Saturday, March 31, 2012

Healthcare, Dante, and the Trojan Horse

A week after Dahlia Lithwick attempted to play the part of dispassionate Court observer, Bob Shrum takes a shot at the same role. And--amazingly--fails in exactly the same way as did Ms. Lithwick. It's uncanny. I dissected the first piece previously. Ms. Lithwick cites two cases--Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission--as evidence of an overreaching Court, but fails to note Kelo v. the City of New London:
...[according to Lithwick] Bush v. Gore in 2000 was a black eye for the court, apparently unmatched until Citizens United in 2010. Where was Ms. Lithwick in 2005, we must ask? Because that is the year of Kelo v. City of New London. Surely, her head is not stuck so far in sand as to make her ignorant of the backlash from the Kelo decision. After Kelo, States began drafting laws to prevent the usurpation allowed by the Court, people engaged in various protests against the Justices who had voted for the decision, and an entire body of writings appeared discussing the issues of the case. And for the most part, the public disagreed with the decision. 80% of the public, in fact. Yet somehow, Ms. Lithwick fails to mention Kelo, skipping from 2000 to 2010, in looking at poorly received cases.
Now we have Shrum, wringing his hands in angst over the prospect of a "Tea Party Court" sending the Affrodable Care Act back down to the Eighth Circle of Hell, where it belongs. And his evidence for this fear? Why Citizens United and Bush v. Gore, of course:
An over-reaching court could shatter the vestigial credibility of an institution defaced by Bush v. Gore and by Citizens United — which incredibly held that there is insufficient evidence that money corrupts politics and thereby loosed a tide of special interest cash that is engulfing the politics of 2012.
Once again, Kelo goes unmentioned, a ruling that determined private property could be arbitrarily confiscated by the government, then transferred to a private concern--not used by the government--for the purposes of generating more tax revenues. Instead, a proper ruling (Citizens United) and a ruling necessitated by a State Supreme Court's willful disdain for state law (Florida in Bush v. Gore) are cited as evidence of a dangerous Court.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

@#$%&* Leafblowers!

They are everywhere, these days. Every lawn service finishes up each and every job by whipping out a leafblower or two and "cleaning up." And this amounts to blowing leaves, clippings, dirt, and dust around, usually onto neighboring properties or the street. It's the last that really gets me. Driving my daughter to school in the morning, I pass landscaping crews almost every day. And invariably, one is finishing up when I pass so I get treated to driving through a cloud of dust and dirt, which of course does wonders for my air filters and exterior.

To be fair, occasionally a guy with a blower will be conscientious enough to stop when cars are driving by, but that's becoming more and more rare. I pity the people in convertibles, I really do.

The total lack of respect bugs me, but not so much as the thought of unintended consequences. Because it seems to me that things like asthma and allergies are on the rise among children. Growing up, I never had allergies to speak of. I'm hard-pressed to remember any friends that had them. Yet, my children suffer from them now, as do many of their friends.

Paying for what you want...and getting it

Hands up, who likes Starburst Fruit Chews? Now, be honest. Which flavor or flavors do you prefer? I'd lay serious money that most people prefer the cherry ones, the ones wrapped in red. We've all been there: we open the package and accept the first one, but move quickly to get to a red. We suffer through the orange, accept the lemon, and initially enjoy the strawberry (but the enjoyment turns to disappointment when we realize the strawberry is no substitute for the cherry). All of the other varieties? They're fine, but let's be honest: cherry still rules. So here's a question: why can't we just buy cherry ones? Why are we saddled with the other flavors, the ones we could do without, in order to get what we really want?

And this phenomenon is not limited to just Starburst candies. How about JuJu Fruits? Or Good & Fruity candies? Dots? Mike and Ikes? In all four cases, the red ones rule. It's not even close. How many green and orange Mike and Ikes must we suffer through? Seriously.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tomasky lays the smack down...

...but forgets to actually bring the smack.

Michael Tomasky authored what I'm sure he believes to be a scathing critique of the Right today. Entitled Behind Court Challenge to Health Care Lies the Right’s ‘Freedom Fetish’, the piece is an attempt to show that claims about the current administration "taking away freedoms" are just a bunch of nonsense. Tomasky opens with a challenge:
I defy anyone to name for me a specific and precise freedom that Obama has taken away from the American people. You can’t. When they’re not just invented out of whole cloth by multi-millionaire propagandists, all such laments are based on ignorance about what freedom actually means and an equal ignorance about how our system of government works.
But read what he says here very carefully, because he's off his nut right out of the gate. He wants someone to name "a specific and precise freedom" that has been lost, but then immediately moves to freedom in a general sense, ala "what freedom actually means." Two different things. Two very different things.

Because one can talk about the loss of freedom in general, about the erosion of liberty over time, brought about by greater and greater government overreach. And one can also talk about specific freedoms that we enjoy. Yet, the curbing of one of the latter--for instance, the right to keep and to bear arms--can occur without the loss of that freedom in its entirety. Such distinctions seem entirely lost on Mr. Tomasky, whose manner of thought and argument appears to be less than rigorous, to put it mildly.

Backyard Steel and the Obamacare Mandate

In 1958, Chairman Mao unveiled his second Five Year Plan for the People's Republic of China. The first Five Year Plan--from 1953 though 1957--was actually quite successful, owing largely to serious capital investment in key industries like coal mining, purchases of heavy equipment from the Soviet Union, and specific help from Soviet specialists.

No doubt, Mao believed such successes could easily be repeated and--with over-brimming confidence--named the second plan the Great Leap Forward. He envisioned improvements across the board for the People's Republic, from agriculture to industry to commerce, while simultaneously moving closer to the communist ideal.

In 1961, the Great Leap Forward came to a premature end. All told, it is estimated that some 20 million people died because of the programs instituted by the Chinese government. Property destruction was immeasurable and entire villages were wiped out, even though the government invested even more capital then in the first Five Year Plan. One of the worst and most destructive programs instituted by Mao was the one to produce steel at a local level.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Death Panel of One at NBC

As most people probably know, Dick Cheney received a new heart on Saturday. And no, that's not a set up line for a joke. The procedure--a heart transplant--was performed on Saturday and Cheney is reportedly doing well. I wish him a speedy recovery and long life.

But the procedure on Cheney has--in the minds of some--re-kindled a debate: should there be age limits for transplant procedures? Cheney is 71, after all, and some think that maybe he's too old. And there has also been some suggestions that Cheney "jumped the line," maybe receiving a heart sooner than he should have because of who he is.

For the record, Cheney was on the wait-list for some twenty months. The average wait time is usually six months to a year for qualified recipients. So, there doesn't seem to be a problem. And he is not the oldest person to have received a new heart in the United States. That honor may belong to Buddy Smith of Texas, who was 75 when he received his new heart. Additionally, the age factor is not the end-all-be-all, when it comes to assessing the likely success of a heart transplant:
“Those that are 70 need to be quite healthy,” said Dr. Gregory Fontana, chairman of cardiothoracic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Sometimes they do better than the younger patients.”
That’s because younger patients – those in their 20s, 30s or 40s – are often very ill and may have other medical problems that complicate their situation. Some of them even require multiple organ transplants – such as heart-kidney operations for patients with severe diabetes. 
Here’s another silver lining for the gray-maned crowd: Because older patients generally have less robust immune systems, they may require less aggressive treatment to keep their immune system from attacking the new heart, Fontana added.
But these realities haven't stopped the speculation by the punditry world. Dr. Nancy Snyderman--prodded by the always respectful and even-handed Matt Lauer--opined on the issue:

The Healthcare Holy Hand Grenade

In an op-ed at Politico, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle argues against the repeal of Obamacare and to that end, offers what may be the mother of all false dichotomies:
The only real question, in fact, is whether we have an individual mandate — one that requires individual responsibility, which I always thought was claimed as a conservative value — or we have a community mandate.
According to Daschle, these are the only two choices: what we had before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or what we have after its passage. It's mind-boggling, how someone could earnestly make such a stupid argument. Of course, let's not forget that since leaving the Senate, Daschle has been working as a lobbyist for--yes, you guessed it--the healthcare industry. And the number one concern of that industry and its lobbyists is keeping as much money in the industry as is possible.

Thus, Daschle's false dichotomy is not only silly, it's also self-serving. For either option will keep his clients in the black, so to speak, and thus keep his own pockets full.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Grumbling Hive

Written by Bernard Mandeville and published in 1705, this poem presents a society of bees, wherein there is a social division of labor and specialization of labor. The society's rise to greatness, as it were, is a product of both virtue and vice. The government of the society is a constitutional monarchy (they're bees, after all, and poem was written well before the American Revolution). It has been praised by Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and many others.

The society eventually falls to ruin, thanks to the attempts of some bees to wipe away all vices. Enjoy (there will be a quiz later):


The Grumbling Hive
or
Knaves Turn'd Honest

A Spacious Hive well stock'd with Bees,
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam'd for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy;
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib'd by Laws.
These Insects lived like Men, and all
Our Actions they perform'd in small:
They did whatever's done in Town,
And what belongs to Sword, or Gown:
Tho' th'Artful Works, by nible Slight;
Of minute Limbs, 'scaped Human Sight
Yet we've no Engines; Labourers,
Ships, Castles, Arms, Artificers,
Craft, Science, Shop, or Instrument,
But they had an Equivalent:
Which, since their Language is unknown,
Must be call'd, as we do our own.
As grant, that among other Things
They wanted Dice, yet they had Kings;
And those had Guards; from whence we may
Justly conclude, they had some Play;
Unless a Regiment be shewn
Of Soldiers, that make use of none.

Corzine update: what will Shrum say now?

In November of last year, I discussed Bob Shrum's defense of Jon Corzine in a piece at The Week. One of the principal issues in the collapse of MF Global was missing customer funds, substantial monies that had disappeared. It was theorized that these monies were used by MF Global to cover its own losses and debts, incurred through risky bets made by Corzine on European markets.

Testifying before Congress in December, Corzine stated that he never authorized such a transfer of funds:
“I never gave any instruction to misuse customer funds, I never intended anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds and I don’t believe that anything I said could reasonably have been interpreted as an instruction to misuse customer funds,” Corzine told lawmakers.

It's still about Kelo, stupid

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate has authored a piece about the upcoming Supreme Court battle over the healthcare law entitled It's Not About the Law, Stupid. In it, she argues that the Supreme Court's decision on the case will hinge on the willingness of the conservative Justices to strike down a law that they absolutely know is constitutional:
Despite the fact that reading the entrails of those opinions suggest that they’d contribute to an easy fifth, sixth, and seventh vote to uphold the individual mandate as a legitimate exercise of Congressional power, the real question isn’t whether those Justices will be bound by 70 years of precedent or their own prior writings on federal power. The only question is whether they will ignore it all to deprive the Obama of one of his signature accomplishments. 
Professor Randy Barnett, the intellectual power behind the entire health care challenge, wrote recently that Justice Scalia could break from his previous opinions—freeing him to strike down the Affordable Care Act—“without breaking a sweat.” I suspect that’s right. 
If that’s true, we should stop fussing about old precedents. These old milestones of jurisprudence aren’t what will give Scalia pause. What matters is whether the five conservative justices are so intent in striking down Obama’shealthcare law that they would risk a chilly and divisive 5-4 dip back into the waters of Bush v. Gore and Citizens United.
Now, the first question to ask is who is Dahlia Lithwick to so smuggly declare the absolute constitutionality of all aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? Well, she's a Canadian citizen with a B.A. in English from Yale and a law degree from Stanford. Fair enough. That's better bona fides than a great majority of pundits--including myself--who are currently waxing poetic on issues of constitutionality. But then, she also clerked for Justice Proctor Hug of the Ninth Circus...errr, Circuit. For those unfamiliar with the Ninth, that would be Court of Appeals with--by far--the most overturned decisions of any lower Court in the nation. If nothing else, we know the ideology behind her training, then.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Pelosi's world of sheep

For those unaware, today marks the second anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Last night, Nancy Pelosi rose to defend it on the floor of the House. Watch this brief snippet from the speech at RCP. Her words, with regard to the supposed benefits of the law:
...And that's what the Republicans are trying to take away from you, from your family, from your life, from your liberty, from your pursuit of happiness.
For Nancy Pelosi, the Administration, and a great majority of liberals and progressives, this line makes perfect sense. What the government provides--through whatever means--is not a gift, not mere temporary assistance, but something that immediately becomes a right. To suggest that it be taken away is to deprive someone--therefore--of what they are supposedly owed.

And this is exactly what creates and entitlement mentality among the citizenry. With each passing year, with each passing day, the number of people locked into that mentality grows. The Occupy Wall Street movement demonstrates the pervasiveness of the mentality, as it sucks in a new generation which looks to the government to provide the basic necessities of life. In Europe, the lesson of Greece shows us the end-game of that mentality, all too vividly.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Legislating from the Beast

Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast is looking for hypocrisy. And rest assured, he's going to find it, even if he has to manufacture it himself.

In a piece entitled The GOP's Judicial Hypocrisy, Tomasky argues that conservatives who are usually the first to complain about "legislating from the bench" are now hoping for exactly that from the Supreme Court, with regard to the case of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare):
As Dwight K. Schrute says, Kuh-westion: What is the single worst thing a judge can do, according to conservatives? No, not make crude comments to female aides about porn videos. That nets out a rather dandy plus, as we know. To the right, the single worst thing a judge can do is “legislate from the bench.” So it’s worth noting that what conservatives want five Supreme Court justices to do with regard to the Affordable Care Act is ... legislate from the bench.
A spiffy opening, to be sure, but followed mostly by frantic arm-waving, faulty analogies, and a deeply flawed understanding of what--exactly--"legislating from the bench" entails.

Santorum and Gingrich: morons

I officially wash my hands of both of these tools. Enough already! I've never supported either one and have been--and still am--lukewarm on Romney, but I've felt both were at least serious-minded people. Obviously, I was wrong. They're both--Santorum and Gingrich--world class buffoons who need to just go away.

What is setting me off, you might ask? It's the nonsense of yesterday, revolving around the "Etch-a-Skectch" comment of Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. During a CNN interview, Fehrnstrom was asked if Romney would suffer among moderate voters in the General Election because he's had to move right in the primary. Fehrnstrom's answer:
Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.
Now look, Fehrnstrom is right: to a degree, there is a reset in the General Election. If not, how does George H.W. Bush end up running in the VP slot for a man--Reagan--he had been ridiculing for months? If not, how do the Clintons end up campaigning for Obama after Hillary had insinuated he wasn't ready for the job? Because the truth is that many people on the far right currently opposed to Romney will support him in the General Election if he wins the nomination. We're all adults here. That's the way it is, the way it has always been.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ryan under assault...for moderation

Paul Ryan's latest budget proposal--released yesterday--is taking some serious flak. Left-leaning pundits are falling all over themselves in their efforts to decry it.

Dana Milbank at the Washington Post says it hurts the poor and calls it Orwellian and Dickensian in nature. Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic says Ryan's claims about the budget are dubious and dishonest, even morally bankrupt. White House spokesmodel Jay Carney plays the typical class warfare card in criticizing Ryan's budget:
It is "essentially a shift of money from the middle class, seniors and lower-income Americans, disabled Americans, to the wealthiest Americans, the wealthiest among us," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute has taken a hard look at Ryan's latest budget, as well. This bullet point is particularly instructive:
As a share of GDP, the Ryan budget would trim outlays from 23.4 percent this year to 19.8 percent by 2022. That reduction would simply get spending back to around the normal historical level. And note that spending would still be higher than the 18.2 percent achieved in the last two years under President Clinton.
The "spending as a share of GDP" metric is the favored one for many economists, policy wonks, and politicians when it comes to long term analysis of federal debt. The basic idea is that there is a workable range here, wherein federal debt would not increase since spending follows revenues based on economic growth. Look at this chart:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stand your ground on media ignorance

The current hot-button story is the case of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, who--while engaged in a "neighborhood watch"--shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin. The case has received national attention--and deservedly so--partly because of an apparent racist element: Zimmerman is white, Martin is black, and in one of the 911 calls made by Zimmerman, he identifies Martin's race in a way that suggests it makes Martin somehow more likely to be up to no good, as it were. But there's much more to it than that.

The shooting occurred on February 26th--almost a month ago--and as of now, Zimmerman has not been charged with any crime or even arrested. The Sanford police department's "investigation" determined there was no basis to charge Zimmerman, that his actions fell under the umbrella of justifiable use of force for self-defense:
“Mr. Zimmerman’s claim is that the confrontation was initiated by Trayvon,” Police Chief Bill Lee said in an interview. “I am not going into specifics of what led to the violent physical encounter witnessed by residents. All the physical evidence and testimony we have independent of what Mr. Zimmerman provides corroborates this claim to self-defense.”
But apparently, the police never spoke to Martin's girlfriend, with whom he was on the phone at the time of the incident. Her account makes it seem pretty clear that Zimmerman was actively pursuing Martin, even though a 911 operator had instructed Zimmerman not to do that:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Romer: Ends Justify Means. Period.

In an extensive and detailed piece in the New York Times, former chair of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers Christina Romer attempts to prove that there are no real economic benefits--or at best, very small ones--to lowering marginal tax rates. To do so, she flexes her intellectual muscles by pulling together some studies--including one she did with her husband--and looking back at the history of income rates and economic performance.

There's a lot to criticize here, a great number of faulty assumptions she makes (though ones common to many economists in academia these days). But rather than doing that, let's instead focus on the last paragraph of the piece where we will learn a deep-seated truth about ideology and how it often controls one's point if view. Romer writes:
Finally, income inequality has surged in recent decades. Raising marginal rates on the wealthy is a straightforward, effective way to counter this trend, while helping to solve our looming deficit problem. Given the strong evidence that the incentive effects of marginal rates are small, opponents of such a move will need a new argument. Invoking the myth of terrible supply-side consequences just won’t cut it.
First, note the laughable assumption about "strong evidence" and the incentive effects of marginal rates. She thinks--in this one piece--that she has actually provided this evidence, that it's settled and there are no legitimate issues or counter opinions. But again, we're not going to get into that; it's enough to see her absolute certainty with regard to her own opinion on the matter (a certainty which--we should remember--once led her to declare that the Stimulus bill would keep unemployment below 8%).

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Control of the Senate: Virginia and Nevada

According to RCP analysis, control of the Senate--right now--is up for grabs. RCP shows the Republicans having or taking 46 seats, the Democrats having or taking 45 seats, with 9 seats up for grabs. Those nine seats:
FL: Nelson (D)
ME: Open (R)
MA: Brown (R)
MI: Stabenow (D)
MO: McCaskill (D)
MT: Tester (D)
NV: Heller (R)
VA: Open (D)
WI: Open (D)
The Florida contest will likely pit incumbent Bill Nelson against Republican Connie Mack IV. This contest is likely to remain close, but I have to think Nelson has a bit of an edge, given his willingness to break with the national leadership, when necessary. And honestly, being a Florida resident, I can't say Nelson has been an awful Senator. Still, Mack has the support to take the seat, if things break the right way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gramsci and Critical Race Theory

Antonio Gramsci--a Marxist philosopher writing in the early 20th century--developed the idea of cultural hegemony as a means of explaining how the ruling class maintained its power within a framework that was supposedly open to change. To put it another way, Gramsci sought to explain why there had yet to be a full-scale proletarian revolution. The reason? The cultural hegemony imposed by the bourgeoisie ruling class.

The basic idea of cultural hegemony is that social, political, and economic activities are constrained by institutions presented as cultural norms, as consequences of development over time and therefore as natural, by the ruling class when--in fact--they are artificial constructs designed to control the remainder of society. For instance, from a Gramscian perspective the idea of economic mobility is an illusion: people are intrinsically limited by various structures and despite the occasional exception are effectively prohibited from moving up economic class.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's a movie, you twit!

At some point while reading Richard Cohen's latest piece at the Washington Post, it occurred to me that his kind of self-satisfied smugness with his own perceived superiority--when he is anything but superior--is exactly the kind of thing that is ruining journalism. Well okay, that's not true. The idea occurred to me long before reading his latest swill, but this bit is just such a great example, I couldn't help myself.

The piece is entitled "Sarah Palin's foolishness ruined American politics," and Cohen is dead serious about that. The basis of his argument in this regard is the HBO movie Game Change (based on the book of the same name by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin). Seriously. Cohen is arguing his point based on what happened in the movie. He acknowledges the disagreement from the actual principals portrayed in the movie with the content of the movie, but maintains the truth of what is in the movie, nonetheless.

Monday, March 12, 2012

But Zandi ISN'T right!

The Plum Line at the Washington Post is a column I regularly enjoy reading. Even when I disagree with the content--which is the case, more often than not--I find Greg Sargent's writing to be good and his analysis sound, insofar as it's thoughtful and not full of inconsistencies. Today's column is an exception. In it, he discusses an interview by Luke Russert with economist Mark Zandi:


Asked by Russert if he thinks the Stimulus worked, Zandi says:
I think it was a success, yes. It ended the recession. It jump-started the recovery. It’s not a source of long-term economic growth. It was never intended to be. But it did what it was supposed to do.
Sargent allows that Zandi statements have become something of a joke among economists and pundits of a more libertarian or conservative bent, but argues that this doesn't mean Zandi isn't right. And that's because? Well, we don't get in answer in that regard, we're just supposed to assume he really is right.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Playing to emotion and burying the lead

One of the biggest problems, in my opinion, with the current crop of media outlets--be they online, TV, radio, or print--is a tendency to play to the emotions of the reader/listener. I say "current crop," but this has always been a problem. And to be fair, I don't think there's a solution, given the need to attract an audience in order to stay in business (luckily I don't have that problem, which is why there is often a lack of emotion in my posts). Still, it disturbs me to see unnecessary rhetoric and/or terminology in a piece, which otherwise contains some good information.

For instance, consider this article from MarketWatch. Entitled "U.S. gains 227,000 jobs in February" and subtitled "Best stretch of job growth since 2006; jobless rate remains at 8.3%," one can only assume the article is full of positive news. And indeed, the article opens up with bits designed to paint a happy picture, but sufficiently hedged to make such conclusions a product of the reader. Like this:
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.3% as nearly half-a-million workers re-entered the labor force in search of jobs, the Labor Department reported. That’s usually a good sign because it means people believe more work is available.
"Usually a good sign." Bu it may not be a good sign. And even if it is a good sign, it doesn't absolutely indicate a rebounding a economy. Yet, it seems positive. Here's another bit:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

God bless Ron Paul

I listened to Ron Paul's speech in North Dakota, yesterday. And frankly, it sounded exactly like almost every other Ron Paul speech that I've ever heard. That is staying on message. Paul hit the usual notes: end the Federal Reserve system, no undeclared wars and bring the troops home, follow the Constitution as written, and make real cuts in Federal spending (get rid of baseline budgeting). If you've never taken the time to listen to a full speech by the man, I suggest doing so. Here is last night's:


Here is a partial transcript.

He's not a thrilling speaker, at all. And he tends to repeat himself quite a bit in this particular speech. But some of his points really stick. That's probably why Paul attracts a new cadre of young followers every time he runs for office. When he's run for President, the same happens nationally. It happened in 1988 when Paul ran as a Libertarian, which of course translated to very few votes on election day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A little MoveOn hypocrisy

With the Limbaugh-Fluke controversy remaining a top story in punditry world, as Limbaugh continues to be roundly condemned and his apology brushed off as insincere, I thought it might be a good idea to remember how hypocritical people can be. Ed Schultz's comments about Laura Ingraham--when he called her a slut--have been cited by various pundits, of course. Schultz apologized for them and many of the people still attacking Limbaugh were satisfied with that apology.

Currently, MoveOn is sending around a petition to get ClearChannel to drop Limbaugh's show.
Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University who was advocating for health insurance plans to cover the cost of contraception, became the target of a series of attacks by Rush Limbaugh. Besides calling her a "slut," he also called her a "prostitute," said that he wanted her to make sex tapes and post them online, and speculated that she only had a problem paying for contraception because she was having "so much sex." We who support Ms. Fluke find that this is a serious offense committed by Mr. Limbaugh, and we ask that his radio show be terminated.
The Ed Schultz incident? MoveOn didn't have much to say about that.

Next in the bankruptcy queue: Abound Solar?

Coming in at number seventeen on the White House's 100 Recovery Projects That Are Changing America list is Abound Solar, which received a $400 million DOE guarantee in 2010. The company had been renamed just a year before, after being founded in 2007 as AVA Solar. Now, a little over a year after that loan closed, Abound Solar is laying off around 70% of its workforce--280 people--at its Colorado production facility.

Note that some reports indicate only 180 layoffs, but that number appears to only include full-time employees. Regardless, management at Abound Solar insists there is nothing to worry about, that the company is fine and that these layoffs are a temporary thing:
In order to compete, [CEO] Witsoe said Abound is retooling its manufacturing facilities to bring to market a more advanced, more efficient solar product that will keep the company ahead of its foreign competitors. But while that work is being done, he said, the company could not maintain the size of its workforce and had to make the painful job cuts. 
"The jobs will definitely come back," Witsoe said. "When we rescale with the new product, we will need to hire back likely as many people as we had. We know this is a really difficult thing. We hate to have any job loss in the company. But it was the right decision for the business."
How many times have we heard that song and dance? Thankfully--for the taxpayer--Abound has drawn only $70 million of that loan guarantee, so far. But note what the White House said about the company and what it would do with that loan in the above-mentioned list:

Monday, March 5, 2012

When did the Power Rangers become a cultural icon?

I have three children, aged fourteen, eleven, and four. The middle one is a boy, the other two are girls. And I remember when the oldest one became momentarily fixated on the Power Rangers, at the age of about four. Well no, exactly at the age of four. It was Power Rangers Wild Force that she watched; browsing through the various seasons on Wikipedia, I remembered the costumes immediately. And as I recall, her love affair with the show lasted for pretty much that one season, alone.

My son got the Ranger bug a bit earlier, latching on to the show in 2004, just before he turned four. That was the Power Rangers Dino Thunder year, a helluva combo--dinosaurs and superheroes--for a little boy. And once again, he was a fan for exactly one season (though to be fair, the oldest had a bit of a "relapse" and watched the show with him on occasion).

My youngest turned four last August and I hadn't even thought about Power Rangers at all, to be honest. Her tastes--after Sesame Street and Barney--have run more to Disney movies and whatever the older two happen to be watching. Until two days ago. Somehow--through a process that is beyond my ken--she specifically asked to watch Power Rangers. I didn't even know the show was still on the air and I know that I had never put it on for her, before. But there it was, the request. And imagine my surprise when--checking the TV guide--I found it for her, the latest incarnation Power Rangers Samurai. She asked for it again today, with a shout of "Power Rangers!"

Evolution: Barack, Barry, Baraka, Barack

Andrew Breitbart's legacy will likely be defined in the coming months ahead, as his website--Bretibart.com--plans on publishing a series of articles with the objective of properly vetting President Obama, something that Breitbart (along with many others) believed the media failed to do, prior to the 2008 Presidential Election.

The first piece is out. Written by Breitbart and entitled Barack's Love Song to Alinsky, it focuses on a play that premiered in Chicago way back in 1998. That play was The Love Song of Saul Alinsky, and Obama not only attended the premiere but was also a panelist for a post-performance discussion of Alinsky. The most interesting part of this expose is--to me--the poster advertising the play with the names of the panel on it. Here it is:

AlinskyPosterFullRez


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Who's the greediest of them all?

Previously, I talked about the coming Greek bailout and the fact that bondholders would take it on the chin:
The bondholders are like a credit card company, in a way, that is trying to collect from a delinquent customer, one that doesn't have any other assets to go after, but could possibly get back on their feet if they had some money (and really needs some money to eat, as well). But the reality is that the credit card company knows it will be lucky to see any money, whatsoever. Thus, it is willing to engage in negotiations to hopefully cut its losses. The alternative is to watch the customer go bankrupt and never see a dime of what it is owed.  
So, the Greek government has negotiated with its bondholders (some of them, at any rate) to make huge cuts on what it owes them, thus allowing for the possibility that it can pay some portion of what it originally owed. By the way, the bondholders unwilling to cut the debt will be dragged kicking and screaming into the deal, but that's neither here nor there.
The day for the bondholders to sign off on this deal is approaching. In fact, it's this Thursday. And most people feel it's going to happen, to "get done." Why? Because as I noted, Greece will--supposedly--be able to force most of the bondholders to accept the plan, given that a good chunk has already agreed to it:
Analysts now believe that the deal will get done as more than 65 percent of holders — Greek banks and pension funds as well as large European banks — are likely to switch their old bonds for a package of new English law Greek bonds and securities issued by Europe’s rescue fund.  
And, as Greece and its financial backers have insisted on a near universal participation, it is expected that Greece will deploy its new collective action clauses to compel those who decline the offer to take a loss as well.
But there are a few potential flies in this ointment. Some entities--hedge funds and other investment groups--have been actively seeking and buying Greek bonds that may fall outside the authority of the Greek government, with regard to this universal participation clause.

The idea--for these folks--is to hold out, to not participate in the debt exchange, then attempt to get much more for the bonds they hold from the Greek government, bonds they purchased at a steep discount, due to this impending deal.

Personally, I'm all for capitalism. I have no problem with someone seeing value where others see naught. But this is something else. Greece--by virtue of its government's greed and its citizenry's ignorance--is a wreck. If the second bailout goes through, the Greek economy will remain in a shambles and people will continue to suffer. Yet, to even make that happen, investors who bought Greek bonds in good faith will be forced to lose most of their investments' value. And that sucks. It's wrong because the Greek government was lying about a number of things, was less then forthcoming with regard to its real debts and liabilities.

But this move by some groups to find profit in the process is equally wrong. It's not predicated on finding unknown or unrealized value, or even on investing  based on potential; it's predicated on extortion, plain and simple. And it not much different than lawyers who make their money by filing nuisance lawsuits, who hope companies will pay them off--even though there are no real damages--to avoid the cost and publicity of litigation.

The Greek government was greedy, yes. But this crowd--the ones that just bought in, looking for a payoff--is much worse.

Cheers, all.

Rousey-Tate delivers

The highly anticipated match-up between Miesha "Take-down" Tate and "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey went down last night on Showtime. And, well, things went pretty much according to plan...if you happen to be Ronda Rousey. She submitted Tate via armbar at 4:36 of the first round to capture the Strikeforce Women's Bantamweight Championship.

For those unfamiliar with Rousey, this was her fifth--yes, fifth--professional fight. The other four all ended in the first round with Rousey submitting each foe in turn via an armbar. So, this result was hardly unexpected. But I guess one could say that last night's contest was a bit of a moral victory for Tate--the now-former champion--since she lasted for almost the entire first round. Rousey's previous four submission victories all came in under a minute, at 0:25, 0:49, 0:25, and 0:39, in chronological order.

To be fair, Rousey is no novice to competition, having won bronze in judo at the 2008 Olympics. Still, that's a far cry from having your opponent throw elbows, punches, and kicks at your face and body. But the experience angle--one Tate played up in pre-fight interviews--is dead now. The lady is the new champ and it's unlikely that anyone will move her anytime soon.

For Rousey--in many ways--is Tyson reborn. She's cold, all business, and absolutely without mercy. The armbar she applied to Tate did some real damage (that's partly Tate's fault, for not tapping sooner) and Rousey showed absolutely no remorse after the fight. Nor should she have, in my opinion.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Then why isn't the economy booming? Tool.

Katrina vanden Heuvel--editor of The Nation--weighs in on the issue of the government's role in the economy and society at large with her latest op-ed, Challenging the Self-Made Myth. Stressing the arguments of a soon-to-be-released new book, The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth about How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, Ms, vanden Heuvel says:
Over the last thirty years, anti-government arguments by conservative pundits and politicians have gained prominence, and the rhetoric this 2012 campaign season seems more toxic than ever. Republicans are relentlessly pushing the notion that lower taxes, less regulation and small government (except for defense) will magically end the recession and create a better country, and “job creators” will lift all boats. 
It’s BS.
The obvious questions: if bigger government, more government spending, and the like are such good things, why does the economy continue to ebb and flow, why is there still a business cycle, and why isn't growth through the roof right now, given the stimulus spending, health-care legislation, and increased regulatory powers we've seen under the current administration?

North Korea: the happiest place on Earth?

In 1998, the DPRK and South Korea reached an agreement to allow tourism from the South into the Mount Kumgang region of the North, a place long famed for its scenic beauty. To that end, a joint venture was undertaken: the construction of the Diamond Mountain Resort in the region. The resort was intended to be a luxury destination with all of the usual expected amenities, including a golf course, various water sports, spas, and the like. The actual construction and operation of the resort fell to South Korea's Hyundai Group.

To handle this project and other work in the DPRK, Hyundai Asan was spun off from the Hyundai Group, proper, in 1999. Hyundai Asan's brief history is filled with deals falling apart (due to arbitrary actions by the DPRK), accusations of corruption and bribery, and failed projects. But the Diamond Mountain Resort is at the top--or rather the bottom--of the heap.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pointless Probing at Politico

Darren Samuelsohn--senior energy and environment reporter for Politico Pro--has written what may very well be the lamest story I've every read. Entitled "Hard to put a price on Solyndra probe," the story opens with the following:
House Republicans love hyping the half-billion dollars they say the Obama administration squandered on Solyndra’s loan guarantee. 
But they’re much less talkative about how much they’ve spent in their year-old probe of the Energy Department and the bankrupt California solar company that was once a stimulus poster child. And those numbers are hard to find.
Sounds enticing, doesn't it? No doubt there's a big payoff ahead, some serious investigative work that demonstrates massive spending, unprecedented spending, by these House Republicans. Right? Well, I'll save you the trouble of reading the story: there's nothing there. Zero, nada, zilch. Just some silly attempt at analysis revolving around the salaries of various staffers and aides for the House Energy and Commerce Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

For making the morning brighter...

...thank you Davy.

Former Monkees singer Davy Jones passed away yesterday in Florida at the age of 66. Born in England, Davy came to the United States to pursue an acting career. Oddly enough, his first television appearance was on The Ed Sullivan Show on the same day as The Beatles first appearance on the same. It's an odd moment to consider: a young actor juxtaposed with the the hottest band in the world. That was in February of 1964.

Flash forward to December of 1966--not quite two years later--and it's The Monkees' I'm a Believer taking over the top spot on Billboard, eventually becoming the number one song of 1967 (with Daydream Believer coming in at number three for the same year). And that was the second number one for the Monkees in 1966, with their debut single--Last Train to Clarksville--having already been at the top of the charts.

The Monkees--throughout their brief initial existence of three years with the original line-up--would have four number one albums, with More of the Monkees holding the top spot for eighteen consecutive weeks. For a brief period, they were the hottest band in the world.