Monday, January 31, 2011

From Here On, You Sleep On The Couch

Pictured are my two junior assistants, Niko the Wonder Pup and Beegee the Crack Kitten, arguing over territory on my living room couch after having been evicted from my bedroom. Senior Assistant Kitty Kelly has her claws planted so deep into the mattress that she'll never be ousted. This chaos is all the result of the latest revelation about the danger of sleeping with your pets (your snickers are being ignored).

Who knew those innocent faces were out to kill me? AOL Senior Public Health Correspondent Andrew Schneider has saved billions of lives by warning us of this dangerous practice. Oh, sure, he admits that the benefits of living that closely with your pets are well known. Scientific evidence which is essentially undisputed has proven that being close to our pets relieves human stress, decreases cholesterol and triglyceride levels, increases human immune functions, and gives our hearts a healthy dose of love. It is one of the few successful methods of home relief of traumatic stress disorder among returning fighting men and women exposed to the horrors of the battlefield.

But what is any of that compared to the risk of contracting zoonoses? No, that's not a nasal disease you get from visiting the zoo--it's a disease transmitted from animals to humans. Now this guy is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, so what he says must be true, right? He craftily avoided discussing whether you can get a zoonose from polar bears, so can the junk science chatter. Here's the proof: "The risk for transmission of zoonotic agents by close contact between pets and their owners through bed-sharing, kissing, or licking is real and has even been documented for life-threatening infections such as plague, internal parasites, [and most sinister of all] other serious diseases." He was delicate enough not to mention the dangers of having sex with your pets on your bed.

What makes this even scarier is that his report is going to be published by the Centers for Disease Control. Once a federal agency is involved, can the bed police be far behind? The Supreme Court has said that we have a right to privacy and the right to sleep with whomever we wish without governmental interference, but who knows if that applies to sleeping with Fido or Puff? Let alone with Fido and Puff.

The author cited three worldwide examples to prove his thesis. Three's a lot, isn't it? I know it's a crowd. One was a 9 year old in Arizona who got the plague. He regularly slept with his cat. A man and his wife developed a serious staph infection. They routinely slept with their dog in the bed, and, God help us all, the dog frequently licked their faces. In far-off Japan, a woman contracted meningitis. She had kissed her dog's face. "Concurrence is not causation" you say? You're the same kind of people who denied that breast implants were a direct cause of cancer and got saccharin removed from the market because it causes cancer in rats in high doses (rather than the simple fact that it left a really bad aftertaste).

The study had a full set of other cases where the closeness to pets may or may not have caused a serious human infection, but hey, we have to err on the side of caution. And of course there's the well-known worldwide deadly epidemic of cat-scratch fever (which can also be caused by overexposure to Ted Nugent, but that's another story). The disease largely affects children (the children! the children!), and about 20,000 contract the disease annually worldwide. It can be deadly, but that same CDC has absolutely no figures to show how many deaths have actually occurred in the industrial West.

The CDC's own website reports that "although animals can carry germs, it is important to know that you are more likely to get some of these germs from contaminated food or water than from your pet or any other animal you encounter." Oh, swell, that means I can't eat or drink in bed anymore either.

About 84% of pet owners report that their pets sleep with them at night. Schneider and the CDC are currently revising a certain hockey-stick graph to fit the horrendous increase in deadly disease transmission from exhaled pet CO2, and will then turn the information over to the EPA and Al Gore for further action and regulaton. So kiss Fido good bye (figuratively of course), and wish a fond farewell to Puff, and send them off to the back yard or laundry room at night. It's a matter of life or death. And just who the hell is that giggling in the background?
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Riot Like An Egyptian

Egypt is dominating the news these days, for good reason. Egypt lies at a strategically key location, with much of the world’s trade still passing through the Suez Canal. It shares a border with Israel. It remains a key battlefront in the war between secularists and fundamentalist Islam. And whether we like it or not, we are deeply involved in what is going on in Egypt. Here’s your primer on Egypt.

1. A Brief History. The current problems with Egypt began when General Muhammad Naguib overthrew British puppet King Farouk and declared a Republic in 1953. At that point, many Egyptians were hoping for democratic rule, but the army had other plans. Naguib was forced to resign the following year by Gamal Abdel Nasser, who tossed out the British and allied Egypt with the Soviet Union, introducing socialism. His replacement, Anwar Sadat expelled the Soviets in 1972 and allied Egypt with the United States, but he also imposed a policy of violently repressing all opposition. Sadat was assassinated in 1981, after entering into a peace treaty with Israel. His vice president, General Hosni Mubarak, took over and remains in charge until now.

In the last few years, Mubarak began losing popular support. Although a rich country, Egypt’s wealth is held by a few well-connected allies of Mubarak, with most of the population being unemployed and living in abject poverty. Political opponents are routinely jailed, and Mubarak has held numerous fake elections, often running unopposed after declaring opposing political parties illegal. He is the classic Middle Eastern strongman, relying on the military and the secret police to maintain his rule.

On January 14th of this year, the people of Tunisia rose up and overthrew their own strongman, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The surprising success of this revolution (caveat “success” in that no new government has yet been established), triggered the imaginations of the Arab world. When Egyptians heard of this, they took to the streets. Look for Jordan to be next.

2. Why Egypt Matters. Egypt matters to the United States for several reasons. First, the Suez Canal sits in Egypt. Much of the world’s trade travels through it. Secondly, Egypt borders on Israel, and has been an important player in trying to keep arms out of the hands of the Palestinians. Third, Egypt is the home of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that basically spawned modern Islamic terrorism. This last point is particularly important. If Egypt becomes like Taliban-Afghanistan, war between Egypt and Israel will be inevitable, and we will be drawn in. Moreover, the 20% of the population who are Coptic Christians may find themselves in the middle of a genocide, just as the Christians in Sudan found themselves.

3. What Are The Alternatives. Right now, the alternatives are the problem.
1. Mubarak could stay, though I think that’s impossible, and would just put off the inevitable. He just appointed a successor after refusing to do so for years, in the hopes of staving off the protestors. The successor, Omar Suleiman, runs the intelligence service. Prior to this, Mubarak was believed to have been planning to appoint his son, who has now fled the country. But this has not satisfied the protestors and it’s unlikely anyone Mubarak chooses will be allowed to stay in power.

2. The West is hoping the government voluntarily hands over power to Mohammed Elbaradei, who they stupidly believe to be a Western-style democrat waiting to happen. You might remember Elbaradei as the head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, where he routinely claimed that Iran was not building nuclear weapons. He also lobbied against sanctions and demanded that if Iran could not have nuclear weapons, then Israel should be forced to give theirs up as well.

3. Elbaradei is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, who seek to convert Egypt into an Islamic regime; although he’s not a member, Elbaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood have apparently cut some sort of deal. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is now active in 80 countries around the world, is the root of Islamic terrorism today. Their creed is: “God is our objective; the Koran is our law; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”

Unfortunately, they have been very good at lobbying and many Western patsies, including Bush Administration and Obama Administration people, have fallen for the line that the Muslim Brotherhood is a peaceful group. They have even claimed that somehow their “moderation” has made them the enemies of “extremists” like al Qaeda. The line pushed most often by their patsies is “they aren’t dangerous.” Expect to hear a lot of that until this issue is over.

4. A competing group is called the Kifaya movement, which is supposed to be a group of intellectuals who are demanding “liberal, democracy.” That sounds good, except this group is anti-Semitic and anti-American. They were formed as a protest movement against Israel’s handling of the Palestinians, and they have since protested both Israel and America’s involvement in the Middle East. In 2006, they campaigned to get a million Egyptians to sign a petition demanding that Egypt renounce its peace treaty with Israel.
Ultimately, however, I think none of these groups matter. The army will decide who runs the country. The problem with the Army is their increasingly horrible relations with the US. Because of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, the United States has been providing billions of dollars in aid each year to Egypt and the Egyptian military. As a matter of official policy, the American and Egyptian militaries are very friendly and work together on most issues. However, as was revealed in diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, the reality is quite different. Neither military trusts the other and the Egyptians have refused American entreaties to reform, clean up corruption, and refocus on fighting terrorism. Instead, the Egyptian military continues to consider Israel its primary enemy, and joint operations and contacts between the Egyptians and the Americans have all but stopped.

4. Why Think The Army Will Win?. Right now we are seeing all kinds of signs the Army is planning to replace Mubarak. First, when the protests began, the Army let the police be overwhelmed. They did not step in to stop the looting or killing initially. This, smartly, turned the public against both the protestors (who even looted museums) and the police, and shook Mubarak’s regime. When Mubarak called out the secret police, and they began shooting at protestors, the Army sent tanks to stand between the two groups, which again makes them public heroes. When the violence finally died down, the Army came out in force, but has refused to suppress the crowds or enforce a curfew. This puts the Army firmly in the position of being the only institution that appears to have remained neutral, pro-public and nonviolent. That gives the Army credibility, which carries with it the ability to play kingmaker, especially since the Army holds all the levers of power in the country.

If I’m reading this correctly, look for the Army to replace Mubarak sometime this week, probably with a national government of reconciliation, which is likely to be little more than a puppet government. I think the model being pursued here is that of the Turkish governments of the 1950s - 1980s. If I’m right, this may actually turn out to be a good thing, provided they (1) gain sufficient popular support to keep their legitimacy, (2) they manage to keep the Islamic fundamentalists from gaining influence, and (3) they work to reform the country to make it more stable and democratic.

5. American Involvement. Finally, here’s our involvement. When this first happened, there didn’t appear to be an American link, except that we’ve been pouring money into Egypt since the 1970s. However, the other day a handful of diplomatic cables were released by Wikileaks which show the US State Department discussing a plan with dissidents in 2008 to throw out the Mubarak government in 2011. There is no evidence yet that the US took any steps in that regard, except lobbying Mubarak to release dissidents from prison. But if more comes to light, this could put us very deeply into this.

And if this is true, it’s highly stupid to start a revolution without a plan to put something better in place, which we clearly don’t have.

Obama’s role in all of this is somewhat suspect. When the crisis hit, Obama tried to walk the line between supporting both sides. But as it became clearer the protestors are likely to win, Obama’s people started putting out word that Obama was instrumental in causing this -- something for which there is no evidence. Hillary Clinton has now all but called for the removal of Mubarak, long after it’s clear he will be leaving -- though the "all but" part has angered Elbaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood. Unfortunately, Obama's actions seems like front-running now and may be too little too late, no matter who ultimately prevails.

Also, politically, Obama stands to gain nothing but grief no matter how this turns out -- so don't expect him to show a lot of nerve. Americans care little for overseas events and care even less for this part of the world. Thus, even if Egypt turns out rainbows and unicorns, this is unlikely to impress American voters. But if things turn ugly, people will remember Obama’s newest claims of all-but causing this revolution.


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Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Double Standard?

The New York Times never disappoints. Back in December, there was a huge flap over the Smithsonian showing of a gay fantasy/homoerotic porn fest passing as art and capped by a continuous loop video of the crucified Christ being covered by crawling ants. Naturally, the Times couldn't understand what we rubes objected to, and gave the exhibit high marks.

For my discussion of the exhibit, see: Smithsonian. In its inimitably oafish way, the Times made the exhibit into a freedom of expression issue rather than an exercise in disgustingly bad taste on the taxpayers' and donors' money. The senile Gray Lady simply couldn't see how this could be offensive to people who consider Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and Savior of the World, nor why their reaction was so vocal and effective. The Smithsonian gave in to massive public pressure and removed the video from the public exhibit.

Not one to allow a juicy issue to die a well-deserved death, Times writer and media critic Michael Kimmelman last week decided to revivify the controversy and add the other favorite Times prejudice that Americans are ignorant rustics and religious zealots in comparison with our overseas brethren. The article discussed how much more reasonable our English friends are, and to emphasize his point, he reprinted a clip from the video showing the ants crawling all over the crucifix.

Kimmelman further exhibited his blissful ignorance by entitling the article "In Britain, Separation of Art and State." You see, all of this was triggered by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough's attempt to cleanse his soul in Los Angeles by trying to explain his failure to keep the crawling ants in the exhibition. Not enough sackcloth and ashes to suit Kimmelman. To Kimmelman, Clough was an unforgivable apostate who caved in to pressure from a government interfering with art.

The Smithsonian is not a purely government institution, though it exists in a public building and receives large sums of federal taxpayers' money. It is in reality at least equally a venerable public institution designed to exhibit the best of American arts and culture. And the big negative reaction was almost entirely from the public, with politicians bringing up the rear. Still, Kimmelman frames the comparison as if the removal of the ants was purely a political action resulting in government censorship at a government edifice.

So Kimmelman praises the pure art appreciation of the Brits and the complete independence of the artists from the government. Say what? The exhibit that Kimmelman is praising took place at the very governmentally owned and operated Tate Modern [Museum]. He praises the Brits for their easygoing attitude toward anti-religious art. He continues his arrant ramble with a jab at Rudy Giuliani by comparing the recent controversy with the "piss Christ" and Virgin Mary with elephant dung outrages a few years back. What Rep. Cantor has done is the same as when New York "went through much the same paroxysm of orchestrated grief over a work combining an image of the Virgin Mary with elephant dung." Note the words "paroxysm" and "orchestrated grief."

So just for fun, let's take a look at how Kimmelman feels about anti-religious art on alternate days of the week. Having dealt with the horror of angry Christians objecting to homosexual sado-masochistic "art" by speaking out and demanding removal of the offensive piece, how does Kimmelman feel about simple, cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, founder of the religion of peace?

On February 8, 2006, Kimmelman refused to defend the freedom of expression of a Danish newspaper which printed cartoons of Mohammed. He ignored the violent worldwide reaction of the practitioners of the religion of peace to the publication of the cartoons. He ignored the several deaths resulting from the violent protests. And then, in typical fashion, he defended the refusal of the Times to print any of the cartoons, even when the articles were trying to explain the underlying "art." Though he could find all sorts of justification for full public exposure at a national museum on the taxpayers' money of a degrading video of Christianity's central figure, he could find no reason why the Times should reprint "callous and feeble cartoons" of the very human founder of the religion of peace. Apparently, Kimmelman felt they had neither artistic nor news value.

Kimmelman's article is just another example of the elite, pseudo-intellectual snobbery of the Times. But worse than that, it's an example of its hatred of all things American combined with the purest of hypocrisy. It will also someday be just another milestone on the road to the gravestone of what was once "America's newspaper of record."

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Debt Ceiling Vote Coming Up

We are about to reach a moment that might determine whether America survives or becomes just another economic footnote to history. Will the Republicans and a few moderate Democrats impose conditions on raising the debt ceiling, or will this be another "bipartisan" love-fest?

Defaulting on our debt is not a realistic option, but raising the debt limit without major spending cuts is fiscal suicide. Recently, I've noticed that even people who should know better are repeating the mantra that the spending cuts must come from the White House. It's being said in a way that indicates they don't understand the basic principle that the power of the purse is in the House of Representatives, and custom over the past century doesn't change the fundamentals of the Constitution. A few seem to have a glimmer of understanding in that they think that it is politically preferable for the White House to propose the cuts. That assumes that across-the-boards cuts will be unpopular and the Republicans will take a big hit because of it.

At best, it seems to me that the reason that conservatives and moderate-conservative Republicans took over the House in the recent election has been forgotten. Getting our financial house in order was the number one issue for Republican, Independent and conservative voters. Not the wars. Not civil rights. Not the environment. The economy. The voters know that we're being buried in debt, spending is out-of-control, and our very survival is at stake. And despite President Obama's State of the Union attempt at obfuscation, they know that when a Democrat says "investment," he means "government spending."

Rather than think for a minute that attaching spending cuts to a vote to raise the debt ceiling would be a negative, honest thinking Republicans have to realize that the public would thank them loudly. But even if the public didn't, it's the right thing to do. If it isn't done, we will indenture ourselves and our children to foreign nations like China and assure the collapse of America's economic leadership. So to hell with political received wisdom and 2012 re-election campaigns. It's time for Republicans to bite the bullet, quit worrying about perceived popularity, and require drastic spending cuts in exchange for a positive vote on raising the debt ceiling.

To belabor the obvious, if they wait for the White House to propose anything faintly resembling meaningful spending cuts, the Republicans will end up looking like Charlie Brown believing that Lucy really isn't going to pull that football out from under him at the last second. Obama and the Democrats genuinely believe that government spending leads to wealth-creation and social justice, and they're not going to give up that belief without a fight. So--let's fight.

There also seems to be a strong hint of timidity among Republicans who see the current situation as being the same as when they were blamed for shutting down the government during the Clinton administration. This is nothing like that. The public has spoken. It wants fiscal responsibility, and it chose the Republicans to implement their wishes. Unlike the Clinton situation, this time the Republicans have the upper hand. Spending (and cutting) originates in the House, and the Young Turks have a plan. They have the will of the public and the economic figures on their side. If they propose large yet realistic spending cuts and the Democrats reject them, Obama and the progressives will take the hit in the public eye.

Right now, Republican Representatives Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Jim Jordan of Ohio have prepared a framework of cuts in the Spending Reduction Act of 2011 that would save $2.5 trillion over ten years. That's not nearly enough to get us out of debt, but it's a damned fine start. And the cuts are realistic as well as comprehensible to the average voter who is neither a politician nor a policy wonk. It's the kind of plan that takes bold steps to reduce our debt and also takes the initiative away from the Democrats who continue to paint the Republicans as the "party of no."

This is not the time for Republicans to be timid, or predictably wait to say "no" to ludicrous proposals from the White House. It's High Noon, and it's time to get out onto the street, challenge the bully, and win the day. Defeat is an orphan, but victory has a thousand offspring. Taking the initiative now, and winning, would start that familiar momentum that pushes former losers into victory after victory. And if it requires telling the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams to sit down, shut up, and get with the program--so be it.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Film Friday: Moon (2009)

Moon is a lost opportunity. It’s not a bad film and you will probably enjoy it, but it could have been so much more. Why? Because Moon centers around a twist that gets exposed early in the film, and rather than explore any of the large number of interesting consequences of that twist, the film just spends the rest of its run time telling you what you already knew about the twist.

** heavy spoiler alert **

Before we begin, let me state very clearly that to discuss this film requires me to delve into the twist and how it’s resolved. So if you haven’t seen the film, go see it first, then come back and comment. . . always comment! ;-)

Moon is the story of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell -- Galaxy Quest), an employee of LUNAR, a company that provides 70% of the Earth’s energy needs. LUNAR does this by mining the moon for helium-3. Sam is the sole operator of the moon base that overseas the mining operation. Watching over Sam is GERTY 3000, the base’s computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey).

As Sam nears the end of his three year contract, he is injured in an accident. Shortly thereafter, we discover the twist -- Sam is a clone, and doesn’t know it. We discover this when a second Sam is awakened to take the place of the injured one, who is presumed dead. He then discovers Sam 1 and the two Sams try to figure out what is going on. Soon they learn there are hundreds of frozen Sams in the basement.

As plot twists go, this is pretty good. And in line with what I’ve said before about good twists, this twist is organic to the story, i.e. it doesn’t feel tacked on. That's good. But ultimately, this twist feels flat because the film fails to exploit it. Indeed, making the Sams aware of each other creates fertile ground for some pretty interesting storytelling, but Moon fails to addresses any of the issues that raises. Instead, the film spends the next hour reminding you over and over of the twist. Specifically, the two Sams spend their time slowly figuring out things you already knew from the twist itself. For example, they discover the other Sams, that original Sam went back to Earth, that their communications with Earth are artificially jammed by the company, that the used Sams are eliminated, that GERTY knows the truth, and that the company will kill them if the company discovers they have met. But none of this is the least bit surprising. How else could such an operation be handled? If you ship the Sams from Earth, then what would be the point in sending clones, i.e. where are the cost savings? If GERTY didn’t know, how could it wake the new Sams? If the communications weren’t jammed, how could the company maintain the information blackout? None of this is a revelation or all that interesting.

What would have been interesting would have been to follow up on any of the numerous issues raised by the twist itself. For example:

(1) What am I? This is a classic science fiction question. What does it do to your self-image/understanding to suddenly realize you’re a clone or that you have a clone? These are fertile areas for an examination of the self, i.e. what makes us who we are or what makes us human (see, e.g. Blade Runner). But Moon doesn’t go into that. Instead, Sam 1 half-heartedly refuses to believe he’s a clone for some time and then acts like a spoiled child, while Sam 2 acts kind of bored.

(2) Can two clones get along? Would two identical clones get along? Or would they hate each other? Would we really like ourselves once we saw a live, third-person version of ourselves? Heck, would we even recognize ourselves (other than physically of course)? Again, Moon doesn’t tell us. Indeed, despite being the only two people on this very small moon base and being thrown into the middle of something monumental, they barely interact with each other, even after they realize the company is likely sending people to kill them.

(3) How will GERTY 3000 (read: HAL 9000) react? 2001 has fascinated the world for forty years because we want to understand why HAL did what he did. GERTY is given the perfect moment for an existential crisis: his programming is to “protect Sam,” but now he’s confronted with multiple Sams with conflicting interests. Who does he choose? How does he decide? Again, Moon takes the easy way out and GERTY never sees a conflict.

(4) What’s does the company do now? The company spent billions of dollars setting up this elaborate hoax. What will the company do when it discovers the Sams uncovered their hoax? What are their options, how do they resolve that decision? We don’t know. Moon takes the easy way out and finds a reason the company doesn’t know the Sams have met.

(5) What about the moral questions? What are the moral implications for the company? What are the moral implications for the real Sam Bell, who let the company clone him and use the clones in this way? Because of him, these Sams think they have a wife and daughter. Presumably, both he and the company knew the clones would be killed after three years, is that wrong? Do the Sams have a responsibility to the Sams in the basement? Are they even alive yet as they haven’t woken up? And if the awake Sams don’t owe anything to the frozen Sams, what does that say about the company’s responsibility to the awake Sams? There is much here to consider, any of which would have added significant depth to this film. But Moon glosses over all of it.

In the end, Moon is a film with a neat twist and a lot of potential. The plot is strong enough to be entertaining. The atmospherics are good (kind of like Solaris). The effects are great -- models, not CGI. The soundtrack is pretty good too, very standard Clint Mansell. But the film could have been so much more. This film could have been Blade Runner meets 2001 meets Outland, but it never dreamed big enough. Some of the critics complained about the lack of action, but it wasn’t action this film needed, it needed depth and vision. It needed to address the issues it teed up. . . but it didn’t.

And that’s why even though this was a good film, it was a totally disappointing film too.

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!

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For Public Safety, We Need An Olive Pit Ban

Pictured is Dennis Kucinich (D-Mars). He is feeling under the weather since suffering severe physical injury in the very literal heart of American government. As you can see from the picture, the injury that was wrought upon him in 2008 has caused severe deterioration of his handsome face. The lawsuit was far too sophisticated to be handled by the offices of James Sokolove and didn't involve asbestos anyway, but Dennis the Menace knows that DC is wall-to-wall lawyers.

Even so, the matter was so serious that it has taken nearly three years for him to find just the right lawyer (the one with the ambulance logo) to file the suit. Kucinich has asked for $150,000 as compensation for his horrific exposure to an olive pit cleverly hidden in a sandwich wrap at the House office building cafeteria. Everyone knows there is a vast right-wing conspiracy, but who knew it reached right into the hallowed halls of Congress?

The lawsuit alleges that the cafeteria sold him an "unfit and unwholesome sandwich." I eat those pretty much every day, but as the lawyers say, "you take your victim as you find him," He goes on to say that the olive pit caused him to "sustain serious and permanent dental oral injuries requiring multiple surgical and dental procedures, and has sustained other damages including significant pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment." That must have been one hell of an olive pit.

The suit (known as "name everyone and hope one or two of them stick") names Restaurant Associates, Compass Group USA, and two of the food suppliers, Performance Food Group Co and Foodbuy LLC. Now I don't want to second-guess a fellow lawyer, but he forgot to name the US Congress, God, and Mother Earth. Maybe he's planning on seeking leave to amend later.

The right wing conspiracy is already gearing up its personal attacks on Kucinich regarding the lawsuit. For instance, one blogsite found an old CSPAN video from five days after the incident in which Kucinich speaks at length on the House floor, exhibiting no signs of his "serious and permanent dental and oral injuries." That's not fair. Kucinich always looks like that. He has two facial expressions--stoned, and angry. The other facial nerves and muscles don't work.

I would also like to suggest to Dennis's attorney that he forgot to include impotence and loss of consortium in the complaint. Those are always good for a couple million dollars. Don't they teach anything in law schools anymore? This is a vital lawsuit in the national interest. If this kind of horror can happen to a Member of Congress, imagine how dangerous it is for the rest of us. There are likely to be dangerous olive pits lurking in every restaurant, and we have nobody to protect us. In fact, we should create a whole new cabinet-level department just to handle this danger. We could invest billions in the anti-olive pit industry. Look at all the jobs that would be created for olive pit investigators and sandwich inspectors. Mr. Obama--are you paying attention?

Perhaps there is another reason for the lawsuit. Kucinich may need the nest-egg. Ohio is one of the states that lost Congressional seats as a result of the 2010 census, and word is that redistricting will eliminate his district. I think he's panicking unnecessarily, since he could make a very good living going on tour with Captain Kirk and the crew at Star Trek conventions. After all, he would be the only one who has actually seen a UFO.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Global Health Fund Is Sick

One major western nation has decided that common sense and good fiscal policy are more important than satisfying the "don't make waves" maudlin sentimentality of bleeding hearts trying to fix all the ills of the world by throwing money at them. Which one? Hint: It isn't America.

The Global Health Fund currently has $21.7 billion in its coffers, but like so many goody-goody projects, it doesn't want to account to anyone for how it spends those funds. If you think that it's all spent on, well, health--then think again. The corruption and waste of money became so notorious that even the Associated Press could no longer ignore it. Breaking from the liberal-leftist policy of ignoring the good intentions leading to hell, Germany has become the first western nation to say "where the hell is all the money going?" And it will be contributing no more money until it gets answers.

Since the Fund is allegedly devoted entirely to healing AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in the poor parts of the world, specifically Africa, guilt-ridden limousine liberals have poured billions into the fund without actually determining if anything good was being done. As it turns out, the Fund has indeed done some good. But it could have done it a lot cheaper and more efficiently if money wasn't being siphoned off for personal gain almost as fast as it was being replaced.

Naturally, the United States is the biggest sucker, with France a far-distant second. Germany was a close third, but with the election of a more conservative government with both a heart and a head, the gravy train will not depart from Berlin for the time being. Germany's first 200 million Euro ($270 million) payment was to have taken place as part of its three year 600 million Euro commitment. That will not happen now until the chief thieves at the Fund do some 'splainin.

Germany's new Development Minister, Dirk Niebel, said that no more money would flow into the Fund from Germany until there has been a thorough investigation and possible restitution. In order for the money to be allocated, he must ask the German legislature for the money as part of the commitment, and he will not be doing so. Niebel announced: "I take the allegations of corruption and breach of trust . . . against the Fund very seriously, and I expect that the Fund will promptly clear them up. But I have halted all payments until it is fully cleared up."

One irony here is that the Fund's Inspector General hired a highly decorated ex-US federal prosecutor to investigate the early allegations of fraud, misfeasance and malfeasance. That investigator, Robert Appleton, found that there was as much fire as there was smoke and exposed millions, and perhaps billions, in improperly used funds. The information was made available to American officials at the same time it was transmitted to Germany.

Germany read the report, and acted promptly to halt payments until the money was being spent on its goal, not on crooks, liars and blood-suckers who couldn't care less about communicable diseases in Africa. Those "healers" are much more concerned with their bank accounts in Switzerland. The Obama administration, on the other hand, has taken no action whatsoever. Not only will American money not be withheld, but there is no action on the report itself, and Obama is actually asking for more money for the Fund this year.

This is another example of the Obama administration's policy of playing to the masses, covering up scandals of epic proportions, throwing money at "feel-good" projects that enhance their phony image as humanitarians, and advancing the cause of worldwide corruption. In fact, it's just like Chicago.

Next stop--Haiti.
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Where Did All The Jobs Go?

Obama spoke the other night about the need to create jobs. I’ve got bad news for him: something has gone wrong with the US economy -- 15 million jobs are “missing,” and nothing he’s proposing will help bring those back. There is an answer, but it's not one people are talking about.

For some time now, economists have been trying to figure out why the US economy isn’t producing jobs. If you look at US job growth by decade, there isn’t a single decade since records began in the 1930s where the number of jobs in the US didn’t grow by at least 20%. . . . with one glaring exception: the 2000s. That decade saw a paltry 5% growth (actually 0% after the 2009 recession). And if you subtract the number of jobs created from the number of jobs that should have been created, you will find that at least 15 million jobs are missing from our economy.

So where did they go? Let me dispel the usual suspects first:

1. Taxes: Could it be that our taxes are so high that they caused the 15 million jobs to vanish? That’s unlikely. While taxes were higher in this decade than in the 1990s, they were much lower than they were in the 1950s - 1980s. I’m not saying taxes didn’t hurt, but they don’t explain anything of this magnitude.

2. Over-Regulation: The 2000s saw the full force of ridiculous regulations. The Americans With Disabilities Act caused confusion everywhere, the Family Medical Leave Act made employees much more expensive, and the EPA got to the point that common household spills now needed superfund clean ups. There is no doubt this cost large numbers of jobs. But these regulations are not nearly as intrusive as the creation of OSHA, Affirmative Action, and the EPA, and other similar regulatory burdens of the 1960s and 1970s -- not to mention that most of the economy was denationalized in the 1980s. So again, this doesn’t explain the missing jobs.

3. Inflation: The government claims there is no inflation, but anyone who buys food or gas knows that’s wrong. But today’s inflation is nothing compared to the hyperinflation of the 1970s and early 1980s.

4. Education: Liberals complain that American students aren’t prepared for the modern economy. But that's wrong. Vastly more people go to college today than at any time before, and American colleges dominate the list of the best in the world. Moreover, Americans are learning excellent skills, as shown by our high productivity numbers.

5. War: Some suggest this decade was particularly harsh because of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that doesn’t make sense either. The number of Americans called up for World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and to face down the Soviets in the 1980s were much larger than anything done during the 2000s, as was military spending.

So what is the cause? I think the answer is our trade policy.

Experience has shown that Adam Smith's theory was right: free trade leads to huge benefits for all concerned. By providing only the products and services for which you have a comparative economic advantage, and then trading, all sides benefit. But what happens when trade is not free? What happens when the comparative economic advantage is distorted? What happens when one side engages in free trade and the other uses trade as an economic weapon? Consider these factors:
1. Distorted Currencies: For decades now, China and others have exaggerated (or created) their comparative advantages by keeping the value of their currency artificially low. This is like subsidizing Chinese goods and offering a subsidy to American companies to ship their factories to China. Thus, many jobs that should have stayed in America under free trade ended up being shipped to China because China’s artificially cheap currency made it artificially cheaper to export to the US from China.

2. Tax Law Distortions: American businesses can actually deduct the cost of moving jobs overseas. Moreover, once overseas, they can play games with inventory values to reduce their tax burdens. Thus, our government is encouraging them to ship jobs overseas.

3. Blind Eye To Corporate Espionage: Our government and “our” multinational companies have turned a blind eye to corporate espionage. Where did China get the skills to make advanced factories? Western companies shipped those factories to China, knowing the Chinese would pirate the entire process. China (and others) also engaged heavily in computer hacking and other assaults on Western data, which they used to improve their own businesses. It’s hard to hold a comparative advantage in a “knowledge-based” economy when foreign governments steal your data and give it to your competitors.

4. Unfair Competition: Many of the companies that compete with US companies are owned directly or indirectly by the Chinese government or Chinese military. These companies have an unlimited ability to obtain funding on favorable terms, to lie on their balance sheets, and to get regulations put into place that stop their competitors in their tracks. And through these governmental-corporations, the Chinese have managed to wipe out numerous American and European companies, leaving the Chinese to dominate the field.
All of this has caused a cascade failure. First, we lost factory jobs we shouldn’t have because overseas factories were unfairly subsidized. But don’t worry, we were told, we would still have the high-tech jobs. . . the jobs foreigners could not do, like making computers. But as they stole American secrets, they started getting these jobs too. Don’t worry, we were told again, we’ll hire them to make cell phones, but Americans will always design the cell phones. Only now Apple and others are hiring Indian engineers to design their newest products. Tech support, accounting, legal, etc. -- all things we were told could never be done overseas -- are all following. In effect, American companies are emigrating.

By allowing foreign countries to subsidize their companies, to steal and use our data, and by actually making it cheaper for American companies to shift their operations overseas, we have allowed foreign countries to systematically gut the American economy to the tune of 15 million jobs that should have been created here.

So how do we fix this? For one thing, it’s time to demand that anyone who wants to deal with America let their currency float fully, and we need to impose severe tariffs on the products of government-owned firms. Secondly, it’s time to eliminate deductions for overseas expenses; why should we subsidize the shipping of jobs overseas. Third, it’s time that we bar products made with stolen American technology or data. And fourth, we need to get our own regulatory and tax schemes under control. I say eliminate the corporate income tax entirely, switch to a sales tax or an equivalent import tariff, and let’s see what Issa comes up with on cutting regulations.

Free trade is great, but playing the sucker is stupid. So long as we let foreign governments distort the market to make their firms more competitive, and so long as we provide incentives for American companies to flee the country, we will never get those 15 million jobs back, and we're going to lose another 15 million and another and another.

If we don’t fix this, we really are in danger of breaking our economy. And no amount of stimulus spending is going to change that.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama's The SOTU Speech Stunk

Last night, Obama showed why he is one of the worst speechmakers we’ve ever had as President. Liberals used to claim his speeches were inspiring, but that was the Kool-Aid talking. As proof, I offer a simple challenge: tell me anything he’s ever said in a speech that anyone remembers? Last night was no different, except this speech was notably horrid rather than just dull. Even liberal talking heads found little they could use to praise him. Here’s why:

● The style was awful. It was like Obama hired a team of writers to come up with a collection of trite platitudes: give it your best, be better than you can be, give 110%, be prepared, work smarter not harder, be excellent to each other. . . and then he spent the night reading randomly from the list rather reading a real speech.

● His speech bounced around between topics and doubled-back so often that it seemed almost stream of consciousness. I honestly kept waiting for him to say, “oh, wait, I already talked about that.” Indeed, he lapped himself several times.

● His tone failed him too. He was trying to achieve the tone of a black preacher speaking in soaring tones about his vision for the future, but Obama seemed afraid to use the necessary words like “faith” and “hope” and “vision” and instead he sounded like someone channeling a grocery list. . . “We can have cabbage, and America needs cookies too.” His pathetic speechwriters would have turned “I have a dream. . .” into “I thought about some things while I was sleeping. . .” And worst of all, he seemed to get angry at times for no apparent reason.

● His jokes were so bad people didn’t even know they were jokes, as evidenced by the smattered applause uncomfortably long after he stopped to wait for the nonlaughter to die down.

● Although he spoke largely in bipartisan terms, it was hard not to notice that much of what he said was hardly bipartisan: (1) Don’t you dare try to undo what the Democrats did, (2) if you have ideas, tell me about them because so far I haven’t heard anything from you, and (3) we need to work together to put in place the ideas of Democrats. . . pause. . . pause. . . and Republicans.

● There were no specifics. Indeed, what exactly does he want except a return to the 1950s and high-speed rail so firemen can get porn over the net? He wants to cut some taxes, make some spending cuts, jack up some “investment” (i.e. spending) and increase taxes on the f*&^#ing rich. . . not to punish the bastards mind you, but because they’ve been sucking the blood of the poor. He plans to reorganize government in ways he can’t tell us about yet and he’s going to cut some regulations he can’t name yet.

Oh, that’s right, he did propose a “freeze” in federal spending for five years, which he claims would save $400 billion over ten years -- that’s $40 billion a year, which is all of 0.01% of the budget, or 1 penny for every hundred dollars. Moreover, he didn’t say what he meant by freeze. He doesn’t actually mean “freeze” as you and I understand it, because that would have resulted in bigger savings. He means not adding more to budgets he’s already laid out, which already include healthy increases in each of the next five years. And how does a five year freeze give you ten year savings in any event?

● His speech was full of contradictions. Wasn’t it great when everyone had jobs? Well, those days are gone, be happy! We need more high-speed rails, which evilly knock down homes and must be stopped. China is our friend, fear China! Everything is fine overseas, because it’s a dangerous world. The economy is growing great, but we desperately need to make it grow.

● His view of America’s past was truly skewed as well. Who outside of a handful of union thugs sitting unemployed in Detroit for the past twenty years ever thought they had a job for life? When was that the norm in America? Americans have always been mobile, moving between cities, states and jobs. Americans have always expected to change jobs over and over in their lives. And what’s this garbage about NASA being created in response to Sputnik?

● Demonstrated knowledge of the US Constitution: N/A.

● Then it was time to knock out some minor foreign policy stuff you won’t care about. We won Iran, we made friends with North Korea and China is our closest ally. Forget what you heard about North Korean shelling South Korea, or Iran still building a bomb, or the fact Obama spent 30 minutes blaming China for our problems. . . Obama apparently has. Iraq is now a paradise where no American troops are fighting anymore. . . they just die periodically in explosions while on “policing missions,” along with hundreds of locals. Maybe someday we can bring the troops home. . . wait, didn't Obama already achieved that. . . twice?

● His very brief discussion of Afghanistan was a fraud. Wars have consequences. We won, the Taleeebaaaahn are beaten, and unicorns will now populate the Earth. Oh, and we beat Pakeeestaaaahn too for good measure. Thank you, come again.

● Ok, now the crux of our foreign policy achievements. . . the part Obama focused on because he knew you would care deeply!!! Did you know that Squeegy Umbaruta once saw his village in Sudan as a war zone? Today, the killing has stopped (temporarily) because of the combined efforts of the Eritrean military and the African National Union. What a crowning achievement for Obama! Oh, and go Tunisia! Never mind that we did nothing to bring about that revolution or that we have no idea what kind of government will emerge.

● And while we’re on foreign policy, Muslims are great Americans, dammit.

● Oh, and we need to continue to be the moral example for the world, which is a little confusing since Obama has continued all of the supposedly immoral policies of the Bush years.

● His false compassion moments fell flat too. The people he brought for the old gimmick of pointing to someone in the crowd didn’t seem too excited to be there and nothing he quoted them as saying sounded like anything they would have said. And why the heck did he keep harping on “Alan Brothers Roofing”? Does he have a sponsorship agreement?

● His mention of Gaby Giffords seemed wrong too, on many levels. He has already given “the speech” about her. So why start with that again? Did the first “the speech” not take? Or was he using this to try to gain sympathy at the beginning of this speech? It seemed like he was using her as a sympathy mascot: “I know people who’ve suffered. . . be kind when you grade my speech.”

● Finally, what’s the take away from this speech? “Ask not what you can do. . .”, “A new day in America. . .”, “Read my lips. . . new world order. . .”, “The era of big government is over. . .”, “A date that shall live in infamy. . .”???? Nope. “Do big things.” Are you kidding? Who wrote this speech? Bill and Ted? There was nothing in this speech that stuck with you. You could see where they tried to jam a bunch of those on-liners into the speech (e.g. “our Sputnik moment”), but they all fell flat. Even the Democrats didn’t applaud when he dropped those lines.

This was easily Obama’s worst speech and that’s quite an achievement. I don’t know who wrote this turkey for him, but he needs to fire whoever it was. When this speech was over, you were left wondering if Obama understood America, understood Americans and understood his job.

Compare that with Paul Ryan. Ryan came across as thoughtful, sincere and honest. Obama came across as a man trying to fake his way through a flat speech and getting increasingly upset as people weren’t clapping. . . a real narcissist. And unlike Obama’s grocery list of pointlessness, Ryan gave a tour de force in ten minutes, tying together his belief in limited government, restrained government, faith in capitalism to solve our problems, laying out our problems and offering solutions, and making it clear that the new Republicans feel indebted to the American public and see themselves as our servants, not our masters.

In ten minutes, Ryan showed a much deeper, fundamental understanding of both the country and the Presidency than the understanding shown by the man who’s been sitting in the chair for two years. . . when he hasn’t been playing golf.

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Let's Hear It For The U.S.--We're Number 9

Yay! It's not whether you win or lose--it's how you play the game. When you get into the game, everyone's a winner. There are no winners or losers, only non-participants. OK, now I've run out of cliches which excuse America from living up to its obligations and remaining the envy of the free world.

In its seventeenth annual report, the Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, it was determined that the United States is now in ninth position in the category of economic freedom. We were fifth under the Bush Administration, which is a testimony to big-government conservatism and the president's misplacing his veto pen for seven and a half years. Last year we were still number eight. If we keep dropping like this, we'll soon be challenging Venezuela and Haiti in the lack of freedom race.

The leaders were no particular surprise, with Hong Kong at the top followed by Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland (slipping fast, though), and Denmark. What was distressing is the company we're keeping in those bottom positions of the top ten--Bahrain (number 10), and Chile missing the cut at number 11 by a very small margin. Hong Kong was the perfect number one, because it is a province of one of the least free zones in the world, but has prospered because the government in Beijing is so mystified by Hong Kong's success that it has pretty much left it alone since taking over from Great Britain.

Now it wasn't that long ago that America was unchallenged for the top position, and even Democratic administrations through the Kennedy administration kept us in tip-top condition. America's economy is no longer in the pure category of "free," and has slipped to "mostly free." But don't worry, the Obama administration is working hard to remove the "free" part entirely. What freedoms and opportunity it can't take away by legislation and court action, it is now going full-bore on taking away through administrative agencies (remember the EPA and CO2).

Index authors Terry Miller and Kim R. Holmes say: "The national government's role in the economy has expanded sharply in the past two years [leaving no crisis unexploited], and the federal budget deficit is extremely large, with gross public debt approaching 100 percent of GDP." The freedoms lost between the fifth place Bush administration and the ninth place Obama administration are attributable largely to government interventionist policies and responses to the economic slowdown. "This has eroded economic freedom and long-term competitiveness. Drastic legislative changes in health care and financial regulations have retarded job creation and injected substantial uncertainty into business investment planning."

Sarbanes-Oxley didn't happen on Obama's watch, and Bill Clinton was an ardent advocate of free trade. But even before the market crash, the Democrats who had taken control of Congress began to put protectionist policies into place and most recently have reneged on free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Two of those three countries had been given strong assurances that a South and Central American free trade association akin to NAFTA would be in the offing. And a free trade agreement with free South Korea would have been beneficial both economically and politically, given the horrendous North Korean economy and its starving millions.

Some countries such as Rwanda, of all places, are close to the US in economic freedom, but will never be genuine competition because of a dearth of political freedom and scant natural resources. There is no such excuse for an America with abundant natural resources, a huge entrepeneurial class waiting to be loosed, and a long history of creativity and innovativeness. In fact, while Rwanda is desperately trying to optimize the use of its meager natural resources, the unfree American economy is hampered by incomprehensible intrusion by government into the use and exploitation of America's wealth of natural resources.

Some significant indices of the eroding freedom of the American economy are as follows: The worldwide average income-tax rate for the wealthiest sector of individuals is 28.7%. America's is 35%. The big generators of jobs and money in the past were minimally unregulated and reasonably taxed corporations. That eroded badly with our corporate tax rate of 35% versus the world average of 24.8%. This not only harms corporate profits, but not coincidentally sends companies and jobs overseas. Worldwide government spending averages 33.5% of GDP, in America it is currently 38.9%. Overall tax burden worldwide is 24.4% of GDP, in America it is 26.9%.

Not that long ago, Americans who claimed taxes were too high (while we were still number one) were greeted with the derisive hoot of liberals who always said "we are the most undertaxed people in the world." Liberals and progressives were simply incapable of figuring out that their truism was the reason we were the economic giant that everybody else wanted to emulate outside of the realm of communism. And we weren't actually undertaxed. We were merely taxed at the most reasonably low rates that allowed for both economic freedom and money to pay for the government that would protect that freedom.

The Republicans have pledged to reverse this trend, and can at least make a start with a new substantial majority in the House. Even more progress can be made if Republicans take over both the Senate and the White House in 2012. But we've been down this road before, and it's going to take honesty, boldness, bravery and a commitment to keeping promises to turn our economic freedom around. Mere words are nothing without deeds.

Republicans have to man up and admit that for too many years they were just Democrats in disguise, or at best, fellow-travelers. We are facing perhaps our last chance to regain our preeminent position in the world, and it's crucial that the voters, Independent, Republican and Tea Party, continue to hold the government's feet to the fire. For all the criticism of the Republican Party being the "Party of No," saying no to socialism and government expansion is a perfectly valid exercise. And it's better than being called the "Me Too Party."

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SOTU: It's Fight Night!!

In the left corner, we have Barack Obama. . . the Kenyan Nightmare. . . he floats like butter and stings like a B student at Grade Inflation University. Weighing in at 98 pounds, his best punch is a sucker punch recently renamed the Tucson Exploiter by his manager, Joey "Half-Truth" Biden. Barack lost his prior match to Ryan in a first round knock out at health care arena and has been on a career slide ever since. Tonight, he looks for a little revenge.

In the right corner, we have Paul “the Brain” Ryan, the pride of Wisconsin. Weighing in at 140 pounds, Ryan shows that brain beats brawn every time. His best punch is the Principled Hook, which he combines with the Factoid Jab for a devastating 1-2 combination. Managed by John "Tan King" Boehner, Ryan is fast, smart and a real up and comer. His goal tonight will be to take down Obama and prove that he deserves a title fight.

Tonight’s guest judges are the American people, who will be keeping score at home. And you're invited to talk about it here!

Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!!!!

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Bankruptcy for States?

People who file bankruptcy are irresponsible. They spent too much, took advantage of the rest of us, and are just trying to get out of paying the consequences. Only liberals love bankruptcy. Right? Well, not really. And, interestingly, more and more conservatives (e.g. Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Mark Kirk) are suggesting that bankruptcy might be the best course for some of our states?

Let’s start with some background. By law, state governments are required to balance their budgets. Some of these, most notably California and New York, have gotten around this by using pure fantasy numbers and accounting gimmicks to hide the real state of their budgets. But years of lying have caught up to these states and they can't hide the truth anymore. So naturally, they want Washington to bail them out. But the Republicans (even the RINOs) are steadfastly refusing because there’s no justification for the responsible states being forced to pay the debts incurred by the irresponsible states, especially as irresponsible states like California don’t seem willing to make any necessary changes.

This has raised the issue of bankruptcy. Right now, the states are prohibited from filing bankruptcy by federal law. But Congress could change that. Should they?

Bankruptcy is not as evil as many people believe. The concept behind bankruptcy is that sometimes, people need a fresh start. For whatever reason, they’ve overextended themselves and nothing they do will ever be able to dig them out of the hole they’re in. Rather than leaving them as permanent paupers, bankruptcy offers a chance for them to start over from scratch, to turn their lives around and to become useful members of society. The theory on this makes a lot of sense. The problem, of course, is abuse.

But bankruptcy of governments poses a bigger problem. For one thing, we expect governments to be responsible, and it’s troubling that a government would default on its obligations; this is unsettling to people who rely on the government to provide essential services and pensions. Secondly, whereas some people honestly cannot pay their debts, governments can always raise taxes and cut spending; thus, they are not legitimate candidates for bankruptcy. Third, this sets a horrible precedent because it encourages governments to be irresponsible because they can rob their own treasuries and then escape their irresponsibility when it becomes unsustainable -- something politicians would happily do. Moreover, there is something un-democratic about having a bankruptcy judge decide which government obligations will continue to be met.

But there are good reasons to allow bankruptcy too.

For one thing, the current system is not doing any better at getting states to act responsibly. Look at California, for example, which is well past the point of bankruptcy. Rather than fixing its budget, Californians voted for Democrats who will turn up the spending spigots to full, all in the hopes of getting as much as they can before the federal government turns off the spigots and bails them out.

But even more importantly, bankruptcy may be the best way to ensure that the cost of fixing the problem is borne mostly be the people who caused the problem. This is what explains why some conservatives are starting to suggest bankruptcy.

In the event a state goes bankrupt, it’s likely that essential services and benefits will continue. It’s also likely that pension benefits currently being paid will continue untouched. What would most likely be cut are state employee salaries and future benefits, non-essential programs, and obligations to bondholders, and taxes would be raised. Let’s think about each group.

Group 1: State employees. State employee unions have been breaking the back of state governments for years. Indeed, it’s amazing how expensive state employees really are compared to what it would cost to hire private firms to take over those services. A bankruptcy judge can break the union contracts and impose a new pay scale, revise benefits, and change workplace rules. Would this be fair? You tell me. For years now, these employees have benefited from being vastly overpaid and underworked because their unions have been able to bully politicians.

Group 2: Non-essential programs. This is called pork. There is no doubt that a judge would keep services like police and fire going, and would continue payments made to people who depended on them (welfare and pensions). But they would look to cut unnecessary projects and lavish expenses, i.e. the things lobbyists obtain for their clients that run contrary to the public interest.

Group 3: Bondholders. Bondholders will get burned. But bondholders know default is always a possibility, which is why they charge different rates to different borrowers. And as the borrowing costs of the states do reflect the possibility of default, bondholders have no room to complain.

Group 4: Taxpayers. There is little doubt a court would order an increase in taxes. This may seem unfair to people who never asked for the out of control spending, but consider this. At some point, these states would need to raise taxes anyway, thus this is nothing that wouldn’t happen otherwise. And a bankruptcy judge, whose job is to determine equitable solutions, is much more likely than a proven-irresponsible legislature to spread the tax hike out in a manner that requires everyone to share the pain, and is less likely to try to single out an unpopular group or protect a popular one.

Thus, allowing states to file bankruptcy may result in (1) breaking public sector unions, (2) the elimination of pork, and (3) a more equitable sharing of the tax burden. This could be why liberals (and unions in particular) are furious at the idea. And let's not forget, if liberals like Jerry Brown don't like it, they can always figure out other ways to pay their debts. . .

What do you think? Good idea?

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Republicans Propose Significant Cuts

The Republicans keep impressing. This time, the influential Republican Study Committee issued a list of cuts they want to make in the budget. The headline number is less than inspiring at only $2.5 trillion over ten years. But what does impress me is the long term effect these changes would have on our country.

As I said, the $2.5 trillion in cuts don’t thrill me. This represents only a 7% cut in the budget, which is not very impressive. But when you start looking at some of the things they are proposing, you see some radical thinking which will go a long way toward stopping the government from using tax dollars to prop up leftists. Consider the following:

1. Repeal of the Davis Bacon Act: The Davis Bacon Act requires government contractors to pay their employees the “prevailing wage rates” determined by the Department of Labor. Why does this matter? Because this makes non-union labor as expensive as union labor. In effect, Davis Bacon is intended to eliminate the handicap unions have given themselves so that unions can remain competitive. Repealing this law will deal a serious blow to private sector unions throughout the United States. Annual savings: $1 billion.

2. Eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Subsidy: For decades, a horde of leftists has dominated public television and public radio. They’ve survived in a taxpayer-funded bubble that let them completely ignore the views and sensibilities of the American public. This proposal will end that support and force them to start satisfying the market place, i.e. the taxpaying public, or go out of business. Annual savings: $445 million.

3. Eliminate the Legal Services Corporation: You’ve heard of public defenders? This is the same thing for civil cases. Here’s why this is wrong. A public defender protects a person who has been accused by the government of a crime. They make sure the government can’t run people over. That’s good. But the LSC does the opposite, it uses government funding to run people over. The LSC uses federal money to sue private individuals on behalf of “poor people," who are often acting as fronts for leftist public policy institutes. Typical targets include corporations, small businesses, landlords, and even government agencies. In other words, the government is giving your tax money to leftist groups so they can sue you to push through leftist policy. Annual savings: $420 million.

4. National Endowment for the Arts/Nation Endowment for the Humanities: For decades, the government has used taxpayer funds to promote “art” and “theater” that promotes leftist, anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-religious ideas. Under these programs, the federal government has paid for everything from crucifixes dipped in urine to homosexual and sadomasochistic photography to pro-Obama plays. Essentially, the government has propped up a cabal of leftist “artists” on your dime. Annual savings $335 million.

5. Amtrak Subsidies: Amtrak is a failure. It’s also regional robbery. Indeed, poor and middle class taxpayers all over the country have been paying so that rich, liberal Northeasterners could ride heavily-subsidized trains. Now they even want to build a trillion dollar high speed rail system in selected liberal states. . . that's called a "hidden economic stimulus." If you want it, you pay for it. Annual savings $1.565 billion. Vastly underestimated annual saving from canceling high speed rail: $2.5 billion.

6. US Agency for International Development (USAID): These are the people who take money from steelworkers in Ohio and send that money to China to help them build steel mills that take away steel jobs in Ohio, all in the name of developing markets to which US companies can sell their products. . . which are now made overseas. Annual savings: $1.39 billion.

7. Eliminate subsidies to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: These are the people who issue false reports and fraudulent data all in the name of destroying the American economy to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. . . climate change. Annual savings: $12.5 million.

8. Federal Employees: Elimination of automatic pay increases for civilian federal workers for five years and a 15% reduction in the federal work force through attrition by hiring only one new worker for every two that leave. This is a good start, though I would like more. But this achieves two things. First, it starts to bring federal pay back in line with the pay earned by the people paying their salaries. Secondly, it potentially reduces the strength of federal unions by 15% or 150,000.

As you can see, none of these changes will result in huge dollar savings in the budget, but the effects are significant. If these changes are made, the Republicans will eliminate most of the nests of leftist that have survived by clinging to taxpayer support. Everything from leftist “journalists” to “artists” to unions to legal “public interest” groups will lose their funding and will need to fend for themselves. Moreover, we will stop supporting foreign companies that take away American jobs, and this will eliminate a huge hidden subsidy paid to liberal states like Massachusetts, New York and California.

This would go a long way to breaking the back of the "leftist establishment" by cutting off their unearned funding and making them have to state their case with the open market. And that would be a significant change.

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Where Is Nero When You Need Him?

He probably wouldn't have been so rash in San Francisco since there are so few Christians to blame things on. But at least Nero had a plan. If it meant burning down half the city so he could build a new palace, well, them's the breaks.

After having lived the major part of my life in Sodom by the Bay, I still read the latest news from there with drop-jawed disbelief every time they set a new record for stupidity. And they've just given me another one of those moments. The "City That Knows How" certainly does. It knows how to make a bad situation worse. San Francisco is facing a $755 million deficit for 2011. So naturally the city has given its municipal retirees $170 million in cost-of-living increases. The original controller's estimate of the deficit for 2011 was a mere $360 million (yes, I said that tongue-in-cheek). But he forgot to include two factors. First, the cost-of-living increase for retirees already living on benefits that would make Midas blush. But there's also the small matter of the moronic San Francisco public.

On the November ballot, the mayor had gotten a budget amendment certified which would have required city employees to contribute to their own pensions and benefits. In the midst of the worst recession in memory and the biggest city budget shortfall since the Great Depression, this cost-cutting measure (Proposition B) was soundly defeated. It certainly caused me to think of the old adage that a people gets the form of government it deserves.

In their zeal to protect their cushy jobs, every public official except the mayor himself and every union official declared that worries about the budget increase were "overblown." Yet each of those hacks and liars knew full well that the retirement fund was a scandalous mess. Not only were the retirement benefits outrageous by any standard, but any first-grader with a pencil and a piece of paper could tell you have a problem when you take in contributions of $414 million and pay out $819 million. And that was last year. It's not as if there wasn't plenty of warning.

An outside neutral actuarial firm agreed upon by the city government and the unions to determine the state of the health of the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System (SFERS) found that the fund now has an unfunded liability of $1.6 billion. When asked directly about this staggering liability, the SFERS chief refused to respond to any questions. He didn't even bother to lie--he just refused to answer.

That same chief officer, Gary A, Amelio, came into office knowing about both the deficit and the projected unfunded liability. Yet he and his cronies encouraged the defeat of Prop B, and bald-facedly told the public that the fund was in sound condition. Then, he quietly allowed the cost-of-living increase to go through. While many citizens of the city are struggling to meet their monthly mortgage obligations and pay their monthly bills, the government, the Pacific Heights gazillionaires and the unions managed to defeat one of the few measures which might have given the budget crisis a small chance to be fixed.

There is a simple solution for this problem which all Democrats, liberals, welfare recipients, union employees and "progressives" know. Raise taxes and fees, at least as fast as you raise expenses. It's the Laugher Curve in action (ignore that pesky Laffer Curve). There are already multiple bills before the Board of Supervisors to accomplish this. Double the price of all city services. Massively increase the taxes on the few major businesses which haven't yet fled town. Double parking fees (they're already triple the national average). Etc, etc, ad nauseam.

How the city plans to survive is utterly beyond me. Mayor Gavin Newsom has not yet officially assumed his new position as California's Lieutenant Governor because he actually tried to stay behind and get some budget cuts and fiscal sanity before he left for Sacramento. Instead, he got a swift kick in the teeth from the Board of Supervisors and the voters. On the other hand, maybe he stuck around just to appreciate the proportions of San Francisco's fiscal disaster before he went on to deal with the even more massive state deficit in Sacramento.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011


Since you’re all watching football, I’ll keep this short. Many things happened this weekend that deserve attention: GE, Obama and the NFL, Keith Olbermann. . . you get the picture. Try to leave a few comments during the timeouts!! Hey, was that a touchdown?

1. Ding Dong The Witch Is Gone

Keith Olbermann, famous for his heartwarming “worst person in the world” award, has left MSNBC abruptly amidst an ongoing civil war between Olbermann and everyone at NBC. Olbermann was known for such obnoxious behavior as making his staff leave notes on his door rather than speaking to him and refusing to talk with management. When the donation scandal hit on November 4th, where Olbermann was caught donating money to various Democrats -- something Olbermann savagely attacked Fox News for doing -- things got even worse. Staffers described his conduct after being criticized by NBC brass as “scorched-earth policy” and “totally narcissistic response.” They also blasted him for embarrassing the network.

Now he's gone. Olbermann's departure was so rapid MSNBC didn’t even have time to pull the promos for his upcoming interviews. No word on what Olbermann plans to do next, but no doubt it will involve a good deal of hate. Indeed, Olbermann has been a problem wherever he’s been. Said one former colleague at ESPN, when Olbermann left ESPN, “he didn't burn bridges here; he napalmed them.”

An old saying comes to mind, “if you go to bed with the worst person in the world, you wake up with the worst person in the world.”

2. Are Ancient Astronauts Threatening Jerry Brown?

Graffiti found in Southern California predicts that Gov. Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown will be killed on Valentines Day. It’s not clear who is responsible for this prediction, but police suspect the Mayans.

3. GE: Lord Vader To Obama’s Emperor

“GM” may stand for “Government Motors” but “GE” stands for “Government Everything-else,” and they proved that again this weekend as Sith Lord Darth Jeffrey Immelt accepted Emperor Obama's appointment as President of Obama’s President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. This follows a couple years in which:
(1) GE subsidiary NBC allowed MSNBC to spew leftist hate-speech on behalf of the Democrats, while Immelt told CNBC not to criticize Obama;

(2) GE spent $32,050,000 lobbying in 2010, mostly on Democrats;

(3) GE worked hard to bring about cap and trade so companies would be forced to purchase GE industrial gear;

(4) GE received money under TARP, which was somehow kept secret from the public; and

(5) GE made obscene profits shipping your job to China.

"The power to destroy an economy is insignificant next to the power of GE!"

Immelt promises to get to the bottom of why America is producing no jobs. Maybe he’ll start with the 25,000 jobs GE shipped overseas during the past two years? Or maybe not.

4. NFL Honored As Obama Picks A Favorite

Finally, our Kenyan Overlord has selected a team to win the NFL playoffs. Reliable sources inform us this was no easy decision for Obama.

Obama initially wanted to support the Kenyan team, until he was reminded that he was “born” in Hawaii. . . (how goes the search for that elusive birth certificate Governor Abercrombie?). But Hawaii has no team, so Obama considered the Green Bay Packers, who are located in strategic Wisconsin. But he wasn't sure what they were packing, so he ruled them out. The New York Jets represent more voters than anyone else in the playoffs, and critically, richer voters than anyone else in the playoffs, but it's not like New York will ever vote Republican. Pittsburgh is a union town and they have an NAACP approved coach, but so does Chicago. Hmm. Ultimately, Obama decided that economics would drive this decision, so he chose the Bears for their association with stock market symbology. . . with one minor change. Accordingly, Obama has chosen to support the Chicago Bulls in the American Footballs Tournament, and has thereby demonstrated that he is indeed a true American male. . . the skinny jeans notwithstanding.

Who you got today? I’m thinking Packers and Jets.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

New York State of Mind 2011

Nassau Street and Maiden Lane
NYC 12/27/10
Well, it has been many weeks and many snowstorms since my last report. We have a new Governor and a new Legislature and, so far none have been accused of any actionable crimes! But sadly, we have the same Mayor of NYC, but I'll get to that later. So let me get everyone up to speed...

Sports - The New York Jets, who play in Giants Stadium in New Jersey, will play the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow for AFC Championship. The Mean Green haven't been to the playoffs since...oh who cares. Go Jets!

Local - Well, I was going to lead off this segment with the botched snow job we got after Christmas, but the really, really BIG news is that there's one more to add to the NYC unemploymment statistics. The self-styled "Joan of Arc" of the Liberal/Progressives Keith Olbermann has been let go (or quit) MSNBC. There is much speculation as to why and how, but he gave his final performance on "Countdown" last night with his final parting words of gratitude to his audience. Let me tell you, HuffPo'ers were shocked and grief-stricken yesterday. Who will speak their truth to Power! But don't feel sorry for KO. He was seen dining last night at Gramercy Tavern with 4 friends and was reported to still have $14 million left on his contract. Maybe he can do an "Oprah" and start his own TV or radio station! Okay, enough about that.

Snow, snow, and more snow has hit the Northeast. As you may have heard, there was a little brou-ha-ha a few weeks ago when it was discovered that no one really cares what happens to us NY'ers on the weekends or holidays. On December 26th a big snow storm, which had been predicted the week before, came barrelling though the Tri-State area closing airports and roads, and halting all public and private transportation and vital services like police, fire, and EMT services. Now normally, when there is a prediction of 15-18 inches of snow, we silly citizens were almost sure that our taxes were being spent to pay for the proper defenses against a total shutdown, including, but not limited to, executive decision-makers, salters, sanders, plows, and all other necessary equipment and personnel to keep the City's vital services running. Apparently, we didn't read the fine print which we have discovered goes something like:

"When the Mayor is AWOL and the Deputy Mayor is AWOL and the Deputy to the Deputy Mayor is AWOL, and all of their respective Commissioners and staffs are AWOL, no one will be responsible for making any decisions and chaos shall ensue".

At first, the Mayor, bless his heart, was mad at the citizens for complaining. Hey, snow happens. I mean, we were just concerned that people were dying because the EMT's couldn't get through because no one bothered to send out the plows or put chains on the bus wheels or send out the plows for the trains or even bother to declare an weather emergency. Seriously, passengers on a stuck "A" train had to spend the night on the train because no one could figure out how to get them off the train! And then, in politically expedient turnaround, Mayor Mike "felt our pain" because he decided it wasn't his fault, but a defiant Sanitation Department "slowdown", the union rats! But, then one of the citizens asked Mayor Mike where he had been, so he got mad at us all over again. It is none of our business where he goes. It turns out that Mayor Mike is gone quite a bit. He goes to Bermuda every weekend and it also turns out that when he is gone, there is actually no competent chain of command.

So, the City Council called the Mayor and his Deputies and Commissioners to appear in front of the City Council and explain themselves. A meeting for which the Mayor declined to attend. It was concluded that the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan had been left "in charge" that day, but had declined to make any decisions. Only she neglected to tell anyone she was declining to make any decisions, and no one bothered to call and confirm. Though she must have been doing something because all of her newly installed bike lanes interspersed across Manhattan and Brooklyn had somehow been miraculously hand-shovelled (more on that one day). Well, then, she blamed Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, for what, I do not know and then everyone decided to blame the Commissioner of the EMT's for not having the foresight to buy cross-country skis, snowmobiles, and packs of St. Bernards with brandy barrels around their necks. (So far, he is the only one who has been officially reprimanded).

As a result, the City Council has decided that the Mayor must now publish who is in charge when he is not "in residence". As you can imagine, this did not sit well with our Mayor/President wannabe at all and, though I am just guessing, I bet that Mayor Mike is kicking himself for insisting on that third term. As for the Sanitation department, they are under local and federal investigation. All I can predict now is...more snow.

State - YEY! We finally have a new Governor. As I predicted, Andrew Cuomo won handily on Nov. 2 and is now our new Governor. Though a Democrat AND the son of former three-term Governor Mario Cuomo, he may turn out to be a tough-on-spending Governor. At first blush, Cuomo may be taking his budget cues from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Our state budget is due in April and he is talking really tough about slashing the budget. It was reported yesterday that Cuomo will be proposing cutting 12,000 jobs to start, if the legislature and the unions cannot come to agreement about pension cuts. We now have a $12-15 billion deficit at the very least and it's only growing larger.

To help him is our newly elected Republican-led Senate. To our great surprise, the State Senate Dem leadership was one of the many casualties of the Republican whacking in November. It took a while for all the final votes to be counted and recounted, but by the end of December, two vital races were concluded, and the Republicans took a slim lead (32-30) in the Senate. The Assembly is still in the evil clutches of Sheldon Silver and his Democrat cohorts, but, if Gov. Cuomo can stay strong and true to his promises of reform and accountability, well, so far, so good.

Other stuff - Okay and I can't get away without news of Charlie Rangel. With the gall that can only come from Charlie Rangel, he was part of a group of liberal do-gooders who were protesting a newly approved homeless shelter that will open in a tony Upper Westside neighborhood. Not only is there a Not-in-my-neighborhood-ness about the protest, but, in his indignation, Rangel demanded that the city needed more housing for the middle class, not homeless shelters! Now remember, this is coming from the guy who was just rebuked by the House of Representatives for holding leases on four rent stabilized apartments, three of which could have housed middle class families.

And finally - I cancelled my subscription to the New York Times. After reading the Editor's explanation why the NYT rushed to judgment to accuse "the right wing radical Tea Party movement" of murder and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress, I decided enough is enough and I no longer want to give them my money. So, this is how the conversation went...

2-1-2...blah, blah, blah....
NYT Circulations Office: Hello. This is Matt [not his real name], how can I help you today.
Me: I would like to cancel my subscription to the NYT, please.
{Skip name and address verification}
NYT Matt: Is there a reason you are cancelling?
Me: Yes. Paul Krugman.
{silence, silence, silence, silence, silence, silence}
NYT Matt: Who's that?
Me: A columnist at the New York Times. This is the NYT office, right? [okay, I didn't say that last part, but I thought it...)
NYT Matt: Oh, okay, was it something he wrote?
Me:  Yes, it's pretty much EVERYTHING he writes. I no longer want to pay his salary.
NYT Matt: Well, okay. You know if you cancel you will no longer have access to the Sunday Crossword puzzle or the website.
Me: Yes and I am okay with that.
NYT Matt: You know, if you keep your subscription, I can give you the Weekender for half price.
Me: No thank you. I called to cancel my subscription.
NYT Matt: Okay then, is there anything more I can do for you?
Me:  No, that will be it.
Maybe the problem with the NYT is that not even people who work for the NYT want read it...
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