31 July 2009

A Return To Pragmatism

I was finishing up Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson, when the last chapter brought up some points about a "national dichotomy that has existed" since our nation's earliest days. That is, a divide in American character; that of pragmatism versus romanticism.

At different times in American history, one side of our character is dominant over the other.
  • Religious tolerance versus evangelical faith.
  • Social mobility versus an established elite.
  • Middle-class virtues versus ethereal noble aspirations.
  • Political compromise versus bitter feuding.
  • Rationality versus romanticism,
  • Reason and intellect versus feeling, deep emotion, and subjective sensibility.
  • Tolerance and rationality versus heroic and mystical.
  • Thrift, frugality, and hard work versus gratification, passion and imagination.
  • Methodical versus transcendental.
  • Admiration for the middle class versus hatred of the bourgeoisie.
  • Industry versus idleness.
  • Learned and wise versus inspired.
At different times, our society has valued one set of values over the other. Early in American history, there was a focus on romanticism; an example being the Great Awakening. By the time of the Revolution, society had shifted to Enlightenment values, a demonstration of pragmatism. Ben Franklin is an excellent example of pragmatic values. In the early 19th century, society shifted back to romanticism, demonstrated by the Reform Movement and Thoreau and Emerson.

And so it went back and forth.

During the 1930s through the 1950s, as a result of the Great Depression, American society became focused on the pragmatic. This is reflected in the values as demonstrated in the approach of politics and business of the period, but also in the literature, the popular culture, and the arts of the period.

Starting slowly in the 1950s, and growing in the 1960s, American society shifted once again to romanticism. The emphasis shifted from reason to feeling. (Do what feels good. Or even, do what feels right, the focus being on feelings.) This not only explains popular culture, but the rise of the evangelical movement as well as New Age-ism, is a clear demonstration of romanticism.

In politics, as well as the media, the consensus of shared goals and shared values broke down. Compromise became a dirty word, and emotion-based politics became the rule. Our politics went from genial compromising to vicious sniping. Society looked down on the middle class and working people. The idle, angry student protester was valued more than the quiet family oriented businessman. Emotion became the order of the day.

Now, though, another shift in American society is upon us. Perhaps over the next generation, our society, and therefore our politics, will become more pragmatic. I see some signs that this shift is occurring. For example, the weakening of evangelicals as a political force in the last election. The experience of the young adults will be that of fighting wars and fighting a recession, both experiences that produce an emphasis on practical results.

What is pragmatism? It holds that the truth of any proposition, whether it be scientific, or moral , or social, is based on how well it correlates with experimental results and produces a practical outcome.

It is my hope not only that our society will adjust, but that the Modern Whigs will be a part of this shift to a more pragmatic politics. A focus on the politics of results, of compromise, of reason. Policies being favored because they work, and bring the most benefit to our society.

I am One of the Public that is Naturally Questioning How Thoroughly the Ethics Committee Might Investigate Those Who Approved Their Earmarks

Ethics and Appropriations Make Strange Bedfellows

Members of the House ethics committee, who are investigating a pattern of lawmakers steering federal funds to generous defense contractors, have just had their own pet military projects approved by the same committee whose activities they are probing.

The 10 committee members sponsored 29 earmarks -- $59 million in federal funding for projects they requested in their districts or states -- under a military spending bill that passed the House on Thursday. The bill's details were approved last week by the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, whose practice of steering earmarks to clients of a well-connected lobbying firm close to the chairman, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), is the subject of the ethics committee's investigation.

Congressional ethics experts said the ethics committee earmarks create at least the appearance of a conflict of interest, and some in the public would naturally question how thoroughly the committee might investigate members on the subcommittee that granted their funding wishes.

Illegal Immigration Drops

Report: Illegal immigrant population drops by 1.7M

A new report estimates that the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has dropped nearly 14 percent in two years, a trend that mirrors the deflation of the once-fiery immigration debate.

The CIS report also said there is evidence that the number of new illegal immigrants arriving has fallen by about one-third in the past two years compared to earlier this decade.

AARP Betrays Its Members

Obamacare could kill AARP
Millions join AARP and in return receive a host of useful services and resources. But their money and influence are hijacked to support causes that are absolutely inimical to their best interests.

Pressing the Accelerator As We Drive Down the Road To Ruin

Lawmakers may extend the stimulus

A disparate collection of lawmakers and special interests is pushing to extend tax credits and other benefits — effectively proposing another economic stimulus with a price tag of at least $88 billion.

Their wish list applies to measures in February’s $787 billion stimulus that were passed to provide a temporary jolt to the economy.

Nearly six months later, these measures have developed entrenched constituencies, and members of both parties are pressing to retain favored priorities.

Republican lawmakers have joined some Democrats and business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers in calling for an extension of a tax break expiring at the end of the year that allows businesses to write off losses. That “carryback” provision cost $15 billion in the February stimulus.

Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio) are pushing legislation to keep that business tax break alive. Tiberi also wants to extend separate expiring tax credits for first-time homeowners and car buyers that cost a combined $8.3 billion.

On the homeowners tax credit, he’ll benefit from the August lobbying campaign planned by the National Association of Realtors. The group wants to extend into 2010 the $8,000 tax credit for new homebuyers, set to expire at the end of November, and also to expand it to all homebuyers.

Several other tax breaks for business are set to expire by the end of the year, including measures that allow small businesses to deduct the cost of capital equipment and write off up to $250,000 in depreciable property, and for senior citizens to access 50 percent more in loans through reverse mortgages.

In total, the separate drives would extend about $88 billion in provisions from the earlier stimulus, though they may not end up in a combined package.

Swiss Army Knife 125 Years Old

The history of the Swiss Army knife: From humble tool to global icon

Lots of comments to the article about how useful the Swiss Army knife has been to them.
So here's mine: One got me out of a stuck elevator.

Fair Elections Now Act Hearing

Members, Experts Testify at Congressional Hearing for Fair Elections Now Act

Bipartisan legislation gaining momentum, nearly 75 cosponsors

The House Administration Committee heard testimony today from four members of Congress, including Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson (D-Conn.), two election experts, and the Speaker of Maine House of Representatives, in support of sweeping campaign finance reform legislation, the Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1826).

Introduced by Rep. Larson and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), the Fair Elections Now Act would allow congressional candidates to run for office with a mixture of small donations and public financing.

Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign, agreed. "With the health care debate raging in Congress during the day, members of Congress should not be placed into the position of raising money from insurance and big pharmaceutical company lobbyists and executives at night," Nyhart said. "We applaud Rep. Larson's leadership and the support from so many members of Congress."

"The 111th Congress stands at the brink of fundamentally changing 'politics as usual,'" said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch. "Americans are demanding dramatic changes in Washington, greater transparency in government, and more accountability of money in politics. Now is the time for Congress to pass the most crucial reform - reducing the role of special interest money in campaigns."

"The Supreme Court is fully behind voluntary public financing systems. This is the best and the most constitutionally sound way to advance a robust system for more public participation in elections," said Susan Liss, director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program.

The coalition backing the measure include the Brennan Center for Justice, Change Congress, Common Cause, Democracy Matters, Public Campaign, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG. A broad coalition of civic, online, advocacy, union, church, environmental, and civil rights groups have endorsed the campaign reform measure.

For more information about the bill and the coalition, visit www.fairelectionsnow.org.

U.S.A. Having Harder Time Finding Buyers For Debt

Buyers balk at Treasury note sales, forcing yields up

The Treasury suddenly is having a harder time finding investors to buy its shorter-term debt, which typically is an easy sell.

That’s triggering a fresh case of nerves among bond traders, given Uncle Sam’s continuing massive borrowing needs.

The Treasury’s auction of a record $39 billion in new five-year T-notes today saw weaker-than-expected bidding -- a replay of what happened at Tuesday’s sale of $42 billion in two-year T-notes.

The government had to sell the five-year notes at an annualized yield of 2.69%, well above the 2.635% yield forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of bond dealers.

Geithner Suffering Due To Geithner's Policies

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30 July 2009

Hillary Bides Her Time

Debts paid, Hillary Clinton builds $3+ million campaign fund for ...?

Here's the news: There is no more Hillary Clinton campaign debt.

In fact, there's a campaign fund surplus. ceiling

And, in fact, while the current secretary of State officially left politics on being sworn into the Obama administration's top diplomatic post and says future political office "is not anything that is at all on my radar screen," she's still got eight campaign workers on staff. She's also said, "I'm out of politics."

Hmmm. Note the present tense in that statement.

Of course, she's out of politics now. Also of course, who knows what the situation will be in 2012? Who'd have guessed three years ago she'd be showing her management skills by running the huge Department of State? For a president named Barack Obama?

Or what about 2016? She'd be 69 then. Her good friend, John McCain, wasn't too old to run at 72. Too old to win, but not too old to run.

As the N.Y. Daily News reports, Clinton's $22 million in campaign debts (a good chunk of it owed to herself), has somehow now turned into some $3+ million in cash on hand and still growing, some in her old Senate fund and some in her defunct presidential campaign warchest.

Health Care Reform: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

Oh, brother. After getting the Blue Dog Democrats on board, they have lost the left.

After months of marching in line as senior Democrats worked with the White House to develop healthcare legislation, liberal lawmakers from solidly Democratic districts are threatening a revolt that could doom President Obama's bid to sign a major bill this year.

In the House, liberals are furious at their leaders for striking a deal with conservative Democrats that would weaken the proposal to create a government insurance program, a dream long cherished on the left.

Today, 57 of these liberals sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) warning that they would vote against any bill that contained the terms of the deal.

"We have compromised and we can compromise no more," an angry Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma) said at a raucous news conference outside the Capitol.

Perhaps this debacle (and that is what it is) is a demonstration of "the limitations of 'big tent' politics under the conditions of the two-party circus state."

The Conspiracy That Is Hawaii

So we have the Birthers -- those who believe that Obama is not really a citizen, that he was not born in Hawaii, and that his birth certificate is fake.

I have decided to go them one better -- I dispute the very existence of Hawaii.

How do you know Hawaii is there? Because other people have told you? How do you know they are telling you the truth? You don't! Couldn't they be lying? People lie all the time.

So you claim to have been there? How do you know it was actually Hawaii? Because others told you? How did they know? Because other people told them? Exactly. No one ever checks these things.

And where are these documents that supposedly admitted Hawaii as a state? Have you ever seen the original of the documents admitting Hawaii as a state? I didn't think so.

Hawaii is just a conspiracy by Democrats to admit two additional Democratic Senators.

It is better to believe nothing anyone tells you ever. Living in ignorance is the only way to outsmart them.

As Health Care Reform Gets More Specific, Support Fades

NY Times: New Poll Finds Growing Unease on Health Plan

Americans are concerned that revamping the health care system would reduce the quality of their care, increase their out-of-pocket health costs and tax bills, and limit their options in choosing doctors, treatments and tests, the poll found. The percentage who describe health care costs as a serious threat to the American economy — a central argument made by Mr. Obama — has dropped over the past month.

Mr. Obama continues to benefit from strong support for the basic goal of revamping the health care system, and he is seen as far more likely than Congressional Republicans to have the best ideas to accomplish that. But reflecting a problem that has hindered efforts to bring major changes to health care for decades, Americans expressed considerable unease about what the end result would mean for them individually.

Far Right Group Against Texas Whigs

From Whigs in Virginia: Die-hard Conservatives target Texas Whigs

What looks like a group of hard-core conservatives have taken measures to go after the Modern Whig Party and its Texas chapter. A Limbaugh/Coulter fanclub group calling itself the American Conservative Party apparently misunderstood something they read on Wikipedia and used that to contact the Texas Secretary of State.

According to their leader, a guy going by the name Charlie Domino, these conservatives view themselves as "a competing third party." Domino then goes on to say that "I confess to a belief that this party (Whigs) is "astroturf." At the same time, Domino insists that his ultra-conservative Tea Party friends are not part of anything astroturf, but I digress.

In the end, Domino received a letter back from the state that confirms... now get this... everything the Texas Whigs have been saying about their attempts at official organization.

What I find interesting are the groups that find the efforts of the Modern Whigs so threatening. This isn't the first time something like this has happened. We Whigs are much more to the center that the American Conservative effort.

I was aware of this group before, I remember when blogger Bill Quick of Daily Pundit started it. It is mostly on the internet. The Texas branch's website is just a Go Daddy place holder.

I question why a far right group like this is needed. There already is a Constitution Party that is on the far right. But the bigger question is why either the Conservative Party or the Constitution Party are needed. Hello -- you have captured the Republicans! Why don't you just join it and enjoy the media attention?

As a Texan who is a Whig, we are no "astro turf" group. Just regular people who are ready for something new. As the Texas Whig site states, and as the Texas Secretary of State has confirmed, the Texas Whig Party "is now eligible to obtain ballot access."

Self Appointed Moralists

Our Angry Aristocracy

Now the most vehement critics of America's purported sins are among the upper classes. And their parlor game has confused Americans about why they are being called polluters, racists and exploiters by those who have fared the best in America.
Do the wealthy and the powerful lecture us about our wrongs because they know their own insider status ensures that they are exempt from the harsh medicine they advocate for others? Millionaire Gore is not much affected by higher taxes for his cap-and-trade crusade.

Or does the hypocrisy grow out of a sort of class snobbery? Do elites hector the crass middle class because it lacks their own taste, rare insight and privileged style? Judging from the police report, Gates seemed flabbergasted that the white Cambridge cop did not know who he was "messing" with.

Or is the new hypocrisy an eerie sort of psychological compensation at work? Perhaps the more Al Gore rails about carbon emissions, the more he can without guilt enjoy what emits them. The more professor Gates can cite racism, the more he himself is paid to spot it. And the more a Tom Daschle wants to tax and spend for health care, the less badly he feels about his own chauffer and tax avoidance?

Here's a little advice for all of America's aristocratic critics: a little less hypocrisy, a little more appreciation of your good lives - and then maybe the rest of us will listen to you a little more.

Independent and Third Party Blogosphere Reference

From Poli-Teal Party: A Rough Guide to the Third Party and Independent Blogosphere

GOP Health Care Reform Proposal Shows That They Don't Believe Their Own Rhetoric

Old joke: If the Democrats proposed to burn down the Capitol, the Republicans would offer a bill to phase in the burning over three years.

The Democrats propose to spend $900 billion we don't have on health care reform, and the Republicans respond with a proposal to spend $700 billion we don't have. Brilliant! I'm so glad the Republicans are here to provide such a clear alternative. Ah, the two party system in action.

What I find most interesting is that it completely violates Republican rhetoric about the powers and role of the states. After carrying on for my lifetime about federalism and limited governments, these supposed principles of the GOP are defenestrated as the Republican proposal completely guts state regulation of insurance and subverts and replaces state law regarding torts, state court structure, and jurisdiction. I suspect the proposal is unconstitutional.

Good work GOP! You have once again confirmed that you don't believe your own speeches, and are completely worthless.

House Republicans unveil health care plan
$700 billion proposal would offer tax credits to help people buy insurance

Unlike Democratic proposals, it would not set up new federally regulated purchasing pools for individuals and small businesses. Instead, it would allow individuals to use the Internet to purchase lower-cost coverage available anywhere in the country. That idea won't please insurance commissioners from states with strong consumer protections, who have argued it will set off a "race to the bottom" that undermines coverage for those in frail health.

The GOP bill would take on medical malpractice, limiting jury awards for pain and suffering and creating new health courts in which a specially trained judge would hear and decide cases involving medical negligence.

$90 Billion A Year? That's Practically Free, Then.

I'm sure the Chinese are good for it: The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, who is leading efforts to develop a compromise health care bill announced Wednesday that negotiators had pared the price-tag to under $900 billion over 10 years ...

Senator Hutchison to Challege Perry

Hutchison says Perry is wearing out his welcome

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's message Wednesday was as simple as it was confusing: If Gov. Rick Perry does not quit his re-election race to give her a free run at the Republican gubernatorial nomination, she will quit the Senate to run against him.

Hutchison's resignation prediction could open a floodgate politically. There already is a crowd of politicians looking at running for Hutchison's Senate seat, including Houston Mayor Bill White and former comptroller John Sharp as Democrats; Republicans include Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams, state Sen. Florence Shapiro and former Secretary of State Roger Williams.

A late fall resignation would trigger a special election no later than next May, though Perry could declare an emergency and hold the election sooner. But if Perry names Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst as Hutchison's interim replacement, that also likely opens up the attorney general's office, as incumbent Greg Abbott is expected to run for lieutenant governor if the office is vacant.

Dewhurst spokesman Mike Wintemute said the lieutenant governor is running for re-election but might consider a Senate race if Hutchison actually resigns.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has urged Hutchison to remain in office as the party seeks to pick up seats in mid-term elections next year.

Is It A Crime For A Congressman To Keep $90,000 Cash In His Freezer?

Jury Prepares for Jefferson Bribery Case

With both the prosecution and the defense completing their presentations, the jury is expected to begin deliberations on Thursday in the case against Mr. Jefferson, who is charged with 16 counts of bribery and other offenses.

A former Louisiana Democrat, Mr. Jefferson is accused of improperly seeking millions of dollars from various African business ventures, as well as seeking to bribe the vice president of Nigeria. In a 2005 raid, the F.B.I. found $90,000 neatly wrapped in aluminum foil in Mr. Jefferson’s home freezer.

In her summation, Ms. Bellows showed the jury a photo of the aluminum-foil-clad cash in brick-size portions surrounding a box of frozen Pillsbury pie crusts. The money in the freezer came from the F.B.I. via a cooperating witness whose conversations with Mr. Jefferson were taped in audio and video.

29 July 2009

New York buys 1-way tickets for the homeless

Well, that's one way of getting rid of them.

New York City is buying one-way plane tickets for homeless families to leave the city.
It's part of a Bloomberg administration program to keep the homeless out of the expensive shelter system, which costs $36,000 a year per family. More than 550 families have left the city since 2007. All it takes is for a relative to agree to take them in.

Families have been sent to 24 states and five continents, mostly to Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

This is a great idea by the Bloomberg Administration to solve a problem and it helps families.

Next, the remaining homeless, vagrants, beggars, pan-handlers and bums should be rounded up and sent someplace like Haiti. I would even be willing to exchange them straight-up for Haitians! Ahhh, imagine walking downtown without being accosted for change. Imagine freeway underpasses and alleyways without the quaint urine smell.

Your Choice: One Extreme or the Other

From the blog of the Chair of the Modern Whig Party of Maryland:

Health care is indeed a hot topic. We at the Whig Party believe it is fundamentally wrong to leave people out in the cold without health care and die as a result.

No kidding. there needs to be a middle of the road solution, one which would partially use the free market and maybe even co opt insurance companies to cover the uninsured. Then, for those still insured under insurance companies, Congress can pass legislation to make them "play fair" with their customers.

We in the Whig Party do not believe, like some Republicans, that doing nothing is the best (or only) option. If the Republicans don't want to electorally shoot themselves in the ass, they can contribute a solution now, or in 2010 (if they win congressional elections by then, and by recent polls, there's a slight chance they just might pull it off then or in 2012) by which time the health care problem can be solved on more conservative terms. But don't worry, they won't do it.

And the Democrats will make a mass populist appeal (ie, shameless vote-grabbing) by dangling carrots in front of the electorate's eyes and we'll end up with a single pay system that helps nobody. Nice job, guys.

That's what happens when you have a polarized system: you must choose between one extreme or another. And the people in the middle (who I firmly believe are actually the majority these days) will lose the most.

Obama and the Art of Legislating

I have thought that one of the problems with healthcare reform is that Obama did not propose a detailed plan while he was campaigning. He offered only generalities, unlike Hillary and McCain, who both offered more specifics. Once elected, he wasn't able to go to Congress and specify what he wanted. He just wants something to sign. Anything.

Obama has aura but doesn't know how to legislate

But it turns out that Obama is not so good at argument. Inspiration is one thing, persuasion another. He created the impression on the campaign trail that he was familiar with major issues and readily ticked off his positions on them. But he has not proved so good at legislating.

One reason, perhaps, is that he has had little practice. He served as a legislator for a dozen years before becoming president, but was only rarely an active one. He spent one of his eight years as an Illinois state senator running unsuccessfully for Congress and two of them running successfully for U.S. senator. He spent two of his years in the U.S. Senate running for president. During all of his seven non-campaign years as a legislator, he was in the minority party.

In other words, he's never done much work putting legislation together -- especially legislation that channels vast flows of money and affects the workings of parts of the economy that deeply affect people's lives. This lack of experience is starting to show. On the major legislation considered this year -- the stimulus, cap and trade, health care -- the Obama White House has done little or nothing to set down markers, to provide guidance, to establish boundaries and no-go areas.

Read the Bill? They Wouldn't Understand It Anyway!

Which is exactly the problem.

Mark Steyn: Reading Comprehension

“I love these members, they get up and say, ‘Read the bill,’” said Conyers.

“What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”

Thousand-page bills, unread and indeed unwritten at the time of passage, are the death of representative government. They also provide a clue as to why, in a country this large, national government should be minimal and constrained. Even if you doubled or trebled the size of the legislature, the Conyers conundrum would still hold: No individual can read these bills and understand what he's voting on.

Think You Are Being Green Just By Riding A Bicycle?

Au contraire mon frere!

To assuage those feelings of guilt from living your otherwise Earth destroying lifestyle, your bike should be made out of environmentally friendly bamboo. And tied together with sisal. And provide meaningful work to a third world county.

That is a lot to ask from a bike.

BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Charles E.F. Millard, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and $50 billion in retirement funds

“What happened here is wrong, stupid and probably illegal.”

How Firms Wooed a U.S. Agency With Billions to Invest

Abuse and Killings of Protesters Come to Light in Iran

Reports of Prison Abuse and Deaths Anger Iranians

The accounts of prison abuse in Iran’s postelection crackdown — relayed by relatives and on opposition Web sites — have set off growing outrage among Iranians, including some prominent conservatives. More bruised corpses have been returned to families in recent days, and some hospital officials have told human rights workers that they have seen evidence that well over 100 protesters have died since the vote.

The prison abuses have also galvanized the opposition movement, whose leaders asked for permission to hold a mass mourning ceremony on Thursday in honor of those killed since the election. The Interior Ministry on Tuesday refused permission for the gathering, but the main opposition leaders, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, said they would hold a public ceremony anyway, several Web sites reported.

Thursday is a day of unusual symbolic importance because it will be 40 days since the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman whose death during a demonstration was captured on video and ignited outrage across the globe. The 40th day marks an important Shiite mourning ritual; similar commemorations for dead protesters fueled the demonstrations that led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1826 and S. 752)

Congressional Hearing on Fair Elections (Public Financing of Elections) Legislation

According to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, health and insurance interests have made $16.8 million in campaign contributions to federal candidates and parties in the first part of this year -- a non-election year we might add -- to make their case on health-care reform. Likewise, the energy sector made $6.1 million in federal donations, and the finance, insurance, and real estate sector contributed $23.8 million. Despite the economic downturn, influence-peddling is a growth industry in our nation's capital.

This Thursday, July 30th, the House Administration Committee will hold a public hearing to receive testimony on the bill, the success of similar campaign reform laws at the state level, and arguments for why Congress must act now.

The bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act is modeled in part on successful state laws in Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, North Carolina, and elsewhere. Introduced in the House by Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson (D-Conn.) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Fair Elections has already attracted significant support in the House. At the release of this memo, 68 members have signed on as cosponsors.

When enacted, U.S. House candidates would have the option to run for office with a mix of small contributions and public funding. Participating candidates would be required to take no contribution over $100 and would have to demonstrate broad public support by raising 1,500 contributions totaling $50,000 from their home state which would make them eligible for a set amount of public funding. Participating candidates could raise additional small contributions that would be matched on a four to one basis, up to a limit. The small dollar fundraising could continue after the limit is reached.

A summary of the bill can be found at the Fair Elections Now Campaign website at http://www.fairelectionsnow.org/more/summary.

The Most Abhorrent Regime On Earth Today

Is North Korea Testing Biological Weapons on Children?

Many defectors tell startlingly similar stories about the regime using human guinea pigs to test poison gas.

Is North Korea testing chemical and biological weapons on humans? The answer almost certainly is yes. Is it experimenting on children and the mentally handicapped? Probably so.

Would North Korea actually use its chemical and biological weapons? Im, for one, is convinced Kim Jong Il would not hesitate to do so. The country, after all, is run by ruthless men and women who have committed horrific acts in the past. Killing their own citizens, especially the handicapped, is consistent with all we know about the criminals responsible for the most abhorrent regime on earth today.

NJ: Stop Getting The Same Result

Poli-Tea Party: NJ: Declare Your Independence from the Culture of Corruption

If the people of New Jersey needed more reasons to support independent and third party candidates in this year's gubernatorial race, they were supplied with upwards of forty, when dozens of public officials and their enablers in the local political machines were arrested in the federal corruption probe that made headlines this week.

Independent candidate for governor Chris Daggett commented on the scandal, emphasizing the obvious connection between political corruption and the duopoly system of government.

Comments Independent candidate Daggett:

More than anything, this points out the continuing failures of politicians from both parties to put the interests of the people of New Jersey in front of their own.

Until the 2.4 million independent voters in New Jersey wake up and realize it's time to put true independents in office instead of partisan politicians, all we are doing is letting the robbers and scam artists switch jerseys.

Dems Fighting Each Other On Healthcare

Dem healthcare infighting intensifies

A House fight among Democrats on overhauling the nation’s healthcare system has spread to the Senate, where centrists and liberals are clashing over the direction the legislation should take.

Trouble is brewing now that a bipartisan group of senators — led by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) — has signaled it will exclude a government-run insurance option from the committee’s draft legislation that could be marked up next week.

Leaving it out would be a major step toward attracting Republican support for President Barack Obama’s signature issue. But it also would alienate liberals, who say the effort is wasted without it and are preparing a barrage of amendments for the Finance markup.

In Case of Emergency

Power Shifts in Plan for Capital Calamity

A shift in authority has given military officials at the White House a bigger operational role in creating a backup government if the nation’s capital were “decapitated” by a terrorist attack or other calamity, according to current and former officials involved in the decision.

Under the revamped structure, the White House Military Office, which reports to the office of the White House chief of staff, has assumed a more central role in setting up a temporary “shadow government” in a crisis.

And the office, a 2,300-person outfit best known for flying Air Force One, has taken on added responsibilities as the lead agent in shepherding government leaders to a secure site at Mount Weather in rural Virginia, keeping classified lists of successors and maintaining computer systems, among other operational duties. Many of these types of tasks were previously handled by civilians at other agencies, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Suu Kyi: "I'm afraid the verdict will be painfully obvious"

Telegraph: Aung San Suu Kyi fears trial verdict will be 'painfully obvious'

The high-profile trial that began in May has drawn international condemnation from rights activists, world leaders and celebrities who have called for her immediate release.

But neither outside pressure nor the possibility of closer ties with the West have deterred the ruling junta, who appeared determined to find her guilty and keep her behind bars through elections planned for next year. The verdict will be handed down on Friday.Nyan Win, a lawyer for Ms Suu Kyi, said he preferred not to speculate on the outcome, but that he had "never seen any defendant in a political case (in Myanmar) being set free."

Ms Suu Kyi's lawyers had not been expecting a ruling until next month, and it was not immediately clear why the court moved the date for the verdict forward.

The detained 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate could be imprisoned for five years if she is convicted on charges that she violated the terms of her house arrest by harboring an American visitor John William Yettaw who swam univited to her lakeside home and stayed for two days.

28 July 2009

Oh, We Couldn't Sell That -- It's Too Useful

Detroit Free Press: Auto adviser: Government won't sell all its GM stake

The U.S. Treasury will not sell its entire 61% stake in General Motors Co. if the automaker succeeds in selling shares to the public next year, the head of the Obama auto task force said today.

“We would not expect to sell the entire stake,” said Ron Bloom who testified before the Congressional Oversight Panel at a hearing in Detroit.

Creditor China Conducts Credit Review -- U.S. Scores Low

U.S. Budget Is Scrutinized by a Big Creditor

“We are concerned about the security of our financial assets,” China’s assistant finance minister, Zhu Guangyao, said with uncharacteristic bluntness during a briefing for reporters covering the “U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue” on Monday.

It was a comment that underscored how much the global financial crisis has changed the subtle balance of power in meetings of “the G-2,” the shorthand now used to describe sessions between the world’s largest economy and its fastest-rising economic power.

Gone, probably forever, are the days when American delegations would show up in Beijing with advice about how the Chinese could become a “responsible stakeholder” in the world — the phrase coined by the Bush administration. The demands that the Chinese let their currency appreciate, clean up their banks or get rid of the subsidies for state-owned enterprises have been toned down.

You do not talk to your biggest creditor that way — especially when you have a record-sized loan application pending.

Shatner Interprets Palin Farewell Speech As Beat Poetry

Americans losing faith in Obama's economic abilities

Qualms about President Obama's stewardship of the economy are growing, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, as Americans become more pessimistic about when they predict the recession will end. At six months in office, Obama's 55% approval rating puts him 10th among the 12 post-World War II presidents at this point in their tenures. When he took office, he ranked seventh.

"His ratings have certainly come back down to Earth in a very short time period," Republican pollster Whit Ayres says.

White House adviser David Axelrod calls the "turbulence" predictable, given the nation's economic woes and Obama's ambitious agenda. "People fundamentally like this president, and they believe he's smart and capable and strong and trying to do the right thing," Axelrod says.

Lower ratings could make it more difficult for him to prevail on his top legislative priority. The president met with doctors and nurses at the Children's National Medical Center on Monday as he pushed the House and Senate to pass health-care overhauls before leaving on their August recess.

Obama continues to be highly regarded personally. Two-thirds see him as a strong and decisive leader and someone who understands the problems they face in their daily lives.

However, there is a widening disconnect between Obama's personal standing and support for the policies he advocates:

• By 49%-47%, those surveyed disapprove of how he is handling the economy, a turnaround from his 55%-42% approval in May. The steepest drop came from conservative and moderate Democrats.

• By 50%-44%, they disapprove of how he is handling health care policy.

• A 59% majority say his proposals call for too much government spending and 52% say they call for too much expansion of government power.

• Expectations of the economy's turnaround are souring a bit. In February, the average prediction for a recovery was 4.1 years; now it's 5.5 years.

• The administration's stimulus package isn't seen as a benefit by most whether viewed in the short term or the long term, in how it will impact the country or individuals. Only a third think it will help their own family's finances in the long run.

Obama "might make the policies more popular by being associated with him," says historian H.W. Brands of the University of Texas-Austin. "But it's almost equally possible that it will make him less popular by linking him with those policies."

Prodding Iran

Nonmilitary Actions Can Deter Iran, Gates Says

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday stressed engagement and economic sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, prompting his Israeli counterpart to insist that "no options" should be ruled out if diplomacy fails.

Gates steered clear of any talk of military options. Although the Obama administration has not ruled out using military force against Tehran, it has focused most of its attention on drawing the Iranians into talks over their nuclear program and convincing them that developing a nuclear bomb is not in their best interest.

Gates said the administration hopes to have by the fall an initial response from Iran regarding its entreaties.

If the talks fail, he said, stiff international economic sanctions on Tehran would be in order.

Senators Conrad and Dodd Knew About VIP Mortgages

Senators allegedly told of Countrywide favors
Conrad, Dodd were given special deals, rates by mortgage lending giant
Despite their denials, influential Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad and Chris Dodd were told from the start they were getting VIP mortgage discounts from one of the nation’s largest lenders, the official who handled their loans has told Congress in secret testimony.

Space Station and Endeavor Transiting The Sun

Maybe We Have Retirement Upside Down

I came across this amusing letter to the editor in the current edition of the Economist:

Young whippersnappers

SIR – Regarding your special report on ageing populations (June 27th), I once proposed a solution somewhat tongue in cheek to the problem of pensions: turn retirement upside down.

In my plan, people would be supported by society up to the age of 30. During that period they would study, travel, prepare for a profession, reproduce and give full-time care to their young. They would not hold any positions of responsibility, where their youthful enthusiasm, unbounded energy and over-ambition were likely to cause problems.

After 30, they would work until they dropped dead or became incapacitated.

The advantages are many. First, there would be more people working to support those young “retirees”. Second, social-security budgets could be prepared years in advance, and with greater certainty. Third, young “retirees” would need very little health care and the money saved could be spent on their education and child care. Fourth, individuals would enjoy life at the peak of their powers and give full attention to offspring. Fifth, no more bored and sick elderly people looked upon as useless.

Cylon Gonçalves da Silva
São Paulo

Not To Mention The Fact That He Is Actually Serving As President

Obama birth certificate once again declared real
State officials in Hawaii say they've checked and confirmed the document

State officials in Hawaii on Monday said they have once again checked and confirmed that President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen, and therefore meets a key constitutional requirement for being president.

However, it appears Congress has moved on and has accepted Obama's island birthplace. The U.S. House on Monday unanimously approved a resolution recognizing and celebrating the 50th anniversary of Hawaii becoming the 50th state. A clause was included that reads: "Whereas the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961."

Your Modern Day Typical Conflict Of Interest

Want to know how you get rich on your $174,000 Senatorial income? Here's an example of how it is done.

Indianapolis Star: Susan Bayh an issue in fight over health care

But for Bayh, health care isn't just the latest high-stakes political fight in Congress. It's also a substantial part of his family's income.

As the debate over health-care reform intensifies, Bayh's wife is receiving lucrative payouts from some of the companies that could be most affected by that legislation.

Bayh contends the $2.1 million that his wife, Susan, earned from public health-care companies from 2006 to 2008 represents no conflict of interest.

Questions persist, however, for at least two reasons. First, Evan Bayh has been unclear about his positions on many issues related to health-care reform. Second, there's the timing of Susan Bayh's rapid rise into corporate governance.

Susan Bayh, who was a midlevel lawyer for the politically active Eli Lilly and Co. while her husband was governor of Indiana, did not serve on the board of a single public health-care company until it was clear her husband was about to ascend to the U.S. Senate.

Only one month before Evan Bayh was elected to the Senate in a landslide vote, his wife was appointed to serve on the board of what would become the nation's largest health insurance company -- and arguably the company with the most at stake in the health-care reform debate.

Within a few years, numerous companies recruited her, and she eventually served on the boards of eight companies. At least one of them asked her to reduce the number of boards she served on, apparently because she was spread too thin to be effective.

Above the Law? Congressman Charlie Rangel

Morality and Charlie Rangel’s Taxes
It’s much easier to raise taxes if you don’t pay them.

Ever notice that those who endorse high taxes and those who actually pay them aren’t the same people? Consider the curious case of Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, who is leading the charge for a new 5.4-percentage point income tax surcharge and recently called it “the moral thing to do.” About his own tax liability he seems less, well, fervent.

The House Ethics Committee is investigating Mr. Rangel on no fewer than six separate issues, including his failure to report the no-interest loan on his Punta Cana villa and his use of rent-stabilized apartments. It is also investigating his fund raising for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York. New York labor attorney Theodore Kheel, one of the principal owners of the Punta Cana resort, is an important donor to the Rangel Center.

All of this has previously appeared in print in one place or another, and we salute the reporters who did the leg work. We thought we’d summarize it now for readers who are confronted with the prospect of much higher tax bills, and who might like to know how a leading Democrat defines “moral” behavior when the taxes hit close to his homes.

You Criminal! Federal Criminal Law Overreach

Volokh Conspiracy: If You're Reading This, You're Probably a Federal Criminal

The vast scope of federal criminal law is a very serious problem. Because of it, most Americans are effectively at the mercy of federal officials whenever they might choose to come after us. We are used to thinking of "criminals" as a small subset of the population. In that happy state of affairs, criminal law threatens only a small number of people, most of whom have committed genuinely heinous acts.

But when we are all federal criminals, perfectly ordinary citizens can easily get swept up in the net simply by being unlucky or because they ran afoul of federal prosecutors or other influential officials. Overcriminalization also leads to the longterm imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent people (mostly as a result of the War on Drugs, but many for other reasons as well) who haven't caused any harm to the person or property of others.

To me, the amazing thing is not that federal prosecutors sometimes abuse their enormous powers, but that they don't do so far more often. However, as federal criminal law continues to expand, it will be more and more dangerous to keep relying on their self-restraint or that of the Department of Justice.

Overbroad state criminal law is a menace. The fact that we are all federal criminals is even worse.

27 July 2009

The GOP Descends Into Conspiracy Theories and Anger

Politico: GOP headache: The birther issue

When lawmakers return home for recess in August, they can expect to hear tough questions from constituents on the economy, health care and government spending.
But Republicans are preparing for something else: the birthers.

As GOP Rep. Mike Castle learned the hard way back home in Delaware this month, there’s no easy way to deal with the small but vocal crowd of right-wing activists who refuse to believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States.

At a town hall meeting in Georgetown, a woman demanded to know why Castle and his colleagues were “ignoring” questions about Obama’s birth certificate — questions that have been put to rest repeatedly by state officials in Hawaii, where the birth certificate and all other credible evidence show that Obama was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961.

When Castle countered that Obama is, in fact, “a citizen of the United States,” the crowd erupted in boos, the woman seized control of the gathering and led a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The video went viral; by Sunday, it had been viewed on YouTube more than half a million times.

And birthers say members should expect more of the same in the coming weeks.

Of the various approaches a put-on-the-spot pol can take, each carries its own risk of alienating constituents. Pick up a pitchfork in the cause of this conspiracy theory, and you risk damaging your reputation in the mainstream while aligning yourself with a movement some regard as having racist undertones.

Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), co-sponsor of legislation that would force candidates to show their birth certificates, was widely mocked after he told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that Obama is a U.S. citizen — “as far as I know.”

However, members who decide to challenge the conspiracy theory, as Castle did mildly, risk ticking off a shrill minority who can upend their events and then post the video on the Web.

And those who try to split the difference may find themselves getting doubly burned.

Do You Want The Same Health Care That Congress Gets?

Then you want the Healthy Americans Act, a bipartisan measure modeled on the health insurance program that members of Congress have. Sound encouraging? Get this -- it not only covers everyone, but the Congressional Budget Office says it pays for itself. That's right, the same CBO that says that Obama's plan will cost billions.

It is being blocked by Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Baucus (D-MT), among others. Why isn't it being seriously considered? Not enough payoffs, I guess.

It sounds pretty good to me. Why don't you take a look?

Bipartisan Health Bill Still Gets No Respect
What would you say about a health overhaul bill that promises to provide health insurance to virtually every American, to add not a single penny to the federal deficit and to claim supporters ranging from conservative Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to liberal Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan?

On Capitol Hill, they're saying it doesn't have a chance.

That's the dilemma faced by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Bob Bennett (R-UT), sponsors of the so-called Healthy Americans Act.

Despite being the darling of health policy bloggers and the first bill to be certified by the Congressional Budget Office as covering nearly everyone and fully paying for itself, the measure is being roundly ignored by those actually trying to put together a health overhaul measure on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

That's frustrating for its sponsors, who spent years refining its finer points.

The concept is fairly simple. The plan would change the tax treatment of health insurance provided by employers in a way that would likely prompt many, if not most, to stop offering coverage. That appeals to Republicans, who say the current tax-free status of employer-provided insurance is unfair and encourages overuse of the health care system.

But the bill would also require employers to give workers back what they're spending now on health insurance in the form of a raise. Workers would also get new tax credits, and those who were previously uninsured or did not have insurance on the job would get government subsidies.

Everyone would then take that money and be required to buy insurance, from a new, government-regulated marketplace offering an array of private plans that would compete on the basis of quality and price.

Healthy Americans Act worth considering

A family earning $40,000 or less would be given a tax deduction that would lower their cost of insurance well below the current level. A direct withdraw from an employee’s paycheck would still pay the insurance premiums, but the paychecks would be higher due to the tax relief. Those making more than $40,000 would experience a slight increase that grows larger along with the income level. Wyden’s estimates put these numbers at about $7 more per month for those in the $40-50,000 income bracket. Those making $150,000 would be paying about $28 more per month.

The Healthy Americans Act would make individuals, instead of employers, owners of the insurance policy. Individuals would be able to keep their insurance regardless of where they are employed or even whether or not they are employed. The insurance policy would be non-cancelable by the insurance company. Insurers would not be allowed to cancel the policy due to a person’s health problems or other cost issues. The quality of the plans available would be comprehensive in nature per government mandate.

Costs for the Healthy Americans Act would be kept down through a streamlined process (elimination of the employer component for one) and the encouragement of healthy lifestyle choices. Exercise, diet, and smoking cessation programs would be an example.

While the government mandating some of these things is something with which I am uncomfortable, the Healthy Americans Act seems to be a reasonable compromise between a free market solution and fully nationalized healthcare. The empowerment of individuals who would not be bound to a job due to health insurance could allow more people to take chances with their careers and restore the pursuit of the American dream to many.
Here's an overview: Click at the link for a more detailed summary.

The Healthy Americans Act would guarantee every American universal, affordable, comprehensive, portable, high-quality, private health coverage that is as good or better than Members of Congress have today.

The Act includes tough cost containment measures - and would save Americans $1.45 trillion over the next decade.

All 46 million uninsured Americans would be covered, for the same funds currently spent by Americans on health care. And every American will feel secure, knowing that your health care won't ever go away.

Click here for a draft of the legislation. So you will know what is in it. Which is more than anyone can say for the current Congressional healthcare proposals.

Here is a good Wikipedia article: Healthy Americans Act

Creeping Government Censorship of the Internet

Will Internet Free Speech Crackdowns Come to America?

As Canada and Australia seek broad surveillance powers over the web, an Obama advisor wants to eliminate "destructive falsehoods" online.

We don’t hear much about “the Anglosphere” anymore. The term was coined after 9/11 to distinguish freedom-loving Western allies from those nations sympathetic or indifferent to Islamic jihad.

Sadly, the Anglosphere’s cheerleaders have since learned that the West isn’t always a reliable champion of liberty, either. Two “Anglospheric” nations in particular — Australia and Canada — have revealed a troubling urge to stifle free speech, especially on the Internet.

Internet law is in its infancy and technology is hackable, so how such government crackdowns will ultimately affect American websites and ordinary “surfers” is impossible to say. But Americans who believe their First Amendment protects them from similar interference from their own government are mistaken.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2009, now in committee, “risks giving the federal government unprecedented power over the Internet,” says Jennifer Granick of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Among other things, the act gives the president the authority to shut down Internet traffic (run mostly on privately owned networks) in an emergency — with “emergency” left undefined.

As well, the Commerce Department would have “absolute, non-emergency” access to “all relevant data”; like its Canadian equivalent, the Cybersecurity Act allows authorities access to this data without judicial review.

What Might Have Been

Obama’s Path Not Taken

Had Obama just continued his charade of the campaign in which he reassured centrists on taxes, defense, energy, and spending, he would now be in a far stronger position with Congress, and not falling in the polls.

Imagine not that in his first six months Obama had acted like a conservative (he could not since he won on a liberal agenda), but simply as a more moderate Clinton-like Democrat, albeit with more humility and skepticism. . .

[T]he real story is the rush to neo-socialism either to beat the impending popular backlash or in hopes of a massive-deficit-driven inflationary upsurge that gives us a year of recovery before the tab of stagflation comes due.

How To Control Firms Too Big To Fail?

The Monster of Wall Street Lives

Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have reported huge profits, the Dow has made it past 9000, and Barack Obama has moved on to health care. The horror show seems to be over. But as in one of those clichéd Hollywood endings, the monster in this story isn't really dead, even if most people think he is. Lost amid all the premature self-congratulation is the fact that the deepest underlying problem that caused the financial disaster is not being solved.

The problem: how to control and keep tabs on the market activities of giant firms that cause such a disruption to the system they can't be allowed to fail. Put simply, six months into the Obama administration there is as yet no coherent proposal for solving this issue, and serious differences remain between Tim Geithner's Treasury and Ben Bernanke's Fed.

Vocabulary Word for the Rest of the Obama Administration: Privatization

Used in a sentence:
"I think the Federal Government needs to plan for the privatization of all of the businesses it now owns. Whigs should support the privatization of government owned businesses."
Definition from the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

"Privatization" is an umbrella term covering several distinct types of transactions. Broadly speaking, it means the shift of some or all of the responsibility for a function from government to the private sector. The term has most commonly been applied to the divestiture, by sale or long-term lease, of a state-owned enterprise to private investors.

[T]he common motivation for engaging in all three types is to substitute more efficient business operations for what are seen as less efficient, bureaucratic, and often politicized operations in the public sector.

Because government almost always operates as a monopoly provider, the decision to privatize usually means demonopolization, even if not always robust, free-market competition.

The decision to privatize usually involves money. Governments sell state-owned enterprises to obtain proceeds either for short-term budget balancing or to pay down debt.

Few people today dispute the value of transforming value-subtracting SOEs (state owned enterprises) into value-adding companies accountable to their shareholders.

Synonym: Disinvestment

Unrealistic Expectations

The Obama cult
If Barack Obama disappoints his supporters, they will have only themselves to blame
Mr Obama has inspired more passionate devotion than any modern American politician. People scream and faint at his rallies. Some wear T-shirts proclaiming him “The One” and noting that “Jesus was a community organiser”. An editor at Newsweek described him as “above the country, above the world; he’s sort of God.”

As president, he keeps adding details to this ambitious wish-list. He vows to create millions of jobs, to cure cancer and to seek a world without nuclear weapons. On July 20th he promised something big (a complete overhaul of the health-care system), something improbable (to make America’s college-graduation rate the highest in the world by 2020) and something no politician could plausibly accomplish (to make maths and science “cool again”).

The Founding Fathers intended a more modest role for the president: to defend the country when attacked, to enforce the law, to uphold the constitution—and that was about it. But over time, the office has grown.

In 1956 Clinton Rossiter, a political scientist, wrote that Americans wanted their president to make the country rich, to take the lead on domestic policy, to respond to floods, tornadoes and rail strikes, to act as the nation’s moral spokesman and to lead the free world. The occupant of the Oval Office had to be “a combination of scoutmaster, Delphic oracle, hero of the silver screen and father of the multitudes,” he said.

Mr Obama promised to roll back Mr Bush’s imperial presidency. But has he? Having slammed his predecessor for issuing “signing statements” dismissing parts of laws he had just signed, he is now doing the same thing. He vowed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, but this week put off for another six months any decision as to what to do with the inmates.

Meanwhile, he has embraced Mrs Clinton’s curious notion that the president should be “commander-in-chief of our economy”, by propping up banks, firing executives, backing car warranties and so forth. Mr Healy reckons that Mr Obama is “as dedicated to enhancing federal power as any president in 50 years.”

All presidential candidates promise more than they can possibly deliver. This sets them up for failure. But because the Obama cult has stoked expectations among its devotees to such unprecedented heights, he is especially likely to disappoint.

Can Arabs Recover From Their Current State?

Economist: Waking from its sleep

WHAT ails the Arabs? The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) this week published the fifth in a series of hard-hitting reports on the state of the Arab world. It makes depressing reading. The Arabs are a dynamic and inventive people whose long and proud history includes fabulous contributions to art, culture, science and, of course, religion. The score of modern Arab states, on the other hand, have been impressive mainly for their consistent record of failure.

They have, for a start, failed to make their people free: six Arab countries have an outright ban on political parties and the rest restrict them slyly. They have failed to make their people rich: despite their oil, the UN reports that about two out of five people in the Arab world live on $2 or less a day. They have failed to keep their people safe: the report argues that overpowerful internal security forces often turn the Arab state into a menace to its own people. And they are about to fail their young people. The UNDP reckons the Arab world must create 50m new jobs by 2020 to accommodate a growing, youthful workforce—virtually impossible on present trends.

Can regimes that are failing their people so clearly really hold sway over some 350m people indefinitely?

Democracy is more than just elections. It is about education, tolerance and building independent institutions such as a judiciary and a free press. The hard question is how much ordinary Arabs want all this. There have been precious few Tehran-style protests on the streets of Cairo. Most Arabs still seem unwilling to pay the price of change.

Trial of Aung San Suu Kyi Nearing End

Suu Kyi trial enters final phase in Myanmar

The trial of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi entered its final phase Monday, with the prosecution scheduled to deliver its closing arguments, a government official said.

Suu Kyi, 64, is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an uninvited American man who swam to her lakeside home and stayed for two days. She faces a possible five years in prison.

Suu Kyi's lawyer Nyan Win said he expected the verdict to be delivered in two to three weeks.

The trial has drawn condemnation from the international community and Suu Kyi's local supporters, who worry the ruling junta has found an excuse to keep her behind bars through elections planned for next year.

At an Asia-Pacific security forum last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered Myanmar the prospect of better relations with the United States, but said that depended in part on the fate of Suu Kyi.

Myanmar state media rejected the criticism, accusing Clinton and others calling for Suu Kyi's release of "interference."

The trial started May 18. The court had approved 23 prosecution witnesses, of which 14 took the stand. Only two out of four defense witnesses were allowed.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962. Suu Kyi's opposition party won national elections in 1990, but Myanmar's generals refused to relinquish power. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.

26 July 2009

Public Servants or a New Class of Political Overlords?

Or so-called public servant seems more interested in serving himself:

Perry travel paid by others

A scuba diving trip combined with public policy discussions drew widespread criticism of Gov. Rick Perry's travels in 2004. Beer distributor John Nau, investor Charles Tate, both of Houston and San Antonio investor James Leininger paid $40,400 to fly Rick and Anita Perry and others on private jets to the Bahamas in February 2004.

While that tropical trip drew statewide attention, almost none was given last summer when Houston's Gulf States Toyota owner Thomas Friedkin gave $9,000 in travel to Perry's campaign so the governor, his wife and daughter could spend two days in Key West, Fla., for a fundraiser.

Perry's report indicates that the only money he raised in the tropical get-away was $55,000 from three executives of Ashbritt Environmental Inc., a Pompano, Fla., company. The company also donated $65,000 to the Republican Governor's Association, then chaired by Perry. Weeks later, local Texas governments would give Ashbritt millions of dollars in contracts to clean up after Hurricane Ike.

Keep reading for some additional examples.

Perry's a long way from the cotton farm
Plenty of perks let governor with modest roots live and travel in style

On the dollars of taxpayers and wealthy donors, Gov. Rick Perry — reared amid the cotton fields of West Texas — gets to live the life of the rich and famous, traveling the world meeting captains of industry, sports stars and royalty.

The taxpayers shell out $108,000 a year to rent him an estate west of Austin, and spend another $168,000 on chefs, stewards and housekeepers for the Perrys' creature comforts.

Piano maestro Van Cliburn once played at the Governor's Mansion for first lady Anita Perry's birthday. Dallas aerobics guru Dr. Kenneth Cooper once gave the governor free medical tests. Expensive gifts to Perry have included 16 pairs of custom-made boots, a pair of spurs, hunting trips, sports tickets and a football helmet signed by former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith.

The perks of being governor are not unusual across the nation, and in many states, governors like Perry are also de facto head of state business recruitment.

Wealthy donors and corporate-funded foundations, for example, have flown him to the Bahamas for scuba diving, to Paris, Rome and Dubai for business promotion and to San Diego, Calif., for the one-time Texas A&M yell leader to attend an Aggies Muster for expatriate A&M graduates.

Rick Perry, the gifts
Here is a listing of gifts valued at more than $250 each that have been disclosed by Gov. Rick Perry since he entered office since he took office in December 2000. If each gift listed was only valued at $250, then the list below would represent $16,000 in gifts to the governor and his family.
Oh, and I am sure that none of these donors expected anything in return. Heavens, no.

Hell's bells. We might as well legalize bribery, if we are going to tolerate this kind of nonsense.

Christians Executed in North Korea

BBC: North Korea 'executes Christians'

Human rights groups in South Korea say North Korea has stepped up executions of Christians, some of them in public. The communist country, the world's most closed society, views religion as a major threat. Only the founder of the country, Kim Il-sung, and his son, Kim Jong-il, may be worshipped, in mass public displays of fervour.

Despite the persecutions, it is thought up to 30,000 North Koreans may practise Christianity secretly in their homes.

A report by a number of South Korean groups highlights one particular case of a woman allegedly executed in public last month, in a northern town close to the Chinese border. She was accused of distributing Bibles, spying for South Korea and the United States and helping to organise dissidents.

Her parents, husband, and children were sent to a prison camp.

Tests Prove How Centered I Am

I guess I am more centrist than I thought. I just took somthing called the "Political Compass Test" that is designed to show where you fall in the political spectrum.

The dot, pretty much in the middle, above, shows my results.

To be fair, I found the test to be a bit biased. I am suprised at the result. So, after waiting a while, I took it a second time. The results were similar.

AT&T Fires Reservist Because of Deployment

Houston Chronicle: A job left unfinished

Beard, a 37-year-old sergeant, returned from four days of pre-mobilization training last month to news that he'd been suspended from his job as a technician for AT&T U-Verse. A few weeks later he was fired.Beard said a union representative told him the director of network services had decided to let him go because his efficiency was low and he “only had a month” until his unit mobilized for Iraq.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act prohibits businesses from dismissing or penalizing employees because of their military service obligations. As long as a reservist or Guard member gives reasonable notice, as Beard said he did, the employer must keep the same or equivalent job open until the soldier returns from deployment.

Beard tried to get his job back through a mediator with the Employer Support for Guard & Reserve, a Department of Defense agency, but the effort failed. On Thursday, he filed a complaint with the Department of Labor.

Beard said he never had any problems with AT&T until his office came under new management in May 2008. He hasn't been paid since June 1, and because he decided to fight the termination, he hasn't been able to apply for unemployment benefits. He and his wife, Donna, have decided to take their 12-year-old daughter out of private school. They scour garage sales for deals, no longer eat out and have canceled plans to take a weekend trip together before Beard leaves for Iraq.

“Now we get the stress of the financial burden in addition to the stress of him being deployed,” his wife said. “We're fortunate we don't have a lot of credit card debt. We'll squeak by, hopefully, provided nothing breaks.”

25 July 2009

I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

Scientists fear machines will outsmart us

Researchers worry that diverse technologies could cause social disruption

Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences.

As examples, the scientists pointed to a number of technologies as diverse as experimental medical systems that interact with patients to simulate empathy, and computer worms and viruses that defy extermination and could thus be said to have reached a “cockroach” stage of machine intelligence.

While the computer scientists agreed that we are a long way from Hal, the computer that took over the spaceship in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” they said there was legitimate concern that technological progress would transform the work force by destroying a widening range of jobs, as well as force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors.

Department of Energy: Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Whatever would we do without the Department of Energy?

Energy Inefficiency: The Department of Energy Fails Another Audit

Boy, the Energy Department is really having trouble practicing the energy efficiency it keeps preaching: The latest inspector general’s report found that the DOE often neglects to turn down the thermostat, wasting millions of dollars in energy every year.

The latest report found that “the Energy Department failed in many cases to use controls on heating, ventilation and air conditioning that are a primary means of conserving energy during non-working hours,” as Dow Jones Newswires put it. That could have cost the DOE more than $11 million.

In May, government inspectors found the Energy Department tended to leave computer monitors on, wasting electricity worth more than $1 million a year.

Obama's Inexperience Is Showing

There is no other reason for Obama's mistakes in dealing with the Gates arrest than his inexperience. He forgot he wasn't just chatting with his politically correct friends in the faculty lounge. I am sure in his discussion groups, the Harvard professor is always right.

Obama Shifts Tone on Gates After Mulling Debate

One other point: "I'll speak to your momma outside"? This is how Harvard professors talk to people? Not very scholarly. Also, why did he force open his own door with a crowbar? Couldn't he have used his cellphone to call for a locksmith? Why would he tear up his door? Duh.

With professors with no more coping skills that this, perhaps Harvard is coasting on it's reputation.

Modern Whig Candidate in New Jersey -- Gene Baldassari

The recent news out of New Jersey is a demonstration of the need for real change.

If you live in the 14th District, a Modern Whig is running for the state legislature.

His website is here -- VoteGene.com

Waterloo or Austerlitz?

When told that health care reform was said to be his Waterloo, why didn't Obama respond with "On the contrary, it will be my Austerlitz!" or "Senator DeMint is no Duke of Wellington"?

Didn't this guy go to Harvard? Doesn't he know his historical Napoleonic references?

Jeez -- instead, flabbergasted, he gets his feelings all hurt. When did he get so sensitive?

Whew -- I've been wanting to get that off my chest for three days. It's good to be back.

Image is V.V.Mazurovsky's "The heroism of the Horse Guards in the battle of Austerlitz"

New York man pleads guilty to aiding al Qaeda

A New York man pleaded guilty to charges of aiding al Qaeda and helping attack a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.

Bryant Neal Vinas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals, providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization and receiving military-type training from a foreign terrorist organization, according to Monica McLean, spokeswoman for the FBI's New York office.

Authorities had accused Vinas of firing rockets at the U.S. military base along with others in September 2008, according to the indictment, filed under seal in January. In addition, authorities said he provided al Qaeda with information about the New York transit system and the Long Island Railroad.

Vinas, 26, is from Long Island and is an American citizen, said a source close to the investigation. He was arrested in Pakistan, the source said.

This is troublesome. I know there are people in the world who want to kill Americans just because we're Americans. But the idea that there are people living among us that feel that way is exponentially worse. That this guy was from New York, of all places, adds insult to injury. The talk of US terror cells started about the time the 9/11 dust had settled and news like this makes me believe it more and more. Its Treason! There are surely more. These people, whenever found, should be dealt with swiftly, severely and publicly. Something that makes a UFC cage fight look like an Easter egg hunt.

24 July 2009

New Jersey politics

The mayors of Hoboken, Ridgefield and Secaucus, New Jersey, and five rabbis were among 44 people charged by the U.S. with public corruption and money laundering.

Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, 32, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, 64, and Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, 42, all Democrats; Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega Jr., 59; State Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, 44, a Republican from Ocean Township; and Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, a Jersey City Democrat, were charged today in an FBI complaint. All except Smith appeared in U.S. court in Newark, New Jersey.

The corruption probe, based in Hudson County, netted many public officials accused of pledging assistance for bribes. A cooperating witness in that probe also infiltrated a “pre- existing money laundering network” that moved “at least tens of millions of dollars through charitable, non-profit entities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey,” according to a release by acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra.

“The fact that we arrested a number of rabbis this morning does not make this a religiously motivated investigation,” Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in Newark, said at a news conference. “It is not a politically motivated investigation. It is about crime, corruption, arrogance and a shocking betrayal of public trust.”

Article continues here.