31 December 2008

About Caroline Kennedy

This is an article found here on MSNCB.

You have to feel sympathy for Caroline Kennedy. (I always have sympathy for trust fund millionaire brats.) The press is slaughtering her for the way she speaks. (And they should.) She used an awful lot of “ums” and “you knows” in the course of many interviews with print and TV reporters. Indeed, during a 40-minute interview with the New York Post, she said “you know” 200 times. That's a lot of “you knows” and no one can deny it. (Which would be an 'F' on any assignment in any real school. Isn't communicating the core requirement for a leader?)

But are we being a little unfair to someone who talks like many people do? I've been hearing sentences punctuated with “you knows” all my life and the hesitation of many people who aren't used to ad lib speaking is not uncommon either. (But "many people" aren't U.S. Senators! For God's sake shouldn't there be some legitimate qualifications involved?)

So what's the big deal? She is not the orator her father, President John Kennedy, was. Nor does she speak as well as her uncle Robert did. I know. I covered both of them during their brief careers. They had fantastic public speaking skills and spoke passionately for what they believed in. Her style is decidedly different. (Poor English is not a "style" and it doesn't rise to what should be the standard of a national leader. The "big deal" is that we have erased and eroded so many standards that we are almost down to, "its my turn to be senator!")

The article goes on from there. If you're in need of eye-rolling exercises and your blood pressure is a little low, go ahead and read it all.

I get that Ms. Kennedy wants to do good as she supposedly has done all her adult life with her various causes. I understand Ted has one ankle in the ground and that when he croaks we won't have a Kennedy in the senate for the first time in like 50 odd years. But a senate seat should not be handed out to the highest bidder as in Ohio, or the first kid to raise their hand, or lottery, or the person with the right look or last name.

Democrats Seek to Block Appointee to Obama’s Seat

Within an hour of learning on Tuesday that Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois was about to name a Senate successor to President-elect Barack Obama, the Senate Democratic leadership drew a clear line in the sand: Anyone appointed by Mr. Blagojevich, the embattled Illinois chief executive, would not be accorded Senate membership.

But that declaration has touched off questions of whether Democrats have the power to keep out Mr. Blagojevich’s pick, Roland Burris, a former state attorney general. It is likely that the issue will end up in court.

Democrats said they were confident of their standing under Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, which says “each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own members.” On rare occasion, the Senate has denied seats to candidates whose election outcome was in doubt or who were caught up in corruption. Yet constitutional experts question the extent of that authority, particularly in light of a 1969 Supreme Court decision in the case of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York. The court found that the House could not bar Mr. Powell, who had been accused of financial impropriety, if he met the constitutionally determined qualifications for age, citizenship and residency.

“I think the best reading of the text of the Constitution and the Powell case together is that the Senate has to seat Burris,” said Abner S. Greene, the Leonard F. Manning professor of law at Fordham University School of Law.

The turmoil engulfing the Illinois seat added to an air of uncertainty surrounding the Senate, which convenes next week, after Democrats were only a few weeks ago celebrating an expanded majority of at least 58. But with the session days away, the result of the Senate race in Minnesota remains to be determined, the status of the Illinois seat is up in the air and appointments have yet to be made for seats in New York and Colorado that are to be vacated when those holding them join Mr. Obama’s cabinet.

Senior Democratic aides said the party leadership decided to respond forcefully after first learning from Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, that Mr. Blagojevich was ready to move despite earlier warnings from the Senate that he should step aside and allow his successor to name a new senator.

The majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, convened a call of his aides from his home in Searchlight, Nev., followed by a conference call among Mr. Reid, Mr. Durbin, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and others. The unquestioned consensus, aides said, was that Democrats should make their position known before the governor’s announcement. Mr. Burris is an African-American, and the idea that Democrats would be preventing a respected black politician from taking a seat was raised. It was not considered a deterrent, however, since the issue they were focused on was the inquiry over the handling of the Senate appointment by Mr. Blagojevich. “It had nothing to do with Burris,” said Jim Manley, Mr. Reid’s top spokesman. “Anyone picked by this guy would be tainted.”

A statement issued by the Democratic leadership said bluntly that anyone appointed by Mr. Blagojevich “will not be seated by the Democratic caucus.”

Still, the pointed statements made in Chicago on Tuesday by Representative Bobby L. Rush, who is black, left little doubt that Democrats would be accused by some of racism should they deny Mr. Burris his seat. “There are no African-Americans in the Senate,” Mr. Rush said. “And I don’t think that anyone, any U.S. senator who’s sitting in the Senate, right now, want to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate.”

Story here.

Well, there's the race card. Its a damn shame that what everyone who isn't corrupt believes to be the right thing to do, may be prevented by a Supreme Court decision. You have to wonder what the Supreme Court was thinking in 1969. Its been brought up that a special election for the seat would open the possibility of a Republican winning, but I don't think that is a legitimate concern.

Corrupt Governor Blagojevich makes Appointment to US Senate

Embattled Governor Rod Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to the Senate seat vacated by President–Elect Barack Obama. Facing federal corruption charges, Blagojevich says he is simply following the law.

"To not fill the vacancy would be to deprive the people of Illinois of two United States Senators. To deprive the people of Illinois of this appropriate voice and votes in the US Senate," said Blagojevich at a Chicago press conference.

"I had talked to the Governor on Sunday night. When he asked me if he were to appoint me would I accept? And my answer was, yes.," said Burris in response to a question as to when he was first approached about the job.

Story here.

Hopefully, the appointment will be blocked as Democrats have vowed to do. But you can bet the race card will be played if the Senate refuses to seat Burris. Ahhh hope and change; so refreshing.

29 December 2008

Keith Olbermann sings a controversial song

Wanted: Senator for NY

Would a real candidate for the U.S. Senate please step up so we don't have to deal with another blow-hard, incompetent, do-nothing Kennedy? Please?

Carpetbaggers welcomed.

Presidential give-aways

Most presidents have some kind of favorite treat that they use as a gift for visitors to the White House or aboard Air Force One. Reagan had jelly beans. Clinton had M&Ms.

For Obama it will probably be a pack of Kool Filter Kings.

Will one of President-elect Barack Obama’s New Year’s resolutions be to quit smoking once and for all?

His good-humored waffling in various interviews about smoking made it plain that Mr. Obama, like many who have vowed to quit at this time of year, had not truly done so. He told Tom Brokaw of NBC several weeks ago, for example, that he “had stopped” but that “there are times where I’ve fallen off the wagon.” He promised to obey the no-smoking rules in the White House, but whether that meant he would be ducking out the back door for a smoke is not known. His transition team declined to answer any questions about his smoking, past or present, or his efforts to quit.

The last president to smoke more than occasionally was Gerald R. Ford, who was quite fond of his pipes. Jimmy Carter and both Presidents George Bush were reportedly abstainers, but Bill Clinton liked cigars from time to time, though he may have chewed more than he smoked.

Story here.

Only 21% of Americans regularly smoke. It is illegal to smoke almost anywhere except outside, on your own property. Obama needs to get with the 21st century (and set an example) and kick the habit. The occasional cigar or pipe is different. Its more thoughtful and dignified.

28 December 2008

More woes for Detroit

The Detroit Lions have done the impossible. After giving up 17 fourth-quarter points to the Packers and losing, 31-21, today at Lambeau Field, Detroit becomes the first NFL team to go 0-16 in a season.

Story here.
You may have been thinking about your own team and how bad they suck. You may be right. Many have thought that the Texans suck. I have at times. Well, facts are facts. And no team anywhere, ever before has sucked as bad as the Detroit Lions of 2008.

Teflon Obama

After being told by prosecutors that their testimony could jeopardize the ongoing criminal investigation, the Illinois House panel considering impeachment charges against Gov. Rod Blagojevich will not subpoena advisers to President-elect Barack Obama.

Right. That seems legit doesn't it? I'm actually starting to feel sorry for all those dreamy eyed suckers who thought things would actually change.

Story here.

26 December 2008

Crazy Santa Gunman

A man dressed in a Santa Claus suit opened fire at a Christmas Eve gathering of his former in-laws and then set the house ablaze, killing nine people before fleeing. He was found with $17,000 in cash and a plane ticket to Canada, the police said Friday.

At an afternoon news conference, the police chief said the gunman, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45, instead drove to his brother’s house in Sylmar, about 40 miles from here, after suffering third-degree burns to both arms in the inferno and took his own life with a single gunshot to the head.

Hours earlier on Friday, the ninth body was discovered in the rubble of the home in Covina, a small town about 20 miles east of Los Angeles, where people were stunned by what had unfolded in their suburban town. At the news conference, Police Chief Kim Raney said that when Mr. Pardo’s body was discovered, part of the Santa costume was melted to his skin.

The chief said investigators had discovered a résumé for Mr. Pardo, and though he could not vouch for its accuracy, it indicated that Mr. Pardo, was unemployed.

Story here.

I have been expecting crime to increase with the down-turn in the economy. It appears this crime spree may have been more about the divorce than the unemployment but thing like this will get worse before they get better.

24 December 2008

Merry Christmas

Calvin and Hobbes Parody the Auto Bailout

Click here: Calvin and Hobbes Parody the Auto Bailout

The Costs of Corruption and Rent Seeking

The article below touches on some of the same themes in my earlier post, Corruption, Virtue, and the Whigs. Excerpts below, the whole article is worth reading.

Corruption's cost, beyond Blagojevich
Understanding just how actions such as Blagojevich's create widespread harm, however, is more involved than it appears.

Obviously, a governor who uses his appointment powers to feather his own nest is a scoundrel. And such ill-begotten appointees are likely to be inferior, so the public suffers.

But this is only the tip of the antisocial iceberg. As Tullock first recognized (in a paper published in 1967), enormous amounts of resources – including human talent – are wasted in the pursuit of government privileges.and perverts the work of government.

Tullock's insight is that the very ability of government to create lucrative special privileges diverts resources from socially productive pursuits into wasteful ones.

Think of all the special privileges governors can bestow: subsidies for stadiums, public-works contracts, special taxes and fees, not to mention myriad regulations with myriad loopholes. Chief executives – mayors, governors, and presidents – are supposed to be the chief enforcers of the law. Today, though, they are also chief bestowers of privileges. As such, the trading of favors is intense, leaving little bandwidth for actual public service. Society loses.

During the campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain pledged to limit the influence of lobbyists and special interests. But you can't stop politics as usual when government grows. And as Washington embarks on a trillion-dollar-plus shopping spree, the conditions that cultivate rent-seeking – and thus corruption – are sure to grow, too.

The antidotes for this poison are integrity and constitutionally limited government. The need for them has never been greater.

Alternative Timeline: Would a President Gore have invaded Iraq?

This is a subject I have discussed frequently (no not here, but, you know, in personal conversations). Of course, who knows? But I always argued that if you look at the presidential campaign rhetoric in 2000, Gore took a more agressive stance than Bush. Bush professed to be against foreign involvement, while Gore argued for more involvement overseas. Also, people forget that while Clinton was in office, we were bombing Iraq the whole time.

Below is another look at the issue.

Kelly McParland: Would Al Gore have invaded Iraq? Definitely, concludes new study

Current wisdom has it that if there had been a few less hanging chads in Florida in November 2000, the world would be a different place.

In a new paper for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, he deconstructs the thesis and finds it “overlooks almost all of the relevant historical facts.” More than that, he asks a simple question: Had he been elected, would Al Gore have taken the same path as George Bush? He concludes, overwhelmingly, that he would have.

Given the prevailing mood in the aftermath of 9/11, the institutional structures that surround the president, the political and social pressures of the time, the accepted wisdom regarding Saddam Hussein and the international factors at work, says Harvey, Gore “[would have been] compelled ... to make many of the same interim (generally praised) decisions for many of the same reasons. Momentum would have done the rest.”There are several threads to Harvey’s argument, which you can read in its entirety here.

As Harvey points out:“Gore was a foreign policy hawk. He consistently opposed efforts to cut defense spending, supported Reagan’s decisions to bomb Libya, invade Grenada, aid the Contras in the 80s, and fund the B-1 and B-2 bomber and MX missile programs.” Gore and his running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman, both backed the 1991 Gulf War. As Vice President, Gore supported military actions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and “consistently adopted the hardest line in the Clinton administration when dealing with Saddam Hussein.” When President Clinton decided to abort his four-day bombing of Iraq in 1998, Gore opposed backing down “despite the absence of UN Security Council endorsement.”

Gore was surrounded by advisers who shared his hawkish views, whose speeches, statements and policy positions at the time give no hint they were reluctant to use force to bring Saddam Hussein into line.

Defending Scrooge

From Old Whig's Brain Dump: I always thought Scrooge got a bum rap from Dickens.

Nepotism Promoted by Media

A few days ago, I wondered about the role of the media in promoting the aristocratic mindset. The article below discusses how the media promotes a few familiar families:

Welcome to 'Nepotism Nation'

Would someone please draw a dark line of distinction between what we call a scandal in Illinois and business as usual in New York?

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell a vacant Senate seat, while New York Gov. Paterson is expected to give a Senate seat to the woman whose family can raise lots of money for his benefit.

Several New York representatives have shown interest in the Senate position, and despite their record of service to the people of the state -- and their familiarity with places like Syracuse, Syosset and Staten Island -- they have been dismissed as nobodies. Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano isn't vying for the job, but he spoke for his colleagues when he said, "What are we, chopped liver?"

In an utterly straight-faced editorial, The New York Times noted that Caroline has much going for her: "As a public figure, she carries the glamour and poignancy of her family, the only living child of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, an uncle of hers, has reigned for years as the liberal clarion in the Senate. Another uncle, the late Bobby Kennedy, was a charismatic senator who represented New York 40 years ago."

Famous father? Powerful uncle? Another charismatic uncle?

Welcome to 19th century Parma.

Santa's Helpers

Santa's helpers spread good cheer in Tempe, Arizona while confronting government survellience.

Present Face

23 December 2008

Quote of the Day

Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees. And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people. -- Henry Clay

Money for Bailout but not Veterans

Speaking of bailouts, if billions can be spent to prop up corporate bonuses, bank acquisitions, and corporate jets, you think some could be spent on veterans.

The Dept. of Veterans Affairs needs some bailout money now

Then, right here on American soil we have CEO’s and major Dow Jones wealthy stock holders who benefit clearly and without waiting a week for billions of taxpayers dollars in what has become known as the great American bailout.

They do not have to wait, they do not have to live in squalor, they just call their local elected official who they contributed money to during the election campaign and they receive a check no questions asked. This is what has been taking place in America during these past few months in 2008.

The elected ones simply pay lip service to the waiting disabled combat veterans and simply write a check without any questions to their friends and family contributors. They ignore the very people who were protecting all Americans.

Where's the bailout for our veterans?

Where is the emergency bailout for this country's veterans suffering from untreated brain injuries and traumatic disability syndromes? Until recently, the defensive whine has been, "There's no money for ...," but that dodge is over.

We've now learned that when the government wants to find money for something it considers important, the money appears.

If we can bail out banks, we can fund veterans

Business As Usual: Taxpayer Money Blown -- No Accounting -- Idiots in Congress to Blame -- No One To Face Any Consequences

Hey, you can't expect them to keep track of these things, can you? I mean, it's not like it's really their money is it? They're too busy planning all those inauguration and fundraising receptions to worry about $700 billion.

Don't worry, now that the cows are out, Congress will shut the barn door.

Congress moves to crack down on bailout recipients
Lawmakers are turning up the heat on banks that have received money from the Treasury Department's $700 billion rescue fund after the Associated Press reported that they wouldn't say how they are using the money.

"At present, we don't know whether these companies are using these funds to fly on private jets, attend lavish conferences or lobby Congress," Feinstein said in a statement.

The AP contacted 21 banks that received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings? What's the plan for the rest?

None of the banks provided specific answers and most refused to explain why they are keeping the information secret.

Nearly every bank AP questioned — including Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., two of the largest recipients of bailout money — responded with generic public relations statements explaining that the money was being used to strengthen balance sheets and continue making loans to ease the credit crisis.

"It is outrageous that those institutions cannot — or will not — provide information on how they are spending billions of taxpayer dollars," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Monday.

No, what's outrageous is that the money was voted in the first place.

It's even more outrageous that the legislation did not require the recipients to disclose how the money was being spent.

Good God, does anyone up there read this crap before they vote on it and pass it?

The story above is a follow up to the story that broke today:

Where'd the bailout money go? Banks won't say

It's something any bank would demand to know before handing out a loan: Where's the money going?

But after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation's largest banks say they can't track exactly how they're spending the money or they simply refuse to discuss it.

The answers highlight the secrecy surrounding the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which earmarked $700 billion — about the size of the Netherlands' economy — to help rescue the financial industry. The Treasury Department has been using the money to buy stock in U.S. banks, hoping that the sudden inflow of cash will get banks to start lending money.

There has been no accounting of how banks spend that money. Lawmakers summoned bank executives to Capitol Hill last month and implored them to lend the money — not to hoard it or spend it on corporate bonuses, junkets or to buy other banks. But there is no process in place to make sure that's happening and there are no consequences for banks who don't comply.

"It is entirely appropriate for the American people to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent in private industry,'the top congressional watchdog overseeing the financial bailout.

But, at least for now, there's no way for taxpayers to find that out.Pressured by the Bush administration to approve the money quickly, Congress attached nearly no strings on the $700 billion bailout in October. And the Treasury Department, which doles out the money, never asked banks how it would be spent.

Bailout Parody Can't Keep Up With Bailout Reality

Sometimes, it is no fun to be right. Back in November, we did a series of parody postings showing a range of industries seeking bailouts from Congress. Since one industry gets bailout money, then you just knew, just knew, that others would start going to Congress, hat in hand, begging for money.

Of course, the politicians just love this kind of attention. Makes them feel all powerful and such. Once proud people coming before them, seeking tax money, with the Congressman sitting there like a Governor Blagojevich, willing to do this favor, if the supplicant would just do something in return.

So this is what our citizenship is reduced to: going to your Congressman, offering to do her a favor -- please, kind madam, just give some of my tax money back, I would be ever so grateful -- and you know there's an election coming up -- and well... .

So here goes -- all real, no parodies below. Imagine the flood come January.

Developers say 'me too' for bailout
Retailers want their bailout, too
An Ethanol Bailout?
Clayton chairman to meet over hospital bailout
Billion-Dollar Bailout for Battery-Makers?
Madoff investors hoping for a bailout
Tesla Bailout Request
Broward School Board Requests Federal 'Help'
More companies lining up for piece of bailout fund
Bail-outs? Can we have some too? article discussing various levels of interest in bailouts from: home furnishing suppliers, car rental firms, zookeepers, funeral directors, wine growers, landscapers, massage therapists, turkey farmers, and taxidermists.
Dane County executive asks Obama for bailout money
U.S. Conference of Mayors Drafts $73.2 Billion Wish List

22 December 2008

Government To Kill Business In Order To Save It

As an demonstration of the previous post, check this out:

Washington Is Killing Silicon Valley
Entrepreneurship was taken for granted. Now we're seeing a lot less of it.

Even as economic losses and unemployment levels mount, America's most effective engine for wealth and job creation is being dangerously -- perhaps fatally -- compromised.

For more than 30 years the entrepreneurship-venture capital-IPO cycle centered in Silicon Valley has generated new wealth, commercialized innovation, and created new companies and industries. It's also spun off millions of new jobs. The great companies created by this process -- Intel, Apple, Google, eBay, Microsoft, Cisco, to name just a few -- have propelled most of the growth in the U.S. economy in the last two decades. And what began as a process almost exclusively available to scientists and engineering Ph.D.s became open to just about anyone with a good business plan and a healthy dose of entrepreneurial drive.

From the beginning of this decade, the process of new company creation has been under assault by legislators and regulators. They treat it as if it is a natural phenomenon that can be manipulated and exploited, rather than the fragile creation of several generations of hard work, risk-taking and inventiveness. In the name of "fairness," preventing future Enrons, and increased oversight, Congress, the SEC and the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) have piled burdens onto the economy that put entrepreneurship at risk.

The new laws and regulations have neither prevented frauds nor instituted fairness. But they have managed to kill the creation of new public companies in the U.S., cripple the venture capital business, and damage entrepreneurship. According to the National Venture Capital Association, in all of 2008 there have been just six companies that have gone public. Compare that with 269 IPOs in 1999, 272 in 1996, and 365 in 1986.

Faced with crushing reporting costs if they go public, new companies are instead selling themselves to big, existing corporations. For the last four years it has seemed that every new business plan in Silicon Valley has ended with the statement "And then we sell to Google." The venture capital industry is now underwater, paying out less than it is taking in. Small potential shareholders are denied access to future gains. Power is being ever more centralized in big, established companies

What is so awful is that we are doing this to ourselves.

Gasping Geezers: Autos, Media, Politics

I have discussed this before here. What happened to the American can-do spirit? Beaten down by bureaucratic sclerosis, it appears. While the markets will have their way one way or the other, we could use the same pruning in our politics.

But everywhere you turn, there are rules, regulations, and restrictions designed to protect those that got there first, or inherited their positions, from competition and new entrants. Whether it is media, business, or politics, there are legal and regulatory obstacles erected to "protect the public." Right.

A harsh assessment below from Mark Steyn. He is right; we could use youth and new thinking.

Can You Still See the USA in Your Chevrolet?

General Motors now has a market valuation about a third of Bed, Bath And Beyond, and no one says your Swash 700 Elongated Biscuit Toilet Seat Bidet is too big to fail. GM has a market capitalization of just over two billion dollars. For purposes of comparison, Toyota’s market cap is one hundred billion and change (the change being bigger than the whole of GM). General Motors, like the other two geezers of the Old Three, is a vast retirement home with a small loss-making auto subsidiary. The UAW is the AARP in an Edsel: It has three times as many retirees and widows as “workers” (I use the term loosely). GM has 96,000 employees but provides health benefits to a million people.

So many areas of endeavor that once embodied the youth and energy of this great land are now old and sclerotic. I include, naturally, my own industry. I loved the American newsrooms you saw in movies like The Front Page, full of hardboiled, hard-livin’ newspapermen. By the time I got there myself, there were no hardboiled newspapermen, just bland anemic newspaperpersons turning out politically correct snooze sheets of torpid portentousness. The owners of The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune recently filed for bankruptcy protection. The New York Times is mortgaging its office to fund debt repayment. The Detroit Free Press is cutting out home delivery except on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, thereby further depressing sales of delivery trucks in the Motor City.

The newspapers blame the Internet, just as Detroit blames Japan. But the Japanese have problems of their own. One day they’ll get theirs. That’s the beauty of capitalism. Nothing is forever. The big railroad barons smoking cigars and enjoying pheasant under glass in the dining car on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe thought Henry Ford was a schmuck. Who’d want to ride around in that thing? Next thing you know everyone’s getting their kicks on Route 66...

Hey, and who needs to make it there when you can just get appointed there? Governor Paterson is said to be considering appointing Princess Caroline of Kennedy to Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate seat. After two and a third centuries of republican experiment, America has finally worked its way back to the House of Lords.

See the USA from your Chevrolet: An hereditary legislature, a media fawning its way into bankruptcy, its iconic coastal states driving out innovators and entrepreneurs, the arrival of the new Messiah heralded only by the leaden dirge of “We Three Kings Of Ol’ Detroit Are/Seeking checks we traverse afar”, and Route 66 looking ever more like a one-way dead-end street to Bailoutistan.

“I feel like I lost my country,” said the Hudson Institute’s Herbert London the other day, wondering whatever happened to the land of opportunity and dynamism. But I’m more of an optimist. Maybe Princess Caroline will be appointed CEO of GM and all will be well. Or maybe Bed, Bath And Beyond will put wheels on the Swash 700 Elongated Biscuit Toilet Seat Bidet.

Fort Dix Conspirators Convicted

5 convicted in plot to attack Fort Dix

Five would-be jihadists who prosecutors say were inspired by al Qaeda were convicted Monday of plotting to "kill as many American soldiers as possible" in an attack on Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey, but the men were acquitted of attempted murder charges.

The men, all in their 20s and described by authorities as "radical Islamists," could face life in prison when they are sentenced in April in federal court in New Jersey.

21 December 2008

Contacts with Blagojevich About Obama Senate Replacement

I understand that they wanted to distance themselves from Blagojevich, but why did they say they had no conversations with the Illinois governor about the replacement? I would think it would be unusual not to have contact over an issue like this. Still, for all the fuss, it doesn't look like the Obama team did anything wrong.

Barack Obama aide demanded Senate seat for President-elect's friend

Barack Obama's chief of staff pushed the Governor of Illinois to appoint one of the President-elect's closest friends to his vacant Senate seat, it has emerged.

The leaked details of an internal transition team review of contacts with Gov Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of - but denies - trying to "sell" the seat, will open Mr Obama up to accusations of hypocrisy and cronyism because he had indicated he would not intervene in filling the vacancy.

According to ABC News, the internal review shows that the President-elect's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had one phone conversation with the governor and several more with his aides.

The sources did confirmed that in conversations with John Harris, Gov Blagojevich's chief of staff, who has also been charged with corruption, Mr Emanuel made the case for Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of Mr Obama, being appointed to the Senate seat.
During one conversation, Mr Harris is said to have asked whether in return for picking Miss Jarrett "all we get is appreciation, right?". Mr Emanuel is said to have responded: "Right."

It is unclear whether anyone in Mr Obama's staff alerted the authorities about Gov Blagojevich's alleged attempts to secure a quid pro quo for the Senate appointment.

Miss Jarrett is among the friends due to join Mr Obama, his wife Michelle and their daughters Malia and Sasha at the Hawaiian resort of Kailua. The five-bedroom $9 million ($6 million) bungalow overlooks the Pacific and is set on nearly an acre of land. It is a favourite spot for windsurfers and kayakers and is half an hour from Honolulu, where Mr Obama grew up.

Fort Dix Six Verdict May Come Monday

Fort Dix Jurors Say They Expect to Finish Monday

Jurors in the case of five men accused of plotting an attack on New Jersey's Fort Dix says they expect to finish deliberating Monday.
The jury worked on the case for nearly seven hours on Sunday. It was the fifth day of deliberations.
There were no notes or other requests during Sunday's deliberations. The jury asked for two transcripts in the first four days.
The five defendants are all foreign-born Muslim men who lived for years in a Philadelphia suburb. They're charged with conspiring to kill military personnel and attempted murder. They would face life in prison if convicted of those charges.

Which Is Real And Which Is a Parody?

It must be hard to write parody when real life keeps catching up with you. One of the following is a made up headline from the Onion. The others are real stories on MSNBC.

Wall Street still not downgrading to first class
Companies — some taking bailout money — still fly corporate jets

Insurance giant American International Group Inc., which has received about $150 billion in bailout money, has one of the largest fleets among bailout recipients, with seven planes, according to a review of Federal Aviation Administration records.
$700 Billion Bailout Celebrated With Lavish $800 Billion Executive Party

"I'm glad we were all humble enough to recognize that we couldn't do this on our own," said AIG CEO Edward Liddy, sitting in a hot tub filled with Cristal and seven dozen endangered-quail eggs. "Having come so close to disaster, it is crucial that I eat these 24-karat-gold-leaf-wrapped chocolate truffles to boost stockholder morale and show all the critics and naysayers that we are carrying on just as we always have."
"Do not worry, America," Liddy added. "It's business as usual at AIG."

$1.6 billion went to bailed-out bank execs
Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

Subtle Sharia

PJM: Stealth Jihad in America

In 1995, Muslim Brotherhood Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi exhorted his followers to action with a bold promise. “We will conquer Europe, we will conquer America!” he declared. Similarly grandiose declarations had long been a staple of Islamist rhetoric, but al-Qaradawi stressed that victory would be achieved “not through the sword,” but through more covert measures — a kind of stealth jihad. Fourteen years later, Robert Spencer believes that al-Qaradawi has come closer to realizing his vision, both in Europe and the U.S., than many recognize.

It’s bad enough that Minnesota’s Muslim cabdrivers refused service to some 5,400 passengers for the offense of carrying alcohol, or that the Indianapolis airport in 2007 installed footbaths to accommodate Muslim prayer, or that at least nine universities now have Muslim-only prayer rooms. Worse is that such flagrantly preferential treatment for Islam has been justified by everyone from government authorities to academics and journalists as a victory for “religious freedom.”

It’s true of course that none of these examples of stealth jihad quite rise to the level of civilizational conquest. Considered together, however, they raise an uncomfortable question: How far is the United States willing to go to indulge demands for religious exclusivity — especially when, as in the case of the 50,000-100,000 American Muslims now living in polygamous arrangements, they violate national laws?

As Spencer pointedly observes, “There is always more Sharia to accommodate.”


Here's some excerpts from another article about our governing plutocracy/aristocracy. It is a trend that needs to be discouraged. Three hundred million people in the USA and we are stuck on just a few families?

I also wonder about the part the media plays in encouraging this.

What is of concern is the impact this aristocratic privilege seeps into our attitudes. I often talk to people who express the "Oh, what can I do" or "I can't get involved with that" helplessness when dealing with officialdom or a local political situation. Or when you deal with an elected official who is condescending.

We are not peasants, but citizens. The Kennedys and the Bushs are not our betters, and are only the equal of every citizen. But you wouldn't know that watching the news. We allow this kind of attitude to flourish, and we'll all end up no better than serfs, groveling to the whims of our lords.

Make 'Princess Caroline' win seat through election

Yes, the Founders were not democrats. They believed in aristocracy. But their idea was government by natural — not inherited — aristocracy, an aristocracy of "virtue and talents," as Jefferson put it.

And yes, of course, we have our own history of dynastic succession: Adamses and Harrisons, and in the last century, Roosevelts, Kennedys and Bushes. Recently, we've even branched out into Argentine-style marital transmission, as in the Doles and the Clintons.

It's not the end of the world, but it is an accelerating trend that need not be encouraged. After all, we have already created another huge distortion in our politics: a plethora of plutocrats in the U.S. Senate, courtesy of our crazed campaign finance laws. If you're very very rich, you can buy your Senate seat by spending as much of your money as you want. Meanwhile, your poor plebeian opponent is running around groveling for the small contributions allowed by law. Hence the Corzines and the Kohls, who parachute into Congress seemingly out of nowhere.

Having given this additional leg up to the rich, we should resist packing our legislatures with yet more privileged parachutists, the well-born.

True, the Brits did it that way for centuries, but with characteristic honesty. They established a house of Parliament exclusively for highborn twits and ensconced them there for life. There they chatter away in supreme irrelevance deep into their dotage. Problem is that the U.S. Senate retains House of Commons powers even as it develops a House of Lords membership.

But in a country where advantages of education, upbringing and wealth already make the playing field extraordinarily uneven, we should resist encouraging the one form of advantage the American Republic strove to abolish: title.

20 December 2008

More on American Aristocrats

from Salon.com:

American monarchists (The Caroline Travesty)

If it is handed to Caroline, it will be because of her family, particularly her father. She will have inherited the seat, like the "peerage" in the British monarchy.A week ago, OS blogger Stella compared the Senate to the closest thing we have to a House of Lords. Exactly.

That aspect of the Senate has always rankled me, and this would be one of the worst precedents in my lifetime.That body has spent the past 50 years way too filled with Bushes, Bayhs, Kennedys, Doles, Caseys, Murkowskis and all sorts of others working "the family business"--another phrase that makes me uneasy.

These people have every right to work the family name and connections, but as voters, I think we're generally foolish to support the dynastic system. We would be much wiser to examine the lingering feelings that draw us to the idea of Noble Families and Great Houses--the whole idea of nobility that our coutry tried to break from 200-plus years ago.

It keeps sucking us back. The ideas are strong. Bloodlines, nobility . . . they go way back in the mythology and literature we were raised on, and which remain alive and well in our films. (How did we love it that Luke turned out to be Princess Leia's sister! Yes, the force runs strong in that family! They are greater because they are related.)
No. It is total bullshit. It is the same fantasy that deludes us that because Caroline is the last of this holy line, or because she was a cute little kid during Camelot, she will grip the mighty Excalibur and reign triumphant over a grateful people.

This is the kind of shit we internalize. It's no accident that they called the JFK tenure Camelot. We eat that shit up. Humans love mythology. We seem wired with it, and toward monarchy, oligarchy and Noble Houses.

I was repulsed by the idea of "saving" the Delaware senate seat for Biden's son, the "natural heir." I was stunned by how quickly and easily the beltway boys all jumped onto that idea, all of them parotting it, no one that I heard questioning it. Oh, how sad the timing, that the guy was headed off to Iraq just when it was time to inherit dad's seat.

When did Americans become such monarchists?

How sick that the two supposed leading contenders for the NY seat are a Kennedy and Cuomo.The Baroness vs. the Vicount? Blech.

I don't want a Baroness or a Vicount. I don't want a House of Lords. I want anyone with a famous parent to have to work twice as hard to prove they they deserve it, not half as hard.

George Washington was supposedly offered a perenial seat as president, and had the wisdom and courage to refuse. Whether or not he could do a great job as president was dwarfed by the monarchist precedent he would set.

I agree.

19 December 2008

Nanny State

Video from reason.com:

The ban on giant inflatable gorrillas is from here in Houston. City Council members voted to ban the publicity gimmicks, saying they were "tacky."

Oh, Mighty Bailout, Is There Anything You Can't Do?

Despite logic, reason, facts, Congress, and public opinion, Bush does it anyway. Not for the first time.

Why do we have a Congress? They don't seem to count for much.

Well, that's what happens when you pass an Enabling Act -- oops, I mean a broadly worded blank check to the executive branch.

The Whig theory of government is that the legislative branch should be the leading branch of government. If only we had a legislative branch that believed that also.

Bush throws lifeline to automakers

President George W. Bush bailed out automakers on Friday with $17.4 billion in emergency loans as he sought to stave off a collapse that would have cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Some $13.4 billion of the total package will be made available in December and January from a $700 billion Wall Street bailout fund originally designed to rescue struggling financial institutions.

More here: Illegal Lending Practices
Bush's plan to help carmakers is not authorized by law.

21Dec UPDATE: more here: Legality of Bush's bailout of automakers questionable

18 December 2008

Big Stimulus Plan in the Works

We have argued here in favor of increased spending on infrastructure projects. The incoming Obama Administration wants to do this in a big way, but details are still being worked out.

Obama Team Assembling $850 Billion Stimulus

The potential for massive new spending has touched off a frenzy among interest groups eager to claim their share of the expanding stimulus pie. The profusion of requests from governors, transportation groups, environmental activists and business organizations is spawning fears that the package could be loaded with provisions that satisfy important Democratic constituencies but fail to provide the jolt needed to pull the nation out of a deepening recession.

"It's everybody's wish list, everybody's favorite program. And I think that's a big mistake," said Alice Rivlin, a Brookings Institute economist and former budget director for President Bill Clinton who has been advising Democrats. "I agree with the Obama team that we need a big increase in public investment, but it should be done very, very wisely," rather than through a rushed process that risks being "seen as scattering money to the wind."

Days of open wallet

The conundrum is that it is hard to spend both rapidly and wisely. America’s transport infrastructure is in need of overhaul, and many worthy projects exist that could boost energy efficiency or alternative fuel sources.

But there may not be enough of them to absorb large sums quickly. Often such projects are kept on the drawing board not by lack of money but by politics and planning.

Adapting the electricity grid, for example, to use more alternative energy may require new transmission lines for which approval can take years.

In September the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated it would take two years to spend just 60% of $37 billion in infrastructure funds in a stimulus bill passed by the House of Representatives (but not yet acted on by the Senate).

The budget deficit could top $1 trillion, or 7% of GDP, this fiscal year. That may be necessary in the short run, but could be dangerously destabilising before long. Rudolph Penner, a former CBO director, predicts that the federal debt (excluding debt owed to other parts of the federal government) will soar from 38% of GDP this year to 55% at the end of 2010, the highest since the early 1950s, when the country was still in hock from fighting a war.

Roads to nowhere
The greater problem is the lack of a strategy. No federal office oversees spending on infrastructure. Congressmen appropriate money for individual projects, a few of which are ludicrous (Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere”) and most of which bear no relation to each other. Cash for roads is given to states with few strings attached. “It is as close to a blank cheque as the federal government comes to writing,” says Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank.

Fort Dix Six Trial Goes to Jury

New Jersey jury gets case in Fort Dix plot trial

In 29 days of testimony and argument in the trial, what went on in the Poconos emerged as one of the key issues in the case, which mostly focused on hundreds of secret recordings and the credibility of the informants who made them. The jury was scheduled to begin deliberations Wednesday morning. It is being sequestered.

The five defendants — all foreign-born Muslims who lived for years in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill — are charged with conspiring to kill military personnel and attempted murder. Four of them also face weapons charges. They face life in prison if convicted.

The Texans are looking pretty smart right now

A few years ago, the Texans had the first round draft choice and were lampooned for drafting defensive end Mario Williams, passing over running back Reggie Bush and quarter back Vince Young.

Now, with Vince Young having a mental break-down and Reggie Bush having a physical break-down and Mario Williams going to the Pro Bowl, that is looking like a pretty good call.

Go Super Mario!

17 December 2008

More on the American Aristocracy

Glad to see the media is catching on:

Is America's political 'nobility' undemocratic?
Eleven current members of the Senate are the children of former senators or governors, or the spouses of former senators, governors, and even a president.
On Caroline Kennedy:
First of all, you have a senate stacked with plutocrats as a result of our campaign finance laws, which give an enormous advantage to anyone who is a rich. They run, and the opponent has to grubbily raise money, and you end up with a sizable number of very rich people coming out of nowhere in the Senate.
Dems embrace dynasty politics

The U.S. Senate could end up looking like an American version of the House of Lords – and Republicans have begun to take notice.

While Obama’s election and subsequent Cabinet appointments may have accelerated the trend toward dynasty, he’s hardly responsible for it. There is a rich bipartisan history of dynasty in American politics that dates all the way back to the Founding Fathers; Obama-Biden actually represents the first winning ticket since 1976 without a son or a grandson of a U.S. senator on it.

Welcome Home

Pyramid Scheme Collapse To Wipe Out Billions

They're calling it the biggest financial fraud in history.

The largest, most sophisticated, financial Ponzi (pyramid) scheme ever.

Income used to pay early investors some handsome returns, while late arrivals lose their savings and retirement.

Yes, Social Security moves closer to collapse and catastrophe, as a lack of action and political will threatens to endanger... . . . . .


Did you think I was talking about the Madoff pyramid collapse?

Oh, that's bad, too, I guess.

Funny how people get upset over one (voluntary) and not the other (compulsory). Go figure.

NY Times: S.E.C. Issues Mea Culpa on Madoff

The Economist: Bernie Madoff - Ponzi squared

Financial Times: Fallout from the alleged fraud spreads far and wide

What will be interesting is that the Madoff Ponzi Scheme will produce political action and changes in the law, while nothing is done to prevent the collapse of an even bigger pyramid scheme, Social Security.

I can only assume it's because the politicians themselves have caused the Social Security mess.

16 December 2008

More on HISD's Attempts to Bring Ruin to Houston Schools

A long post on a local issue, as our school superintendent is doing his level best to destroy the one part of the public schools here that works.

From the Houston Chronicle: Magnet cuts might pull HISD down

The parents weren't buying it.

No matter how many times, or how slowly, HISD regional superintendent Cynthia Wilson explained that the district's proposals to scale back magnet school transportation were simply aimed at cutting costs, the parents gathered at Davis High School for a community meeting continued to suggest sinister motivations.

"There's something else behind this," declared Louise Garcia, a magnet mom who questioned last week why bean counters would go after busing costs that total less than 1 percent of HISD's budget.

The schools, established three decades ago to promote integration, offer specialized programs in everything from arts to health professions to foreign language, all the while maintaining ethnically and racially diverse student bodies that many neighborhood and even charter schools haven't achieved.

"What other options are you looking at to cut the budget?" Garcia pressed.

"Well," Wilson said, turning to other parents, "We're going to go to another parent."

Fine, HISD isn't doing away with all magnets. But how about some of the magnets? Some funding? Some transportation? A gradual, subtle chipping away of support for a group of schools that contains some of the best-performing programs in the district is nearly as threatening to parents and students as the abrupt slashing of magnet programs altogether.

As another parent attending the Davis High informational meeting said: "You keep manipulating the magnet programs and you're going to manipulate the magnet programs out of existence."

Saavedra may not declare his intentions explicitly, but his actions speak clearly: Recently, he has not only proposed scaling back free transportation to magnet schools, but as Mellon reported, behind the scenes, his administration is discussing ending the Vanguard magnet programs for gifted elementary and middle school students.

That's in addition to another recent proposal that failed after intense objection from parents: to attach the campus of one of Houston's best public schools, Carnegie Vanguard, with that of its academically unacceptable neighbor Worthing High School.

Parents in Houston are asking the same question parents elsewhere are asking: In a large, urban district where so many schools are struggling, why mess with the ones that are doing well? Why fix what isn't broken?

It may seem a logical solution to simply return some of these high-performing magnet students back to their own neighborhoods to raise up the struggling public schools there. But this strategy doesn't consider the number of parents who will flee HISD if Vanguard programs are diluted or support for other magnet programs erodes.

Even poorer families who could be burdened by cuts in the free busing service could turn to charters rather than returning to failing neighborhood schools. Affluent parents could seek private options. The cost of losing these students could overwhelm any savings the district would receive in limiting their options.

In some ways, HISD's neighborhoodistas remind me of Detroit's automakers. If nobody's buying your cars — or attending your schools — build better cars and schools to lure them back. Don't punish those who have found a better deal elsewhere.

Politics Moving Backwards into Banana Republic Territory

I found this an interesting read, especially after my post Sunday about aristocracy:

The Banana Republic of New York

As the replacement governor prepared to name a replacement senator, a former president’s daughter declared her interest in the Senate seat — which one of her uncles had won some 44 years earlier, and was using as a springboard for his own presidential run, after serving as attorney-general in his brother’s presidential administration. This former first daughter had recently worked on the campaign of the President-elect — an experience that awakened in her an appetite for politics – but she had reached the age of 51 with no direct experience of her own in public office. Nonetheless, another of her uncles, also a senator, was ready to endorse her for this leap to the Senate. So was the mayor of Big Plum (the biggest city in Banana State), who on his own turf had just succeeded in scrapping a two-term limit so he could run for a third term — which he justified as a way of offering people a broader choice (namely, himself).

That’s how it works in Banana Republics.

That's part of it -- read the whole thing.

Against the Somali Pirates

UN empowers land operations against Somali pirates
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution for the first time authorizing international land operations against audacious, armed pirates sheltering in Somalia.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed the adoption Tuesday of the US resolution saying it sent a "strong signal to combat the scourge of piracy" and stressed the need "to end the impunity of Somali pirates."
Why is this important? Because conditions are changing in Somalia, and not for the better.

Danger at Sea: When Pirates Become Islamists

Al-Qaeda-backed jihadists are about to overrun a key pirate stronghold in Somalia — when they do, expect the country to explode.

The crisis there has continued to deteriorate all month, with fighters from the terrorist organization al-Shabaab gaining control of town after town. “They’re expanding their reach,” Jennifer Cooke, head of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the Voice of America. With this reach comes al-Qaeda’s ideology. “They’ve seized a number of key port towns — Merka, Kismayo — and are really driving the chaos that is engulfing Mogadishu at this point.”

As soon as the jihadists seize Eyl the situation will become drastic for the fate of the hostages held there. Eyl is pirate central, the port city where the crews and their ships — including a Ukrainian cargo vessel laden with arms and a Saudi supertanker with two million barrels of crude oil on board — are being held. If the pirates come under the al-Shabaab sway, they will likely shift from wanting booty to wanting blood. This is the way of the jihadist’s sword.

15 December 2008

Fred Thompson talks about the economy

The Bailout That WILL NOT DIE

Auto bailout could be announced by Wednesday

The Bush administration could act as early as Wednesday to approve an automaker bailout from its bank rescue fund, with conditions likely to reflect at least those approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, key lawmakers and other sources said on Monday.

A Treasury Department official said the agency and auto company executives continued to review financial and other information, and that no decision had been made. The White House is actively involved in the matter, officials said.

A terrifying true tale of life after death! It's the return of the undead Bailout! You thought Congress killed it! But then it came back to life! Resurrected to join the walking dead Bush Administration! And it wants your money! The horror! The agony!

Election for U.S. President Held Today

Last November, voters in each state chose electors to vote for the next President of the United States.

We find out in January who they elected, when Congress counts the votes.

I can't wait to find out.

What Did Voters Know and When Did They Not Know It?

From Volokh Conspiracy, an nice analysis of the recent poll numbers regarding voters and political ignorance:

Political Ignorance and the 2008 Election

Widespread political ignorance and bias give partisans plenty of data that demonstrates' the ignorance of their opponents' voters. Unfortunately, they tend to ignore the reality their own side's voters are usually just as bad.

The true lesson of political knowledge polls is not that either Democrats or Republicans are uniquely ignorant, but that we should reduce the power of government. That way, fewer important decisions will be made under the influence of electoral processes where ignorance, bias, and irrationality play such an enormous role.

14 December 2008

Congress: exhibiting indolent or apathetic inertia or passivity; especially: mentally or morally slack

If you thought the auto bailout was dead, you are wrong. The Bush Administration seems determined to enact it anyway. Since the $700 Billion Financial Bailout passed by Congress gave so much discretionary authority to the executive branch, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

The surrender of Congressional authority to the executive is as troubling as it is indicative of the problems in our government. As a Whig, I believe that Congress should be the leading branch of government. As distant as it may be, it is still the branch that is the closest to the people. Even if I think the people serving there are all corrupt sons of bitches, I have enough respect for the Constitution and my fellow citizens to still believe that Congress is, and ought to be, the branch that leads our government. After all, we did elect those corrupt sons of bitches.

Instead, Congress continues to disappoint by abdicating their powers and responsibilities. Not a healthy state of affairs. I was watching one of those Sunday morning news shows, and the phrase that was used was "supine Congress."
Supine? Here's the definition: exhibiting indolent or apathetic inertia or passivity ; especially : mentally or morally slack.
Harsh. But true. It is an attitude that may prove not just frustrating, but one day may be dangerous to our experiment in self-government.

Turning back to the Bailout: I was planning to do a summary post of all the posts here against both the financial industry bailout and the auto industry bailout. A got a little way into it before I realized how much we have been bitching about bailouts here for the last three months. Wow.

So instead of listing all the posts, I'll summarize: Bailouts suck. They are a waste of taxpayer money and a bad idea. The bailout that passed should not have, and now the money is not being spent on what was originally intended. That is, as far as we know, since there is so little oversight.

Here is a list of the parody bailout stories we did here:

War Veteran Spouses Denied Benefits For Last Twelve Years

War veteran widows wrongly denied help
Surviving spouses of war veterans have been wrongfully denied up to millions of dollars in government benefits over the past 12 years due to computer glitches that often resulted in money being seized from the elderly survivors' bank accounts.

Rangel, Dodd Super Double Corruption Update!

First, tax-dodger: Rangel Hits Obama Closer to Home
Rep. Rangel is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for failing to pay taxes on $75,000 in income on a vacation home in the Dominican Republic, for controlling multiple rent-controlled apartments in a Harlem apartment building, for using congressional stationery to raise money for a center named in his honor and, most recently and seriously, for helping a donor to his center win a tax loophole in return for a contribution.
Second, don't forget about Dodd and the Countrywide Mortgage scandal.

When Congress approved $25 billion to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Dodd denied rumors these firms were in financial crisis. He called the firms “fundamentally strong,” said they were “in good shape” and to “suggest they are in major trouble is not accurate.”

Dodd also received preferential loans from Countrywide Mortgage Bank, and then said he wasn’t aware that he was getting a “special” deal. How is that possible? The bottom line is that Dodd received special treatment from a company that he was in charge of regulating and to this day he has refused to release details of those transactions.

If Dodd has done no wrong, then why not release the documents and dispel the accusations?

Not familiar or have forgotten the particulars about Senator Dodd (D-Conn)? Here you go:

Inept Handling Of Conflicts Leave Dodd Politically Exposed
Dodd's response to the issue has involved bad political judgment and repeated missteps

But the pertinent question for Dodd, the Senate banking committee chairman and longtime member, is why in the world he would go for a loan to one of the largest brokers in the country, a firm selling mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, businesses that come under the scrutiny of Dodd's committee?

And now that he is the subject of an ethics probe, why doesn't Connecticut's senior senator make available to the public and the media all the documents relating to his loans from Countrywide? His excuse - that he is awaiting completion of the Senate Ethics Committee probe - is a lame one that damages him politically.

The other thing hurting Dodd is that he has received about $13 million in campaign contributions from financial organizations over the length of his Senate career, including $6 million in the past several years. Eighteen of Dodd's top 20 contributors have been financial institutions.

Driving Oil Producing Nations Into the Arms of China

Transparency International is a good organization. They have a lot of good ideas for reducing corruption, especially in developing countries. The disclosure of oil production by the companies involved would be a big step in accountability and transparency.

But the supporters of the measure below are paying short shrift to the concerns of the oil companies. The corrupt governments of oil producing nations could increasingly turn to Chinese or Russian oil companies, who aren't concerned at all about corruption. U.S. oil companies would be left on the sidelines, and no one would benefit, except the Chinese and the Russians.

Oil firms face tough disclosure rules
Congress wants to know how much companies pay foreign governments

The incoming Congress is likely to consider a measure that would force oil producers, mining companies and other "extractive" industries that file annual reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to reveal how much they pay to foreign governments.

Championed by human rights groups and other transparency advocates, the proposal is intended to shed light on some of the billions of petrodollars that flow into often opaque, repressive regimes.

The goal is to help the citizens of oil-producing states hold their governments more accountable and to keep oil company money from fueling the civil wars that have plagued oil-wealthy nations.

Oil industry officials argue the measure could hamper voluntary transparency efforts.

And they fear it would disadvantage U.S. companies to the benefit of foreign competitors — particularly in China — that would not have to make such disclosures.

The proposed Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act, authored by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., would require oil and gas companies to report how much they pay foreign governments, national oil companies and affiliated entities in royalties, bonuses and taxes to produce and transport oil and gas.

Frank's proposed law could place the oil companies in an awkward position, with American law forcing them to violate confidentiality provisions in their contracts.

The oil companies favor participation in a voluntary program called the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The initiative prods the oil companies to publish how much they've paid to foreign governments, while the host governments report their total receipts from the sector. The figures are then verified by an independent third party.

HISD Superintendent Saavedra Wants to End Magnet Programs

I would like to thank the Houston Chronicle for keeping the HISD administration's efforts to end academic achievement in the public eye. Some excerpts from the article are below.

HISD tackles polarizing topic
Plans involving the magnet schools ignite debate over the program's role

Susan Moreno repeats the story she has heard her parents tell many times: In 1970, the couple, along with hundreds of other Mexican-American families, boycotted the Houston public school district. Upset that minority students were segregated in inferior schools, the activists set up makeshift classrooms in churches, or wherever they could find space, to educate their own children.

The school district, about 40 percent Anglo at the time, eventually got the message and, in 1975, adopted a plan to promote greater integration. It called for the creation of magnet schools — campuses with specialized programs intended to attract a racial mix of students from across the city. Today, Moreno sends her own children to an HISD magnet school, Oak Forest Elementary, which caters to gifted students. But she, like other parents in the Houston Independent School District, worries the special schools — some so popular they have perennial waiting lists — are under attack.

In recent weeks, HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra has proposed limiting busing to magnet schools as a cost-cutting measure, and, behind the scenes, his administration has discussed ending the Vanguard magnet programs for gifted elementary and middle school students.

With the creation of magnets, HISD embraced a philosophy of choice, allowing students to attend schools outside their neighborhoods.

[S]ome of the magnets rank among the district's top performers. U.S. News & World Report this month named Carnegie Vanguard and DeBakey High School for Health Professions on its annual list of best American high schools.

And HISD's own analysis of test scores found that its magnet students performed above the district average in 2007.

Saavedra contends the students would score just as well at their neighborhood schools.

Federal Reserve To Change Credit Card Rules

At a time when credit is tight, the Federal Reserve proposes new rules for credit cards that would restrict access to credit for millions of Americans. The new rules would prevent credit card companies from changing the interest rate on already existing balances.

Your first reaction is probably "Yeah! They can't raise my rate!"

But there will be consequences. Credit card companies will be less likely to extend credit to those whose financial situation might deteriorate. Alternatively, the credit card companies will give you a higher rate to begin with, since they won't be able to raise the rate. Either way, access to credit will be harder or more expensive.

Perhaps you think that less access to credit is what our society needs. But it is not what we need when the economy is tanking and consumer spending is already constrained. And the rules will make access to credit more difficult to those who may need credit to get back on their feet after a difficult time or economic setback.

I suppose the new rules will make everyone feel better, as that appears to be the most important impulse. Public policy based on emotional response is the order of the day.

Fed to rule soon on sweeping credit card changes

Credit card companies could no longer boost interest rates on existing account balances if the Federal Reserve adopts new rules as written at a meeting set for Thursday.

But as proposed, the changes also could make it more difficult for millions of people with bad credit to get what's referred to as a subprime card.

South Dakota eliminated the interest rate cap on credit cards almost 30 years ago and has thrived from the industry that employs as many as 20,000.
The proposed limits on subprime cards could cost the state of 788,000 people from 3,000 to 5,000 jobs, said Gov. Mike Rounds. "In essence it would shut down the low-limit credit card business across the United States," the Republican said. Prime credit card companies generally could adapt to the five other proposed rule changes, but there's not a business model that would work for dealing with the changes to subprime cards, he said.

Under the current proposal, some of the 70 million Americans with "challenged credit" probably wouldn't qualify for a card, so they'll instead rely on payday loans, he said. "In today's economy, that's the opposite of what they should be doing," Ticknor said of the loss of credit.

Prime card issuers such as Citibank South Dakota, which moved its credit card operation from New York after South Dakota's 1979 law change, would also feel the change, said Peter Garuccio, American Bankers Association spokesman. "The Fed's proposal represents an unprecedented way customers will relate and work with their credit card issuers," he said. "What it does, by and large, is limit the ability of issuers to use risk-based pricing. And in so doing, the card companies will have to sort of change their models to figure out how to protect changing risks going forward. It'll be a big challenge for the business."

Quote of the Day

There is ... an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents. ... The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provisions should be made to prevent its ascendancy. -- Thomas Jefferson, 1813, letter to John Adams

American Aristocracy

Whatever happened to government of the people, by the people, for the people?

It's still there. As long as you are the right kind of people.

There was the famous concern over the Bushes and the Clintons, but the problem of an American aristocracy only starts there. The barriers of entry to politics, be it connections, access to money, credibility with the media, or dealing with the barriers of ballot access and campaign financing laws makes it easier for those who already have the connections, donor lists, and access to cash.

Joe Biden's seat in the Senate will go to a long time staffer, who is expected to step aside for Joe Biden's son to run in the next election.

Rod Blagojevich's entrance into politics was facilitated by his marrying the daughter of a long-time Chicago ward politician, who made the arrangements for his son-in-law to run for governor.
Not to mention Jesse Jackson, Jr. Gee, do you think he would be in Congress if not for his name?

Hillary Clinton's seat may go to Caroline Kennedy, whose primary qualification is her last name. The senate seat was once held by her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy.

When then Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) was elected governor in 2002, he appointed his daughter Lisa to complete the rest of his term. She was elected to a full term in 2004.

What is troubling is passing the position down to the next generation. I am sure there are many more examples.

We already have a Congress with less turnover than the British House of Lords.

Whigs must oppose aristocracy and inherited privilege.

UPDATE: This problem seems particularly acute in Illinois. (Also, the Daley family in Chicago.)The father of the state Attorney General, who recently asked the State Supreme Court to remove the governor, is the Speaker of the Illinois House. He has delayed the impeachment proceedings there so that his daughter can take the lead on the issue and get the credit if the State Supreme Court cooperates. Turns out that she wants either the governorship herself or the open Senate seat, and her father is involved in the maneuvering, to the detriment of the state. Read all about it here.

Germany and Iran: 2gether + 4ever = 6cess

Video: Germany Loves Iran

13 December 2008

Gore blows more hot air

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore says the world needs to drop its obsession with celebrities and concentrate on saving future generations from global warming.

Gore, trying to rally delegates to the United Nations Climate Change Conference that concluded Friday in Poznan, Poland, used soaring rhetoric to urge participants to renew their moral commitments to fight to end global warming, The Daily Telegraph reported. "The political systems of the developed world have become sclerotic," he said. "We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting and focus clearly and unblinkingly on this crisis rather than spending so much time on O.J. Simpson, Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith."

The conference ended in harsh criticism of the European Union for failing to move forward on emission standards. Gore, however, said help was on the way from U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and his "new green deal," which he predicted would be copied all around the world, the Telegraph reported. "Once he (Obama) is president, the (United States) will engage vigorously in theses negotiations and help to lead the world toward a new era on global co-operation on climate change," Gore said.

Story here.

Global warming would be less of a problem if Al Gore would quit blowing so much hot air. Much less so if he lived in a smaller mansion, quit flying all over the world in a private plane, and backed off on the limos.

Illinois Democrats Reeling As Blagojevich Scandal Develops

Illinois Democrats who were likely contenders to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate could face a fierce battle from Republicans if a special election is held after the fallout of the Blagojevich corruption scandal.

The scandal surrounding Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has sent shock waves through Illinois political circles -- not only casting a spotlight on the state's reputation for corruption but also potentially tainting the field of likely Democratic contenders for President-elect Barack Obama's former Senate seat. The most prominent name on that list of contenders, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., is literally facing howls of protests from some of his constituents. About a dozen protesters stood outside his Chicago office Saturday shouting, "Ho ho ho, Jesse Jr. gotta go." Protest organizer Harold Davis said he believes allegations that an emissary may have offered to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for Jackson being appointed to the Senate. Jackson has denied any wrongdoing.

So far, Blagojevich and his chief of staff are the only people facing charges in the federal investigation into the governor's alleged attempt to put a price tag on the appointment of Obama's replacement. But even if other Illinois Democrats have no connection to any wrongdoing, many have associated with Blagojevich. Political analysts suggest that those associations, however innocent, could make it difficult for a Democrat to claim the open Senate seat if a special election were held. "I think anybody who's been mentioned up to now -- Jesse Jackson, Tammy Duckworth, Valerie Jarrett -- I think they're all pretty tainted and they're not going to get it," said Democratic consultant William Bike, who is based in Chicago.

A spokesman for the state Democratic Party declined to be interviewed.

It isn't clear yet how the seat will be filled. Technically, Blagojevich still has the power to make the appointment, though he also faces pressure to resign and a movement to oust him. The state Legislature, meanwhile, may attempt to bypass the governor's office by scheduling a special election for the seat. If that happens, the protesters in Jackson's neighborhood are adamant that the congressman shouldn't be elected, though several passersby shouted support for Jackson. One yelled, "Leave Jesse alone." Jackson has denied any wrongdoing and told CNN on Saturday he wouldn't serve in the Senate if an appointment left a cloud of suspicion hanging over his head.
"I need to find out and we all need to find out the truth," he said, adding, "when the process is over, I profoundly hope that the people will give me my name back."

The Democratic Party is dominant in much of Illinois, especially Chicago. But could Republicans find an opening in a special election for Senate?

"I think all of these Blagojevich Democrats are going to have problems in the future," said one prominent GOP operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could speak freely about the political landscape. "Voters are angry," he added. "They are upset. They are sick and tired of this nonsense. ... If you're being perceived as working closely with the governor and being part of this mess, that poses a problem."

Story here.

It would be funny to see Obama's seat filled by a Republican because of all of this.