren’t for workers’ mass exit from the labor force (600,000 workers exited in December alone), the unemployment numbers would look even worse that they already do. Second, government spending cannot create jobs.
Unless you know how to cook the employment figure books, or send the money to districts that aren't there...

Recession Continues, Computer Geeks Hardest Hit

You can add Bill Gates to the growing list of skeptics about the Obama economy:
In a Monday morning interview on Good Morning America, Gates suggested that the smoldering effects of the worst recession in decades will continue to impact the economy for the foreseeable future. "When you have a financial crisis like that, it's years of digging out," Gates said in the interview.

Although there have been signs of economic improvement in recent months, as well as a collective sense of optimism in the IT industry that spending could rebound this year, there's little concrete evidence to indicate that this is anything more than wishful thinking. And if unemployment remains high, the dreaded 'S' word -- stagflation -- could begin to creep into discussions about the economy.

Gates said even when the economy does improve the government will have to institute systemic changes in order for any real rebound to take root. "The budget's very, very out of balance and even as the economy comes back, without changes in tax and entitlement policies, it won't get back into balance. And at some point, financial markets will look at that and it will cause problems," Gates told Good Morning America.
Part of the problem of course, is that too many "Systematic changes" might do more harm than good-if anything, recessions show just how independent a free market economy is of the government, although smarter Presidents, like Reagan, have known how not to intervene. But the fact remains that this mess will probably linger through the rest of Obama's first term and beyond.

Coming To America

There seems to be something going on:
Two men were stopped boarding US-bound planes at Heathrow days before Britain's terror threat was raised to "severe".

News of the incidents came hours after Home Secretary Alan Johnson lifted the threat level amid fears that al-Qaeda is planning an attack.

The new level, which means an attack is reckoned "highly likely", is second only to "critical".

Security sources say an Egyptian was stopped last Saturday as he tried to board an American Airlines flight to Miami. A man from Saudi Arabia was banned from boarding a United Airlines flight to Chicago the next day and sent back to Saudi.

The incidents and the raised threat level follow the failed Christmas Day bombing on a plane over Detroit.

Anti-terror officials said the past week had seen an "unusually high" number of people on their no-fly list trying to board US-bound planes.
Thankfully the Brits seem to be more on the ball about this sort of thing than the keystone airport cops of the TSA. I just hope we don't have to completely outsource competence in the ongoing fight against the bad guys.

The Devil Made Them Do It

It's bad enough when the wingnuts in our country say this kind of stuff:
The mayor of Moscow, known for his overtly homophobic statements, said Monday that he would never allow a gay pride parade in the city, calling it "Satanic" and saying marchers should be punished.

"A gay parade... cannot be called anything but a Satanic act," Yury Luzhkov told an education conference, quoted by Interfax news agency. "We haven't permitted such a parade and we won't permit it in the future."

Luzhkov called for gay marchers to be punished. "It's high time that we stop propagating nonsense discussions about human rights, and bring to bear on them the full force and justice of the law," he said.
You might remember how, during the bad old days of the Cold War, the Russians would always go on about how racist America was during the civil rights era. Nowadays it seems that they're borrowing the worst attitudes of our own religious right. Maybe Jerry Falwell was actually a Commie plant?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"We Have Met The Hackers And They Are Us"

Are we our own worst enemy when it comes to China's ability to hack Google? Bruce Schneier points out:
The news here isn't that Chinese hackers engage in these activities or that their attempts are technically sophisticated -- we knew that already -- it's that the U.S. government inadvertently aided the hackers.

In order to comply with government search warrants on user data, Google created a backdoor access system into Gmail accounts. This feature is what the Chinese hackers exploited to gain access.

Google's system isn't unique. Democratic governments around the world -- in Sweden, Canada and the UK, for example -- are rushing to pass laws giving their police new powers of Internet surveillance, in many cases requiring communications system providers to redesign products and services they sell.

Many are also passing data retention laws, forcing companies to retain information on their customers.
Who needs Communist Internet spies when the West has its own?

Just A Slight Difference Of Opinion...

It's a bad sign for Team Obama when they can't even get their stories straight:
White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.

The discrepancy was pointed out by a Republican official in an email to reporters noting that “Three presidential advisers on three different programs [gave] three different descriptions of the trillion-dollar stimulus bill.”

Valerie Jarrett had the most conservative count, saying “the Recovery Act saved thousands and thousands of jobs,” while David Axelrod gave the bill the most credit, saying it has “created more than – or saved more than 2 million jobs.” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs came in between them, saying the plan had “saved or created 1.5 million jobs.”
But I'm sure Obama will be the first to claim that they're all technically accurate...

Watch That First Step

It's a long way down:
If Baumgartner, a world famous base jumper and skydiver, pulls off the feat, he’ll set the record for the world’s highest jump and become the first person to break the sound barrier with his body alone. During the jump, he’ll also collect data on how the human body reacts to a fall from such heights, which could be useful for planning orbital escape plans for future space tourists and astronauts.

Dubbed the Red Bull Stratos and sponsored by the energy drink company, the jump will send Baumgartner to the stratosphere in a small space capsule, lifted by a helium-filled balloon. Once he reaches 120,000 feet after three hours of ascension, ground control will give him the “all clear” sign and he’ll pop open the door and jump, as video cameras on the capsule and his suit record his descent. Within 35 seconds or so, Baumgartner will hit supersonic speeds and break the sound barrier. No one really knows what will happen at that point, but the scientists seem confident that he’ll maintain consciousness. He will free fall for roughly six more minutes, pulling his chute at about 5,000 feet and coasting for 15 minutes back to solid ground.

Just what happens to his body as it goes from subsonic to supersonic and back to subsonic speed is of great interest to scientists, and so he’ll be hooked up to an electrocardiogram monitor during the jump. He’ll also be outfitted with accelerometers and GPS units to confirm his acceleration and speed, and from that the stress on his body. But that’s pretty much it for gear—because he’s wearing a pressurized suit filled with 100 percent oxygen, his crew is rightly wary of putting too many electronics and power sources in his suit that could accidentally set him on fire. Any data they collect will then be made public and turned over to the military and NASA.
Kind of gives new meaning to the phrase "Any landing you can walk away from..."

Dennis K, Stop Making So Much Sense

It's a strange world we live in when Dennis Kucinich makes more sense than most of his colleagues:
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is not happy with the direction of his own party and he is telling them to wake up. In an interview with Rawstory.com, Congressman Kucinich blasted away verbally and shredded his fellow Democrats with his words for failing to follow through on the change they promised in Washington.

He went as far as to mention the Tea Party movement in a separate interview, warning fellow Dems on the Ed Schultz Show not to ignore financial issues.

"I met with people who were, you know, unfairly ridiculed as being just a bunch of teabaggers and frankly they had basic economic concerns just like everyone else, they felt that government wasn't listening to them, and this is where the Democratic Party better wake up," he told the radio audience.
OK, who are you, and what have you done with the real Dennis?

The Culling

Martin Amis has a, shall we say, novel solution to the UK's aging problem:
Now 60, Amis has picked a fight with the grey power of Britain's ageing population, calling for euthanasia "booths" on street corners where they can terminate their lives with "a martini and a medal".

The author of Time's Arrow and London Fields said in an interview at the weekend that he believes Britain faces a "civil war" between young and old, as a "silver ­tsunami" of increasingly ageing people puts pressure on society.

"They'll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops," he said. "I can imagine a sort of civil war between the old and the young in 10 or 15 years' time.

"There should be a booth on every ­corner where you could get a martini and a medal," he added.

His comments were immediately condemned as "glib" and "offensive" by anti-euthanasia groups and those caring for the elderly and infirm. Supporters of assisted suicide, meanwhile, insisted that a dignified and compassionate end should be on offer to those who are dying.
Shades of "Soylent Green." Or maybe Futurama...

But the point he makes may be a valid one. We're getting older and living longer, and the young aren't going to want (or, in many cases, be able to) support their elders forever. This is not to suggest that a mandatory culling of the old folks is warranted, but sooner or later, something's got to give.

Never Fear, The Blue Helmets Are Here

Haiti-another United Nations success story:
It is a tale of two cities. One has ice-cold beers, internet access, thousands of men and billions of dollars’ worth of gleaming machinery, together with piles of food, blankets, generators and other aid relief from around the globe.

This is the heavily fortified US-controlled Port-au-Prince airport and neighbouring United Nations compound.

The other is the devastated city of Port-au-Prince, where the stench of death fills the air and starving people are in utter despair, still in need of the basic necessities of food, water, shelter and medical care.

....

Despite a vast worldwide aid effort – spurred on by pleas from celebrities such as George Clooney in Friday night’s Haiti Telethon – the lack of help reaching those who need it is such that even aid agencies on the ground are now admitting they have fallen woefully short.

Alejandro Chicheri, Press officer for the UN-funded World Food Programme, said: ‘Of course we would like to be doing more to help the people on the streets but the logistics are a nightmare.

'These things take time and we are going as fast as we can.’
Or are they?
I was travelling with emergency medical services worker Ryan Flaherty, 22, from New Jersey.
He had stumbled across the area last week and had been ‘horrified’ that no aid had reached the village.

He said: ‘I have been begging for help but they just keep telling me it’s too dangerous to bring food and supplies in. But if it’s not too dangerous for you and it’s not too dangerous for me, why is it too dangerous for United Nations troops with guns? It’s disgusting that there is so much food and medical stuff so near and yet these people who are in desperate need are not getting it.’
But hey, at least the Blue Helmets have their own Wi Fi and beer...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Blame Game Stops Here

Jennifer Rubin cautions Obama on going to far with his own brand of populism:
if he unnerves the markets and spooks investors, he’ll be in further trouble. After all, he might insist that the economy is all George W. Bush’s fault, but fewer and fewer voters are buying that. And if his own policies — spending with abandon, pursuing a junk-a-thon stimulus plan, spending a year on the job-killing ObamaCare and cap-and-trade, and now frightening the financial markets – have paralyzed employers, then he surely is accountable for those results.
Well, except when he can keep blaming the other guy...

From The Halls Of Baghdad

One of the few good things to occur under this administration continues to wind down:
The U.S. Marine Corps wrapped nearly seven years in Iraq on Saturday, handing over duties to the Army and signaling the beginning of an accelerated withdrawal of American troops as the U.S. turns its focus away from the waning Iraqi war to a growing one in Afghanistan.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden held talks with Iraqi leaders amid growing tensions over plans to ban election candidates because of suspected links to Saddam Hussein's regime.

The White House worries the bans could raise questions over the fairness of the March 7 parliamentary elections, which are seen as an important step in the American pullout timetable and breaking political stalemates over key issues such as dividing Iraq's oil revenue.

The Marines formally handed over control of Sunni-dominated Anbar, Iraq's largest province, to the Army during a ceremony at a base in Ramadi - where some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place.

If all goes as planned, the last remaining Marines will be followed out by tens of thousands of soldiers in the coming months. President Barack Obama has ordered all but 50,000 troops out of the country by Aug. 31, 2010, with most to depart after the March 7 parliamentary election.

The remaining troops will leave by the end of 2011 under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact.
They deserve the credit for the turnaround in Iraq. Good luck, and godspeed.

The Magic Touch Of Xenu

The Super Adventure Club is in Haiti:
Amid the mass of aid agencies piling in to help Haiti quake victims is a batch of Church of Scientology "volunteer ministers", claiming to use the power of touch to reconnect nervous systems.

Clad in yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the controversial US-based group, smiling volunteers fan out among the injured lying under makeshift shelters in the courtyard of Port-au-Prince's General Hospital.

A wealthy private donor provided his airplane to fly in 80 volunteers from Los Angeles, along with 50 Haitian-American-doctors, in a gesture worth 400,000 dollars, said a Parisian volunteer who gave her name as Sylvie.

"We're trained as volunteer ministers, we use a process called 'assist' to follow the nervous system to reconnect the main points, to bring back communication," she said.
....

Some doctors at the hospital are skeptical. One US doctor, who asked not to be named, snorted: "I didn't know touching could heal gangrene."

When asked what the Scientologists are doing here, another doctor said: "I don't know."
I'm sure the next thing the "Private donor" will do is tell the Haitians they don't need to deal with those nasty vaccinations for their kids, either...

Tear Down This Firewall

For once I'm actually on Hillary's side:
BEIJING (Reuters) - China needs no lessons about its Internet from the United States, the head of an online media association said through official media on Saturday after the United States rapped Beijing over information freedom.

A speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday showed a lack of respect for China, which cannot accept conditions on matters of "national security" or "social stability," said Beijing Association of Online Media Chairman Min Dahong.

The Internet has joined trade imbalances, currency values, U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan and tensions over human rights and Tibet among the quarrels straining ties between the world's biggest and third-biggest economies.

"How China's Internet develops and how it is managed are Chinese people's own affairs," Min said in an interview with state-run Xinhuanet.com.

"On the Internet question, China doesn't need any lessons from the United States on what to do or how," he said.

Clinton's speech criticized the cyber policies of China and Iran, among others, and demanded Beijing investigate complaints by Google Inc about hacking and censorship.
The Chinese are only delaying the inevitable. Old-style government controls have not stopped the Chinese people from finding ways around the Great Firewall. It's just a matter of time before it comes down.

Corporations Are People, Too

As expected, there has been a great deal of hue and cry from the MSM over the Supreme Court's decision to strike a blow against McCain-Feingold. However, Glenn Greenwald points out:
Most commenters (though not all) grounded their opposition to the Supreme Court's ruling in two rather absolute principles: (1) corporations are not "persons" and thus have no First Amendment/free speech rights and/or (2) money is not speech, and therefore restrictions on how money is spent cannot violate the First Amendment's free speech clause. What makes those arguments so bizarre is that none of the 9 Justices -- including the 4 dissenting Justices -- argued either of those propositions or believe them. To the contrary, all 9 Justices -- including the 4 in dissent -- agreed that corporations do have First Amendment rights and that restricting how money can be spent in pursuit of political advocacy does trigger First Amendment protections.
Besides, it seems that some special interests have been more equal than others under this Administration:
K Street's top 25 firms cashed in on the aggressive legislative agenda unleashed by the new president and bigger Democratic majorities in Congress in 2009 to post double-digit growth of about 10 percent over the previous year.

Despite economic uncertainty and the promise by the Obama administration to clamp down on the influence industry, the majority of top lobbying firms posted higher numbers in 2009, with ii firms showing dramatic growth.
The fact is, influence and lobbying are a fact of life for most politicians. It takes money to get elected, and once you get there, most of the time you have to wheel and deal to get things done. What the ruling really did was help level the playing field somewhat by basically saying that free speech doesn't stop at the corporate door.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rickety Kids

Oh, great-something else to blame on the Intertubes:
Bone-bending rickets can now be added to the list of ills linked to children spending uncounted hours before a computer screen, British researchers said Friday.

Youngsters with rickets, caused primarily by a chronic lack of vitamin D, develop painful and deformed bow-legs that do not grow properly.

The condition is linked mainly with extreme poverty and the 19th-century Victorian England of Charles Dickens, and can be easily avoided through a balanced diet and exposure to sunlight.

But doctors reported this month that cases of the debilitating disease have once again become "disconcertingly common" in Britain.

"Kids tend to stay indoors more these days and play on their computers instead of enjoying the fresh air," said Simon Pearce, a professor at Newcastle University in northeast England and lead author of a new study on Vitamin D deficiency.

"This means their vitamin D levels are worse than in previous years," he said in a press release.
I'm worried that today's kids are becoming like vampires-even if they did get out into the sunlight, it might kill them...

The Post Fashion Regime

Is it the end of an era?
We've reached the end of the trend as the guiding stricture in fashion. The "must-have" currently being attached to certain styles—The trench coat! The one-shoulder dress! Metallics!—is little more than a marketing pitch.

The trench coat has been "in" for the past five years, and will be hot next year, too. Indeed, it's a safe bet that next month we'll see every possible length of skirt, width of pant and cut of blouse walk the runways—sometimes all in the same show.

Rather than fuss about skirt lengths or the season's silhouette, people now dress the way they see themselves, choosing looks that flatter their bodies and fit their lifestyles. Most of us dress with our social groups or professions, rather than fashion trends, using clothes to flash messages about who we are.

A chief executive in the tech business may don Gap chinos and a blazer for work, while investment banking chiefs remain loyal to their Zegna suits. Others dress according to the mores of their own personal tribes: If you don't dress steampunk, you may not even know it's a style (think 19th-century mad scientist in leather waistcoat with goggles and a pocket watch).
So does this mean that it's finally cool to not be cool? Or is it just increased individualism in the workplace? And what will designers do now? Maybe they should have listened to David Bowie.

Club Gitmo, Still Open For Business

Well, it appears that if it was good enough for Bush:
The Obama administration has decided to continue to imprison without trials nearly 50 detainees at the Guantánamo Bay military prison in Cuba because a high-level task force has concluded that they are too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release, an administration official said on Thursday.

However, the administration has decided that nearly 40 other detainees should be prosecuted for terrorism or related war crimes. And the remaining prisoners, about 110 men, should be repatriated or transferred to other countries for possible release, the official said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the numbers.

There are just under 200 detainees left at the detention center.

President Obama established the task force shortly after his inauguration last year as part of his administration’s effort to deal with the detainee issues left behind by the Bush administration. It was facing a deadline of Friday to complete its work.
These days, it seems that the more Bush left behind, the more Obama seems willing to continue it-when he's not blaming Bush, that is.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1901

Remembering Queen Victoria, who has passed away:
Literary endeavor and the search for knowledge in no other single reign, save that of Elizabeth, made such splendid contributions to the stock of new facts and written words that men will not willingly let die. Science in this reign made such extraordinary additions to almost every department of knowledge and industry that there is no other reign to be mentioned in the same sentence. The scientific results achieved by the mind of man in the age of Victoria stand alone as at once the wonder and the blessing of mankind.

Many former reigns contributed their shares to the dominions over which Victoria ruled, but no former sovereign actually reigned over anything like so extensive an area as she. In her time vast areas were added to the British Empire in Africa, India, and the Pacific, so that it was never quite so true as in her time that the British Empire was one on which the sun never set.
Now she is gone; long live King Edward.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Amazon To The Rescue?

Is the era of the starving writer about to come to an end?
There is a potential bonanza for book writers (or authors, as we pretentious types prefer to call ourselves) in the news that Amazon has gone into competition with the expected Apple tablet and, as of June 30, is offering authors and publishers a 70% royalty for their copyrighted work to be published on the Kindle.

The devil is hugely in the details on this, but this is something of a revolution and could be very good news for writers indeed, but not such good news for publishers. As a relatively established – and suddenly greedy – writer I’m thinking, what do I need a publisher for? Why should I split the 70% with those thieves? For what? Cover art? I can hire someone myself for peanuts (well, large size peanuts anyway). Publicity? I can bribe my fellow bloggers with a flat beer to promote the damn thing. And, okay, a few of those publishers are or have pretty good editors, but there’s always spellcheck and that weird grammar helper on Microsoft Word. (Does anyone know how to use that?) And now Amazon (and Apple) provide the distribution.
....

It doesn’t even take a scratch pad to do the simple math. Sell fifty thousand downloads of a book for $8 a pop on Amazon and you just made yourself $280,000. This would have been an amazing bonanza for Georges Simenon who wrote his crime novels in eleven days. I’m lazy. It usually takes me six months to write a book. Of course, it could be I won’t sell anywhere near fifty thousand downloads, but the risk involved has suddenly gotten a lot more attractive, just as it has, I assume, for many other authors and would be authors.
Once again, technology finds a way to cut out the middle man. For self-publishing, this could, to quote a certain President, be the change they've been waiting for.

E.T.'s Voicemail

How to talk to aliens:
If we really want to break the ice with our cosmic neighbours, it will probably be by sending messages that travel at the speed of light, not at the speed of a Pioneer probe.

A lot of effort has gone into some of the messages, with some researchers even developing an artificial language called Lincos – which so far has not been used in any actual messages.
More at the link, which details our puny efforts to get E.T. to phone home.

Dead Air America

It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of folks:
Air America, the talk-radio network that helped boost the careers of liberals Al Franken and Rachel Maddow, said Thursday it was going out of business.

In a statement to employees of the New York-based network, Air America's chairman, Charlie Kireker, wrote: "It is with the greatest regret, on behalf of our Board, that we must announce that Air America Media is ceasing its live programming operations as of this afternoon, and that the Company will file soon under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code to carry out an orderly winding-down of the business.

"The very difficult economic environment has had a significant impact on Air America's business. This past year has seen a 'perfect storm' in the media industry generally. . . . In this climate, our painstaking search for new investors has come close several times right up into this week, but ultimately fell short of success."

Somewhere, Al Franken is blaming this on Bush...

Don't Respect Our Authoritah

Whoops:
One of the most alarming conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a widely respected organization established by the United Nations, is that glaciers in the Himalayas could be gone 25 years from now, eliminating a primary source of water for hundreds of millions of people. But a number of glaciologists have argued that this conclusion is wrong, and now the IPCC admits that the conclusion is largely unsubstantiated, based on news reports rather than published, peer-reviewed scientific studies.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the IPCC admitted that the Working Group II report, "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability," published in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (2007), contains a claim that "refers to poorly substantiated estimates. " The statement also said "the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedure, were not applied properly." The statement did not quote the error, but it did cite the section of the report that refers to Himalayan glaciers. Christopher Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, who is now in charge of Working Group II, confirms that the error was related to the claim that the glaciers could disappear by 2035.
....

The mistake has called into question the credibility of the IPCC, which has been considered an authoritative source for information about climate change because of its policy of carefully reviewing and analyzing hundreds and even thousands of published, peer-reviewed scientific studies. But the scientists who uncovered the error say that the mistake, and the reliance on news reports and unpublished studies, is rare. "I don't think it ought to affect the credibility of the edifice as a whole," says J. Graham Cogley, professor of geography at Trent University, who was key to identifying the original sources of the information in the IPCC report.

The error has been traced to the fact that the IPCC permits the citation of non-peer-reviewed sources, called "grey literature," in cases where peer-reviewed data is not available. It requires that these sources be carefully scrutinized, but that didn't happen in this case. The process has "gone spectacularly wrong in this particular instance," Cogley says.
Relying on propaganda alone tends to have that effect...

The Money Train

On the whole, I think this is a good thing:
The Supreme Court threw out a 63-year-old law designed to restrain the influence of big business and unions on elections Thursday, ruling that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress. The decision could drastically alter who gives and gets hundreds of millions of dollars in this year's crucial midterm elections.

By a 5-4 vote, the court overturned two of its own decisions as well as the decades-old law that said companies and labor unions can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads. The decision threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

It leaves in place a prohibition on direct contributions to candidates from corporations and unions.

Critics of the stricter limits have argued that they amount to an unconstitutional restraint of free speech, and the court majority agreed.

''The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion, joined by his four more conservative colleagues.

Strongly disagreeing, Justice John Paul Stevens said in his dissent, ''The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation.''

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined Stevens' dissent, parts of which he read aloud in the courtroom.

The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.

Advocates of strong campaign finance regulations have predicted that a court ruling against the limits would lead to a flood of corporate and union money in federal campaigns as early as this year's midterm congressional elections.

''It's the Super Bowl of bad decisions,'' said Common Cause president Bob Edgar, a former congressman from Pennsylvania.
Well, I guess that depends. Is a corporation the same thing as a private individual? And didn't CFR lead to the sort of "527" ads by "Outside groups" that have been used by both sides to make unfair and unfounded attacks on their opponents?

In the long run, this may actually do more to help make camapign contributions more transparent. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where The Free Is

It's been fairly clear for several years now that the USA is no longer quite the king of free markets that it used to be. Now it's official.
Hong Kong remains the world's freest place to do business while the United States has lost its claim to an unrestricted economy, according to an annual report published Wednesday.

Hong Kong, a former British colony which was returned to China in 1997, edged out rival Singapore to claim top spot for the sixteenth consecutive year in the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom.

Australia and New Zealand grabbed third and fourth spot respectively.
....

"The US government's interventionist responses to the financial and economic crisis that began in 2008 have significantly undermined economic freedom and long-term prospects for economic growth," the report said.
The way things are going, we can expect this trend to continue...

The Billion-Dollar Plan

The state of New York wants your cash:
Governor David Paterson said Tuesday that the days of profligate spending in Albany are over and that starting immediately lawmakers must participate in an "age of accountability."

That said, the governor's new budget has $1 billion in new taxes and nearly $800 million in cuts for New York City.

The words certainly sounded good.

"Our revenues have crumbled and our budget has crashed and we can no longer afford this spending addiction that we have had for so long," Paterson said.

And with those words Paterson announced a new $134 billion budget that will please no one except the numbers-crunchers.
And the liberals who subsidize them...

Slow Down

Now he tells us:
President Obama warned Democrats in Congress today not to "jam" a health care reform bill through now that they've lost their commanding majority in the Senate, and said they must wait for newly elected Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown to be sworn into office.

The president also said the same voter anger that swept him into office in 2008 carried Brown into office on a stunning upset victory Tuesday night over heavily favored Democrat Martha Coakley.
I guess this means we're now in the era of the fierce urgency of wait...

Why They Lost

Evan Bayh gets it:
What is the lesson of Massachusetts – where Democrats face the prospects of losing a Senate seat they’ve held since 1952? For Senator Bayh the lesson is that the party pushed an agenda that is too far to the left, alienating moderate and independent voters.

“It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message,” he said. “They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected.”

Bayh pointed that it’s not just Massachusetts. Independents also rejected Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia in November.

“ The only we are able to govern successfully in this country is by liberals and progressives making common cause with independents and moderates,” Bayh said. “Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Dem party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country -- that’s not going to work too well.”
The question is whether the rest of his party will figure this out as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Vote Heard 'Round The World

It's official:
In an epic upset in liberal Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown rode a wave of voter anger to defeat Democrat Martha Coakley in a U.S. Senate election Tuesday that left President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in doubt and marred the end of his first year in office.

The loss by the once-favored Coakley for the seat that the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy held for nearly half a century signaled big political problems for the president's party this fall when House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot nationwide.

More immediately, Brown will become the 41st Republican in the 100-member Senate, which could allow the GOP to block the president's health care legislation and the rest of Obama's agenda. Democrats needed Coakley to win for a 60th vote to thwart Republican filibusters.
So what does this mean? Well, for one thing it means that Obama has put his agenda and crediblity on the line again, and lost-again. It means that even in the bluest of the blue states, a Republican can win by running as a bona fide conservative and not as Democrat-lite. It means that decades of Democrats taking the state for granted and treating the Senate seat like they were entitled to it have come to an end. Perhaps most importantly, it means that the Age of Change was short-lived because the people decided that it would be.

Democracy in action. Sometimes it really does work, after all.

The Phone Police

Well, this makes me feel better:
The FBI illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone call records between 2002 and 2006 by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records, according to internal bureau memos and interviews. FBI officials issued approvals after the fact to justify their actions.

E-mails obtained by The Washington Post detail how counterterrorism officials inside FBI headquarters did not follow their own procedures that were put in place to protect civil liberties. The stream of urgent requests for phone records also overwhelmed the FBI communications analysis unit with work that ultimately was not connected to imminent threats.

A Justice Department inspector general's report due out this month is expected to conclude that the FBI frequently violated the law with its emergency requests, bureau officials confirmed.
Now, you might be able to make the argument that one man's law-breaking was another's necessary evil, but is it really an improvement to have gone from one administration that was anal about security to the current bunch?

J'Accuse

Oh, this is rich:
France accused the US of "occupying" Haiti on Monday as thousands of American troops flooded into the country to take charge of aid efforts and security.

The French minister in charge of humanitarian relief called on the UN to "clarify" the American role amid claims the military build up was hampering aid efforts.

Alain Joyandet admitted he had been involved in a scuffle with a US commander in the airport's control tower over the flight plan for a French evacuation flight.

"This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti," Mr Joyandet said.

Geneva-based charity Medecins Sans Frontieres backed his calls saying hundreds of lives were being put at risk as planes carrying vital medical supplies were being turned away by American air traffic controllers.

But US commanders insisted their forces' focus was on humanitarian work and last night agreed to prioritise aid arrivals to the airport over military flights, after the intervention of the UN.

The diplomatic row came amid heightened frustrations that hundreds of tons of aid was still not getting through. Charities reported violence was also worsening as desperate Haitians took matters into their own hands.
Hey, France-we're not the ones who screwed up the country in the first place, 'kay? If you came back, you'd probably be surrendering to them by now, wouldn't you?

The Web Is Red

The Internets are a harsh teacher:
For a brief shining moment, late in the 2008 campaign, Democrats thought that they might own the Internet.

For decades, they had watched their Republican rivals exploit alternative media to raise money, organize voters and whip up outrage. In the 1970s, conservatives pioneered direct-mail fund-raising. In the early 1990s, they ruled the talk-radio dial. Early in the Bush era, they dominated cable news.

But the Internet was going to be different. Direct mail, talk radio, the cable shoutfests — these were inherently conservative technologies, pitched to senior citizens and middle-aged suburbanites. The Internet was for the young, the hip, the multicultural, the liberal. Let the G.O.P. be the party of Fox News. The Democrats would be the party of Google, YouTube and Facebook.
....

A year later, some of the Democrats’ advantage is still there. But it’s been crumbling ever since Obama took office. Republican politicians have taken over Twitter. Sarah Palin has 1.2 million followers on Facebook. And in liberal Massachusetts, Scott Brown, the Republican Senate candidate, has used Internet fund-raising to put the fear of God into the Bay State’s establishment.

Last Monday, Brown raised $1.3 million from an online “money bomb,” and his campaign reportedly went on to raise a million dollars a day throughout the week. The race’s online landscape looks like last November’s in reverse: from YouTube views to Facebook fans to Twitter followers, Brown enjoys an Obama-esque edge over his Democratic rival, Martha Coakley.
The Internet has shown itself to be a medium of, by, and for the people-more so than the system that politicians on both sides are a part of, no matter what populist politics they might espouse on the campaign trail. For liberal Democrats, the Web is proving to be a fickle mistress this year as they find themselves the targets of the voters' wrath. The barbarians are at the gates, and they are us.

A Little Insanity Goes A Long Way

Well, it looks like prison hasn't changed him much:
The man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II nearly 30 years ago was released from a Turkish prison on Monday, rekindling the mystery over whether he acted alone or had been hired by a Soviet-era secret service.

Within hours of being freed, Mehmet Ali Agca was examined by doctors who declared him mentally unbalanced and exempt from military service, his lawyers said.

Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for the attack, before being pardoned on the pope's initiative in 2000; but he was extradited to serve a term in his home country for other crimes including the 1979 murder of a newspaper editor.

As Agca made his way through a media throng to check into a five star hotel after his release, the 52-year-old declared:

"I proclaim the end of the world. All the world will be destroyed in this century. Every human being will die in this century."

"I am not God and I am not the son of God. I am the Christ Eternal," he shouted, repeating the words from a handwritten statement that his lawyers had released earlier.

Agca's motives for shooting and wounding the pope at the Vatican in 1981 remain a mystery.
I think the fact that he's a raving lunatic might have had something to do with it...

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Battle Of Wall Street

I'm no fan of fat cats in general, but even fat cats have rights:
Wall Street’s main lobbying arm has hired a top Supreme Court litigator to study a possible legal battle against a bank tax proposed by the Obama administration, on the theory that it would be unconstitutional, according to three industry officials briefed on the matter.

In an e-mail message sent last week to the heads of Wall Street legal departments, executives of the lobbying group, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, wrote that a bank tax might be unconstitutional because it would unfairly single out and penalize big banks, according to these officials, who did not want to be identified to preserve relationships with the group’s members.

The message said the association had hired Carter G. Phillips of Sidley Austin, who has argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court, to study whether a tax on one industry could be considered arbitrary and punitive, providing the basis for a constitutional challenge, they said.

Administration officials and other legal experts have called those claims dubious.

Indeed, President Obama urged the financial lobby to stand down when he introduced the tax proposal last week: “Instead of sending a phalanx of lobbyists to fight this proposal or employing an army of lawyers and accountants to help evade the fee, I suggest you might want to consider simply meeting your responsibilities.”
Quite frankly, I'd take Obama's stand against lobbyists more seriously if he wasn't already in bed with them.

"We Can't Handle Our Own Truth"

The Washington Post apparently has trouble acknowledging what its own polls say:
A large majority of Americans say they want a smaller government that provides them with fewer services, according to a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News. But the Washington Post story about the poll makes no mention of this fact.

The poll asked: “Generally speaking, would you say you favor smaller government with fewer services, or larger government with more services?”

Fifty-eight percent said they favor a smaller government with fewer services, and only 38 percent said they favor a larger government with more services.

The Post did not mention the results from this poll question in its news story about the poll.
Well, it seems that they did acknowledge the poll in a different story-but it just goes to show how much the standard liberal lines about big government are a part of the MSM groupthink that they find it necessary to conveniently ignore their own findings in the first place.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Brother, Can You Spare A Few Subscriptions?

I'm sure a lot of bloggers will have mixed feelings about this:
New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. appears close to announcing that the paper will begin charging for access to its website, according to people familiar with internal deliberations. After a year of sometimes fraught debate inside the paper, the choice for some time has been between a Wall Street Journal-type pay wall and the metered system adopted by the Financial Times, in which readers can sample a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe. The Times seems to have settled on the metered system.

One personal friend of Sulzberger said a final decision could come within days, and a senior newsroom source agreed, adding that the plan could be announced in a matter of weeks. (Apple's tablet computer is rumored to launch on January 27, and sources speculate that Sulzberger will strike a content partnership for the new device, which could dovetail with the paid strategy.) It will likely be months before the Times actually begins to charge for content, perhaps sometime this spring. Executive Editor Bill Keller declined to comment. Times spokesperson Diane McNulty said: "We'll announce a decision when we believe that we have crafted the best possible business approach. No details till then."

The Times has considered three types of pay strategies. One option was a more traditional pay wall along the lines of The Wall Street Journal, in which some parts of the site are free and some subscription-only. For example, editors and business-side executives discussed a premium version of Andrew Ross Sorkin's DealBook section. Another option was the metered system. The third choice, an NPR-style membership model, was abandoned last fall, two sources explained. The thinking was that it would be too expensive and cumbersome to maintain because subscribers would have to receive privileges (think WNYC tote bags and travel mugs, access to Times events and seminars).
....

What makes the decision so agonizing for Sulzberger is that it involves not just business considerations, but ultimately a self-assessment of just what Times journalism is worth to the world. This fall, Keller told the Observer that at some point, the decision is a “gut call about what we think the audience will accept.” Hanging over the deliberations is the fact that the Times’ last experience with pay walls, TimesSelect, was deeply unsatisfying and exposed a rift between Sulzberger and his roster of A-list columnists, particularly Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd, who grew frustrated at their dramatic fall-off in online readership. Not long before the Times ultimately pulled the plug on TimesSelect, Friedman wrote Sulzberger a long memo explaining that, while he was initially supportive of TimesSelect, he’d been alarmed that he had lost most of his readers in India and China and the Middle East.

“As we got into it, it was clear to me I was getting cut off from a lot of my readers in India and China where 50 dollars per year would be equal to a quarter of college tuition,” Friedman recently told me by phone. “What was coming to me anecdotally from my travels was the five worst words that as a columnist you ever want to hear: ‘I used to read you before you went behind the wall.’”
The metered approach seems OK to me. After all, they are a businesss and need to make money to stay afloat. But at some point they, like other traditional dead tree publications, are simply going to have to continue to learn to adjust to the online world in a fair and practical way.

Leave The Gun, Take The Toilet Paper

Not to worry; everything's under control:
A Waupaca woman finds herself in the middle of a major security investigation at Cleveland's airport.

Kimmy Janke had gone through security. In fact, she was in a secure part of the terminal when she stopped to go to the bathroom before making her connecting flight.

That's when she found a loaded handgun.

An investigation with our ABC affiliate in Cleveland uncovered what one U.S. senator calls a "serious breach of public safety."

In an age of colored threat levels and heightened security, this investigation shows another lapse inside our airports.

All Janke and her boyfriend Ryan really remember about last September's trip to Portland is what happened inside the Cleveland airport.

"Panic. I didn't know what to do. I looked at it and was like, wow, that's a gun. We're past security. What do I do?"

She walked into the bathroom, which was past the checkpoints, not far from a boarding gate.

"The clip was hanging out about an inch-and-a-half," she described.

A Cleveland police report confirms a fully-loaded .40-caliber pistol was left on top of a toilet paper dispenser.

"A little kid could have grabbed that. The wrong person could have grabbed that. You never know," Janke said.

We've since learned the gun was traced to a federal customs agent.

Customs officials have denied all requests to explain why a highly-trained agent left her gun in the bathroom, claiming there is an internal investigation.
I guess this means the system worked...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Online Underground

China's attempts to keep the Great Firewall going may be backfiring:
If cyber censorship in China is a never-ending game of cat and mouse, the mice are multiplying fast. Despite increasingly aggressive government measures to tighten the flow of information and to snoop on suspected dissidents, China's resourceful netizens are finding ways to evade the country's Internet restrictions.

Known as fanqiang, or "scaling the wall," these work-arounds typically involve tapping into remote servers located outside China that aren't subject to Chinese government control. Although these skills are largely the province of tech-savvy Chinese bloggers and students, word is spreading fast about how to gain access to taboo sites.

If Google does end up leaving China, experts said, it could be a Pyrrhic victory for Beijing. The company's warning that it will exit the country rather than be party to more censorship has won praise among some Internet users here. Millions who once relied on the search engine's services may become more defiant of government controls and more motivated to learn how to get around the Great Firewall.

And recent crackdowns on social networking sites appear to be alienating some ordinary Chinese who previously showed little concern about the government's efforts to limit their access to pornography or politically sensitive material.

"The best censorship is the censorship you don't know about. But with all the recent troubles, it's becoming more public," said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at UC Berkeley. "That undermines the goal of censorship itself. It's converting more and more people."
The Revolution may not be televised in China. But it might be logged onto.

What's Good For The Unions

Mickey Kaus wonders if giving the unions preferential treatment is really about growing the ranks:
It’s one thing to delay until 2018 the tax on “Cadillac” health plans for existing union-negotiated plans, to let the parties rejigger the balance between wages and benefits. That’s a standard “grandfather” clause, letting people whose existing arrangements are disrupted keep them going for a while (though why it should apply only to union pay packages is a good question).

But it’s another thing to extend this union loophole to collective bargaining agreements that haven’t been negotiated yet, or to not-yet unionized firms that organize and then tap into existing collectively bargaining benefit arrangements. That would in effect give workers a tax bonus if they should organize between now and 2018. The government might as well mail a “first time union member” check of $3,000 to every American who successfully unionizes his workplace.
You have to admit, it's a pretty sneaky way to create more Democratic voters...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Coakley Vs. The Aqua Teens

Radley Balko points to a case from Coakley's past as evidence that she has a tendency to go overboard as a prosecutor:
Coakley has made her reputation as a law-and-order prosecutor. More troubling, she’s shown a tendency to aggressively push the limits of the law in high-profile cases and an unwillingness to cop to mistakes — be they her own or those of other prosecutors. Coakley’s most recent high-profile case was the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” hoax, in which she defended Boston authorities’ massive overreaction to harmless light-emitting-diode devices left around the city as a promotional gimmick.
Meanwhile, Rudy-himself a former prosecutor who was no slouch when it came to going after real bad guys-sounds off on a truly tasteless ad from her campaign:
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani tells National Review Online that the DSCC's new attack ad against Bay State Republican Scott Brown, which uses an image of the World Trade Center, is “unthinkable, offensive, and a big mistake” that shows “how panicked” Democrats have become about losing Teddy Kennedy’s former Senate seat. “Never in their wildest dreams did they think they would lose in Massachusetts,” says Giuliani. “Now they're using imagery from an area of New York where thousands of Americans died.” The ad, he concludes, “just understates how excessively negative they've become since they’re so paranoid about losing this seat. They're now using buildings that were destroyed on 9/11 — which is just unthinkable — and somebody better look into what they're really trying to say.”
I think "We're so desperate we'll stoop to any level" is about apt at this point...

"I Was Against It Before I Was For It Before I Was Against It Again"

Ben Nelson is backpedaling like crazy these days:
Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska is asking Senate leaders to eliminate a controversial Medicaid deal for his state in the health care bill.

The moderate Democrat, who provided the crucial 60th vote for the Senate health care bill, has been criticized because Nebraska was exempted paying any cost of a proposed expansion of Medicaid.

All other states would have to pick up a portion of the tab after the first few years.

Nelson's been arguing ever since that he never wanted a special deal for Nebraska and that he wants all states protected from burdensome new costs.

That didn't quiet the controversy so Nelson took it one step further on Friday and asked for the deal to be withdrawn and replaced with a provision treating all states equally.
It looks like the blowback is getting to him big-time. Sorry, Ben-you voted for it, you own it.

Legal Drones

On one of the few things Obama has done right, the ACLU has some questions:
From where does the Obama administration locate the legal authority to launch missiles from the CIA’s unmanned drones into Pakistani (and, this week, Afghan) territory? The ACLU wants to know.

The civil liberties group today filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA and the Departments of State, Justice and Defense for documentation establishing the legal basis for the drone strikes. Drone strikes in Pakistan have risen substantially during the first year of the Obama administration.

Additionally, the civil liberties group wants to see the government’s estimates for how many civilians the drone program is responsible for killing. A recent New America Foundation report arguing that most drone critics overstate overstate civilian casualties still found that one in every three Pakistanis killed by the drones is a civilian, not a combatant.
One out of three Japanese and Germans killed during Allied bombing raids during WW2 was a civilian, too. Does that invalidate their purpose?

The drones have proven to be effective against the bad guys time and time again. Maybe the ACLU is really worried that it might run out of clients?

What The Brown Rebellion Means To Me

With the Massachusetts Senate race nearing the finish line, Scott Brown is pulling ahead of Martha Coakley, while Ed Morrisey wonders if the Democrats were too smart for their own good. Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg notes:
The Democrats’ “bad climate” is a direct result of how they’ve governed. The populist backlash is fueled by a sense that Democrats are acting on their preferred agenda and by their own rules. From the shenanigans of the people who write our tax code and collect our taxes to special deals and secret arrangements for big businesses and legislators who play ball, the Democrats have abandoned transparency in favor of transparent arrogance.

Coakley is a creature of this climate. She hasn’t been running for “Ted Kennedy’s seat,” she’s been strolling to it like someone who knows it’s been reserved for her and all she needs to do is swing by the will-call window to pick it up.
Except that now things aren't exactly going her way.

The Democrats are scared. As they should be. Arrogance and a sense of entitlement do goeth before a fall.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Some Taxpayers Are More Equal Than Others

It looks like the unions might be getting what they wanted to keep their traps shut:
Unions tentatively struck a deal Tuesday to exempt collectively bargained healthcare plans from a tax on high-cost plans expected to be used to help raise revenue for the healthcare overhaul.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern and United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger met with House Speaker Pelosi Tuesday, a day after labor leaders met at the White House to express their opposition to the excise tax.
....

Exempting collectively bargained plans would appease unions that often offer expensive health plans in lieu of higher wages. The deal could also help Obama avoid breaking his promise not to tax those earning less than $200,000. Obama recently expressed a preference for the excise tax.

The excise tax could further be tweaked to ensure Obama's promise is kept for non-union workers as well.
This pattern of preferential treatment seems to be what Team Obama is best at these days, and it's only going to wind up hurting those The One claims he wanted to help. As Philip Klein notes:
If this policy is adopted, it would mean that there could be two Americans receiving the exact same benefits, but one American may be taxed and one wouldn't, and the only difference would be one of them being a member of a union. This is unseemly and unfair, even by the standards of Obamacare. It has nothing to do with policy-making. It's simply an outright bribe to a constituency that has contributed handily to Democratic campaigns.
Hey, it worked for Ben Nelson...

Inspection Time

Maybe he just wanted to see "Her" stockpile:
Former chief United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter was arrested in a Pennsylvania sex sting in November on a litany of charges involving a lewd Internet conversation with a person he thought was a 15-year-old girl.

Ritter, 48, allegedly masturbated in front of a Web camera while he was engaged in conversation in an Internet chat room with an undercover cop posing as the teenage girl. He declined to discuss the charges Thursday when reporters visited his New York residence.

"I said there would be no comment," Ritter said, according to the Albany Times Union. "Why don't you guys just go away?"
....

The conversation with the girl allegedly took place on Feb. 7, 2009, but the police investigation investigation lasted until November. Ritter was arrested on Nov. 9 and charged with unlawful contact with a minor, criminal use of a communications facility, corruption of minors, indecent exposure, possessing instruments of crime, criminal attempt and criminal solicitation.

Ritter appeared for his preliminary hearing on Dec. 17 and waived the felony charge of unlawful contact with a minor. He remains free on $25,000 bail.
Being a former weapons inspector is a lonely life...

Le Payback

I'm not normally a fan of historical reparations, but I might make an exception in this case:
Haiti's chronic impoverishment began at its birth in 1804, when, having overthrown its French rulers in a bloody, 12-year slave revolt, the new-born nation was subjected to crippling blockades and embargoes. This economic strangulation continued until 1825, when France offered to lift embargoes and recognize the Haitian Republic if the latter would pay restitution to France—for loss of property in Haiti, including slaves—of 150 million gold francs. The sum, about five times Haiti's export revenue for 1825, was brutal, but Haiti had no choice: pay up or perish over many more years of economic embargo, not to mention face French threats of invasion and reconquest. To pay, Haiti borrowed money at usurious rates from France, and did not finish paying off its debt until 1947, by which time its fate as the Western Hemisphere's poorest country had been well and truly sealed.

France must now return every last cent of this money to Haiti. In 2004, at the time of the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence, the Haitian government put together a legal brief in support of a formal demand for "restitution" from France. The sum sought was nearly $22 billion, a number arrived at by calculations that included a notionally equitable annual interest rate.
....

The money involved is not a sum that will give sleepless nights to Christine Lagarde (France's finance minister) or Bernard Kouchner (its foreign minister) or President Nicolas Sarkozy. In this era of multibillion dollar bailouts of private banking institutions, $22 billion should scarcely raise a Gallic eyebrow. But to Haiti, the sum would be a godsend.
We'll see if France comes through or not.

You Gotta Carry That Weight

Oh, the irony:
The floor of a Weight Watchers clinic in Sweden collapsed beneath a group of 20 members of the weight loss programme who were gathered for a meeting.

As the dieters queued to see how many pounds they had shed, the floor beneath them in the clinic in Växjö, in south-central Sweden, began to rumble, according to a report in The Local, Sweden's English-language newspaper.

"We suddenly heard a huge thud; we almost thought it was an earthquake and everything flew up in the air.

"The floor collapsed in one corner of the room and along the walls," one Weight Watchers participant told the Smålandsposten newspaper.

Soon, the fault lines spread around the room, and other sections of the floor gave way.

Luckily, all of the dieters escaped uninjured and managed to move the scales to the corridor, which was not damaged in the accident, and were able to complete their weekly weigh in.
I'm glad no one was hurt. But what does it say about how heavy we are that even Weight Watchers isn't safe?

It's Skynet's Fault

In lieu of being willing to take the responsibility themselves, Team Obama has apparently decided to blame it on the tech:
A big reason why the government is inefficient and ineffective is because Washington has outdated technology, with federal workers having better computers at home than in the office.

This startling admission came Thursday from Peter Orszag, who manages the federal bureaucracy for President Barack Obama.

The public is getting a bad return on its tax dollars because government workers are operating with outdated technologies, Orszag said in a statement that kicked off a summit between Obama and dozens of corporate CEOs.

“Twenty years ago, people who came to work in the federal government had better technology at work than at home,” said Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget. “Now that’s no longer the case.

“The American people deserve better service from their government, and better return for their tax dollars.”

The White House release that included Orszag’s comments said one “specific source” of ineffective and inefficient government is the huge technology gap between the public and private sectors that results in billions of dollars in waste, slow and inadequate customer service and a lack of transparency about how dollars are spent.
Well gee, you'd think that with the money they spent on the stimulus, information infrastructure would at least have gotten some of that funding. But computers don't vote, so I guess they were out...

Ups And Downs

Well, there's more bad news to be had from the Obama economy. First, sales are down:
Sales at U.S. retailers unexpectedly fell in December as consumer spent less on vehicles and an array of other goods during the holiday shopping month, data showed on Thursday, raising concerns about the durability of the economy’s recovery.

The Commerce Department said total retail sales fell 0.3 percent last month, the first decline in three months, after rising by an upwardly revised 1.8 percent in November. Sales in November were previously reported to have increased 1.3 percent.
Nest, foreclosures are up:
Foreclosures jumped 14 percent in December 2009 from the previous month, according to a new report from foreclosure listing Web site RealtyTrac.com.

In all, 349,519 properties received a foreclosure notice in December, up 15 percent from the year before. That’s one in every 366 housing units receiving a foreclosure notice, which is defined as a default notice, bank repossession or auction sale notice.

Besides the monthly data, RealtyTrac also released foreclosure totals for 2009. Last year, 2.8 million US properties received foreclosure filings, a 21 percent increase from 2008 and a 120 percent increase from 2007.
And the Era of Change keeps limping along...