Monday, February 28, 2011

Privileged And Few

So while Obama says lay off the public unions, Mark MicKinnon explains why they're not that necessary:
The primary purpose of private-sector unions today is to get workers a larger share of the profits they helped create. But with a power greater than their numbers, these unions have destroyed the manufacturing sector, forcing jobs overseas by driving labor costs above the price consumers here will pay. The government is a monopoly and it earns no profits to be shared. Public employees are already protected by statutes that preclude arbitrary hiring and firing decisions.

The primary purpose of public unions today, as ugly as it sounds, is to work against the financial interests of taxpayers: the more public employees are paid in wages and uncapped benefits, the less taxpayers keep of the money they earn.
Given the history of public sector unions, that may have been the point. Some more on Obama's union hypocrisy here.

That Leftbound Train

George Will on why liberals love railroads:
Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.
So now liberals want to be the new railroad barons? Does that make car drivers the new radicals?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Team Rahmbo Minus One

Well, that didn't take long:
A top member of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel's transition team abruptly resigned after the Tribune inquired about recent findings that she violated state ethics rules by using taxpayer resources for political purposes while serving as executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Judy Erwin, a former state lawmaker who also co-chaired Emanuel's mayoral campaign, stepped down from her high-level state job last summer, was fined and promised to never seek a state job after conceding that she conducted political business on state time, according to a newly filed ethics report.

Erwin admitted using her office e-mail and phone while working on a campaign committee for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, using staff resources to plan her trip to the 2008 Democratic National Convention and engaging in campaign fundraising activity while on the job, the state's Executive Ethics Commission ruled in a decision filed Feb. 16.
He just got elected, and he's already had his first scandal. Rahmbo will fit right in.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Paranoia At The Top

Glenn Greenwald reports on Obama's obsession with secrecy:
Last April, the DOJ served a subpoena on New York Times reporter James Risen, demanding to know his source for a story he published in his 2006 book regarding a "reckless" and horribly botched CIA effort to infiltrate Iran's nuclear program. That subpoena had originally been served but was then abandoned by the Bush DOJ, but its revitalization by the Obama administration was but one of many steps taken to dramatically expand the war on whistleblowers being waged by the current President, who ran on a platform of "protecting whistleblowers".
....

Last month, the DOJ claimed it had found and arrested Risen's source: Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent who left the agency in 2002 (he now works in the health insurance industry). As part of Sterling's criminal proceedings, it was revealed yesterday that federal investigators had secretly obtained Risen's bank records, information about his phone and travel activities, and even credit reports to unearth his source...

But what makes this conduct particularly indefensible is how the Obama DOJ is venturing back into the past to dredge up these forgotten episodes. Sterling hasn't worked for the Government or had a security clearance in more than 8 years. The alleged leak took place in Bush's first term. Disclosure resulted in substantial embarrassment for the U.S. but -- given the utter failure of the operation -- no identifiable national security harm.

For a President who insists that we must "Look Forward, Not Backward" -- when it comes to investigating war crimes by high-level Bush officials -- this anti-whistleblower assault reflects not only an obsession on preserving and bolstering the National Security State's secrecy regime, but also an intense fixation on the past. And increasingly extremist weapons -- now including trolling through reporters' banking and phone records -- are being wielded to achieve it. As Thomas Jefferson warned long ago: "Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions."
Somehow I get the feeling that Jefferson would be considered a dangerous anti-government extremist if he were alive today...

Southern Discomfort

What the hell?
A Georgia state representative has reintroduced an anti-abortion bill that would make miscarriages a felony if the mother cannot prove there was no "human involvement."

The legislation from Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican, would make all abortions, described as "prenatal murder," illegal based on the belief that all life begins at conception. The bill's definition of "prenatal murder" excludes miscarriages "so long as there is no human involvement whatsoever" in causing them. Anyone convicted would face the death penalty or life behind bars.

Miscarriages, defined as pregnancies that end on their own within the first 20 weeks, are quite common. As many as 40 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, often before a woman misses a menstrual period or even knows she is pregnant, according to the March of Dimes. About 10 to 15 percent of recognized pregnancies end in a miscarriage, the group found.

It is still unclear what causes miscarriages, but in most cases, it is a sign that the pregnancy is not developing normally.

Franklin's legislation does not clarify what defines human involvement or how this would be enforced.
With the momentum that the GOP has going for it right now, they need this guy like a hole in the head. Please, Mr. Franklin, do the party a favor and stay far, far away.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Time For A Time-Out?

Byron York offers reasons in favor of a government shutdown:
One, if shutting down the government in 1995 was such a catastrophe, how come the GOP not only kept control of the House in the 1996 elections but remained the majority party in the House for a decade to come? The voter revenge predicted at the time did not happen.

Two, even if the '95 shutdown hurt the GOP -- and there's no doubt the party suffered wounds inflicted not only by Clinton but also by themselves -- today's voters are in a different mood. "We have fiscal crises at the federal, state, and local level, and voters understand that," says Bill Paxon, a former Republican lawmaker and veteran of the shutdown. "Back in '95, we were whistling into the wind -- we were trying to preach fiscal discipline when voters were saying, 'Hey, there's not a problem.' "

Three, Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner have learned from their mistakes. "Our goal is to cut spending and reduce the size of government, not to shut it down," Boehner said recently -- a statement he has repeated many times. Contrast that to '95, when, Paxon recalls, "We said we wanted to shut down the government, that it was a good thing, that it would get people's attention, that it would advance our cause." Now, it's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats who seem itching for a shutdown.

Fourth, today's media environment is substantially different. "In '95 there was no Internet, no bloggers, no Facebook, no Fox News," says Dick Armey, who was House majority leader during the shutdown. "The discourse of politics today is carried out in a media world that didn't exist in 1995." That doesn't mean there wouldn't be negative coverage of Republicans if a shutdown occurs, just that the overall media picture would be more balanced.

The fifth reason: Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. "In '95, Clinton was at the table working hard, sleeves rolled up, everybody knew we were having meetings at the White House and the president was engaged," says Armey. "This president is seen as disengaged and aloof from the process. Barack Obama is a rank amateur compared to Bill Clinton."
True enough. James Pethokoukis has related thoughts. So, maybe John Boehner should listen to Newt Gingrich, who, for all his faults, knew a thing or two about dealing with the opposition. At the very least, a shutdown would give politicians a legitimate reason to leave town, as opposed to Wisconsin...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Last Flight Out

Not from Libya, but in this case from the Cape:
Discovery, the world's most traveled spaceship, thundered into orbit for the final time Thursday, heading toward the International Space Station on a journey that marks the beginning of the end of the shuttle era.

The six astronauts on board, all experienced space fliers, were thrilled to be on their way after a delay of nearly four months for fuel tank repairs. But it puts Discovery on the cusp of retirement when it returns in 11 days and eventually heads to a museum.

Discovery is the oldest of NASA's three surviving space shuttles and the first to be decommissioned this year. Two missions remain, first by Atlantis and then Endeavour, to end the 30-year program.

It was Discovery's 39th launch and the 133rd shuttle mission overall.

"Enjoy the ride," the test conductor radioed just before liftoff. Commander Steven Lindsey thanked everyone for the work in getting Discovery ready to go: "And for those watching, get ready to witness the majesty and the power of Discovery as she lifts off one final time."
The shuttle program has had a triumphant-and tragic-history, but as one era ends, another one may be beginning.

Got Drugs?

Over here, we have Koolaid. Over there, they have...milk?
Muammar Gaddafi blamed a revolt against his rule on al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Thursday, and said the protesters were fuelled by milk and Nescafe spiked with hallucinogenic drugs, in a rambling appeal for calm.

Gaddafi, who just two days ago vowed in a televised address to crush the revolt and fight to the last, showed none of the fist-thumping rage of that speech.

This time, he spoke to state television by telephone without appearing in person, and his tone seemed more conciliatory, with much of his country out of government control.

"Their ages are 17. They give them pills at night, they put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe," said Gaddafi.

"They are criminals ... is it logical that you let this phenomenon continue in any city? ... We do not see what is happening in Egypt and Tunisia happening in Libya, ever!"
I'd say somebody's been putting something in Gaddafi's coffee, but he's just naturally insane...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Community Of The One

Organizing for...what, exactly?
The community organizer who became president has launched a massive pre-reelection year campaign to assemble and train an army of new community organizers to carry Obama's "movement forward for years to come."

Strengthening "our democracy" presumably has something to do with reelecting the revered leader in 2012.

However, the Organizing for America recruiting message says nothing about politics or election campaigns and strangely talks in military terms of "a grassroots program that aims to put boots on the ground and help foster a new generation of leaders -- not just to help win elections but to strengthen our democracy in communities across the country."

The same Obama campaign group was reported to be involved in stirring the ongoing Wisconsin protests against Gov. Scott Walker's budget plans.

The message about what it calls the "Summer Organizing Fellowship" adds: "Effective organizing doesn't happen in a vacuum. It takes commitment, time, and hard work to build a movement around a cause." It does not specify what the "cause" is, other than promoting Obama and his agenda.
Well, keeping a cult going is hard work, after all...

Dinnerjacket's Disconnect

You've got to be kidding me:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday urged Middle East leaders to listen to the voices of citizens who have taken to the streets in masses to demand a change in government -- though such protests in his own country have been crushed with brute force.

Ahmadinejad "strongly recommended such leaders to let their peoples express their opinions," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"He further urged those leaders of regional countries who respond to the demands of their nations and their revolutionary uprisings with hot bullets to join their peoples' movements instead of creating blood baths."
....

Hard-line members of the Iranian parliament have demanded the execution of opposition leaders and former presidential candidates Mehdi Karrubi and Mir Hossein Moussavi.

But Ahmadinejad, in his remarks, altogether sidestepped the simmering unrest at home. Instead, he held up Libya, saying the world was "bewildered" by the actions of the President Moammar Gadhafi.

"The president said it was a wonder that the ruler of a country could kill his own people using guns and tanks, and even stress that he would kill anybody who utters a word against him," the news agency said.
It's just too bad that he doesn't practice what he preaches. But has he ever?

Black Gold Futures

Well, this isn't good:
The main U.S. oil contract hit $100 a barrel for the first time in more than two years Wednesday, lifted by violent unrest and supply disruptions in Libya.

Light, sweet crude for April delivery briefly touched exactly $100 on the New York Mercantile Exchange before falling back, ending the day at $98.10, up $2.68 or 2.8%. The last time crude on the Nymex hit $100 a barrel was Oct. 2, 2008, when crude prices were tumbling from record highs and the economic recession was setting in.

Brent crude on the ICE futures exchange, which already passed the $100-a-barrel threshold in January, settled up $5.47, or 5.2%, at $111.25 a barrel, the highest settlement since Aug. 29, 2008. The differential between the two benchmarks widened again Wednesday to $13.15 a barrel.

Reports of fresh violence in the oil-rich North African state continued to push oil prices higher. Parts of Libya appeared to fall to anti-Gadhafi forces, while numerous oil companies, from Germany's Wintershall AG and Spain's Repsol YPF to Italy's Eni SpA, said they were suspending operations in the country.

"We don't know what's going on...so we have to hit these benchmark prices," said Rich Ilczyszyn, broker at Lind-Waldock in New York.

The total impact on crude production in the country, which exports an estimated 1.3 million barrels a day, was unclear. However, Barclays Capital estimated the turmoil has affected 1 million barrels a day of production.

Oil prices have soared over the last two days on the increasing violence in Libya and fears that the protests which have pushed out the entrenched leaders of Tunisia and Egypt will spread to other oil-producing states. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Libya is an important oil exporter, supplying mostly countries in Europe. It is the eighth-largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries, according to the International Energy Agency, and has the largest crude reserves in Africa.
With unrest potentially spreading to Saudi Arabia, this might be a good time to finally start drilling here-if Obama would allow it.

The Chicago Way

You can now call him Mayor Rahmbo:
Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, won the Chicago mayoral election over five other challengers Tuesday, topping the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff vote, CNN projects.

With almost 75% of the vote counted, Emanuel had almost 55% of the vote, far outdistancing his rivals.

Former Chicago School Board head Gery Chico was in second place with 25%, while City Clerk Miguel del Valle had 9% and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun had more than 8%. The other two candidates both had less than 2%.

Speaking to supporters Tuesday night, a buoyant Emanuel praised outgoing Mayor Richard M. Daley, saying it would be "a tough act to follow," then spoke to problems facing the nation's third-largest city, which is dealing with an unexpected $654 million city deficit, possible reforms to the city's pension system and rising crime.

"What makes this victory most gratifying is that it was built on votes from every corner of this city," he said, touching on an overall theme of unity. "It's easy to find differences, but we can never allow them to become divisions."

Saying his administration will be dependent "on the plural pronoun, 'we,'" Emanuel said, "We know that we face serious new challenges, and overcoming them will not be easy."

Emanuel also said he had spoken earlier in the evening to Obama, who extended his congratulations.
I hope they enjoy being a colony...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dusty Harry Rides Again

Thank goodness Harry Reid knows what's important:
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took aim at the world's oldest profession Tuesday, telling state lawmakers the time has come to have an adult conversation about Nevada's legal sex trade if the state hopes to succeed in the 21st century.

The Democratic Senate majority leader made the comments before a joint session of the Legislature as brothel owners and lobbyists — and working girls from the rural establishments — looked on from the gallery.

In his autobiography, Reid, a Mormon, wrote about growing up in the mining hamlet of Searchlight, Nev., and learning to swim in the pool at a bordello. His mother took in laundry from the 13 brothels around town.

But when the nation thinks about Nevada, Reid said, "it should think about the world's newest ideas and newest careers — not about its oldest profession."

He received a smattering of applause when he first suggested Nevada outlaw bordellos. By the time he finished with the topic, his remarks were met with silence from the representatives of a state whose identity is woven tightly with gambling, alcohol, quick marriages and prostitution.
In other words, most of the things that politicians hold dear...

Rich Union Man, Poor Union Man

Not everyone in Wisconsin is on board with the teachers:
In Madison, the capital, which has become the focus of protests, many state workers and students at the University of Wisconsin predictably oppose the proposed cuts.

But away from Madison, many people said that public workers needed to share in the sacrifice that their own families have been forced to make.

The effort to weaken bargaining rights for public-sector unions has been particularly divisive, with some people questioning the need to tackle such a fundamental issue to solve the state’s budget problems.

But more often the conversation has turned to the proposals to increase public workers’ contributions to their pensions and health care, and on these issues people said they were less sympathetic, and often grew flushed and emotional telling stories of their own pay cuts and financial worries.

Here in Janesville, a city of about 60,000 an hour southeast of Madison, Crystal Watkins, a preschool teacher at a Lutheran church, said she was paid less than public school teachers and got fewer benefits. “I don’t have any of that,” she said. “But I’m there every day because I love the kids.”

In Palmyra, a small village bounded by farmland and forests, MaryKay Horter remembered how her husband’s Chevy dealership had teetered on the brink of closing after General Motors declared bankruptcy, for which she blamed unions.

Ms. Horter said she was forced to work more hours as an occupational therapist, but had not seen a raise or any retirement contributions from her employer for the last two years. All told, her family’s income has dropped by about a third.

“I don’t get to bargain in my job, either,” she said.

And in nearby Whitewater, a scenic working-class city of 15,000 that is home to a public university, Dave Bergman, the owner of a bar, was tending it himself on Sunday. He has been forced to cut staff and work seven days a week.

“There are a lot of people out of work right now that would take a job without a union,” Mr. Bergman said.
The issue here is the influence that public sector unions now have, which wasn't always the case. But things have changed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Fierce Urgency Of Silence

With Qaddafi reportedly in more trouble than ever, his now former mouthpiece is wondering where Obama is:
"I want the U.S. to tell the world and to work with the countries who love peace...they have to stop this," Ambassador Ali Ojli said, suggesting that he had resigned his post, in an interview with Al Jazeera English.

"I would never ask us to intervene physically in Libya," he said, but called on the Obama Administration to "take a strong position that what's happening in libya must be stopped now...and to avoid giving the impression to the Arab world that the West "has only a materialist mind -- they don't care about human rights...except when it comes to their own interest."

"You see them raising their voices about iran ... because they have some interest in in Iran.... When it comes to other countries they don't raise their voice," he said, adding that the Arab and Muslim world won't "trust America or the west if they behave that way."
Actually, Obama is probably smart to keep us out of it at this point, although Obama, who knows a thing or two about how to appear in public, might want to give him some fashion advice.

Faking It

The government is getting into the business of creating imaginary friends:
The US government is offering private intelligence companies contracts to create software to manage "fake people" on social media sites and create the illusion of consensus on controversial issues.

The contract calls for the development of "Persona Management Software" which would help the user create and manage a variety of distinct fake profiles online. The job listing was discussed in recently leaked emails from the private security firm HBGary after an attack by internet activist last week.

According to the contract, the software would "protect the identity of government agencies" by employing a number of false signals to convince users that the poster is in fact a real person. A single user could manage unique background information and status updates for up to 10 fake people from a single computer.

The software enables the government to shield its identity through a number of different methods including the ability to assign unique IP addresses to each persona and the ability to make it appear as though the user is posting from other locations around the world.

Included in HBGary's leaked emails was a government proposal for the government contract. The document describes how they would 'friend' real people on Facebook as a way to convey government messages.
If you can't trust Facebook, whom can you trust?

Food Police Fail

The White House has put a premium on kids eating healthier. Too bad the kids don't see it that way:
During visits to several CPS schools over the last few months, the Tribune heard many accounts of students throwing away their lunches. Others say they opt for "cookies and slushies" from the canteen or wait to eat until they get home. And while some kids said they still like their school meals, the vast majority used the same word to describe the food: nasty.

"If they're going to feed us healthy, they need to feed us something good that's healthy," said Mijoy Roussell, a sixth-grader at Claremont Academy who was skipping lunch in favor of a packet of candy. "This food is disgusting, which is why I'm not eating lunch."

For the 2010-11 school year, CPS and its caterer, Chartwells-Thompson, switched to menus featuring more whole-grain products, less sodium and a wider variety of vegetables. Most cereals offered have less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.

Chartwells and CPS note that these changes exceed existing U.S. Department of Agriculture meal standards, but they appear to have created negative impressions of healthy foods among many students.

"They want us to eat healthy food, but the food has no flavor," sophomore Jacob Hernandez said as he picked at unsalted rice and beans at North-Grand High School. "Last year, they had a yellow Puerto Rican rice. But this year it's all dry, and you can tell they put a lot of stuff in there, but what's the point if there is no flavor?"
It also doen't help the government's cause when the First Lady won't practice what she preaches...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Beer Drinkers And Peace Makers

Once again, there is nothing beer cannot do:
Wisconsonites are united, even in times like this, by many things, including a love of University of Wisconsin, Madison, athletics and the program's strutting mascot Bucky the Badger; a devotion to the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers NFL football team; and, of course, a love of beer, brought to the state by its German settlers and honed by brewers whose names are part of American history: Pabst, Schlitz, Miller and Blatz.

So when the opposing rallies ended here on Saturday, many of the demonstrators retired to the numerous bars in the Capitol's shadow, like The Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant, with its 50 beers on tap -- all from Wisconsin -- and another 100 in bottles, 99 of them from the Badger state. The one other, from neighboring Minnesota, is listed under imports.

Over pints of Evil Doppleganger Double Mai Bock and Lost Lake Pilsner, knots of demonstrators debated the questions that have galvanized union employees across the country and brought the business of the state legislature to a standstill. Is Walker's proposal part of the Republican's effort to put the state's finances in order, a repudiation of the state's long history of progressive politics, or the latest example of that tradition?

Zog Begolli, a 23-year-old bill opponent, met four bill supporters at the Old Fashioned when they helped him get a drink at the crowded bar. "They allowed me to get closer so I could order a beer," Begolli said.

"Beer is something we can all agree on," said Randy Otto, 59, from Lake Mills, one of the bill supporters who let Begolli squeeze in.

"I was outnumbered," Begolli said. "But the conversation was civil."
Who knows, maybe this is what the Middle East has been missing...

By Their Bootstraps

Move over, NASA-the robots are coming:
Today the organizers of the Google Lunar X Prize announced the final roster of teams competing in a $30 million race to the lunar surface. And much to their surprise, 29 teams have signed on to the mission, more than they ever expected. "When we started this thing [in 2007], we were hopeful that we'd have a dozen teams," says Will Pomerantz, senior director for space prizes at the X Prize Foundation. "Now we're pushing 30 teams... Some came out of the woodwork at the end."

The terms of the contest are easy, but succeeding is hard. A private firm has to send a robot to the moon. After it gets there, the bot will travel 980 feet and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth. The prize: $30 million.

Google says this X Prize is the world's largest ever global contest, with businesses from 17 nations taking part. "A lot of countries are taking part that are not known for their large space programs," Pomerantz says. "They see this as an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities."

The 29 teams in the Google Lunar X Prize are not only racing each other, they are also squaring off against national efforts by China and a joint Russia-and-India effort to land robots on the moon in 2013. The Lunar X Prize's time limit expires in 2015. "I think we'll see a friendly competition," Pomerantz says.
A new space race between capitalists and quasi-socialists? May the best ideology win!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Et Tu, Evan?

Oh, my. Evan Thomas calling Obama cowardly?



I guess he's not a god after all...

Doctor's Orders

How to play hooky, union style:



I'm sure their students are green with envy...

Friday, February 18, 2011

No Reform Near Me

Well, this is disappointing:
The House rejected a measure cutting an additional $22 billion from the Republican spending bill, as conservatives ran into a wall of opposition from the GOP establishment over the depth of reductions to federal funding.

The amendment backed by the conservative Republican Study Committee failed, 147-281, but not before putting the GOP spending divide under a spotlight on the House floor. Authored by RSC chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the proposal would have dramatically reshaped an appropriations bill that already slashes federal spending by $61 billion over the next seven months.

More than half of the Republican conference backed the measure in opposition to two party chiefs, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who voted with every Democrat against it. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not vote, as is traditional for Speakers.

The party’s fourth-ranking member, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), supported the measure, as did dozens of Republican freshman. Yet there was division even among the first-term, Tea Party-backed lawmakers. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), an elected freshman representative on the leadership team, opposed the bill, while Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), the freshman class president, supported it.

Like no previous proposal, the heated debate over the amendment drew a bright line through the GOP conference, pitting conservatives pushing the deepest spending cuts against senior Republicans who denounced them as “misguided,” “indiscriminate” and, in the case of Rep. Daniel Lungren (R-Calif.), “lazy.”
Sounds like the establishment described themselves quite accurately...

Power Play

What the unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere are really after:
The reality is that the unions are trying to trump the will of the voters as overwhelmingly rendered in November when they elected Mr. Walker and a new legislature. As with the strikes against pension or labor reforms that routinely shut down Paris or Athens, the goal is to create enough mayhem that Republicans and voters will give up.

While Republicans now have the votes to pass the bill, on Thursday Big Labor's Democratic allies walked out of the state senate to block a vote. Under state rules, 20 members of the 33-member senate must be present to hold a vote on an appropriations bill, leaving the 19 Republicans one member short. By the end of the day some Democrats were reported to have fled the state. So who's really trying to short-circuit democracy?

Unions are treating these reforms as Armageddon because they've owned the Wisconsin legislature for years and the changes would reduce their dominance. Under Governor Walker's proposal, the government also would no longer collect union dues from paychecks and then send that money to the unions. Instead, unions would be responsible for their own collection regimes. The bill would also require unions to be recertified annually by a majority of all members. Imagine that: More accountability inside unions.

The larger reality is that collective bargaining for government workers is not a God-given or constitutional right. It is the result of the growing union dominance inside the Democratic Party during the middle of the last century.
But they're entitled. And it's that sense of entitlement that's being threatened.

Waiving Away The Law

Why waivers are just wrong:
An initial concern is favoritism. One may assume that when the executive waives compliance with a law, it will grant waivers only to the most deserving applicants. Inevitably, however, it will find deserving applicants among those who have close contact with the administration, including many who are politically aligned with it.

Making matters worse, the executive tends to use waivers to co-opt political support for insupportable laws. When Americans are subject to severe legislation, they can unite to seek its repeal. All persons subject to a harsh law ordinarily must comply with it, and therefore will cooperate to fight it. Waivers, however, allow the executive to preserve such legislation by offering relief to the most powerful of those who might demand repeal, thereby purchasing their non-resistance at the cost of other Americans. Waivers thus shift the cost of objectionable laws from the powerful to others, with the overall effect of entrenching bad laws.

Waivers further undermine the political process by permitting lawmakers to escape the political consequences of drafting onerous laws. Lawmakers ordinarily have reason to worry about imposing severe rules. Waivers, however, remove the incentives for responsibly moderate legislation. Indeed, waivers transform irresponsible legislative burdens into occasions for executive beneficence.

Even more seriously, waivers are a threat to government by and under law. When the government grants a waiver or dispensation, it does not act through law, and yet it purports to liberate the recipient from the obligation of law. In other words, when the government grants a waiver, it acts above the law to permit others to act above the law, thus making waivers doubly lawless.
Remember, the law is for little people...

Forever Young

Staying younger, longer:
A recent study found that young people in Spain take six more years to reach adulthood compared to their counterparts 20 years earlier.

Adulthood, in this sense, includes obtaining a full-time job, living on one's own and eventually having kids. The study, featured in the publication Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas, found this six-year gap in both sexes, as women reached adult independence around 28 years of age rather than previous estimates of 22. Men ended up reaching independence at 30 rather than 24 years of age.

But what about young Americans?

Much discussion surrounds the whereabouts of 20-somethings at this time. Jeffrey Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, leads a movement toward creating a new developmental stage called "emerging adulthood" that highlights the instability and uncertainty of the lives of people between the ages of 18 and 25.

One New York Times Magazine piece suggests that far fewer people finish their education, find jobs, live independently and have kids before the age of 30 compared to people 40 years ago. Both men and women are pushing back marriage an average of four years as well.
The Baby Boomers were the generation that didn't trust anybody over 30. Now their kids seem to want to stay that age for as long as they can.

The Republican Revolution

It's most likely not going anywhere, but the Republicans are at least trying to overthrow Obama's many czars:
The House GOP approved an amendment to a government-spending bill that would block funding for the Obama administration’s so-called policy "czars,” appointed advisers to the president that have been much-criticized by Republicans.

The vote was 249-171.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), specifically targets Obama’s “climate czar” by blocking funding for the assistant to the president for energy and climate change, the position's official title. The amendment would block funding for the 'czars' through the end of the fiscal year, when the spending bill would run out. The underlying bill also includes a provision to block funding for the position.

"I think this sends a strong signal to the president that we are tired of him running this shadow government, where they have got these czars that are literally circumventing the accountability and scrutiny that goes with Senate confirmation," Scalise said after the vote.

Carol Browner, who currently holds the position, announced last month that she will resign, leaving the future of the office in doubt.
That's one down, but she was just the latest in a long list. But defunding the monarchy is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

National Dis-Union

And now, Ohio:
Demonstrations against bills to restrict public employees’ collective-bargaining rights spilled from Wisconsin into Ohio in what union leaders said was becoming a national fight.

In Madison, Wisconsin, crowds police estimated at 25,000 engulfed the Capitol and its lawns during a third day of protests as Democratic state senators boycotted the legislative session. In Columbus, Ohio, about 3,800 state workers, teachers and other public employees came to the statehouse.

Firefighters Dave Hefflinger and Jerry Greer stood near hundreds of workers elbow-to-elbow in the statehouse atrium and listened to a Senate hearing through speakers. Chants of “Kill the bill” echoed.

“We’re here to support our brothers and sisters,” Hefflinger, a 27-year veteran, said in an interview. “They’re trying to take away what we fought for all of these years.”

Hefflinger, 49, and Greer, 39, members of the department in Findlay, Ohio, drove two hours south to protest the bill. The measure would eliminate collective bargaining for state workers, prevent local-government employees from negotiating for health insurance and would eliminate binding arbitration in the case of an impasse. It would replace salary schedules with merit pay.

With states facing deficits that may reach a combined $125 billion next year, Republican governors and legislatures in states including Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey are targeting collective bargaining to give governments more flexibility to control costs.
The unions' status quo has been threatened. If they start behaving like cornered animals and resort to old-school thuggery to get what they want, there could be trouble.

Don't Talk About HUD Club

Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut:
Obama administration officials told a group of housing proponents this month that they must sign a confidentiality agreement to continue participating in talks — a highly unusual request that has drawn criticism from a top Republican lawmaker who is investigating the matter.

The agreement, obtained by POLITICO, bars participants from disclosing details discussed at meetings of a rental policy working group, but it has angered some lobbyists and drawn congressional scrutiny.

“How can they go around and pat themselves on the back as the most transparent administration in history and then turn around and ask lobbyists to sign nondisclosure agreements to keep their meetings secret,” said a lobbyist whose organization was at the Feb. 4 meeting. “It’s like extortion. We’re not going to be able to do our jobs unless we have secret meetings with them.”

Republican Rep. Judy Biggert, the chairwoman of the House Financial Services subcommittee that oversees HUD, received a copy of the nondisclosure agreement from a source who did not attend the meeting, said spokesman Zachary Cikanek.

“If it’s true that the administration is requiring nondisclosure agreements, then HUD has some very serious explaining to do,” he said. “This type of gag order represents a compete reversal of the administration’s own well-publicized transparency standards and I’m confident the congresswoman will seek immediate answers from HUD as to why industry participants are being told to keep quiet if they want a seat at the table.”

An administration official defended the practice saying, “The Obama administration makes it a point to seek input from stakeholders and key constituencies as we develop our policy positions. We will continue to engage a broad range of stakeholders, and will do so in a way that maintains the integrity of our decision-making process.”
And keeps people from asking too many questions...

Victory Through Defeat

When in doubt, go to...the losers?
House Democrats are already deep into planning how to win back the majority – with the help of the lawmakers who lost it for them.

Representative Steve Israel of New York, the new head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, holds conference calls at least once a month with a group of Capitol Hill alums, which includes about 90 percent of the Democrats who lost their re-election in 2010 and those who retired.

They trade notes on messaging, public relations, Washington happenings and – perhaps most importantly – their districts, now controlled by Republicans. Mr. Israel is working hard to get several of those ousted members, like Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, to run again. (She hasn’t committed.)

Democrats have zeroed in on 14 must-win seats in 8 states – the 14 districts that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and President Obama in 2008, but fell into Republican hands in 2010. Many of those regions will also be the focus of Mr. Obama’s re-election effort, said Mr. Israel, who is in constant contact with president’s political team. Democrats will devote the most attention to Pennsylvania, where a total of five members are on their target list.

With his committee boasting one of the largest January cash hauls n the committee’s history – only $300,000 shy of its all-time fund-raising high for the month – Mr. Israel spoke to a group of reporters at party headquarters on Wednesday with confidence and swagger.

“We have sprung from our defensive crouch,” said Mr. Israel, a former Blue Dog Democrat representing Long Island. “There are 63 unvetted, unknown Republicans, and we have introduced them to their constituents and their constituents are getting buyer’s remorse.”
And his solution is to persuade voters to bring back the people they voted against the last time? How about at least trying to find some new faces first before you run with retreads?

Stuck On Reform

The "Third Rail" is still there:
Fifty-six percent of Americans oppose changes to Medicare benefits and 64 percent oppose changes to Social Security benefits, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University School of Public Health.

At the same time, a majority of Americans oppose tax increases to pay to keep the programs operating at their current levels.

Moreover, heading into a presidential election season, no party or politician wants to be perceived as altering a benefit program that affects some of the most reliable and active American voters -- senior citizens.

Democrats made protecting the entitlement programs a key part of their message during the 2010 campaign, and they have largely vowed to continue to fight any reform that would cut benefits for children and seniors.

Republicans so far have also been timid about making such changes. They did not unite around a proposal by the House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, that would cut funding for Medicare and Medicaid by an estimated 6 percent over the next decade, according to one analysis of his "roadmap."

But financial experts say a meaningful solution will likely force changes to the programs, cuts to some benefits, and tax increases at the same time.

"We must stabilize, then reduce the national debt, or we could spend $1 trillion a year in interest alone by 2020," wrote former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, in their bipartisan report on fiscal reform. "A sensible, real plan requires shared sacrifice – and Washington should lead the way and tighten its belt."

The panel proposed, among other measures, placing a spending limit on government plans such as Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP, and imposing a premium increase on consumers if the savings were not realized. It also suggested raising the retirement age for Social Security to 68 by 2050 and making benefit payouts more progressive, targeting those who need them most and reducing payments to upper-income earners.

Many of those ideas have been non-starters with members from both parties.
Far from winning the future, both parties seem intent on protecting the promises of the past-even if they can no longer afford to keep them.

Geithner Comes Clean

Ted Geithner basically admits that Obama's budget plan is bogus:



Money quote:

Geithner: “You’re absolutely right that with the president’s plan, even if Congress were to enact it, and even if Congress were to hold to it and reduce those deficits to three percent of GDP over the next five years, we would still be left with a very large interest burden and unsustainable obligations over time.”

So, what was the point of it, again?

Cairo, USA

As you might have heard, teachers' unions in Wisconsin are hopping mad at Scott Walker over his attempts at reform. But they may have shot themselves in the foot, big time:
On both sides of the aisle, politicians are unhappy with how teachers are compensated, hired and fired, and are eager to introduce reforms. The fiercest opposition to the status quo is coming from fiscally conservative Republicans, who are mixing concerns about their states’ children with the desire to cut spending and shrink the size of government.

They’re pushing against the power that the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and their affiliates have amassed over the course of many decades of political activism and stubborn negotiations in a way that hasn’t been seen since the rise of organized labor in the first half of the 20th century.

What’s remarkable now, however, is how closely some of the Republicans’ complaints mirror those of the Obama administration, whose Race to the Top education initiative includes programs that have long been anathema to the unions, such as merit pay for teachers and giving districts the ability to fire bad teachers.
Of course, this isn't so much about what's best for the students as it is about a de facto coup by the unions. But how can they stage a coup without support?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Showing The Government How It's Done

Leave it to the American people to do for themselves what the government won't:
The recession that just rocked the U.S. economy happened in part because Americans were borrowing and spending more than they could afford. Now, three years after the downturn began, families are moving faster than many analysts had expected to put their finances in order by paying down debt and boosting their savings.

That bodes well for the recovery. Once Americans get their savings to a comfortable level, they can increase their spending all over again - but this time without necessarily going into hock - and give the economy a badly needed lift.

Compared with the summer of 2008, when consumer debt peaked, Americans now have 7 percent less mortgage debt, 12 percent less in auto loans and 15 percent less credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Loan payments last year were at their lowest level in a decade.

Meanwhile, Americans are saving at nearly triple the rate they did between 2007 and 2009, setting aside 5.3 percent of their disposable income in December, according to the Commerce Department.
Obama says he understands making checkbook choices. So does the average American-and better than Obama seems to want to give them credit for.

Pleading The Fifth, White House Style

So, what does it say about a stimulus when its own supporters won't defend it?
The Obama White House won’t be sending a witness to defend the economic-stimulus package before a House Oversight Committee panel Wednesday.

The committee is holding a hearing on the impact of the stimulus package, which President Barack Obama signed almost two years ago. Testimony will come from a lineup of conservative economists, plus Josh Bivens of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, who was picked by committee Democrats.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), who is running the hearing, had asked Jared Bernstein and Christina Romer, who played major roles in preparing the package to testify or suggest another witness to represent the White House. Both declined.

Officials volunteered to send witnesses from the Transportation and Commerce departments but the offers were turned down.

Ms. Romer, formerly the head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, returned to her teaching job at the University of California, Berkeley, last year. Mr. Bernstein remains the chief economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

Republicans say that they plan to use the hearing to examine the effects of the stimulus plan on the economy “and how its results compare to projections made by administration officials.” GOP staff said that they didn’t think that witnesses from individual federal departments would be able to answer these questions.
Maybe they're no-shows because even Obama has conceded that the stimulus didn't work as advertised. Even if he still won't send somebody to say so out loud.

Some More Birther BS

OK, this stuff is getting really old now:
A slim majority of Republicans are still in disbelief that President Barack Obama, now in his third year in office, was born in the United States and therefore is legally eligible to be president, according to a poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

The survey looked at whom these “birthers” prefer in the 2012 Republican presidential primary contest. Among the 51 percent of Republicans who think Obama was born outside of America, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was preferred by 24 percent, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin by 19 percent, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) by 14 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 11 percent.
I'm not sure what the point of these polls are, except to portray all socially conservative Republicans as paranoid conspiracy whackjobs. For "Sane" people, liberals seem awfully paranoid themselves these days.

To The Shores Of Tripoli

The protests keep spreading:
Hundreds of Libyans calling for the government's ouster clashed with security forces early Wednesday in the country's second-largest city as Egypt-inspired unrest spread to the country long ruled by Moammar Gadhafi.

Ashur Shamis, a Libyan opposition activist in London, and witnesses said the protest began Tuesday and lasted until the early hours Wednesday in the port city of Benghazi.

Demonstrators chanted "no God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah" and "Down, down to corruption and to the corrupt." Police and armed government backers quickly clamped down on the protesters, firing rubber bullets, Shami said.

The outbreak of protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran has roiled the Middle East and brought unprecedented pressure on leaders like Gadhafi who have held virtually unchecked power for decades.
It's interesting to see the reactions of "Revolutionary leaders" when they're challenged by an actual revolution...

Food For Concern

Feeding the world keeps getting more expensive:
Global food prices have hit "dangerous levels" that could contribute to political instability, push millions of people into poverty and raise the cost of groceries, according to a new report from the World Bank.

The bank released a report Tuesday that said global food prices have jumped 29 percent in the past year, and are just 3 percent below the all-time peak hit in 2008. Bank President Robert Zoellick said the rising prices have hit people hardest in the developing world because they spend as much as half their income on food.

"Food prices are the key and major challenge facing many developing countries today," Zoellick said. The World Bank estimates higher prices for corn, wheat and oil have pushed 44 million people into extreme poverty since last June.

The report comes a day before Finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the Group of 20 leading economies meet in Paris. Zoellick said he's worried some countries might react to food inflation by banning exports or implementing price controls, which would just aggravate the problem.

The World Bank's food price index rose by 15 percent between October and January alone. The increase has been driven by volatile global trading in wheat, corn and soybeans. Global corn futures more than doubled since this summer, from $3.50 to $7 a bushel, in part because of higher demand from developing countries and a growing biofuels industry.
Well, it's not as if corn was actually used for eating...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Escape From New Lawsuits

Some would say that New York is already in a semi-apocalyptic state, but now there's a how-to guide for the city's legal system for the real thing:
Major disasters like terrorist attacks and mass epidemics raise confounding issues for rescuers, doctors and government officials. They also pose bewildering legal questions, including some that may be painful to consider, like how the courts would decide who gets life-saving medicine if there are more victims than supplies.

But courts, like fire departments and homicide detectives, exist in part for gruesome what-ifs. So this month, an official state legal manual was published in New York to serve as a guide for judges and lawyers who could face grim questions in another terrorist attack, a major radiological or chemical contamination or a widespread epidemic.
....

Published with the disarmingly bland title “New York State Public Health Legal Manual,” the doomsday book does not proclaim new law but, rather, describes existing law and gives lawyers and judges ways of analyzing any number of frightening situations.

The manual provides a catalog of potential terrorism nightmares, like smallpox, anthrax or botulism episodes. It notes that courts have recognized far more rights over the past century or so than existed at the time of Typhoid Mary’s troubles. It details procedures for assuring that people affected by emergency rules get hearings and lawyers. It mentions that in the event of an attack, officials can control traffic, communications and utilities. If they expect an attack, it says, they can compel mass evacuations.

But the guide also presents a sober rendition of what the realities might be in dire times. The suspension of laws, it says, is subject to constitutional rights. But then it adds, “This should not prove to be an obstacle, because federal and state constitutional restraints permit expeditious actions in emergency situations.”

When there is not enough medicine for everyone in an emergency, it notes, there is no clear legal guidepost. It suggests legal decisions would most likely involve an analysis that “balances the obligation to save the greatest number of lives against the obligation to care for each single patient,” perhaps giving preference to those with the best chance to survive. It points out, though, that elderly and disabled people might have a legal claim if they are discriminated against at such moments of crisis.
They do say that cockroaches and lawyers are among the things that might survive Armageddon...

Target Issa

Hmm, obsessed much?
A handful of liberal political operatives in California — including a former Hillary Clinton hand — are taking their anti-Issa passion to a whole new level, launching a nonprofit group, a website and even paid media advertisements aimed at undermining and investigating the rabble-rousing chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

They say they’re leaving no stone unturned in digging into Issa’s personal and business history. This week, the group will reveal more than 100 pages about an investigation into a fire that burned down a building that housed his business in the early 1980s.

The launch of this group — which calls itself The Third Lantern, and is naming the website the Issa Files — is remarkable because it’s wholly focused on the activities of one lawmaker who has no immediate plans to run for higher office. The purpose of this new group is to make public documents more public, make life difficult for Issa and sow seeds of doubt on his investigations.

They plan to run TV advertisements and other paid media in the future, saying they already have a “significant commitment” of cash. A spokesman for Issa, Kurt Bardella, dismissed the effort as a “misguided and distasteful smear campaign against Chairman Issa.”
I guess former Clintonistas need something to keep them busy these days...

Passing The Bucks

Megan McArdle on what appears to be Obama's strategy to make what they have last:
They don't have any better revenue mechanisms left--everything that anyone even thought was plausible went into ObamaCare. And yet, they can't simply cut doctor's reimbursements by one fifth. So they scrambled for anything at all--and the only way they could come up with the necessary revenue was to stretch the cuts out over ten years, while covering the spending for only two years.

Obviously this is not a sustainable strategy, any more than I can simply pay for an increase in my annual restaurant budget by cutting back on my movie budget for the next ten years--eventually, you've zeroed out the rest of the entertainment budget, and the tab at Komi is still growing. Yet this seems to be the only plan the administration has to pay for the doc fix--a problem that wasn't addressed during health care reform, as far as I can tell, precisely because it was too expensive.

And that's kind of a problem, because in 2014, the looming cuts to doctor reimbursements will be even bigger, and even less politically feasible, than they are now. We're going to have to find even bigger cuts to pay for them. But since the Obama administration has used 10 years' worth of revenue out of the (say it with me now) easiest and most obvious pay-fors, we're going to have to find the money in some even less obvious, and more politically difficult, place.
You'll note that this will happen after the Presidential election-at which point, Obama, if he's reelected, will most likely go for another massive spending increase to justify covering the costs-or leave it for his Republican successor to take the blame.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Go Green Goes Bust

At long last, victory, of a sort-the much-maligned House cafeteria "Green" ware is no more:
The tableware, the color of mucus and as bendable as a pocket watch in a Salvador Dali painting (and thus unable to pierce any foodstuff firmer than the innards of Brie cheese), was the most visible manifestation of recently deposed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Green the Capitol initiative. That was her carbon-cutting effort to use the food-service and other House operations to fight global warming and a host of other perceived environmental, health and social ills. During the lunchtime rush, you could observe dozens of staffers struggling to stab lettuce leaves and poultry pieces with fork tines that appeared to be double-jointed as well as dull.

But on Jan. 25, Dan Lungren, the GOP congressman from the Sacramento area who now heads the House Administration Committee, directed the House chief administrative officer to trash — so to speak — the composting program, which converts the dining service's cornstarch tableware, along with its biodegradable plates, trays, cups and drinking straws, into garden mulch.

It turns out that the composting program not only cost the House an estimated $475,000 a year (according to the House inspector general) but actually increased energy consumption in the form of "additional energy for the pulping process and the increased hauling distance to the composting facility," according to a news release from Lungren.

As far as carbon emissions were concerned, Lungren concluded that the reduction was the "nominal ... equivalent to removing one car from the road each year." He plans to switch the House to an alternate waste-management system recommended by the Architect of the Capitol, in which dining-service trash would be incinerated and the heat energy captured.

"Composting releases methane," said Lungren's spokesman, Brian Kaveney, and methane gas, as even the most warming-conscious among us have to admit, traps atmospheric heat far more efficiently than carbon dioxide, the usual bugaboo of the climate-change crowd.
And thus it is that attempts to impose the ways of San Francisco face epic fail in the real world-or, at least as real as Congress can get.

Housing Market Of Cards

The bubble has burst wide open:
The rolling real estate crash that ravaged Florida and the Southwest is delivering a new wave of distress to communities once thought to be immune — economically diversified cities where the boom was relatively restrained.

In the last year, home prices in Seattle had a bigger decline than in Las Vegas. Minneapolis dropped more than Miami, and Atlanta fared worse than Phoenix.

The bubble markets, where builders, buyers and banks ran wild, began falling first, economists say, so they are close to the end of the cycle and in some cases on their way back up. Nearly everyone else still has another season of pain.

“When I go out and talk to people around town, they say, ‘Wow, I thought we were going to have a 12 percent correction and call it a day,’ ” said Stan Humphries, chief economist for the housing site Zillow, which is based in Seattle. “But this thing just keeps on going.”

Seattle is down about 31 percent from its mid-2007 peak and, according to Zillow’s calculations, still has as much as 10 percent to fall.

Mr. Humphries estimates the rest of the country will drop a further 5 and 7 percent as last year’s tax credits for home buyers continue to wear off.

“We went into 2010 feeling gangbusters, thanks to Uncle Sam,” Mr. Humphries said. “We ended it feeling penniless, with home values tanking.”
Call me crazy, but wasn't getting subsidized by Uncle Sam what caused this in the first place?

Zombie Taxes Return

Obama seems to have brought them back from the dead:
President Barack Obama's budget proposal resurrects a series of tax increases that were largely ignored by Congress when Democrats controlled both chambers. Republicans, who now control the House, are signaling they will be even less receptive.

The plan unveiled Monday includes tax increases for oil, gas and coal producers, investment managers and U.S.-based multinational corporations. The plan would allow Bush-era tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012 for individuals making more than $200,000 and married couples making more than $250,000. Wealthy taxpayers would have their itemized deductions limited, including deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes.

"These policies were unfair and unaffordable when enacted and remain so today," Obama said in his budget message.
Ah, there's that word "Fair" again. But then again, this wasn't totally unexpected.

Budget Breakers

The doctor is in. But is it enough?
The Obama administration’s 2012 budget would save $1.1 trillion over the next 10 years by cutting programs to rein in a deficit that may reach a record $1.5 trillion this year, White House Budget Director Jacob Lew said.

“We have to start living within our means,” Lew said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “The notion that we can do this painlessly -- it’s not possible to do it painlessly. We’re going to make tough choices.”

Democratic President Barack Obama sends the third budget of his presidency to Congress today. About two-thirds of the savings would come from a five-year spending freeze and cuts in domestic programs. One-third would come from revenue increases, including limiting itemized tax deductions for the wealthy, an administration official said.

Some savings would be diverted to increased spending in education, research and development and technology to compete against global rivals, create jobs and reduce the 9 percent unemployment rate, Lew said.

The cuts reflect a White House shift toward the center of the political spectrum as Obama prepares for a 2012 re-election campaign, said Phillip Swagel, an economics professor at the University of Maryland and former assistant secretary for economic policy in President George W. Bush’s Treasury Department.
....

Republicans say Obama’s spending cuts won’t go far enough.

“We’re broke,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, rejecting Obama’s five- year freeze on domestic spending as inadequate. “Locking in that level of spending is way too much.”

Boehner said he sent a letter to Obama yesterday, signed by 150 economists, calling for deeper spending cuts in the current fiscal year’s budget, still pending in Congress. That will “help create a better environment so we can begin to create jobs in our economy,” he said.

Budget cuts, he said, “will bring more confidence to business people and investors.”
Well, if Boehner is serious, then the Republicans need to be willing to touch the third rail along with everything else, but the important thing to note here is, as Paul Ryan says, that the debate is now over not whether to cut, but by how much. So, for Obama, this is a good first step.

For Want Of Dinner

The "food revolution" seems to be spreading:
Bolivian President Evo Morales has abruptly abandoned a mining town after protesters angered by rising prices booed him and set off dynamite.

Mr Morales was due to speak on the anniversary of a colonial uprising in Oruro but canceled plans to participate in a march yesterday after demonstrations against rising food prices and shortages.

There were also protests in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, and the cities of Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.

The Bolivian populace are angry over a near doubling in the price of sugar after the government lifted subsidies.
....

In the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz, meanwhile, protesters blocked the road leading to the airport in opposition to a government-planned food production agency.

The demonstrators say the Emapa agency will discourage private commerce.

Mr Morales drew own his experiences as Bolivian leader last week while calling on African leaders to nationalise their mineral and petroleum resources.

‘All of Africa’s resources should be declared resources of the state and managed by the nation,’ he said at the 2011 World Social Forum in Dakar.

‘Our experience in Bolivia shows that when you take control of natural resources for the people of the town and village, major world change is possible.’

In his own nation, however, Mr Morales is facing opposition from groups who had formerly championed his ascent from a peasant upbringing to being named Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2005.
Dictators and would-be "Revolutionaries" are finding out the hard way that the people won't support a people's republic if they can't put bread on the table.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

God, Cheese, And Guns

Switzerland-Europe's version of the NRA?
Following an emotional debate over gun control, Swiss voters firmly rejected a referendum that would have forced soldiers to end the longstanding practice of keeping army-issue firearms at home and tightened restrictions over civilian gun ownership.

According to exit polls, 57% of voters rejected the initiative. The referendum sparked a heated debate over the right to bear arms in a country that has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world.

Between 1.2 million and 4.5 million firearms are estimated to be in circulation in Switzerland, putting the Alpine country behind only the U.S. and Yemen in guns per capita.

The number is particularly high because members of the Swiss militia have traditionally keep their army-issued rifles or pistols at home, to be ready to defend the nation at a moment's notice. Switzerland has virtually no standing army, relying instead on conscripted militia for national defense.

All Swiss men between 18 and 30 years old are called up to do three months' military training, followed by regular refresher courses. The notion of the citizen-soldier is a cornerstone of Switzerland's armed neutrality policy.
Of course, the Swiss way isn't for everyone-but there's a reason they;ve been able to defend their neutrality for so long...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Death Of The Fair

One can only hope:
Seeking to hammer the final nail in the coffin of the Fairness Doctrine, two Republican lawmakers who are former broadcasters have reintroduced a bill that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from regulating political speech on the airwaves.

Amid calls for the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine after the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz, last month, Reps. Mike Pence of Indiana and Greg Walden of Oregon unveiled this week the Broadcaster Freedom Act, which would ban the FCC from forcing broadcasters to give free airtime to opposing sides on controversial issues.

"The American people cherish freedom, especially freedom of speech and of the press," said Pence, a former radio talk show host who introduced the same bill in the last session of Congress when Democrats still controlled the House.

"Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine would amount to government control over political views expressed on the public airways," he said in a statement. "We must pass the Broadcaster Freedom Act and bury the Fairness Doctrine once and for all."

Walden, who owned and operated radio stations with his wife for nearly 22 years, said: "The Fairness Doctrine represents an assault on the fundamental freedoms included in the First Amendment. Called the Fairness Doctrine or a code name like localism, this kind of outdated government regulation of political speech has no place in the modern broadcasting landscape."
Considering that Obama opposed it, and it still has little support from either side, it would seem that the Republicans have the means and the will to finally lay this beast to rest. That is, until liberals try to bring it back once again...

Sick Crib

Surprisingly, it's not what you might think:
Hugh Hefner's iconic bachelor pad is under investigation after more than 80 guests at a conference and party there became sick with a suspected strain of Legionnaires' disease.

Scores of attendees at the Domainfest conference in Santa Monica, held Feb. 1 to 3, came down with symptoms including fever, respiratory infections and violent headaches. Four Swedish guests were diagnosed with Legionellosis or pontiac fever -- a milder form of Legionnaires' caused by bacteria that thrives in warm air-conditioning systems.

Now some victims are blaming a fog machine which steamed up the conference finale party on Feb. 3. DNJournal.com editor Ron Jackson, whose wife, Diana, was stricken, said, "So far, the number [of victims] is around 80. Everybody says they became ill around 24 hours after the party.

Jackson said, "Four guys from Sweden were diagnosed with [Legionellosis], and they have the same symptoms as everyone else. I don't want to point the finger at the Playboy Mansion, but the disease lives in warm water, and people were engulfed in mist at that party." He's filed a report with the CDC.

New Yorker Elliot J. Silver, who runs Silver Internet Ventures, also fell prey to the bug. He said, "It is scary everyone came down with the same thing at the same time. It knocked me on my ass. A lot of people are blaming the Playboy Mansion on the blogs, but you can't be sure."

A rep for Domainfest said it was working with the LA County Health Department to investigate: "There were events every night, and we are giving them a list of all the venues. We have no idea what this is or where it came from. The mansion being to blame is, at the moment, pure speculation."
Well, at least they didn't get cooties considering where they were...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Das Buyout

The Germans are coming to town:
A German company is in high-level talks to acquire the New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street's most recognizable institution. According to reports published in both the German and American financial press, Deutsche Borse, a Frankfurt-based stock exchange is seeking to take a 60 percent ownership interest in the NYSE. The merger would create the world's largest financial exchange.

News of the deal sent both NYSE and Deutsche Borse stock soaring Thursday.

If US and European regulators sign off on the plan, the new parent company would have dual headquarters in Germany and America. The merger is not expected to result in major layoffs in New York. However, the ranks of face-to-face stock traders have already thinned considerably on Wall Street in recent years.

"Stock trading is a commodity business. There's just no money in it anymore," said Greg David, director of Business & Economics Reporting at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
The game has certainly changed:

And The Crowd Goes Wild

First, he was staying. Now, it's a different story:
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt turned over all power to the military, and left the Egyptian capital for his resort home in Sharm el-Sheik, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced on state television on Friday.

The announcement, delivered during evening prayers in Cairo, set off a frenzy of celebration, with protesters shouting “Egypt is free!”

The Egyptian military issued a communiqué pledging to carry out a variety of constitutional reforms in a statement notable for its commanding tone. The military’s statement alluded to the delegation of power to Vice President Omar Suleiman and it suggested that the military would supervise implementation of the reforms.
The people in Cairo certainly seem happy. Let's hope they have reason to be.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Donald Arrives

So here's Donald Trump at CPAC:



Say what you will, the Donald is nothing if not entertaining. No word on whether or not he would choose his hair or his ego as a running mate.

The Defiant One

Hosni's hanging on:
In a nationally televised address following a tumultuous day of political rumors and conflicting reports, Mr. Mubarak said he would “admit mistakes” and honor the sacrifices of young people killed in the three-week uprising, but that he would continue to “shoulder my responsibilities” until September, and did not give a firm indication that he would cede political power.

Even as Mr. Mubarak spoke, angry chants were shouted from huge crowds in Cairo who had anticipated his resignation but were instead confronted with a plea from the president to support continued rule by him and his chosen aides. People waved their shoes in defiance, considered an insulting gesture in the Arab world.

Mr. Mubarak said the process of political change initiated by his administration, including a dialogue with opposition groups, would not be reversed. But he signaled no imminent transfer of power and blamed foreigners for seeking to interfere in Egypt’s affairs.

“We will not accept or listen to any foreign interventions or dictations,” Mr. Mubarak said, implying that pressure to resign came from abroad as opposed to masses of people demanding his ouster through his country.
So much for Leon Panetta, the Obama administration, and most of the rest of the MSM engaging in wishful thinking. Because it seems that's all it was...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Voting With Scissors

You dance with those what brought ya:
House Republican leaders have agreed to a key conservative demand that they make good on their campaign pledge to reduce fiscal 2011 spending to $100 billion less than President Barack Obama’s budget request, GOP aides said Wednesday.

According to a GOP leadership aide, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and other leaders are working with Republican appropriators, the Republican Study Committee and other conservatives on a “unified” strategy to reduce spending beyond the $74 billion in cuts they had already planned. The cuts, which would only apply to non-defense discretionary spending, would come as part of a continuing resolution to fund the government between March and the end of the fiscal year.

“From the start, our focus has been to cut spending so that we can grow the economy, and right now there are a lot of moving parts and we’re actively working to bring the Conference together with a unified strategy,” the aide said.

It remains unclear how Republicans will make the additional $26 billion in cuts. Cantor has reportedly directed appropriators to stay on schedule and introduce their CR on Thursday. Because Republicans are still hashing out their strategy, it appears unlikely the additional cuts would be included in the bill, and a second aide suggested they could come in the form of an amendment.

It is also unclear whether the cuts will be made across the board or whether certain areas would be targeted for deeper cuts.
It's a start. The main story is how the new kids seem to be holding theleadership's feet to the fire on what they promised, and making sure that they actually deliver.

Career Killer

Just what is it with these guys, anyway?
Rep. Christopher Lee resigned from office Wednesday just hours after a report claimed the married Republican congressman sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman on Craigslist.

The New York congressman formally submitted a resignation letter to House Speaker John Boehner.

"It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness," he said in a statement.

"The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately."
When it comes to common sense, there seems to be an "Off" switch when one enters politics.

Fields Of Dreams

God bless technology:
A new drilling technique is opening up vast fields of previously out-of-reach oil in the western United States, helping reverse a two-decade decline in domestic production of crude.

Companies are investing billions of dollars to get at oil deposits scattered across North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and California. By 2015, oil executives and analysts say, the new fields could yield as much as 2 million barrels of oil a day — more than the entire Gulf of Mexico produces now.

This new drilling is expected to raise U.S. production by at least 20 percent over the next five years. And within 10 years, it could help reduce oil imports by more than half, advancing a goal that has long eluded policymakers.

"That's a significant contribution to energy security," says Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Credit Suisse.

Oil engineers are applying what critics say is an environmentally questionable method developed in recent years to tap natural gas trapped in underground shale. They drill down and horizontally into the rock, then pump water, sand and chemicals into the hole to crack the shale and allow gas to flow up.

Because oil molecules are sticky and larger than gas molecules, engineers thought the process wouldn't work to squeeze oil out fast enough to make it economical. But drillers learned how to increase the number of cracks in the rock and use different chemicals to free up oil at low cost.

"We've completely transformed the natural gas industry, and I wouldn't be surprised if we transform the oil business in the next few years too," says Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy, which is using the technique.
In the wake of this news, this is a real breakthrough, and one that we need-if the Obama administration will allow it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Patriot Games

The Patriot Act takes a hit:
The House on Tuesday night failed to approve legislation to extend surveillance authorities in the Patriot Act.

In a 277-148 vote, the House fell just seven votes short of the two-thirds majority of voting members necessary to move the bill under suspension of the rules.

More than two dozen Republicans bucked their leadership in the vote, by far the biggest defection for the House GOP since it took over the lower chamber. Until tonight's vote, Republicans voted together in all but two votes this year, and in those two votes, only one Republican voted with Democrats.
More on the outcome here. Like the saying goes, don't get cocky, kid...

Read His Lips

I guess he forgot to double-check:
President Obama’s assertion on Sunday that he “didn’t raise taxes once” is “blatantly false,” a taxpayer watchdog group says. Obama made the claim in his pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

According to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), President Obama has signed into law at least two dozen tax increases. The first one – a federal tobacco tax hike – came just 16 days into his presidency.
....

During Sunday’s interview, Bill O’Reilly asked Obama if he is “a man who wants to redistribute wealth,” as The Wall Street Journal has described him.

The president denied it, again saying, “I didn't raise taxes once; I lowered taxes over the last two years.”

Responding on Monday, ATR said Obama’s claim of being a net-tax-cutter “rests on the temporary tax relief he has signed into law. “That tax increases Obama has signed into law have invariably been permanent. In fact, Obama signed into law $7 in permanent tax hikes for every $1 in permanent tax cuts,” ATR said.

“Over 90 percent of the dollar value of the tax cuts Obama signed into law are only temporary,” said ATR. “100 percent of the tax increases Obama signed into law are, however, permanent … Permanent changes to tax law signed by Obama amount to a net tax hike of $618.7 billion.”
Remember, any time a politician says he won't raise your taxes, hold onto your wallet...

Bloggin' In The Years: 2003

The party's over:
When internet giant AOL and old-media conglomerate Time Warner announced their merger three years ago, Ted Turner described pulling off the deal as "better than sex".

But love has gone out of the relationship, and corporate viagra is in short supply.
....

AOL has dragged down Time Warner, and the combined company made a loss of just under $100bn for the past year. During the past three months alone it recorded a loss per share of $10. That's hard to swallow considering that AOL's share price has plummeted more than 80% from its peak and is now trading at a mere $14 - and falling.
AOL seems to have a habit of biting off a bit more than they can chew. Will they have learned their lesson from this?

The DLC Goes Down

It's the end of an era:
The once-prominent Democratic Leadership Council is suspending its operations after a quarter century of prodding Democrats to the political center, its founder said in a statement Monday night.

Al From, who founded the group in the mid-1980s after then-President Ronald Reagan’s landside re-election, said the decision was driven in part by the recent departure of Chief Executive Bruce Reed, who joined the White House as chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden.

But the group’s influence inside the party had been on the decline for years after peaking in the 1990s, when its former director Bill Clinton became president.

The DLC proved a powerful platform for Mr. Clinton as he gained national prominence on the way to the White House. During its heyday, the group served as a counter-weight to the dominant liberal voices inside the Democratic Party, often angering those interests by siding with Mr. Clinton in his deal-making with Republican leaders.

The DLC has had a much lower profile ever since Mr. Clinton left office. President Barack Obama pushed liberal priorities during his first two years in the office, like providing health coverage to nearly every American and reworking the rules for Wall Street, marginalizing groups like the DLC and the centrists Democrats they spoke for. After the party lost dozens of those mostly Southern seats in the midterm elections, Mr. Obama has moved back to the center.

“The issues the DLC has championed continue to be vital to our country and the DLC will continue to impact them in its next phase,” Mr. From said in his statement after Politico first reported the news that the group planned to shut its doors. “The Democratic Leadership Council has had an historic impact on American politics over the past 25 years. We’re convinced that it will continue to have that impact in the future.”
This is the group that helped give rise to the "Blue Dog" Democrats in the past decade. With said Blue Dogs jumping ship all over the place, one would think that the DLC might still have found a niche in the post-Clinton Democratic Party as the voice of the loyal opposition. But apparently it wasn't meant to be.

Moore's Law

Can a socialist filmmaker really demand money?
When Harvey and Bob Weinstein released Michael Moore's political documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" in fall 2004, it became a cultural phenomenon and grossed $119 million at the U.S. box office.

Now the director says more of that money should have made it into his pocket.

In a suit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Moore alleged that the Weinsteins, on behalf of an outfit called the Fellowship Adventure Group that they formed to release the movie, had illegally kept money from him.

Moore is seeking at least $2.7 million in compensatory damages as well as legal and other costs; the filmmaker also left open the possibility that he could seek further damages once a complete audit is done, a process the suit alleges has not happened.

"This case is about classic Hollywood accounting tricks and financial deception perpetrated by the Fellowship Adventure Group and its owners Bob and Harvey Weinstein," the suit began. The complaint alleged "bogus accounting methods" and "substantial irregularities in the accounting of the film" and said the company has "secretly divert[ed] monies owed" to Moore and his Westside Productions company. Moore's suit alleges breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and constructive fraud.
So what's really going on here? As Nikki Finke over at Deadline notes:
Trust me, Hollywood accounting tricks are terrible and widespread and lousy for filmmakers who routinely get cheated. Now a court will decide who's right and who's wrong if there's no quick settlement. But that's not the issue that most bothers me here. Rather, it's a matter of appearances. Insiders tell me that Moore has pocketed almost $48 million from his recent movies with the Weinsteins and Overture, including his 2009 Capitalism: A Love Story indicting the current U.S. economic order and capitalism in general. Yet here is the same filmmaker who 21 years ago cultivated an image as a Man Of The People with Roger & Me and keeps it going -- but is really a capitalist of the highest order demanding more riches from his 2004 Fahrenheit 9/11 movie which made $222.4 million in box office. I'm not saying Moore shouldn't go after money that's legitimately his. But this appearance of hypocrisy is why so much of America hates Hollywood.
But hey, it keeps him in Krispy Kremes...