Sunday, March 31, 2013

The sedated coverage of Kermit Gosnell

Back in January of 2011, abortion doctor and abortion clinic owner Kermit Gosnell was arrested and charged with eight counts of murder. He allegedly killed seven newborn babies by snipping their spinal cords with scissors and gave a patient-- one Karnamaya Mongar--a lethal dose of painkillers in 2009. His trial is now well underway in Philadelphia and has already had some fireworks, as this article from the Washington Post notes.

The stories swirling around Dr. Gosnell and his activities are disturbing and macabre. Back when the he was first arrested, ABC ran this piece, wherein a former patient details how--when she was a  minor in 1998--Gosnell refused to allow her out of the room after she had changed her mind with regard to the abortion. According to her, Gosnell forcibly strapped her to a table, removed her clothes, drugged her, and proceeded with the abortion. She claims to have been unconscious for over twelve hours. Another former patient details her experiences with Gosnell and how fetal remains from a late-term abortion were left inside of her during the procedure.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. One employee has already testified to killing viable babies with scissors per Gosnell's orders, to watching Gosnell and another employee do the same. Many of Gosnell's current and former staff are not medical professionals, are unlicensed and largely untrained, yet they are called on to dispense medication, assist with procedures and--allegedly--kill off babies.

Gosnell has been running his abortion business since the seventies. By and large, he has served primarily poor and uneducated women, apparently accepting cash only--$1300 to $2000--for abortions as a matter of course. The conditions in his now-shuttered clinic were reportedly horrible, to say the least. Dirty, unsanitary, and unsafe would be improvements. And when the police searched his home after his arrest, they found some $250000 in cash. No doubt the IRS may end up involved here, as well.

The eight counts of murder Gosnell is charged with are most certainly not reflective of the totality of destruction caused by his practices; he's been at this for a long time, after all. The horror stories detailed above also won't lead to additional charges, nor will many others one can find by searching through the internet.

Regardless of how one feels about abortion in general or late-term abortion in particular, the tale of Kermit Gosnell should provoke outrage, revulsion, and sorrow for anyone with a modicum of decency, in my opinion. And it's a tale that needs to be told, loudly and continuously, for doctors like Gosnell who prey on the vulnerable, engage in unsafe conduct, and frankly commit murder are a blight on their profession and represent exactly the sort of thing that justifies government oversight of the medical industry.

And yet, there's precious little shouting going on about Gosnell. There's some coverage, a handful of articles after his initial arrest and a handful more now that the trial is underway, but not that much. The trial is certainly not a lead item on network news or on the cable news shows, despite the need of the latter to fill time.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Return to the Planet of the Burkes

Edmund Burke presents something of a problem for many people given to studying political theory and philosophy. Today, most surveyors of past theorists tend to refer to Burke as a conservative thinker, if not the intellectual founder--unintentionally--of modern conservatism, proper (we're speaking here of political theory, not social issues). At the very least, he is looked upon as one of the originators of the British conservative tradition.

And all of this is understandable. Burke--as a leader of the Whigs during the eighteenth century--supported the American Revolution for the most part, but then opposed the French Revolution. The dichotomy of his views in this regard is simple: while Burke stood for liberty, he feared too much liberty; in Burke's view, the aristocracy, the class system, had a necessary and proper function in this regard.

For Burke believed tradition was not something to be ignored or torn apart, simply for the sake of change. In many ways, Burke was a classical liberal; he argued for religious toleration, against any sort of absolutist rule, for the open markets of Adam Smith, and against pure democracy. There were balances to be achieved in Burke's mind. Thus, the excesses of the French Revolution were a consequence of its leaders' attempt to do away with the old order en total, though there were certainly aspects of that order which needed to be changed.

Thus, what really makes Burke a conservative thinker is his approach: change for the sake of change is simply a non-starter for Burke. Yet, there are those in libertarian circles who also find value in Burke's thinking, since Burke insists on liberty as a primary goal and sees laws--bad laws--as one of the great impediments to this goal.

For many in both schools of thought--conservatism and libertarianism--it is still Burke who most clearly and concisely explained why direct democracy was a danger to the liberty of minority interests, for as he noted in assessing the consequences of the French Revolution:
The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny. If, as society is constituted in these large countries of France and England, full of unequal property, I must make my choice (which God avert!) between the despotism of a single person, or of the many, my election is made. As much injustice and tyranny has been practiced in a few months by a French democracy, as in all the arbitrary monarchies in Europe in the forty years of my observation.
A scathing indictment, to be sure: Burke would prefer the rule of an absolute monarch to that of the demos, the people as a whole. It's a difficult pill to swallow for many, the idea that the people are incapable of self-rule, that constraints must exist as a matter of course. And yet it is very much the basis of theories of limited government, it is why mixed government--republicanism--has become the preferred form, as opposed to pure democracy.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fisker looks to be finished, another $200 mil down the drain

In October of 2011, I noted that criticism of the car company Fisker--which received loan monies from the DOE--for having a facility in Finland was largely misplaced. But I also said:
Remember, the real problem with the Solyndra mess is that it was improperly vetted, it was a bad investment and this was obvious from the get-go. We can't yet say that about Fisker.

It's fair to question the loan program, of course. One might argue that the DOE shouldn't be doling out these kinds of monies at all, that companies should make due with the private sector investors. And that's completely fair, in my opinion. I think it's also completely correct.
Now it looks like we have an answer: Fisker was indeed a bad investment and the DOE loan program is most certainly a bad idea, given the monies being wasted in it. Since Fisker's battery supplier--a rather critical thing for an electric car--filed for Chapter 11 in October of last year, the Fisker Karma has been out of production. And there's little reason to suppose the situation will improve for Fisker:
Fisker has hired Kirkland & Ellis, a major bankruptcy law firm, to review the company’s options while it continues to seek investment partners... 
The company ran into a cash crunch after the federal government froze an Energy Department loan to the company. A bankruptcy liquidation or restructuring could leave the government about $192 million in the hole. That’s what Fisker borrowed under the credit line before funding was shut off.
Additionally, all 200 U.S.-based employees of Fisker have been indefinitely furloughed. The search for investors--Fisker still believes it has a viable product--is not going well. Even the Chinese company that bought A123 Systems (Fisker's battery maker) out of bankruptcy is uninterested in saving the car company.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Charlton Heston versus Jim Carrey

Heston versus Carrey? In what, an acting contest? Fame? Appearances in Oscar winning movies? Nope, none of those. We're talking gun control here. Everyone knows the position of the former NRA President--and now deceased--Charlton Heston. Some might know the position of Canadian-born funny man Jim Carrey. For those who don't, here it is:
Any1 who would run out to buy an assault rifle after the Newtown massacre has very little left in their body or soul worth protecting.
That's a tweet from Carrey earlier this year and in case it's still not clear, Carrey is very much on the opposite side of the fence from Heston when it comes to guns. And to that end, Carrey has put together a new sketch and song on Funny or Die, wherein he plays--and mocks--Charlton Heston and sings a delightful little ditty called "Cold Dead Hand." Check it out:

Seriously, it's not a bad song, music-wise. I think it's catchy. But the lyrics, those are another story. Here they are in full:
Some folks ride like the wind
With the whispering pines to guide them
And the burning light inside them
Keeps them warm in the snow

Others fear the sounds they hear
Make bandito's out of mole-hills
Fill their hearts with porcupine quills
They’re dead and buried long before they go

Charlton Heston movies are no longer in demand
His immortal soul my lay forever in the sand
The angels wouldn’t take him up to heaven like he planned
‘Cause they couldn’t pry that gun from his cold dead hand

It takes a cold dead hand to decide to pull the trigger
It takes a cold dead heart and as near as I can figure
With your cold dead aim you’re trying to prove your dick is bigger
But we know your chariot may not be swinging low

Cold dead hand - cold dead hand
Cold dead hand - cold dead hand
You’re a big big man with an little bitty gland
So you need something bigger just to fill
Your cold dead hand

Imagine if the lord were here
And he knew what you’ve been thinkin’
Would his sacred heart be sinkin’
Into the canyon of dismay

And on the ones who sell the guns
He’d sick the vultures and coyotes
Only the devil’s true devotees
Could profiteer from pain and fear

Charlton Heston movies are no longer in demand
His immortal soul my lay forever in the sand
The angels wouldn’t take him up to heaven like he planned
‘Cause they couldn’t pry that gun from his cold dead hand

It takes a cold dead hand to decide to pull the trigger
It takes a cold dead heart and as near as I can figure
With your cold dead aim you’re trying to prove your junk is bigger
But we know your chariot may not be swinging low

Cold dead hand - cold dead hand
Cold dead hand - cold dead hand
Cold dead hand - cold dead hand
You’re a big big man with an little bitty gland
So you need something bigger with a hair-pin trigger
You don’t want to get caught with your trousers down
When the psycho killer comes around
So you make your home like a thunderdome
And you’re always packin’ everywhere you roam
But the psycho’s win no matter what you do
‘Cause they’re gonna buy way more guns than you

And while you’re stumbling out of bed
They put five rounds in the back of your head
Or you get depressed ‘cause the money runs out
Then you put your own shotgun in your mouth
And your kids walk in and they find you there
Like a headless stump in your underwear
And they move the gun and it kills them too
And your wife just doesn’t know what to do
But she takes a hand grenade from her shoe

And she pulls the pin...

And it’s all on you
And your cold dead hand
That's some low-rent, nasty stuff. All the references to guns being phallic symbols alone is bad enough (and stupid, given the number of women who oppose the kind of gun control Carrey is in favor of), but equating gun manufacturers with the devil and supposing guns lead to suicide, that's just in bad taste.

With respect to Heston, Carrey says his "movies are no longer in demand" and that he's not going to Heaven because he was such an outspoken defender of the Second Amendment, it would seem. I know this is just hyperbole in a song, but I think these two points are worth considering.

Scratch that: Joan Walsh, CLUELESS hypocrite at large

The blatant hypocrisy of Joan Walsh's Tuesday article on the imagined racism inherent in stories that mention Obama's children was just too obvious, too juicy, and too true. Ms. Walsh obviously got an earful--or a twitter-feed full--from people about her story because yesterday she felt compelled to defend herself with another piece entitled "My 'hypocrisy' about the Bush daughters."

Note how "hypocrisy" is in quote marks, suggesting that there really is no hypocrisy on Walsh's part. And sure enough, she basically claims this to be the case, that while she "wouldn’t write that column today," it was "newsworthy" and very different in nature from the stories about the Obama girls she was complaining about:
But if conservatives can’t see the difference between breaking with convention to identify the exact location where the president’s underage children are vacationing — a breach of journalistic convention with potential implications for their safety — and writing about the adult first daughters’ (and friends’) skirmishes with police over illegal drinking, which were already in the news – well, if they don’t see the difference, they’re not trying very hard.
That's great, but it's also inconsistent with much of what was actually in her article. To whit:
I have some advice for right-wingers who don’t want it to seem like their anti-Obama animus is racial: Try treating his daughters with respect.
The theme of most right-wing stories on Sasha, Malia and Michelle Obama’s vacations and leisure-time activities seems to be that they’re entitled princesses, when they do exactly the same kinds of things other presidents’ families have done throughout history. There’s only one difference I can see.
The one difference being--according to Walsh, of course--the color of their skin. See how these parts of her argument have magically disappeared from Walsh's defense of her hypocrisy? Because there's little question that the tone of Walsh's piece on the Bush daughters was nasty and judgmental. But the one difference--the true one difference--is that their father was a Republican President.

Walsh's ego is writing checks her brain can't cash, it would seem. Her defense of her piece on the Bush daughters fails miserably to make the case that there was no hypocrisy with her latest piece; indeed, it serves only to bring the hypocrisy into sharper focus.

Well done, Joan. Well done.

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Joan Walsh: hypocrite at large

I've referenced some of Joan Walsh's stupidity previously, like her silly attempt to claim any mention of entitlement reform by Republicans is based on racism, her excoriation of Maureen Dowd for criticizing Obama and Susan Rice, and her dopey assertions about Romney's tax returns. But all of these pale in comparisons to the unbelievable hypocrisy of her latest piece. Smugly entitled "How to not seem like a racist," the article takes several conservative writers to task for supposedly attacking Obama's daughters, or at least not being respectful of them:
I have some advice for right-wingers who don’t want it to seem like their anti-Obama animus is racial: Try treating his daughters with respect.
Walsh backs up her assertion by noting how there have been stories about the First Family's various vacations and ones about the girls' Secret Service protection while attending school. Somehow, in Walsh-land, this constitutes "going after" Sasha and Malia Obama. She offers the following assertion, as well:
The theme of most right-wing stories on Sasha, Malia and Michelle Obama’s vacations and leisure-time activities seems to be that they’re entitled princesses, when they do exactly the same kinds of things other presidents’ families have done throughout history.
Unsurprisingly, Walsh offers nothing in the way of evidence to back this up, no quotes that suggest such a theme at all. Rather, she uses a comment from an internet troll to "prove" her point.

Hilarious. And really, this would just be another in the long line of openly partisan, brain-dead articles by Joan Walsh, except for one thing: Walsh has actually gone after the daughters of the President, herself. Yes, you're reading that correctly. Walsh--who is demanding that the daughters of Obama be treated with respect, though they're not actually been treated with disrespect at all by my reading--doesn't feel such limitations should apply to her in the least. Hypocrisy (n.), see deceitfulness, dishonesty, pharisaism, guile, dissemblance, Joan Walsh.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Legislative authority and same-sex marriage

Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case about California's Proposition 8 passed in 2008. That measure added the following clause to the California State Constitution:
 SEC. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
Previously, I briefly detailed the legal history of Prop 8 since its passage:
In 2008, Proposition 8 was passed by California voters, 52% to 48%, not an overwhelmingly majority but an obviously clear majority. It was immediately challenged in State court and ruled as valid by the California State Supreme Court. It was then challenged in federal court. There, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California--located in San Francisco--ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, that it violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The State of California appealed, but the Ninth Circuit upheld the District Court's ruling. However, it did not do in quite the same way as the District Court. The ruling by the judge in the latter held that same-sex marriage was a right to be recognized. In contrast, the decision by the Ninth Circuit was based on Proposition 8 taking away a right that had already been granted.
Now that oral arguments are concluded, commentators are busy laying out the potential responses by the Court. As usual, SCOTUSblog is the place to go. In this article, Lyle Denniston very correctly--in my opinion--lays out four possibilities for the Court, which he terms the "nationwide solution," the "eight-state solution," the "California only solution," and the "jurisdictional solution."

Opponents of same-sex marriage are necessarily banking on the first, the "nationwide solution," but in terms of the Court simply declaring that States have the authority to define what marriage is, i.e. a union of one man and one woman. But I think such a decision is a pipe-dream for this specific case (there is still another, bigger case pending on the DOMA). The oral arguments suggested that few Justices--if any--would rule this way (Alito and Scalia being the only real possibilities, in my opinion).

No, I think it nearly a given that Proposition Eight will not survive. The least invasive choice in that regard would be the "jurisdicational solution," wherein the Court would simply refuse to rule on the case--leaving the Ninth's ruling in place--by finding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring suit. But the question is, is this truly the right choice? Is there a right choice available, at all, with respect to first principles and the Constitution, proper.

I believe there is. And to understand what the correct decision is, we need to remember the nature of legislative power or authority--the means through which valid laws are made--as enshrined in the Constitution.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hillary Clinton has no shot in 2016

The giddiness prevalent in some circles over a possible candidacy in an election more than three years away is cringe-worthy. The candidate in question? Hillary Clinton, of course. The circles in question? Our illustrious media. The stuff it already all over the place. Look at this piece that appeared at Bloomberg yesterday. Entitled "Clinton Is Strongest-Ever Frontrunner," it's a leg-tingling panegyric filled with suppositions and assumptions. Like this:
Ask almost any Democrat and the automatic assumption is that Clinton will be the party’s 2016 nominee; a top West Virginia Democrat predicts she would carry that state, which President Barack Obama lost 62 percent to 35 percent in 2012. Ask most Republicans who has the best shot to be the 45th President, and they’ll acknowledge it is Clinton.
What Republicans is this guy talking to? Most will probably acknowledge that Clinton is likely to be the Democrat nominee in 2016, but best shot to be the next President? Please. On what basis? Because a bunch of pseudo-intellectual partisan media hacks fall all over themselves every time Ms. Clinton enters the room? Talk about living in a bubble.

And the idea that Clinton would automatically carry West Virginia, that's just stupid. Unsurprisingly, there's no name given for this "top West Virginia Democrat," because no one with any political acumen whatsoever would openly say something so stupid. Could Clinton win West Virginia in 2016? Sure, why not. But is she likely to? No, of course not. And making a prediction in this regard without knowing who her opponent is just can't be justified, much less taken seriously.

The Bloomberg piece does recognize that Clinton's 2008 run at the nomination basically collapsed, but somehow wants to put all the blame for that on Clinton's campaign manager and chief strategist, apparently forgetting that part of what makes a good candidate is the ability to pick the right people for the job.

Which brings us to Clinton's long list of foibles.

Benghazi. Talk about dropping the ball, this situation is still haunting Clinton and if she is the nominee in 2016, it will come back with a vengeance, make no mistake about that.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mao quotes: another indictment of U.S. education

On Friday, the Kids' Zone of the U.S. Department of Education put up a quote that was quickly criticized and ultimately yanked. Buzzfeed had the scoop:

It's "The Quote of the Day" box that's highlighted. What it says:
"Our attitude towards ourselves should be 'to be satiable in learning' and towards others 'to be tireless in teaching'"--Mao Zedong
After the choice began to be roundly mocked and criticized, the Department of Education removed it, then replaced it with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, as Buzzfeed details. Still, the criticism didn't stop. Slate rightly predicted--in a piece with a sarcastic title--this reaction. Right-leaning blogs and media sources jumped on the use of the quote as evidence of "communist" leanings at the Department of Education at worst, or simple ignorance at best. The argument in the latter regard is as follows: Mao was responsible for millions upon millions of deaths; he shouldn't be a source of quotes for kids, period.

The Department responded to the situation with the following statement:
The Kids' Zone website hosted by the National Center of Education Statistics earlier today featured a poorly chosen quote, intended to highlight the importance of teaching and learning, in the 'Quote of the Day' feature. This feature, which automatically generates one education-related quote per day from a database of quotes last updated in 2007, has been temporarily suspended pending a review of the database's contents.
Frankly, that's very fair and likely very true. That said, there's a lot more to all of this. Read the comments section at Buzzfeed. It's a little scary in my opinion. There are people justifying Mao and communism, people talking about all the good Mao did and the like, but most significantly arguing that there's nothing wrong with the quote in general. Of course there is. It's wrong.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Would-be kingmaker makes ass of self

The tales are as old as time, the stories are there every election cycle and every year in between as well. There are always powerful and wealthy people pulling strings, trying to bend the political system to their will. And according to many others, they do so quite effectively. Recent examples include the "notorious" Koch brothers, George Soros, Rush Limbaugh, Warren Buffet, Rupert Murdoch, and Ron Perelman, to say nothing of various principles at companies like Goldman Sachs.

It's tough to really prove the arguments, though, that elections are easily manipulated by powerful people with a lot of money. After all, Romney did lose the last one and there's little question that he had access to such people, that they were on his "side." As I noted prior to Election Day, Goldman Sachs monies were all over Romney, but Obama still won:
Which brings us to the current Election. Goldman Sachs' level of access in the Obama Administration is well-documented. So what's with the reversal of fortune for the Obama Campaign? After receiving over $1 million in GSM during 2008, the campaign has now received less in 2012 than McCain did in 2008. Meanwhile, Romney is apparently receiving all of the support that was once Obama's.
But that's Presidential politics; there are a lot of States and a lot of other players to contend with, so it's no easy thing to manipulate the system. At the State and local levels, things are very different, there's often less attention, and there's just more bang for the buck, when it comes to funding campaigns.

And in this regard, the real point of control is often in the primaries, especially when those primaries concern an office in a district or State that is viewed as a stronghold or an easy win for one party or the other. Consider the primary contest in 2010 for the Senate seat up for grabs in Florida. Everyone knew early on that there were no serious contenders on the side of the Democrats; it was all about the Republican primary between Crist and Rubio. And therein lies the tale to tell.

I would argue that Rubio topped Crist in that race largely because Crist made too many mistakes and because Rubio proved to be a far more formidable foe than most expected. But it is also true that big money and active support came to Florida from various people we might call the "conservative (or Republican) elites." This included Mitt Romney and--most notably--folks linked to the Heritage Foundation. The question: was the support of these people a consequence of who Rubio was, of his ideas and ideology, or did it come unattached as a means of taking control of Rubio, of "buying" him as it were.

Again, it seems to me that it was very much the former. Regardless, Rubio has proven I think that he is in no one's pocket since his election to the Senate. Meanwhile, Crist has rebranded himself a Democrat--after years of being something of a political hobo--and now plans to run again for the governorship of Florida as a Democrat.

But sometimes, it's very, very clear when someone with deep pockets is trying to control things, to either insure that the "right" candidate wins or that the "wrong" candidate doesn't.

The Keystone pipeline remains a contentious issue; despite all of the evidence indicating that it's a good idea, despite all of the costly analysis proving the construction would not be "environmentally disastrous" or the like, there are hard-core environmentalists types still actively opposing it. And where is their current battleground? Why in Massachusetts, of course...

Friday, March 22, 2013

The p-word President

1. Precocious: unusually advanced or mature in development, especially mental development.

The Economist goes into some detail:
At today's speech to the UN's General Assembly, I noticed a few new ones. He spoke of the climate conference in "Copen-hah-gen". This pronunciation is basically over-educated faux-authenticity; Danes overwhelmingly say "Copen-hay-gen" in English. (They say something very different in Danish. "KĂžbenhavn" is pronounced roughly like "kerp-in-hown".) Mr Obama's slip may result from overgeneralising of the rule that "ah is the best way to pronounce a's in foreign names." Pahkistan is better than Packistan, I-rahq is tonier than I-rack (and much more so than Eye-rack), and the same goes for I-rahn, I-ran, and Eye-ran. But the rule doesn't work for Copen-hah-gen.
2. Pugnacious: inclined to quarrel or fight readily; quarrelsome; belligerent; combative.

The Wall Street Journal reminds us:
Mobster wisdom tells us never to bring a knife to a gun fight. But what does political wisdom say about bringing a gun to a knife fight?

That’s exactly what Barack Obama said he would do to counter Republican attacks “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said at a Philadelphia fundraiser Friday night. “Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”
3. Petty: characterized by an undue concern for trivial matters, esp. in a small-minded or spiteful way.

It's hard to pick just one; there are so many examples to choose from. But who can forget this:

4. Petulant: childishly sulky or bad-tempered.

Again, the examples are just so plentiful. There were the Presidential Debates, of course. The American Spectator details many more from his first term here. But the icing on the petulance cake had to be the shutting down of White House tours after Obama failed to get what he wanted from Congress.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Carney's Point update

In my previous piece on the Carney's Point picture-of-a-kid-with-a-gun-sends-DCF-into-a-tailspin incident, I said that "the DCF and the local police department has not responded to questions about this incident," and that is no longer true; it actually never was. The Carney's Point Township Police Department issued a statement on the matter yesterday that I had not seen, prior to posting my piece. Here it is, in full:

I have to say that this is pretty much what I thought would likely be the case. As I noted in my previous piece, it was the New Jersey DCF that initiated the visit. The police were obligated to accompany the DCF representative because the DCF requested a police presence. However, the statement clearly says that both the DCF and the police department received anonymous calls about the situation, i.e. the Facebook photo of Mr. Moore's son with his birthday present, a .22 rifle. It's no stretch to assume the same person was responsible for these calls.

One can't help but wonder who this person is, if he or she has an ax to grind with the Moores, was just joking around, is a nosy busybody, or had an honest and valid concern. The last seems pretty unlikely, given the facts of the situation.

But beyond all of this, note that the New Jersey Department of Children and Families has not offered any sort of statement and has not responded to any calls for comments. Why? The police statement does not offer anything with regard to the conduct of the DCF rep, positive or negative. Surely if the DCF rep had behaved entirely appropriately, either the police statement or the DCF itself would have made mention of this. No, I think we can safely assume that Mr. Moore's version of events in this regard is likely accurate: the DCF rep threatened him with the removal of his children if he failed to comply with the request to search his gun safe.

I'll wager we never hear a word about the incident from the DCF; people there are just waiting for it all to blow over because they know their person crossed a line.

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Waco...Ruby Ridge...Carney's Point?

Currently, one of the hottest stories on the 'net concerns an 11-year-old boy, a Facebook photo, and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. It takes place in the small township of Carney's Point, New Jersey, something of a suburb to Wilmington, Delaware (they are on opposite sides of the Delaware River).

Carney's Point has a long, though largely mundane, history. Founded in 1721 (as Upper Penns Neck Township), Carney's Point has been mostly a quiet sort of town, the kind that one might find in a Norman Rockwell painting or the like. In the early part of the 19th century, tomatoes were introduced to Salem County--where Carney's Point is located--and quickly became the dominant product of the region. But at the end of the century, the DuPonts entered the picture by purchasing land in neighboring Pennsville Township and establishing a plant for the production of gunpowder.

When the War to End All Wars--WWI--began, the demand for things like gunpowder exploded (pardon the pun) and as a result the Dupont facilities in the area were expanded, leading to a rapid increase in the area's population. Since those days, the population of Carney's Point has remained largely static, staying between 7,000 and 9,000 since the late 1950's.

Carney Point's most famous resident is, without a doubt, Bruce Willis. Though he was not born in Carney's Point, Willis' father was born in neighboring Penns Grove (once a part of Upper Penns Neck) and returned there when Bruce was a toddler. It was Bruce's home throughout his childhood and beyond.

But now there is a new son of Carney's Point making headlines, 11-year-old Josh Moore, whose picture is all over the media, clad in camo and holding a .22 rifle mocked up to look like an assault-type rifle. Apparently, Josh's father--Shawn Moore--put the picture up on his Facebook account, as the rifle was his son's birthday present; Josh is all smiles in the picture. Big deal, right? My 12-year-old son has a number of lethal-looking Airsoft guns in his possession. A .22 is certainly more serious, but it's hardly outrageous. And Josh's father happens to be "a certified firearms instructor for the National Rifle Association, an NRA range safety officer and a New Jersey hunter education instructor." Josh himself has a hunting license and has passed State gun safety courses.


I'm a fan of the TV show Castle, mostly because it stars Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame (granted, more people watch Castle now than watched Firefly when it was on). And also because it's about a writer and is more or less a cop show. But as a show, Castle is deeply flawed and often downright silly. Aside from the fact that there are nothing but "beautiful people" on the show top to bottom--with law enforcement folks, from the NYPD to the FBI to the CIA, being the most beautiful group by far--the plot lines are outrageous, sometimes seeming to come from a Clive Cussler novel (and by the way, wouldn't Fillion make a helluva Dirk Pitt?).

One of the most outrageous plot lines occurs in a two-part bit that culminates in "Linchpin," the sixteenth episode in season four. Jennifer Beals, by the way, plays a senior CIA operative in these two episodes. Anyway, the long and short of it is that there is a conspiracy under way to start a world war based on the idea of a "linchpin," an otherwise small event that would trigger a series of other events, ultimately culminating in world war. In this case, the linchpin event was the assassination of a child, the daughter of a Chinese diplomat. Needless to say, Castle and Beckett help save her and thus stop the dominoes from falling, thereby saving the world at large.

Linchpin theory--or linchpin analysis--is a real thing, both in intelligence work and in game theory, but it seldom--if ever--turns on events like the ones described here. Why? Because there is too much uncertainty, too much dependence on limited human agency. The whole basis of linchpin theory is relative certainty, is knowledge that one event will have a given result, not might have it. The Castle scenario was much more a roll of the dice, not a true linchpin scenario.

But those scenarios are out there.

Right now, Russians are fit to be tied over the Cyprus situation (the proposed one off bank levy). Putin, in particular, is "furious":
Putin has made it clear that he is furious with the decision to ‘tax’ deposit holders throughout the country, calling it “unfair, unprofessional and dangerous”, and Moscow has already threatened to withdraw a €2.5 billion loan to the island.
Spokespeople for the Russian government have vocally complained about the EU's decision and it's failure to consult with Russia beforehand. The generally widespread view of the Russian money in the Cypriot banks is that it is mostly profits from criminal enterprises, but the Russian government is also involved, as are many Russian businesses that are no more--or no less--criminal than those in any other country. And there is no question that these monies are the targets of the EU's action.

Given this blatant targeting, justified or not, what will be the consequences outside of strictly financial matters? Not all that far away, yet a world a way in some aspects, from Cyprus lies the Middle East, including Syria. And the violence still wracking that nation seems far from settled. The latest news there has both government and rebel forces accusing each other of using chemical weapons.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mayor Bloomberg: hide the smokes, pass the rubbers!

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg--fresh off getting slapped around for his failed attempt to ban large-sized sodas--is at it again. This time, his target is cigarettes and other tobacco products. He's announced a new set of laws designed to limit the visibility of such products in stores:
The proposed law would "prohibit display of tobacco products" in most retail shops, Bloomberg said. "Such displays suggest smoking is a normal activity and invite young people to experiment with tobacco."
Basically, stores that sell tobacco products would have to keep them under the counter, in closed cabinets, or the like where they would be effectively invisible to customers. Stores who derive most of their revenue from tobacco sales proper--tobacco and cigar shops, in other words--would be exempt from the restrictions on the basis that there is already an age limit for customers to enter such stores.

This isn't Bloomberg's first attempt to bring the tobacco industry to heel in New York City. And it's also not his dumbest. That honor would go to the 2009 health department regulation requiring stores selling tobacco products to display graphic warning posters like this one:

The City actually believed it could mandate the posting of such signs wherever cigarettes or other tobacco products were sold. Needless to say, the ordinance was struck down in District Court, a ruling that was upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd District in 2012. Interestingly enough, an attempt by the FDA to use these same sorts of images as labeling requirements was struck down as unconstitutional--for violating the First Amendment--only a month earlier. The NYC ordinance was not held to violate the First, but instead was determined to be in conflict with the Labeling Act of 1965, which made Federal law preemptive on this issue. Thus, the Constitutional issue did not need to be considered. Still, given the smack-down received by the FDA, it seems fairly certain that the NYC ordinance would have been treated similarly, if considered in that light.

So what about this new measure? It's unlikely to come into conflict with any Federal laws or regulations; I don't think there are any, with regard to product placement. Because while it's true stores use placement as a means of advertising (companies pay money for prime shelf space in many  grocery stores and the like), it's not regulated--or regulate-able--advertising.

MIB IV: Eurozone edition

No one is happy about what is going on in Cyprus. The proposed "one off" levy on bank deposits there is meeting fierce resistance, from Cypriots, Russians, Brits, and pretty much every other group of EU citizens, with the partial exception of some in Germany, Austria, Finland, Slovakia, and the Netherlands. What's the deal with this latter group, you ask? Simple, they have more fiscally responsible governments, are not in danger of some sort of financial collapse, and don't need bailouts from the EU or anyone else. At least not right now.

And with that good sense comes a corresponding punishment: these nations are the ones footing the bill, by and large, for the bailouts needed by other member-states of the EU. Unsurprisingly--following one bailout or crisis after another--they're getting a little sick and tired of the game. Enter the Cyprus boondoggle. Here, we have a tiny nation--just a little more than one million people live there--whose financial system is going to require some $13 billion at a minimum in order to stave off a complete collapse. That's around $13,000 per capita. Think on that for a moment. If the U.S. needed a similar bailout, it would be--wait for it--in excess of $4 trillion! A similar bailout for Germany would amount to over $1 trillion.

This is why there is anger in some corners of the EU, not over the proposed levy, but over the idea that such a small nation requires such a massive bailout.

But is their anger actually valid? Is the apparent fiscal responsibility in places like Germany and Austria somehow separate from the situation in Cyprus, Greece, and much of the rest of the EU? And is all of this actually separate from the situation in the United States and elsewhere?

We all know that financial markets throughout the world are interdependent to some degree: what happens in one--even one as a small as Cyprus--can have significant repercussions elsewhere. And of course, this is no less true of actions like this levy.

That said, what about the bigger picture, how things got to this point? How did this tiny nation end up in such a hole? I explained the basics of this in my previous bit: the Cypriot banks bet big on EU sovereign debt, especially that of Greece. And the Cypriot government--in making the nation into a Cayman-esque offshore financial center/tax haven--created a situation wherein it could not possibly have the funds to protect its own financial institutions, even as it used its own easy access to that wealth as a means of increasing standards of living there across the board (Cyprus is a high income state, according to the World Bank) despite having limited real economic growth. It's capital city--Nicosia--currently ranks as the 5th richest city in the world, with regard to purchasing power.

This didn't happen because Cyprus was somehow gaming the system. It happened because the system was, in a sense, using Cyprus--along with many other nations--as a means to move capital and actually create wealth in the process.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cyprus and the future of the EU

The island nation of Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 and in 2008 it was accepted as a member of the Eurozone, proper. Since achieving independence--more or less--in 1974, Cyprus has progressively become more prosperous via increased tourism and acting as an international banking center. In this latter role, Cyprus has served as a major conduit for investment activity between nations previously under the banner of the Soviet Union--along with China and other Asian nations in more recent times--and Western Europe. Cyprus banks thus represent offshore accounts (or havens) for people in other nations. These banks have been so successful in this regard that their total holdings dwarf the remainder of the Cypriot economy, being as much as ten times larger than the yearly GDP for the nation.

But unfortunately, these banks bet big on Greece and in 2012 it became apparent that their potential losses put them all in danger of collapse, causing Fitch (along with Moody's and S&P) to lower Cyprus's credit rating to junk status in the middle of last year:
Cyprus's credit rating has been cut to junk status by Fitch, reflecting fears the country could require a eurozone bailout to shore up its banks.  
Cyprus, whose banks are heavily exposed to Greece, will need 4bn euros (£3.2bn) to support its banks, said Fitch.  
This is on top of 1.8bn euros Cyprus said it needs by Friday to recapitalise its lender Cyprus Popular Bank.
Since then, the situation for the Cypriot banks has only gotten worse. On Saturday, EU officials formally announced a €10 billion plan to rescue the nation's banks, more than double the amount projected as needed last year. And one of the terms of this deal requires something new and unheard of--to this point in time--from a member-nation of the EU:
In a radical departure from previous aid packages, euro zone finance ministers want Cyprus savers to forfeit up to 9.9 percent of their deposits in return for a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) bailout for the island, which has been financially crippled by its exposure to neighboring Greece.

The decision, announced on Saturday morning, stunned Cypriots and caused a run on cashpoints, most of which were depleted within hours. Electronic transfers were stopped.
Let's be clear on this: the EU is basically going to fine all account holders in the afflicted Cyprus banks up to almost 10% of their holdings (it's actually 6.75% for accounts with balances less than €100,000, meaning there a bunch of people now trying to reach that plateau by withdrawing cash).

But there's also some other stipulations to the deal that need to be pointed out:
In addition to the levy, [Cyprus Finance Minister] Sarris said, a 20 to 25 per cent tax will be imposed on the interest on deposits.  
And in return for emergency loans, Cyprus additionally agreed to increase its corporate tax rate by 2.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent.
All of these taxes are intended to help pay for the huge loan from the EU and to make sure the government can lower its own deficits in the future, so as not to be in a position where it needs to rely on the EU to bail out banks who make poor decisions. And let's be clear about this, too: just like the now-defunct MF Global, the Cypriot banks made bets on sovereign EU debt, particularly that of Greece, bets that were incredibly risky.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tour-gate: alive and kicking

First of all, tour-gate is a stupid name for the White House tours/sequester mess. But I use it only to make a point which I will come to in a moment.

The hoopla revolves around a decision by the Administration to cancel public tours of the White House proper. This is the message about the cancellation decision on the White House website:
Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that WhiteHouse Tours will be canceled effective Saturday, March 9, 2013 until further notice. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours.

 We very much regret having to take this action, particularly during the popular Spring touring season. Please check this webpage for updates regarding this situation, or contact the White House Visitors Office 24 Hour Hotline at (202) 456-7041.


The White House Visitors Office
Once the story broke, Republicans and various pundits on the Right had a field day mocking the decision. It was, after all, easy enough to point to various other expenses that far exceeded the yearly cost of the tour program. President Obama's golf outings--like the one with Tiger Woods--were quickly targeted in this regard. In an attempt at damage control, the President tried some blame-shifting, suggesting that the Secret Service was responsible for the decision, that the Administration had no hand in it. This all fell apart fairly quickly, as the President's own press secretary directly contradicted the claim.

The whole thing was very obviously a political gambit; the Administration opted to cut the tour program in order to stir up emotions. And that's what happened, but not in the way the Administration assumed it would. It imagined people would be upset at the Republicans in Congress for letting the sequester happen and thereby causing things like this cancellation. But it didn't happen that way, at all.


Because what the Administration--and most of the Democrats in Congress--fail to realize is that people know the Federal Government spends too much money. People now take it as a given. Plus, information on the specific costs of various government actions, initiatives, and programs is freely available on the internet and elsewhere. Part of that is the consequence of Obama's own program. The Administration thought people would see the tour cancellations as something of a last straw, would think "My God, they're even cutting that! Imagine what else must be getting cut!" But again, people are aware of the reality. They've heard or read stories about government agencies blowing big money on trips to Vegas, about Congressional trips spanning the globe, about fat government contracts for very little work, about SEC employees surfing for porn eight hours a day, and about government programs that are chock full of waste and corruption.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Non-partisan partisans

I've devoted two previous pieces to the new organization known as Organizing for Action, an NPO established by former members of Obama's White House staff and his reelection team. Jim Messina--former White House Deputy Chief of Staff--is currently the national chairman of OFA, while Jon Carson--a key Obama insider who has served in a variety of below-the-radar positions--has just become the executive director. Board members of the org include Stephanie Cutter, Robert Gibbs, and David Plouffe. It's a veritable who's who of Obamaphiles.

And yet Jon Carson had the balls to say the following today (my boldface):
I want to say a word about what we aren’t: We are not a partisan organization. We are here to move this shared progressive agenda forward. We will advocate to Democrats to move that agenda forward. We will advocate to Republicans. But issues are our focus.
From the Organizing for Action website:
Organizing for Action is a nonprofit organization established to support President Obama in achieving enactment of the national agenda Americans voted for on Election Day 2012.
Taken together, this is some serious dishonesty. Americans did not vote for an agenda on Election Day, they voted for people, political candidates. And Obama won the Presidential Election. Obama did, not an agenda. Just because someone voted for him, it does not follow that the voter in question supports every position the President has, is in favor of every initiative the President offers. And the idea that an organization established by a group of hardcore partisans is not, itself, partisan in nature is just stupid.

Another bit from the OFA website, with reference to the Sequester:
Instead of closing a single tax loophole that benefits millionaires and large corporations, Republicans in Congress are choosing to cut vital services for children, seniors, and our men and women in uniform.
Any honest person in their right mind would obviously see the above as partisan rhetoric, no matter if they agreed or disagreed with it. Yet somehow, the group behind the rhetoric is supposed to be non-partisan? Really?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Carbon dioxide is a pollutant and sugar is a poison

In December 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that carbon dioxide--the stuff we animals breathe out--was an air pollutant (along with five other "greenhouse gases"), thus giving the EPA authority to regulate emissions of the same from motor vehicles and industrial sources. The finding was roundly mocked and objected to by various politicians and pundits on the right, but on June 26th of last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the finding in full:
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared that the agency was “unambiguously correct” that the Clean Air Act requires the federal government to impose limits once it has determined that emissions are causing harm... 
In addition to upholding the E.P.A.’s so-called endangerment finding, the court let stand related rules setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and limiting emissions from stationary sources.
With that, the EPA's attempted expansion of its own authority was affirmed and made permanent; carbon dioxide became a pollutant and by definition a gas harmful to man. And true enough, someone forced to breathe only carbon dioxide would most definitely die. But then again, so would anyone forced to breathe any other gas or mixture of gases that did not contain oxygen. To put this another way, every gas--aside from oxygen--can be seen as harmful, as deadly to man.

But the EPA's authority to regulate is limited--by the Clean Air Act--to gases and substances produced by industrial activity that are classed as pollutants. Steam (meaning water vapor only), for instance, is not classed as a pollutant (yet) so the EPA cannot set limits on how much is produced. Prior to the arrival of the Climate Change brigade, carbon dioxide was in the same class: as a common naturally occurring substance--as opposed to a toxic substance that was either only produced by industrial activity or did not occur naturally in meaningful/dangerous amounts--its production was beyond the authority of the EPA to regulate.

And that's the crux of the matter, right there. The argument for EPA authority hinges on the idea that too much carbon dioxide is being produced, so much in fact that it is responsible for global warming (which is automatically assumed to be a Bad Thing). If one accepts these last two assumptions, the EPA's position is a no-brainer, or at least that is what the DC Circuit determined.

But allowing that--just for the sake of argument--climate change was occurring specifically because too much carbon dioxide was being produced, outside of its "natural" production, is it really a no-brainer? Should the government, via the EPA, have the power to regulate it? Because carbon dioxide is not smog or smoke, let alone some kind of cancer-causing or skin-burning type of fume. Carbon dioxide is not, in fact, a toxic gas at all. Or at least it's not toxic in the way the term is usually understood and used.

There is, however, another idea of toxicity now informing the decisions of many people in power: something is toxic if long-term negative consequences can be associated with it. Carbon dioxide is toxic to man because it causes--or helps to cause--global warming, which could supposedly wipe out all of mankind.

And in that same boat, we also have--of all things--sugar. Not just the dastardly high fructose corn syrup kind, but also simple cane sugar and sugars that occur naturally in the fruits of various plants, as well. This is the fundamental basis of the large soda ban enacted in New York City by Mayor Bloomberg, the one that has been deemed invalid by a New York Judge. The Mayor's people, however, have vowed to appeal. They insist the health department has the right to institute such a ban because of the dangers posed by excessive sugar consumption. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? And that's because it's the same basic argument as that for controlling carbon dioxide: sugar can be regulated because it's toxic.

1.6 Billion rounds of nonsense

The current "big story": the Department of Homeland Security has supposedly ordered 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition, much of it of the hollow point variety. Here's an article at Forbes, of all places, talking about the order. Here's the cited source for the Forbes piece, the Denver Post.

But this is actually not a new story, it "broke" last year, though then it was 450 million round of ammo, not the current 1.6 billion:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office is getting an "indefinite delivery" of an "indefinite quantity" of .40 caliber ammunition from defense contractor ATK.  
U.S. agents will receive a maximum of 450 million rounds over five years, according to a press release on the deal.
Here is the press release--from ATK--that was the basis for this story last year. It was issued on March 12th--exactly a year ago--and it says:
ATK (NYSE: ATK) announced that it is being awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) agreement from the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS, ICE) for .40 caliber ammunition. This contract features a base of 12 months, includes four option years, and will have a maximum volume of 450 million rounds.
For those unfamiliar with government contract language, this is a standard IDIQ contract, common for government suppliers of all sorts. It means that the government is not actually ordering a specific quantity for a delivery at a specific time, Rather, it's a contract for whatever amount the government desires within a specific time frame. In this case, the maximum number of rounds that the government is allowed to buy under this contract is 450 million. Why is the contract structured in this manner? First, because the high maximum gives the government the best price and allows the company to trumpet the contract with a press release like the one above. Second, because it allows the government to receive the order in batches, as opposed to getting it all at once. Thus, it doesn't have to commit additional resources to store whatever goods are being ordered.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dumbest case ever before a Supreme Court

The Supreme Court we're talking about here is not the Supreme Court, rather it's merely a State Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of the State of New York to be precise. And actually, it's not a supreme court, as we usually understand the term, at all. In New York, the Supreme Court is just the trial level court. Anyone who has ever watched Law and Order probably realizes this, as cases are always before a Supreme Court (Part something or other). Still, it's a long way from simple traffic court.

The case we're talking about is New York Statewide Coalition v. New York City Board of Health and Human Hygiene, et al. Doesn't ring any bells? It's a lawsuit filed by a number of groups and businesses in the State contesting Mayor Bloomberg's ordinance banning the sale of soft drinks in sizes larger than sixteen ounces. Judge Milton Tingling in the Manhattan Supreme Court ruled today that the ordinance was invalid, that it is unconstitutional because it is "arbitrary and capricious."

Judge Tingling went into great detail in his thirty-six page ruling, noting how the application of the ordinance was so inconsistent as to make it wholly ineffective, with regard to its stated purpose, even if it was valid. For the ordinance does not apply to all businesses selling soft drinks larger than 16 ounces, but only to restaurants, proper, and vendor carts. Grocery stores--many of which sell fountain drinks--would be exempt, as would all 7-11 stores. This is because of a Memorandum of Understanding ( a MOU) that exists between the State's Department of Health and the State's Department of Agriculture. Basically, this agreement established that certain businesses--like grocery stores and 7-11's--which fall under the latter's jurisdiction would still be inspected by health departments because of their hybrid nature (7-11, for instance, sells food like a restaurant but also sells produce and dry goods), but would be exempt from ordinances specific to businesses under the jurisdiction of the Health Department.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Samira Ibrahim: Bigotry in the face of Courage

Time Magazine publishes an annual list of the "The World's 100 Most Influential People." In the 2012 version--the most recent one--one of the names on it is none other than that of Samira Ibrahim, Egyptian activist for women's rights, who became something of an icon in 2011 because of what happened to her and other women during protests at Tahrir Square. The military forcefully ended many of these protests, including the one on March 9th, 2011, the one attended by Ms. Ibrahim. She was--along with other women there--reportedly beaten, strip-searched, and then subjected to a "virginity test," supposedly to prevent her from later crying rape.

She was around twenty-four years old at the time of this humiliating, degrading, and unjustifiable experience. And she spoke out about it. She sued the military; her case was actually heard in court. But the military "doctor" who performed the test was ultimately acquitted. No surprise there. Nonetheless, Ms. Ibrahim vowed to pursue the matter in international courts.

This is courage. There's no way around it. This is why Time selected her for the list. Her write-up for Time's piece on the list was penned by Charlize Theron, Hollywood actress, frequent political activist, and UN Messenger of Peace. Ms. Theron writes:
When I first heard Samira's story, it moved me. Not simply because of the abhorrent injustice she experienced but also because of her bravery to speak the truth and to face those who would tell her to stay quiet. It takes a strong person to stand up for what is right in the face of ostracism and public scrutiny. Samira represents the model of how to stand up to fear, and the impact she has made reaches far beyond Egypt. It takes just one woman to speak out, and thousands of others around the world will listen and feel inspired to act.
It's a strong statement and, I believe, factually and editorially correct. To stand up and speak out in a country ruled more often than not by martial law, in a culture where women are routinely treated as second class citizens is no small thing, is no common thing. Ms. Ibrahim--at the time--was rightfully praised, justly compared to past historical figures whose bravery inspired others and sometimes represented a touchstone of change.

Fast-forward to 2013 and the annual International Women of Courage Awards (a annual award presented by the U.S. State Department). The awards were established in 2007 by Condoleezza Rise and are given out on International Women's Day (March 8th) every year. Ms. Ibrahim was originally scheduled to receive one of these awards, along with nine other women. But at the last moment, the State Department decided to postpone hers, even thought she has already been flown in to Washington, DC (at taxpayer expense, of course). Why?

Friday, March 8, 2013

The "great" jobs report

Over at WaPo's Wonkblog, the resident economics expert, Neil Irwin, put up a typical piece--with regard to the mainstream media, anyway--extolling the virtues of the BLS jobs report for February. Cleverly titled Great news on jobs: Unemployment rate falls to 7.7%, 236k added to payrolls, the piece opens with the following:
The latest report on the state of the U.S. job market offered good news all around, the best reading in months on the state of the economy.
Well, alllllright! Good news all around! It's the first time we've heard such a thing since, well, the January jobs report. But wait a moment, what's this I espy in today's story, just a few lines below the "good news all around"? Why, it's the following:
The details of the Labor Department’s report, released Friday, are not uniformly rose-colored. For example, part of the decline in unemployment was caused by the labor force shrinking and people no longer looking for work.
The stupidity, the lack of critical thinking, the oh-so-obvious partisan posturing is apparent. Look at these two quotes again. First, the report is "good news all around," then it's suddenly "not uniformly rose-colored" (a literary way of saying "the news isn't all good"). Why would Irwin do this? What's the point?

Obviously, he wants to trumpet the jobs report because he's a partisan hack, so he opens with the glory. At the same time, he doesn't want to get called on his obvious over-statement, so he quickly hedges his bets, because he actually knows that the report isn't really "good news all around," nowhere close to that, in fact. Shameful. Simply shameful.

Let's be clear: there is some positive news in this jobs report, but the dropping unemployment rate is not really all that good. Why? Because as Irwin admits, the rate fell party (mostly) because the labor force participation rate fell once again. From the BLS:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Boko Haram update

Over a year ago, I wrote a piece entitled Numb to violence. Ostensibly it was about an Islamic sect known as Boko Haram (which literally means "western education forbidden") operating in northeastern Nigeria, but was actually using the actions of that group as an example of how we--in the West--are largely oblivious to daily stories of horror, of barbaric action, in other parts of the world. But now I'd like to turn back to that page and focus on Boko Haram, proper.

Boko Harum has been operating in Nigeria since the beginning of the twenty-first century and authorities believe it is responsible for as many as 10,000 deaths. Many of those deaths are government forces incurred in military skirmishes against Boko Haram, but many more are innocent civilians, executed by Boko Haram operatives for a variety of reasons, usually having something to do with the West or Christianity. Case in point, a largely ignored (by the mainstream media) story came out of Nigeria this week involving the execution of some thirteen factory workers by members of Boko Haram in Kano province:
Reports said terrorists stormed the residence of the factory workers at the weekend and killed all the men except, sparing the women and children..  
“The occupants of that compound are mostly factory workers, and they are Christians. The gun men who came in taxi asked if they were not observing the evening Muslim prayers; and when they confirmed their victims were Christians, they started killing them sparing only the female and children.  
“After the attack, I counted at least 13 dead bodies murdered in gruesome manner. Security agencies later came and evacuated them, while the very few of them who survived the attack fled the area and vowed never to return,” said a resident of the area.
Thirteen dead men, guilty of naught but being Christian, workers in a local factory trying to provide for their now-devastated families. I have no idea who these men were, really. There are no pictures and no names to put together in this regard, just lines of text declaring their senseless deaths.

Out of ammo

It's quiet out there. Too quiet.

Last night, the twitterverse was momentarily overrun with #WhyRepublicansNeedToGo, a hashtag that was intended to solicit negative tweets about Republicans. And that it did, but not in a sufficient number to push it into the Twitter "trends." That required some help from the other side of the political spectrum, from people using the hashtag to mock the left (and from people on neither side mocking all, to be fair). A sample:
  Whoever created this ignorant hashtag is on food stamps. 
  because they stand in the way of Obama killing Americans on our soil. Who are they to question his power? 
  Democrats.. Why would you say such a thing? You need us around to provide for you. 
  so chairman Obama can trample the constitution unimpeded 
My own offerings to the theme:
  to the bathroom so often? They keep drinking water during speeches... 
  Because they're getting in the way of a socialist utopia. 
  Allah said so.
Yeah I know, comic genius I'm not. The "Grumpy Cat" one, by the way, has been re-tweeted over three thousand times. But this hashtag was competing with #StandWithRand (which is still trending, by the way). It was offered up to counter the widespread--if somewhat misguided, in my opinion--support Senator Paul was getting for his filibuster.

And today, in and around pundit town, there's a noticeable scarcity of anti-Republican and anti-conservative screeds on new issues. At MotherJones, there's a story about how climate change is responsible for violence in Syria. Salon is publicly taking Jon Stewart to task for his "cowardice," while the much-vaunted MaddowBlog is busy implying that Rand Paul is some sort of Nazi, even as it kinda, sorta applauds his filibuster.

The White House, meanwhile, is noticeably quiet as it licks its wounds from the post-sequester fallout, after getting called on a series of lies in this regard. The lack of total economic collapse is obviously something it was not prepared to deal with.

And this all indicates a serious flaw in the leftist playbook: it's lost without a bogey-man. There has to be a villain to direct anger towards, to use in summoning the outrage train. Right now, the best candidate for such vilification is Eric Holder, but he's one of the "good guys," so that won't work. What to do, what to do...

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Back to Drone-town

Yesterday, Senator Rand Paul released a letter he received from Attorney General Eric Holder on the subject of drone strikes against U.S. citizens. Paul has been pestering the White House's nominee to head the CIA--John Brennan--about this issue for a while now and is still threatening to block the nomination. The letter from Holder was in direct response to a question Paul asked in a February 20th letter to Brennan. It's worth quoting both in full.

This is what Paul sent to Brennan (my boldface):
Dear Mr. Brennan,

In consideration of your nomination to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), I have repeatedly requested that you provide answers to several questions clarifying your role in the approval of lethal force against terrorism suspects, particularly those who are U.S. citizens. Your past actions in this regard, as well as your view of the limitations to which you are subject, are of critical importance in assessing your qualifications to lead the CIA. If it is not clear that you will honor the limits placed upon the Executive Branch by the Constitution, then the Senate should not confirm you to lead the CIA.

During your confirmation process in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), committee members have quite appropriately made requests similar to questions I raised in my previous letter to you-that you expound on your views on the limits of executive power in using lethal force against U.S. citizens, especially when operating on U.S. soil. In fact, the Chairman of the SSCI, Sen. Feinstein, specifically asked you in post-hearing questions for the record whether the Administration could carry out drone strikes inside the United States. In your response, you emphasized that the Administration “has not carried out” such strikes and “has no intention of doing so.” I do not find this response sufficient.

The question that I and many others have asked is not whether the Administration has or intends to carry out drone strikes inside the United States, but whether it believes it has the authority to do so. This is an important distinction that should not be ignored.

Just last week, President Obama also avoided this question when posed to him directly. Instead of addressing the question of whether the Administration could kill a U.S. citizen on American soil, he used a similar line that “there has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil.” The evasive replies to this valid question from the Administration have only confused the issue further without getting us any closer to an actual answer.

For that reason, I once again request you answer the following question: Do you believe that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial?

I believe the only acceptable answer to this is no.

Until you directly and clearly answer, I plan to use every procedural option at my disposal to delay your confirmation and bring added scrutiny to this issue and the Administration’s policies on the use of lethal force. The American people are rightfully concerned, and they deserve a frank and open discussion on these policies.
This is the response from Holder, on behalf of Brennan (my boldface):

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Administration: we're gonna make this hurt, even if it doesn't have to.

The Washington Times has uncovered something that may turn into one massive headache for the Obama Administration. Apparently, an official in the Raleigh offices of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)--an agency in the USDA that monitors plant an animal health in the U.S., particularly with regard to invasive species--sent off a simple e-mail to someone higher up the food chain, someone in DC, asking about sequester cuts. Specifically, this official asked "if there was any latitude" in how the cuts for APHIS would be applied. Apparently, the official was worried about the effect of cuts on fish inspections. He received this response to his rather reasonable query:
We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else that ‘APHIS would eliminate assistance to producers in 24 states in managing wildlife damage to the aquaculture industry, unless they provide funding to cover the costs.’ So it is our opinion that however you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be.
The Washington Times has not named the official or the office who sent the above reply, presumably because it is awaiting a response in that regard. But the message to the APHIS official in Raleigh is crystal clear: the "aquaculture industry" needs to suffer, the cuts need to have a serious impact there because that is what we [the Administration] said would happen. There's really no other way to take this message. It's clearly coming from the Administration and it's clearly saying that whatever flexibility exists, with regard to sequester cuts, it cannot be allowed to contradict any public claims made by the Administration.

In short, the Administration will not allow itself to look foolish here, no matter what. If, for instance, APHIS officials had a plan to cut their budgets that would not have serious repercussions on things like fish inspection, that instead maybe targeted unnecessary and wasteful spending, such a plan would not be allowed because it would make it look like the Administration had misrepresented the consequences of the sequester.

2016: Bush v. Clinton. Really?

Jeb Bush, speaking with Matt Lauer on the Today Show yesterday, said he wouldn't rule out running for President in 2016. And I guess if he were to run--and win the nomination--would could very well have a repeat of 1992, at least in name, given that Hillary Clinton seems to very much be the front runner on the Democratic side.

Frankly, I think that sucks.

There are things I like about Jeb Bush--he was the governor of my State, so I know whereof I speak--and things I don't like. Chief among the former is his ability to manage crisis situations, evidenced time and again during Hurricane seasons when Jeb's response to such storms put the responses of other leaders in other States--and in Florida--to shame. That's no small thing. As much heat as his brother caught for Katrina, Jeb has gotten almost nothing but praise in one situation after another. Chief among the latter--the things I don't like about him--was his interjection of the State into the Terri Schiavo case. But that's ancient history and I have no intention of going into it now.

Hillary Clinton? I'm not a fan. People who make up stories about landing at an airport under heavy sniper then having to run for cover across the tarmac are not people I'm generally willing to trust. That said, she's a competent politician, as far as Washington, D.C. goes. And really, a Hillary Clinton presidency would probably have been preferable in many ways to the one we have had for the past four plus years. As the Secretary of State, her record has its ups and downs, no doubt, but most would again allow that at the very least she has been a competent one.

So what, then, is the problem with another Bush v. Clinton? Simple, it's a horrible trend. Honestly, I wan't happy about Bush being the Republican nominee in 2000, but given the alternative--McCain--I accepted it. And in the 2000 Election, Gore was most definitely not someone I would ever support (for the record, I voted for Bill Clinton, not once but twice, and think I made the right choice to this day). Still, the son of a previous President being elected President, it's not anywhere close to being the ideal. Exactly the opposite, in fact.