Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pump It Up

It must be the cost of Change:
Gas prices have doubled since Mr. Obama took office. According to the GasBuddy gasoline price tracking web site, the price of a gallon of regular gas was around $1.79 when Mr. Obama took office. Today the national average is $3.58. The lowest average price in the continental United States is $3.31 in Tulsa Oklahoma, the highest is $4.14 in Santa Barbara, CA. Four-dollar-a-gallon gas has arrived on average throughout California, and a number of other states are headed in that direction.

Consumer price index (CPI) figures from February show an unadjusted 12 month gasoline inflation rate of 19.2%, but in the last month alone prices jumped 6.8%, probably because of oil price increases due to instabilities in the Middle East. If the trend continues, gas prices would double again within a year. 100% gasoline price inflation is nothing to brag about, but imagine Mr. Obama going into the 2012 election having to explain why gas costs $7.00 a gallon.
I'm sure they'll find some way to blame it on Republicans...


Why are budget cuts evil? Well, it always comes down to how much Republicans hate children:
As Congress struggles to negotiate a budget deal to keep the government running, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told lawmakers Wednesday that the GOP version of the budget bill would result in the deaths of at least 70,000 children who depend on American food and health assistance around the world.

"We estimate, and I believe these are very conservative estimates, that H.R. 1 would lead to 70,000 kids dying," USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah testified before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee.

"Of that 70,000, 30,000 would come from malaria control programs that would have to be scaled back specifically. The other 40,000 is broken out as 24,000 would die because of a lack of support for immunizations and other investments and 16,000 would be because of a lack of skilled attendants at birth," he said.
Between DDT bans and vaccine hysteria, I'd say people like Shah have done far more damage. Propaganda! It's for the children!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Union Smackdown

Ohio follows Wisconsin's lead:
The two houses of the Ohio Legislature approved a far-reaching bill on Wednesday that would hobble the ability of public-employee unions to bargain collectively and undercut their political clout.

They sent the bill to Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican, who lawmakers said would sign it in the next few days.

The Republican-dominated Senate voted 17 to 16 in favor of the bill Wednesday evening, hours after the House passed it, 53 to 44, with 5 Republicans joining 39 Democrats in opposition.

Republicans applauded the bill, saying Ohio’s deficit-plagued state and local governments could no longer afford the costs that public-sector unions extracted in collective bargaining. But Democrats criticized the legislation, saying it effectively eviscerated public employees’ bargaining rights and would make it harder for them to stay in the middle class.

The bill would bar public employees from striking and would prohibit binding arbitration for police officers and firefighters. It would allow bargaining over wages, but not health coverage and pensions and would allow public-employee unions to bargain only when the public employer chose to do so.

Numerous unions and Democrats were vowing to sponsor a statewide referendum, probably this November, to overturn the legislation.
We'll see how well that works out when the time comes. Meanwhile, the judge who doesn't want state legislators to do the job they were elected to do is having a hissy fit, while hired thugs are making the rounds. Related: Is this really a fight Obama should be picking?

Obama's Non-War Roundup

Good grief. It seems the more we know, the murkier things get in Obama's kinetic non-war. First, Gadhafi still seems to be in trouble, although so are the rebels. Then there's who's with them, which makes the question of whether or not to arm them a rather pertinent one. Finally, the White House is saying that Congress doesn't need no stinkin' notification. But I guess when you're fighint a not-so-secret non-war, you don't really want to talk to Congress about it, do you?

When Adults Are In Charge

They can actually get stuff done:
The threat of a U.S. government shutdown receded on Wednesday as Republicans and Democrats in Congress began crafting a budget that could impose the largest domestic spending cut in history.

Though lawmakers continued to trade jabs in public, staffers from both parties began filling in the blanks on a possible agreement that would cut roughly $33 billion from the current fiscal year, aides said.

That would be a victory for Republicans, who took control of the House of Representatives last fall on a promise to slash spending and scale back the reach of government amid worries about the nation's worsening fiscal situation.

It also would avoid a messy government shutdown when a stopgap funding measure expires on April 8.

Many details remain up in the air, aides cautioned, as the final figure depends on which of dozens of Republican-backed funding restrictions will be included in the final product.

"There's no agreement, and nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.
There probably will be a deal, if only because Republicans still remember how things turned out after the '95 shutdown. And this is a win, in spite of what the hundred-per-centers will say. Baby steps are still better than no steps.

Tattered TARP

Why the bank bailout was a failure:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has acknowledged that the program “won’t come close” to fulfilling its original expectations, that its incentives are not “powerful enough” and that the mortgage servicers are “still doing a terribly inadequate job.” But Treasury officials refuse to address these shortfalls. Instead they continue to stubbornly maintain that the program is a success and needs no material change, effectively assuring that Treasury’s most specific Main Street promise will not be honored.

Finally, the country was assured that regulatory reform would address the threat to our financial system posed by large banks that have become effectively guaranteed by the government no matter how reckless their behavior. This promise also appears likely to go unfulfilled. The biggest banks are 20 percent larger than they were before the crisis and control a larger part of our economy than ever. They reasonably assume that the government will rescue them again, if necessary. Indeed, credit rating agencies incorporate future government bailouts into their assessments of the largest banks, exaggerating market distortions that provide them with an unfair advantage over smaller institutions, which continue to struggle.

Worse, Treasury apparently has chosen to ignore rather than support real efforts at reform, such as those advocated by Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to simplify or shrink the most complex financial institutions.

In the final analysis, it has been Treasury’s broken promises that have turned TARP — which was instrumental in saving the financial system at a relatively modest cost to taxpayers — into a program commonly viewed as little more than a giveaway to Wall Street executives.
Somebody had to keep the corporate welfare going...

The Secret Major Award

I guess this must be the Change:
President Obama finally and quietly accepted his “transparency” award from the open government community this week — in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House on Monday.

The secret presentation happened almost two weeks after the White House inexplicably postponed the ceremony, which was expected to be open to the press pool.

This time, Obama met quietly in the Oval Office with Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott of, without disclosing the meeting on his public schedule or letting photographers or print reporters into the room.

“Our understanding going into the meeting was that it would have a pool photographer and a print reporter, and it turned out to be a private meeting,” Bass told POLITICO. “He was so on point, so on target in the conversation with us, it is baffling why he would not want that message to be more broadly heard by reporters and the public interest community and the public generally.”
It depends on what the meaning of "Transparent" is...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Regular Or Decaf?

Whatever happened to the Coffee Party?
Launched with high hopes last year and seen by some as a progressive answer to Tea Party, the party has instead been an example of the failure to counter the power and energy of the tea party movement -- and its own board members are portraying it as an organizational disaster.

This week, the organization also announced the dissolution of the interim board this week, and three board members lashed out against the two cofounders in response.

"We are writing to you because it is our belief that much can be learned from the experience of the Interim Board, and the dynamics on the Board which we believe seriously impeded our process. We would like to identify some issues which, from our point of view, have become problems within the Coffee Party, and which, if not corrected, will hinder its success," wrote ousted board members Bahiya Cabral-Johnson, Teri Torres-Hart and Sabina Virgo in an open letter.

Painting a general picture of organizational chaos, they pointed to a lack of civility in the organization, a lack of democracy and a lack of consultation.
A lack of transparancy and civility? I am shocked.

Open Mic

It can happen to the worst of us. Case in point:
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Democratic Senate leadership, got on a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning without realizing the reporters were already listening in. Schumer thought he was on a private line with four Democratic senators who were to talk with reporters about the current budget stalemate.

Schumer instructed the group, made up of Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Tom Carper of Delaware, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, to tell reporters that the GOP is refusing to negotiate.

He told the group to make sure they label the GOP spending cuts as "extreme."

"I always use extreme, Schumer said. "That is what the caucus instructed me to use."

Someone must have finally told Schumer that the media were listening and he stopped talking midsentence.
Well, at least he didn't lock them in the closet...

Gas Attack

Not to worry-Obama has a plan:
President Barack Obama, under pressure to respond to rising gas prices, will outline Wednesday a series of initiatives to cut the nation's reliance on foreign oil, including new initiatives to expand oil production, increase the use of natural gas to power vehicles and increase production of ethanol.

Mr. Obama's latest attempt to take the initiative on energy policy comes as Republicans in Congress are stepping up criticism of the administration for not allowing more oil and gas drilling in the United States. On Tuesday, House Republicans said they would introduce legislation requiring the administration to sell more offshore leases and to issue drilling permits within a set time frame.

The political heat over energy policy is rising in tandem with the price of gasoline and diesel fuels at filling stations, in a ritual that has become familiar in Washington since the oil price shocks of the mid-1970s. "We've been having this conversation for nearly four decades now," Mr. Obama said during a March 11 news conference. "Every few years, gas prices go up; politicians pull out the same old political playbook, and then nothing changes."
I might be wrong, but I think this might have something to do with it...

Professors For Hire

Are universities outsourcing their educators?
Concern is growing that our universities, especially those highly regarded, have been receiving very large sums of cash from abroad, often from countries or citizens of countries which hold positions antithetical to our interests or engage in conduct shocking to our values. This matter is receiving critical attention from both sides of the political spectrum.

The fact of these large gifts is no secret. 20 USC 1011-Sec. 1011f requires colleges and universities to disclose foreign donations and contracts valued at $250,000 or more, and the Department of Education annually posts them online on its website.

Qatar is the largest contributor, donating almost half of the total. It is followed by Saudi Arabia, which donated $77 million. I suspect that with the downturn in the American economy these large foreign gifts are being more aggressively sought out and constitute a larger and larger portion of university revenues.

How much of this is known to alumni and students is unclear. If you recall, the videos of the NPR fundraisers (both former university fundraisers) and the make-believe Arabs revealed that they were very willing to do what they could to keep the proposed gift anonymous. They said they had done this before, and even mentioned an $80 million dollar gift — apparently from a domestic giver with a feminist bent — to a number of universities which had successfully been kept under wraps by all the schools concerned. I suspect that a great deal of the foreign funding, though reported as the law requires to the federal government, may not be fully known in university communities.

In any event, word is getting out. As Carlson observes, the initial complaints came from conservatives and those who support Israel, but now the left — which is expressing concern about human rights issues — has joined in. Some of the most well-publicized of these disputes here and in the UK involve unseemly conduct on the part of university officials, but incidents which undermine scholarship are not as well-known.
I guess it's cheaper to buy propaganda overseas than to manufacture it at home. Somewhat related: Where are the homegrown academics?

DIY Skynet

How to make a supercomputer on the cheap:
The Air Force’s Research Lab in Rome, NY. has one of the cheapest supercomputers ever made, and best of all over 3,000 of your friends can play Tekken on it. The computer is made from 1,716 PlayStation 3s linked together, and is used to process images from spy planes. From the article: “The Air Force calls the souped-up PlayStations the Condor Supercomputer and says it is among the 40 fastest computers in the world. The Condor went online late last year, and it will likely change the way the Air Force and the Air National Guard watch things on the ground.
If you play it, they will come...

Charge It Forward

Remember Government Motors? It's back:
It looks like General Motors is attempting to replace it's own consumer incentives with tax payer money. The car company, bailed out of bankruptcy in 2009 by the American tax payer, appears to be turning the government into an automatic rebate provider.

The Obama administration and their friends on Capitol Hill are floating around a proposal to change the $7500 tax credit for green vehicles. This change can be found not only in President Barack Obama's budget but also a bill proposed by Senator Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat., a 45 year old trade magazine company that provides automotive information, posted a Department of Energy document listing the department's funding highlights. The proposed Obama Budget, changes the existing $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit “into a rebate that will be available to all consumers immediately at the point of sale.”

According to Senator Stabenow's website, her proposed legislation, known as the "Charging America Forward Act" (S.298), "will provide consumers with a rebate worth up to $7500 for plug-in electric vehicles at the time of purchase."

Essentially, if one were to buy a $41,000 Chevy Volt, the buyer gets a $7,500 coupon, so the final price is $33,500. In the end, the auto dealer assumes the risk of the government giving them this tax credit.
Considering the mixed reviews the car has gotten, the dealer may find the risk might not be worth it...

Workin' For MTA

Call it a sort-of welfare-to-work program:
The cash-strapped MTA may soon put welfare recipients to work scrubbing and cleaning the subways.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants to revive its participation in the city's Work Experience Program - which makes the unemployed toil for their benefit checks.

"This is a program that has a proven track record of doing three things: providing low-cost cleaning help for the subway; providing job training to people who need it, and leading directly to full-time employment for many of the people who participate in the program," MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.
Imagine this spreading to other basic city services, in other parts of the country. Suddenly, being professionally lazy might not be so attractive anymore...

The Quiet War

It's a non-escalation escalation:
Even as President Obama on Monday described a narrower role for the United States in a NATO-led operation in Libya, the American military has been carrying out an expansive and increasingly potent air campaign to compel the Libyan Army to turn against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

When the mission was launched, it was largely seen as having a limited, humanitarian agenda: to keep Colonel Qaddafi from attacking his own people. But the White House, the Pentagon and their European allies have given it the most expansive possible interpretation, amounting to an all-out assault on Libya’s military.

The Obama administration has been reluctant to call the operation an actual war, and it has sought to emphasize the involvement of a dozen other countries, particularly Italy, Britain and France. In his speech on Monday night, Mr. Obama, as he has in the past, portrayed the mission as a limited one, and described the United States’ role as “supporting.”

But interviews in recent days offer a fuller picture of American involvement, and show that it is far deeper than discussed in public and more instrumental to the fight than was previously known.

From the air, the United States is supplying much more firepower than any other country. The allies have fired nearly 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles since the campaign started on March 19, all but 7 from the United States. The United States has flown about 370 attack missions, and its allied partners have flown a similar number, but the Americans have dropped 455 precision-guided munitions compared with 147 from other coalition members.

Besides taking part in the airstrikes, the American military is taking the lead role in gathering intelligence, intercepting Libyan radio transmissions, for instance, and using the information to orchestrate attacks against the Libyan forces on the ground. And over the weekend the Air Force quietly sent three of its most fearsome weapons to the operation.

The strategy for White House officials nervous that the Libya operation could drag on for weeks or months, even under a NATO banner, is to hit Libyan forces hard enough to force them to oust Colonel Qaddafi, a result that Mr. Obama has openly encouraged.

“Certainly, the implied though not stated goal here is that the Libyan Army will decide they’re fighting for a losing cause,” said Gen. John P. Jumper, a retired Air Force chief of staff. “You’re probably dealing with a force that may not be totally motivated to continue this for the long haul."
Neither, it seems, are many of the American people...

Rolling Wood

It's come to this:
The White House announced Monday that this year’s Easter Egg Roll will be “more environmentally friendly,” with eggs made of wood certified by an environmental activist organization and packaging that will “minimize waste and environmental impact.”

The press release issued by the White House states that the eggs will be produced in the United States from hardwood “certified” by the Forest Stewardship Council, a non-profit organization with a presence in 50 countries and a mission “to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests.”

The “greener” packaging for the eggs – available in purple, pink, green and yellow – is made from paperboard certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The paperboard “uses no wood fibers from controversial sources” and the printed carton the egg comes in can be recycled. The packaging is also decorated with vegetable oil-based inks and water-based coatings.
What's next-broccoli beans for the kids? Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Humanitarian Intervention

That's how Obama has framed it:
"For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act."
Did it work? Maybe:
Was I persuaded? Not completely. The major objection - what happens now? - was not answered affirmatively by the president. It was answered negatively: there would be no military effort at regime change, as in Iraq; NATO, not the US, would soon be leading the mission; and, er, it may last a while. It is way too soon to celebrate a new model of international cooperation; but it seems striking to me that the rationale Obama invoked was very much GHW Bush in Kuwait rather than GW Bush in Iraq. That left Saddam in power for more than a decade. And yet Obama spoke as if Qaddafi's days were obviously numbered. I sure hope they are.
Of course, a lot depends on what happens to him if they are, and who takes his place. But, as they say, only time will tell.

Update: Bill Kristol liked what he heard. On the other hand, Jennifer Rubin and Victor Davis Hanson weren't so impressed.

End Times

They're apparently at hand:
New evidence has emerged that the Iranian government sees the current unrest in the Middle East as a signal that the Mahdi--or Islamic messiah--is about to appear.

CBN News has obtained a never-before-seen video produced by the Iranian regime that says all the signs are moving into place -- and that Iran will soon help usher in the end times.

While the revolutionary movements gripping the Middle East have created uncertainty throughout the region, the video shows that the Iranian regime believes the chaos is divine proof that their ultimate victory is at hand.

The propaganda footage has reportedly been approved at the highest levels of the Iranian government.

It's called The Coming is Near and it describes current events in the Middle East as a prelude to the arrival of the mythical tweflth Imam or Mahdi -- the messiah figure who Islamic scriptures say will lead the armies of Islam to victory over all non-Muslims in the last days.

"This video has been produced by a group called the Conductors of the Coming, in connection with the Basiji -- the Iranian paramilitary force, and in collaboration with the Iranian president's office," said Reza Kahlil, a former member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards who shared the video with CBN News.
They told me that if Republicans won, we'd have apocalyptic religious fanatics in charge, and they were right!

Barbarians For The State

What "Anarchists" really want:
This is no way to run a democracy. Peaceful protests are one thing, but massed force and ominous warnings about dire consequences are another. Throw into the mix the free-floating anarchists who routinely show up at such events — most recently at the G-20 summit last year in Toronto — and you have a prescription for serious trouble. Yet, all too often, any attempt to open a civil discussion about the future is met with the same dreary charges that “hateful” conservatives want to kill old people and steal candy from babies. For some on the left, too much is never enough — because, by definition, it can’t be. They operate on a modified version of the old Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated that once a country went communist, it could never go back: Once a government program is in place, it can never be cut or rescinded, only fattened. It doesn’t even matter whether it’s effective. The self-interested and the self-deluded have too much to lose to give up the fantasy of the perfect nanny state.
Today's anarchist don't want to overthrow the system. They want to become the system.

Car Wars

OK, even for the EU this is a bit beyond the pale:
The European Commission on Monday unveiled a "single European transport area" aimed at enforcing "a profound shift in transport patterns for passengers" by 2050.

The plan also envisages an end to cheap holiday flights from Britain to southern Europe with a target that over 50 per cent of all journeys above 186 miles should be by rail.

Top of the EU's list to cut climate change emissions is a target of "zero" for the number of petrol and diesel-driven cars and lorries in the EU's future cities.

Siim Kallas, the EU transport commission, insisted that Brussels directives and new taxation of fuel would be used to force people out of their cars and onto "alternative" means of transport.

"That means no more conventionally fuelled cars in our city centres," he said. "Action will follow, legislation, real action to change behaviour."

Mr Kallas has denied that the EU plan to cut car use by half over the next 20 years, before a total ban in 2050, will limit personal mobility or reduce Europe's economic competitiveness.

"Curbing mobility is not an option, neither is business as usual. We can break the transport system's dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility. It can be win-win," he claimed.
Sorry, but it sounds more like lose-lose. And that's assuming that the EU will still be around by then...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Because It Was There

So, why did we start this, again?
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that Libya did not pose a threat to the United States before the U.S. began its military campaign against the North African country.

On "This Week," ABC News' Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper asked Gates, "Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?"

"No, no," Gates said in a joint appearance with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, their first since the Libya operation began. "It was not -- it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about. The engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake."
If that's the case, why not intervene in Darfur, or anywhere else there's a "Humanitarian question?" And then there's this:
U.S.-led military action in Libya has bolstered rebels fighting Moammar Gadhafi's forces, but the international operation could continue for months, the Obama administration says.

Ahead of President Barack Obama's national address Monday to explain his decision to act against the Libyan leader, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in appearances on the Sunday talk shows that the intervention had effectively rendered Gadhafi's forces defenseless against air attacks and created the conditions for opposition advances westward.

Gates said the no-fly zone was fully in place and could be sustained with "a lot less effort than it took to set it up." He said the Pentagon was planning how to draw down resources that will be assigned to European and other countries pledging to take on a larger role.

But asked on ABC's "This Week" if that would mean a U.S. military commitment until year's end, Gates said, "I don't think anybody knows the answer to that."

The lack of clarity on that question reflects a worry for lawmakers clamoring to hear fuller explanations from the administration on why the U.S. was embroiling itself in another Muslim conflict and what the ultimate goals of the intervention are.
Why does this sound familiar? Oh, right:

Trapped In The Closet

Joe Biden apparently feels that reporters should be kept out of sight, out of mind:
As the unaware $500-a-head invitees dined on caprese crostini with oven-dried mozzarella and basil, rosemary flatbread with grapes honey and gorgonzola cheese, grilled chicken Caesar and garden vegetable wraps, veteran reporter Scott Powers was locked away.

The Orlando Sentinel reporter was ushered into the closet inside wealthy property developer Alan Ginsburg’s Winter Falls mansion, after being told that Joe Biden and Senator Bill Nelson had not yet arrived.

They were due to speak to the audience to raise money for the 2012 elections.

He was told he could only come out when the politicians were ready to give their speeches.

Powers told The Drudge Report: ‘When I'd stick my head out, they'd say, “Not yet. We'll let you know when you can come out.”’

After 90 minutes he was allowed out to hear Biden and Nelson speak for 35 minutes, before being taken back to the closet for the remainder of the event.
The first rule of fundraiser club is, don't talk to fundraiser club...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bloggin' In The Years: 1984

Geraldine Ferraro accepts the Democtatic nomination for Vice President:

Anarchy In The UK

Life imitates the Sex Pistols:
Around 500,000 activists and campaigners descended on London this morning to protest at the Government's drastic cuts programme.

But while the main march and rally in Hyde Park, which was addressed by Labour leader Ed Miliband, remained peaceful, splinter groups of anarchists went wild.
Hundreds of activists - many wearing masks and hoods - disrupted traffic, set off fireworks and flares in the busiest areas of the city including Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street and Regent Street.

Lightbulbs filled with ammonia and paintbombs were thrown at police as they desperately tried to keep the peace.

Topshop and HSBC had their windows smashed, while paint and glass bottles were thrown at a Royal Bank of Scotland branch. The marauders also attacked The Ritz near Green Park, where they smashed windows with bins and road signs.

UK Uncut, an anti-cuts direct action group, later occupied the Fortnum & Mason store in Piccadilly, claiming the firm had 'dodged' paying taxes.

Nine arrests were made and some police officers were injured.

The event, organised by the TUC, is believed to be the largest march since up to a million took to the streets in 2003 to oppose the war in Iraq. By 3pm, estimated participation was at 500,000.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said he 'bitterly regretted' the violence, adding that he hoped it would not detract from the massive anti-cuts protest.

'I don’t think the activities of a few hundred people should take the focus away from the hundreds of thousands of people who have sent a powerful message to the Government today,' he said.

'Ministers should now seriously reconsider their whole strategy after today’s demonstration. This has been Middle Britain speaking.'
I wonder. Does Middle Britain support becoming another Portugal?

Friday, March 25, 2011

And Now, A Word About Our Kinetic Action

It seems Obama feels the need to speak, after all:
To a nation and a Congress seeking answers, President Barack Obama on Monday will offer his most expansive explanation of the U.S. role in the Libyan war, delivering a speech that is expected to cover the path ahead and his rationale about the appropriate use of force.

Obama's 7:30 p.m. EDT speech, to be given from the National Defense University in Washington, comes as leading Republican lawmakers and some from his own party have pressed him for clarity about the goals and exit strategy of the United States. Obama and top U.S. security officials spent about an hour talking to lawmakers on Friday, with the president answering direct questions from critics.

For a president who was on a Latin American outreach trip when the U.N.-sanctioned military assault on the Libyan regime began, the speech offers him his best chance to explain the purpose and scope of the mission to a nation already weary of war. Obama has spoken about the matter since authorizing the use of force, but not in a setting as prominent as an evening speech, as he seeks to take command of the story.
I suppose it's good he's taking command of something, considering we'll still be doing most of the work.

Strange Bedfellows

Thinking of arming the rebels? You might want to think again:
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited "around 25" men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, are "today are on the front lines in Adjabiya".

Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters "are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists," but added that the "members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader".

His revelations came even as Idriss Deby Itno, Chad's president, said al-Qaeda had managed to pillage military arsenals in the Libyan rebel zone and acquired arms, "including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries".

Mr al-Hasidi admitted he had earlier fought against "the foreign invasion" in Afghanistan, before being "captured in 2002 in Peshwar, in Pakistan". He was later handed over to the US, and then held in Libya before being released in 2008.
It's always nice to know who your "Friends" are...

See No Smuggling

"Guns? What guns?"
President Obama said in an interview Friday that neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder had knowledge of a U.S.-based gun smuggling operation into Mexico, a Texas newspaper said.

The San Antonio Express-News reported Friday that the Mexican government has complained to the Obama administration about "Operation Fast and Furious," which aimed to track guns flowing across the border, after discovering its existence. But the president, in an interview with Hispanic network Univision, said his lack of knowledge about the operation is why he didn't discuss it with Mexican President Felipe Calderon when he visited Washington earlier this month.

"First of all I did not authorize it. Eric Holder, the Attorney General, did not authorize it. He’s been very clear that our policy is to catch gun runners and put them into jail," Obama told Univision, adding that the Justice Department's inspector general's office is looking into who authorized the operation.

"This is a pretty big government, the United States government. I got a lot of moving parts," Obama said in response to an inquiry that seemed to question how he could not know about the operation.
Sounds like plausible deniability to me...

Fair Bust

Welcome to the Obama economy:
A Massachusetts employment organization has canceled its annual job fair because not enough companies have come forward to offer jobs.

Richard Shafer, chairman of the Taunton Employment Task Force, says 20 to 25 employers are needed for the fair scheduled for April 6, but just 10 tables had been reserved. One table was reserved by a nonprofit that offers human services to job seekers, and three by temporary employment agencies.

Shafer tells the Taunton Daily Gazette the lack of employers means the task force won't have enough money to properly advertise the fair.
Maybe they're looking in the wrong place...

Hikacking The Revolution?

Is Egypt turning into another Iran?
In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.

It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the nonideological revolution are no longer the driving political force — at least not at the moment.

As the best organized and most extensive opposition movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to have an edge in the contest for influence. But what surprises many is its link to a military that vilified it.

“There is evidence the Brotherhood struck some kind of a deal with the military early on,” said Elijah Zarwan, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. “It makes sense if you are the military — you want stability and people off the street. The Brotherhood is one address where you can go to get 100,000 people off the street.”
It does sound like the military has made a devil's bargain with what was a fringe group to maintain order. These things typically don't end well.

We Bring Good Profits To Life

They told me that if McCain ran, we'd have an administration that only benefitted the wealthy, and they were right!
Over the last decade, G.E. has spent tens of millions of dollars to push for changes in tax law, from more generous depreciation schedules on jet engines to “green energy” credits for its wind turbines. But the most lucrative of these measures allows G.E. to operate a vast leasing and lending business abroad with profits that face little foreign taxes and no American taxes as long as the money remains overseas.

Company officials say that these measures are necessary for G.E. to compete against global rivals and that they are acting as responsible citizens. “G.E. is committed to acting with integrity in relation to our tax obligations,” said Anne Eisele, a spokeswoman. “We are committed to complying with tax rules and paying all legally obliged taxes. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our shareholders to legally minimize our costs.”

The assortment of tax breaks G.E. has won in Washington has provided a significant short-term gain for the company’s executives and shareholders. While the financial crisis led G.E. to post a loss in the United States in 2009, regulatory filings show that in the last five years, G.E. has accumulated $26 billion in American profits, and received a net tax benefit from the I.R.S. of $4.1 billion.

But critics say the use of so many shelters amounts to corporate welfare, allowing G.E. not just to avoid taxes on profitable overseas lending but also to amass tax credits and write-offs that can be used to reduce taxes on billions of dollars of profit from domestic manufacturing. They say that the assertive tax avoidance of multinationals like G.E. not only shortchanges the Treasury, but also harms the economy by discouraging investment and hiring in the United States.
Well, as Obama demonstrated in South America, the jobs and investment are elsewhere...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Winning The Past

Things have come full circle:
New rules allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades.

The move is one of the Obama administration's most significant revisions to rules governing the investigation of terror suspects in the U.S. And it potentially opens a new political tussle over national security policy, as the administration marks another step back from pre-election criticism of unorthodox counterterror methods.

Before becoming president, Mr. Obama had criticized the Bush administration for going outside traditional criminal procedures to deal with terror suspects, and for bypassing Congress in making rules to handle detainees after 9/11. He has since embraced many of the same policies while devising additional ones—to the disappointment of civil-liberties groups that championed his election. In recent weeks, the administration formalized procedures for indefinitely detaining some suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, allowing for periodic reviews of those deemed too dangerous to set free.
Meet the new rules, same as the old ones...

Explanations Not Necessary

As our time-limited operation ends its first week, Obama is holding off on explaining his war-that-isn't-a-war:
President Barack Obama is resisting pressure to deliver an Oval Office speech explaining his policy on Libya — in part, because he doesn’t want to equate what he regards as a smaller, time-limited mission with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Administration officials haven’t ruled out a big speech, but Obama is reluctant to make a major address on Libya until the United States hands over most command and combat duties to its allies.

That’s not to say the president won’t talk about Libya over the next few days, aides say, but he’s not likely to succumb to pressure to deliver a long, explanatory address to outline his elusive endgame to the nation until the path ahead becomes clearer.
He's got a point-so far, this isn't that big of a campaign-yet. Of course, that doesn't mean he's not getting ready for one. At any rate, he seems content-once again-to let others take the lead.

Be Careful What You Sue For

Heh. This is what happens when you get too greedy:
According to the Las Vegas Sun, Righthaven has scored what Ars Technica aptly describes as an "own goal": Not only did a Federal judge reject Righthaven's case against the non-profit Center for Intercultural Organizing, the judge also declared that non-profits may re-print entire articles from news outlets under certain circumstances.

The decision hinges on the portion of Fair Use law that declares that it's all right to re-distribute a piece of content as long as it doesn't hurt the market for the original content. In this case, there was virtually no possible overlap between the readership of the original piece (a Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper article) and the readers who would see the piece on the non-profit's website.

In seeking to reap maximum damages from as many defendants as possible Righthaven appears to have opened the floodgates to a kind of soft-infringement. For example, the argument could be made (but was not, apparently, in this case) that if any non-profit could reprint an entire article, rather than excerpting the article and linking to the original, this could actually constitute damage to the "market" for that article, in as much as it would reduce the number of pageviews that the original article received.

Clearly this was not the intention of Righthaven, but it raises the question: in its over-reaching, has the law firm set a precedent that could damage the ability of content creators and news gatherers to control how their works are used, and to achieve fair compensation for their distribution?
More here. Suffice it to say that relying on online ambulance chasers isn't a good way of protecting a legitimate business.

Baby, You Can Tax My Car

Oh, this is going to go over well:
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this week released a report that said taxing people based on how many miles they drive is a possible option for raising new revenues and that these taxes could be used to offset the costs of highway maintenance at a time when federal funds are short.

The report discussed the proposal in great detail, including the development of technology that would allow total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to be tracked, reported and taxed, as well as the pros and cons of mandating the installation of this technology in all vehicles.

"In the past, the efficiency costs of implementing a system of VMT charges — particularly the costs of users' time for slowing and queuing at tollbooths — would clearly have outweighed the potential benefits from more efficient use of highway capacity," CBO wrote. "Now, electronic metering and billing are making per-mile charges a practical option."

The report was requested by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who held a hearing on transportation funding in early March. In that hearing, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the Obama administration is hoping to spend $556 billion over the next six years, much of which would go to federal transportation improvement projects.

Conrad said in response that federal funds are tight, and in asking for recommendations on how to raise that money, he noted the possibility of a VMT tax as a way to solve the problem of collecting less in taxes as people move to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"Do we do gas tax?" Conrad asked. "Do we move to some kind of an assessment that is based on how many miles vehicles go, so that we capture revenue from those who are going to be using the roads who aren't going to be paying any gas tax, or very little, with hybrids and electric cars?"
Don't give the green lobby any ideas. But there's a slight catch:
On how to implement the idea, CBO said it is unclear how much it would cost to "install metering equipment in all of the nation's cars and trucks."

"Having the devices installed as original equipment under a mandate to vehicle manufacturers would be relatively inexpensive but could lead to a long transition; requiring vehicles to be retrofitted with the devices could be faster but much more costly, and the equipment could be more susceptible to tampering than factory-installed equipment might be," CBO said.
And, on one final note of concern:
CBO did acknowledge that privacy concerns may be a hurdle to implementing a VMT tax because electronic tracking of miles driven might provide too much personal information to the government. However, CBO noted that some have proposed restricting the information that would be transmitted to the government.
Well, we all know how successful that's been in the past, don't we?

Lock'd After Dawn

So here's President Obama, locked out of his own house:

I'd hate to think it was an omen for 2013...

The Taxman Cheateth

Fraud? At the IRS? No way!
Fourteen people, including an Internal Revenue Service employee, have been charged with using the federal credit for first-time homebuyers to commit tax fraud, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said today.

The defendants, most of them from Massachusetts, were charged in multiple indictments related to filing false tax returns linked to the federal credit that was launched in 2008 in an attempt to stimulate the flailing housing market. The credit, which was extended and expanded over time, offered first-time homebuyers up to $8,000 off their tax bill if they purchased a home before last September.

One of those charged is a long-time IRS agent, Michael Doyle, of New Hampshire. He allegedly falsely claimed that he bought a home in 2008 to qualify for the credit, but actually purchased the property in 2007, Ortiz's office said. Doyle, 44, could not immediately be reached for comment, and an IRS official could not say whether Doyle still works for the federal agency.

Two other defendants, Junior Lopez of Southbridge, and Christopher Proe of Michigan, allegedly filed more than 50 fraudulent tax returns, receiving about $500,000 in refunds, prosecutors said. Proe and Lopez also could not immediately be reached for comment.

"It is critically important that taxpayers who play by the rules do not end up paying for refunds to people who commit fraud and blatantly lie on the forms submitted to the IRS,'' Ortiz said in a prepared statement.
You do have to be vigilant against the culture of corruption...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Obamacare Undone?

Heh. First he wants a waiver for his state (see below.) Now, this:
On the one-year anniversary of the historic healthcare reform law, at least one Democratic congressman disagrees with his party’s prevalent opinion and believes the U.S. Supreme Court may well strike down the law’s individual mandate as unconstitutional.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) doesn't see the debate over the Obama administration's healthcare reform law going away anytime soon, and concedes that things may go unfavorably for the law, at least in part, when challenges to it eventually reach the Supreme Court.

In a conference call Wednesday, Weiner said he expected Republicans and Democrats to continue to debate the law during the presidential campaign and throughout 2012.

“I don't believe that this debate is going away," Weiner said. "I think that if Democrats believe that it's going to go away, they're wrong, and I don't represent the hide under your desk wing of the Democratic Party. I think we've got to go forward into this."

Weiner repeated a statement he made earlier Wednesday at the Center for American Progress: He expects the Supreme Court to eventually hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the Obama administration's law and uphold the challenge.

"I think there's a pretty good chance that the Supreme Court will strike down the mandate," Weiner said.
Maybe we won't have to wait for Mitt Romney, after all. A waiver for all?

The Gray Curtain

A good question:
Does The Times really think the mass audience is going to decide their $455/year is better spent on The Times rather than getting 20+ free articles/month from The Times plus The Wall Street Journal ($207/year) plus The Economist ($110/year) plus say The Daily ($39/year) for good measure, and still having ~$100 left over each year?

Worse, their payment plans are more complicated than any of the others listed. John Gruber has assessed the numerous drawbacks of payment complexity in some detail.

Heck, even the URL for their payment plans is more complicated than anyone else’s:

Here’s what The Times doesn’t seem to get: sooner or later readers are going to cancel their print subscriptions and go digital. The Times’ pricing scheme is only going to encourage them to go with someone else’s digital.
It does sound more like another failed attempt to protect their declining print empire from the online barbarians than an attempt to gain new readers.

Trump's Call

Never one to let a fringe issue go to waste, the Donald goes there:
Real estate mogul Donald Trump called on President Barack Obama Wednesday to produce his birth certificate and prove he was born in the United States.

"I want him to show his birth certificate. I want him to show his birth certificate," Trump said on ABC's "The View." "There's something on that birth certificate that he doesn't like."

The potential 2012 presidential candidate said Obama was "probably" born in the U.S., but repeated questions he raised last week about the president's childhood.

"If you go back to my first grade, my kindergarten, people remember me. Nobody from those early years remembers him," Trump said. "If you're going to be president of the United States, it says very profoundly you have to be born in this country."
The birther conspiracy is so 2009. Donald, stick to firing people.


Another reporter suddenly goes incoherent:

Fortunately, he seems to be OK. Maybe a case of telemprompteritis malfunctionis?

Journalism Ain't Easy

Things are tough all over:
Kevin Provencher, 52, former sports writer for the Union Leader in Manchester, N.H. was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for running a prostitution ring in a Massachusetts hotel.

Prosecutors said Provencher set up a website looking for prostitutes and advertised on Craigslist. On the site he indicated the business was being run by women. Authorities say two women discovered that he was running the business and that he would have sex with women, then hire them, according to CBS station WBZ's report.

Prosecutors also said Provencher would run background checks on people who responded to the ads to make sure they weren't undercover police officers. Then he would rent a room at a hotel have the women make arrangements to meet men, reports the station.

Hotel management became suspicious of him and contacted police. Provencher was arrested at his home in July 2009. Police believe he operated the business for about a year.
He was keepin' it real for the fourth estate, yo!

Plotting And Planning

George Soros is having a little get-together:
On April 8, a group he's funded with $50 million is holding a major economic conference and Soros's goal for such an event is to "establish new international rules" and "reform the currency system." It's all according to a plan laid out in a Nov. 4, 2009, Soros op-ed calling for "a grand bargain that rearranges the entire financial order."

The event is bringing together "more than 200 academic, business and government policy thought leaders' to repeat the famed 1944 Bretton Woods gathering that helped create the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Soros wants a new 'multilateral system," or an economic system where America isn't so dominant.

More than two-thirds of the slated speakers have direct ties to Soros. The billionaire who thinks "the main enemy of the open society, I believe, is no longer the communist but the capitalist threat" is taking no chances.

Thus far, this global gathering has generated less publicity than a spelling bee. And that's with at least four journalists on the speakers list, including a managing editor for the Financial Times and editors for both Reuters and The Times. Given Soros's warnings of what might happen without an agreement, this should be a big deal. But it's not.

What is a big deal is that Soros is doing exactly what he wanted to do. His 2009 commentary pushed for "a new Bretton Woods conference, like the one that established the post-WWII international financial architecture."
It must be nice to be rich enough to "Change" the system that got you that way...

Manhattan Overture

As Obamacare "Celebrates" its first anniversary, yet another waiver may be in the works:
Rep. Anthony Weiner said Wednesday he was looking into how a health law waiver might work for New York City.

Weiner, who is likely to run for mayor of New York, said that because of the city’s special health care infrastructure, his office was looking into alternatives that might make more sense. Weiner is one of the health care law’s biggest supporters; during the debate leading up to reform, he was one of the last holdouts in Congress for the public option.

“The president said, ‘If you have better ideas that can accomplish the same thing, go for it,’” said Weiner. “I’m in the process now of trying to see if we can take [President Barack Obama] up on it in the city of New York, … and I’m taking a look at all of the money we spend in Medicaid and Medicare and maybe New York City can come up with a better plan.”

New York is one of two states that pass on Medicaid expenses to cities and localities, so “the city winds up having an enormous Medicaid expense,” Weiner said.

The congressman was trying to debunk Republican “myths” about the health care law during a speech at the Center for American Progress. He used the waivers as way to describe how flexible the law actually is and how “this notion that the government is shoving the bill down people’s throats” is not true.

“The administration needs to make this argument more forcefully,” he said. “A lot of people who got waivers were … people who are our friends.”

The New York Democrat said that he does not have the power to get the city to apply for a waiver but that he is “personally looking at whether he can make the numbers work.”
So, are those who have always been opposed to Obamacare now "Flexible?" Or is that still just reserved for one's "Friends?"

Exit Strategy

It seems we don't have one:
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday there was no "timeline" for when UN-backed military operations in Libya would end, and that the outcome of the conflict remained unclear.

Speaking during a visit to Cairo, Gates said the UN Security Council resolution that authorised a no-fly zone was "not time-limited" and that it was unrealistic to expect military action to be over in a matter of weeks.

"So I think that there is no current timeline in terms of when it might end," Gates told reporters.
In the meantime, Gaddafi is marching on, while Germany is pulling out. Back on the homefront, Democrats are trying to rally support. And some of them seem surprisingly gung ho this time around. Others on the other side, not so much. So what does this mean for the Democrats? Ultimately, that acting like the guy they kept criticizing might not be such a good idea.

Remembering An Icon

It's very rare that word is used in Hollywood anymore, but Elizabeth Taylor deserves the honor. Meanwhile, she'd probably enjoy this:
In a twist, the New York Times obituary for Elizabeth Taylor was written by a reporter who is now dead.

Mel Gussow, whose byline appears on the Taylor obit, died six years ago. Gussow was a longtime theater critic and worked for the Times for 35 years. He died at the age of 71 of cancer.

Newspapers and magazines commonly have the obituaries for notable people prepared well in advance of their deaths. The roughly 4,000 word obit on Taylor was “too good to throw away,” said Bill McDonald, obituaries editor for the Times, via e-mail.


Nate Chinen, an arts writer and frequent contributor to the Times, tweeted about the Taylor article: “It must be every icon’s dream to outlive her obituary writer.”
Critics are only temporary; legends last forever. Speaking of people who deserved to die long before her...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Revolutionaries For Hire

A former union goon gets caught on tape explaining how to start a revolution:
A former official of one of the country's most-powerful unions, SEIU, has a secret plan to "destabilize" the country.

The plan is designed to destroy JP Morgan, nuke the stock market, and weaken Wall Street's grip on power, thus creating the conditions necessary for a redistribution of wealth and a change in government.

The former SEIU official, Stephen Lerner, spoke in a closed session at a Pace University forum last weekend.

Lerner's plan is to organize a mass, coordinated "strike" on mortgage, student loan, and local government debt payments--thus bringing the banks to the edge of insolvency and forcing them to renegotiate the terms of the loans. This destabilization and turmoil, Lerner hopes, will also crash the stock market, isolating the banking class and allowing for a transfer of power.

Lerner's plan starts by attacking JP Morgan Chase in early May, with demonstrations on Wall Street, protests at the annual shareholder meeting, and then calls for a coordinated mortgage strike.

Lerner also says explicitly that, although the attack will benefit labor unions, it cannot be seen as being organized by them. It must therefore be run by community organizations.

Lerner was ousted from SEIU last November, reportedly for spending millions of the union's dollars trying to pursue a plan like the one he details here.
Apparently the other union thugs weren't as interested in outright revolution as he was. After all, they're thugs for profit-which they wouldn't get if there wasn't a system to harrass and intimidate.

More Than Their Fair Share

So, it seems that the rich do pay more in America, in spite of Michael Moore's complaints. Meanwhile:
The United States is on a fiscal path towards insolvency and policymakers are at a "tipping point," a Federal Reserve official said on Tuesday.

"If we continue down on the path on which the fiscal authorities put us, we will become insolvent, the question is when," Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher said in a question and answer session after delivering a speech at the University of Frankfurt. "The short-term negotiations are very important, I look at this as a tipping point."

But he added he was confident in the Americans' ability to take the right decisions and said the country would avoid insolvency.

"I think we are at the beginning of the process and it's going to be very painful," he added.
Well, maybe more for some than for others...

Take My War-Please

So who's running this war, anyway?
President Barack Obama, seeking to avoid getting bogged down in a war in another Muslim country, said on Monday Washington would cede control of operations against Muammar Gaddafi's forces within days, handing the reins over to NATO.

But Germany and European allies remain unwilling to have NATO take on a military operation that theoretically has nothing to do with the defence of Europe.

Today the German defence ministry announced Berlin had pulled out of any military operations in the Mediterranean.

A ministry spokesman said two frigates and two other ships with a crew of 550 would be reverted to German command.

Some 60 to 70 German troops participating in NATO-operated AWACS surveillance operations in the Mediterranean would also be withdrawn, according to the ministry.

France, which launched the initial air strikes on Libya on Saturday, has argued against giving the U.S.-led NATO political control over an operation in an Arab country, while Turkey has called for limits to any alliance involvement.

In a bid to halt the embarrassing bickering, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe today proposed a new war committee to oversee operations.

The new body, Mr Juppe said, would bring together foreign ministers of participating states - such as Britain, France and the U.S. - as well as the Arab League.
War by committee? Meanwhile, the goalposts already seem to be changing. And so the Nobel Prize laurate muddles through...

Communists Are from Venus

At least, that's what Hugo Chavez seems to think:
Capitalism may be to blame for the lack of life on the planet Mars, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday.

"I have always said, heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet," Chavez said in speech to mark World Water Day.

Chavez, who also holds capitalism responsible for many of the world's problems, warned that water supplies on Earth were drying up.

"Careful! Here on planet Earth where hundreds of years ago or less there were great forests, now there are deserts. Where there were rivers, there are deserts," Chavez said, sipping from a glass of water.
Capitalism must have killed the dinosaurs, too. Because, you know, they had a greenhouse environment and stuff.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Drill, Senorita, Drill

Obama does support oil drilling, after all. Just not here:
In a speech at the CEO Business Summit in Brazil’s capital on Saturday, Obama said that the South American nation’s heightened focus on offshore drilling makes it an attractive future source of energy to the U.S.

“We want to help with technology and support to develop these oil reserves safely, and when you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers,” the President said. “At a time when we’ve been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy.”
But, it would seem that we already have such a source. If we weren't ticking them off instead, that is...

Don't Read Their Lips

Are some Republicans really considering the kiss of death?
A few prominent GOP lawmakers believe they will have to raise some tax revenue if they are to bring Democrats along on a bipartisan compromise to address the U.S.'s long-term fiscal problems. Many Democrats want higher taxes to cover at least part of future budget gaps. That has led to clashes between Republican lawmakers and a Washington advocacy group, Americans for Tax Reform, the self-appointed keeper of the party's anti-tax flame.

Grover Norquist, the group's president, said he has "sent up a flare" against placing trust in Democrats, given how bipartisan agreements, including the one struck by then-President Bush in 1990, eventually unraveled. Those tax increases took effect as scheduled, but Democrats didn't always deliver on promised spending cuts, Mr. Norquist said.

Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), one lawmaker targeted by Mr. Norquist's group, is having none of it. "These fights ... help raise money for interest groups, but they don't do anything for solving problems," he said.

It's a delicate subject for Republicans as they seek agreement with Democrats on reducing deficits while remaining true to their small-government principles.

As budget talks progressed this year, Mr. Norquist warned the senators in a letter that agreeing to a similar deal "would most likely be a violation" of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge. Mr. Coburn and his allies said they would support a tax overhaul only if it raised revenue by accelerating economic growth.

In recent comments, Mr. Coburn upped the ante, attacking Americans for Tax Reform's bona fides as a tax-and-budget watchdog. Mr. Coburn assailed the group's past support for a widely criticized tax credit for producers of ethanol, an alternative motor fuel, dismissing the measure as "corporate welfare."

In an interview, the Oklahoma senator said conservatives who promote the GOP's no-new-taxes orthodoxy have been "disingenuous" by simultaneously pushing specific tax breaks and other measures that have added to deficits. Mr. Norquist said his group opposed revoking the ethanol measure unless it was offset with another tax break, because that would constitute a net tax increase. He said that is the purpose of the group's pledge, which dates from the mid-1980s.

"The [no-new-taxes] pledge does not protect any deduction or credit, period," Mr. Norquist added.

At a recent conference in Washington, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a possible 2012 presidential candidate, joined the fray, warning against allowing dogma to get in the way of a budget deal. "Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers," Mr. Daniels said.
Daniels has a point, and in general it's one that I agree with. But there are different ways of committing political suicide, and going back on one of your biggest campaign promises is one of them. Just ask Barack Obama, or George Bush Senior.

Obama Ghraib

Obama now has his own war scandal:
Commanders in Afghanistan are bracing themselves for possible riots and public fury triggered by the publication of "trophy" photographs of US soldiers posing with the dead bodies of defenceless Afghan civilians they killed.

Senior officials at Nato's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul have compared the pictures published by the German news weekly Der Spiegel to the images of US soldiers abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq which sparked waves of anti-US protests around the world.

They fear that the pictures could be even more damaging as they show the aftermath of the deliberate murders of Afghan civilians by a rogue US Stryker tank unit that operated in the southern province of Kandahar last year.

Some of the activities of the self-styled "kill team" are already public, with 12 men currently on trial in Seattle for their role in the killing of three civilians.

Five of the soldiers are on trial for pre-meditated murder, after they staged killings to make it look like they were defending themselves from Taliban attacks.

Other charges include the mutilation of corpses, the possession of images of human casualties and drug abuse.

All of the soldiers have denied the charges. They face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.

The case has already created shock around the world, particularly with the revelations that the men cut "trophies" from the bodies of the people they killed.

An investigation by Der Spiegel has unearthed approximately 4,000 photos and videos taken by the men.
Said photos are here. Attempts at damage control and the revelation that these guys were druggies here. Needless to say, this is not good.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Sleeping Toxic Dragon

So where's Al Gore, et al, on this?
Prevailing winds across the Pacific are pushing thousands of tons of other contaminants--including mercury, sulfates, ozone, black carbon, and desert dust--over the ocean each year. Some of this atmospheric junk settles into the cold waters of the North Pacific, but much of it eventually merges 
with the global air pollution pool that circumnavigates the planet.

These contaminants are implicated in a long list of health problems, including neurodegenerative disease, cancer, emphysema, and perhaps even pandemics like avian flu. And when wind and weather conditions are right, they reach North America within days. Dust, ozone, and carbon can accumulate in valleys and basins, and mercury can be pulled to earth through atmospheric sinks that deposit it across large swaths of land.

350 million people, equivalent to the entire U.S. population, will be moving to its cities over the next 10 years. China now emits more mercury than the United States, India, and Europe combined. "What's different about China is the scale and speed of pollution and environmental degradation," Turner says. "It's like nothing the world has ever seen."
There are worse things than nuclear power and oil. Unchecked industry being run by materialistic communists is one of them.

SEIU In Court

Hopefully this will only be the first of many:
In a press release issued Thursday, Sodexo USA announced that the company has filed a civil lawsuit against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act., accusing the union of engaging in an “illegal campaign of extortion.” The lawsuit representing Sodexo is Hunton & Williams – the same firm SEIU and its allies have accused of launching a “dirty tricks” campaign against them in retaliation for their anti-Chamber of Commerce campaigns.

One of the largest food services and facilities management companies in the world, Sodexo is the provider of choice for most schools, universities, companies, hotels, prisons and other facilities that outsource their cafeteria and food catering operations, and for those that outsource industrial cleaning services. SEIU has been incessantly battering Sodexo since 2007, in its desire to unionize some of its nearly 400,000 employees, many of them hotel and food service workers. Exacerbating the tensions was a longstanding turf war between SEIU and UNITE HERE over hotel and casino workers, which often spilled over into SEIU’s antics prior to the settlement the warring unions reached this past summer.

Sodexo USA has filed the lawsuit in an attempt to halt the over-the-top harassment from SEIU, alleging that many of the acts are very serious and outside of the normal realm of union tactics, including acts of ” SEIU blackmail, vandalism, trespass, harassment, and lobbying law violations designed to steer business away from Sodexo USA and harm the company.”
Really, the only way to deal with thugs and bullies is to stand up to them...

Dark Waters

Not again:
The U.S. Coast Guard says there is some sort of substance in the water in the Gulf of Mexico, and officials are collecting samples to determine what it is, according to The Associated Press.

Coast Guard spokeswoman Casey Ranel says the agency is sending out a cutter Sunday to collect samples of the substance, the AP reports. Ranel says an airplane is also expected to fly over so officials can get a better idea of what’s in the water.

A press release sent Saturday night said the Coast Guard was investigating reports of an oil sheen in the Gulf. The Coast Guard says there is a substance in the water, though officials have yet to determine what it is.

Ranel says dredging had been going on not far away at the mouth of the Mississippi River, and it's possible the substance is silt dredged from the bottom, according to The Associated Press.
If it is oil, that won't be good. Stay tuned...

Not In Their Name

A coalition of the usual suspects is speaking out:
Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Mike Capuano (Mass.), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Rob Andrews (N.J.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during that call, said two Democratic lawmakers who took part.

Kucinich, who wanted to bring impeachment articles against both former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over Iraq — only to be blocked by his own leadership — asked why the U.S. missile strikes aren’t impeachable offenses.

Kucinich also questioned why Democratic leaders didn’t object when President Barack Obama told them of his plan for American participation in enforcing the Libyan no-fly zone during a White House Situation Room meeting on Friday, sources told POLITICO.

And liberals fumed that Congress hadn’t been formally consulted before the attack and expressed concern that it would lead to a third U.S. war in the Muslim world.
Of course, this is putting other liberals in a quandary, while the Old Guard is aghast, again. Meanwhile, those who were for it are now already against it. Nobody ever said being sheriff was easy...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

You Aren't What You Can't Eat

The elite meets the street:
The Federal Reserve has been on a media campaign to sell its monetary policy to average Americans, but this hasn't always gone smoothly. Witness last week's visit to Queens, New York, by New York Fed President William Dudley, who got a street-corner education in the cost of living.

The former Goldman Sachs chief economist gave a speech explaining the economy's progress and the Fed's successes, but come question time the main thing the crowd wanted to know was why they're paying so much more for food and gas. Keep in mind the Fed doesn't think food and gas prices matter to its policy calculations because they aren't part of "core" inflation.

So Mr. Dudley tried to explain that other prices are falling. "Today you can buy an iPad 2 that costs the same as an iPad 1 that is twice as powerful," he said. "You have to look at the prices of all things."

Reuters reports that this "prompted guffaws and widespread murmuring from the audience," with someone quipping, "I can't eat an iPad." Another attendee asked, "When was the last time, sir, that you went grocery shopping?"
Shopping is for little people! Who increasingly can't afford it.

Bloggin' In The Years: 2003

Time's up:
President Bush ordered the beginning of a war on Iraq tonight, and his spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said at about 9:45 p.m. Eastern time that American forces had begun to disarm Iraq and would depose Saddam Hussein.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Bush told the nation in a televised address that ``this will not be a war of half-measures.''

``We will accept no outcome but victory,'' the president declared.

The announcement of the start of the war came 10 minutes after word of the attack came from Baghdad, where the American airstrike began, just before first light at 5:35 a.m. local time on Thursday. The first signs were an air raid siren followed by antiaircraft fire and loud explosions over the city that appeared to be bombs. The antiaircraft fire appeared to be ineffective, striking at low altitude over the city.

At least one impact was visible about a half mile from the Rashid Hotel in central Baghdad, throwing a great cloud of dust into the air.

The initial round of explosions took place over about 10 minutes and was followed by a lull. The first traffic of the day racing down the highway appeared to be drivers fleeing the attack.

``The opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun,'' Mr. Fleischer said in a brief news conference on television tonight.
So now it begins. I have every confidence in our armed forces to dislodge the dictator. But what happens then?

Who Cancelled The Kennedys?

The man behind the Kennedys miniseries explains that it wasn't them:
“If anyone has known my work for the last 25, 30 years, I’m not agenda-ized, I’m not even a political writer. I’m an agnostic filmmaker, I’m an agnostic writer. I go where the story is. It really felt like discrimination to me at the end of the day. I have no problem with the Kennedys. The Kennedys are absolutely in their right to want to protect their family as they see fit. It’s when the people who are inside our business, the ones making decisions who bend to that and cave to that, even when there is nothing valid about the objections being leveled against us, you have to start thinking about discrimination and censorship.

“The people who canceled this had the opportunity to see all 8 episodes. This wasn’t about the [Kennedy family], these are the people on the corporate board above the History Channel. Again, don’t look at the Kennedys. The Kennedys have very little to do with this. They can’t cancel a miniseries. The only people who can cancel it are the people at the highest corporate levels.”

A spokesman for A&E TV Networks, which owns History, would not comment other than to refer to the company’s original position on the miniseries: “While the film is produced and acted with the highest quality, after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand. We recognize historical fiction is an important medium for storytelling and commend all the hard work and passion that has gone into the making of the series, but ultimately deem this as the right programming decision for our network.”
It was the network executives on the grassy knoll...

Backseat Warriors

Concerns over what appears to be America's new role in warfare:
So far, the US is just one partner. Could it remain as that--perhaps, as the Pentagon might prefer, even a junior partner--if the allies have to start shooting? That would be a very strange posture for the US: engaged in a military intervention that Washington is not directing. I wonder what the US public would make of it. Perhaps it is a sign of things to come: the difference that Obama makes; a US that goes along to get along; the kind of America the world thinks it wants, sometimes. Alternatively, it might be a formula for disaster. In any event, it's new.

For now, there's another problem. The resolution does not quite marry with the tone of British, French, and US officials talking as though they have taken sides with the rebels in their struggle against Gaddafi--a just cause, needless to say, if there ever was one. The resolution did not put the international community on the rebels' side in Libya's civil war. Emphasizing the protection of civilians, it called for a ceasefire, and the Libyan government has announced its compliance. Suppose this is genuine. Do we now police a partition that leaves Gaddafi in charge of most of the country? Or suppose it is a feint, the allies strike against the regime, and the struggle turns the rebels' way. What does protecting civilians require then?
At that point, it may no longer be possible to just hang back. And then...what?

Guitar Man

R.I.P., Jet Harris:
Born Terence Harris in London, the guitarist got his biggest break in 1958 when he was on tour with the Most Brothers.

On the same bill as Cliff Richard and the Drifters, he later joined the group permanently and made his recording debut on Sir Cliff's third single Livin' Lovin' Doll.

In 1959, Harris was credited with coming up with the group's new name, The Shadows, and they went on to have a string of hits including Man of Mystery, The Savage and Wonderful Land.

In 1962, he left the band and had two top 30 solo hits with Besame Mucho and The Man With The Golden Arm.

He also formed a duo with ex-Shadows drummer Tony Meehan, producing the number one hit Diamonds in 1963 and scoring top five songs with Scarlett O'Hara and Applejack.

After a quiet period, Harris began touring again in the late 1970s and continued to tour intermittently around Europe for the subsequent 20 years.
He never became as big in the States as some of his contemporaries did. But here he is in his prime:

Traveling The Uncharted Online Waters Of The Amazon

Why is battling it out with some states over state taxes:
With states across the country facing drastic budget shortfalls, officials are trying to capture billions of dollars in uncollected sales taxes they say Amazon should be collecting and remitting to the states. But as long as Quill remains on the books, the states are going to encounter fierce resistance from the company.

“The ultimate solution for the states is to get the Supreme Court to overturn that precedent, because that decision was really designed for a different economy and a different time, pre-internet,” David Brunori, executive editor of Tax Analysts and an expert in state tax law, told “Barring that, we’re going to see many years of states looking for loopholes as they go after these internet companies to try to force them to collect the tax.”

At present, Amazon only collects sales taxes in a small number of states, including Washington, where the company is based. Naturally, Amazon is fiercely guarding its ability to avoid collecting taxes in most states, because that ability gives it a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Now, 19 years after Quill, several large states, including California, Texas and Illinois have begun asserting that Amazon does, in fact, maintain an in-state physical presence, either through distribution centers, or so-called “affiliates,” which are in-state organizations that partner with Amazon. New York has been making this argument for years.

“Amazon will go to a boy scout troop in the Bronx and say, ‘You want to raise some money? Have people buy stuff through, using a code, and we’ll kick some percentage of the sale back to your Boy Scout troop,’” said Brunori. “Amazon was doing this very successfully around the country, because it was a great method of market penetration.”

“What the states said was, ‘That’s just like having a physical presence in the state.’ And Amazon said, ‘Well, no not really,’” Brunori continued. “This has not been decided from a legal perspective, and most people think it will ultimately wind up in the Supreme Court.”
So, how far will the states get with this? Maybe not much:
Over the last decade, there’s been a growing movement around the Streamlined Sales Tax project to bring uniformity and clarity to state tax laws across the country. But there’s a rub: thanks to the Supreme Court’s Quill decision, “until Congress acts, states cannot currently require sellers to collect and remit sales tax unless the seller has a physical presence in the state,” according to the Streamlined Sales Tax project.

“I think it is a great idea, but it’s very unlikely to come to fruition because it’s been going on for 10 years and they’re no closer today than they were five years ago to making this work,” Brunori said.

Furthermore, in the current political climate, given the current leadership of Congress, it is highly unlikely the lawmakers will go anywhere near anything that has the words “tax” involved.

“There’s really no incentive for any member of Congress to put out a bill saying, ‘Hey, let’s make everybody subject to internet sales tax,’” Brunori said. “They’ll never do it. It’s not going to happen.”
Of course, that won't stop guys like the Illionois governor-who seems intent on driving as much business away from his state as possible-from continuing to try. After all, everybody needs windmills to tilt at.

The Final Junket

Remembering the Quiet Man:
Though widely admired for his even-handedness and equanimity — he was once described as every husband’s ideal for a wife’s divorce lawyer — Mr. Christopher was accused by detractors of lacking passionate, big-picture diplomatic vision. Even friends and associates, to whom he was known as Chris or sometimes as “the Cardinal,” said they could not discern a guiding geopolitical philosophy, regarding him more a consummate tactician than a conceptualizer.

“If we were in a meeting on a crisis,” said a one-time State Department official who worked with him, “no one would turn to Chris and say, ‘You put together the strategy memo.’ But everyone would want him to read it because he’d be very good at implementing it,” The Times reported when he was named secretary of state.

Mr. Christopher appeared not to disagree. “My task had been to serve as steward, not proprietor, of an extraordinary public trust,” he wrote in “Chances of a Lifetime: A Memoir,” published in 2001.
The diplomat takes his final journey...R.I.P. Warren Christopher.

The Last Refuge Of A Conspiracy Theory

When all else in the lawyers: The DNC is alleging, in a complaint filed in federal district court in Manhattan, that top Trump ...