Friday, November 30, 2012

Nothing For Nothing

So this is Obama's "Deal":
House Republicans said on Thursday that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner presented the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a detailed proposal to avert the year-end fiscal crisis with $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years, an immediate new round of stimulus spending, home mortgage refinancing and a permanent end to Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits.

The proposal, loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts, was likely to meet strong Republican resistance. In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other entitlements, to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.

He did propose some upfront cuts in programs like farm price supports, but did not specify an amount or any details. And senior Republican aides familiar with the offer said those initial spending cuts might well be outnumbered by upfront spending increases, including at least $50 billion in infrastructure spending, mortgage relief, an extension of unemployment insurance and a deferral of automatic cuts to physician reimbursements under Medicare.
Is it any wonder it made them laugh? At any rate, Obama may just do what he wants anyway, so what's the point?

Corporate Control

When is free speech not free speech?
A Democratic representative is calling for an amendment to the United States Constitution that would allow for some legislative restriction of freedom of speech.

“We need a constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to control the so-called free speech rights of corporations,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) was quoted as saying by CNS News.
....

Corporations and unions are protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution because of the ruling in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” which found that a state law prohibiting corporations from making political campaign contributions using their treasury funds was unconstitutional.

The ruling additionally stated that the spending was a form of political speech that is protected by the First Amendment, according to the official blog of the Supreme Court of the United States.
If some speech can be controlled, what about the rest? Therein lies the problem of the slippery slope...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Part-Time Strikers

I think they're kind of missing the point about what the fast-food business is:
A large group gathered outside a McDonald's on Madison and 40th St. in Manhattan demanding higher wages and the approval of a workers union.

"They're giving us $7.25 an hour, so many of my co-workers are living on food stamps. You can't live on that in this city," a protester told Good Day NY.

The workers who say they don't make enough to put food on the table for their families would like an increase in their hourly pay to $15.

Some franchise owners have said they'd have to hire fewer workers if the increase is approved.
Aside from the fact that these are typically the kind of jobs that teenagers do while they're working their way through high school, is a fast food union even practical?
Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the City University of New York, said there had been so few efforts to unionize fast-food workers because it was such a daunting challenge.

“These jobs have extremely high turnover, so by the time you get around to organizing folks, they’re not on the job anymore,” she said.
Which now might be the case in any event...

Race To The Bottom

Congratulations, California:
California is 24/7 Wall St.’s “Worst Run State” for the second year in a row. Due to high levels of debt, the state’s S&P credit rating is the worst of all states, while its Moody’s credit rating is the second-worst. Much of California’s fiscal woes involve the economic downturn. Home prices plunged by 33.6% between 2006 and 2011, worse than all states except for three. The state’s foreclosure rate and unemployment rate were the third- and second-highest in the country, respectively. But efforts to get finances on track are moving forward. State voters passed a ballot initiative to raise sales taxes as well as income taxes for people who make at least $250,000 a year. While median income is the 10th-highest in the country, the state also has one of the highest tax burdens on income. According to the Tax Foundation, the state also has the third-worst business tax climate in the country.
They're broke, hemorrhaging jobs, and anyone who can still afford to do so is voting with their feet. California used to be the state of the future; now they seem bent on repeating the mistakes of the past.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Comes The Taxman

It's a familiar pattern:
In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.

This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top rate of income tax shortly before the last general election.

The figures have been seized upon by the Conservatives to claim that increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.
....
Last night, Harriet Baldwin, the Conservative MP who uncovered the latest figures, said: “Labour’s ideological tax hike led to a tax cull of millionaires.

Far from raising funds, it actually cost the UK £7 billion in lost tax revenue.
Some people just don't understand the Laffer Curve...

Leave Sequestration Alone

Nick Gillespie argues that sequestration shouldn't be part of the plan:
There should be absolutely no room for negotiating away the pathetically small amount of spending reduction the government imposed on itself to raise the debt-ceiling by $2 trillion. For god's sake, we're talking about trims of around $110 billion annually. The 2013 budget alone will spend about $3.8 trillion and using constant dollars, federal spending has increased 50 percent over the last decade (see table 1.3, center column, page 27). The simple fact - amply illustrated by the chart somewhere to the right - is that sequestration cuts, split between defense and non-defense discretionary spending, amount to very little in terms of total federal spending.
It does seem that they're more afraid of getting their own house in order than in giving up the gravy train...

Planet Of The Pharaohs

Mohamad Morsi, movie critic:
I remember a movie. Which one? Planet of the Apes. The old version, not the new one. There is new one. Which is different. Not so good. It’s not expressing the reality as it was the first one. But at the end, I still remember, this is the conclusion: When the big monkey, he was head of the supreme court I think — in the movie! — and there was a big scientist working for him, cleaning things, has been chained there. And it was the planet of the apes after the destructive act of a big war, and atomic bombs and whatever in the movie. And the scientists was asking him to do something, this was 30 years ago: “Don’t forget you are a monkey.” He tells him, “don’t ask me about this dirty work,.” What did the big ape, the monkey say? He said, “you’re human, you did it [to] yourself. “That’s the conclusion. Can we do something better for ourselves?
Take your stinking paws off him, you damn dirty protesters!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

DC Follies

Now this probably made him weep:
Some protesters dropped trou to launch a protest at House Speaker John Boehner’s office in the Longworth House Office building in Washington.

U.S. Capitol Police public information officer Shennell Antrobus confirmed: “three females arrested for lewd and indecent acts in the Speaker’s Longworth office. Demonstrators disbursed that area.”

This is an office across the street from the Capitol Building. The speaker, who has a plush suite of offices in the Capitol Building, never works in the district office, so he wasn’t privy, as it were, to the privates.

The protesters, who had red ribbons painted on their bodies, appear to have been protesting potential budget cuts to AIDS programs.

It’s unclear why the naked women were arrested, but the naked man in the picture was not.
Sexism! Or, it would be if anyone took these people seriously...

Girls And Women

On TV, growing up seems hard to do:
At its core, Girls feels like a deliberate, dissective examination of a group of people who stubbornly refuse to grow up and are lucky enough to be able to pull it off. The main thing Dunham’s characters share is the idea that just because they exist, somebody else should give them stuff.
In the real world, these people are called liberals...

Spooked

Because it seems to be so popular, the obligatory ghost in the elevator gag:

Crime Control

Surprise, surprise:
Gun-related violent crime in Virginia has dropped steadily over the past six years as the sale of firearms has soared to a new record, according to an analysis of state crime data with state records of gun sales.

The total number of firearms purchased in Virginia increased 73 percent from 2006 to 2011. When state population increases are factored in, gun purchases per 100,000 Virginians rose 63 percent.

But the total number of gun-related violent crimes fell 24 percent over that period, and when adjusted for population, gun-related offenses dropped more than 27 percent, from 79 crimes per 100,000 in 2006 to 57 crimes in 2011.
It's always funny how that seems to work out...

The Welfare State Stumbles On

In Portugal, they've apparently learned nothing:
Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar, who has described the tax hike as "enormous," told lawmakers the budget is "another determined step toward recovery." It will help restore investor confidence in Portugal, allowing it to return to international credit markets as planned in September 2013, he said.

The government is aiming to increase income tax revenue by 30 percent next year while enacting spending cuts worth (EURO)2.7 billion. The goal is to reduce the budget deficit to 4.5 percent next year, down from a targeted 5 percent this year.

The government predicts an economic contraction of 1 percent in 2013, though the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated Tuesday it will be 1.8 percent. The government forecasts that the jobless rate, currently at 15.7 percent, will climb to a record 16.4 percent next year.
Along with Greece, the new "Sick men of Europe" seem to prefer their illness to a real cure...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Taxes For Thee

In Washington, "shared sacrifice" depends on who does the sharing:
A big coalition of business groups says there must be give-and-take in the negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of massive tax increases and spending cuts. But raising tax rates — a White House priority — is out of the question, the group adds.
....

America is split down the middle politically, as the last half dozen presidential races have shown. Aside from a few think tanks and civic-minded groups, there's almost no talk of splitting the pain among interest groups, populations and professions in a manner that seems inevitable if lawmakers are to achieve the trillions of dollars in deficit-reduction both parties call for.
Belt-tightening begins at home. But what if no one wants to?

A New Mandate Challenge

The Supreme Court has opened the door for a new path of resistance:
The Supreme Court has revived a Christian college’s challenge to President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, with the acquiescence of the Obama administration.

The court on Monday ordered the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., to consider the claim by Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., that Obama’s health care law violates the school’s religious freedoms. …

The school made a new filing with the court over the summer to argue that its claims should be fully evaluated in light of the high court decision. The administration said it did not oppose Liberty’s request.

Liberty is challenging both the requirement that most individuals obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, and a separate provision requiring many employers to offer health insurance to their workers.
If the Obamacare mandate turns out to be a First Amendment violation, that could open up a new set of challenges. How long would Team Obama be able to hold out then?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Triumph Of The Illiterates?

Remember when Pravda was pro-Communist?
Recently, Obama has been re-elected for a 2nd term by an illiterate society and he is ready to continue his lies of less taxes while he raises them. He gives speeches of peace and love in the world while he promotes wars as he did in Egypt, Libya and Syria. He plans his next war is with Iran as he fires or demotes his generals who get in the way.
....

He is a Communist without question promoting the Communist Manifesto without calling it so. How shrewd he is in America. His cult of personality mesmerizes those who cannot go beyond their ignorance. They will continue to follow him like those fools who still praise Lenin and Stalin in Russia. Obama's fools and Stalin's fools share the same drink of illusion.
Actually, calling Obama's followers illiterate is an insult to actual idiots...

Strange Bedfellows

The French media know their role:
The line between politicians and the news media can be blurry in France, where the fates of some journalists have long been hitched to those in the government they pester or please. Mr. Sarkozy’s close ties to media executives were considered something of a scandal, and his presidency drew greater scrutiny to the incestuous relationships.

Mr. Hollande campaigned on a pledge to be “exemplary.” But in a country where much of the Paris elite share a common background, attended the same schools and go to the same parties, the traditional commingling of journalists and politicians has endured. Daniel Carton, a former reporter in France, blames the news media for not doing more to resist such close ties.

“They know exactly what they need to do to avoid things getting out of hand, but they won’t do it,” said Mr. Carton, an outspoken critic of conflicts of interest in French journalism.
Unfortunately our own media isn't that different...

World Internet Police

I'm sure we could trust them:
The UN, in one way or another, has been eyeing the internet for years as a potential font of cash and lever of control. And the UN these days is the kind of place where Iran now chairs the Non-Aligned Movement, which consists of 119 member states plus the Palestinians — and accounts for well over half the membership of the UN General Assembly. All the usual old troubles apply: The UN remains an unaccountable, murky bureaucracy, lending itself to the manipulations of its worst members.
It's a lot like our own government agencies, except they're at least supposed to be accountable...

Breakaway

It will be interesting to see how this year's Nobel Peace Prize winners react to this:
Four separatist parties in Spain's Catalonia looked set to win a majority in regional elections on Sunday, partial results showed, but the main one was on course to lose some seats, possibly undermining its bid to call an independence referendum.

With half of votes counted, the ruling Convergence and Union alliance, or CiU, was winning 48 seats in the 135-seat local parliament, well down from its current 62 seats.

The separatist Republican Left, or ERC, was winning 20 seats, with two other smaller separatist parties taking a total of 16 seats, giving the four parties 60 percent between them.

Regional President Artur Mas, of CiU, had campaigned on a pledge to hold a referendum on independence, in response to a resurgent separatist movement among Catalans who are frustrated with Spain in a deep economic crisis.
Viva la Catalonia?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Payers' Club

Why ask millionaires to "pay a little more" when they already are?
According to new data from the IRS, people who make $1 million or more had an average tax rate of 20.4 percent in 2010. Tax filers who earned $30,000 to $50,000 paid an average rate of 4.8 percent, while those who made between $50,000 and $100,000 paid 7.7 percent. Those making under $30,000 had a negative effective rate, meaning they paid no federal income taxes after deductions and credits.

Put another way, millionaires pay a rate that’s more than four times that of the middle class.
The way things are going, the "wealthy" may well wind up being the new middle class...

In Memory Of...

Larry Hagman:
Hagman, who became a television star in the 1960s starring in the sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie,” died Friday at a Dallas hospital, said a spokesman for actress Linda Gray, his longtime co-star on “Dallas.” He was 81.
....

For years, he was considered the unofficial mayor of Malibu, where he lived for decades in an oceanfront home. He often led impromptu ragtag parades on the sand while wearing outlandish costumes and flew a flag from his deck that declared “Vita Celebratio Est” — “Life is a celebration.”

As an actor, Hagman came with a serious pedigree. He was the son of Mary Martin, a legendary star of Broadway musicals best known for originating the role of Peter Pan in the 1950s.

On “Dallas,” Hagman's J.R. Ewing was “the man viewers loved to hate,” according to critics, a scheming Texan in a land of plenty. Much of the show's run paralleled the nation's fascination with big money and big business in the 1980s, and the role made him an international star.
RIP, Major Nelson and J.R. Ewing...

Obamacare Instruction

The teachers who supported Obama the most are becoming the first to go:
Pennsylvania's Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) is slashing the hours of 400 adjunct instructors, support staff, and part-time instructors to dodge paying for Obamacare.

"It's kind of a double whammy for us because we are facing a legal requirement [under the new law] to get health care and if the college is reducing our hours, we don't have the money to pay for it," said adjunct biology professor Adam Davis.
....

Under the new CCAC policy, adjunct professors will only be allowed to teach 10 credit hours a semester. Adjuncts are paid $730 per credit hour.

"We all know we are expendable," said Mr. Davis, "and there are plenty of people out there in this economy who would be willing to have our jobs."
He's sacrificing himself for the cause, after all...

The Bucks Start Here

I suppose it's got to be paid for somehow:
President Barack Obama is reportedly considering the use of the corporate cash to help pay for inauguration. The thinking is, after a long and very expensive presidential campaign, donors might be too spent to pick up the tab.

"President Barack Obama's fundraising advisers have urged the White House to accept corporate donations for his January 2013 inaugural celebration rather than rely exclusively on weary donors who underwrote his $1 billion re-election effort. People involved in his re-election campaign said White House staff and campaign advisers have been debating whether to accept corporate money to stage the events but haven't made a final decision," the Wall Street Journal reports.

The use of corporate cash would finalize Obama's shift away from his official 2008 position on corporations and political cash. "Four years ago Mr. Obama barred corporations from donating to his inauguration, a gesture meant to show that well-heeled interests wouldn't have undue influence in his administration," reports the Journal.
They just want to creat their own well-heeled influences, which taxpayers will be paying for...

Black Friday Bust

For the unions, that is:
Starting at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Walmart put its products on Black Friday sale, sparking a run to the stores and earning the stores record sales.

They’ve already sold nearly 2 million towels, 1.3 million televisions, and 250,000 bicycles. According to Walmart Chief Executive Bill Simon, over 1.3 million Walmart staffers are on duty. There have been picket lines around the country, but the movement has been far less effective than expected.
A mass army of customers can be more effective than any union-busting tactic...

Retiring Homeland Security

Reason TV takes a look at why it's time for Homeland Security to go:

A Bribe For Teacher

In China, getting ahead means greasing the wheels:
Nearly everything has a price, parents and educators say, from school admissions and placement in top classes to leadership positions in Communist youth groups. Even front-row seats near the blackboard or a post as class monitor are up for sale.

Zhao Hua, a migrant from Hebei Province who owns a small electronics business here, said she was forced to deposit $4,800 into a bank account to enroll her daughter in a Beijing elementary school. At the bank, she said, she was stunned to encounter officials from the district education committee armed with a list of students and how much each family had to pay. Later, school officials made her sign a document saying the fee was a voluntary “donation.”

“Of course I knew it was illegal,” she said. “But if you don’t pay, your child will go nowhere.”

Bribery has become so rife that Xi Jinping devoted his first speech after being named the Communist Party’s new leader this month to warning the Politburo that corruption could lead to the collapse of the party and the state if left unchecked. Indeed, ordinary Chinese have become inured to a certain level of official malfeasance in business and politics.

But the lack of integrity among educators and school administrators is especially dispiriting, said Li Mao, an educational consultant in Beijing. “It’s much more upsetting when it happens with teachers because our expectations of them are so much higher,” he said.
Here in the States, it's still mostly the teachers' unions who do the bribing...

Who Tracks The Trackers?

Technology typically used to keep track of criminals in other countries has found a new use in an old kingdom:
Denied the right to travel without consent from their male guardians and banned from driving, women in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by an electronic system that tracks any cross-border movements.

Since last week, Saudi women's male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.
....

"The authorities are using technology to monitor women," said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the "state of slavery under which women are held" in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the "yellow sheet" at the airport or border.

The move by the Saudi authorities was swiftly condemned on social network Twitter -- a rare bubble of freedom for millions in the kingdom -- with critics mocking the decision.
I suppose the technology is one way that Saudi Arabia ia moving forward from the eighth century...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Political Science

When science and politics collide:
After analyzing both the Democratic and Republican Party platforms, it’s evident that science is secondary to politics. Politicians of both parties manage to find science that conveniently supports the policies they already favor.
When science becomes politicized, is it still really science?

Abandoning The Pledge

Saxby Chambliss seems to be doing just that:
"I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge," he told WMAZ-TV. "If we do it his way then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that."

Congress and the White House face a year-end deadline to reach a deal that staves off an avalanche of tax increases and deep cuts in government programs – commonly referred to now as the “fiscal cliff.”

Chambliss signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, authored by conservative activist Grover Norquist and embraced by the majority of congressional Republican lawmakers. In it, Norquist, an anti-tax lobbyist and head of Americans for Tax Reform, does not allow for tax rates to rise.

Those who sign the pledge "solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases," according to the group’s website, which states that 39 senators, including Chambliss, and 219 House members support it.

Chambliss acknowledged that distancing himself from the pledge might hurt him in his bid for re-election in 2014, but said he's not concerned about it.

"I don't worry about that because I care too much about my country,” he said. “I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist."
Being right doesn't always mean making the most popular choices...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's Good To Be The Dictator

Every revolution needs a strongman:
Egypt's Islamist president unilaterally decreed greater authorities for himself Thursday and effectively neutralized a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent by declaring that the courts are barred from challenging his decisions.

Riding high on U.S. and international praise for mediating a Gaza cease-fire, Mohammed Morsi put himself above oversight and gave protection to the Islamist-led assembly writing a new constitution from a looming threat of dissolution by court order.

But the move is likely to fuel growing public anger that he and his Muslim Brotherhood are seizing too much power.

In what was interpreted by rights activists as a de facto declaration of emergency law, one of Morsi's decrees gave him the power to take "due measures and steps" to deal with any "threat" to the revolution, national unity and safety or anything that obstructs the work of state institutions.
The endless revolution starts here...

"As God Is My Witness, I Thought Turkeys Could Fly"

It's still one of the funniest moments in TV history ever, so here it is, the classic "Turkey Drop" episode from WKRP:

Turkeys Away by hulu

She's Sort Of Not There

A student is challenging the system:
The suspended student, sophomore Andrea Hernandez, was notified by the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio that she won’t be able to continue attending John Jay High School unless she wears the badge around her neck, which she has been refusing to do. The district said the girl, who objects on privacy and religious grounds, beginning Monday would have to attend another high school in the district that does not yet employ the RFID tags.

The Rutherford Institute said it would go to court and try to nullify the district’s decision. The institute said that the district’s stated purpose for the program — to enhance their coffers — is “fundamentally disturbing.”

“There is something fundamentally disturbing about this school district’s insistence on steamrolling students into complying with programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with academic priorities and everything to do with fattening school coffers,” said John Whitehead, the institute’s president.

Like most state-financed schools, the district’s budget is tied to average daily attendance. If a student is not in his seat during morning roll call, the district doesn’t receive daily funding for that pupil because the school has no way of knowing for sure if the student is there.

But with the RFID tracking, students not at their desk but tracked on campus are counted as being in school that day, and the district receives its daily allotment for that student.
Remember the days when teachers just called out your name?

Bodies For Sale

In Spain, you literally can't afford to die these days:
Europe’s grinding economic crisis has left hard-hit Spaniards scrimping on death. They are defaulting on cemetery plots — and thousands face being evicted from them. They are opting for inexpensive funerals, or financing them in monthly installments. Pricey extras like grief therapy, organists to play “Ave Maria” or elaborate floral arrangements are being pruned.

But while austerity tears at the funeral industry — and some say the social fabric of the country — it has been a boon for science. Donating a body has become such a popular alternative to the cost of a funeral that some medical schools complain they do not have enough refrigerators to store all of them.

Here at University of Barcelona’s medical school, José Luis Ramón, who is in charge of donations, said people registering to donate their bodies had increased this year by nearly one-quarter, to 1,500, spurred by bad economic times and altruism. The bodies are being used for medical school dissection classes and to test cutting edge surgical techniques and innovative prosthetic silicone molds for patients with spinal diseases.

When he screened donors, Mr. Ramón said, some wanted to confirm that the university would pay for the transport of their bodies from the hospital to the laboratory.

“One woman wanted to know how much she would save, including the cost of gas,” he said.
Dying is expensive, after all...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Expiration Date

Why the "wealthy" should worry about Obama's tax plans:
No matter what you have heard on the internet, there are in fact a lot of sizeable marginal inflection points for high earners. There are the Pease deduction phaseouts, temporarily abated by the Bush tax cuts but scheduled to go back into effect in 2013, which can eliminate up to 80% of deductions for couples who make more than about $175,000 (the number is indexed for inflation, so it changes every year): your deductions are reduced by 3% of the amount by which your income exceeds the threshhold. The student loan interest deduction phases out at $150,000 ($75,000 for singles). And a lot of tax-free savings opportunities disappear: educational savings accounts and IRAs have income limits, so your ability to use them starts phasing out in the low-six-figure income range. So do various educational and child tax credits. These things obviously aren't a huge deal for people who make $1,000,000 a year but they can be a huge tax hit for couples in the $150,000 to $300,000 range. Come 2013, they will be an even bigger hit.

And we haven't even discussed the AMT, which virtually eliminates deductions for couples who make the mistake of doing things like buying a house, having children, or living in a high tax state.
You'll have to be poor for your own good...

Out Of Touch

She may just be toeing the line, but it's a rather telling eschange:

Mars Patrol

So what's the big discovery?
The Mars Science Laboratory team has hinted that they might have some big news to share soon. But like good scientists, they are waiting until they verify their results before saying anything definitive. In an interview on NPR today, MSL Principal Investigator John Grotzinger said a recent soil sample test in the SAM instrument (Sample Analysis at Mars) shows something ‘earthshaking.’

“This data is gonna be one for the history books,” he said. “It’s looking really good.”
....

The team is being cautious because of their experience with looking for methane in the Martian air. When one of the SAM instruments analyzed an air sample, they got a reading of methane. But, it turned out, they were likely measuring some of the air that was brought along from Florida, as air leaked into the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) while the spacecraft was awaiting launch. The initial readings from the TLS, full of methane, were very exciting to the Curiosity scientists until they realized it was from Earth.

But NPR reports that Grotzinger says it will take several weeks before he and his team are ready to talk about their latest finding.
The waiting is always the hardest part...

Childrens' Credit

Avoid the fiscal cliff for the children:
As talk of tax increases and deep cuts to government programs dominate Washington, adoption advocates are warning of another crisis should the adoption tax credit be allowed to expire at the end of the year — a potentially “disastrous” outcome for more than 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system.

Among the so-called Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of 2012 is a one-time adoption tax credit that gave $12,650 this year to families who took in a parentless child. But unless Congress acts to extend it, the only tax credit for adoptive parents on Jan. 1, 2013, will be to those who take in special needs children from within the United States. For them, the credit will be just $6,000.

“And it’s really not going to do much,” said Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of the National Council For Adoption. “Most families adopting those kids won’t even qualify for it because of the strict income requirements. It really would be a credit unclaimed at that point and that could have pretty disastrous impact for kids awaiting adoption in foster care.”
Somebody should ask the Democrats why they hate kids...

Good Guys

Are humans basically good?
Throughout the ages, people have wondered about the basic state of human nature—whether we are good or bad, cooperative or selfish. This question—one that is central to who we are—has been tackled by theologians and philosophers, presented to the public eye by television programs, and dominated the sleepless nights of both guilt-stricken villains and bewildered victims; now, it has also been addressed by scientific research. Although no single set of studies can provide a definitive answer—no matter how many experiments were conducted or participants were involved—this research suggests that our intuitive responses, or first instincts, tend to lead to cooperation rather than selfishness.
Sometimes I have my doubts. But perhaps there's hope for us hairless apes yet...

Le Hack

Does this mean we're still friends?
The United States used U.S.-Israeli spy software to hack into the French presidential office earlier this year, the French cyberwarfare agency has concluded, according to the newsmagazine l'Express.

The magazine reported late Tuesday that the computers of several close advisers to then-president Nicolas Sarkozy – including Chief of Staff Xavier Musca – were compromised in May by a computer virus that bears the hallmarks of Flame, which was allegedly created by a U.S.-Israeli team to target Iran's nuclear program. Anonymous French officials pointed the finger at the United States.
....

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reportedly did not deny the allegations when asked point-blank about them.

“We have no greater partner than France, we have no greater ally than France,” Napolitano reportedly answered, at the opening of an interview with l'Express. “We cooperate in many security-related areas. I am here to further reinforce those ties and create new ones.”

In the interview, Napolitano also said that the Flame and Stuxnet viruses had “never been linked to the U.S. government.”
Plausible deniability, non?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Green Spies Gone

The CIA isn't as green as it once was:
The Central Intelligence Agency has disbanded its Center on Climate Change and National Security, a unit formed in 2009 to monitor the interplay between a warming planet and intelligence and security challenges.

The creation of the office drew fire at the time from some Republicans, who said it was an unnecessary expense and a distraction from the agency’s focus on terrorism and other more immediate threats. The agency did not say whether the closing was related to budget constraints or other political pressures.

Todd Ebitz, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency would continue to monitor the security and humanitarian challenges posed by climate change as part of its focus on economic security, but not in a stand-alone office.

“The C.I.A. for several years has studied the national security implications of climate change,” Mr. Ebitz said in an e-mailed statement. “As part of a broader realignment of analytic resources, this work continues to be performed by a dedicated team in a new office that looks at economic and energy matters affecting America’s national security. The mission and the resources devoted to it remain essentially unchanged.”
But will it just be a mission without a purpose?

Fake Payday

Washington workers have been scamming the system:
The District said Monday that hundreds of city workers took nearly $2 million in fraudulent unemployment benefits, a scandal that roiled the D.C. government earlier this year and prompted widespread firings and criminal charges.

Lisa Mallory, the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, told the D.C. Council that her agency had detected $1.9 million in overpayments to District workers who collected unemployment benefits while on the city's payroll.

"This probe continues to be ongoing," said Mallory, who has credited access to a specialized database for the initial detection of the fraud.

Mallory's department has referred 318 cases to the District's inspector general, some of which have resulted in civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions. Other cases are pending.
Considering how much the Obama administration wants to expand the entitlement culture, you'd think they'd just have waited until they could get the money legally...

The Naked Truth

Bad news, nudists:
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- San Francisco lawmakers on Tuesday narrowly approved a proposal to ban public nakedness, rejecting arguments that the measure would eat away at a reputation for tolerance enjoyed by a city known for flouting convention and flaunting its counter-culture image.
....

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the measure in response to escalating complaints about a group of men whose lack of clothing was an almost daily occurrence in the city's predominantly gay Castro District.

"The Castro and San Francisco in general, is a place of freedom, expression and acceptance. But freedom, expression and acceptance does not mean anything goes under any circumstances," Wiener said Tuesday. "Our public spaces are for everyone and as a result it's appropriate to have some minimal standards of behavior."
Not everyone wants to look at naked gay hippies...

Turkey Rights

It's the latest politically correct holiday tradition:
On Tuesday, PETA sent a letter to President Obama asking him to skip than annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon, a tradition that dates back to Abraham Lincoln. The letter sent by PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said the ceremony “makes light of the mass slaughter of some 46 million gentle, intelligent birds” and “portrays the United States president as being in some sort of business partnership with the turkey-killing industry.” …

“You understand so well that African-Americans, women, and members of the LGBT community have been poorly served throughout history, and now I am asking you to consider other living beings who are ridiculed, belittled, and treated as if their sentience, feelings, and very natures count for nothing,” Newkirk wrote in the letter. …

“We want to change it from a pardon,’’ Newkirk said. “The bird has done nothing wrong, so it should be changed to something else more appropriate, like an ‘excusing,’ or a ‘liberating.’’’
I'd rather society be liberated from PETA's nuttery...

High Times

The Fox network has gone to pot:
The Happy Tree, from former Entourage executive producers Rob Weiss, Mark Wahlberg and Steve Levinson, centers on a brilliant young corporate attorney who, after a nervous breakdown, quits his job and seeks a life of peace and serenity on Venice Beach only to find himself the unlikely voice for the marijuana “legalize it” movement. The project will be produced by 20th Century Fox TV and stems from Weiss’ blind script deal there. He will co-write the script with Jay Leggett and Blake Leibel, who co-executive produce with Lawrence Longo.
You'll be able to tell it's about pot because the characters won't do much and always have Cheetos on hand...

Being Clinton Without Clinton

The Clinton years were good times under a Democratic President, so how can we bring them back?
In order to achieve a Clinton economy, you also must enact the other Clinton policies critical to the prosperity of those years: They include:
I. A Freer Economy

The oppressive ObamaCare of that time was HillaryCare, which was never enacted. If we want to re-create the Clinton economy, then we have to repeal ObamaCare. Are Democrats willing to do that?

The federal-regulation regime was also much easier then than it is now. Will the White House become serious about genuine deregulation?

II. Clinton-era Federal Spending Levels

Federal spending as a proportion of the economy was smaller in those days. That would mean budget cuts now of around $500 billion – not spread over ten years, but right now. How likely is that?

III. A Strong and Stable Dollar

The dollar in those days was almost as good as gold – a critical factor in that time’s economic boom. Will the White House ax Ben Bernanke and his destructive monetary policies?
All three ideas would be a good start towards Obama achieving a Clinton-style legacy on the economy. The question is whether or not he has the will, or incentive, to do so.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Jumping Ship

As we apparently head towards the fiscal cliff, investors are getting off while they can:
Half of the nation’s 40 biggest publicly traded corporate spenders have announced plans to curtail capital expenditures this year or next, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal of securities filings and conference calls.

Nationwide, business investment in equipment and software—a measure of economic vitality in the corporate sector—stalled in the third quarter for the first time since early 2009. Corporate investment in new buildings has declined. …

Corporate executives say they are slowing or delaying big projects to protect profits amid easing demand and rising uncertainty. Uncertainty around the U.S. elections and federal budget policies also appear among the factors driving the investment pullback since midyear. It is unclear whether Washington will avert the so-called fiscal cliff, tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to begin Jan. 2.
Apparently they're not willing to wait until they're forced to give up their profits...

Alternatives

Glenn Reynolds has some advice for would-be secessionists:
Let the central government do the things that only central governments can do -- national defense, regulation of trade to keep the provinces from engaging in economic warfare with one another, protection of basic civil rights -- and then let the provinces go their own way in most other issues. Don't like the way things are run where you are? Move to a province that's more to your taste. Meanwhile, approaches that work in individual provinces can, after some experimentation, be adopted by the central government, thus lowering the risk of adopting untested policies at the national level. You get the benefits of secession without seceding.

Sound good? It should. It's called federalism, and it's the approach chosen by the United States when it adopted the Constitution in 1789.
It's so crazy, it just might work...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Chemistry Lessons

The doctor is busted:
Large amounts of chemicals commonly used to make bombs were found in the basement of a New Jersey doctor, along with assault rifles and a stun gun, prosecutors said today.

Dr. Roberto Rivera, 60, who according to some reports was active in the Occupy Wall Street movement last year, was arrested following a Friday night raid on his Ridgewood, N.J., home.

Ridgewood police first showed up at the home around 6:15 p.m. after getting a report of potential hazardous and explosive material, according to a press release from Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli.
....

Bill Dobbs, a member of the Occupy Wall Street press team, said he had no knowledge of any connection between Rivera and the movement, and said Occupy is firmly committed to non-violence.
Except for the riots, rapes, and shootings that took place in the Occupy camps...

Drinking The Ethanol

There will be no waivers on their watch:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday rejected a request from eight governors and nearly 200 members of Congress to waive requirements for the use of corn-based ethanol in gasoline, after last summer's severe drought wilted much of the nation's corn crop.
The move is a victory for corn farmers who have seen corn prices jump 400 percent in recent years. But it is a loss for pork and beef producers who say the diversion of corn to ethanol raises feed prices and ultimately prices at the supermarket.
....

"We recognize that this year's drought has created hardship in some sectors of the economy, particularly for livestock producers," said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "But our extensive analysis makes clear that congressional requirements for a waiver have not been met and that waiving the RFS will have little, if any, impact."
Michal Rosenoer, biofuels policy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, criticized the EPA decision.
"If the worst U.S. drought in more than 50 years and skyrocketing food prices are not enough to make EPA act, it falls to Congress to provide relief from our senseless federal support for corn ethanol," he said.
King Ethanol will not be denied...

Accountable Accounts

The price of non-transparency:
A House committee has launched an investigation into whether EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson used an email alias to try to hide correspondence from open-government requests and her agency’s own internal watchdog — something that Republican lawmakers said could run afoul of the law.

The science committee has asked Ms. Jackson to turn over all information related to an email account under the name of “Richard Windsor,” which is one of the aliases identified by a researcher looking into the EPA.

The committee has also asked the White House’s lawyer and EPA’s inspector general to look into the matter and report back by the end of this month, saying that the secret email accounts could have been used to keep key information from official watchdogs as well as the public.
The EPA would argue that they're jut following President Obama's lead...

Leaving America For America

It's probably just a post-election reaction, but:
Huffington Post conducted their own poll to determine national support for the idea. Four questions were asked to ascertain 1) awarness of secession, 2) support for secession in general, 3) support for Texas to secede, and 4) support for their own state to secede. Below are the results to the fourth question, “Would you support or oppose >your< state seceding from the United States?” Strongly support 12.4% Tend to support 10.4% Tend to oppose 10.3% Strongly oppose 41.6% Not sure 25.3% These results, which were collected November 14-15 with a sample size of 100, were released at 5:37pm EST Friday under the headline “Secession Poll: Majority Opposes Their State Seceding From The Union,” a technically accurate but somehwhat “minimalist” approach to headline writing. It seems more than striking–and headline worthy–that 22.4 percent of Americans “strongly” or “tend to” support their state seceding. Coupled with the more than 700,000 signatures that have so far been signed onto various states’ petitions, a case is building for more than the normal post-defeat malaise.
This secession thing does seem to be catching on...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lifting The Ceiling

Because it's such a pesky nuisance, reminding the government how much they owe:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the U.S. “absolutely” should get rid of the debt ceiling as soon as possible.

“It would have been time a long time ago to eliminate it,” Geithner told Bloomberg TV on Friday. “The sooner the better.”

Geithner did not commit to personally doing anything to eliminate the nation’s legal limit on borrowing. When pressed on the issue, Geithner told Bloomberg TV: “This is only something only Congress can solve. Congress put it on itself.”
Pretending that you can spend money you don't have isn't the answer here...

The Green Timber Monopoly

Creating a monopoly, environmentalist style:
Wnvironmental activists and organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) seek to enforce a framework where only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified timber gets recognized as environmentally sustainable. The USGBC’s “LEED” program uses a point-based rating system for buildings that awards credits to FSC-wood. This bias means that most wood products procured from land certified in the U.S. are severely disadvantaged; FSC recognizes only about one-quarter of North America’s certified forests. The other three-quarters of certified forests – recognized by groups such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS) – are shut out of the competition, despite standards which are quite similar to those of FSC, and in some cases significantly better than the FSC standards.
They claim to speak for the trees-and won't let anyone else.

The Death Tax Farm

The "wealthy" who would be affected by the estate tax aren't whom you might think:
Currently, the federal government taxes estates worth $5 million dollars and up at 35 percent. When the Bush-era tax rates expire in January, rates increase to 55 percent on estates of $1 million or more. While some Republicans want to eliminate the death tax entirely, President Obama has proposed a 45 percent rate on estates of $3.5 million and up.

"The idea behind the estate tax is to prevent the very wealthy among us from accumulating vast fortunes that they can pass along to the next generation," said Patrick Lester, director of Federal Fiscal Policy with the progressive think tank -- OMB Watch. "The poster child for the estate tax is Paris Hilton -- the celebrity and hotel heiress. That's who this is targeted at, not ordinary Americans."

But according to the American Farm Bureau, up to 97 percent of American farms and ranches will be subject to an estate tax where the exemption is set at $1 million. At that rate, the federal government will pocket $40 billion in 2013 and up to $86 billion in 2021. That contrasts with just $12 billion this year.
I guess this means that working farmers are now in the same category as Paris Hilton...

The Boondoggle Goes On

The train is still coming through:
A judge denied a request Friday from Central Valley farmers who sought to halt work on California's ambitious high-speed rail project, allowing work on the $68 billion project to continue at an aggressive pace.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley denied a request for a preliminary injunction, saying that the agency overseeing the project "acted reasonably and in good faith" in trying to comply with California environmental law.
....

In making his ruling Friday, the judge acknowledged that California laws require an understanding of a project's harm to the environment. Yet he said he did not feel there was sufficient reason to grant farmers a preliminary injunction, since actual construction is not slated to begin until July 2013.

The rail authority argued in court that the potential harm to the state for halting the massive transportation project was far greater than the objections of Central Valley farmers and landowners — up to $3.2 billion in federal funding if the bullet train does not meet federal deadlines, and $8 million to $10 million in higher construction costs.

"In this case — forgive me — we don't really care what goes on statewide. We're very concerned about what's happening in our county, and what's happening in our county is very real and it's happening every day," said Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau, one of the parties to the lawsuit. "My guys can't get operating loans to plant trees next year. My guys can't get operating loans to buy equipment for expanding their operations because they're in the footprint of the alignment."

The decision allows the rail authority to begin buying land along the proposed route and continue with site surveys, engineering design work and geological testing that began months ago.
of course the farmers' concerns don't matter. They're only people, after all. Now, if they were endangered field mice...

The Jack

The ultimate late night snack?
The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reported that Frito-Lay, the manufacturer of Cracker Jacks, will soon introduce a new version of its snack called Cracker Jack’d – which will have added caffeine. According to CSPI, the move violates Food and Drug Administration regulations, and the government needs to take action before other food and beverage manufacturers create similar products.
....

Frito-Lay said in an e-mailed statement to the Boston Globe that the new Cracker Jack’d Power Bites will have “two flavors that will contain coffee, a natural source of caffeine.” According to the company, one 2-ounce serving of Cracker Jack’d will contain around 70 milligrams of caffeine – which is the FDA limit for every 12 ounces of soda.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the side effects of having too much caffeine include insomnia, jitteriness and irritability, fast heartbeat and even muscle tremors. A major concern of CSPI and the American Academy of Pediatrics is that products such as Cracker Jack’d and MiO Energy are being marketed to children and teens – who are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine.

"Additional concerns regarding the use of caffeine in children include its effects on the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems and the risk of physical dependence and addiction," the AAP says. "Because of the potentially harmful adverse effects and developmental effects of caffeine, dietary intake should be discouraged for all children."

However, Frito-Lay told the Boston Globe the new Cracker Jack’d line is not meant for children.

“Cracker Jack’D is a product line specifically developed for adult consumers and will not be marketed to children,” Chris Kuechenmeister, a Frito-Lay spokesperson, wrote in a statement to the Boston Globe. “The package design and appearance are wholly different from Cracker Jack to ensure there is no confusion among consumers.”
At the very least, you can now be wide awake when you get the munchies...

The Capitol Hill Card

Seriously, is this the best defense they've got?
As former CIA Director David Petraeus revealed new discrepancies Friday in the administration's story over Libya, a dozen female House Democrats suggested Republicans' criticism of U.N. ambassador Susan Rice over her Libya comments is instead rooted in sexism and racism.

"It is a shame that anytime something goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities," Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the next chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters Friday at a Capitol Hill news conference.
...

The House women, a majority of them Africa-American, lashed out at McCain and Graham and demanded that they retract their criticism.

"To batter this woman because they don't feel they have the ability to batter President Obama is something we the women are not going to stand by and watch," said Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis. "Their feckless and reckless speculation is unworthy of their offices as senators."

Said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.: "We will not allow a brilliant public servant's record to be mugged to cut off her consideration to be secretary of state."
As long as the race and sexism card can be played, competence doesn't have to be an issue...

Meat Education

An Indian textbook seems to be long on propaganda and a bit short on facts:
Meat-eaters "easily cheat, lie, forget promises and commit sex crimes", according to a controversial school textbook available in India.

New Healthway, a book on hygiene and health aimed at 11 and 12 year-olds, is printed by one of India's leading publishers.
....

"The strongest argument that meat is not essential food is the fact that the Creator of this Universe did not include meat in the original diet for Adam and Eve. He gave them fruits, nuts and vegetables," reads a chapter entitled Do We Need Flesh Food?

The chapter details the "benefits" of a vegetarian diet and goes on to list "some of the characteristics" found among non-vegetarians.

"They easily cheat, tell lies, forget promises, they are dishonest and tell bad words, steal, fight and turn to violence and commit sex crimes," it says.

The chapter, full of factual inaccuracies, refers to Eskimos (Inuit) as "lazy, sluggish and short-lived", because they live on "a diet largely of meat".
In the cause of vegetarianism, a little bigotry goes a long way...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Knowing

As has been suspected all along:
John Solomon, the former Associated Press and Post reporter, has ferreted out the president’s daily brief that informed him within 72 hours of the Sept. 11 attack that the Benghazi attack was a jihadist operation.

Citing officials directly familiar with the information, Solomon writes in the Washington Guardian that Obama and other administration officials were told that “that the attack was likely carried out by local militia and other armed extremists sympathetic to al-Qaida in the region.”
....

Solomon cautions that there were bits of evidence pointing to a spontaneous attack but, as Eli Lake of the Daily Beast and others have reported, he writes: “Among the early evidence cited in the briefings to the president and other senior officials were intercepts showing some of the participants were known members or supporters of Ansar al-Sharia — the al-Qaida-sympathizing militia in Libya — and the AQIM, which is a direct affiliate of al-Qaida in northern Africa, the officials said.”

How could the president and his senior staff then have allowed (or rather, sent) Rice to go out to tell an entirely different tale to the American people on Sept. 16 on five TV shows?
Because it was easier to control the narrative that way?

Housing Bubble, Round Two

Are we headed for another real estate bailout?
The Federal Housing Administration, which has played a crucial role in stabilizing the housing market, said it ended September with $16.3 billion in projected losses -- a possible prelude to a taxpayer bailout.

The precarious financial situation could force the FHA, which has been self-funded through mortgage insurance premiums since it was created during the Great Depression, to tap the U.S. Treasury to stay afloat.

The agency said a determination on whether it needs a bailout won't come until next year.
....

The FHA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees it, said the report "does not mean FHA has insufficient cash to pay insurance claims, a current operating deficit or will need to immediately draw funds from the Treasury."

A request for taxpayer money would come in President Obama's 2014 budget, set to be released in February, with a final determination of whether the FHA needs the funds coming next September. The FHA has permanent and indefinite authority to draw money from the Treasury, although it has never had to use that power.
If they don't, I'm sure that President Obama would find a way to give it to them anyway...

Green Gangsters

The Department of Energy seems to be mired in corruption:
XP has received information demonstrating that the unprecedented number of failures in the DOE program relative to what DOE officials have claimed to be “the most expensive and extensive due diligence in history” is explained by manipulated reviews, in the due diligence effort, on behalf of what the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigations found to be “favoritism” in published investigation reports. A senate ethics investigation states, in published reports, that “negligence and mismanagement by DOE officials” was a regular occurrence. …

After XP staff first reported the incidents, becoming “whistle-blowers”, by reporting the evidence to GAO, Justice Department, The White House Press Office and The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, among others, they received threats and personal attacks. Over time, the volume of third party investigations, which have validated the charges of questionable acts by DOE staff have become voluminous.
Subsidizing is a dirty business...

The Times They Are A-Changing

Ross Douthat offers Republicans a way to survive the Culture Wars:
In the spirit of breaking out of the “I told you so” box, let me offer two places where I think the post-Romney G.O.P. could improve its position by changing in ways that don’t necessarily dovetail with my own preconceptions and beliefs. The first, perhaps over-obviously, is the issue of gay marriage, where my side of the argument has lost enough ground with voters to render the Republican Party’s official position on the issue — and particularly the call for a never-gonna-happen constitutional amendment — an empty gesture to a now-collapsed consensus, which is likely to soon alienate more voters than it mobilizes. It’s probably no longer a question of “if” but “when” the party beats a strategic retreat on the issue (I expect there will be a pro-life, pro-gay marriage Republican nominee within a generation if not sooner), and it makes a certain raw political sense to pre-emptively declare a big tent on the question, and make the party’s litmus tests support for federalism rather than a Supreme Court settlement and (as Rod Dreher of the American Conservative has argued, presciently and strenuously) support for the broadest possible protections for religious liberty. I’m not sure how such a shift would affect the rate at which evangelicals and conservative Catholics turn out for Republicans — that would be the big strategic risk, obviously. But my sense is that the party would just be formally acknowledging what many religious conservatives already accept — that a political platform can’t hold back a cultural tide, and that if the American understanding of what marriage is and ought to be someday turns back in a direction that cultural conservatives find congenial, the details of the Republican platform will be largely incidental to that shift.

As with gay marriage, so with marijuana. My ideal policy world would privilege other forms of criminal justice reform over the outright legalization of pot, and words cannot express how little sympathy I have for stoner culture. But when Paul Ryan implied to an interviewer that states should be free to make decisions about marijuana policy (the question was about medical marijuana, but the principle could have applied more broadly), there was no sound political reason for the Romney campaign to subsequently walk those comments back. There is still a large constituency that supports marijuana prohibition, but with crime rates down it’s not an issue that has any impact on presidential elections, and national Republicans would lose very little by taking a federalist, live-and-let-live approach to measures like the ones that passed in Colorado and Washington. We have a drug policy that nobody regards as a success, and a country that’s now split down the middle on whether pot should be legal for personal use. In that environment, the Republicans probably have more to gain politically from showing some flexibility on the issue — especially flexibility that can be wrapped in 10th Amendment principle — than they do from playing the law and order card and leaving it at that.

On pot and gay marriage, then, I agree with writers who think Republicans would profit politically from moving in a more libertarian direction, even if isn’t the policy direction I would necessarily choose.
So there are ways that the GOP can recover. But will they listen?

Who Killed Twinkies?

Hostess is no more:
“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” said Gregory F. Rayburn, chief executive officer. “Hostess Brands will move promptly to lay off most of its 18,500-member workforce and focus on selling its assets to the highest bidders.”

About one-third of the company’s workers are union members who are unhappy about the company’s cutbacks during its bankruptcy reorganization.

But problems with several unions — including the Bakery, Confectionery, and Tobacco workers and the Grain Millers International Union — have prevented the company from moving forward. Hostess said it will seek bankruptcy court permission to sell all of its assets. The company said bakery production has already shut down.
So who's to blame? In this case, it may not have been entirely big labor's fault. Still, it's a sad day for those of us who grew up with Ding Dongs and Twinkies:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Strykeout

Obamacare leaves its mark on medical device manufacturers:
Unlike pharmas, which won a seat at the table with substantial concessions, device makers didn't play ball with the White House and Senate Finance Committee Democrats when they were negotiating the legislation in 2009. The excise tax, which will chomp up 2.3% of their revenues (regardless, device makers note, of whether or not they make a profit) starting next year, was their punishment.

Now one of the biggest device manufacturers, Stryker Corp., has tied plans to slash 5% of its global workforce – in part by shuttering two New York plants – to the tax. Stryker said it will close its West Seneca, New York plant in September, impacting 11 employees, and its Orchard Park, New York facility in December, eliminating 96 jobs there. The firm said it would provide laid-off employees with severance packages, counseling and job placement services. Stryker acquired the plants in 2010 with its purchase of Gaymar Industries, which specialized in support surface and pressure ulcer management products as well as temperature management.

Stryker said last November that it would eliminate 5% of its global workforce as part of an effort to realize $100 million in annual productivity gains to offset the hit when the excise tax takes effect in 2013.
As this administration has shown in the past, playing ball can be rewarded. Unfortunately, it does require you to give up your principles...

Homecoming

It's not exactly new, but it does seem to be a generational trend:
adult children are again moving back out of the family home with increasing employment opportunities. “Household growth is still volatile, but it has been trending upward. The pickup is probably related to job growth, which has enabled multigenerational households to spin off into multiple new homes,” noted Rampell. The rate of household formation in the U.S. has doubled from its average level during the downturn, and now is hovering close to pre-recession levels, according to Census data.

Meanwhile, the employment situation for recent graduates remains grim — the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds was 13.2 percent in October (double the unemployment rate for workers aged 25 and older), according to the Labor Department.
Leaving home used to be a hallmark of adulthood. So is adulthood being delayed, or is it now just less affordable?

Falling Leaf

Nissan's electric car isn't doing so well:
Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn finally admitted the automaker will not meet its sales target for its all-electric Leaf — in another sign of the broad struggle of the electric vehicle industry.
"The forecast we have given ourselves for the year will not be reached," Ghosn told Bloomberg Television in Mexico City on Thursday.
Despite months of lagging sales, the Japanese automaker has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that it could not double sales in 2012 to 20,000 after selling nearly 10,000 in 2011.
....

In April, Nissan said an executive misspoke when he said the company was not likely to double sales of its all-electric Leaf in 2012.
Ghosn has previously predicted that 10 percent of all vehicles sold by 2020 worldwide will be electric vehicles.
In a free market, when people want to buy them-and when the technology is there-electric cars will sell. Until then...

Cliffhangers

Fiscal cliff? What fiscal cliff?
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) confirmed Thursday that she will seek the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee next year but told The Hill that she cannot commit to doing a budget.

This opens up the possibility that Senate Democrats will avoiding passing a budget resolution for the fourth year in a row.
....

Murray said that an agreement to avoid the "fiscal cliff," the looming $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to strike in January, could preclude having to pass a Senate budget next year.

“I am committed to working with our committee and with our Congress to put a budget in place but there are a lot of questions in front of us: What happens in the next two weeks, six weeks, year? Does the White House and the leadership come together on some solution to the budget that we have right now that precludes a budget being written next year?” she said. “I have no idea.”
They're committed to not being committed...

The Third Rail Line

Social Security is just fine, says Harry Reid:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that he will not allow changes in Social Security to be part of the negotiations to avoid a federal budget fiscal cliff, further narrowing the opportunities for savings that could be tapped to close the deficit.

Republicans have insisted that big entitlement programs such as Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid be part of the end-of-year negotiations to head off tax-rate increases and the $110 billion in automatic spending cuts.

But Mr. Reid said Democrats have already made changes to Medicare as part of President Obama's health law, and said Social Security is solvent for the time being and shouldn't be tapped to pay for other government needs.

"Social Security is not part of the problem, That's one of the myths the Republicans have tried to create," he said. "Social Security is sound for the next many years. But we want to make sure that in the outer years people are protected also, but it's not going to be part of the budget talks, as far as I'm concerned."
Maybe bot today, but tomorrow is getting closer and closer...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Doctor Is Out

Ron Paul says farewell to Congress:

Welfare Kings

The welfare bomb has gone nuclear:
Welfare is now the largest item in the federal budget, and under Barack Obama’s budget–the one that didn’t get any votes, but may nevertheless be a blueprint for the next four years–it is slated to grow another 30% in Obama’s second term.
....

This is an astonishing fact: the amount spent on federal welfare programs last year was enough to mail a $60,000 check to every one of the 17 million households living beneath the poverty line. And that doesn’t include spending by state and local governments, which traditionally have had primary responsibility for welfare, or spending by private charities.
People might have been better off just getting the checks...

The Blue And The Red

I'm not sure how much meaning to put into this:
Less than a week after a New Orleans suburbanite petitioned the White House to allow Louisiana to secede from the United States, petitions from seven states have collected enough signatures to trigger a promised review from the Obama administration.

By 6:00 a.m. EST Wednesday, more than 675,000 digital signatures appeared on 69 separate secession petitions covering all 50 states, according to a Daily Caller analysis of requests lodged with the White House’s “We the People” online petition system.

Petitions from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas residents have accrued at least 25,000 signatures, the number the Obama administration says it will reward with a staff review of online proposals.
At least they're not threatening to leave the country physically, just existentially. But there may be an alternative.

Mother's Choice?

Reason TV explains why Obama is bad for moms:

Big Brother Is Data Mining You

It's a growing demand:
U.S. government and law enforcement agencies are increasingly asking Google to hand over data on its customers to help with investigations.

The search and ads company today released figures revealing that it was asked to hand over user data 7,969 times by US agencies in the first six months of 2012 - an increase of 26 percent over the previous six months. That continues a long established trend in the figures released in Google's twice-yearly transparency report and charted above. The 7,969 requests asked for data from a total of 16,281 user accounts, and ninety percent of the requests were complied with.
....

Some privacy activists say that the ease with which U.S. authorities can extract information on users from Google and other companies suggests changes in the law, and company policies are needed to protect innocent users against the risk of unnecessary surveillance. Data can only be handed over by a company if it exists, and some campaigners think companies such as Google should reduce how long they retain some information. For example, Google currently stores search query details for 9 months before anonymizing them, a period some argue is too long. The main target of legal campaigning about data access is against the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which allows government and law enforcement to obtain data from Internet companies without a warrant if it is at least 6 months old.
It does tend to make one wonder what they are looking for...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Email Trap

Not another one:
The FBI probe into the sex scandal that prompted CIA Director David Petraeus to resign has expanded to ensnare Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, the Pentagon announced early Tuesday.

According to a senior U.S. defense official, the FBI has uncovered between 20,000 and 30,000 documents — most of them e-mails — of “potentially inappropriate” communications between Allen and Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old Tampa woman whose close relationship with Petraeus ultimately led to his downfall.

Allen, a Marine, succeeded Petraeus as the top allied commander in Afghanistan in July 2011. He also served as Petraeus’s deputy when both generals led the military’s Tampa-based Central Command from 2008 until 2010.
Can't anyone keep a secret anymore? Meanwhile, the odd twists continue.

Carbon Collapse

The European Union holds off on the carbon tax:
The European Union on Tuesday backed down from a controversial plan to charge international airlines for the pollution they create on flights to and from the continent, facing retaliation from the U.S., China, and India and other nations who said it encroached on their sovereignty.

European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard called for the bloc to “stop the clock” on the emissions trading system, or ETS, giving the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) another year to come up with a global solution for a meeting next November. The exemption applies to all foreign air carriers, but not those based in the EU.
....

U.S. airlines were willing to pay for their emissions in European airspace, but the controversial part of the plan was that Europe also wanted to charge for the emissions they created outside the EU’s airspace. Critics said the debt-plagued EU had imposed the tax to fill its coffers.
The skies outside of the EU are not up for negotiation, or shakedowns...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Black Gold Country

At long last, energy independence?
The United States will become the world's largest oil producer by around 2020, temporarily overtaking Saudi Arabia, as new exploration technologies help find more resources, the International Energy Agency forecast on Monday.

In its World Energy Outlook, the energy watchdog also predicted that greater oil and natural gas production -- thanks partly to a boom in shale gas output -- as well as more efficient use of energy will allow the U.S., which now imports around 20 percent of its energy needs, to become nearly self-sufficient around 2035.

That is "a dramatic reversal of the trend seen in most other energy-importing countries," the Paris-based IEA said in its report. "Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well beyond North America -- and the energy sector."

Rebounding U.S. oil and gas production is "steadily changing the role of North America in global energy trade," the IEA said.
This is good news-assuming that the EPA and environmentalists don't find ways of screwing it up first...

Virus Catcher

Is the man behind McAfee a criminal?
John McAfee, the estranged founder of the antivirus firm that bears his name, is wanted by the Belize police in connection with a murder, FoxNews.com has confirmed.

McAfee, whose very name is synonymous with security, is a prime suspect in the murder of American expatriate Gregory Faull, a well-liked builder from Florida who was shot Saturday night at his home in San Pedro Town on the island of Ambergris Caye, according to a series of exposes on tech blog Gizmodo. Vienne Robinson, assistant superintendent of the San Pedro police department in Belize, told FoxNews.com that police are actively searching for McAfee.

“We are looking for him in connection with the murder,” Robinson told FoxNews.com. “No one has been charged with murder yet,” she said, noting that there is one suspect already in custody.

The 52-year-old Faull was found by the housekeeper on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 11, lying face up in a pool of blood with an apparent gunshot wound on the upper rear part of his head, according to a police report posted on Gizmodo.
A strange case. I guess sometimes you never know...

Inflation Insecurity

What reasons could the average person have to be more worried about inflation than the government?
One is that the conspiracy crowd is correct, and the official statistics are rigged and vastly understate true inflation. But that wouldn’t get us anywhere near an understanding of why survey responses about inflation would be systematically different across men and women, higher- and low- income individuals, and just about any other demographic cuts we might make.

A second possibility it is that individuals’ responses reflect price changes in their own personal market basket, which may differ from that of the average urban wage earner whose habits are reflected in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). That might explain why any demographic sub group could arrive at different inflation perceptions, but it doesn’t explain why respondents as a whole systematically overstate inflation relative to the CPI.

I think the most likely explanation is that the survey respondents are expressing a much different concern than whether they believe food, gas, autos, banking services, or whatever are increasing or are likely to increase faster than the official statistics indicate. My guess is that they are telling us that they are concerned that their real — or inflation-adjusted — incomes are not rising fast enough to comfortably sustain their desired spending.
In other words, the government is out of touch-or lying-again.

Food Stamp Fallout

Is this what Ohio voted for?
Ohio families receiving food stamps could get an unwelcome surprise come January: $50 less every month in assistance.

For the 869,000 households enrolled in the program for the poorest Ohioans, that could amount to about $520 million annually out of the grocery budgets.

Because of the way the federal government calculates utility expenses for people receiving the benefit, a mild winter nationwide last year, and a lower price for natural gas, many families could experience a significant cut in aid, those familiar with the program say.

Recipients should get a letter from the state Department of Job and Family Services this month explaining the change, said Ben Johnson, a spokesman for the agency.

Meanwhile, food banks and others that distribute food assistance are bracing for increased demand.

“They are going to increase hunger among our most vulnerable — working families, seniors, children, and persons with disabilities,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
When everybody wants free stuff, those who really need it tend to get the short end of the stick.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Danish Tax Treat

If we're supposed to be more like Europe, then how do you explain this?
Foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat – including dairy produce, meat and processed foods – were subject to the surcharge.

But authorities said the tax had inflated food prices and put Danish jobs at risk.

The Danish tax ministry said it was also cancelling its plans to introduce a tax on sugar, the AFP news agency reports.

The ministry said one of the effects of the fat tax was that some Danes had begun crossing the border into Germany to stock up on food there.
It's just too bad that Michael Bloomberg and his ilk haven't figured this out yet...

Fiscal Cliff Consequences

The rich on the East and Left Coast may not like going backward:
Reverting to pre-Bush tax rates on incomes above $250,000 – as the President and many Democrats have long advocated – would raise about $1 trillion over the next ten years. In order to achieve approximately the same amount of deficit reduction, the limitation on deductions would have to be set at 15%. In other words, taxpayers in marginal tax brackets above 15% would lose some of the benefit of their itemized deductions. Obviously, such a change would have the greatest impact on taxpayers in high brackets with a lot of deductions. In particular, the limitation on deductions would hit taxpayers in high tax states – such as NY and California – particularly hard.
In other words, Hollywood would be paying more. It's always different when it's you and your friends who are being asked to "pay a little more," isn't it?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Black Eye For The Beeb

The boss is stepping down:
BBC director general George Entwistle resigned just two months into the job, after the state-funded broadcaster put out a program denounced by its chairman as shoddy journalism.

The BBC, reeling from revelations that a former star presenter was a paedophile, brought further problems on its head when a flagship news program, Newsnight, aired a mistaken allegation that a former senior politician sexually abused children.

The broadcaster issued a full apology on Friday, but early on Saturday Entwistle had to admit under questioning from his own journalists that he had not known in advance about the Newsnight report, weeks after being accused of being too hands-off over a previous scandal involving the same program.

Later on Saturday Entwistle announced his resignation, saying the unacceptable journalistic standards of the Newsnight film had damaged the public's confidence in the 90-year-old BBC.

"As the director general of the BBC, I am ultimately responsible for all content as the editor-in-chief, and I have therefore decided that the honorable thing for me to do is to step down," he said.
If only some of those at other MSM outlets would follow suit...

Do Not Disturb The Wilderness

More land is being declared off limits:
The Interior Department on Friday issued a final plan to close 1.6 million acres of federal land in the West originally slated for oil shale development.

The proposed plan would fence off a majority of the initial blueprint laid out in the final days of the George W. Bush administration…

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management cited environmental concerns for the proposed changes. Among other things, it excised lands with “wilderness characteristics” and areas that conflicted with sage grouse habitats.
So when people go cold and are sitting in the dark over the next few winters, I'm sure they'll remember that they're doing it for the good of the sage grouse...

Here To Stay

Obamacare isn't going away soon:
Top Republican lawmaker John Boehner said on Thursday he would not make it his mission to repeal the Obama administration's healthcare reform law following the re-election of President Barack Obama.

"The election changes that," Boehner, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, told ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer when asked if repealing the law was "still your mission."

"It's pretty clear that the president was re-elected," Boehner added. "Obamacare is the law of the land."

Under Boehner's leadership, the House tried repeatedly to repeal the healthcare law, the signature domestic measure of Obama's first term. While a few provisions were eliminated or changed, Senate Democrats blocked outright termination of the law.

Boehner added that parts of the law were going to be difficult to implement and that everything had to be on the table as lawmakers try to create a path to a balanced budget.
The law can and should be challenged and changed, as often and as much as possible.

Pay More, Lose More

The stock market seems worried about what lies ahead:
Since President Barack Obama won re-election on Tuesday, the market is down well over three percent.

On Friday, stocks lost most of their earlier gains after Obama called for higher taxes on the rich.

In a speech Friday, Obama said he was "open to new ideas" on resolving the fiscal cliff but repeated his instance that the rich pay more to cut the federal deficit.

"We can't just cut our way to prosperity," he said. "If we're serious about reducing the deficit we have to combine spending cuts with revenue, and that means asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more in taxes."
But without the investments from wealthy job creators, where will the prosperity come from?

Argentina Winter

The Revolution doesn't seem to be going so well:
An estimated 700,000 people gathered around the city's landmark obelisk and other main avenues to march towards the Casa Rosada, the Argentine seat of government.

High crime, inflation of roughly 25 per cent a year, and a possible bid by government allies to reform the constitution to allow Ms Fernandez to run for a third term are also stoking unrest, particularly among middle-class Argentines. Her government has virtually banned dollar purchases and it limited imports this year, worsening a steep economic slowdown.

Protesters in neighbourhoods throughout Buenos Aires waved signs demanding freedom, transparency and an end to crime and corruption.
....

Fernandez's government spends heavily to stoke high economic growth and backs big wage hikes that tend to mirror inflation.

Supporters claim protesters merely represent middle and upper class frustrations with the left-leaning government and not the population at large.
The population at large seems to disagree...