30 November 2009

Boy, Do I Hate Flying

What's with the image? Whatever you think this image represents, my recent flight was the exact opposite.

I didn't used to mind flying. But it has become the biggest, most degrading, aggravating, and frustrating hassle I have to deal with.

I don't travel for business as much as I used to, which is a good thing, but I can't stand it. If I didn't have to fly for work, I think I would never fly anywhere ever again.
I wonder if airlines executive realize how awful it is? I suppose airline CEOs all have private jets.

Modern Whigs To Meet December 12-13 in Washington

The latest update from the Modern Whig Party.

Revived by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the Modern Whig Party continues to gain momentum as a home for those moderate, mainstream and non-fringe voters who value common sense, rational solutions ahead of partisan bickering or strict left/right ideology.

As such, the time has come for a national meeting among party leaders, volunteers and others affiliated with this grassroots movement. The first Whig National Council meeting is scheduled for December 12-13, 2009 in Washington D.C., where the Modern Whig Party is headquartered.

There are many items on the agenda including electing a national leadership, plans for future growth, alliances with other political groups, and further elaboration of the Modern Whig positions on the issues.

National Debt Ceiling Hits $12,000,000,000,000.00

Graph from McClatchy News Service.

Political clash expected soon over rising U.S. $12 trillion dollar debt

In the past, members of Congress never have been particularly eager to remind the public that they regularly vote to raise the ceiling on the national debt, which now exceeds $12 trillion.

That's $12,000,000,000,000.

The debt has more than doubled since 2002, and in the last two years it's been rising at a clip of more than $3.8 billion a day. Each U.S. citizen now has a share that's estimated at more than $39,000.

The vote on increasing the debt will come just as Congress tries to put the finishing touches on a trillion-dollar plan to overhaul the nation's health care system and President Barack Obama considers a possible escalation in the war in Afghanistan that could cost another trillion dollars over the next 10 years.

A bipartisan group of more than a dozen senators is threatening to vote against an increase in the debt limit unless Congress passes a new deficit-fighting plan.

More here from the American Thinker: Our national debt: How much would 12 trillion eggs weigh?

We have plummeted an additional trillion dollars in the last 8 months.

Twelve trillion is twelve followed by 12 zeros: 12,000,000,000,000 or 12 x 1012 . 12 trillion eggs would weigh just over 13 million tons or the weight of 19 supertankers. That works out to 149 dozen eggs for each of the 6.6 billion humans on this planet. 12 trillion gallons of milk could easily fill Lake Superior almost four times over.

Twelve trillion is so vast a super number that only astrophysicists and molecular geneticists should be allowed to calculate with it, not the bureaucrats in Washington. In 2008, twelve trillion is equal to the combined output (GDP) of China, Japan and the UK. The total GDP of the United States in the third quarter of 2009 was $14.3 trillion.

The Federal Government, of course, pays interest on its $12 trillion debt. How much interest was paid last year? A staggering $383 billion dollars was incurred during the last fiscal year. That compares to NASA’s budget of $18 billion, the Department of Transportation’s budget of $74 billion, and the California state budget of $90 billion. $383 billion in annual interest could purchase four thousands homes a day in the high priced California market. That same sum is a 1,000 times greater then the distance from Earth to Jupiter in miles.

The annual interest on this debt for each household is thirty-three hundred dollars a year, or $9 a day.

If each household in America were to take a thirty year fully amortized mortgage at 5.0% on their share of the $12 trillion dollar debt, their monthly payment would be $556 a month or $6,572 a year ---- for thirty years!

Very soon, we are going find ourselves getting a lot less government than we will be paying for. Taxes will be high, government services low, and our ability to respond to a crisis nonexistent. All because we wanted more benefits than we are willing to pay for today.

Some Taxes Are More Equal Than Others

The Economist: The state's take
Governments differ dramatically in how they tax—and how much they raise

The less efficient the type of taxation, the greater the burden on the economy. There is already striking variation in the size of the state and the structure of taxation, both among advanced economies, and between them and their emerging counterparts. Comparing countries’ tax takes can offer useful clues to the most efficient ways to raise funds in future.

The state looms largest in France, where almost 50% of GDP flowed through the government’s coffers in 2007 (the most recent year for which statistics comparable across all countries exist). In China, in contrast, government revenue accounts for less than 20% of GDP.

In theory, expenditure taxes are better than income taxes, since they do not punish saving. Flat tax-rates on a broad base are less distortive than high marginal rates on a narrow base. By the same token, taxes on things that cannot be moved easily, such as property, are less distortive than taxes on mobile economic agents, particularly firms. Among expenditure taxes, a flat tax-rate on final goods is less distortive than a panoply of excise taxes since it affects spending decisions less. (That said, sometimes, such as with carbon taxes, the goal is to influence decisions.)

America’s tax system stands out as one of the least efficient. The heavy reliance on income taxation is compounded by the narrowness of the tax base, thanks to oodles of complexity-inducing deductions.

Nor is tax policy only about efficiency. Politicians also care about fairness and political appeal. Property taxes may be non-distorting, but they are deeply unpopular with voters. Tax progressivity is often at odds with efficiency. A VAT, for instance, falls disproportionately on poorer people who spend a higher share of their income than richer folk. Thanks to its reliance on income taxes, America—by some measures—has the most progressive tax system in the OECD. Different countries will always strike different compromises between efficiency, fairness and simplicity. But as their debt burdens rise, the world’s big rich economies would do well to focus most on efficiency.

Hint: It's Greater Than You Think

A beginning of a series on the impact third parties have had on American politics, over at Poli-Tea. The first installment: The Third Party Tradition in American Politics: Against Duopolist Historical Revisionism

'Tis The Season

The Hill: After break, 'tis the season to tackle pressing tax issues

Annual year-end tax extenders legislation has not been considered by Congress yet. And without action by Capitol Hill, businesses across the country could see their taxes rise by next year if lawmakers do not approve a new round of credits, exemptions and incentives included in the extenders for next year.

“There is going to be tremendous nervousness about letting these extenders expire, which would be the equivalent of a tax increase,” said Ken Kies, managing director of Federal Policy Group.

“December is going to be an ugly a month as we have seen in some time.”

In addition, lawmakers are looking for new revenue to help pay for new government programs and pare down the national deficit. Further, taxes on everything from online gambling to soda have been suggested to help fund healthcare reform.

International Condemnation Doesn't Bother: Iran Ups The Ante

Telegraph (UK): Iran faces condemnation over plans for new nuclear plants

Iran faced international condemnation after announcing plans for a massive expansion of its uranium enrichment programme.

Iran had been expected to give a hardline response to an International Atomic Energy Agency vote last Friday condemning it for keeping the construction of the Qom plant secret.

But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reaction was more far-reaching than had been predicted and is expected to heighten tensions further.

Any new enrichment plants would take years to build but the plans were seen as a statement that Iran is willing to risk further sanctions and won't back down amid a deadlock in negotiation attempts.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement: "If true, this would be yet another serious violation of Iran's clear obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions and another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself.

"Time is running out for Iran to address the international community's growing concerns about its nuclear programme."

That would risk leaving two rogue states, including North Korea, actively pursuing enriched uranium programmes outside the IAEA's inspection programme.

President Barack Obama would be left with a scenario of being forced either to allow an Israeli military strike on Iran, or face accusations that he had lost control of America's dealings with hostile states.

Bailout: It's About Control, Not Reform

WSJ: Lack of Candor and the AIG Bailout
If AIG wasn't too big to fail, why did the government rescue it? And why do we need to turn the financial system upside down?

Since last September, the government's case for bailing out AIG has rested on the notion that the company was too big to fail. If AIG hadn't been rescued, the argument goes, its credit default swap (CDS) obligations would have caused huge losses to its counterparties—and thus provoked a financial collapse.

Last week's news that this was not in fact the motive for AIG's rescue has implications that go well beyond the Obama administration's efforts to regulate CDSs and other derivatives. It's one more example that the administration may be using the financial crisis as a pretext to extend Washington's control of the financial sector.

The truth about the credit default swaps came out last week in a report by TARP Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky. It says that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, then president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, did not believe that the financial condition of AIG's credit default swap counterparties was "a relevant factor" in the decision to bail out the company. This contradicts the conventional assumption, never denied by the Federal Reserve or the Treasury, that AIG's failure would have had a devastating effect.

So why did the government rescue AIG? This has never been clear.

The lack of candor about credit default swaps, the effort to blame lack of regulation for the subprime crisis and the excessive reach of the proposed consumer protection agency are all of a piece. The administration seems to be using the specter of another financial crisis to bring more and more of the economy under Washington's control.

With the help of large Democratic majorities in Congress, this train has had considerable momentum. But perhaps—with the disclosure about credit default swaps and the AIG crisis—the wheels are finally coming off.

Review: Justinian's Flea, and World War Z

Here are two books I read back to back. One turned out to enhance the other.

First Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire by William Rosen is a story about the oft-neglected Byzantine Empire and the first exposure to the Black Death. Millions were left dead by the first wave of this great plague. The author not only details the stories of how people and governments tried to cope with the plague, but also goes into detail of the biology and the reason the plague spread so quickly.

That might be enough, but the author expertly shows how the plague weakened an entire nation. The plague happened to hit just before Islam came upon the world scene. The author makes a good case that but for the plague weakening Byzantium, Islam would not have become the force it became. Because Byzantium was weakened by the plague, they were unable to confront the Islamic onslaught. Without the plague, Islam would have been contained and quite probably defeated.

Well written and profound, the book provided excellent information on an era and area of history to which I had not previously been aware.

Reading a nonfiction work about a real plague only made reading World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks become more alive. Which really creeped me out at first. I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading fiction. This best-seller is a good yarn. As the zombie virus spreads, and civilization buckles, the story is told through vignettes showing how the crisis impacted individuals, and how they reacted. The stories are vivid and well told. Some are sad, some are action-packed, and some are horrifying. An excellent example of a faux fictional history.

The book is being turned into a movie, so expect to hear more about this entertaining work. Even if you are not interested in the "horror" genre, this book is a good read.

29 November 2009

New Quantum Gravity Theory

Scientific American: Splitting Time from Space—New Quantum Theory Topples Einstein's Spacetime

Physicists have struggled to marry quantum mechanics with gravity for decades. In contrast, the other forces of nature have obediently fallen into line. For instance, the electromagnetic force can be described quantum-mechanically by the motion of photons. Try and work out the gravitational force between two objects in terms of a quantum graviton, however, and you quickly run into trouble—the answer to every calculation is infinity. But now Petr Hořava, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks he understands the problem. It’s all, he says, a matter of time.

Others have made even bolder claims for Hořava gravity, especially when it comes to explaining cosmic conundrums such as the singularity of the big bang, where the laws of physics break down. If Hořava gravity is true, argues cosmologist Robert Brandenberger of McGill University in a paper published in the August Physical Review D, then the universe didn’t bang—it bounced.

Hořava gravity may also create the “illusion of dark matter,” says cosmologist Shinji Mukohyama of Tokyo University. In the September Physical Review D, he explains that in certain circumstances Hořava’s graviton fluctuates as it interacts with normal matter, making gravity pull a bit more strongly than expected in general relativity. The effect could make galaxies appear to contain more matter than can be seen. If that’s not enough, cosmologist Mu-In Park of Chonbuk National University in South Korea believes that Hořava gravity may also be behind the accelerated expansion of the universe, currently attributed to a mysterious dark energy. One of the leading explanations for its origin is that empty space contains some intrinsic energy that pushes the universe outward. This intrinsic energy cannot be accounted for by general relativity but pops naturally out of the equations of Hořava gravity, according to Park.

Presidential Election in Honduras

Honduran Hopefuls Look Past Zelaya

The two front-runners for the Honduran presidency have disagreed on matters from government spending to the death penalty. But on the most divisive issue that this tiny republic faces, they are on the same page: Ousted President Manuel Zelaya need not return to office.

Yet international recognition -- largely contingent on a transparent election Sunday -- is also the one domestic matter that's out of the candidates' hands. The elections will be administered by an independent tribunal and presided over by the cabinet of President Roberto Micheletti, who has temporarily stepped down to avoid accusations of interference.

"If (independent observers) agree it is a clean election, that will help establish legitimacy of the new government," says Riordan Roett, a Latin America expert at Johns Hopkins University.

No Swiss Minarets

Times (UK): Swiss voters 'back ban on building of minarets'

Swiss voters appear to have defied their Government and churches today and approved a national ban on the construction of minarets.

Early results showed that 57 per cent of voters had backed the proposal, ensuring international embarrassment for Switzerland and a possible backlash in the Muslim world. A majority of the 27 cantons supported the move, according to partial results.

The 'yes' vote, if confirmed, shows the strength of feeling against a Muslim population which has grown over the past 20 years to 350,000 or four per cent of the population. The majority are not regular practitioners of their faith. Most are from Turkey and the Balkans.

Only four modest-sized minarets exist in Switzerland, where there are 150 prayer houses. None are used to call the faithful to prayer.

"We just want to stop further Islamisation in Switzerland," Walter Wobmann, head of a committee of initiative backers, said today

The Great Delisting: Small Firms Denied Access To The Stockmarket

Economist: High-speed slide
What is good for cutting-edge traders may be bad for the market as a whole

America is plagued by a “Great Depression” in the number of listed firms that stretches back over a decade.

The slide in listings began in the mid-1990s, at around the time that America saw an array of regulatory changes designed to advance high-speed, low-cost trading, such as the introduction of online brokerages and new order-handling rules. An accidental victim of this technological revolution, the report says, was the ecosystem that helped bring small firms to market and then nourished them once there. “It’s a bargain-basement market today,” says David Weild, a co-author of the report. “You get what you pay for, and that’s nothing but trade execution.”

The “high-frequency” traders who have come to dominate stockmarkets with their computer-driven strategies pay less attention to small firms, preferring to jump in and out of larger, more liquid shares. Institutional investors, wary of being stuck in an illiquid part of the market, are increasingly following them.

Another factor is the near-evaporation of research on small firms, which has been undone by the rise of passive index investing and by rules that banned the use of investment-banking revenues to subsidise analysts. With less funding to go around, analysts are increasingly concentrating on large, frequently traded shares ...

More is needed to stop the precipitous listings decline, argues Grant Thornton. It proposes a twofold solution: the establishment of a new market segment without automated trade execution but with fixed trading commissions, some of which would be used to fund research; and looser rules governing institutional investment in pre-IPO companies. Such upheaval would be controversial. But something dramatic may be needed if America wants to retain its stockmarket hegemony.

Constitutional Convention Proposed Selection Process Anything But Conventional

Now here is an interesting group I just learned about: Repair California -- Californians for a State Constitutional Convention.

It is no surprise that there are numerous groups that are pushing for a new constitution for California. With the initiatives, the gerrymandering, the 2/3 requirement for the budget and to raise taxes, they could use a new direction.

What I find interesting about this group is the method they advocate for determining the members of a constitutional convention, which is both more elaborate and nontraditional than anything tried before.

The distrust and disappointment with conventional politicians comes through loud and clear. The county delegates with be selected, with a majority of delegates chosen at random. This process will be interesting to watch if it passes. It would be even more interesting to see if this process works. You know, it just might.

I mean, regular citizens could hardly do worse than the politicians. And you wouldn't have the filter of special interest groups and campaign money. I think it would be worth a shot, and might produce a concise and transparent document.

A diagram of the proposed selection process can be found here. I couldn't get Blogger to convert the format from PDF, so you'll have to click through to see it, but here is the text:

Routes to become a Delegate to the California Constitutional Convention

Selected County Delegates

The County Delegate Selection Committee of each County will hold public meetings to select, by majority vote, County delegates to the convention. Any person interested can and should apply.

In each County there will be a Delegate Selection Committee made up of five people: Two members of the Board of Supervisors, two mayors and a school board or board of education member. Each California County will have one delegate for every 175,000 residents. If a County has a population of less than 175,000, they will have one delegate.

The three cities that have a population of over one million (Los Angeles, San Diego & San Jose) will have their share of delegates chosen at the city level by the members of the City Council, under the same process the County Delegate Selection Committee.

In addition, the four federally recognized Indian Tribes will also appoint their own delegates.

Recent population estimates show that there would be 221 County Delegates.

Randomly Chosen District Candidates

The State Auditor randomly selects the names of 400 people in each Assembly District across California. Those 400 people, per district, will receive information by mail about becoming a delegate. If they are interested in serving, they respond to the Auditor. Of those who responded favorably, 50 individuals per assembly district will be invited to attend a presentation to learn more about duties and responsibilities of a delegate. At the meeting of 50, following discussion and deliberation, they will vote for three in their own ranks to represent the Assembly District as delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Each California Assembly District will have three delegates. In total, there will be 240 Assembly District Delegates.

That would give the California Constitutional Convention 461 delegates, the majority of whom would be chosen at random.

"Crazy, Mean, And At War With Itself"

The Late, Great State of California

California, contrary to popular opinion, is not broke. It's only crazy, mean and at war with itself.

Term limits and gerrymandered districts have turned the Legislature into a carousel for people who don't know how to ride and tend to fall off the wooden horses. On their heads.

The most devastating battle on California's political landscape has been old vs. young. And the old are winning big time. Because of Prop 13 and later corollaries, old folks pay lower taxes and receive more medical care at the expense of new schools, more teachers and smaller class sizes. California's public schools, elementary and secondary, once the best by test scores in the nation, are now among the worst.

That is part of a national struggle of young vs. old: The old get medical care and don't want to finance schooling for other people's children; the young get less attention and inherit more national debt.

All That, And For What? Final Result of Kelo Decision: Wasted Money, Wasted Property

After the homes are gone

In its infamous Kelo decision in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a New London, Conn., redevelopment agency could seize people's private homes by eminent domain not only for public works but also for corporate development.

The well-laid plans of redevelopers, however, did not pan out. The land where Suzette Kelo's little pink house once stood remains undeveloped. The proposed hotel-retail-condo "urban village" has not been built. And earlier this month, Pfizer Inc. announced that it is closing the $350 million research center in New London that was the anchor for the New London redevelopment plan, and will be relocating some 1,500 jobs.

"They stole our home for economic development," ousted homeowner Michael Cristofaro told the New York Times. "It was all for Pfizer, and now they get up and walk away."

The courts were too rapt at the notion of shiny and tax-rich waterfront development to care about the impact on largely blue-collar taxpayers who so desperately wanted to hold on to their ocean-view homes.

How can the government take citizens' homes so that private corporations can take the land for their own profit?

Review: Mao: The Untold Story, and Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

I may have made a mistake in reading both Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore back to back. That was quite a bit of communist horror to take at one time. Communism is madness, and here is proof.

But if you are looking for readable, definitive histories of the two greatest criminals of the 20th centure, both are well-written, thoroughly researched and authoritative.

Of the two, Mao emerges as the greater criminal. He had a conception of China as a mass prison camp. North Korea is but a faint echo of what he tried to accomplish. He wanted all reduced to poverty, with himself as the only wealthy man in China. He proposed that names be replaced with numbers. And although both killed millions, Mao killed more.
Hitler is used as modern shorthand for evil, but as despicable and evil as he is, he was not as murderous as his Communist counterparts. Amazing then, that both Stalin and Mao still have defenders.
Also significant are their early lives and careers. The lesson to be learned from both is that early misgivings in party politics must be acted on at once, before power is consolidated. Contemporaries of both had early reservations, but failed to confront either, with disasterous results. But Communism is so flawed and open to such abuses that another, equally murderous party member would have no doubt risen in their stead.
Both of these books are thick and substantial. So when you meet someone who still professes admiration of Marxism, you should take either one of these books, and smack them in the face with them.
For as these books show, Communism is inherently evil and souless, and is guilty of the worst of crimes. In the light of what is known about the deaths and misery caused by Communism, anyone who would defend it is simply too dense to debate.

28 November 2009

Video: Visualizing empires decline

Visualizing empires decline from Pedro M Cruz on Vimeo.

Speculation That The Obama Administration Will Allow American Soldiers To Be Tried Before The ICC For War Crimes

WSJ: Prosecuting American 'War Crimes'
The International Criminal Court claims jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed "great regret" in August that the U.S. is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This has fueled speculation that the Obama administration may reverse another Bush policy and sign up for what could lead to the trial of Americans for war crimes in The Hague.

The ICC's chief prosecutor, though, has no intention of waiting for Washington to submit to the court's authority. Luis Moreno Ocampo says he already has jurisdiction—at least with respect to Afghanistan.

Because Kabul in 2003 ratified the Rome Statute—the ICC's founding treaty—all soldiers on Afghan territory, even those from nontreaty countries, fall under the ICC's oversight, Mr. Ocampo told me.

And the chief prosecutor says he is already conducting a "preliminary examination" into whether NATO troops, including American soldiers, fighting the Taliban may have to be put in the dock.

Some Frustration About Filibusters

Some on the left are becoming frustrated over the threatened filibuster over the Healthcare Bill. Like most political principles, attitudes towards the filibuster depend on whether you are in the majority.

However, one suggestion is a good one. Bring back actual filibusters, instead of the current acceptance of a declared filibuster, and the subsequent throwing up of hands.

The change occurred during Sen. Byrd's heyday as majority leader, and was intended as a reform. Previously, Senate business came to a halt during filibusters. But the reform allowed for a two track process. So that now a threatened filibuster would stop the disputed legislation, while routine business continued on the other track. This was coupled with a "cloture" vote needing originally 66 votes, and then 60 to end the filibuster.
Not surprisingly, filibusters have become more common than ever before in American history (from 6 votes on cloture in 1967-1968, 13 in 1977-1978, 43 in 1987-1988, 53 in 1997-1998, and 112 in 2007-2008), with the consequence of growing legislative paralysis. The filibuster has become routine, with devastating effects on the Senate's ability to legislate.
Maybe we should bring back the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" filibuster with no cloture vote. If you feel strongly about something, get you ass up there in a Depends, and stand there and talk until your tongue and feet swell up.

The reforms made it too easy to threaten a filibuster, and made our Senators lazy and obstructionist. Let's add to the drama. The filibuster would still protect minority rights, and would still be effective, while containing filibusters to important subjects.

If you have to get up there and talk through the night, you would hesitate unless it were really important. But if it were important, the filibuster could cause even more trouble.

So let's up the ante, and get our money's worth out of these Senators. Who has the courage of their convictions? Since we would see what our Senators are really made of, the chances of this happening are next to zero.

27 November 2009

Some Stream of Consciousness Blogging

I keep reading and hearing arguments against third parties. There seems to be at least some interest among regular Americans for more choices. But partisans of the two major parties react very strongly to any suggestion that we need a political realignment.

The angry arguments against third parties seem especially desperate among Republican supporters. I keep hearing that we have to keep within one of the two main parties. The argument is that party primaries keep the system open, so what is your problem?

But if both parties nominate candidates I really, really don't like, then why do I have to vote for them?

Let's say I don't like the Democratic candidate because I think they would raise taxes. If the Republican nomination if too socially conservative for me, let's say they want to re-criminalize homosexuality, and want creationism taught as science, then why am I expected to vote for them because of the tax issue?

I won't do it. And we should all be increasingly resentful at this expectation.

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All too often, the party primaries are dominated by the extremes of either party. And the rest of us are encouraged, through mud-slinging campaign tactics, to find a flaw in one, and to vote for the other flawed one.

Just because you think that Obama is a socialist, or whatever, doesn't mean that you can expect me to tag along with whatever crazy-ass nut you nominate.

The same goes to the other side, as well. Just because the other party nominates a medieval throwback doesn't mean that I will vote for your corrupt, compromised candidate.

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The two parties have colluded to the extent that new political parties have a very, very difficult time even getting on the ballot. And the media is completely locked into the concept of the two party system. They will keep putting a Dem up against a Republican and calling it balanced I guess until the support for one of the parties dissipates completely.

It will take a real groundswell to shake things up. All I can do is what I can, and wait. And hope.

I often hear comments like "What can I do?" or "The wealthy and powerful will do what they want, and to hell with the rest of us." When I hear these comments, I can only think of peasants.

Refuse to be a peasant, passive and silent, while the lords of the land dictate to the rest of us. We are citizens, not peasants. Resolve to be an active citizen. Accept the condescension and disdain of the powers that be. And still do what you can.

Don't give in to the media, which teaches passivity and acceptance. Events are not outside of our control. We are not as powerless as they want us to believe. And those that would rule over us are not as sure of themselves as they would have you believe. They are scared to death of the public, and rightly so.

-------------------

Crticisms against the powers that would be are coming from the left, the right, and from the middle. The internet will enable these groups to communicate and organize just like in other areas of society. This process is just now beginning to really be felt in politics. Expect it to accelerate.

Long term trends cannot forever be stopped by the old media, ballot restrictions, FEC regulations, or 19th century-based political machines. So do what you can. And wait. And hope.

Another Checks Out Modern Whigs

From Capitol Hill Blue: Republican Litmus Test 2009

I got a kick out of the new RNC set of guidelines for acceptance into the Republican Party Candidates. If anyone was here at CHB in 1999 you might have read my list of Prohibitions that would soon be incorporated in the RNC. When I wrote about this I had hundreds of Republicans screaming that they would NEVER have a litmus test for candidates. I fear I may have given them the idea.

The two items on this Litmus Test that I knew were coming as tests to join the GOP were: opposing gay marriages and a ban on abortions. There is no way in hell Governor Reagan would have planned this. He was the first State Governor to sign Roe v Wade accepting the law in California.

His background in the arts and the moving pictures kept him involved with the talented gay musicians, designers and actors in Hollywood. They were as equal as you and me.

This new RNC group believes they can simply write a list of everything President Obama wants and rub it out with insults. I did not vote for President Obama but never in a million years would I ever vote Republican again. The RNC would be better served if they would add keeping the candidates pants zipped for starters.

They speak of Governor Palin, comedy personalities Rush and Beck as if they have the ability to win any election.

Seeing the need for this Litmus test shows me how weak and insecure the GOP has become. I say, let them die out in their disgraceful actions. I’m checking out the Modern Whig party. I’m not suggesting it here and I will offer no address but I will check them out.

When Will We Learn? Ethanol SNAFU Typical Example Of Central Planning

U.S. Unlikely to Use the Ethanol Congress Ordered

To please the farm lobby and to help wean the nation off oil, Congress mandated that refiners blend a rising volume of ethanol and other biofuels into gasoline. They are supposed to use at least 15 billion gallons of biofuels by 2012, up from less than seven billion gallons in 2007.

But nobody at the time counted on fuel demand falling in the United States, which is what has happened during the recession. And that decline could well continue, as cars become more efficient under other recent government mandates.

At the maximum allowable blend, in which gasoline at the pump contains 10 percent ethanol, updated projections suggest that the country is unlikely to be able to use all the ethanol that Congress has ordered up.

So something has to give.

In theory, the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to solve this problem by tweaking the mandates imposed by Congress, and it may act as early as next week.

Each potential solution would anger one interest group or another, so the agency has been subjected to fierce lobbying, including from members of Congress lining up behind various factions. One possibility is to raise the maximum proportion of ethanol in gasoline to 15 or 20 percent.

But that idea is opposed by some carmakers and pollution experts. They contend that high ethanol blends can cause damage to cars, including making catalytic converters run hotter.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says it believes this could cause the converters, components that help control pollution, to fail at around 50,000 miles. They are supposed to last for 120,000 to 150,000 miles.

“We are sensitive to the issues facing the ethanol industry, but the government must make decisions based on sound science,” said Dave McCurdy, president and chief executive of the alliance, in a letter to the E.P.A.

Ah, yes. Decisions based on sound science. I believe that was one of the campaign promises Obama made when running for office. But in office, it seems that sound science must take a back seat to politics.

UPDATE: 28Nov: More here: A Growing Disaster
Allowing more ethanol in gas won’t help consumers or the environment, and it is time for Congress and the Obama administration to stop propping up this discredited industry.

Our Upside Down World: Navy SEALs Court-martialed For Not Being Nice Enough To Ruthless Terrorist

Navy SEALs Face Assault Charges for Capturing Most-Wanted Terrorist

Navy SEALs have secretly captured one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq — the alleged mastermind of the murder and mutilation of four Blackwater USA security guards in Fallujah in 2004. And three of the SEALs who captured him are now facing criminal charges, sources told FoxNews.com.

The three, all members of the Navy's elite commando unit, have refused non-judicial punishment — called a captain's mast — and have requested a trial by court-martial.
Ahmed Hashim Abed, whom the military code-named "Objective Amber," told investigators he was punched by his captors — and he had the bloody lip to prove it.

Now, instead of being lauded for bringing to justice a high-value target, three of the SEAL commandos, all enlisted, face assault charges and have retained lawyers.

And This Week's Statement of the Obvious Award Goes To ...

Mohamed El Baradei, head of the IAEA, for stating that negotiations with Iran will reach a dead end unless Iran starts to cooperate.

This has been obvious to the rest of us for some time now.

Left unsaid is that Iran is not going to cooperate, and never will, since their goal is to buy time, which they have done.

BBC: Iran warned over nuclear 'dead end' by UN's El Baradei

Investigations into Iran's nuclear programme will reach a "dead end" unless Tehran starts to co-operate, the UN nuclear chief has warned.

Mohamed El Baradei told governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that there had been no movement on issues that needed to be clarified.

Addressing IAEA governors in Vienna, Mr El Baradei said his inspectors had made no progress on areas which needed to be clarified in order to verify the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme.

"It is now well over a year since the agency was last able to engage Iran in discussions about these outstanding issues," he said.

"We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us."

In Saudi Arabia, Sentenced To Death. For Witchcraft.

I thought of a lot a smart ass things to say, but in the end, I am just floored that the human race still convicts people of witchcraft. Since starting this blog, I have posted on alleged witchcraft in several places, the Congo, India, Nigeria. What the hell? For all of human progress, a sizable number of people still adhere to these superstitious beliefs. And my local paper still prints horoscopes. Sigh.

BBC: Saudi Arabia urged to quash witchcraft death sentence

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch has called on Saudi Arabia to overturn a death sentence given to a man convicted of practising witchcraft.

Human Rights Watch accused Saudi courts of "sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police".

"The crime of 'witchcraft' is being used against all sorts of behaviour, with the cruel threat of state-sanctioned executions," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's Middle East director.

Human Rights Watch also said reports in Saudi media suggested that two other people had been arrested for witchcraft in the past month.

In addition, a Saudi woman remains on death row after being sentenced for the same crime last year.

Political Challenges and Divided Politics

Investing and Politics

Regardless of health care reform and job recovery however, Democrats will very likely lose their majority in either the House or Senate. The reason for this is simple: the unmistakable anti-incumbent movement underway, which will not be slowed by health care reform passage or even a robust job recovery in 2010. The independent voters now determine federal election outcomes, and they have adopted an anti-incumbent attitude not seen in many years. And there are millions more of them today.

Independents diverge on most political issues into Left, Moderate, and Right encampments. But, they share some common traits. These traits are

  • loss of faith in federal government management
  • gross distrust of politicians, including a growing distrust of their own representatives
  • and an absolute abhorrence of our 12 trillion dollar national debt and the unsustainable $trillion plus annual deficits now keeping the American economy afloat in the short term.

This glue that binds independent voters nearly guarantees that Democrats will lose seats next November.

As Chris Cillizza wrote in his Wa. Post article this week:
While it's likely that any sustained sentiment of this sort [anti-incumbent] will hurt Democrats more than Republicans, this sort of political environment is decidedly unpredictable and could lead to surprising defeats for presumed safe incumbents -- of both parties -- next November.

So, what does that mean for investors in 2011 and beyond? Frankly, it should strike paralyzing fear into every investor regarding their long term investing prospects in U.S. equity markets.

A politically divided Congress in 2011 and beyond will produce the same results a politically divided Congress produced in 2007 and 2008, which was deemed the "Do Nothing" Congress. Grid lock and absence of forward momentum on any substantive challenges facing the nation will be the result.

What does get passed by Congress with neither Republicans nor Democrats having a majority in both houses of Congress, will be so compromised and watered down, as to be rendered largely ineffective in addressing the challenges to our nation's future, and they are many. Here is an abbreviated list of challenges to be addressed in 2011 and beyond:

  • Trade deficits, especially with China
  • energy independence
  • federal deficits, need to surgically increase taxes and cut federal spending
  • rising crime rates and tax dodging behavior, especially in a growing underground economy
  • Afghanistan goals vs. Afghanistan costs
  • global spread of al-Queda and terrorism
  • border security and low wage worker demand
  • rising interest rates and cost of servicing our national debt
  • foreign students flooding our universities replacing American students
  • rising economic and production competitiveness by Brazil, Russia, India, and China drawing increasing corporations out of America along with manufacturing and innovation jobs
  • falling real mean wages of the working middle class in the face of inflationary pressures
  • bankrupt State and local governments
  • and last, but not least, an increasing domination by extremists, on both the Left and Right, over American political issues supported and enhanced by media profits.

Failure to address these challenges in bold and effective ways, will dramatically increase the costs of America's future at a time when America's economic resources will be severely stressed, if not diminishing.

Lamenting Politicized Science

From Neo-neocon: The CRU documents: when science becomes politicized, we all suffer

In science, there is no principle of allowing lies in the service of “a higher truth.” There can only be truth.

This, of course, is an ideal, and we live in the real world, where scientists are people too. But they should be continually on guard to make sure they follow the ideal as best they can, despite constant temptations to act differently.

Politicized science has a long history—in modern times, particularly in Soviet Russia, which the Western world is coming more and more to resemble. That the UEA scientists fell prey to it, especially in the current climate of religious fervor about AGW, is really no surprise. Nor will it be a surprise if the majority of AGW enthusiasts (including the MSM) continue to ignore the inconvenient truth that the science behind AGW has become exceedingly suspect.

Time To Change Course On Space Exploration

From Future Pundit, via Instapundit: Space Exploration Takes Too Long For Democracies?

Funding the usage of old space technology is a waste that is done as a form of entertainment. The proposed Mars mission would use pretty conventional technology for space launch and for interplanetary travel.

I see this as a waste of time.

We need bigger steps forward that can lower costs and drastically cut risks. A space elevator made using nanotechnology could radically slash the cost of reaching low Earth orbit. To get to Mars a nuclear electric plasma propulsion system could transport humans in less than 6 weeks.

Image of VASIMR from Ad Astra Rocket Company.

Injustice in China

China admits it runs illegal black jails

A magazine run by the Chinese government has revealed the existence of a network of secret detention centres or "black jails" in Beijing where inmates are often beaten or tortured.

Every day, hundreds of petitioners arrive in Beijing from across China, only to be hunted down by plain-clothes policemen or even private security firms sent by their home province to "retrieve" them.

Since local governments are judged on the number of grievances that arrive in Beijing, officials are often determined not to let the petitioners file their claims. The Liaowang report said that the number of people employed by local governments to abduct citizens "can reach over 10,000".

"In Beijing, a monstruous business network has emerged to feed, house, transport, man-hunt, detain and retrieve petitioners," said the magazine. It added that there are at least 73 black jails in the capital, often in unused homes or psychiatric wards. Private security firms demand fees of 100 yuan (Pounds9) to 200 yuan per person they abduct.

Liaowang said the system "seriously damaged the government's image".
Inside the black jails, all mobile phones and identification cards are confiscated, and many inmates are beaten, sexually-abused, intimidated and robbed, according to Human Rights Watch, which interviewed 38 former detainees for a report which it published just two weeks ago.

China quake activist jailed for three years

A Chinese dissident who tried to help victims of last year's Sichuan earthquake was jailed for three years on Monday on charges of illegally possessing state secrets, his wife said, decrying the sentence as "revenge."

A veteran human rights activist, Huang was detained in June last year after offering to help parents protesting that schools which fell in the quake were vulnerable due to shoddy and corrupt building practices. The government has said that 5,335 schoolchildren died in the earthquake or remain missing.

China Christians jailed in church row: lawyer

A court in northern China sentenced five church leaders to up to seven years in prison after they tried to stop their place of worship being torn down, their lawyer said Thursday.

The five were sentenced by a court in Linfen city, Shanxi province, on Wednesday after being convicted of "illegally occupying farm land" and "disturbing transportation through a mass gathering," Li Fanping told AFP. "I was shocked at the seriousness of the punishment. This shows that the government is intent on using the law as a tool to attack the church," Li said.

The verdicts mark the latest in a series of trials, sentences, or other moves against dissidents reported by activists and lawyers in the aftermath of US President Barack Obama's visit to China last week.

Yang Rongli and Zhang Huamei, both women, were given sentences of seven and four years respectively, Li said. Three men, including Pastor Wang Xiaoguang, were sentenced to between three and four years. The five were leaders of an unregistered church group in Linfen that numbers up to 60,000 people, Li said.They were arrested in September after trying to stop authorities from tearing down a large farm warehouse where Christians congregated to worship, he said.

Unemployment Chart

I Say, Let The Republicans Beat Themselves Up

Another Take on the G.O.P. Purity Test

On the other side of the spectrum, the liberal Think Progress has compared voting records and positions of many Republican lawmakers — including some fairly stalwart G.O.P. senators and House members — to the 10-point test and found that perhaps 40 would fail.

Just to name a few: Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Richard Lugar of Indiana as well as Representative Ron Paul of Texas. (As colleague Adam Nagourney pointed out this week, a test like this one could leave Republicans without candidates like Representative Mike Castle, who many believe is the party’s strongest contender to take the Delaware Senate seat formerly held by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The resolution, if approved, would require candidates to adhere to eight — not seven — of the 10 principles, or face the shunning (and the denial of campaign money) by the official party organizations. Some have contended that not even Ronald Reagan would pass muster.

From the comments:

The independents and moderates should just get this over with already and form their own party. Grab the Blue Dogs and the RINOs and you've got yourself a solid block.

Commandoes Gather in Djibouti While The U.N. Calls For Invasion of Somalia

Strategy Page: What Are All The Commandoes For?

A growing number of UN members, and officials, are calling for an invasion of Somalia, as the only way to deal with piracy off the coast, and anarchy and violence ashore. The warlords, especially the Islamic radical ones, are making it more and more difficult to serve the growing number of sick and starving Somalis. The warlords consider the foreign aid something they can "tax" as much as they can get away with. This makes it much more expensive to feed the starving Somalis (both victims of a long running drought, and refugees from the fighting).

As a result of all the losses to the warlords, many nations now refuse to contribute to the Somali aid effort (since so much of it just gets taken). The U.S. is now the major contributor of aid. Despite all these problems, none of the nations with armed forces capable of going ashore and pacifying Somalia (mostly Western ones), are not volunteering for the job.

Ukraine announced that it was sending 30 of its commando troops to join an EU (European Union) special operations force based in Djibouti. Most nations sending their elite troops to join this force, try and keep news of it out of the media. But in Ukraine, the media picked up on this, and made a big deal out of it.

The Somali pirates are now holding a dozen ships and 250 crew.

We Will All Pay If Congress Panders On Credit Card Legislation

U.S. Looks to Australia on Credit Card Fees

Now, as Congress debates how to rein in credit and debit card companies in the United States, Australia’s experience is being pointed to as an example of just how tricky that can be: for one thing, if regulators limit one fee or rate, banks are likely to find another way to keep revenue flowing.

In the United States, the Government Accountability Office last week issued a report showing that consumers who did not use credit cards “may be made worse off by paying higher prices for goods and services, as merchants pass on their increasing card acceptance costs to their customers.”

The banks and card companies are lobbying heavily against proposed changes. They warn that lower fees will lead them to squeeze credit and raise the cost of credit cards at a time when the economy thirsts for credit to sustain an economic recovery.

But banks in the United States warn that, as in Australia, American consumers may see the costs of using a credit card rise, and the benefits decline, if Congress passes legislation to reduce interchange fees.

Dobbs To Run For Senate As Independent?

Lou Dobbs Weighs Senate Run, as a Steppingstone
His name was quickly floated as a potential challenger in 2012 to United States Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat, an ardent advocate for immigrants’ rights and the chamber’s only Hispanic member. (Mr. Dobbs, 64, lives on a horse farm in rural Wantage, N.J.)
Some discussion of his possible candidacy at IPR.

Still Hoping For Change

Blacks hit hard by economy's punch
34.5 percent of young African American men are unemployed

Joblessness for 16-to-24-year-old black men has reached Great Depression proportions -- 34.5 percent in October, more than three times the rate for the general U.S. population.

26 November 2009

Obama's Performance Rating Hits Lowest Mark Yet

President Obama's approval ratings hit their lowest ranking yet in the Rasmussen Reports daily tracking poll out Tuesday, with 27 percent strongly approving of the president's job performance and 42 percent strongly disapproving, an index rating of -15.

The president's total approval is 45 percent in the latest poll, which matches his lowest approval rating overall, compared to 54 percent disapproval.

Approval is strongly divided by party with 52 percent of Democrats strongly approving and 68 percent of Republicans strongly disapproving. However, Obama appears to be losing the critical independent vote with 16 percent of unaffiliated voters strongly approving and 33 percent of independent voters approving overall. Fifty-one percent of independents strongly disapprove.

While these numbers speak for themselves, 52% approval from your own party after less than a year in office is bad.

George Washinton's Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

Happy Thanksgiving

25 November 2009

How Not To Fry A Turkey

Eight Deep-Fried Turkey Disaster Videos

I'm Going To Go Ahead And Answer Your Question: Yes, You Should.




If that is not enough for you then there is this: Turbaconducken (Turducken Wrapped in Bacon).
That’s right — a chicken stuffed in duck stuffed in a turkey, all wrapped in bacon.

Politicians Concede They Cannot Make Responsible Decisions

While I am for nearly anything that would reduce the deficit, punting the hard decisions to a Commission is just pathetic. Don't we elect officials to lead? To make tough decisions?

They are showing that they are unfit for the positions they hold.

How would you boss react if you told her that you are referring your responsibilities to a commission, because making decisions for your job is just too hard?

You would be looking for a new job, and rightly so. It is far past time to kick this pack of incompetents out, and hire responsible people that aren't afraid of their own shadows.

WSJ: White House Weighs New Panel to Tackle Deficit
Bipartisan Commission Considered as Administration Seeks to Show Resolve on a Problem that Dogs Its Broader Agenda

The White House is considering a bipartisan commission to tackle the nation's swelling deficit, as it seeks to show resolve on a problem that threatens its broader agenda.

Top White House officials, including budget director Peter Orszag, met Tuesday with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad to discuss establishing such a commission, which has been pushed by Mr. Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, and his Republican counterpart on the committee, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Senior congressional officials said the idea was gaining traction. Two officials said the White House was likely to make its own proposal for a panel, which could have less power than the proposed Conrad-Gregg commission. White House aides said no final decision had been made.

The idea is to bring Republicans and Democrats together to make tough decisions about how to cut costs or raise revenue in areas including Social Security, Medicare and taxes. For the White House, establishing a commission would show that the Obama administration is serious about tackling the deficit while postponing any real moves until after the 2010 elections.

Poli-Tea: The Two Party System Is Antithetical To Constitutional Government

Poli-Tea: The Leader Principle and the Messianic Impulse in Democratic-Republican Politics

The United States does not need more leaders it needs fewer followers. The only people who can "clean out the swamp" in Washington DC are the people of the United States, who would need only to cease voting for the stooges of the Democratic and Republican Parties election after election to achieve such a remarkable result.

However, for those who have not yet fully liberated themselves from the straitjacket of duopoly ideology, the latter appears possible only on the basis of a mass movement subsumed under the leader principle. The paradox here is readily apparent: the devolution of power is conceived as contingent upon its gross consolidation.

This bias reveals one of the more insidious aspects of the Democrat-Republican two-party state. The point of the separation of powers, constitutive of the United States, is to diffuse power. Insofar as the Republican and Democratic Parties represent, and aim for, nothing more than the accumulation and concentration of power, the two-party system is antithetical to constitutional government.

Hidden Taxes and the Arrogance of the Ruling Class

Reason Online: Worse Than Taxes
The real burden of government is the spending level

Had the government of New York state grown at the rate of population and inflation over the past 10 years, it would have a $14 billion surplus today. Instead, spending grew at twice the rate of inflation. So New York has a $3 billion deficit.

To dent California's deficit, bureaucrats will withhold an extra 10 percent from every taxpayer—at least from those who don't flee the state. New York planned to raise the price of new license plates, but then backed off. The visible tax was unpopular. But the hidden taxes grow.

Hidden taxes are more pernicious because they disguise what we pay for government. We blame merchants, not our legislators, for the high price of gasoline, liquor, cigarettes, and phone calls, but the money goes to the political thieves.

It's not that taxes don't anger me. They do. But I'm more angry about the arrogance of the ruling class. It reminds me of Walter Williams' riff: "Politicians are worse than thieves. At least when thieves take your money, they don't expect you to thank them for it."

Taxes, even counting hidden taxes, are not the real measure of what the thieves take. The true burden of government, the late Milton Friedman said, is the spending level. Taxation is just one way government gets money. The other ways—borrowing and inflation—are equally burdens on the people. (State governments can't inflate, but they sure can borrow.)

But I don't think [a tax revolt] will happen until more people see the ruling elite for what it is: a gang of arrogant bullies that has the audacity to believe that they know how to direct our lives better than we do.

That's why, bad as the taxes are, I'm more upset about ObamaCare, Medicare, the "stimulus," the auto bailout, the bank bailouts, the Fannie/Freddie bailouts, the trillions in guarantees, and on and on.

The politicians' spending schemes represent presumptuous interference in our lives. They are an assault on our autonomy.

Health Care Control Given To HHS Secretary Discretion

Volokh Conspiracy: Health bill and gun ownership

Today’s Washington Examiner has an article about the concerns that Gun Owners of America has raised about the health care bill which is currently on the Senate floor.

A regulation which said that a Wellness Program may (or “shall”) include a discount for not owning a gun (or not owning a handgun, or not owning a so-called “assault weapon”, or for not owning more than a certain number of guns) might be argued to be “overly burdensome.” But there’s no guarantee that a reviewing court would consider a mere discount for people who don’t own guns to be “overly” burdensome on gun owners.

To be clear: Senator Reid has a strong record on Second Amendment issues. When he was Minority Leader, he provided essential leadership for passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. I am certain that there was no intent by Senator Reid to do anything in the health bill to harm Second Amendment rights.

However, the bill would in fact make it easy for a HHS Secretary to write “wellness” program regulations which penalize some or all gun owners. I think it is politically unlikely that HHS Secretary Sebelius would immediately write such regulations. But since the Reid bill is intended to make permanent changes in American health care, no-one can predict what a HHS Secretary might do in 10 or 30 years, when political calculations might be different.

The real problem is that the Secretary of Health and Human Services apparently would have discretion to provide for the cancellation of the discount for nearly any behavior. From the comments:
Couldn’t any behavior be classified as ‘unhealthy’?
Couldn’t some hypothetical future evil conservative administration declare homosexuality unhealthy? Couldn’t some hypothetical future evil liberal administration declare radio unhealthy?
Where is the limit? Wouldn’t it be easier to define a wellness program as one that promotes any of several health promoting choices? Or better yet, wouldn’t it be better just to let the private actors figure this all out for themselves?

All Your Climate Change Are Belong To Us

PJM: Three Things You Absolutely Must Know About Climategate

And They Have A Plan

So Glen Beck has a 100 year plan.

Yeah, yeah, so did the Cylons. And Glen is no Six.

A 100 year plan? That would be something for a nation that can't seem to plan past the next election.

Do you really think that in the year 2108, Americans will be referencing a radio talk show host's book to see what to do next?

Because the politics of 1909 is relevant a hundred years later, right?

24 November 2009

Climatologists Baffled by Global Warming Time-Out

In this report, climatologists admit they don't understand why global temperatures have stopped rising. Is it fewer sun spots? Is it stronger ocean currents? God only knows.

One thing for certain, climatologists and Al Gore will continue to ram their ideas down our throats until we're all riding bikes in the dark.

This doesn't even address the whole internal e-mail scandal and it all seems like another crazy ass religion.

Saab Story

General Motors Co. may shut its Saab unit after sports-car maker Koenigsegg Group AB canceled a planned acquisition of the Swedish company, a person familiar with the matter said.

GM’s board will review the future of the bankrupt unit at a Dec. 1 meeting, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public. Directors could opt to keep Saab, as they did earlier this month in scrapping the sale of the Opel division in Germany, the person said.

Today’s pullout by Koenigsegg, which said it ran out of time to complete a deal, is the third brand sale to falter since GM’s July 10 bankruptcy exit. GM backed out of the Opel sale to a group led by Magna International Inc., and Penske Automotive Group Inc. withdrew in September from a plan to buy Saturn.


“What this indicates is it’s a pretty tough car market,” said Jim Hall, a principal at consultant 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, Michigan. While Detroit-based GM cut liabilities in the U.S. while in Chapter 11, “in Europe it’s a whole other story because they didn’t get this similar cleansing.”

"Cleansing." I guess that's a marketing word for bankruptcy. Being a car guy, I've always thought Saabs were cool; even though I never owned one. I like them because they don't look like every other car on the road. They're good cars, decent size and they have a cult following similar to Jeep and Volkswagen. The tragedy in all of this is that the company that makes really good, reliable, fuel efficient cars will be out of business. Ask yourself, would the world be better off with Saturn and Saab, or GM?

Image of Geyser on Enceladus


Saturn moon’s geysers get their close-up
Cassini probe sends images of water erupting from Enceladus

The Stimulus Is Dead, Long Live The Stimulus! Democratic Efforts To Pass New Stimulus Concedes That Prior Stimulus Has Failed

Here are your current choices:
Republicans -- caused it.
Democrats -- can't fix it.

The Hill: Dem lawmakers shift their focus to jobs package, away from economic ‘stimulus’

Double-digit unemployment and acknowledgment that the $787 billion stimulus hasn’t done enough to create work has fueled Democratic momentum for a new jobs initiative.

House Democrats are hesitant to label the new legislation another stimulus ahead of the December debate.

Republicans have tried to cast doubt on the stimulus jobs number and have seized on the high unemployment rate to argue that Democrats are ineffective stewards of the economy.

Despite continued support for the massive package of spending and tax cuts passed earlier this year, many liberals have begun to question the direction of those dollars amid reports of more Americans out of work.

White House economists said in January that the jobless rate would peak at about 8 percent if the stimulus were to be enacted. Without the stimulus, the jobless rate would peak at about 9 percent, the White House economists said in the build-up to passing the measure.

But the unemployment rate reached 10.2 percent in October, and the National Association for Business Economics released a report Monday predicting that the jobless rate wouldn’t start falling until the second quarter of next year.

Culture of Corruption: Buying Support In Congress With Your Tax Money To Pass The Healthcare Bill

Why not? Hey, it's not their money!

These aren't all the side deal being made, just the one The Hill found out about: Side deals stack up as health bills move along

The $300 million Medicaid fix that Sen. Mary Landrieu got inserted into the Senate healthcare bill wasn’t the first “Louisiana Purchase” of the healthcare debate.

Pelosi packed a 300-page last-minute “manager’s amendment” to the cap-and-trade vote in July with carve-outs, regulatory exemptions and tax breaks to win the votes of fence-sitting lawmakers. It included language making it harder to develop wind power in western states and a section by Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) to prevent regulatory action she said could shut down the multitrillion-dollar market for over-the-counter derivatives.

And Republican leaders made all sorts of promises during the infamous three-hour vote in 2003 to pass Medicare prescription drug coverage. They stretched a 15-minute vote to three hours while they wheeled, dealed and pleaded with Republican lawmakers. Then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) offered to endorse the son of then-Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), who was seeking his father’s seat. Months later, DeLay was admonished by the ethics committee for his handling of Smith that night. During the investigation, it was even alleged that another lawmaker offered to get Smith’s daughter an acting job in Hollywood.

Fighting Overcriminalization

NY Times: Right and Left Join Forces on Criminal Justice

“It’s a remarkable phenomenon,” said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “The left and the right have bent to the point where they are now in agreement on many issues. In the area of criminal justice, the whole idea of less government, less intrusion, less regulation has taken hold.”

Dick Thornburgh, who succeeded Mr. Meese as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and stayed on under President George Bush, echoed that sentiment in Congressional testimony in July.

“The problem of overcriminalization is truly one of those issues upon which a wide variety of constituencies can agree,” Mr. Thornburgh said. “Witness the broad and strong support from such varied groups as the Heritage Foundation, the Washington Legal Foundation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the A.B.A., the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society and the A.C.L.U.”

There are, the foundation says, more than 4,400 criminal offenses in the federal code, many of them lacking a requirement that prosecutors prove traditional kinds of criminal intent.

Harvey A. Silverglate, a left-wing civil liberties lawyer in Boston, says he has been surprised and delighted by the reception that his new book, “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent,” has gotten in conservative circles.

The book argues that federal criminal law is so comprehensive and vague that all Americans violate it every day, meaning prosecutors can indict anyone at all.

“Libertarians and the civil liberties left have always had some common ground on these issues,” said Radley Balko, a senior editor at Reason, a libertarian magazine.

“The more vocal presence of conservatives on overcriminalization issues is really what’s new.”

Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal about Three Felonies A Day:

You Commit Three Felonies a Day
Laws have become too vague and the concept of intent has disappeared.

Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate calls his new book "Three Felonies a Day," referring to the number of crimes he estimates the average American now unwittingly commits because of vague laws. New technology adds its own complexity, making innocent activity potentially criminal.

Mr. Silverglate describes several cases in which prosecutors didn't understand or didn't want to understand technology. This problem is compounded by a trend that has accelerated since the 1980s for prosecutors to abandon the principle that there can't be a crime without criminal intent.

Under the English common law we inherited, a crime requires intent. This protection is disappearing in the U.S. As Mr. Silverglate writes, "Since the New Deal era, Congress has delegated to various administrative agencies the task of writing the regulations," even as "Congress has demonstrated a growing dysfunction in crafting legislation that can in fact be understood." Prosecutors identify defendants to go after instead of finding a law that was broken and figuring out who did it. Expect more such prosecutions as Washington adds regulations.

New technologies like the Web, he concludes, "scare legislators because they don't understand them and want to control them, even as they become a normal part of life."

Our Insane Economic Policy

NRO: The Specter of Default

Until the risks of being awash in newly created money were finally recognized as the 800-pound self-inflating tiger in the room, the administration and congressional leadership were hinting at a new stimulus package. As was widely seen at the time, the $787 billion stimulus bill was a disaster, a riot of children left to ransack the candy store and gorge themselves.

It stuffed money into the districts of prominent Democrats in Congress, on a delayed trip-wire to coincide with upcoming elections, as less than a quarter of the money has been spent; but it has been a very inefficient job-creator. The whole concept of stimulus is bogus, as the borrowing of the money consumes at least as much stimulus as it generates.

From 2004 to the present, U.S. federal unfunded liabilities increased by 50 percent, while revenue increased by 12 percent; and that unfunded obligation has increased by $9 trillion this year alone. The U.S. annual federal deficit is 13.5 percent of GDP, and the fact that most other advanced countries are in an only slightly less distressed condition by this measurement is no consolation. It just increases the vulnerability of the whole system.

America has been terribly let down by all its economic leadership, political, institutional, corporate, and academic, and the damage to public and international confidence, naturally, is almost mortal.

The U.S. political process must stop its infantile wrangling and show cause for the world to believe that it will defend the financial integrity of the country, before discussion of U.S. default — which will otherwise become audible, soon — spooks the whole world.

Would The Last Republican Please Turn Out The Lights

G.O.P. Considers ‘Purity’ Resolution for Candidates

Republican leaders are circulating a resolution listing 10 positions Republican candidates should support to demonstrate that they “espouse conservative principles and public policies” that are in opposition to “Obama’s socialist agenda.” According to the resolution, any Republican candidate who broke with the party on three or more of these issues– in votes cast, public statements made or answering a questionnaire – would be penalized by being denied party funds or the party endorsement.

Hence the provision calling for cutting off Republicans who agree with the party on seven of 10 items. The resolution demands that Republicans support “smaller government, smaller national deficits and lower taxes,” ...

The entire list can be found at the link above.

If they really enforce this, they would have to expel all the GOP members of Congress who were only too happy to run big deficits when they were in power under Bush! They would also have to run out Reagan, who expanded both deficits and the size of government.

Also interesting is there is no mention of earmarks, corruption, or avoiding sex scandals. I guess they figure they had to leave someone in the party.

How they reconcile this without their heads exploding, I don't know. But this is another example of how the Republicans are caught in a "purity trap" as I related previously:

Republican Purges Begin!

Caught In The Purity Trap

Ideological Purity A Losing Strategy

Some of this is due to the nature of the two party system itself. One party tends more towards purity, while the other tends to be broader. It just switches back and forth:

Political Amplitude

Part of the problem, is that with just two main parties, one or the other is going to have to be broad in order to pick up a majority. This will always be at odds with those activists, in either party, that lust after ideological purity.

Instead of swinging back and forth, would we be better served by a moderate party in the middle, holding the balance, instead of these wild swings back and forth?

Houston Mayor Bill White Eyeing Run For Governor

The Hill: Houston Mayor White will weigh switch to governor's race

Houston Mayor Bill White announced Monday that he will consider changing races from Senate to governor, and he will decide by the end of next week.

The Democrat will weigh the switch as expectations for a special Senate election are in limbo. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) was supposed to resign her seat this year in order to focus on her primary against Gov. Rick Perry (R), but she has now said she won’t resign until after the primary.

That has delayed a race in which White and several other candidates had already been preparing campaigns. Now, with some speculating that Hutchison might not be resigning at all, White may be opting for the sure thing in 2010.

*Ahem* I would just like to point out that I raised this possibility over a week ago.

S.C.Governor Sanford To Face Charges

S.C. governor faces 37 ethics charges
Commission says Sanford broke state laws by misusing planes, cash

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, whose tryst with an Argentine lover blossomed into a wide-ranging scandal, is accused of breaking ethics laws by using taxpayer money for pricey airline seats, taking state planes for personal and political trips and occasionally tapping his campaign chest to reimburse himself for travel.

The ethics charges include 18 instances in which Sanford is accused of improperly buying first- and business-class airline tickets, violating state law requiring lowest-cost travel; nine times of improperly using state-owned aircraft for travel to political and personal events, including a stop at a discount hair salon; and 10 times he improperly reimbursed himself with campaign cash.

Four GOP lawmakers already have filed a resolution that would force Sanford from office because of "dereliction of duty," and the travel allegations play no part in that move. Their measure deals solely with Sanford's absence from the state, when he led his staff to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he was in Argentina.

23 November 2009

Minnesota-Somali Terrorist Charges

New charges in Minnesota-Somali terror recruitment case

Prosecutors have announced charges against eight people as part of an investigation into young men leaving the United States to fight in Somalia.

Those charged are accused of giving financial support to recruits, and of training and fighting with Somali Islamist militants.

Up to 20 people are thought to have left Minnesota to fight with Somali militants in the last two years.

All but one of the men are of Somali descent, officials say.

US federal prosecutors accuse them of aiding the militant group al-Shabab, which is said to have links to al-Qaeda and has recently been leading an insurgency against Somali authorities.

With Levels of Disapproval This High, Isn't It Time For Something To Change In Washington?

60 to 69% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

58% of Americans disapprove of the job Republicans in Congress are doing.

55% of Americans disapprove of the job Democrats in Congress are doing.

It is time to realize that your member of Congress is part of the problem.

It is time for a better alternative than the Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dums provided by the Democrats and Republicans.