Tuesday, August 31, 2010

There's No Gold In Them Thar Vaults

Or so claims Ron Paul, leading Professor Bainbridge to respond:
I am reminded here of Terry Pratchett's wonderful Discworld novel Making Money, in which Lord Vetinari maneuvers reformed criminal and current Ankh-Morpork Postmaster General Moist von Lipwig into taking on the job of running the Bank of Ankh-Morpock and the Royal Mint. Lipwig eventually discovers that the 10 tons of gold supposedly in the bank's vaults is now longer there. Panic almost ensues. Naturally, however, Lipwig saves the day, gets the girl, and persuades the citizens of Ankh-Morpock to abandon the gold standard.
Many of society's issues could be explained by Mr. Pratchett's books. Maybe our politicians should start reading them?

Drinking For Your Life

Is there nothing that alcohol cannot do?
A new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that - for reasons that aren't entirely clear - abstaining from alcohol does actually tend to increase one's risk of dying even when you exclude former drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.
...

...The researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.
It does seem that the more we learn about booze, the more there is to like about it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hooverville U.S.A.

Welcome to the national bread line:
Government anti-poverty programs that have grown to meet the needs of recession victims now serve a record one in six Americans and are continuing to expand.

More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That's up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.
....

Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance, nearly four times the number from 2007. Benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits. Caseloads peaked at nearly 12 million in January — "the highest numbers on record," says Christine Riordan of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers.

More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18% increase during the recession. The program has grown slower than others, causing Brookings Institution expert Ron Haskins to question its effectiveness in the recession.

As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36% in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80%, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24%, to $22 billion. Taken together, they cost more than Medicare.
Naturally, the people who run this never-ending welfare state think that's a good thing, since they're not the ones who will wind up paying for it all.

How The Other Half Spends

It looks like here really are two Americas:
Nearly a year after the US economy returned to growth, corporate earnings reports in recent months have provided consistent evidence of the differing fortunes. At high-end stores such as Neiman Marcus and Tiffany, shoppers are demonstrating confidence and spending with vigour. At the other end of the retail spectrum, consumers are cautious amid economic uncertainties, denting the earnings of groups such as Walmart.

In the second quarter of 2010, personal consumption expenditure – the commerce department’s main measure of consumer spending – advanced at an annualised rate of 2 per cent in the US, matching the fourth quarter 2009 figure and improving upon the 1.9 per cent gain recorded in the first quarter of this year. However, these modest increases are much weaker than the rebound in consumer consumption experienced after previous recessions.
Maybe this means the Tiffany's crowd has to start paying their fair share?

"Can You Hear Me Now?"

Well, I guess when the opposition is pummeling you in the polls, you at least try to go with what you think works:



You know you're in trouble when even the microphones turn on you...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Looking For Bigots In All The Wrong Places

Via Instapundit, William Jacobson sums up the Left's sorry attempts to find racism at the big Beck rally:
Think Progress tried really, really hard to cover the Restoring Honor rally with photographers and videographers. I don't think it is a stretch to think that Think Progress was hoping beyond hope that it would find a sign or something else that would permit it to portray the rally as racist.
Of course, it wasn't for lack of trying:
Robert Stacy McCain has been getting good laughs out of the left's efforts to smear tea partiers as "racist." Turns out Rachel Maddow apparently found evidence of "racism" in one of the event's program guides, which "advised visitors to stick to the touristy parts of town." But it turns out the program guide was written by a Democrat, Bruce Majors, who's been a major contributor to Democratic candidates, including Howard Dean and John Kerry. And checking over at Charles Johnson's Twitter page, these dolts are working overtime to find "racist" posters at the rally and indications of "tea party racism" in Google searches. Google searches? And here's the brilliant analysis: "Here's a scary thought: It's easier to be a racist in America today than it's been in quite some time." Yeah, okay. Desperate much?
They certainly seem to be. I agree with Jennifer Rubin:
I admit that I had some serious reservations about the Glenn Beck rally. To put it mildly, I’m no fan of Beck’s, and his rhetoric has given liberals plenty of fodder to paint the right as extreme and incendiary. But both he and certainly Palin conducted themselves well — sticking to general themes of faith and service. That the media could not find a single controversial statement is a tribute to the good judgment and restraint that was exercised.
Of course, as Jim Treacher notes, the media still had its own take on things. Speaking of which, did Fox News-the outfit ostensibly the most sympathetic to the rally-miss the boat?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What If A Republican Came Out Of The Closet And Nobody Cared?

Because that seems to be the case with those evil, homophobic right-wingers:
Conservative bloggers either ignored the topic or pointed out that conservatives aren’t necessarily surprised or outraged by the news.

“I had absolutely no idea Ken Mehlman was gay, or existed,” wrote the Daily Caller’s Jim Treacher in response to the New York Times piece that marveled at the “muted reaction” of Republicans to the announcement.

The former RNC chairman and President Bush’s 2004 campaign manager announced that he was gay to the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, and also announced his intentions to support the case for same-sex marriage.

As Washington media columnist Howard Kurtz noted, Mehlman’s sexuality was an “open secret” in Washington and the news failed to surprise many of the people who knew him.
Just about the only people who do care are most likely religious conservatives who never heard of the guy, or liberals who would use this to point out how tough it is to be gay in today's GOP. Which, to their disappointment, doesn't seem to be that much.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Get The Lead Out

Score one for lead:
In a swift and unexpected decision, the Environmental Protection Agency today rejected a petition from environmental groups to ban the use of lead in bullets and shotgun shells, claiming it doesn't have jurisdiction to weigh on the controversial Second Amendment issue. The decision came just hours after the Drudge Report posted stories from Washington Whispers and the Weekly Standard about how gun groups were fighting the lead bullet ban.

The EPA had planned to solicit public responses to the petition for two months, but this afternoon issued a statement rejecting a 100-page request from the Center for Biological Diversity, the American Bird Conservancy, and three other groups for a ban on lead bullets, shot, and fishing sinkers. The agency is still considering what to do about sinkers.

The decision was a huge victory for the National Rifle Association which just seven days ago asked that the EPA reject the petition, suggesting that it was a back door attempt to limit hunting and impose gun control. It also was a politically savvy move to take gun control off the table as the Democrats ready for a very difficult midterm election.
The CBD was worried about lead poisoning. I suppose there's "Green ammo" as an alternative, except that, well, it can give you cancer. Which may have been what the enviros wanted, since of course animals are always more worth saving than people...

At any rate, it looks like common sense (or at least election year realism) carried the day here.

Public Employee Number One

When it comes to the world's most wanted man, Uncle Fidel has it all figured out:
Castro told a visiting Lithuanian writer, who is known as a font of intriguing conspiracy theories about plots for world domination, that Bin Laden was working for the White House.

"Bush never lacked for Bin Laden's support. He was a subordinate," Castro said, according to the Communist party daily, Granma. "Any time Bush would stir up fear and make a big speech, Bin Laden would appear, threatening people with a story about what he was going to do."

He said that thousands of pages of American classified documents made public by WikiLeaks pointed to who the al-Qaida leader is really working for.

"Who showed that he [Bin Laden] is indeed a CIA agent was WikiLeaks. It proved it with documents," he said, but did not explain exactly how.
I guess this means the secret's out, in which case we really do have to kill him now.

The Candidates

Better late than never:
After 30 years of barring black students from running for class president, a Mississippi public middle school, reversed a Jim Crow era policy today and announced students of all races would be allowed to run for student government.

Students at Nettleton Middle School looking to run for class president, previously needed to maintain a B average, obtain 10 signatures from their classmates – and be white.

Rules issued last week outlined the school's rules for seeking office. Students could run for president, vice president, secretary-treasurer and reporter, but some positions were off-limits depending on race.

In all three grades, only white students could run for president. In eighth grade black students could run for vice president and reporter. In seventh grade blacks could only run for secretary-treasurer, and in sixth grade only for reporter.

There were no assigned positions for students of other races and no mention of students who are mixed race.

The policy, a holdover from late 1960s desegregation orders, is one of several school district policies that smack of Jim Crow, including crowning separate black and white homecoming and prom queens in high school.

After a story ran on ABCNews.com and repeated calls to the school board and administrators, Nettleton superintendent Russell Taylor issued a statement revoking the policy.

"After being notified of a grievance regarding upcoming student elections at Nettleton Middle School, research was conducted that evidenced that the current practices and procedures for student elections have existed for over 30 years. It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body," read the statement.
Maybe in a few years they'll even allow black and white students to sit at the same cafeteria tables...

Doing The Kerry Flip

That was then. This is now:



Of course, he's now flip-flopped again. Which should make him a perfect Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Death To Tea?

Ah, more liberal "Tolerance" in action:
One of Washington's principal supporters of the Tea Party movement, former GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, has been receiving death threats and profanity-laced phone calls as it gets involved in the fall elections. The number and intensity have reached such heights that the organization is leaving its downtown location near the FBI and moving to a high-security building near the U.S. Capitol.

"FreedomWorks and Dick Armey receive dozens of threatening and harassing calls and E-mails each day. Many imply violence and use of weapons," spokesman Adam Brandon tells Whispers. "As we get closer to the election we expect the harassment to increase."

He says that FreedomWorks will hire additional security, meaning less money for its election-eve, get-out-the-vote, or GOTV, campaign. "Unfortunately, we may have to use resources for security guards that we would rather use for GOTV," he said.
I'm sure that Nancy Pelosi will be the first to speak out agains such Nazi-like behavior-if she doesn't die herself first.

Brother, Can You Spare A Home?

While Joe Biden (and Time Magazine) brag about how much of the stimulus was spent, the rest of the country is feeling the effects of the Great Non-Recovery:
More than 2.3 million homes have been repossessed by lenders since the recession began in December 2007, according to foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc. And 6 million more will be lost to foreclosure over the next three years, by some estimates.

If that happens, home prices will probably sink further, and the economy will suffer. Builders will keep construction to a minimum, and Americans will be less willing to spend because of their lost home values.

"Housing is certainly not going to help the recovery," said Michelle Meyer, a Bank of America economist. "It threatens to hinder it."

A major problem is that many people have homes that are now worth less than they owe on their mortgages. Approximately 11 million homeowners, or 23 percent of those with a mortgage, were "underwater" as of the end of June, real estate data provider CoreLogic reported Thursday. Nevada had the highest number of any state, with 68 percent.

The number of "underwater" mortgages was down from the previous quarter — but only because homes are being repossessed by lenders.

The number of Americans missing payments and falling into foreclosure has gone up along with unemployment. The jobless rate has remained near double digits all year.
At this rate, we may all be underwater soon...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Non-Sacred Cow

Alan Simpson, under fire for being too honest?
An advocacy group is calling for the ouster of former Sen. Alan Simpson, the co-chairman of President Obama's bipartisan debt commission, who described Social Security as a "milk cow with 310 million tits!" in an email.

Ashley Carson, executive director of the Older Women's League, wrote in a blog post in April that Simpson is targeting Social Security to fix the deficit even though it "doesn't contribute" to the country's debt problem. She also accused Simpson of "disgusting ageism and sexism" in characterizing those who oppose cuts to benefits as "Gray Panthers" and "Pink Panthers."

In his email to Carson, which was sent Monday night, Simpson said he is defending Social Security, not trying to undermine it, and referred her to information showing the program's long-range shortfalls.

He went on: "I've made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know 'em too. It's the same with any system in America. We've reached a point now where it's like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!"
He may be right, but as many before him have found out, honesty isn't always the best policy with the status quo's defenders.

Republicanism Is Teh Gay

Bush's former campaign manager comes out:
Ken Mehlman, President Bush's campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has told family and associates that he is gay.

Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. He agreed to answer a reporter's questions, he said, because, now in private life, he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would arise about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California's ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.

"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," said Mehlman, now an executive vice-president with the New York City-based private equity firm, KKR. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago."
Based on the GOP's attitude towards gays at the time, it's not hard to see why he kept his silence for so long. It's also not hard to imagine that there are probably many more like him within the GOP's ranks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Broken Generation

Is DIY becoming a lost skill?
Around 50 per cent of people aged under 35 admitted they did not know how to rewire a plug, while 54 per cent did not know how to bleed a radiator and 63 per cent said they would not attempt to put up wallpaper, according to Halifax Home Insurance.

Other basic jobs, such as putting up shelves, were beyond 45 per cent of those questioned, while 36 per cent said they would not even attempt to do gardening themselves.

Instead 42 per cent would pay a professional to do the work.

Nearly two-thirds of young people admitted that their father was far better at DIY than they were.

The study also found that when the under-35s do attempt to do a job themselves and it goes wrong, it costs nearly three times as much to fix as problems caused by other age groups.
On the plus side, this might mean more work for those who still actually know how to do these things. On the down side, they seem to be a dying breed.

The End Of Recovery Slumber

Joe Biden might claim otherwise, but it looks like the Great Non-Recovery still has people worried:
Disappointing US economic data is driving a surge in demand for low-yielding assets, with the Japanese yen setting another 15-year high and government bonds at further record low yields.

The Richmond branch of the Federal Reserve’s gauge of manufacturing activity for the US’s mid-Atlantic region fell by nearly a third, and sales of existing homes fell 27.2 per cent in July – to the lowest level for 15 years – well past consensus expectations of a 12 per cent decline.

“There has been a double dip in home sales and housing construction, triggered by the weakening economic backdrop,” said Ethan Harris, head of developed markets economics research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in a note.
Maybe Obama really is Hoover. In which case, it would be the ultimate irony if he were to be unseated by a Republican FDR.

The Potmobile

Well, not quite, but close:
Nathan Armstrong envisions a day when drivers will be rolling up to the curb in a car powered by an electric motor and covered with a body made from hemp.

The green vehicle’s design will be unveiled next month at the Electric Mobility trade show in Vancouver, but the Kestrel is part of a bigger plan by a Canadian consortium — including Armstrong’s Calgary-based Motive Industries — to build an environmentally friendly car in this country.

“It’s a design program that will put all the good eggs we’ve been thinking about into one basket,” said Armstrong, Motive’s president.
All well and good, but what if you get the munchies while driving one?

Hitler's Worst Nightmare

They do say you can't pick your relatives:
Saliva samples taken from 39 relatives of the Nazi leader show he may have had biological links to the “subhuman” races that he tried to exterminate during the Holocaust.

Jean-Paul Mulders, a Belgian journalist, and Marc Vermeeren, a historian, tracked down the Fuhrer’s relatives, including an Austrian farmer who was his cousin, earlier this year.

A chromosome called Haplogroup E1b1b1 which showed up in their samples is rare in Western Europe and is most commonly found in the Berbers of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as among Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.

"One can from this postulate that Hitler was related to people whom he despised," Mr Mulders wrote in the Belgian magazine, Knack.
Maybe Adolf just had a really bad case of self-loathing? Or, as the late Dennis Hopper might have put it:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bloggin' In The Years: 1989

Pete Rose is out:
Pete Rose, the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, today will be declared permanently ineligible to work in baseball for betting on Reds games, people close to the Rose investigation said last night.

The action, which Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti will announce at a 9 A.M. news conference in Manhattan, comes as part of an agreement reached with Mr. Rose's lawyers. The agreement ends Mr. Rose's lawsuit against Mr. Giamatti and precludes the need for a hearing by the commissioner into the betting charges against Mr. Rose. Mr. Giamatti had been trying to hold a hearing for the past three months.

Although the sources described the action as an agreement between the commissioner and Mr. Rose, they did not say what, if anything, Mr. Rose would get out of the deal. It was not clear if Mr. Rose's permanently-ineligible status could be altered in the future. Has Denied Betting on Baseball

Mr. Rose has been accused of betting on baseball games, including games played by his team. He has repeatedly denied that he bet on baseball games, despite voluminous testimony to the contrary by witnesses in an investigation by the commissioner that was headed by John Dowd, a Washington lawyer working as a special counsel to Mr. Giamatti.
This is one situation where Rose's legendary arrogance won't save him. The sooner he slinks off into the sunset, the better.

Your Debate Has Been Terminated

It looks like the Great Director can't walk the walk, after all:
Mr. Cameron was attending the AREDAY environmental conference in Aspen Colorado 19-22 August. He wanted the conference to end with a debate on climate change. Cameron would be flanked with two scientists. It would be 90 minutes long. It would be streamed live on the internet.

They hoped the debate would attract a lot of media coverage.

"We are delighted to have Fox News, Newsmax, The Washington Times and anyone else you'd like. The more the better," one of James Cameron's organizers said in an email.

It looked like James Cameron really was a man of his word who would get to take on the skeptics he felt were so endangering humanity.

Everyone on our side agreed with their conditions. The debate was even listed on the AREDAY agenda.

But then as the debate approached James Cameron's side started changing the rules.

They wanted to change their team. We agreed.

They wanted to change the format to less of a debate—to "a roundtable". We agreed.

Then they wanted to ban our cameras from the debate. We could have access to their footage. We agreed.

Bizarrely, for a brief while, the worlds most successful film maker suggested that no cameras should be allowed-that sound only should be recorded. We agreed

Then finally James Cameron, who so publicly announced that he "wanted to call those deniers out into the street at high noon and shoot it out," decided to ban the media from the shoot out.

He even wanted to ban the public. The debate/roundtable would only be open to those who attended the conference.

No media would be allowed and there would be no streaming on the internet. No one would be allowed to record it in any way.

We all agreed to that.

And then, yesterday, just one day before the debate, his representatives sent an email that Mr. "shoot it out " Cameron no longer wanted to take part. The debate was cancelled.
I'd call him a coward, but his ego is so massive he probably wouldn't care.

The Open Books

Well, Obama promised transparency:
A U.S. appeals court refused to reconsider a ruling that requires the Federal Reserve Board to disclose documents identifying financial firms that might have collapsed without the largest U.S. government bailout.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, in a docket entry dated Aug. 20, denied a May 4 request by the Fed to review its unanimous March 19 decision requiring the agency to release records of the unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. loan program launched primarily after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

The Fed may still ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court.

"The decision is of exceptional importance," the Fed's lawyers wrote in a legal brief on May 4 in which they asked the court to reconsider its decision. "The real-world consequence of the panel's decision will be serious, perhaps irreparable harm to the institutional borrowers whose information will be revealed."
Yes, Lord knows the damage that would be done if people who got bailout money were accountable for it...

The New Iraq

It's a lot sexier than the old one:
Hundreds of porn DVDs are stacked elbow-deep on a wooden table in Jassim Hanoun's ramshackle stall on a downtown sidewalk. His other tables have Hollywood blockbusters, like "King Kong." But not surprisingly, it's the sex that sells best.

"I've got everything," Hanoun says of his sex selection, flashing the kind of impish grin only a 22-year-old in tight jeans and slicked-back hair can pull off with any real conviction. "What do you want? I've got foreign films, Arab, Iraqi, Indian, celebrities — whatever you like."

The porn, in an odd way, has told the story of Iraq's security and political situation since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. It emerged in the anything-goes atmosphere that erupted in the vacuum immediately following the U.S. invasion — then went back into hiding amid the anarchy when armed militias roamed the capital through 2008, targeting those they saw as immoral.

Its reemergence since then reflects how security has improved but also how the fragile government is busy with more pressing issues than spicy videos.

With politicians deadlocked the past five month trying to form a new government, whether Hanoun stays in business depends less on customer demand than on who takes the reins of power and if security is maintained.

The openness with which porn is sold in some of Baghdad's streets is almost unheard of in the Arab world.
This is obviously Bush's fault...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blogger Shakedown

That certainly sounds like what's going on in the City of Brotherly Love:
Even though small-time bloggers aren't exactly raking in the dough, the city requires privilege licenses for any business engaged in any "activity for profit," says tax attorney Michael Mandale of Center City law firm Mandale Kaufmann. This applies "whether or not they earned a profit during the preceding year," he adds.

So even if your blog collects a handful of hits a day, as long as there's the potential for it to be lucrative — and, as Mandale points out, most hosting sites set aside space for bloggers to sell advertising — the city thinks you should cut it a check. According to Andrea Mannino of the Philadelphia Department of Revenue, in fact, simply choosing the option to make money from ads — regardless of how much or little money is actually generated — qualifies a blog as a business. The same rules apply to freelance writers. As former City Paper news editor Doron Taussig once lamented [Slant, "Taxed Out," April 28, 2005], the city considers freelancers — which both Bess and Barry are, in addition to their blog work — "businesses," and requires them to pay for a license and pay taxes on their profits, on top of their state and federal taxes.
This has all the markings of a legalized scam-and provides another reason for people not to do business in Philly.

Nineteen Forever

The NY Times has an extensive essay on the rise of twentysomethings who are postponing their move into formal adulthood:
It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.
There was a time when this was considered laziness, or at least procrastination. But now it may be more out of economic necessity as institutions of higher learning haven't caught up with the changing job market, or the changing nature of what it means to be grown-up. Meanwhile, a twentysomething responds.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Playing For $$

Another individual unable to take responsibility for his actions, er, another victim of insidious corporate behavior gets his day in court:
A federal judge is allowing a negligence lawsuit to proceed against the publisher of the online virtual-world game Lineage II, amid allegations that a Hawaii man became so addicted he is “unable to function independently in usual daily activities such as getting up, getting dressed, bathing or communicating with family and friends.”

Craig Smallwood, the plaintiff, claims NCsoft of South Korea should pay unspecified monetary damages because of the addictive nature of the game. Smallwood claims to have played Lineage II for 20,000 hours between 2004 and 2009. Among other things, he alleges he would not have begun playing if he was aware “that he would become addicted to the game.”

Smallwood, who did not immediately respond for comment, alleged that the company “acted negligently in failing to warn or instruct or adequately warn or instruct plaintiff and other players of Lineage II of its dangerous and defective characteristics, and of the safe and proper method of using the game.”
Because, you know, it's not up to the user to decide whether or not to play the damn thing, is it?

Atomic Age

It's official-Iran has gone nuclear:
Thirty-six years after construction began under the shah, Iran finally opened its first nuclear power plant at a ceremony on Saturday.

Attended by senior officials from Iran and Russia, the ceremony marked the beginning of the transfer of low-enriched uranium fuel rods from a storage site into the plant.

Officials of both countries said that Saturday’s events signified the opening, not the startup, of the plant near Bushehr, in southern Iran, as a working nuclear plant.

“This is a special day for both Russian and Iranian specialists,” the chief of Russia’s Rosatom state nuclear power company, Sergei Kiriyenko, said, shaking hands and smiling with his Iranian counterparts, in television reports broadcast in Russia.

Russia helped build the station through years of concern by the West that Iran was using its civilian program to mask a plan to build a bomb.

And it was a day sure to upset United States diplomats who had encouraged Russia to delay the opening as a way to add to economic sanctions imposed on Iran as a result of its refusal to cease enrichment of uranium at its other nuclear facilities.
Of course, the issue here is enrichment, and how the rest of the world responds. And that might not be good for the waning U.S. influence in the region:
Geopolitics abhors a vacuum. Iran is not a great enough power, even with nuclear weapons, to step into America’s shoes in the region. Someone else will try to, and we don’t have to guess who. It will be a competition between Russia and China, with Russia holding the lead at the starting line. Turkey, seeing herself under Erdogan’s leadership as a resurgent regional hegemon, will seek to broker it. Those four nations – Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey – will offer all the patronage they can to line up the other nations in their corner and block the advances of the other three. They’ll cultivate each other as necessary to establish advantage. They will have far less compunction than the US in their dealings with smaller nations and vulnerable peoples, as we have seen with Russia in the Caucasus, China in Tibet, and Turkey with the Kurds. But the nations of the region will have no choice but to seek accommodation and alignment with them. US power will be increasingly inert.

And borders will be breached at some point. Can Iraq’s fledgling democracy survive in these circumstances? Do Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen stand a chance? Whom will Libya and Algeria throw in with? How will all this affect Europe, and the tradeways snaking through its junction with Asia and Africa? And what will happen to Israel?
The future is here. Are we ready to deal with it?

All The Old Dudes

Sorry, guys, they're just not that into you after all:
Men and women are still rather traditional when it comes to searching for their ideal partner.

Women generally seek an older and, therefore hopefully, wealthier man, according to the UWIC study.

Men, on the other hand, desire a young and attractive female, and often prefer a much younger partner as they themselves age.

The findings, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, disputes the "cougar" phenomenon popularized in TV shows and movies like "Cougar Town" starring Courteney Cox and "Sex and the City" of women aged over 40 seeking "cubs."
It may be because these shows were created by guys who want hot older chicks interested in them. Or maybe Freud was right and some guys are really just looking for their mothers...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Running Forward, Into The Past

Maybe they really do miss him:



Somebody tell me, what year is this again?

Bush Country

As the President prepares for his umpteenth vacation, the end of Hope'n'Change is so prevalent that it's even being felt in Kennedyland:
It was only a year ago that the president, a superstar after his historic election, rode a wave of popularity to The Rock. Islanders typically brag about a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to celebrities, but it seemed everyone wanted a glimpse of Obama playing golf or biking with his daughters.

But in the final days before his second visit, some residents say the excitement has waned along with Obama’s popularity after two years in office. Others say his poll numbers are not the issue; they just want to give the president the quiet he seeks.

“It’s not as hectic or as crazy’’ this year, said Maya Sharp, a clerk at Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury, one of the locations the president visited last summer. She remembers the excitement when Secret Service agents came into the store announcing that the president would visit. No one else was allowed in the store when he came in to buy candy for his two daughters.

“It’s just a laid-back feeling now,’’ Sharp said. “It’s like ‘Wow, he’s coming — again.’ ’’

One barometer of the plunge in excitement has been the sale of Obama-themed T-shirts, which designers had been banking on after the craze of last year. Clothing labeled with the president’s name sold by the thousands, helping to salvage a tough economic year for the island.

But this year’s T-shirt sales are much less brisk, merchants say.

“Last year, Obama gave you goose bumps, but I don’t think you’re going to see that this year,’’ said Alex McCluskey, co-owner of the Locker Room, who sold more than 4,000 “I vacationed with Obama’’ T-shirts last year. But so far this year, he said, his hot item is T-shirts of former President Bush asking, “Miss me yet?"
Of course, liberals may have other reasons for missing Dubya. And it could just be the lack of a convenient enemy for them to vent their frustrations at. At any rate, it shows just how much the glow surrounding The One has dulled among his followers.

Service With A Smile

Darrell Issa is just waiting to unleash his wrath on the unsuspecting White House:
For months, Issa, a California Republican, has been delving into allegations of bureaucratic abuse and political foul play, prepping for the committee chairmanship should the chance come. A relentless critic of the Obama administration, he frequently takes to cable news to highlight his growing pile of files. Everything from the alleged job offers made to Democratic candidates by White House emissaries, to the private-sector ties of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has caught his eye.

Prodding Democrats for answers, of course, has brought him both notoriety and enemies. The New York Times, for example, calls him President Obama’s “Annoyer-in-Chief.” Issa shrugs off Democrats’ displeasure. In fact, he says that he enjoys tangling with the administration and its flacks. But subpoena power, he notes, will make a “big difference” between annoying the administration and “holding its feet to the fire.”

“You will get oversight where now you don’t,” Issa observes. “[In the minority,] I try to create public awareness about my questions so that I can try to get at least partial answers. Without press coverage, however, it is hard to get heat onto members. The administration often simply does not respond.” With subpoena power, the stakes change. Republicans, he predicts, “may not have to use it, but when [investigative targets] know that you can, it makes them attempt to give you an answer.”
It's not as if they won't have given him enough ammunition...

Union Boss Blues

No one can say that the UAW doesn't know where its priorities are:
On Tuesday GM announced that it would close its Indianapolis stamping plant next year, after workers there voted against a UAW-sponsored contract that would have sold the plant to Chicago-based Norman Industries and cut worker pay by as much as 50 percent. Local union members were so incensed by the UAW’s efforts to make them accept pay reductions, they shouted representatives down at angry meeting last Sunday (starting at 2:45 in the video above).

And if you think they were angry on Sunday, imagine how pissed the members of Local 23 were on Tuesday when the partially UAW-owned GM announced that the plant would cease production next June, and close by the end of 2011. Especially because they have no recourse, as the UAW agreed to a no-strike clause (ending in 2015) in exchange for its equity in GM and Chrysler.

To get the bitter taste of squelched brethren out of his mouth, UAW President Bob King took the union’s $33m Black Lake golf retreat off the market.
Well, they do need someplace to hide from their members...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Message

Having failed to sell Obamacare to the American electorate outright, Democrats are now switching tactics to a different sales pitch:
The presentation concedes that groups typically supportive of Democratic causes — people under 40, non-college-educated women and Hispanic voters — have not been won over by the plan. Indeed, it stresses repeatedly that many are unaware that the legislation has passed, an astonishing shortcoming in the White House's all-out communications effort.

"Straightforward ‘policy’ defenses fail to [move] voters’ opinions about the law," says one slide. "Women in particular are concerned that health care law will mean less provider availbality — scarcity [is] an issue."

The presentation also concedes that the fiscal and economic arguments that were the White House's first and most aggressive sales pitch have essentially failed.

"Many don’t believe health care reform will help the economy," says one slide.

The presentation's final page of "Don'ts" counsels against claiming "the law will reduce costs and deficit."

The presentation advises, instead, sales pitches that play on personal narratives and promises to change the legislation.

"People can be moved from initial skepticism and support for repeal of the law to favorable feelings and resisting repeal," it says. "Use personal stories — coupled with clear, simple descriptions of how the law benefits people at the individual level — to convey critical benefits of reform."
I don't think simplifying the message will help. If the people didn't buy your agrument before, a new advertising campaign isn't likely to change their minds.

Where Stupidity Survives

Of all the things to criticize Obama over, this nonsense is way at the bottom of my list:
Nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, said they think Obama is Muslim, up from the 11 percent who said so in March 2009, according to a poll released Thursday. The proportion who correctly say he is a Christian is just 34 percent, down from 48 percent in March of last year.

The White House even felt compelled to respond with a terse knockdown from spokesman Bill Burton: "The president is obviously a Christian. He prays every day."

Obama is the Christian son of a Kenyan Muslim father and a Kansas mother. Born in Hawaii, he lived from ages 6 to 10 in predominantly Muslim Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. His full name, Barack Hussein Obama, sounds Muslim to many.

Confusion about Obama's religion was common, and sometimes encouraged, during the 2008 campaign. An Associated Press photograph that circulated on the Internet, and was posted on The Drudge Report, showed Obama dressed in traditional local garments—a white turban and a wraparound white robe—during a visit to Kenya in 2006. Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton may have contributed through her response to a question, during a "60 Minutes" interview, about whether he was a Muslim. "There's nothing to base that on," she said. "As far as I know."

Others have helped keep rumors about Obama's religion and birth alive. Conservative commentators including radio talk show host Michael Savage have repeated debunked claims that Obama attended a radical Muslim madrassa in Indonesia. Rush Limbaugh has facetiously referred to "Imam Obama" in recent days, and last year praised a woman who at a Delaware town hall meeting questioned Obama's citizenship. Lou Dobbs gave significant air time to such "birther" claims on CNN—despite his own insistence that he believed Obama was born in the U.S.
Of course the whackjobs will be portrayed as "Mainstream" conservatives in the media, but that only seems to encourage them. After all, the media are part of the "Conspiracy", aren't they?

Not The Smartest Guy In The Room

Jennifer Rubin says that Obama has fallen victim to his own hype:
Obama suffers from a lifetime of others excessively praising his intellect. It insulates him from ideas and facts that conflict with his pre-existing liberal rubric (so “every economist” believed his stimulus would work). It leaves him unprepared to engage in real debate with informed opponents (e.g. the health-care summit). It skews his understanding of how geopolitics works, as he imagines that his own wonderfulness can sway adversaries and override nations’ fundamental interests (the Middle East).
....

And when his shortcomings lead to embarrassment or failure, he strikes out in frustration — at Israel, at the media, and at the American people. The image of himself clashes with the results he achieves and the reaction he inspires. No wonder he’s so prickly. You’d be, too, if everyone your entire life had told you that you were swell but now, when the chips are down and the spotlight is on, you are failing so badly in your job.
The problem with being perceived as a genius is that sooner or later you have to prove it. Obama has shown himself to be all too human rather than superhuman, and increasingly seems to be having trouble dealing with it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nancy's War

When confronted with opposition, Nancy Pelosi seems content to use an old Democratic fallback position:
Pelosi told local reporters on Tuesday that the decision over whether to proceed with building an Islamic center, which includes a mosque, near the site of the 9/11 attacks should be left up to the local community.

"I think everyone respects the right of people in our country to express their religious beliefs on their property," she told KCBS radio in San Francisco. "The decision, though, as to how to go forward in New York is up to New York."

The Speaker also questioned what was motivating the political opposition to the mosque, suspecting that the issue might be being "ginned up" to help Republican candidates.

"There's no question that there's a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some," she said. "And I join those who have called for looking into how ... this opposition to the mosque [is] being funded.

"How is this being ginned up that we are here talking about Treasure Island, something we've been working on for decades, something of great interest to our community, as we go forward to an election about the future of our country, and two of the first three questions are about a zoning issue in New York City?" Pelosi said.
So, if you disagree with the mosque, you should be investigated for the good of the First Amendment. Do I have that right?

There's no doubt that some people are using this as a political football, and that Chris Christie (see below) has it right. At any rate, the issue here, as Nancy and those like her seem to be ignoring, is one of location, not vocation. When even other liberals are questioning this line of defense, I think it's clear that Team Pelosi has once again missed the boat on this one.

Paging Dr. Laura

She says she's quitting radio because...why?
The announcement by the host of the "Dr. Laura" program was a stunning denouement after a week in which Schlessinger was widely criticized for describing an African American caller to her program as "hypersensitive" for taking offense at a neighbor's racial taunting. To illustrate her claim of a racial double standard, she said that black comedians often use the N-word on TV without criticism, but the word is forbidden for white people. She used the racial epithet, unexpurgated, 11 times in five minutes, despite her caller's protests.

Schlessinger later apologized for the remarks, saying she said "the wrong thing" on the air. On Tuesday she went further: During an interview on "Larry King Live" on CNN, Schlessinger said, "My contract is up for my radio show at the end of the year, and I've made the decision not to do radio anymore."

She added: "The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special-interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I'm sort of done with that."
When, exactly, did she lose her right to freedom of speech? Playing the victim card isn't exactly the conservative ideal, and I'm sorry to see that Dr. Laura seems to have gone down that road here.

Welcome To L.A., Now Please Leave

L.A. has a message for President Obama-the next time you think about coming to town, don't.
President Obama's fundraising mission in Los Angeles on Monday evening may have been a whirlwind trip for him, but it was a tedious slog for the thousands who found themselves in gridlock from the Westside to downtown.

A Brentwood resident's two-mile jaunt took 45 minutes. An Echo Park couple who left home at 5:30 p.m. found their usual 20-minute drive west to Olympic and Rimpau boulevards took a whopping hour and 15 minutes. An attorney left his Miracle Mile-area office at 5:45 p.m. and sat unmoving in traffic for 45 minutes.

No matter their politics, Los Angeles residents found themselves united. "It was a beautiful thing," said Brentwood resident Myles Berkowitz, commiserating with his neighbors on Montana Avenue. "Young, old, black, white — everyone was pissed off."
He's a uniter, not a divider!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Babbler In Chief

Is Obama too professorial for his own good?
President Obama's comments on a plan to build an Islamic center in the shadow of ground zero are not only giving opponents an opportunity to attack him but also reveal a messaging problem from the White House, a communications expert said.

"The danger here is an incoherent presidency," said David Morey, vice chairman of the Core Strategy Group, who provided communications advice to Obama's 2008 campaign. "Simpler is better, and rising above these issues and leading by controlling the dialogue is what the presidency is all about. So I think that's the job they have to do more effectively as they have in the past [in the campaign]."
....

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in a recent column that Obama's clarity and successful messaging during the campaign are gone. In place is a "incoherent president," who's "with the banks, he's against the banks. He's leaving Afghanistan, he's staying in Afghanistan. He strains at being a populist, but his head is in the clouds."

But Obama has the ability to sharpen his messaging skills by being less of a law professor and more of a communicator in chief, Morey said.

"Communicating as a law professor does not work as president. It's not worked," he said. "You're drawing fine distinctions and speaking in long enough paragraphs that they can be misconstrued and taken out of context and frankly, handed to your opposition to exploit. And that's clearly what's going on here [with the Islamic center/mosque comments]."

While many poked fun at former President George W. Bush for mispronouncing words and stumbling through sentences, observers note that he rarely had to backtrack on his answers because he employed a simple and direct messaging approach.
Part of the problem may be that Obama keeps vacillating between campaigning and lecturing. But I guess when you see the country as your classroom, you have to pick one over the other.

Blago's Revenge

Blago wins, sort of:
Rod R. Blagojevich, the ousted former governor of Illinois, was convicted on Tuesday of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but the jury in the corruption case against him also reported that it was hopelessly deadlocked on the 23 other counts against him.

The jury’s findings, which came on the 14th day of deliberations, were seen as a victory for Mr. Blagojevich and his defense team and a significant setback for federal authorities, who arrested Mr. Blagojevich almost two years ago to stop what they described unambiguously as “a political corruption crime spree,” including attempts to sell the appointment to fill the Senate seat once held by Barack Obama.

“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said of Mr. Blagojevich at the time.

Judge James B. Zagel of Federal District Court accepted the jury’s verdict on the false-statements count on Tuesday and declared a mistrial on the remaining counts, the bulk of the case. Federal prosecutors said immediately that they would try Mr. Blagojevich once more.

After the verdict, Mr. Blagojevich proclaimed victory.

"This jury shows you that the government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me," he said later outside court. "They could not prove I did anything wrong -- except for one nebulous charge from five years ago."
I have to say, if they couldn't prove the other charges the first time, I don't see how they'll have much better luck the second time around. Blago may be a scumbag, but he had his day in court. Another one probably won't be much different as far as the outcome is concerned.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Cranky Old Man Chronicles

When did Ray Bradbury turn into Andy Rooney?
“I think our country is in need of a revolution,” Bradbury said. “There is too much government today. We've got to remember the government should be by the people, of the people and for the people.”

The native of Waukegan, Ill., has never been shy about expressing himself -- he described President Clinton with a word that rhymes with "knithead" back in 2001-- nor is he timid about correcting people when it comes to his own perceived legacy. Bradbury chafes, for instance, at the description of his work as science fiction -- in the past he has pointed out that, to his mind, "Fahrenheit 451"is the only sci-fi book in his vast body of work -- and despite his passion for more national space projects, he is not technology obsessive by any means.

“We have too many cellphones. We've got too many Internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.”

Bradbury wrote darkly about bookburning in "Fahrenheit 451," but he sounds ready to use a Kindle for kindling. “I was approached three times during the last year by Internet companies wanting to put my books" on an electronic reading device, he said. "I said to Yahoo, 'Prick up your ears and go to hell.'"
Oh yeah, and get off his lawn!

The Hammer's Coda

The long-running investigation into Tom DeLay appears to be over:
The investigation lasted through two presidents and four attorneys general. Federal prosecutors’ decision not to pursue the Texas Republican in court provides a stark footnote to the lobbying scandals that helped Democrats in 2006 regain the House majority they lost in the “Republican revolution” of 1994. That GOP sweep, during former President Bill Clinton’s first term, eventually made the pugnacious DeLay — nicknamed “The Hammer” — one of Washington’s top power brokers.

DeLay vigorously defended his conduct and insisted that the flurry of inquiries that drove him from office were entirely the product of his political enemies.

“The new politics is, it’s no longer good enough to beat you on policy, they have to completely drown you and put you in prison and destroy your family and your reputation [and] your finances and, then, dance on your grave,” DeLay said. “I hope that people will look at my case and decide that the criminalization of politics and the politics of personal is not beneficial to the country and our system, and hopefully it will stop.”
Vindication for the Hammer? Maybe. At the very least, it shows how little guilt or innocence really matter in the proverbial swamp.

Recovery Summer R.I.P.

James Pethokoukis declares the non-recovery D.O.A.:
Private sector job growth has fallen by two-thirds, and the unemployment rate is still at a sky-high 9.5 percent. And if the size of the U.S. workforce, as measured by the Labor Department, had stayed constant since April—instead of shrinking by a million—the unemployment rate would be 10.4 percent. Jobless claims are at their highest level since February. Worse yet, the expansion is decelerating. After growing by 5.7 percent in the final quarter of 2009 and 3.7 percent in the first quarter of 2010, GDP advanced by just 2.4 percent from April through June, according to the Commerce Department. And new data show the final second-quarter number may actually be closer to flat, with growth for the rest of the year just 1 to 2 percent at best.

The White House didn’t count on a summer swoon. Then again, it has suffered bouts of premature and unfounded economic optimism before, a malady that has led it to make a number of losing bets and faulty assumptions—which, in turn, have created an even worse environment for growth and jobs.
It's bad enough when a president promises more than he can deliver. It's even worse when you take credit for something that never happened in the first place.

Grownup Talk

Chris Christie weighs in on the great Mosque Debate:
"Given my last position, that I was the first U.S attorney post 9/11 in New Jersey, I understand acutely the pain and sorrow and upset of the family members who lost loved ones that day at the hands of radical Muslim extremists. And their sensitivities and concerns have to be taken into account. Just because it’s nearly nine years later, those sensitivities cannot and should not be ignored. On the other hand, we cannot paint all of Islam with that brush. ...We have to bring people together. And what offends me the most about all this, is that it’s being used as a political football by both parties. And what disturbs me about the president's remarks is that he is now using it as a political football as well. I think the president of the United State should rise above that. And should not be using this as a political football, and I don’t believe that it would be responsible of me to get involved and comment on this any further because it just put me in the same political arena as all of them.

"My principles on this are two-fold. One, that we have to acknowledge, respect and give some measure of deference to the feelings of the family members who lost their loved ones there that day. But it would be wrong to so overreact to that, that we paint Islam with a brush of radical Muslim extremists that just want to kill Americans because we are Americans. But beyond that ... I am not going to get into it, because I would be guilty of candidly what I think some Republicans are guilty of, and the president is now, the president is guilty of, of playing politics with this issue, and I simply am not going to do it."
Taking the high road can be a difficult thing to do. It's nice to see that someone who is considered a rising star in the GOP can still do that.

The Plague Of Ignorance

It just keeps spreading:
California is in the midst of its worst outbreak of whooping cough in a half-century. More than 2,700 cases have been reported so far this year — eight times last year's number at this point. Seven of the victims, all infants, have died.

And here's what really worries pediatricians like USC's Harvey Karp: Doctors thought they wiped out whooping cough when they developed vaccines decades ago.

The disease hits young children hardest, especially ones who are not vaccinated or who have not yet built up full immunity. The prescribed vaccination regimen begins with a shot at two months and continues until children are 5 years old. For many children, it can take that long for complete immunity to develop — and until then, they're vulnerable.

The California epidemic has raised plenty of questions about the role of vaccination and the increasing numbers of parents who decide not to vaccinate their children. California's Department of Public Health cites three schools in the state where 80 percent of parents have signed a "personal belief exemption" to keep their children from being vaccinated.

"That's part of what's behind this epidemic, Dr. Karp tells NPR's Guy Raz. "And it's in part because the immunity of people who were immunized earlier has waned," he adds.
These medical Luddites are literally going to be the death of us. Never mind that their fears have been largely discredited.

Don't Talk About Teaching Club

They might not like it:
The Los Angeles teachers union president said Sunday he was organizing a “massive boycott” of The Times after the newspaper began publishing a series of articles that uses student test scores to estimate the effectiveness of district teachers.

“You’re leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by … a test,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has more than 40,000 members.

Duffy said he would urge other labor groups to ask their members to cancel their subscriptions.

Based on test score data covering seven years, The Times analyzed the effects of more than 6,000 elementary school teachers on their students’ learning. Among other things, it found huge disparities among teachers, some of whom work just down the hall from one another.
Reporting on poor teacher performance? Oh, the horror! But, as the LA Weekly reports, there's reason for concern:
In the past decade, LAUSD officials spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven of the district’s 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance — and only four were fired, during legal struggles that wore on, on average, for five years each. Two of the three others were paid large settlements, and one was reinstated. The average cost of each battle is $500,000.
And people wonder why California is in trouble. You know your state has problems when it costs more to fire bad workers than it does to hire them.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Let Them Eat Exercise"

Maybe Michelle Obama really is turning into Marie Antoinette:
Democrats who reluctantly slashed a food stamp program to fund a state aid bill may have to do so again to pay for a top priority of first lady Michelle Obama.

The House will soon consider an $8 billion child nutrition bill that’s at the center of the first lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative. Before leaving for the summer recess, the Senate passed a smaller version of the legislation that is paid for by trimming the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

The proposed cuts would come on top of a 13.6 percent food stamp reduction in the $26 billion Medicaid and education state funding bill that President Obama signed this week.
It looks like the kids will get thin regardless. After all, they won't have to worry about paying for their lunches now...

Brother, Can You Spare A Condo?

The FHA isn't just for poor people anymore:
The FHA, created in 1934 to make homeownership attainable for low- to moderate-income Americans, is now providing a lifeline to new Manhattan luxury condominiums after sales stalled. Buildings featuring pet spas, concierges and rooftop lounges are applying for agency backing to unlock bank financing for purchasers. The FHA guarantees that if a homebuyer defaults on his mortgage, the agency will pay it.

At least nine Manhattan condo developments south of 96th Street have sought approval for FHA backing since the agency loosened its financing rules in December, according to a database of applications maintained by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The change allows the FHA to insure loans in new projects where only 30 percent of units are in contract, down from at least 50 percent. About 1,900 apartments in New York’s most expensive neighborhoods would be covered by the applications.
Who says there's no place for the wealthy in the Obama era?

Secret Wars

Um, isn't this the sort of thing liberals voted for Obama to end?
In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.

The White House has intensified the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan, approved raids against Qaeda operatives in Somalia and launched clandestine operations from Kenya. The administration has worked with European allies to dismantle terrorist groups in North Africa, efforts that include a recent French strike in Algeria. And the Pentagon tapped a network of private contractors to gather intelligence about things like militant hide-outs in Pakistan and the location of an American soldier currently in Taliban hands.
In some ways, this is a better approach than the "Invade and occupy" strategy that Bush seemed to prefer. Sometimes, a scalpal works better than a hacksaw. But it does raise the question of where this will end-whcih may not be where Team Obama wants it to.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rolling For Rand

Now this is what I call getting your message out:
One man drove 12,238 miles across 30 states to scrawl a message that can only be viewed using Google Earth. His big shoutout: “Read Ayn Rand.”

Nick Newcomen did a road trip over 30 days that covered stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. First, he identified on a map the route he would need to drive to spell out the message. He put a GPS device in his car to trace the route he would follow. Then, he hit the road.

“The main reason I did it is because I am an Ayn Rand fan,” he says. “In my opinion if more people would read her books and take her ideas seriously, the country and world would be a better place — freer, more prosperous and we would have a more optimistic view of the future.”

Newcomen, unlike previous GPS artists, actually traveled the lines he traced on the map. He used a GPS logger (Qstarz BT-Q1000X) to “ink” the message. Starting his trip in Marshall, Texas, he turned on the device when he wanted to write a letter and turned off the device between letters.
But I have to wonder-if aliens read it, would they become Objectivists?

Flying With The Crazy

It turns out America's newest folk hero may not be all that:
A passenger on the JetBlue fight from which attendant Steven Slater disembarked Monday by activating the emergency chute and sliding down with beers in hand said Mr. Slater, apparently after being hit in the head by a passenger, was the one who instigated the confrontation that led to his now-famous exit.

Marjorie Briskin, a 53-year-old schoolteacher from Pittsburgh, said she was deplaning in John F. Kennedy International Airport around noon Monday when Mr. Slater and a woman walking in front of her got into a heated conversation over the woman's luggage. She said the passenger, who appeared to be in her 20s, asked Mr. Slater where her bag was stowed.

Ms. Briskin said the seemingly normal conversation turned unexpectedly nasty when Mr. Slater blurted out an expletive to the passenger.

"I didn't think she was rude in the least," said Ms. Briskin, who was visiting the city for the first time. "It really blew my mind. It was so inappropriate."

Ms. Briskin said Mr. Slater sported a "nice gash" on his head for most of the flight, during which there were no problems until the end, when she said Mr. Slater began methodically opening the overhead bins and then slamming them shut.

"He looked disturbed at that point," she said.
So much for heroics. But at least he had a song written about him during his five minutes of fame. Meanwhile, Jimmy Fallon has his own tribute.

Dumpster Docs

So that's where they went:
Four Massachusetts community hospitals are investigating how thousands of patient health records, some containing Social Security numbers and sensitive medical diagnoses, ended up in a pile at a public dump.

The unshredded records included pathology reports with patients’ names, addresses, and results of breast, bone, and skin cancer tests, as well as the results of lab work following miscarriages.

By law, medical records and documents containing personal identifying information must be disposed of in a way that protects privacy, and leaving them at a dump is probably illegal, privacy lawyers and hospital officials said. Violators face steep fines.
Of course, this will never happen under Obamacare, will it?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Dirty South

America's Candidate, now indicted on porn charges:
Longshot Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alvin Greene was indicted Friday on two charges, including a felony charge of showing pornography to a teenage student in a South Carolina college computer lab.

Greene surprised the party establishment with his primary victory in June. His arrest in November was first reported by The Associated Press the day after he won the nomination.

Authorities said he approached a student in a University of South Carolina computer lab, showed her obscene photos online, then talked about going to her dorm room.

A Richland County grand jury indicted Greene, 32, for disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity — a felony — as well as a misdemeanor charge of communicating obscene materials to a person without consent.
I guess he couldn't wait until after he was in office to have his first scandal...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Wichita Way

As goes Wichita, so goes America?
Thanks to a cluster of aircraft manufacturers such as Learjet, Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft, the economic focus of Wichita – population 366,000 – is very different from the emphasis on services and consumer demand typical of 21st century America. According to a study published late last month by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank, nearly 28 per cent of the city’s gross metropolitan product is sold abroad. That makes it the most export-oriented in the country, just ahead of Portland, Oregon – noted for its computer and electronics companies – and San Jose in California’s Silicon Valley.

According to Bruce Katz, the study’s author, these areas could be at the vanguard of a fundamental transformation in the US economy – away from consumers and housing towards investment and exports. “I personally think [Wichita] will be the norm in the next 10 to 15 years,” Mr Katz says.

Many economists believe this is desirable. Don Kohn, outgoing vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, has said it would put America on a “stronger, more resilient, and . . . more sustainable growth path” than before the recession, and would make households “less vulnerable and better able to withstand shocks in the future”. It could also help moderate the global imbalances that have afflicted the US economy in the past decade.
We were a nation of exporters once. It would be nice to think that we can do it again.

Beck-Ola

Oh, my. First there was Mike Huckabee on immigration (see below). Now there's Glenn Beck on the marriage that dares not speak its name:



Hopefully, this is the start of a trend on the Right.

The Radical Mosque That Isn't

Shikha Dalmia puts the New York City mosque controversy into perspective:
It will house a place of worship, but it won't blare muezzin calls summoning Muslims to pray five times a day, suggesting that it has a fairly relaxed attitude toward Quranic strictures. Nor will it be a Muslim-only place where members of other faiths are unwelcome; rather it will be open to anyone willing to pay its dues. Best (or worst) of all, it won't be "on" Ground Zero, but two blocks and a bend away at a spot not visible to World Trade Center visitors.

None of this is preventing some opponents from bizarrely suggesting that the center represents a surreptitious attempt to glorify Islamic victory on American soil. But a victory statement communicated through esoteric means negates itself because such means signal weakness, not strength. What's more, it is one odd victory statement when its alleged authors are not claiming any moral high ground for their putative side. To the contrary, the couple, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, who are spearheading the center, have "refudiated" the 9/11 attacks in particular and Islamic terrorism in general.

They have qualms about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that plenty of nonterrorist Americans would share. And they are Sufis, the moderate and mystical sect of Islam that is known for its refined music and art, not its militancy. In fact, by all auguries, they are modern and liberated Muslims who seem rather embarrassed by the hot-headed jihadis who speak for their religion. Their whole project was conceived in order to highlight the more benign, moderate side of Islam and build bridges with other faiths. Newsweek Editor Fareed Zakaria is absolutely right when he notes that, "if there is ever going to be a reformist movement in Islam, it is going to emerge from places like the proposed mosque."
In other words, it's exactly the kind of place that we need to see more of. If the knee-jerk types would allow it, of course.

Huck Says Hands Off

When it comes to immigration, Mike Huckabee actually makes more sense than some of his colleagues:
In an interview that aired on NPR Wednesday, the former Arkansas governor and 2008 White House hopeful said the section of the 14th Amendment currently in question has long been held valid.

"The Supreme Court has decided that, I think, in three different centuries, said Huckabeee. "In every single instance, they have affirmed that if you are born in this country, you are considered to be a citizen. The only option there is to change the constitution."

Asked specifically if he would favor such an effort to change the constitution, Huckabee said flatly, "No."

"Let me tell you what I would favor. I would favor having controlled borders," he said. "But that's where the federal government has miserably and hopelessly failed us."
But changing the Constitution seems to be all the rage with some people who call themselves conservatives-when it's their pet cause that's at issue.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Two-Year-Old Nation

The risks of creating an entitlement society can often include the masses turning violent when they want what they want when they want it:
Thirty thousand people showed up to receive Section 8 housing applications in East Point Wednesday, suffering through hours in the hot sun, angry flare-ups in the crowd and lots of frustration and confusion for a chance to receive a government-subsidized apartment.

The massive event sometimes descended into a chaotic mob scene filled with anger and impatience. Some 62 people needed medical attention and 20 of them were transported to a hospital, authorities said. A baby went into a seizure in the heat and was stabilized at a hospital. People were removed on stretchers and when a throng of people who had been waiting hours in a line were told to move to another line, people started pushing, shoving and cursing, witnesses said.

Still, officials of East Point declared the day a success. Nobody was arrested and nobody was seriously injured, they said. It was an assessment roundly challenged by many of the people who had to go through it.

Kim Lemish, executive director of the East Point Housing Authority, said the event marked the first time the city has offered Section 8 housing applications since 2002. The waiting list that lasted eight years had depleted, she said, and the agency was beginning a new one. So people braved all the physical difficulties just to get on a waiting list that could keep them waiting for years.

Lemish said the agency had expected about 10,000 people but three times as many showed up. Many were just accompanying those looking for an application. Some 13,000 applications were handed out.

Concern is rising that a similar scene could occur Thursday when the housing authority of this small city begins accepting the completed applications. Wednesday's event was only to hand out the paperwork. The housing authority will begin accepting applications at 9 a.m.
But just remember, these are the people who have a "Right" to "Free" housing. Naturally they want to fight for what's "Theirs."

The Immodest Presidency

Michael Barone on how the "Experts" got the recovery that wasn't so wrong:
The fact that the private-sector economy has not responded as administration economists expected and confidently predicted should be a wake-up call.

It shows the limits of expert knowledge and of the ability of political actors to make optimal economic choices.

The intellectual firepower of this administration may be high. But so was the intellectual firepower of the postwar British Labour governments that nationalized steel and auto companies and the railroads.

That didn’t turn out so well, and for decades the British economy lagged behind those of America and its European neighbors. State capitalism has been tried before. It didn’t work.
But the "Experts" thought it would. Once again, they failed to learn from history.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Last Flight

Recalling Ted Stevens' controversial legacy:
In 2000, the State Legislature named Mr. Stevens the Alaskan of the Century, saying he “represents Alaska’s finest contribution to our national leadership.” In his farewell speech on Nov. 20, 2008, he told the Senate, “Working to help Alaska achieve its potential has been and will continue to be my life’s work.”

But he was roundly and repeatedly criticized for the billions he funneled to his state. The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste said Mr. Stevens regularly got Alaska more dollars per capita than any other state, often through earmarks, the pet projects that lawmakers attach to legislation.

“Ted Stevens was a prolific procurer of pork-barrel projects,” said Tom Schatz, the group’s president, when Mr. Stevens left the Senate. “While his friend Senator Robert Byrd was called ‘the king of pork,’ Ted Stevens was the emperor of earmarks. Since we started counting in 1991, Senator Stevens has accumulated 1,452 projects worth $3.4 billion. That is a record amount.”

But Mr. Stevens fiercely defended earmarks, saying Alaska had special needs because the federal government owned much of its land; because the state’s rugged terrain and severe weather required particular help; because, as the 49th state, Alaska needed to catch up with its elders; because of its strategic location near Russia; and because its oil and gas were national resources.

When Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, tried to shift $452 million that had been allocated for two bridges in Alaska, the so-called Bridges to Nowhere, to rebuild a Louisiana highway wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Stevens warned that he would wreak havoc. “If you want a wounded bull on the floor of the Senate, pass this amendment,” he said. The amendment was defeated, 82 to 15, but Alaska later dropped the project.

Mr. Stevens’s conviction, for seven violations of the Ethics in Government Act, did not allege that he had traded any of this spending for personal favors. The bulk of the gifts, which he failed to report on a Senate form, consisted of renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska. They were paid for by Bill Allen, a longtime friend and the owner of an oil services construction company.
Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, killed in a plane crash at 86. History will now be his judge.

Russia Is Burning

The legacy of the Cold War causes concern as Russia burns:
Russia fought a deadly battle Tuesday to prevent wildfires from engulfing key nuclear sites as alarm mounted over the impact on health of a toxic smoke cloud shrouded over Moscow.

Two soldiers were killed by blazing trees as they worked to put out a fire dangerously close to Russia's main nuclear research centre, while workers were also mobilised to fight blazes near a nuclear reprocessing plant.

After almost two weeks of fires that have claimed over 50 lives and even part destroyed a military storage site, the authorities said they were making progress in fighting fires that still covered 174,035 hectares of land

"A positive dynamic in liquidating the wildfires continues to be observed," said the head of the emergencies ministry's crisis unit, Vladimir Stepanov.

"The numbers (of emergency workers) have been increased in those regions where there is a difficult situation with the fires," he added.

The emergencies ministry said that over the last 24 hours, 247 new fires had appeared, more than the 239 that were extinguished, and 557 fires were still raging across the affected region.
This doesn't seem to ever be as much of a concern in the U.S., but then again our major fires are usually confined to the West Coast where tinderbox conditions are prepared for (and tend to threaten private property far more than places where radioactive material might be stored.)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Failonomics

Obama's legacy explained:
As Romer fades back to her teaching post at Berkeley, Obama is adding to the economic misery by creating an environment of regulatory uncertainty. The Wall Street reform law Obama recently signed potentially requires 533 new regulations, 60 studies and 93 reports, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Obama's Environmental Protection Agency has 29 active rulemakings, and there are 100 new rules on the Labor Department's agenda and 26 at the Transportation Department.

Add Obama's determination to raise everybody's taxes by allowing the Bush cuts from 2001 and 2003 to expire Jan. 1, 2011, and it's easy to why banks, businesses and consumers are hoarding trillions of dollars that could otherwise spur economic growth. And we haven't even addressed the destructive effect on economic growth of Obama's nationalization of major portions of the economy, including the banks, health care and the auto industry.

The economy is stalling, unemployment seems stuck at European levels of idleness, the federal deficit and the national debt are at historic highs, public confidence in Congress is at its lowest-ever level and big majorities of Mainstream Americans say Obama has the country on the wrong path. Obamanomics has failed miserably and it's time for everybody in this town to admit it so we can move on.
Unfortunately, many of them won't-not as long as they, like Obama, can stick with "Blame Bush."

The Children's Lost Hour

Robert Samuelson warns against heading down the paths of other countries when it comes to the cost of having kids:
Present budget policies punish parents, who are taxed heavily to support the elderly. Meanwhile, tax breaks for children are modest. If deficit reduction aggravates these biases, more Americans may choose not to have children or to have fewer children. Down that path lies economic decline.

Societies that cannot replace their populations discourage investment and innovation. They have stagnant or shrinking markets for goods and services. With older populations, they resist change. For a country to stabilize its population -- discounting immigration -- women must have an average of about two children. That's a "fertility rate" of two. Many countries with struggling economies are well below that. Japan's fertility rate is 1.2. Italy's is 1.3, as is Spain's. These countries are having about one child for every two adults.
....

We need to avoid Western Europe's mix of high taxes, low birth rates and feeble economic growth. Young Americans already face a bleak labor market that cannot instill confidence about having children. Piling on higher taxes won't help. "If higher taxes make it more expensive to raise children," says demographer Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, "people will think more about having another child." That seems common sense, despite the multiple influences on becoming parents.
Unfortunately, the left seems bent on replicating a European-style cradle-to-grave welfare state here in the U.S. Ironically, their own policies would make such a state unecessary in a world where kids are a rarity.

Stuck On Repeat

When in doubt, well, you know:
President Barack Obama attacked the economic policies of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush in Bush's home state on Monday as evidence of the way Republicans would operate if given power in Nov. 2 U.S. congressional elections.

At a fund-raising event for Democrats in Dallas, where Bush now lives, Obama said the former president's "disastrous" policies had driven the U.S. economy into the ground and turned budget surpluses into deficits.

Obama defended his repeated references to Bush's policies, saying they were necessary to remind Americans of the weak economy he inherited from Bush in January 2009.

"The policies that crashed the economy, that undercut the middle class, that mortgaged our future, do we really want to go back to that, or do we keep moving our country forward?" Obama said at another fund-raising event in Austin, referring to Bush's eight years as president.

In reminding voters about the policies of the unpopular Bush, Obama is trying to protect his fellow Democrats' majorities in Congress and limit anticipated Republican gains.

On Nov. 2, voters will choose all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 37 members of the 100-seat Senate.

Republicans say they doubt Obama's effort to cite Bush as a reason to vote against them in November will work because Americans are more concerned about getting or keeping a job.

"When we talk about this 'going back' thing, I notice that some Republicans say, 'Well, he just wants to bash the previous administration, he's looking backwards.' ... No, no, no. The reason we're focused on it is because the other side isn't offering anything new," Obama said in Austin.
With all due repsect, Mr. President, with this broken record of yours, neither are you...

The Redford Problem

Michael Barone notes it's one the Republicans could face if they win:
Many Republicans fear they will look as clueless as Redford. They entered this campaign cycle with little hope of winning congressional majorities. Now they have a good chance to do so in the House and an outside chance in the Senate.

Some cynical Republicans say candidates should just harp on their opposition to the policies of the Obama Democrats and figure out what to do if they're in the majority when they get there. Others say they should present public policy alternatives.

Some young House Republicans have put out a call for voters to e-mail their ideas. And House Republican leaders say they'll put together something in the nature of a 1994-style Contract with America over the August recess.

That's a good idea. Politicians like to win elections. But if they re not in the business in order to shape public policy, why are they there at all?
Part of the reason they lost in 2006 was because of said cluelessness when it came to spending and becoming complacent and arrogant. If that doesn't change, then their past will be all they have to fall back on, beacause they'll have no real future for the next several elections.

Working For The Weekend

Nancy Pelosi wants Congresscritters to get back to work. Needless to say, some of them aren't pleased:
While few voters will have sympathy for disrupting lawmakers’ vacations, the act of calling the entire House back into session is a massive logistical lift, launching hundreds of expensive, last minute flights at taxpayer expense and forcing the Capitol complex to staff up at a higher level and increase the Capitol Police presence. Inside the Capitol, the switchboards will light up, the C-SPAN cameras will click on, and thousands of staffers donning flip flops and jeans will have to grab their suits and ties again.

Lawmakers from both parties are not only rescheduling vacations, they’re canceling town halls, putting off job fairs and nixing campaign events.

“We love the [state aid] bill, but we just weren’t expecting the senate to do anything,” said one Democratic aide grateful his boss lives on the east coast. “That seems to be the normal way of functioning on many of our bills we send over there. In some ways we were happy, but we were definitely surprised.”

Many members would prefer the face-time with their constituents ahead of the November mid-terms, and some are making no secret about their displeasure.

“I’m disappointed to say the least,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who was forced to cancel a key town hall meeting he had planned for his constituents.

“I think one of the problems Congress is suffering from right now is not enough time to listen to constituents, so it’s a little frustrating that Speaker Pelosi has chosen to interrupt the time working in our districts to make us all fly back to Washington to basically vote on one bill,” Bishop added. “This is not the greatest way to run Congress or the country.”
I have to agree. After all, do we really want them there when they do their best work away from Washington?