Friday, December 31, 2010

When Congress Is Away

Democrats who complained so loudly about recess appointments seem to be oddly silent (or supportive) now:
President Barack Obama, sidestepping Congress, named the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in nearly six years and a deputy attorney general in recess appointments after the nominations ran into trouble among Republicans.

Robert Ford will be sent to Damascus, restoring a top-level presence cut off in 2005 when then-President George W. Bush pulled the ambassador over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese blamed Syria for ordering the murder, a charge Syria has denied.

Mr. Ford, a career foreign-service officer and Arabic speaker, has held diplomatic posts in Iraq and was ambassador to Algeria.

Congress is now in recess, allowing the president to make the appointments. They are effective through the end of 2011.

Mr. Obama's office made the announcement in Hawaii, where the president is vacationing with his family. The president will extend his vacation, which was delayed by a busy lame-duck congressional session, until Jan. 4, his office said Wednesday.

At the Justice Department, James M. Cole was appointed to the No. 2 post of deputy attorney general. The nomination of Mr. Cole, a partner at the law firm Bryan Cave LLP, was blocked by Republicans amid concerns over his role as an independent monitor at American International Group Ltd., the insurance giant the government bailed out.

Mr. Cole served 13 years at the Justice Department and is a longtime friend of Attorney General Eric Holder.
It seems Obama has been listening to John Podesta, after all...

GOP Generation Gap

It appears to be real:
In the Republican Party, the fracture over issues concerning homosexual individuals revealed itself more clearly in the vote for repeal of the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevented gays from serving openly in the military.

Of the eight Republican senators who voted for repeal, five are among the youngest in the upper chamber - and they're not all moderates.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Ensign of Nevada and Richard Burr of North Carolina maintain relatively conservative voting records, despite some of Murkowski's recent votes. They are 53, 52 and 55, respectively.

Their colleagues Mark Kirk and Scott Brown have been lumped into the more moderate wing of the party, but they, too, are some of the youngest GOP senators. Both are 51.

Melissa Kennedy, press secretary for Log Cabin Republicans, said that gay issues generally are generational.

"Nearly all young service members supported the repeal of DADT because it simply doesn't matter to them what anyone's sexual orientation is and many happen to know and are friends with gay people," she said.

Kennedy added, "In terms of the recent Senate vote, as we know most U.S. senators are old and many of the Republicans are from a generation that are clinging to old-school thoughts of a time long ago. However, Log Cabin Republicans are always happy and eager to engage those members as we agree on 90 percent of the issues facing this country."
Old-timers like McCain, while they might be quite sincere in their objections, seem to be fighting against the tide of history and public opinion. It's part of the reason why Obama was able to do what he did. If the GOP wants to make headway with the kids, they need to start paying attention to them.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Progressive Plea

Nancy Pelosi is asking for help:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has an outgoing New Year’s Eve wish, asking House campaign supporters to give money to fight back against “shameful attack ads” that use her to target vulnerable Democrats.

In a new fundraising letter for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Californian thanks donors for their “dedication to making change a reality for millions of our fellow Americans,” without mentioning that Democrats lost control of the House in November and that in less than two weeks, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) will become Speaker.

Instead, Pelosi asks donors to “chip in $10” to combat “shadowy special interest front groups [that] are already up on radio and television with shameful attack ads aimed at reversing the progress we’ve made.”
As opposed to the sinister, shadowy groups that work for the Democrats, I suppose...

CPAC Stupidity

It's reared its ugly head once again:
Two of the nation's premier moral issues organizations, the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, are refusing to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference in February because a homosexual activist group, GOProud, has been invited.

"We've been very involved in CPAC for over a decade and have managed a couple of popular sessions. However, we will no longer be involved with CPAC because of the organization's financial mismanagement and movement away from conservative principles," said Tom McClusky, senior vice president for FRC Action.

"CWA has decided not to participate in part because of GOProud," CWA President Penny Nance told WND.

FRC and CWA join the American Principles Project, American Values, Capital Research Center, the Center for Military Readiness, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage in withdrawing from CPAC. In November, APP organized a boycott of CPAC over the participation of GOProud.
Too bad for them, but maybe better for CPAC overall. After all, don't they want real conservatives to attend?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snowed Under

Has the Big Blizzard of 2010 turned into Bloomberg's Katrina? It's starting to look that way:
Facing whithering criticism for the slow pace of blizzard cleanup, a defensive Mayor Bloomberg asked New Yorkers to be patient and warned that plows still might not reach every street within the next 24 hours.

"We cannot do everything all the time and we are doing the best we can," said Bloomberg at a briefing in Brooklyn, which he called one of the hardest hit boroughs. "We are trying to get to every street as fast as we can and as safely as we can."

"I'm angry too," he said in response to the growing frustration of New Yorkers whose streets remain buried.

The mayor ticked off a variety of reason for the slow response: the heavy winds, a shortage of tow trucks and private plows, motorists abandoning their cars and blocking streets, ambulances mired in the snow by trying to drive down blocked streets, and people jamming 911 with non emergency calls.

He defended his decision not to declare a snow emergency, saying "that would have made the situation worse," by forcing motorists to move parked cars from major streets. While about 1,000 stuck vehicles have been removed from just three major expressways, the mayor said that some 40 city ambulances and just under 300 buses remain marooned in the snow.
Don't worry, Your Honor-the Food Police still think you're doing a heckuva job...

Under FIRE

Universities are being put on notice:
There are 296 American public officials at grave risk of being personally sued for civil rights violations. The names of those who may soon be paying out of pocket for civil damages include some of America’s most respected citizens, who every day manage multi-million dollar budgets and massive numbers of government employees with little oversight and even less accountability. Can you guess who they are?

They are the presidents of many of America’s largest and most prestigious public colleges and universities.
....

In a letter to 296 public college and university presidents and general counsel, FIRE warned that the law is increasingly clear that speech codes at public universities are unconstitutional and that they risk being held personally liable for violating the free speech rights of their students if they continue to maintain policies censoring speech. That goes for all of their administrative employees as well, from deans and provosts to lower-level student affairs officials.

The 296 college administrations that received the letter consist of all of the schools deemed to have “red-light” and “yellow-light” speech codes by FIRE’s latest report on campus speech restrictions: Spotlight on Speech Codes 2011. This fifth edition of the annual report reveals that speech codes on public campuses are slowly declining in number. Three years ago, 79 percent of public colleges had red-light speech codes, compared to “only” 67 percent today. However, it also revealed that new threats to free speech are on the horizon thanks to proposed “anti-bullying” laws like that introduced in Congress by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).
Now, if only the FCC would listen...

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Coming from RedState, of all places, this is pretty big:
How do we move forward and build a strong conservative coalition? I have a few general suggestions that will begin to move us in the right direction. First, we need to acknowledge that we will not always agree on things. We need to respect each other regardless of our differences. Agreeing to disagree is a hallmark of maturity. We need to cease the name-calling and disparaging remarks and realize that our goals are not mutually exclusive. In-fighting will only continue to drive a wedge between us and does not promote the conservative agenda. If you study the lives of the brave men who banded together to form this great nation, you would find them to be very different in their beliefs and personal values. But they united around one thing, freedom from tyranny. We would do well to follow their example.
I think that most social conservatives actually do feel this way-it's just the rabid "My way or the highway" types who keep both sides from accomplishing more together than they can apart. Just maybe, that might be starting to change as Obama and his cronies give both camps a common enemy.

The Un-Clinton

Michael Walsh discusses why comparing Obama and Bill Clinton doesn't work:
For starters, this ignores several major distinctions between Clinton and Obama. Slick Willie learned his skills growing up in the crime-syndicate town of Hot Springs, Ark. Say what you will about those old gangsters, they knew how to run an effective political operation, by turns tough and solicitous, happy to raise money for the widows and orphans their trigger men had just created.

By contrast, Obama is a displaced person adopted by the far cruder Chicago machine, which turned his superficial charm and his palpable animus against the American ideal into a winning combination in the perfect storm 2008 election.

More important, it's unclear that Obama has it in him to compromise and pretend to like it. No one could fake sincerity like Clinton, but Obama is a far different sort of political animal. His tax-deal press conference was a remarkable glimpse behind the Wizard of Oz curtain at a scowling man who believes his political opponents are "hostage-takers" and enemies -- not just of the people, but of him personally.
Well, Bill Maher wanted a gangster. Will he be happier now?

Abercrombie And Fools

Who's the latest person to keep the Obama birther nonsense going? None other than the...governor of Hawaii?
The governor, a Democrat and former congressman, said he has initiated conversations with the state’s attorney general and the chief of its Health Department about how he can release more explicit documentation of Mr. Obama’s birth on Aug. 4, 1961, at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital. He said he has done so of his own accord, without consulting the White House, which declined to comment…

Mr. Abercrombie, 72, said that although he did not see the elder Obamas at the hospital with their newborn son, he did remember the couple bringing the baby to social events. He says the critics who suggest that Mr. Obama’s mother slipped off to Kenya to give birth are engaging in a “demonological fantasy.” And he is angry about legislation in several states that would require presidential candidates to document that they were born in this country. A similar bill died in Congress last year.
So why bring it up at all? As Allahpundit points out:
This guy’s now placed himself in the following position. Either he inadvertently revives the Birther movement by crusading for a new law to make long-form birth certificates public without the approval of the individuals to whom they belong or he decides nothing can be done legally and backs off, which will itself inflame Birthers by inspiring dark theories about pressure on him from the White House to quiet down. And of course, since Abercrombie’s a liberal Democrat, if he does somehow manage to produce the long-form certificate and it confirms that Obama’s birth happened as alleged, skeptics will dismiss it as a forgery planted by an ideological ally to throw Birthers off the scent of the “real” birth certificate. He can’t win here. Why would he even try?
With friends like these, Obama doesn't need any more enemies...

Dying For Fun And Profit

Remember, it's not about death panels:
The Obama administration is trying to quiet talk about so-called “death panels” after The New York Times reported Sunday that a new Medicare regulation includes incentives for end-of-life-care planning.

The Medicare policy will pay doctors for holding end-of-life-care discussions with patients, according to the Times. A similar provision was dropped from the new healthcare reform law after Republicans accused the administration of withholding care from the sick, elderly and disabled.

However, an administration spokesman said the regulation, which is less specific than the reform law's draft language, is actually a continuation of a policy enacted under former President George W. Bush.

"The only thing new here is a regulation allowing the discussions … to happen in the context of the new annual wellness visit created by [healthcare reform]," Obama spokesman Reid Cherlin told The Wall Street Journal.
And if they try to talk you into dying early to save the government money, well, that's just part of the discussion...

Leaking Towards Tomorrow

What hath Julian Assange wrought?
Most organizations a generation from now will be pretty small by contemporary standards, with highly convoluted cell-like structures. Large numbers of people within the organization may not even know one another’s name, much less what colleagues spend their days doing, or the information they see on a regular basis. There will be redundant layers of security and activity, so that the loss of any one node can’t disable the whole network. Which is to say, thanks to Wikileaks, the organizations of the future will look a lot like … Wikileaks.
If this can be applied to government, then that's a good thing, isn't it?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Breaking The Banks

The banks continue to be in bad shape:
98 American banks that received $4.2 billion in bailout money are teetering on the edge of collapse, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In Q2 the number of unsound banks numbered 86; the increase to almost 100 institutions - most of which are smallish banks with about $439 million in assets - comes as a result of decreasing capital and more bad loans.

Also, unlike the big banks, which basically had access to liquidity from the federal government whenever they wanted during the crisis via various emergency lending facilities, these smaller banks received only TARP funds.
Some banks were more equal than others...

Chinese Takeout

I guess because blaming Bush wouldn't work:
Outgoing Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter implied the Chinese cost her re-election in November and secretly funneled money to help her Republican opponent Frank Guinta during a post-election interview with ABC News.

“They’re in the halls of Congress everywhere,” Shea-Porter said in the interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “[A]nd it means, for example, that you sit on a committee and you say something about concern about Chinese influence or something, you don’t even know if in the next election, somehow or another, they manage to send some money to some group that now doesn’t even have to say where they got it.”

There is no evidence that the Chinese funneled money into the First Congressional District race. Such a contribution would be illegal.
Well, it's not like Democrats would know about such things, of course...

When The Spam Hits The Fan

How a former marketer declared a one-man war on spam:
Eight years ago, Balsam was working as a marketer when he received one too many e-mail pitches to enlarge his breasts.

Enraged, he launched a Web site called Danhatesspam.com, quit a career in marketing to go to law school and is making a decent living suing companies who flood his e-mail inboxes with offers of cheap drugs, free sex and unbelievable vacations.

"I feel like I'm doing a little bit of good cleaning up the Internet," Balsam said.

From San Francisco Superior Court small claims court to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Balsam, based in San Francisco, has filed many lawsuits, including dozens before he graduated law school in 2008, against e-mail marketers he says violate anti-spamming laws.

His many victories are mere rain drops in the ocean considering that Cisco Systems Inc. estimates that there are 200 billion spam messages circulating a day, accounting for 90 percent of all e-mail.

Still, Balsam settles enough lawsuits and collects enough from judgments to make a living. He has racked up well in excess of $1 million in court judgments and lawsuit settlements with companies accused of sending illegal spam.
Those who harrass reap what they sow...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Bloomberg Gang

Keep your friends close, and your fellow crooks closer:
Trouble just seems to follow these gun-grabbing mayors. There are the felonies, and more felonies, and more felonies, and more felonies.

And then there's the scandals, more scandals, more scandals, and more scandals, and even an ongoing scandal that Bloomberg himself inherited when he took office.

With friends like these, at least Mayor Bloomberg has plenty of crime experts that he can consult for his "crime fighting" group.
I guess it depends on what the meaning of "Crime" is...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bloggin' In The Years: 1968

Have yourself a far-out Christmas-and I do mean far out:



And from the Fab Four:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Patted Down For The Holidays

'Tis the season:

Cry The Beloved Filibuster

Democrats faced with being in the minority again have found a new cause:
Democrats and their partisans in the press complained about Washington being broken only at those times when their agenda was imperiled. Vice President Biden's statement, for example, came after the election of Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown took away the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Just a few weeks later, when Barack Obama signed the national health care bill into law, Biden was all smiles.

Now, after the lame-duck session, Democratic leaders are happy again. But it's only temporary. As the new year approaches, get ready for a new round of Democratic Washington-is-broken grumbling.

With a significantly smaller, 53-seat majority in the Senate, Democrats will no longer be able to pass contentious legislation all by themselves or with just one or two Republican votes. On the other side, Republicans, with 47 votes, will no longer have to achieve perfect unity to sustain a filibuster and stop objectionable legislation. They'll be able to lose three, four, five, even six members of the GOP caucus and still stop a bill.

That's why you're hearing confidence from the likes of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and deficit hawk Sen. Tom Coburn. "There aren't going to be any big spending bills," Coburn told ABC recently when asked to assess prospects for legislation next year.

It's also why you're hearing new rumbling about what many Democrats consider the ultimate fix for the Washington-is-broken problem: eliminating the filibuster. A perennial complaint, unhappiness with the filibuster is likely to reach new heights among Democrats in the next few months. Already, the entire returning Democratic caucus has signed a letter by Sens. Carl Levin and Mark Warner calling for rules changes that will make it easier to kill filibusters. Some are also hoping to make it possible to change the Senate's rules with a simple majority vote, rather than the two-thirds vote required now. That way, Democrats could do anything they want, even without that 60-vote majority.

It won't happen; there aren't the votes. It could even be that Democrats are pushing the anti-filibuster argument so loudly because they know it won't happen. That way, they can position themselves as favoring "filibuster reform" with the comfort of knowing they'll still have the filibuster the next time they're in the minority, which might be soon.
Funny how the ability to talk the other side's ear off seems to fall out of favor when you're the ones that no longer have the power to pull it off...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bank Of Europa

China is moving in:
China has said it is willing to bail out debt-ridden countries in the euro zone using its $2.7trillion overseas investment fund.

In a fresh humiliation for Europe, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said it was one of the most important areas for China's foreign exchange investments.

The country has already approached struggling European countries with financial aid, including offering to buy Greece's debt in October and promising to buy $4billion of Portuguese government debt.
....

China's astonishing economic growth has put it on track to overtake America as the world's economic powerhouse within two years, a recent report claimed.

But experts believed still be some years before America's leadership role is really challenged - largely because Beijing has given no indication it is ready to take on the responsibility of shepherding the world' economy.

This foray into the future of the euro could be a signal from Beijing that it is ready to change that perception.
I'd laugh, except that we're already mostly there ourselves...

With God On Their Side?

Well, it is the holy season:
North Korea's minister of armed forces said Thursday that its military was prepared to wage a "holy war" against the South using its nuclear deterrent after what he called Seoul's attempt to initiate conflict.

Minister Kim Yong Chun repeated Pyongyang's charge that the South had been preparing to start a war by conducting live-fire drills off the west coast, speaking at a rally to mark leader Kim Jong Il's rise to the country's top military post 19 years ago.

He was quoted by North Korea's KCNA news agency which regularly threatens the South, but which had up to now been relatively restrained in its criticism of the military drills.

"To counter the enemy's intentional drive to push the situation to the brink of war, our revolutionary forces are making preparations to begin a holy war at any moment necessary based on nuclear deterrent," KCNA quoted Kim as telling the rally in Pyongyang.
Communists declaring holy war...isn't that a bit of an oxymoron? Although Communism is a religion to some people...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It Was A Very Bad Year

He might be on a winning streak now, but it came with a price:
From the start, 2010 delivered a string of setbacks that built up to an electoral shellacking come November, to use the president's own word.

No matter that the recession was officially over. That sweeping health care changes at last had been enacted. That combat operations in Iraq ended. That General Motors was making money and hiring again. That banks paid back most of the billions they'd borrowed from the government.

"This is what change looks like," Obama said proudly, after the health care law passed.

But. The economic recovery was too slow. The oil gushed for too long. The health care law was too complicated. The unemployment rate too high. The political discourse too raw. The tea party too loud.

Americans were in a foul mood, and Democrats got the blame.
Yes, because they were the ones in charge. Strange how that works...

The Selling Of The Former Speaker

Nancy Pelosi is repotedly looking for help from...Steven Spielberg?
Behind closed doors, she is laboring to refashion the image of House Democrats - as well as herself.

Lawmakers say she is consulting marketing experts about building a stronger brand. The most prominent of her new whisperers is Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood director whose films have been works of branding genius. Lawmakers said Spielberg has not reported to Pelosi with a recommendation.

Pelosi met Friday with the members who will serve as ranking Democrats on committees, and she appointed a trio of rank-and-file legislators to take on new roles in helping shape and deliver the party's message.
Nancy phoned home, and they didn't want her...

O Christmas Tree

It really is a war on Christmas:
South Korea has lit a massive steel Christmas tree that overlooks the world's most heavily armed border and is within sight of North Korea, prompting threats of attack from the communist state.

The lighting of the tree after a seven-year hiatus marked a pointed return to a tradition that is condemned in Pyongyang as propaganda. The provocative ceremony - which needed government permission to take place - was also a sign that President Lee Myung-bak's administration is serious about countering the North's aggression with measures of its own in the wake of an artillery attack that killed four South Koreans last month.

North Korea, officially atheist and with only a handful of sanctioned churches in Pyongyang with services for foreigners, warned that lighting the tree would constitute a "dangerous, rash act" with the potential to trigger a war.

As a precaution, dozens of armed troops took up position around the site during the lighting ceremony. Ambulances and fire trucks were parked nearby. Instructions placed on chairs at the ceremony advised participants to take cover in case of an attack from North Korea.

"The danger of the enemy's threat still exists," the leaflet read, suggesting that they hide behind concrete walls, crouch down between chairs and move quickly to shelters in case of an attack.

The event took place uninterrupted.
Sorry, Dear Leader. You're still on the Naughty list...

For Want Of A Water Pistol

Gun control-it's for the children:
For seven years, Providence municipal and law enforcement officials have organized the event around Christmastime as a way to raise awareness of the dangers of playing with guns, real or fake. The event is a mix of the macabre and the playful, a children’s version of the gun buyback program in which adults trade firearms for gift certificates.

Yesterday, younger children ran through a rubber obstacle course while officials told the older children the story of a 14-year-old boy who police nearly shot after they confused his air pistol with a real gun.

In exchange for their toy guns, all the children received wrapped presents that were indisputably not violent — dolls, stuffed animals, and board games like checkers.

Some children were not thrilled with the trade.

Malik Hall, a round-eyed second-grader, looked apprehensive as he stood in line with his favorite toy, a thick, blue gun with plastic sword underneath the muzzle. The 8-year-old was furious when his mother, Amanda, told him he would have to give it up. Yesterday morning, he tried to hide it under his pillow, she said.

“I’m worried,’’ she said. “He might cry.’’

But when it was his turn, Malik strode dry-eyed and with quiet dignity to the Bash-O-Matic and fed it the gun. When his mother approached, he said nothing.

“You don’t want to talk to me?’’ Hall asked. He looked at her stonily and left to retrieve his gift.

Hall said she had no regrets. The 26-year-old mother of six said she has been trying to wean her only son off toy guns for years. In kindergarten, he brought a pop gun to school and shot at a classmate when the child refused to return his toy truck.

The police and representatives of the state’s children services department rushed to the school, and the boy was expelled.

“He had it in his pants like a gangster,’’ Hall said. Yesterday, she had six other of his guns to feed the Bash-O-Matic, but she admitted she had let Malik keep one, a small pistol that shoots rubber targets.

“I mean, he is a boy,’’ she said.
And that, I think, is the real issue here-they're boys. And being a boy is about one of the most politically incorrect things there is these days. Welcome to your first taste of indoctrination, kids...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Give Them Some Credit...

...Because I have to agree with this:
There are a lot of questions and concerns about repealing DADT, and no easy answers. The beauty of the system was that it allowed the military to remain neutral on each and every one of these issues. The military didn’t approve or disapprove. Now, the military is forced to take a stance, and in many instances, I fear it will be in favor of gay rights, giving special treatment to gays. I also am not a big fan of politicians using the military to basically conduct a social experiment, especially when we are fighting two wars.

Obviously, I am not a fan of repealing DADT. My feelings on the matter were very close to those of General Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. However, now that the repeal is passed, there is only one thing to do, and that is accept it and move on. Adapt and overcome. While there will be many tough decisions to make, and the adjustment period will undoubtedly be difficult, I have no doubt that our servicemembers can and will adjust. Adapt and overcome.
....

Why is it so unbelievable that the military would be able to figure out the best way to implement homosexuals serving openly? As the wife of a Marine, I find it deeply insulting to our men and women currently serving with honor to suggest that the mere addition of gay men and women will somehow make our entire military crumble. Understand this: the vast majority of heroes in uniform are better than that. The few that are not won’t last.
We have one of the best militaries in the world. If they can find a way to deal with the end of DADT, why can't those on the right who always say they support the troops?

Farmer In The Dole

Sadly, this isn't limited to fake famrers:
One common misconception is that Pigford is about people who defrauded the government by pretending to be farmers. From the research I’ve done, there’s almost nobody who pretended to be a farmer. The shocking truth is that you didn’t have to fake a farming resume to collect $50,000 — all you had to do was to make a credible enough claim that you “attempted to farm.”

This category of “attempted to farm” was a huge slap in the face to the bona fide black farmers that the Pigford case was supposed to help. Many of these farmers faced real discrimination at the hands of the USDA and it’s clear they had legitimate claims.
....

The political insiders and trial lawyers who set up Pigford set the bar for proving that you “attempted to farm” was much lower than it was for proving you actually were a farmer. This meant that if you wanted a check, the smart route to go was to claim you attempted to farm.
So, another government program was taken advantage of by phonies, while the real people it was supposed to help were ignored. In other words, it worked much like many other big government programs with good intentions and bad oversight do.

Monday, December 20, 2010

100 Debt Bullets

The fiscal apocalypse may be coming to a town near you:
More than 100 American cities could go bust next year as the debt crisis that has taken down banks and countries threatens next to spark a municipal meltdown, a leading analyst has warned.

Meredith Whitney, the US research analyst who correctly predicted the global credit crunch, described local and state debt as the biggest problem facing the US economy, and one that could derail its recovery.

"Next to housing this is the single most important issue in the US and certainly the biggest threat to the US economy," Whitney told the CBS 60 Minutes programme on Sunday night.

"There's not a doubt on my mind that you will see a spate of municipal bond defaults. You can see fifty to a hundred sizeable defaults – more. This will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of defaults."

New Jersey governor Chris Christie summarised the problem succinctly: "We spent too much on everything. We spent money we didn't have. We borrowed money just crazily. The credit card's maxed out, and it's over. We now have to get to the business of climbing out of the hole. We've been digging it for a decade or more. We've got to climb now, and a climb is harder."
Basically, it's the trickle-down theory of debt-sooner or later, everybody pays.

Jump START

So much for the Party of No:
Republican senators say privately they expect the Senate to ratify the New START treaty this week, which would hand President Obama his third major victory of the lame-duck session.

GOP senators — including those who plan to vote for the treaty and those who say they’ll oppose it — have told The Hill they expect it to pass easily.

At least eight Republican senators have announced they either will vote to ratify the treaty or are leaning strongly toward doing so.

Two-thirds of the senators present in the chamber, assuming there is a quorum, must vote “aye” to ratify.

Three more GOP senators said Monday they are likely to support the treaty.
So, cooler heads seem to be prevailing despite earlier claims to the contrary. The grownups support it, which helps. It's good to know that there are a few of them left out there.

Information Age

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean the government isn't watching you:
The government is creating a vast domestic spying network to collect information about Americans in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks and subsequent terror plots, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The government is using for this purpose the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators, the daily added.

The system collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of US citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing, the report noted.

The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, noted the paper, which has conducted its own investigation of the matter.
Since we already seem to be turning into a nation of informers, I guess it's no surprise that the government wants to pick up the slack. Remember, it's for our own good, at least when a Democrat is President.

Center Field

Whether he likes it or not, Obama may now have no choice but to go there now:
If Obama does manage to somehow eke out a second term, it will be as president of a country that he may understand a bit better than he did two years ago. His true value and concerns in 2008, it turns out, were not those of most of his countrymen. Most Americans were not itching for government-run healthcare, a vast energy bureaucracy, an expansion of union power or new penalties on success and wealth creation. To a great extent, the term Tea Party America is redundant. The U.S. remains a center-right nation, and prosperity usually ensues when its leaders understand this.
Well, it worked for Clinton. Of course, in some ways he was more in tune with political reality than Obama has been during his first two years...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Some Steps Forward, Another One Back

For every right decision that's come out of Congress lately (repeal of DADT, defeating DREAM) there's something like this:
The Senate unexpectedly approved food safety legislation by unanimous consent Sunday evening, rescuing a bill that floated in limbo for weeks because of a clerical error.

The Senate passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act on Nov. 30 by a vote of 73-25. But the bill was later invalidated by a technical objection because it was a revenue-raising measure that did not originate in the House — Senate staff had failed to substitute the food safety language into a House-originated bill.

A coalition of groups supporting the bill sent a letter Sunday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) calling for action on food safety.
....

Democrats first attempted to attach the food safety bill to the two-and-a-half-month spending measure but Republicans balked because they wanted to keep that measure clean, according to Senate aides.

Republicans, however, later agreed to pass it by unanimous consent.

Reid announced he would send the legislation — this time properly attached to a House-originated measure — back to the lower chamber for final approval.
So, if it had started in the House in the first place, would they still have voted for it? The sad part about this is, the Republicans can't claim they were hoodwinked on this one. They accepted this technicality with their eyes wide open.

A Day In The Life

Bradley Manning, welcome to the big house:
PFC Manning is currently being held in maximum custody. Since arriving at the Quantico Confinement Facility in July of 2010, he has been held under Prevention of Injury (POI) watch.

His cell is approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length.

The cell has a bed, a drinking fountain, and a toilet.

The guards at the confinement facility are professional. At no time have they tried to bully, harass, or embarrass PFC Manning. Given the nature of their job, however, they do not engage in conversation with PFC Manning.

At 5:00 a.m. he is woken up (on weekends, he is allowed to sleep until 7:00 a.m.). Under the rules for the confinement facility, he is not allowed to sleep at anytime between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. If he attempts to sleep during those hours, he will be made to sit up or stand by the guards.

He is allowed to watch television during the day. The television stations are limited to the basic local stations. His access to the television ranges from 1 to 3 hours on weekdays to 3 to 6 hours on weekends.

He cannot see other inmates from his cell. He can occasionally hear other inmates talk. Due to being a pretrial confinement facility, inmates rarely stay at the facility for any length of time. Currently, there are no other inmates near his cell.

From 7:00 p.m. to 9:20 p.m., he is given correspondence time. He is given access to a pen and paper. He is allowed to write letters to family, friends, and his attorneys.

Each night, during his correspondence time, he is allowed to take a 15 to 20 minute shower.

On weekends and holidays, he is allowed to have approved visitors see him from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m.

He is allowed to receive letters from those on his approved list and from his legal counsel. If he receives a letter from someone not on his approved list, he must sign a rejection form. The letter is then either returned to the sender or destroyed.

He is allowed to have any combination of up to 15 books or magazines. He must request the book or magazine by name. Once the book or magazine has been reviewed by the literary board at the confinement facility, and approved, he is allowed to have someone on his approved list send it to him. The person sending the book or magazine to him must do so through a publisher or an approved distributor such as Amazon. They are not allowed to mail the book or magazine directly to PFC Manning.
In other words...he gets much the same treatment that most other inmates in American jails receive. If this is "inhumane" treatment, then I'm Clarence Darrow.

Music Machines

The war is over, and the pirates won:
The age of stealing music via the Internet is officially over. It’s time for everybody to go legit. The reason: We won. And all you audiophiles and copyfighters, you know who fixed our problems? The record labels and online stores we loved to hate.

Granted, when Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003 there was a lot to complain about. Tracks you bought on computer A often refused to play on gadget B, thanks to that old netizen bogeyman, digital rights management. (It’s crippleware!) My local Apple store was actually picketed by nerds in hazmat suits attempting to educate passersby on the evils of DRM.

Well played, protesters: In January 2009, Apple announced that it would remove the copyright protection wrapper from every song in its store. Today, Amazon and Walmart both sell music encoded as MP3s, which don’t even have hooks for copyright-protection locks. The battle is over, comrades.
....

That leaves one last war cry: Music should be free! It’s art! Friends, a song costs a dollar. Walmart has pushed some of its MP3s down to 64 cents. At Grooveshark, you can sample any song you want before you buy. Rdio charges $5 a month for all the music you can eat, served up via the cloud.

So there’s really no reason not to buy—and surely you understand by now that there are reasons why you should. When you buy instead of bootlegging, you’re paying the band. Most download retailers send about 70 percent of each sale to the record companies that own the music. Artists with 15 percent royalty deals get 15 percent of that 70 percent, or about 10.5 cents per dollar of sales. Those who write their own music and own their own music publishing companies—an increasingly common arrangement—get another 9.1 cents in “mechanical royalties.” Every download sends almost 20 cents straight to the band.
The real legacy of the file-sharing war is that online music is here to stay. So download on, dudes. You've earned it.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1998

Bill Clinton gets his legacy:
Enough Republicans broke ranks to defeat the two other articles of impeachment recommended one week ago by the House Judiciary Committee. Those accused Clinton of committing perjury in his deposition in the Paula Jones case and abusing his power in his efforts to cover up his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern.

Also in this story

Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, who will prosecute the case in the Senate, delivered the impeachment articles to the Secretary of the Senate at 3 p.m. ET. The trial is expected to get underway in midJanuary after the 106th Congress takes office.

Clinton will be only the second U.S. president in history to face a Senate trial. The last time the House voted impeachment articles was 130 years ago when President Andrew Johnson was impeached following the Civil War.

The president, who vowed to serve out his remaining two year in office, told top aides he was disappointed but not surprised by the House impeachment votes. Clinton said he was committed to seeking a quick bipartisan compromise.

Clinton did not watch the first vote on television; instead he was in the Oval Office with Rev. Tony Campolo, one of his spiritual advisers. But the president later joined Chief of Staff John Podesta and senior adviser Doug Sosnik in the private dining room off the Oval Office and watched the votes on the second, third and fourth articles of impeachment, several sources told CNN.
I hope the intern was worth it...

Radio Free America

Broadcasting just got easier for the little guy:
Yesterday, on the same day that Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed, another significant bill was passed by both the House and Senate: the Local Community Radio Act. As the Huffington Post reports, this legislation allows for the creation of new non-commercial stations on American airwaves-- a number that could reach to the hundreds or even thousands. In a press release, the Future of Music Coalition said, "The addition of more Low Power FM (LPFM) stations will increase local civic engagement, diversify the airwaves, support local music and culture, assist during emergencies, expand religious expression, and provide a platform for the voices of underrepresented communities to be heard."

These stations must still be FCC-approved "based on the needs of the local community," and restrictions are in place not only to protect existing commercial stations but also, nastily, to prevent any applicant with existing stations violating section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934 from obtaining a license. But, this is a major victory nonetheless, and an extremely exciting development for community-driven radio nationwide.
If this is an indication of where the next Congress is headed, then that's a good thing.

Right Lean

We are the change we believed in:
In the past two years, Americans have become increasingly likely to describe the Democratic Party's views as "too liberal" (49%), and less likely to say its views are "about right" (38%). Americans' views of the Republican Party, on the other hand, have moderated slightly, with a dip in the percentage saying the GOP is too conservative from 43% last year to 40% today, and an increase in the percentage saying it is about right, from 34% to 41%.

The recent increase in perceptions of the Democratic Party as too liberal could be a response to the expansion in government spending since President Barack Obama took office, most notably regarding the economic stimulus and healthcare legislation.

The 49% of Americans who now believe the Democratic Party's views are too liberal is one percentage point below the 50% Gallup measured after the 1994 elections, the all-time high in the trend question first asked in 1992.
Seeing what they're like when they're actually in power seems to have turned more people off...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Life After DADT

It may just go on:
Aside from those deeply invested in the fight, most of America seemed likely to react with an approving shrug. With recent polls showing as many as 80 percent of the public in favor of repeal, the struggles repeal legislation faced over the past year suggested Washington’s consternation over the issue far exceeded worry about it across the country.

In a sign of the cultural shift, even some steadfast conservatives climbed aboard the repeal effort at the last moment. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) cast an unexpected vote in favor, citing a “generational transition that has taken place in our nation.” Sen.-elect Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) also said he supported ending “don’t ask.”

“It’s like this great wave. It’s molecular change — more and more of the public either understands that discrimination isn’t right, or they don’t get the issue being an issue at all,” said Dudley Clendinen, an author and historian of the gay-rights movement.

“It’s ludicrous that this is even a battle, but that’s just the reality. The Beltway is usually the last place to catch on what’s going on in the country,” Mixner said.

The vote of Burr, 55, is especially illustrative of the shifting culture.
That may be part of it, although I don't know if this is as much a sign of changing culture as it was of some Republicans recognizing political and social reality. Of course, not all of them were happy about it. Take it away, Maverick:
McCain famously said in 2006 that he would support repeal once military leaders recommended it. Instead, he led the opposition to repeal. McCainologists in the Capitol speculate that on this and other issues he's driven less by policy consideration than by personal animosity. A decade ago, his antipathy toward President George W. Bush led him to seek common cause with Democrats to thwart a Republican president. Now his antipathy toward President Obama has made him a leading Republican hardliner.
....

In the end, McCain lost eight Republicans as the ban was easily overturned. This wasn't entirely surprising, because Defense Secretary Robert Gates (a Bush administration holdover) and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen both argued passionately for repeal, and a Pentagon study forecast that a repeal would not bring significant harm.

McCain clung to the dissenting view of the Marine commandant, Gen. James Amos, who had warned that lifting the ban would create a "distraction" that could lead to battlefield injuries for U.S. troops. But assurances by Gates were good enough for Republican senators such as George Voinovich (Ohio), who defended his "yes" vote by saying he expects repeal "will be implemented in a common-sense way."

The loss of Republican votes, no doubt, made McCain even angrier. When it came time for his closing argument before the day's key vote, McCain spoke for only a few seconds: "Today's a very sad day. The commandant of the United States Marine Corps says when your life hangs on the line, you don't want anything distracting. . . . I don't want to permit that opportunity to happen and I'll tell you why. You go up to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Marines are up there with no legs, none. You've got Marines at Walter Reed with no limbs."

McCain turned and, without another word, walked into the cloakroom.
As they say, history will be the judge. I do understand McCain's objections, coming as they are from the perspective of a tradtional military man. But history is about change, not standing still. While I do have problems with the way this was done, in the long run the benefits may outweigh the protests. At least now we'll finally get to find out.

Life Is But A DREAM

Hell hath no fury like a liberal scorned:
On Capitol Hill, Democrats have been using the lame-duck session to try to ram through some key unfinished parts of their agenda. Among them is the DREAM Act immigration bill, a favorite of Moulitsas'. On Friday, Jon Tester, once the darling of DailyKos, announced that he would vote against it.

Moulitsas' reaction was swift and furious. "Jon Tester to vote against DREAM," Moulitsas tweeted Friday night. "Good luck getting re-elected, a--hole." Moulitsas began re-tweeting negative comments about Tester -- one said, "Sen. Tester's active misrepresentation of DREAM act isn't just burning his bridges, it's going at them with a blowtorch." And then Moulitsas added his own final remark: "Anyone who votes to punish innocent kids is a de facto a--hole."

On Saturday morning, Tester did indeed oppose the DREAM Act, and it went down in a procedural vote in the Senate. Of course, a single vote isn't the only cause of the breach; just a couple of days before, Tester voted to extend all the Bush tax cuts. But there's no doubt the love affair is over. When Tester runs for re-election in 2012, he'll have to do it without some of his most passionate supporters from 2006.
There's a reason they're called Blue Dogs. And there's a reason they have a tendency to leave liberal Democrats feeling blue these days.

Reds

I know, I know-the Tea Party got there first:
You might be a redneck if…you create a dues-paying society and a scholarship fund?

And that's what a Virginia man did last week, launching the “American Redneck Society.”

“I really felt that American Rednecks are an under-served, but large population that could benefit from a formal membership organization structure,” said American Redneck Society Executive Director Rob Clayton.

A $20 membership fee will get you access to retail discounts across the country, and a portion of the funds are set aside for an educational fund for “rural youth.”
For the uninitiated, some Redneck etiquette can be found here. Some useful terminology can be found here. Meanwhile, here's Jeff Foxworthy explaining things:

Sick O' Sicko

Oh, this is too rich:
Cuba banned Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, Sicko, because it painted such a "mythically" favourable picture of Cuba's healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a "popular backlash", according to US diplomats in Havana.

The revelation, contained in a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks , is surprising, given that the film attempted to discredit the US healthcare system by highlighting what it claimed was the excellence of the Cuban system.

But the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so "disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room".

Castro's government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it "knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them."
He can't lie to the Cuban people. That's Castro's job!

Con Ed 101

A reminder to Ivy League institutions: If someone sounds too good to be true, they probably are:
Adam Wheeler, a 24-year-old who conned his way into Harvard and benefited from more than $40,000 (£26,000) in grants and prizes, flew too close to the sun. Not content with having bragged his way into one of the world's most prestigious universities, he felt driven to apply – equally fraudulently – for Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships.

The application was a deception too far, and led to the discovery of a string of lies that this week earned Wheeler 10 years on probation and the order to repay Harvard $45,806. He pleaded guilty to all 20 counts against him, including larceny, identity fraud and pretending to hold a degree.

"I'm ashamed and embarrassed by what I've done," he told a Massachusetts court in a voice so quiet it was barely above a whisper. "As much as possible, I want to put this behind me and move forward."

Wheeler's impressive record of deceit began in 2007 when he was expelled from Bowdoin College in Maine for plagiarism. Instead of reflecting on the wrong he had done, he went the other direction, developing a whole new persona and turning lying into an art form.

His successful Harvard application claimed that he had graduated from the elite Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts – in fact he had gone to a state high school in Delaware – and had an impeccable record of academic excellence at MIT. Once having fraudulently gained entry to America's most revered ivory tower, he pursued his fabrications with what prosecutors told the court was compulsive zeal.

As the Harvard Crimson newspaper identified, he created a resume that boasted the authorship of two books and co-authorship of four others, the delivery of lectures in Armenian studies and unblemished grades – all of it hogwash. He also won the $4,000 Hoopes Prize, $2,000 Sargent Prize and an $8,000 Rockefeller research grant, all through plagiarism.

"The history of these offences indicates not only compulsivity, but a lack of moral compass," Judge Diane Kottmyer said.
Hmm. Sounds like a perfect candidate for politics...

King Hugo

Well, at least he's not making his people call him "Your Majesty"-yet:
Venezuela's parliament gave President Hugo Chavez decree powers for 18 months on Friday, outraging opposition parties that accused him of turning South America's biggest oil producer into a dictatorship.

The move consolidated the firebrand socialist leader's hold on power after nearly 12 years in office, and raised the prospect of a fresh wave of nationalizations as the former paratrooper seeks to entrench his self-styled "revolution."

Chavez had asked for the fast-track powers for one year, saying he needed them to deal with a national emergency caused by floods that drove nearly 140,000 people from their homes.

But the Assembly, which is dominated by loyalists from his Socialist Party, decided to extend them for a year and a half.

That means the president can rule by decree until mid-2012, and can keep opposition parties out of the legislative process until his re-election campaign is well under way for Venezuela's next presidential vote in December of that year.
To his credit, President Obama hasn't gone this far. Of course, that didn't stop some of Obama's supporters from wishing otherwise.

New World Network

What could go wrong?
The United Nations is considering whether to set up an inter-governmental working group to harmonise global efforts by policy makers to regulate the internet.

Establishment of such a group has the backing of several countries, spearheaded by Brazil.

At a meeting in New York on Wednesday, representatives from Brazil called for an international body made up of Government representatives that would attempt to create global standards for policing the internet - specifically in reaction to challenges such as WikiLeaks.

The Brazilian delegate stressed, however, that this should not be seen as a call for a "takeover" of the internet.

India, South Africa, China and Saudi Arabia appeared to favour a new possible over-arching inter-government body.

However, Australia, US, UK, Belgium and Canada and attending business and community representatives argued there were risks in forming yet another working group that might isolate itself from the industry, community users and the general public.

"My concern is that if we were to make a move to form a governmental-only body then that would send a very strong signal to civil society that their valuable contribution was not required or was not being looked for," an un-named Australian representative told the meeting.
Because if there's one group that can be trusted with overseeing the Internet, it's the United Nations, right?

Internal Revenue Stealer

Well, they're already stealing from us anyway:
Fern Stephens, a revenue officer at the Internal Revenue Service, is being charged by the U.S. Attorney's office for stealing more than $160,000 in unclaimed tax funds from 12 taxpayers, according to federal court documents.

If convicted of all counts of mail fraud, theft of gonvernment funds, and unlawful access of a government computer, Stephens faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.

In one instance the U.S. Attorney's office accuses Stephen of duping $3,340 from a Manhattan-based bankrupt company by claiming that the principal of the business asked for the money by the IRS and then pocketing it herself.

Stephens also allegedly took advantage of her position in the IRS to put in fake tax refund requests and transfers in an IRS computer system so the money would go right back to her or relatives and friends.
Politics is the next obvious step for her...

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Right Not To Buy

When it comes to Obamacare, a judge says the people still have it:
In a three-hour hearing, the judge, Roger Vinson of Federal District Court, said the law’s requirement that most Americans obtain insurance, a provision that takes effect in 2014, would constitute “a giant expansion” of the court’s traditional application of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

“People have always exercised the freedom to choose whether to buy or not buy a commercial product,” the judge said, noting that he had been uninsured and paid out of pocket when his first son was born.

The hearing came on dueling requests for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by governors and attorneys general from 20 states, all but one of whom are Republicans. Because of the plaintiffs’ prominence, the cases carry the most political weight of the roughly two dozen court challenges to the sweeping law.

The Supreme Court has held previously that Congress can use its Commerce Clause authority, which is among the powers assigned to the national government, to justify the regulation of “activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.”

Ian H. Gershengorn, a deputy assistant attorney general who is defending the law, told Judge Vinson that the health care market was unique because getting sick was both unpredictable and potentially bankrupting. The economic consequences of not having insurance — including cost-shifting to others — justify its regulation by Congress, he said.

But lawyers representing the state officials argued that the insurance requirement was unconstitutional because it would, for the first time, require citizens to buy a commercial product.

If the government is allowed such power, said David B. Rivkin Jr., who represented the state officials, the health law “would leave more constitutional devastation in its wake than any statute in our history.”
More here. It really is about the nanny state trying to force people to eat their broccoli, isn't it?

Night Of The Meeks

Foot, meet mouth:
Mayoral challenger James Meeks scrambled Thursday to put out a political fire touched off by his suggestion that only African Americans should be eligible for city contracts set aside for minorities and women.

Meeks made the statement on Wednesday during an interview on WVON-AM (1690). It happened during a discussion of why African-American businesses got a 7 percent sliver of Chicago’s $1 billion spending pie through Aug. 31, down from 8 percent a year ago.

“The word ‘minority’ from our standpoint should mean African American. I don’t think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title,” he said. “That’s why our numbers cannot improve — because we use women, Asians and Hispanics who are not people of color, who are not people who have been discriminated against.”

Hours after making those remarks, Meeks back-tracked by saying he would only exclude white women if elected mayor. The set-aside program currently earmarks 25 percent of all city contracts for minorities and 5 percent for companies owned by women.

“I don’t believe white women should be considered in that count ….You have white women in the category. They receive contracts. Then, white men receive contracts. Where does that leave everybody else?” he told Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 news.

On Thursday, Meeks issued a written statement further clarifying his remarks. It emphasized that “all minority- and women-owned businesses” deserve their “fair share” of city contracts. But Meeks also noted that “systemic corruption” has allowed white-owned “fronts” posing as minorities and women to defraud the program and make African-Americans the “most under-represented among city contractors.”
Just keep clarifying, Mr. Meeks. Maybe you'll find somebody else to offend...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tying Their Own Hands?

When it comes to this, I have to agree with this:
This is an open invitation for libertarians to confront the Republican leadership on traditional constitutional objections like the lack of any formal declaration of war for Afghanistan or Iraq or the absence of any textual authority for the Department of Education. If Boehner et al. are going to be constitutional sticklers with Democratic bills, what happens the next time the GOP passes funding for education or there’s a new high-profile terror arrest and we get back into the Miranda question again? Seems like they’re setting themselves up either to spend a lot more of their time as a congressional majority defending the constitutional merits of their own bills (Democrats will attack them on it at every opportunity, partly to make hay and partly to slow down the GOP’s agenda) or to ignore the constitutional debate and risk being attacked as hypocrites by the media.
That victory dance may have been a bit premature...

White Flag

The good news: After ranting about being lorded over by the White House (see below), Harry Reid has caved:
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said Thursday night that he was abandoning efforts to pass a $1.2 trillion spending measure to finance the government through Sept. 30 because Republicans would not support it.

Mr. Reid said he would work with the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, on a stop-gap spending bill instead. Senate Republicans also said they would not support a House-passed temporary spending measure running through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Instead, they want to develop a separate measure running only through the early part of next year.

At that point, Republicans will control a majority in the House and six additional seats in the Senate, giving them greater leverage over any spending decisions.

Republicans had pledged to stop the spending measure, even though it included millions of dollars for projects that they had requested, and had even threatened to force the entire bill, which is more than 1,900 pages, to be read aloud on the Senate floor.
The bad news: The Democrats may still get what they want this weekend, although at this point it might be a mostly Phyrrhic victory. At the very least, they can't claim they're still being held hostage anymore.

This Army For Hire

It's the ongoing era of the merc army:
Without much notice or debate, the Obama administration has greatly expanded the outsourcing of key parts of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency wars in the Middle East and Africa, and as a result, for its secretive air war and special operations missions around the world, the U.S. has become increasingly reliant on a new breed of specialized companies that are virtually unknown to the American public, yet carry out vital U.S. missions abroad.

Companies such as Blackbird Technologies, Glevum Associates, K2 Solutions, and others have won hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military and intelligence contracts in recent years to provide technology, information on insurgents, Special Forces training, and personnel rescue. They win their work through the large, established prime contractors, but are tasked with missions only companies with specific skills and background in covert and counterinsurgency can accomplish.

Some observers fear that the widespread use of contractors for U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Horn of Africa could deepen the secrecy surrounding the American presence in those regions, making it harder for Congress to provide proper oversight.

Even in Iraq, where the U.S. has ended combat operations, the government is "greatly expanding" its use of private security companies, creating "an entirely new role for contractors on the battlefield," Michael Thibault, the co-chairman of the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting, recently warned Congress.
So when can we expect Obama to be compared to Dick Cheney?

Power To The People?

Believe it or not, this is Harry Reid, in his defense of Congress's right to keep and bear earmarks:



We live in strange times...

Duck And Cover, The 21st Century Version

The government has some new advice on how to survive the nuclear apocalypse:
Do not flee. Get inside any stable building and don’t come out till officials say it’s safe.

The advice is based on recent scientific analyses showing that a nuclear attack is much more survivable if you immediately shield yourself from the lethal radiation that follows a blast, a simple tactic seen as saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Even staying in a car, the studies show, would reduce casualties by more than 50 percent; hunkering down in a basement would be better by far.

But a problem for the Obama administration is how to spread the word without seeming alarmist about a subject that few politicians care to consider, let alone discuss. So officials are proceeding gingerly in a campaign to educate the public.

“We have to get past the mental block that says it’s too terrible to think about,” W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in an interview. “We have to be ready to deal with it” and help people learn how to “best protect themselves.”
With current worries about North Korea and Iran, maybe a new version of civil defense isn't such a bad idea...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

R.I.P. Euro?

Is the Euro dead?
Only 12 years after it was launched to great fanfare and after early success, the euro is fighting for its short life. Two of the 16 countries using the currency have had to be bailed out, despite the ban on such rescues in 1992's Maastricht treaty that created Europe's monetary union.

Following the traumas of Greece and Ireland, Portugal may be next in line. There are worries about Spain.

In Brussels tomorrow the leaders of 27 countries, as well as the heads of the European commission and the European Central Bank, gather for their seventh EU summit this year, all consumed by the crisis surrounding the single currency.

The air of rancour and pessimism is pervasive. Bitterness is widespread, particularly among the smaller EU countries and those who feel they are being bullied by the most powerful.

"There is no appetite anywhere for another Franco-German plan to save the euro," said an east European government minister.
A history of the Euro can be found here. But does it still have a future if the Euro dies?

Some Pork Is More Equal Than Others

Republicans try to spin their way out of what are, IMO, legitimate questions over why their pork is OK:
Thune and Cornyn faced a barrage of hostile questions about their earmarks by reporters from NPR, ABC News and NBC News.

“Going through this bill, there is earmark after earmark from the both of you, millions of dollars in earmarks from the two of you and from other senators,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl told Cornyn and Thune. “How do you have any credibility on this? Why do you have earmarks?”

Cornyn said he had credibility on the issue because he plans to vote against the omnibus spending bill.

“If people have concerns about what’s in the bill, we ought to be given an opportunity to offer amendments to strip those out and I’m happy to have that process done,” Cornyn said.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan group that tracks federal spending, said that Cornyn secured $750,000 for a drinking water project in Midland, Texas; $800,000 for a stormwater mitigation project in Nacogdoches, Texas; $500,000 for a street improvement project in downtown Denton, Texas, among other projects.

“The simple answer is I’m going to vote against the bill and refuse all of those earmarks,” said Cornyn.
In other words, he put them in so that he could vote against them. Gotcha, Senator.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Festivus, The Jailhouse Edition

George would be proud:
Festivus may only come around only come around once a year – more often if you watch "Seinfeld" reruns – but longtime county inmate Malcolm Alarmo King was able to celebrate it three times a day while locked up at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange.

King’s quest for a healthier eating option while behind bars ended with a county lawyer forced to research the origin of Festivus and its traditions and a Superior Court judge recognizing the holiday – which lodged its place in pop culture on an episode of "Seinfeld" – as a legitimate religion.
....

When sentencing day came, King pleaded guilty to the sale or transport of a controlled substance – a felony. Two other felonies were thrown out.
But King still wanted his non-salami meals.

Judge Johnson pulled King's lawyer and the prosecutor aside and said he needed a religion to put down on the order to make it stick, explained Thiagarajah.

“I said Festivus,” said Thiagarajah. The order was granted – three non-salami meals a day.

County Counsel researched Festivus, arguing the holiday was the creation of writer Dan O’Keefe to celebrate his first date with his wife in 1966. The holiday was introduced to the world by his son Daniel, a screenwriter for "Seinfeld," who wrote it into the show.

Seinfeld celebrated Festivus with an aluminum “Festivus pole” instead of a tree and traditions such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength.” Easily explainable events were “Festivus miracles.”

“Festivus for the rest of us!” was the pseudo-holiday’s motto.

Still, the judge’s order stood. No salami.
And with that, take it away, George:

Final Destination

For the tourist with a death wish:
Want a better understanding of the world's worst nuclear disaster? Come tour the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Beginning next year, Ukraine plans to open up the sealed zone around the Chernobyl reactor to visitors who wish to learn more about the tragedy that occurred nearly a quarter of a century ago, the Emergency Situations Ministry said Monday.

Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, spewing radiation over a large swath of northern Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people were resettled from areas contaminated with radiation fallout in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Related health problems still persist.

The so-called exclusion zone, a highly contaminated area within a 30-mile radius of the exploded reactor, was evacuated and sealed off in the aftermath of the explosion. All visits were prohibited.

Today, about 2,500 employees maintain the remains of the now-closed nuclear plant, working in shifts to minimize their exposure to radiation. Several hundred evacuees have returned to their villages in the area despite a government ban. A few firms now offer tours to the restricted area, but the government says those tours are illegal and their safety is not guaranteed.

Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Yulia Yershova said experts are developing travel routes that will be both medically safe and informative for Ukrainians as well as foreign visitors. She did not give an exact date when the tours were expected to begin.
I can see the tourism campaign now: "Chernobyl: Come for the glow!"

Soda Taxation With False Representation

Guess what? Taxing sugary drinks doesn't encourage weight loss after all:
Taxing sodas and other sweetened drinks would result in only minimal weight loss, although the revenues generated could be used to promote obesity control programs, new research suggests.

Adding to a spate of recent studies examining the impact of soda taxes on obesity, researchers from Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School looked at the impact of 20 percent and 40 percent taxes on sales of carbonated and non-carbonated beverages, which also included sports and fruit drinks, among different income groups.

Because these taxes would simply cause many consumers to switch to other calorie-laden drinks, however, even a 40 percent tax would cut only 12.5 daily calories out of the average diet and result in a 1.3 pound weight loss per person per year, researchers said.

A 20 percent tax would equate to a daily 6.9 calorie intake reduction, adding up to no more than 0.7 pounds lost per person per year, according to the statistical model developed by the researchers.
In other words, it really is about the money. And liberal class warfare between those who can afford to eat healthier and those who can't, as this shows.

Second Thoughts

Now that it's facing serious legal challenges, many Dems are wondering if supporting a health car mandate was really such a great idea after all:
The mandate was viewed at the time of legislation as the most effective route to universal coverage, allowing the federal government to finally ban insurance companies from discriminating against patients with pre-existing medical conditions by broadening the pool to include a wider pool of healthy insurance holders. But Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), one of the last Democrats to get on board with the law before it passed the Senate, sensed discontent in his home state over the law and asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether there were possible alternatives to the individual mandate last month.

Nelson told The Daily Beast that Democrats should have looked closer at ways to bypass the mandate while crafting the legislation.

"What's being looked at and decided today by different courts differently was known at the time," he said. He added that it would be "pretty hard" to force insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions if Hudson's decision ends up being upheld.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. But it might have been nice if Nelson and his colleagues had brought this up before voting on it.

Christmas Pork

The Republicans are up in arms over a year-end spending bill:
Republicans poring over a 1,924-page overarching spending bill proposed by Democrats to cover the rest of the fiscal year are threatening to grind the legislation to a halt, citing massive earmark spending, which, if passed, would be enacted into law without debate in the full Senate.

Two sources who spoke to Fox News are describing the legislation as "a total mess."

But the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he believes the legislation must pass.

"The twelve bills included in this package fulfill the Congress' most basic responsibility, to exercise the power of the purse," he said in a statement. "This measure reflects a year's worth of work by members of both parties. Together, we have closely scrutinized the president's budget request, held hundreds of hearings, thousands of meetings, and asked literally tens of thousands of questions to each and every federal department and agency seeking justification for how taxpayer dollars are being spent."
....

In total, thousands of earmark requests are listed. The financial services earmark chart, for instance, lists 220 earmark requests from dozens of lawmakers, mostly in the House, each worth anywhere from $50,000 to $2.4 million. The largest sum was requested by Inouye and his Hawaii colleague Sen. Daniel Akaka for "Bank on USA" demonstration projects" in their state. The projects are designed to give underserved communities greater access to financial institutions.

Elsewhere, the Department of Defense earmark list, mostly requests by senators, is 29 pages long and individual requests more often are worth $2 million to $5 million each. In that list, Inouye's requests total more than $159 million, including $21 million for a Hawaii Federal Health Care Network. Cornyn's defense spending earmarks total nearly $16 million.

The list was released after a Republican policy lunch that a source said was devolving into pandemonium.

"All hell is breaking loose," the source told Fox News, noting that Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina were expected to insist the omnibus bill be read in its entirety by the clerk on the Senate floor before a vote is held. They also were expected to seek debate on all earmarks and any amendments.
Of course, not everyone is against it, and Harry Reid wants to have the last word. Still, given what happened with Obamacare, should anyone really be surprised that nobody's seen this latest monstrosity?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mad Medical Money

How to stay healthy in your old age? Start hoarding cash:
You need to start saving for your medical care in your old age. Sure, if you are in an industrialized country government will pay a substantial chunk of your old age medical costs. But you are far more likely to get better care and the most cutting edge care if you have the ability to spend substantial amounts of money out of your own pocket for your diagnoses and treatments.

Being unable to pony up some bucks for your medical treatment might not affect your longevity or how much you suffer. Could be you'll get lucky and get a killer disease that is cheap to treat and cure. Could be then you'll go some additional years and then get "lucky" in another way: You could get a killer diseases that is incurable and has no treatment. So being poor and unable to fund any of your own medical care in your old age might not matter.

But suppose you get a disease which has a cure that is in clinical trial where you have to travel somewhere (either in your home country or abroad) to get it before it becomes widely available. Well, being able to pay for this treatment yourself could become a matter of life or death. I think that especially likely for a lot of the great cell therapies and for methods to grow replacement organs. You might need to go to China to get these treatments or somewhere else offshore.
....

You have been warned. What to do about it? Cut your spending and put aside more in retirement accounts. Also, when making career choices go for the money. The utility of money is going to rise with advances in biotechnology. Some extra tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars set aside for medical expenses might save your life.
That's assuming you'll be able to afford to save that much, of course...

The Parents' Parent

I do understand the point Michelle Obama is making here-schools should have basically healthy (not to mention edible) menus. But what about the rest?



When does parental responsibility begin these days? Or does it still exist at all in the minds of the food cops?

The First Challenge

Obama gets a smackdown:
A federal court ruled Monday that a central plank of the health law violates the Constitution, dealing the biggest setback yet to the Obama administration's signature legislative accomplishment.

In a 42-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson said the law's requirement that most Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty "exceeds the constitutional boundaries of congressional power."

The individual mandate "would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers," wrote Judge Hudson, of the Eastern District of Virginia. "At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance—or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage—it's about an individual's right to choose to participate."

The lawsuit, brought by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, is the first court ruling against the law since President Barack Obama signed it in March. More than 20 federal lawsuits have been filed against the overhaul, and judges in two of those cases ruled in favor of the Obama administration.

While the ruling creates a headache for the law's supporters, it doesn't mean states or the federal government must stop implementing the law.

Judge Hudson didn't grant the plaintiffs' request for an immediate nationwide injunction against the entire law or against the requirement that most Americans carry insurance. That requirement, known as the individual mandate, begins in 2014. The judge also said his ruling only applies to the individual mandate and the provisions of the law that are directly dependent on it.
So, it doesn't get rid of the mandate entirely, but it's a start. And, as a law professor, shouldn't Obama have seen this coming?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Woman's Place

Is it finally time for an about face?
The Defense Department should eliminate restrictions on women serving in combat units and end all “gender restrictive policies,” according to a blue-ribbon panel created by Congress.

The move would end the military’s long tradition of all-male combat units and open up career fields like infantry and armor to “qualified women.”

The recommendation by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission will be included in a formal report to Congress and the White House in March.

The commission met and discussed the combat exclusion policy for females at a meeting Dec. 3, said Erica Lewis, a commission spokeswoman.

Many of the longstanding reasons for keeping women out of combat units do not hold up under scrutiny, the commission’s research found.

A five-page analysis prepared for the commission concluded that women do not lack the physical ability to perform combat roles; gender integration will not negatively affect unit cohesion; and women are not more likely than men to develop mental health problems.
There are still some legitimate concerns, this being one of them-but in this day and age, shouldn't the pros outweigh the cons? Especially when we can show the Islamists what our womenfolk can do?

To Dream The Impossible DREAM

How to counteract a bad immigration bill? Come up with one of your own:
Outgoing Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) said Friday he's privately discussed the prospect that Republicans would pursue their own version of the DREAM Act next year.

Bennett said he would vote for the immigration legislation, which gives immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children a conditional pathway to citizenship, if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brought it to the floor under the right conditions.

If that fails, the outgoing senator said, Republicans have privately discussed the prospects of writing and passing a version of the DREAM Act that could make its way through Congress.

"Now, I know a lot of my colleagues are not happy to vote for it, and I don't think the votes ... are there to pass it in this Congress," Bennett said in his final conference call with Utah reporters. "And as I've talked, particularly to my Republican friends, I've said we really need to do this. Their reaction has been to me, privately, 'You're right. We do really need to do it.'"

Democrats are hoping to bring up the House-passed version of the DREAM Act for a vote in the Senate in the closing days of the lame-duck Congress. Bennett has said he would vote for a standalone version of the bill but not for one that is wedded to many other provisions he doesn't prefer.
I'm not sure what the point of this would be-as the article points out, time isn't on the Democrats' side, and the Republicans might be wiser to just wait them out. Besides, they didn't get elected to be Democrat-Lite anymore than they got elected to be big-spending Christian Socialists last time. So, is Bennett crazy-or crazy like a fox?

Bloggin' In The Years: 2000

We have a winnah! And Al Gore finally concedes:



It's nice to see that he cares so much about bringing the country together. It's just too bad that this Gore didn't show up during the recounts. Still, better late than never.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Some Banks Are More Equal Than Others

Bernie Sanders, Vermont's resident Socialist-At-Large, wants to know why the Fed seems to be more interested in protecting banks with assets in the Cayman Islands than American institutions:
In the letter, Senator Sanders points out how "hedge funds and investment firms located in the Cayman Islands and other tax haven countries [have received] assistance from the Fed."
The letter continues:
"In the [Fed’s gigantic Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF for short] program alone, it appears that the Fed provided loans to over 100 separate hedge funds, offshore funds, and other investment funds that are located in the Cayman Islands and other notorious tax haven countries…It has been estimated that each year corporations and wealthy individuals avoid approximately $100 billion in U.S. taxes through the use of abusive and illegal tax shelters."

(One minor quibble with the above paragraph – the Cayman Islands and other tax havens are not strictly speaking independent countries. Many tax havens are in fact “overseas territories,” or colonies, of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.)

Senator Sanders then asks three questions:
"How much money did the Fed lend to each of these firms and how much did each of them profit or lose as a result?
"Why would the Fed lend to material investors located in the Cayman Islands?"
"In how many other instances did the Fed lend emergency money to individuals or entities located in the Cayman Islands or other tax haven countries?"
Attached to the letter, you will find a three page list of Cayman Island entities that Senator Sanders claims received Fed assistance through TALF. These entities have exotic-sounding names like "Aladdin," "Galaxite," "Royal Palm" and "Obsidian."

I could be mistaken, but they don’t exactly sound like firms interested in investing in the retooling of shuttered US factories, or in buying up troubled US community banks and restoring them to health, so they can assist local entrepreneurs to create jobs.

Indeed, given the fact that they are located in the Cayman Islands, they may not even represent American investors.

Towards the end of his letter, the Senator asks Bernanke to explain why the Fed is lavishing financial assistance on foreign companies and banks, when private companies in Vermont cannot get loans on reasonable terms.

If he writes a follow-up letter, the Senator might ask Ben Bernanke to calculate how many US community banks could have been saved over the last couple of years, if that financial assistance had instead been used to shore up their troubled balance sheets.
They told me that if Republicans won, we'd have an Administration that only cared about protecting the wealthy, and they were right!