Thursday, June 30, 2011

Adios, Amazon

So California decided to tax Amazon. And, as expected, Amazon said, "See ya!"
Amazon has already emailed its termination of its affiliate advertising program with 25,000 websites. The letter says, in part:

(The bill) specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers - including but not limited to those referred by California-based marketing affiliates like you - even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.


We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that we must take this action.


The new law won't affect customers, Amazon said, but added that the immediate termination of the affiliate program also applies to endless.com, myhabit.com and smallparts.com.
As for those businesses themselves:
Amazon affiliate Keith Posehn, owner of zorz.com in San Diego, said he had affiliate advertising agreements with more than 70 companies and these programs were 35% of his company revenue before the California legislature passed a similar bill last year. Then-Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed that bill.

"We got 70 termination letters in one night before he vetoed it," Posehn said. After that, he started changing his business away from affiliate advertising and has started a new mobile application company.

"I have pitched investors and several question the wisdom of staying in California," Posehn said. "Some venture capitalists are very keen on placing startups outside California because start-up costs are less."
Of course, anyone who knows anything about business could have said, "I told you so." Unfortunately, that doesn't include California's esteemed political leadership.

Kahn Collapse

The case against DSK is in trouble:
The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that he attacked her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.

Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.

Since her initial allegation on May 14, the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.

Senior prosecutors met with lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn on Thursday and provided details about their findings, and the parties are discussing whether to dismiss the felony charges. Among the discoveries, one of the officials said, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who is Guinean, and possible links to criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.
....

The revelations are a stunning change of fortune for Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, who was considered a strong contender for the French presidency before being accused of sexually assaulting the woman who went to clean his luxury suite at the Sofitel New York.

Prosecutors from the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who initially were emphatic about the strength of the case and the account of the victim, plan to tell the judge on Friday that they “have problems with the case” based on what their investigators have discovered, and will disclose more of their findings to the defense. The woman still maintains that she was attacked, the officials said.

“It is a mess, a mess on both sides,” one official said.
Of course, this doesn't mean that he's necessarily innocent. But still...more to come, I'm sure.

Tapped Out

Well, that didn't take long:
Oil prices have surged in the last few days and are now less than a dollar from where they were when President Obama made the controversial decision to tap the nation's strategic reserve last Thursday.

On Thursday, West Texas Intermediate crude edged lower to $94.27 a barrel. But that's still nearly $5 higher than last week, when prices fell over 4% following the oil release announcement.
So, did the release really mean anything? Probably not:
The amount of oil contracts that 60 million barrels generates is tiny compared to the amount of oil contracts that are traded on the world's financial markets every day, said Tim Evans, a futures analyst at Citigroup.

"The futures and options markets trades that in an hour," said Evans. "The only fundamentals that matter are the ones that the paper market decides that matter."

Evans noted that oil prices jumped 2% Wednesday, partly on the back of a report showing a 4.4 million barrel drop in U.S. commercial oil inventories.

"The market is saying that a 4.4 million barrel decline is more important than 60 million barrels being released," he said, also noting that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have agreed boost production by an additional 1 million barrels a day.

"I'm not saying anyone in particular is that bad at math, but that's the implied logic of the marketplace, and it's not rational."
It is if we're not using more of our own reserves instead of relying on band-aid solutions like this. But I guess the Obama administration is more comfortable with losing money to "Speculators..."

Phreaks Not Wanted

The Westboro whackjobs won't be back:
Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-gay Topeka congregation known for protesting military funerals, has sent guest speakers to FBI training sessions, the bureau said.

But church members won’t be welcome in the future.

The sessions were designed to teach younger FBI agents and law-enforcement officers around the country how to deal with groups they strongly disagree with, said church member Timothy Phelps, who spoke at some of the sessions.

According to National Public Radio, which first reported the story, the bureau won’t invite the congregation back.

The Associated Press quoted an unnamed FBI official who said the bureau underestimated how Westboro Baptist’s involvement would be viewed.
....

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said Westboro was invited “in an effort to establish open dialogue in an academic setting to train law enforcement on how to more effectively engage with the activist community.”

In the future, there will be additional layers of review or approval before an outside speaker is invited, an unnamed official told the AP.
After this fiasco, one would hope so...

Old Folks' Obamacare

For all the scare tactics from Democrats that Republican plans to scale back or do away with Obamacare will send Grandma over a cliff, it turns out that Obamacare will actually cost seniors more if they paid their own way:
To see how the Social Security wrinkle would work, consider a hypothetical example of two neighbors on the same block.

They are both 62 and have the same income of $39,500 a year. But one gets all his income from working, while the other gets $20,000 from part-time work and $19,500 from Social Security.

Neither of them gets health insurance on the job. Instead, they purchase it individually.

Starting in 2014, they would get their coverage through a new online health insurance market called an exchange. Millions of people in the exchanges would get federal tax credits to make their premiums more affordable. Less-healthy consumers could not be charged more because of their medical problems.

The neighbor who is getting Social Security would pay an estimated $206 a month in premiums.

Half of his income from Social Security, or $9,750, would not be counted in figuring his federal health insurance tax credit. On paper, he would look poorer. So he would get a bigger tax credit to offset his premiums.

But the neighbor who makes all his income from work would not be able to deduct any of it. He would pay $313 for health insurance, or about 50 percent more.

The estimates were produced using an online calculator from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

The disparities appear to be even greater for married couples and families in which at least one member is getting Social Security. With a bigger household, both the cost of coverage and the federal subsidies involved are considerably larger.

The glitch seems to be the result of an effort by Congress to make things simpler. Lawmakers decided to use the definition of income in the tax code, which protects Social Security benefits from taxation.

"The practical effect is if more of your income is in the form of Social Security benefits, you are going to be eligible for bigger tax credits in the exchange," said Chapin White, a senior researcher at the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change.
....

Medicare's top number-cruncher is warning that up to 3 million middle-class people in households that get at least part of their income from Social Security could suddenly become eligible for nearly free coverage through Medicaid, the federal-state safety net program for the poor. Chief Actuary Richard Fosters says that situation "just doesn't make sense."
Unfortunately, if you're advocating that everyone be on a government plan, it makes perfect sense...

Stimulus Fail

Not too surprisingly, the stimulus didn't actually work:
The Federal Reserve's massive stimulus program had little impact on the U.S. economy besides weakening the dollar and helping U.S. exports, Federal Reserve Governor Alan Greenspan told CNBC Thursday.

In a blunt critique of his successor, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Greenspan said the $2 trillion in quantative easing over the past two years had done little to loosen credit and boost the economy.

"There is no evidence that huge inflow of money into the system basically worked," Greenspan said in a live interview.

"It obviously had some effect on the exchange rate and the exchange rate was a critical issue in export expansion," he said. "Aside from that, I am ill-aware of anything that really worked. Not only QE2 but QE1."

Greenspan’s comments came as the Fed ended the second installment of its bond-buying program, known as QE2, after spending $600 billion. There were no hints of any more monetary easing—or QE3—to come.
In the wake of this not so stunning news, is it any wonder Geithner is thinking of calling it quits? I guess even he knows when this administration isn't serious about spending.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Obamacare Wins One

An appeals court makes its decision:
In the first ruling by a federal appeals court on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, a panel in Cincinnati handed the administration a victory Wednesday by agreeing that the government can require a minimum amount of insurance for Americans.

A Republican-appointed judge joined with a Democratic appointee for the 2-1 majority in another milestone for Obama’s hotly debated signature domestic initiative — the first time a Republican federal court appointee has affirmed the merits of the law.

The White House and Justice Department hailed the panel’s affirmation of an earlier ruling by a federal court in Michigan; opponents of the law said challenges will continue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Which is apparently what the court wanted. Apparently, even the ruling judges had questions about the law's scope:
Reagan-appointed Judge James Graham, the lone dissenter in the Sixth Circuit decision, was most emphatic about the unprecedented nature of the health care law.

“The mandate is a novel exercise of Commerce Clause power,” Graham wrote. “No prior exercise of that power has required individuals to purchase a good or service.”

Even the Carter-appointed Judge Boyce Martin conceded in his opinion upholding the law that, “The Supreme Court has never directly addressed whether Congress may use its Commerce Clause power to regulate inactivity, and it had not defined activity or inactivity in this context.”

Though he ultimately voted to uphold the law too, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, an appointee of President George W. Bush, separately acknowledged that those challenging it raised a “compelling” point about whether the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to regulate inactivity.

“The court, for one, has never considered the validity of this type of mandate before, at least under the commerce power,” Sutton wrote.
That seems to be where this issue is headed. Now, on to the Supremes.

Give Conservatism A Chance

John Lennon, a Reagan fan?
John Lennon was a closet Republican, who felt a little embarrassed by his former radicalism, at the time of his death - according to the tragic Beatles star's last personal assistant.
....

"He'd met Reagan back, I think, in the 70s at some sporting event... Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young (peace) demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that... He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.

"I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who's an old-time communist... He enjoyed really provoking my uncle... Maybe he was being provocative... but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

"He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he'd been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy's naivete."
Some are saying not so fast. But then again, Lennon always seemed to be his own man, unlike so many of today's "Shut up and sing" types.

Desert Cold War

Is a new arms race emerging in the Middle East?
A senior Saudi Arabian diplomat and member of the ruling royal family has raised the spectre of nuclear conflict in the Middle East if Iran comes close to developing a nuclear weapon.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, warned senior Nato military officials that the existence of such a device "would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences".

He did not state explicitly what these policies would be, but a senior official in Riyadh who is close to the prince said yesterday his message was clear.

"We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don't. It's as simple as that," the official said. "If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit."
Scary talk, but it's not as if Iran has felt any reason to be deterred...

Barack And The Jets

So now Obama has decided to go after so-called jet-setters. There's just one thing:
The problem is that most of the people that would be subject to the higher taxes the president wants aren’t likely to be private-jet owners. Someone earning $250,000 a year–among those scheduled for a tax increase in 2012–is unlikely to afford a jet–or even a few charter trips on a jet.

For those, like the president, who may not be well-versed in Jetonomics, here are some of the basics. The numbers come courtesy of Jay Duckson at Central Business jets:

COST OF BUYING A JET

New Citation CJ (entry level jet)–$5 million. Annual operating costs (fuel, hangar space, pilots) about $500,000.

Cheapest Used Jet–$100,000 to $500,000. Annual operating costs (hangar, pilots, mechanics, fuel) about $1 million a year.

COSTS OF CHARTERING A JET

Typical charter–$3,000 an hour

It is possible, of course, that someone earning $250,000 a year might spend 5% to 10% of their annual income on a single flight by chartering, in which case we could call them “corporate-jet fliers.” But it is unlikely. Even more unlikely is someone earning $250,000 a year paying $500,000 to $1 million a year to operate a jet–even if they received it free.
Or they got a tax break for one...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Greening Of Education

It's now official: In Maryland, in order to graduate from high school, you have to go green.
The new rule is a regulation from the State Board of Education, not a law passed by the legislature, so it lays out no specifics. Governor Martin O'Malley offers no real details but praises it, saying it will "infuse core subjects with lessons about conservation and smart growth and the health of our natural world."

O’Malley also said it'll serve as a "foundation for green jobs," though one analyst says training for those is just like it is for any other job.

"You need to know how to get there on time, how to be alert, how to work hard, how to absorb a lot of information, how to - you know - learn new skills," says Myron Ebell of free market think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute."

The state education board leaves all content up to local school boards and a state official says "local systems will implement the requirement as they see fit."
In other words, it's a mostly symbolic feel-good gesture that doesn't really mean anything. Kind of like many college diplomas...

Doctors Without Shoppers

A plan to use "Mystery shoppers" on doctors has been put on hold:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has decided against using "mystery shoppers" to investigate whether primary care physicians are accepting or rejecting new patients depending on the type of insurance they have.

"After reviewing feedback received during the public comment period, we have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project," an HHS official said in a statement.

Instead, according to the statement, the government would focus on improving access to primary care in other ways, including an emphasis on training new practitioners and encouraging providers to practice in underserved areas. The Obama administration is also working on a plan to offer better payments to providers.

The original government proposal describing the program said staff from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation would call 4,185 primary care physicians in nine states and pose as prospectdive new patients, saying they had either private or public insurance. The purpose would be to determine if the doctors' willingness to accept new patients depended on the type of insurance.
....

The American Medical Association was strongly against the government's proposal.

"We know there is a physician shortage in this country that will only grow worse as more people enter Medicare and coverage is expanded to those currently uninsured," said Dr. Cecil Wilson, the AMA's immediate past president. "The government should be working to address this shortage so all patients can have access to the health care they need, rather than using mystery shoppers to tell us what we already know."

"Patients don't want the federal government sneaking around, trying to manipulate their doctors," said Richard Saltman, professor of health policy and management at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta.
I guess the Obama administration thought nobody would notice. They were wrong.

Gungate Goes Forward

What did Eric Holder know and when did he know it?
The head of the embattled federal agency that combats gun trafficking has agreed to talk with Senate investigators, a potentially important breakthrough as Congress tries to determine whether higher-ups in the Obama administration knew about a controversial sting that let assault weapons flow across the border into Mexico’s drug wars.

The testimony—expected next month from Kenneth Melson, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—was brokered as part of a deal between Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and the committee’s top Republican, Iowa's Charles Grassley. Grassley and his fellow Republicans were given full access to ATF documents, Melson, and other key witnesses; and in return, Grassley agreed to release three Obama administration nominees he had been blocking, according to correspondence obtained by NEWSWEEK and THE DAILY BEAST.
....

Holder, the attorney general, has denied knowing about the controversial ATF sting, which ran from November 2009 to February 2011, and he has ordered an internal investigation. President Obama has said he believes serious mistakes may have been made. Since the controversy erupted this spring, ATF and federal prosecutors have been ordered to stop all guns flowing to straw buyers. Frontline ATF agents have testified they strongly objected to the agency’s decision to “let guns walk,” meaning allowing straw buyers to buy guns with ATF’s knowledge and letting the weapons leave federal monitoring without being interdicted, the normal practice. Cooperating gun dealers also expressed concerns about the tactic.
It's as if the Obama administration had an anti-gun agenda, and were trying to use the ATF to promote it, or something...

When Lefties Attack

Glenn Beck, recounting what happened to him during what was supposed to be a night out with his family:



"Someone kicked a cup of wine intentionally onto my wife's back," Beck said. "As my daughter went to use the restroom, some guy stood up and pointed his finger and said, 'we hate conservatives here!'"

Beck said he believes things could have been much worse for his family if they had lost their cool.

"I swear to you I think, if I had suggested, and I almost did, “Wow, does anybody have a rope? Because there’s tree here. You could just lynch me.' And I think there would have been a couple in the crowd that would have,” Beck said.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Spy Doctor

Citizen spies, your government wants you:
Alarmed by a shortage of primary care doctors, Obama administration officials are recruiting a team of “mystery shoppers” to pose as patients, call doctors’ offices and request appointments to see how difficult it is for people to get care when they need it.

The administration says the survey will address a “critical public policy problem”: the increasing shortage of primary care doctors, including specialists in internal medicine and family practice. It will also try to discover whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away those in government health programs that pay lower reimbursement rates.
.....

Plans for the survey have riled many doctors because the secret shoppers will not identify themselves as working for the government.

“I don’t like the idea of the government snooping,” said Dr. Raymond Scalettar, an internist in Washington. “It’s a pernicious practice — Big Brother tactics, which should be opposed.”

According to government documents obtained from Obama administration officials, the mystery shoppers will call medical practices and ask if doctors are accepting new patients and, if so, how long the wait would be. The government is eager to know whether doctors give different answers to callers depending on whether they have public insurance, like Medicaid, or private insurance, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Dr. George J. Petruncio, a family doctor in Turnersville, N.J., said: “This is not a way to build trust in government. Why should I trust someone who does not correctly identify himself?”

Dr. Stephen C. Albrecht, a family doctor in Olympia, Wash., said: “If federal officials are worried about access to care, they could help us. They don’t have to spy on us.”
Unfortunately, the officials seem to feel otherwise.

Blago Busted

It happened earlier this afternoon. I missed it because I was at the hospital, but apparently Blago is quite shocked by it all:
A federal jury Monday convicted Rod Blagojevich of sweeping corruption, putting an end to a tragicomic legal and political drama that brought downIllinois’ showy and would-be populist former governor.

In its 10th day of deliberations, the 11-woman, one-man jury convicted Blagojevich of several shakedown attempts, including allegations that he brazenly tried to sellPresident Barack Obama’s oldU.S. Senate seat in 2008. The decisive verdict came less than a year after the first jury to hear the case found him guilty of one criminal charge but deadlocked on the rest.

The new jury had no such reservations, finding Blagojevich guilty on 11 criminal counts related to the Senate seat and six counts involving fundraising shakedowns of a hospital executive and racetrack owner.

The verdict could lead to a lengthy prison term for Blagojevich, normally a hard-to-silence talking machine who defied legal convention after his arrest and kept a high media profile. But Monday, as he left court with his wife, Patti, Blagojevich was nearly tongue-tied.

“I, frankly, am stunned,” said Blagojevich, who was barred after the verdict from traveling outside northern Illinois without court permission. “There's not much left to say other than we want to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and try to sort things out.”
Daddy's going away for a few centuries, kids...

The Playing Field Stays

Campaign fiance reform has been dealt another setback:
A closely divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down an Arizona law that allows the state to level the financial playing field for candidates running against wealthy opponents, a decision that advocates of tighter campaign finance regulation describe as a blow to efforts to limit the influence of money on politics.

The high court’s 5-4 decision was a victory for conservative business groups that challenged the constitutionality of an Arizona law giving publicly financed candidates additional subsidies for every dollar that privately financed opponents raised over state spending limits.

At least a half dozen states, plus New York City and San Francisco, have similar laws, according to the Campaign Legal Center.

The decision was not a surprise, given the justices' skeptical questioning of the Arizona law's legal underpinnings during oral arguments earlier this year. But to campaign finance reformers, it represents the latest step in what they fear is the gradual unwinding of a regulatory system that dates back to the Watergate scandals of the 1970s.

Chief Justice John Roberts read the Court's majority opinion, which was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. The majority concluded that the "substantial burden" the Arizona law places on the First Amendment rights of candidates and independent spending groups who opt out of public financing outweighs any interest in helping candidates combat better-funded opposition.

"We have repeatedly held that leveling the playing field is not a legitimate government function," Roberts said.
Real fairness comes from genuine competition, not the government-enforced model-which could be just as corruptible despite the efforts of well-intentioned "Reformers." Favoritism is not fair play.

Gutsy Time

Barack Obama, man of action:
In the first two years of Obama's presidency, his top aides had grown accustomed to a process in which Obama drew out and explored the views of his full team and searched for a consensus — decision by ballot, some called it.

Increasingly, however, that process has changed, according to a wide group of Obama's personal friends, informal advisors and top aides interviewed during the spring. In recent months, they say, the president has been relying more heavily on his own instincts and feeling less impelled to seek accord among advisors.

The change, which came into view with the Egypt decision in February, was vividly on display in the meetings that led to the decision to send a team of Navy SEALs to raid Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

The success of the Bin Laden raid reinforced Obama's security in his own judgments, aides said.

"I think he reached a point where he had to trust his instincts, and there was nothing left to inform his decision except to do that," said one advisor who is intimately familiar with the president's thinking on foreign policy matters and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"And he saw that trust borne out in what happened. … To make that risky a judgment based not just on your instincts but on your experience as commander in chief, and have it succeed, does something important psychologically that's hard to quantify."
In other words...he really is acting (or, in his case, reacting) like Bush. Ignoring Congress, and now his own advisors...so will we see Stephen Colbert skewering him the way he did at the White House Correspondents' Dinner now?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Trojan Economy

As goes Greece, so goes the EU?
Twelve years on from the birth of the euro, as the EU prepares to lend more billions to Greece after an initial €110bn failed to do the trick, serious figures in the European debate now believe the euro's crisis could cause the entire EU project to implode. Sir Stephen Wall, Britain's ambassador to Brussels under John Major and Tony Blair – and no kneejerk Eurosceptic – declared recently that the EU was "on the way out". He added: "After all, very few institutions last for ever." A decade ago he could never have predicted he would say such a thing.

On Wednesday, the Greek parliament will vote on a new package of austerity cuts and sweeping economic reforms. If the vote is in favour, the EU will press ahead with its next bailout. No one is sure, however, whether pumping in more EU money will be enough to prevent Athens from defaulting on its massive debts. The fear is that it will not be, and that a Greek default will cause Portugal, Ireland and even Spain to do the same. The effects of that would be appalling, destroying the credit of banks across Europe and further afield that are exposed to Greek debt, wrecking their ability to lend, and landing the default insurance market across the globe with untold costs.
If that's the case, not even the Chinese may be able to help. Heck, even George Soros is now admitting what may be inevitable. In other words, Keynesian economics is dying in the Old World. Unfortunately, it's still very much alive here.

This Is An Ex-Commandante?

Just what is going on with Hugo Chavez, anyway?
The normally verbose leader has not been seen in public since a June 10 operation in Cuba to remove a pelvic swelling. His long absence has prompted widespread speculation he may be seriously ill, possibly being treated for prostate cancer.

His government insists Chavez is fine but says he won't return to Venezuela until he is ready. And it has accused his opponents of "rubbing their hands together" in glee.

"President Chavez is recovering well from his surgery. His enemies should stop dreaming and his friends should stop worrying," Vice Foreign Minister Temir Porras said on the social networking site Twitter late on Saturday.

"The only thing that has metastasized is the cancer of the Miami Herald and the rest of the right-wing press."

Porras was referring to a report in the Nuevo Herald, the Miami Herald's Spanish-language sister paper, on Saturday that cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying Chavez was in "critical condition" at hospital in Havana.

A senior U.S. official cast doubt on that report, telling Reuters that Washington was hearing lots of speculation about Chavez's health but had no firm intelligence.

"The fact is, we just don't know," the official said.
Curiouser and curiouser. I do wonder if this will give Michael Moore second thoughts about endorsing Cuba's health care system...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hizzonor Speaks

Remember Ray Nagin? Well, he has a new book out about his experiences during Hurricane Katrina:
The book recounts many anecdotes familiar to New Orleanians: Nagin’s discovery at Zephyr Field in Jefferson Parish shortly after the storm of mountains of relief supplies; his first helicopter tour of the flooded city; his shower on Air Force One; his rescue of his daughter’s pet, Fishy.

Among the more shocking revelations is the former mayor’s account of the evening of Aug. 30, 2005. Nagin writes that he and his top aides were in the Hyatt’s fourth-floor command center when about 20 men entered, “dressed in black combat outfits and adorned in bulletproof vests, rifles, and leg straps holding at least two very large handguns each.

“Their presence was shocking, menacing, bizarre, and surreal,” he writes, adding that one barked out: “‘We’re here to protect the mayor. Everybody else get out.’”

The armed men wouldn’t say who sent them or why, though Nagin surmises they may have worked for mega-defense contractor Blackwater. “If they were here to protect me, I sure did not feel that as my gut told me there was another agenda at play, and it clearly did not have our best interests at heart, period,” he writes.

The guards managed to access Nagin’s 27th-floor suite and install “all kinds of wires” they claimed were “for a satellite connection.” Ultimately, though, their efforts were thwarted when “Greg (Meffert) and crew stopped (them) cold,” Nagin writes, referring to his former chief technology officer.

“And after several rounds of going back and forth, our unwelcome visitors got the message that we were not going to allow them to take over or gain access to my room to plant bugging devices.”

Nagin also worried about becoming a target of sinister forces after his famous Sept. 1, 2005, rant on WWL-AM, which the former mayor writes was prompted by reports that Blanco and U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter had bragged “about how well things were going,” even as evacuees continued to suffer at the Superdome and Convention Center.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m a dead man! I have just publicly denounced the governor, U.S. Senators, FEMA and the president of the United States,’” he writes. “I started wondering if during the night I would be visited by specially trained CIA agents. Could they secretly shoot me with a miniature, slow-acting poison dart?

“As my dad often told me, ‘Be careful your mouth doesn’t write a check your butt can’t cash.’ I was convinced my mouth had just gotten me into a whole lot of trouble,” he writes.
I guess he's lucky that nobody cared enough about him to make the attempt, then...

Payment Board Pushback

Who are the latest evil right-wingers to come out against a key part of Obamacare? No less a group than the American Medical Association:
The nation's largest doctors group this week formally called for the repeal of a key plank in the Democrats' health care overhaul -- a new board tasked with reining in the growth of Medicare.

The so-called Independent Payment Advisory Board was one of several "defects" in the law that representatives of the American Medical Association voted against at their annual meeting in Chicago.

The organization, which offered its qualified support for the health care overhaul before final passage last spring, named the Medicare board at the top of its list of "needed changes" in the law.
....

At the annual meeting, the AMA's House of Delegates also called for medical liability reform and other changes in the context of the health care law.

The Coalition to Protect Patients' Rights hailed the move, saying the board would "be given unprecedented power to cut billions of dollars from the Medicare program and has virtually no oversight."

But the AMA stopped far short of calling for a repeal of the health care law as a whole. In fact, the group reaffirmed its support for the law's controversial "individual mandate" requiring Americans to obtain health insurance.

"The AMA's policy supporting individual responsibility has bipartisan roots, helps Americans get the care they need when they need it and ends cost shifting from those who are uninsured to those who are insured," AMA President Cecil B. Wilson said in a statement.

The group also reaffirmed support for other key provisions in the law, including insurance market regulation and subsidies for high-risk patients.
Even so, the fact that the AMA is challenging part of the law is saying something. It would say even more if Obama was willing to listen.

Non-Recovery Summer

I suppose this means that bad economic news can now be "Expected":
A drumbeat of disappointing data about consumer behavior, factory sales and weak hiring in recent weeks has prompted economists to ratchet down their 2011 economic forecasts to as little as half what they expected at the beginning of the year.

Two months ago, Goldman Sachs projected that the economy would grow at a 4 percent annual rate in the quarter ending in June. The company now expects the government to report no more than 2 percent growth when data for the second quarter is released in a few weeks.

Macroeconomic Advisers, a research firm, projected 3.5 percent growth back in April and is now down to just 2.1 percent for this quarter.

Both these firms, well respected in their analysis, have cut their forecasts for the second half of the year as well. Then this week, the Federal Reserve downgraded its projections for the full year, to under 3 percent growth. It started the year with guidance as high as 3.9 percent.

Two years into the official recovery, the economy is still behaving like a plane taxiing indefinitely on the runway. Few economists are predicting an out-and-out return to recession, but the risk has increased, with the health of the American economy depending in part on what is really “transitory.”
When you have expectations that are too high, you're bound to be disappointed...

Stuck In A Moment

U2, long known for their philanthropy and idealistic intentions, isn't feeling the love from everyone these days:
As U2 took to the stage, activists from Art Uncut inflated a 20-foot balloon bearing the words "U Pay Your Tax 2," according to the UK's Press Association. But security guards reportedly wrestled them to the ground before deflating the balloon and removing it.
....

Art Uncut said Bono was hypocritical in campaigning about poverty while seeking to reduce the amount he paid in taxes. "Bono is well known for his anti-poverty campaigning but tax avoidance by multi-national companies and rich individuals is a massive problem for the developing world," the group's spokesman Steve Taylor told CNN.

"The developing world, which Bono professes to care so much about, loses more through tax avoidance each year than it receives in aid. By moving their business abroad, Bono is very much a part of that problem. There is an element of hypocrisy here."

"U2 are avoiding paying millions of euros in tax. This comes at a time when the people of Ireland are experiencing extremely harsh cuts in their public services, among the harshest in Europe. The money that's nestling in U2's bank account really should be helping to offset some of the pain that the Irish are experiencing at the moment.

"We realize that Bono has done some good stuff on poverty but I don't think he realizes how much of a problem tax avoidance is for the people of Ireland and for those in the developing world."
In all fairness to U2, considering what taxes have led to in England, can you really blame Bono for not "paying his fair share?"

Meeting Of The Like-Minded

It's transparency, sort of:
Former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, former technology executive Bernard Schwartz and banking executive James Staley were among 30 well-connected figures in the business and finance world who met with President Barack Obama at the White House in March for an unusual economic discussion organized by the Democratic National Committee.

The White House released the names on Friday under a policy Obama instituted in 2009 to disclose nearly all White House guests approximately three months after they visit.

The March 7 meeting in the Blue Room of the residence has drawn attention and criticism because most of the attendees were donors or fundraisers and the session was arranged by the DNC. Good-government advocates said hosting the event at the White House was ill-advised.

“There’s a pretty clear line — or there should be a clear line,” Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, which presses for tighter controls on campaign finance, recently told POLITICO. “I don’t have a problem with the president inviting Wall Street people to the White House to discuss policy, but why does it need to be DNC-sponsored? I think that’s what raises the eyebrows. Even if it’s not a fundraiser, it’s a cultivation.”
Cronyism is like a garden. It has to be grown...

New York Express

Gay marriage is now legal in the Empire State:
Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. Four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate who supported the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.
An important moment to be sure, but perhaps more telling was this:
With his position still undeclared, Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo who had sought office promising to oppose same-sex marriage, told his colleagues he had agonized for months before concluding he had been wrong.

“I apologize for those who feel offended,” Mr. Grisanti said, adding, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is the same rights that I have with my wife.”
It should be noted that four Republicans broke ranks with their party over this, while religious exemptions still apply. This is the way democracy works.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Just One More Question..."

Remembering Peter Falk:
We watched…no, we adored…Peter Falk’s Columbo because he was us: an everyman, working class, messy, and imperfect, dealing with the physical and domestic woes we know so well, and constantly underestimated by wealthier, better-educated people as a result.

Yes, Columbo was brilliant, as outrageously so as Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. But thanks to Falk’s humanity and humor, his pitch-perfect performance and shrewd choices, he made Columbo more than a character to us and much more than a collection of colorful quirks. He made him a living, breathing person.
Of course, Mr. Falk is known for more than just his portrayal of the rumpled but sharp as a tack detective:



R.I.P.

Slicker Than Oil

Tim Geithner insists it was an act of necessity:
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner defended the decision by industrialized nations to release emergency oil reserves into global energy markets, saying on Friday that it was not a political move.

"It's really as simple as this: there's a war in Libya, costs between one and two million barrels a day in lost output, I think 140 million barrels off the market so far," he said in response to a question at Dartmouth College, where he spoke on a panel.

"Reserves exist to help mitigate those kinds of disruptions and we helped to organize a coordinated global international response to help ease some of that pressure," he added.
Of course, we already have plenty of reserves in the ground-if the Obama administration and the EPA didn't keep trying to declare them off limits...

Battle Lines

They've been drawn in Washington (sort of):
Challenging presidential power, a defiant U.S. House voted overwhelmingly Friday to deny President Barack Obama the authority to wage war against Libya. But Republicans fell short in an effort to actually cut off funds for the operation in a constitutional showdown reflecting both political differences and unease over American involvement.

In a repudiation of their commander in chief, House members rejected a measure to authorize the Libya mission for a year while prohibiting U.S. ground forces in the North African nation, a resolution Obama had said he would welcome.

The vote was 295-123 with 70 Democrats abandoning the president just one day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had made an unusual appeal to rank-and-file members. A Senate committee is to consider the same resolution next Tuesday and is expected to support it, raising the prospect of conflicting messages from Congress.
So, it wasn't a total cutoff. But I guess this means the majority know whose side they're on.

What's The Secrecy, Kenneth?

It looks like things are going to get interesting in the Gunwalker case:
The acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is strongly resisting pressure to step down because of growing controversy over the agency's surveillance program that allowed U.S. guns to flow unchecked into Mexico, according to several federal sources in Washington.

Kenneth E. Melson, who has run the bureau for two years, is reportedly eager to testify to Congress about the extent of his and other officials' involvement in the operation, code-named Fast and Furious.

Melson does not want to be "the fall guy" for the program, under which ATF agents allowed straw purchasers to acquire more than 1,700 AK-47s and other high-powered rifles from Arizona gun dealers, the sources said. The idea was to track the guns to drug cartel leaders. But that goal proved elusive, and the guns turned up at shootings in Mexico, as well as at the slaying in Arizona of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in December.

"He is saying he won't go," said one source close to the situation, who asked for anonymity because high-level discussions with Melson remained fluid. "He has told them, 'I'm not going to be the fall guy on this.'"
Will he name names? I would imagine that some people at Justice are squirming right now...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Avoiding Shrinkage, Government Style

Tim Geithner tries to explain the logic (or lack thereof) of the Obama administration's tax plan:
“We're not doing it because we want to do it, we're doing it because if we don't do it, then, again, I have to go out and borrow a trillion dollars over the next 10 years to finance those tax benefits for the top 2 percent, and I don't think I can justify doing that,” said Geithner.

Not only that, he argued, but cutting spending by as much as the “modest change in revenue” (i.e. $1 trillion) the administration expects from raising taxes on small business would likely have more of a “negative economic impact” than the tax increases themselves would.

“And if we were to cut spending by that magnitude to do it, you'd be putting a huge additional burden on the economy, probably greater negative economic impact than that modest change in revenue,” said Geithner.
But, as has been pointed out by others in the past, it's the spending that's the problem, not the revenue. For the record, here's the video of the exchange that prompted Geithner's response:

Flying The Anti-Semetic Skies

This story was first reported by WorldNetDaily, so naturally it was somewhat difficult to take seriously. But there seems to be some truth behind the rumors:
Earlier today some Jewish and Christian readers in the blogosphere were fired up about stories that Delta Airlines, in its new alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines, might wind up enforcing a Saudi policy of not admitting Iraelis and non-Islamic religious items like Bibles on their flights.
....

Jewish leader Rabbi Irwin Kula was wary about inflaming concerns on this, saying he knows many professionals who are very open about their Jewish religious identity who fly to Saudi Arabia all the time for business.
Delta's official response can be found here. The Kingdom does seem to have a history of this, however. One would think, as they have bigger fish to fry in Yemen and Bahrain, that they'd want to stay on America's good side over this. We'll see.

O.J. And O

The Juice, now willing to confess?
O.J Simpson has confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he murdered his former wife, it has been reported.

The talk show host made headlines recently saying that one of her regrets was never having got the shamed former sportsman to confess to the killing.

And it appears her wish may well have come true with reports Simpson has already told one of her producers in an interview from jail that he knifed ex-wife Nicole in self-defence - a confession he will now repeat to the talk show queen during a spectacular televised sit down interview.

The chat, which would be held in prison, would be a huge coup for Oprah, whose network, OWN, has suffered a massive hit in ratings recently.
Is he crazy-or crazy like a fox, knowing that he can't be tried for the same crime twice and that said "confession" will air on a little-watched network? Or, with his reputation long since gone down the proverbial toilet, he feels he has nothing left to lose by coming clean? It's certainly an odd way to try and get some closure on the "Trial of the Century."

Dutch Free Speech Treat

A Dutch politician wins one:
Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders was acquitted of inciting hatred of Muslims in a court ruling on Thursday that may strengthen his political influence and exacerbate tensions over immigration policy.

The case was seen by some as a test of free speech in a country which has a long tradition of tolerance and blunt talk, but where opposition to immigration, particularly from Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries, is on the rise.

Instantly recognizable by his mane of dyed blond hair, Wilders, 47, is one of the most outspoken critics of Islam and immigration in the Netherlands.

His Freedom Party is now the third-largest in parliament, a measure of support for its anti-immigrant stance, and is the minority government's chief ally. But many of Wilders' comments -- such as likening Islam to Nazism -- are socially divisive.

The presiding judge said Wilders's remarks were sometimes "hurtful," "shocking" or "offensive," but that they were made in the context of a public debate about Muslim integration and multi-culturalism, and therefore not a criminal act.

"I am extremely pleased and happy," Wilders told reporters after the ruling. "This is not so much a win for myself, but a victory for freedom of speech. Fortunately you can criticize Islam and not be gagged in public debate."
Not yet, at least...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Southbound

It's time for another story on the "Great Migration Reversal," this time from the NY Times, which has apparently finally discovered the trend:
About 17 percent of the African-Americans who moved to the South from other states in the past decade came from New York, far more than from any other state, according to census data. Of the 44,474 who left New York State in 2009, more than half, or 22,508, went to the South....

The movement is not limited to New York. The percentage of blacks leaving big cities in the East and in the Midwest and heading to the South is now at the highest levels in decades, demographers say....

“New York has lost some of its cachet for black people,” [said Spencer Crew, a history professor at George Mason University who was the curator of a prominent exhibit on the Great Migration at the Smithsonian Institution]. “During the Great Migration, blacks went north because you could find work if you were willing to hustle. But today, there is less of a struggle to survive in the South than in New York. Many blacks also have emotional and spiritual roots in the South. It is like returning home.
....

The Rev. Floyd H. Flake, pastor of the 23,000-member Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens, said he was losing hundreds of congregants yearly to Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

“For decades, Queens has been the place where the African-American middle class went to buy their first home and raise a family,” Mr. Flake said. “But now, we are seeing a reversal of this as African-Americans feel this is no longer as easy to achieve and that the South is more benevolent than New York.”
Not to mention, as other transplanted Yankees have discovered, a heck of a lot cheaper and more business-friendly, much to the chagrin of the folks at the NLRB...

Coming Home

Obama's speech on Afghanistan:



Maybe he doesn't want to be remembered as the President who actually escalated the war, or perhaps he saw which way the wind was blowing. At any rate, the first wave of troops are coming home...just in time for the election. Be that as it may, the endgame in Afghanistan has clearly begun.

Climate Pocket Change

At NASA, it seems you can never be too gullible, or too rich:
The NASA scientist who once claimed the Bush administration tried to "silence" his global warming claims is now accused of receiving more than $1.2 million from the very environmental organizations whose agenda he advocated.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., a group claims NASA is withholding documents that show James Hansen failed to comply with ethics rules and financial disclosures regarding substantial compensation he earned outside his $180,000 taxpayer-paid position as director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

"Hansen's office appears to be somewhat of a rogue operation. It's clearly a taxpayer-funded global warming advocacy organization," said Chris Horner, a co-founder of The American Tradition Institute, which filed the lawsuit. "The real issue here is, has Hansen been asking NASA in writing, in advance, for permission for these outside activities? We have reason to believe that has not been occurring."

The lawsuit claims Hansen privately profited from his public job in violation of federal ethics rules, and NASA allowed him to do it because of his influence in the media and celebrity status among environmental groups, which rewarded him handsomely the last four years.
....

Federal rules prohibit government employees from receiving certain types of income outside their job. Employees are required to file Form 17-60 in writing before any outside activity. And annually, they're required to submit Form SF 278, after receiving outside compensation.
Forms are for little people! Who says propaganda doesn't pay?

A Banker Without A Clue

In the wake of more "Unexpected" bad economic news, Ben Bernanke finally admits what many have thought all along:
In his second post-FOMC press conference, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke touched on every topic, admitting that the recovery was weaker than expected and that beyond temporary factors like supply chain disruptions in Japan and high energy prices, he was at a loss as to what was causing the soft patch. In a Q&A session with reporters, Bernanke said a disorderly default in Greece would have significant effects on the U.S. economy, while adding that the Fed still had several tools at its disposal to pump up the economy.
....

Brutally honest, Bernanke admitted that he had no clue what was actually causing the current fragility in the U.S. economic recovery. While the FOMC statement assigned blame outside of the U.S., pointing at Japan along with rising food and oil prices, Bernanke was put on the spot by a reporter who noted the inconsistency behind that explanation and a lowering of long term forecasts. Bernanke took the hit, admitting only some of the factors were temporary and that he didn’t know exactly what was causing the slowdown, but that it would persist. “Growth,” said Bernanke, “will return into 2012.”
Of course, in lieu of having any other response, the Democrats always have their solution. Meanwhile, maybe a little prayer is in order at this point...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nannystating? It's Grrrreat!

Unless, of course, you're the target of the Food Police:
Tony the Tiger, some NASCAR drivers and cookie-selling Girl Scouts will be out of a job unless grocery manufacturers agree to reinvent a vast array of their products to satisfy the Obama administration’s food police.

Either retool the recipes to contain certain levels of sugar, sodium and fats, or no more advertising and marketing to tots and teenagers, say several federal regulatory agencies.

The same goes for restaurants.

....

Food industries are in an uproar over the proposal written by the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The most disturbing aspect of this interagency working group is, after it imposes multibillions of dollars in restrictions on the food industry, there is no evidence of any impact on the scourge of childhood obesity,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers.
Needless to say, the Obamas themselves don't seem to practice what they preach, but when have they ever?

Medicaid For All

Heh. Isn't this part of what Obama actually wanted?
President Barack Obama's health care law would let several million middle-class people get nearly free insurance meant for the poor, a twist government number crunchers say they discovered only after the complex bill was signed.

The change would affect early retirees: A married couple could have an annual income of about $64,000 and still get Medicaid, said officials who make long-range cost estimates for the Health and Human Services department.

After initially downplaying any concern, the Obama administration said late Tuesday it would look for a fix.
Considering the way the economy's going, the middle class might soon qualify for the original thing...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fly The Thieving Skies

Forget about rising rates. The real thieves are in the TSA:
In 2009, a TSA screener at Newark Liberty International Airport by the name of Pythias Brown was sentenced to three years in federal prison on multiple counts of grand larceny. Known to eBay buyers as “Alirla,” Brown had run the largest one-man theft ring in the short history of the Transportation Security Administration, netting an estimated $400,000 via the resale of stolen high-priced electronics.

And even Brown represents just the tip of the iceberg. According to TSA records, press reports, and court documents, Brown is just one of some 500 TSA officers who have been fired or suspended for stealing from passenger luggage since the agency’s creation in November of 2001. The airports servicing New York City—John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty—harbor the most flagrant offenders, but virtually no city in the nation is safe from the TSA’s sticky fingers.

In 2009, a half dozen TSA agents at Miami International Airport were charged with grand theft after boosting an iPod, bottles of perfume, cameras, a GPS system, a Coach purse, and a Hewlett Packard Mini Notebook from passengers’ luggage. Travelers passing through the airport’s checkpoints reported as many as 1,500 items stolen, the majority of which were never recovered.

In May of this year alone, TSA agents were arrested on the suspicion of theft at airports in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
I guess legitimate seizures just haven't been as profitable...

"We Don't Need No Stinkin' Budget"

Umm, okay:



Apparently the Democrat in question doesn't mind the prospect of us turning into Greece. But there's apparently enough money for advertising, so there's nothing to worry about, right?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Life Issues

Hmm. First Mitt Romney won't sign the pledge. Now, this from Herman Cain:
"I support right-to-life issues unequivocally and I adamantly support the first three aspects of the Susan B. Anthony pledge involving appointing pro-life judges, choosing pro-life cabinet members, and ending taxpayer-funded abortions.

However, the fourth requirement demands that I 'advance' the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. As president, I would sign it, but Congress must advance the legislation.

I have been a consistent and unwavering champion of pro life issues.

In no way does this singular instance of clarification denote an abandonment of the pro-life movement, but instead, is a testament to my respect for the balance of power and the role of the presidency."
Either the Republican tent really has gotten bigger, or a segment of the Party's "Base" just got a lot more marginalized. Either way, it's good to see Republican candidates who won't pander to the religious right on every issue.

The Wary And The Weary

Robert Gates, on hindsight:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, as he prepared to depart the government for the second time, said in an interview on Friday that the human costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had made him far more wary about unleashing the might of the American armed forces.

“When I took this job, the United States was fighting two very difficult, very costly wars,” Mr. Gates said. “And it has seemed to me: Let’s get this business wrapped up before we go looking for more opportunities.”

“If we were about to be attacked or had been attacked or something happened that threatened a vital U.S. national interest, I would be the first in line to say, ‘Let’s go,’ ” Mr. Gates said. “I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just much more cautious on wars of choice.”

Most recently, he expressed major reservations about American intervention in Libya.
I guess this makes him one of those isolationists. So, what is Gates' legacy?
“He’ll be remembered for making us aware of the danger of over-reliance on military intervention as an instrument of American foreign policy,” said former Senator David L. Boren, who, during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, developed a rapport with Mr. Gates when he was director of central intelligence in the early 1990s.

“I also think that he prevented further adventures, particularly in our relationship with countries like Iran, that could have turned into military intervention had he not become secretary of defense,” said Mr. Boren, who is now president of the University of Oklahoma. “I think that he stepped us back from a policy of brinkmanship.”
Gates appears to have been a voice of reason for both Bush and Obama. Now that he's going, where will that voice come from?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The EPA's Way Or The Highway

Who says Obama can't bring Americans together?
On April 13, 2011, the EPA publishing its ruling that Texas must comply with the Clean Air Transport Rule (CATR). Using the CATR, the EPA is set to include Texas in the national sulfur dioxide program, without any comment from any of the state’s stakeholders, political leaders or industry leaders allowed. No public review, just bam!, Texans get the EPA jackboot. The EPA’s effort to strong arm Texas away from its successful and flexible state-level clean air program, established in the 1990s and which has enjoyed bipartisan support, and into the EPA’s less effective national program has been building since President Obama’s inauguration. The CATR ruling may bring that battle to a head.
....

It’s a rare moment when Republicans and unions agree on much, but as it turns out, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union agrees: The EPA is dangerously overreaching in its CATR finding. The IBEW also fired off a letter of protest on June 16, to Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Regulation. The letter strongly protests the EPA’s failure to allow for any comment on the rule change, and expresses the IBEW’s concern that “including Texas in the final CATR for SO2 would result in significant increases in electricity rates, temporary or even permanent shutdown of existing coal-fired power plants, reduced capacity reserves and enormous job losses. This action would directly jeopardize the jobs of approximately 1,500 IBEW members working at six different power plants across the state of Texas.”
Needless to say, the EPA has already admitted that they don't take that into account. It's almost as if they had their own agenda or something...

Life After Assad

Why we should be concerned about Syria:
It's not a secret that Syria is imploding. But the key thing to grasp is that it won't stop there: There is a real possibility that this regime will take its neighbors down with it. I'm not sure that the West--which from what I can tell is now completely preoccupied with itself and its economic problems--is sufficiently grasping this.
....

Turkey's scared to death by this situation. Expect a nice warming in Turkish-Israeli relations now. The AKP has just received such a loud phone call from reality that even they can't pretend it was just a wrong number.

Before you say, "Well, that's good news!" re-read my last sentence: This is a phone call from reality so loud that even the AKP can't ignore it. That means the phone just jumped off the nightstand and body-slammed them.
Maybe Turkey will remember that they're a part of NATO now, and stop trying to play both sides of the fence.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Weinervision

Quite frankly, I can't think of a better way for Weiner to just disappear:
Within hours after Anthony Weiner announced his resignation from Congress, former MSNBC gabber Keith Olbermann suggested he may hire the soon-to-be-former New York lawmaker for a talk show on former Vice President Al Gore's fledgling television network, Current TV.

Olbermann, appearing on comedian Jimmy Fallon's late night television program Thursday night, was asked how long he thinks it would be before rival network CNN created a show for Weiner.

"Well, you know, I've got a nine o'clock show that I am probably going to hire somebody for," Olbermann told Fallon, referring to the space immediately after his upcoming new show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Current TV.

Fallon asked Olbermann if would hire Weiner.

"Eliot Spitzer is doing okay on CNN at eight o'clock," Olbermann replied with a smile.
Of course, if it doesn't work out, there's always something else...

An Illegal Non-War?

That's apparently what Obama's own lawyers told him:
President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, according to officials familiar with internal administration deliberations.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.

But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.

Presidents have the legal authority to override the legal conclusions of the Office of Legal Counsel and to act in a manner that is contrary to its advice, but it is extraordinarily rare for that to happen. Under normal circumstances, the office’s interpretation of the law is legally binding on the executive branch.
Well, I guess, like Congress's opinion, that little detail didn't seem to matter...

The Thirty Years' War

Jimmy Carter, in one of his rare moments, making sense on senseless policies:
Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. There are 743 people in prison for every 100,000 Americans, a higher portion than in any other country and seven times as great as in Europe. Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole — more than 3 percent of all American adults!

Some of this increase has been caused by mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes you’re out” laws. But about three-quarters of new admissions to state prisons are for nonviolent crimes. And the single greatest cause of prison population growth has been the war on drugs, with the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increasing more than twelvefold since 1980.

Not only has this excessive punishment destroyed the lives of millions of young people and their families (disproportionately minorities), but it is wreaking havoc on state and local budgets. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pointed out that, in 1980, 10 percent of his state’s budget went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons; in 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and only 7.5 percent to higher education.

Maybe the increased tax burden on wealthy citizens necessary to pay for the war on drugs will help to bring about a reform of America’s drug policies. At least the recommendations of the Global Commission will give some cover to political leaders who wish to do what is right.
I would argue that the increased cost of the drug war should be an incentive for the wealthy to speak out against higher taxes. Otherwise, the rest of Jimmy's argument sadly rings true.

How Now, Sacred Cow?

Wow. This could indeed be big:
AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, a move that could rock Washington's debate over how to revamp the nation's entitlement programs.

The decision, which AARP hasn't discussed publicly, came after a wrenching debate inside the organization. In 2005, the last time Social Security was debated, AARP led the effort to kill President George W. Bush's plan for partial privatization. AARP now has concluded that change is inevitable, and it wants to be at the table to try to minimize the pain.

"The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens," said John Rother, AARP's long-time policy chief and a prime mover behind its change of heart.

The shift, which has been vetted by AARP's board and is now the group's stance, could have a dramatic effect on the debate surrounding the future of the federal safety net, from pensions to health care, given the group's immense clout.

"If they come around and say they're ready to do something, it will be like the Arctic icecap cracking," said former Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chairman of a White House commission on the deficit. He has frequently assailed the group as a barrier to progress.
It may be time for a quick double-take here, because they seem to be serious, even though they must surely be aware of the political fire they are playing with here. Maybe that's why they've sort of backtracked. Even so, Paul Ryan must be sitting somewhere, smiling, and saying, "I told you so."

The Internet Shrugged

When in doubt, the market will provide:
Last week, Santa Rosa-based Internet service provider Sonic.net rolled out a blazing fast new fiber optic network that will provide Sonoma County residents with the fastest residential Internet in the United States at an extremely competitive price. Sonic.net's new offering blasts a hole in the arguments of "Net Neutrality" proponents who fear that ISPs will raise prices and limit quality Internet access without government regulation.

Sonic.net's fastest service package will be 1Gbps (gigabits per second) at only $70 a month, and will include two phone lines and unlimited long distance calls. It will also offer a 100 megabit per second connection for $40 a month, which will include one phone line and unlimited long distance calling.
....

If every other standard of performance and quality in the technology industry is any indication, quality will only continue to improve while prices come down, creating ever-widening access to always improving devices, services, and software. If Sonic.net's new pricing model is a success, it will drive down competitor's prices in order for them to keep their customers. In that case, what use would "Net Neutrality" regulations be? The market will have done what would-be regulators are promising to do, making their intervention a "solution looking for a problem."
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, regulators aren't the solution to the problem, they are the problem...

Walkin' The Running Dogs

How to be a successfulanarcho-capitalist:
Moving from would-be anarchist to successful business owner brings a few quandaries. If you oppose the idea of a state, should you pay taxes? Is it ethically sound to care for the animals of professionals while they are at work at institutions such as the International Monetary Fund? And if you don’t believe in corporations, should you buy health insurance from one?

From the start, Brighter Days has taken a path in the middle, keeping as close to its anarchist ideals as possible while running a legitimate business.

“We made compromises about any number of things,” says Joshua Stephens, who started the collective in 2006 with his friend John Seager, the drummer in his punk band.
....

The collective’s disdain for the corporate world notwithstanding, its clients — Washingtonians who can afford to pay $16 for a 30-minute walk — are generally establishment types. “They’re definitely all professionals,” Seager says. “I would hesitate to slap any other label on all of them.”
The world of radical capitalism does present its conundrums...

The Next Russian Revolution

Maybe this is how it begins:
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday challenged the legacy of his powerful predecessor, Vladimir Putin, condemning the centralization of economic and political power at the Kremlin in what was interpreted by some as an early campaign move ahead of next year's presidential election.

Medvedev's statements in a keynote speech to investors at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum were a strong indication that he wants to distance himself from Putin, Russia's prime minister, in the run-up to next March's presidential vote.
....

Medvedev acknowledged that the government's expansion in managing the economy and the centralization of authority in the Kremlin under Putin was necessary in an earlier period of the country's post-Soviet development. But, he said, "this economic mode is dangerous for the country's future."

"The proposition that the government is always right is manifested either in corruption or benefits to 'preferred' companies," he said.

"My choice is different. The Russian economy ought to be dominated by private businesses and private investors. The government must protect the choice and property of those who willingly risk their money and reputation."
Private business and free markets? What is he, some kind of radical?

Gungate Fallout

In the wake of the ATF gunrunning scandal, it looks like Eric Holder may be toast:
What did Attorney General Eric Holder know and when did he know it concerning the underlying concept, operational protocols and legal status of the Operation Fast and Furious program in the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau?

Those questions gained special relevance Wednesday when four ATF agents testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and squarely contradicted a Feb. 4, 2011, claim by a department spokesman that DOJ did not approve of the program that sanctioned the illegal sale here in America by legitimate gun dealers of assault weapons to representatives of Mexican drug cartels. The idea behind the program was that the hundreds of firearms thus sold would then be traced from specific crimes, thus enabling prosecutions of the individuals involved.
....

Documents released by the Issa panel make it clear that Operation Fast and Furious was well-known and enthusiastically supported at the highest leveIs of ATF. That means the program had to have been supported elsewhere within the Justice Department. Thus, it is inconceivable that Holder did not know about Operation Fast and Furious. But even if he didn't know, he clearly should have. Either way, Wednesday's hearing provided the latest evidence that it's past time for Holder to go.
It is starting to look bad for all involved. And plausible deniability won't help, either.

Waiving Away The Waivers

It's about time:
Removing a potential political distraction ahead of next year's elections, the Obama administration Friday announced an early end to a health care waiver program that has come under fire from congressional Republicans.

Political considerations were "absolutely not" part of the decision, said Steve Larsen, head of a section of the Health and Human Services department that oversees President Barack Obama's health care law.

Larsen said no new applications for waivers will be considered after Sept. 22. Approvals or renewals received by the deadline will be good through 2013. Starting in 2014, the main coverage provisions of the health care law will take effect, and such waivers will no longer be needed.
Of course they're saying that it's because they're no longer necessary. It's not because favoritism is suddenly out of style, is it?

Misery Is...

...Living in the Age of Malaise:
Misery, as measured in the unofficial Misery Index that simply totals the unemployment and inflation rates, is at a 28-year high, reflective of how weak the economic recovery has been and how far there is to go.
....

Put another way, by Paul Dales at Capital Economics:

“The good news is that other measures suggest conditions aren't quite that bad and over the next 18 months the gloom should lift a little,” the firm’s chief US economist wrote in a Misery analysis. “The bad news is that households won't be in the mood to boost their spending significantly for several more years.”
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the government feels the same way...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Weiner Quits

He pulled out, so to speak:
Representative Anthony D. Weiner, a high-profile New York Democrat who had been considered a leading candidate to be the city’s next mayor, said Thursday that he was resigning from Congress following revelations of lewd online exchanges with several women.

“I’m here to apologize for the personal mistakes I have made and the embarrassment that I have caused,” Mr. Weiner said, adding that he had hoped to be able to continue serving his constituents. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the distraction I created has made that impossible.”

Mr. Weiner announced his resignation in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, at a senior center where he announced his first campaign for City Council in 1991. But while that moment was filled with promise and excitement, his resignation occurred in a raucous and circuslike atmosphere, punctuated by shouting from a group of hecklers.
So what now for Weiner, aside from being a punchline for the Howard Stern Show, that is:

King Corn Is Dead

Well, almost:
A bipartisan majority of the Senate voted Thursday to end more than three decades of federal subsidies for ethanol, signaling that other long-sacrosanct programs could be at risk as Democrats and Republicans negotiate a sweeping deficit-reduction deal.

The tax breaks, which now cost about $6 billion a year, had long been considered untouchable politically because of the power of farm-state voters and lawmakers. Iowa's role as the site of the first presidential caucuses has further elevated the political potency of the biofuel.

Presidential hopefuls made a quadrennial ritual of going to Iowa and pledging to support the tax breaks, tariffs and mandates that supported production of ethanol motor fuels from corn. This year, however, some Republican presidential candidates have pointedly refused to endorse ethanol tax breaks.

Thursday's vote doesn't by itself doom federal support for the corn ethanol industry. The House is expected to reject it on the grounds that changes to the tax code, under the Constitution, must originate there, and the White House says an outright repeal is too abrupt. But the 73-27 vote signals that in a time of fiscal challenges, programs that once appeared unassailable now could be vulnerable.
It's a good first start. Hopefully this will be the first of other sacred cows to face the slaughterhouse.

Conan Does College

Conan O'Brien delivers his first commencement address in more than a decade:

Bloggin' In The Years: 2009

Just being cautious at such an early stage? Or maybe prescient?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Joke That No One Gets

If you're the only one laughing, and you told the joke, then you bombed:

Friends In Low Places

Cronyism? Really?
A new report by iWatch claims the Obama administration gave 200 of its biggest campaign donors key assignments within the government or granted their business interests with federal contracts.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was pressed about the issue at the White House briefing Wednesday and said that giving money doesn't qualify someone for a post, but also doesn't disqualify them and that decisions were based on merit.

"You asked me about supporters of the president who may have been donors who have gotten positions and I would point out to the fact that the people who got those positions got then because of their credentials. They also happen to be donors in some cases. There are obviously numerous and far many more cases of people who weren't donors who were appointed the jobs," Carney said.
So, just who were these "supporters," and what did they get in return?
The investigation revealed that the donors, or so-called "bundlers" were able to raise $50,000 to more $500,000 for Obama's 2008 bid, and of course that the White House wants them back on board for 2012.

iWatch notes the example of Donald. H. Gips, telecom executive of Level 3 Communications LLC who gave more than half a million dollars to the Obama campaign along with two fellow execs who gave at least $150,000.

After the 2008 Obama win, Gips got the gig of hiring for the administration, and was later named the ambassador to South Africa.Level 3 also was able to nab $13.8 million in stimulus money. iWatch reports that Gips had stock in Level 3, but claimed he was completely unaware of the stimulus money.

The report also stated that some donors didn't expect anything in return, quoting a hotel CEO Stewart Bainum who got invited to the White House St. Patrick's Day party.

The iWatch investigation also concluded that 184 of 556 of the bundlers or their spouses joined the Obama administration and it bumps up even higher to 80 percent for the big-money givers. They conclude that more than half of the ambassador nominees raised more than $500,000.

Donors with connections to clean energy and telecommunications companies, which are part of the president's economic agenda, also seemed to benefit from giving cash the report says.
Who says Obama hasn't created jobs? Especially for those who helped him out...

Grandma And Grandpa Are People, Too

Why arguments against life extension should be rejected:
There's nothing wrong with liking trees and wild places enough to spend your hard-earned resources on helping to maintain them. But environmentalism has a way of veering off into the worship of death and destruction, a sort of modern penitent movement focused on the mortification of society as a whole. It's so widespread and embedded in our cultures now that even mild-mannered, everyday folk declare their support for shorter and fewer human lives, for abandonment of technologies that improve the quality of human life, and for relinquishment of technological development that will greatly improve life in the future.
Given the choice, I'm sure most people would rather live longer and healthier. If environmentalists don't want to do either, that's their problem.

Kinetic Justification

Team Obama defends the non-war:
“We are acting lawfully,” said Harold Koh, the State Department legal adviser, who expanded on the administration’s reasoning in a joint interview with White House Counsel Robert Bauer.

The two senior administration lawyers contended that American forces have not been in “hostilities” at least since April 7, when NATO took over leadership in maintaining a no-flight zone in Libya, and the United States took up what is mainly a supporting role — providing surveillance and refueling for allied warplanes — although unmanned drones operated by the United States periodically fire missiles as well.

They argued that United States forces are at little risk in the operation because there are no American troops on the ground and Libyan forces are unable to exchange meaningful fire with American forces. They said that there was little risk of the military mission escalating, because it is constrained by the United Nations Security Council resolution that authorized use of air power to defend civilians.

“We are not saying the president can take the country into war on his own,” Mr. Koh said. “We are not saying the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional or should be scrapped, or that we can refuse to consult Congress. We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of ‘hostilities’ envisioned by the War Powers Resolution.”
I guess it depends on what the meaning of 'hostilities" is...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Social Insecurity

While the Democrats like to talk about how the Republicans want to kill Grandma, the need for reform continues to make itself woefully apparent:
The Social Security Administration made $6.5 billion in overpayments to people not entitled to receive them in 2009, including $4 billion under a supplemental income program for the very poor, a government investigator said Tuesday.

In all, about 10 percent of the payments made under the agency's Supplemental Security Income program were improper, said Patrick P. O'Carroll Jr., the Social Security inspector general.

Error rates were much smaller for retirement, survivor and disability benefits, which make up the overwhelming majority of Social Security payments, O'Carroll told a congressional panel.

"By any standard, the scope of these problems is considerable," said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee. "Regardless of whether a payment occurs because of simple error or outright fraud, improper payments harm Social Security programs in the long term, jeopardizing benefits for those who may need them in the future. They also cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year."
At this point, I'm not sure which is worse-the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, or the right hand knowing and simply not caring...