Monday, March 31, 2008

Stuff I did not know, a continuing series - According to Senate majority leader Harry Reid, taxes in America are voluntary. Damn, I already filed!

By the way, I don't think I've ever heard anybody use the word "phraseology" since Mayor Shinn in "The Music Man."
Al Gore is super-cereal - He's launching a whole new "man on the moon" effort against ManBearPig.
Inter-species lust and anthropomorphic robots - Topless Robot: "The 10 Most Insane, Child-Warping Moments of '80s Cartoons"
Waiting on Zimbabwe - Election results so far are showing an even split between Mugabe and everybody else in the country. So they're rigged.
Not dead yet

Byron York looks deeper into the Democrats' race and finds that Hillary's numbers may not be as bleak as they've been portrayed:

In any event, when all of those numbers are combined into an overall horserace figure, admittedly an unpopular figure among political analysts, Clinton and Obama are dead even, 45-45. And people wonder why she is resisting demands that she quit the race.
Maybe, but it's looking like the superdelegates are starting to line up behind Obama in the interest of "party unity" and there's nothing Hill can do to reverse the tide.
Irony overload

Politico: "Clinton didn't pay health insurance bills"

Among the debts reported this month by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s struggling presidential campaign, the $292,000 in unpaid health insurance premiums for her campaign staff stands out.

Clinton, who is being pressured to end her campaign against Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, has made her plan for universal health care a centerpiece of her agenda.
No wonder she wants universal coverage: then the government can pay those bills.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Howard Dean endorses John McCain

From Jake Tapper's political blog:

"The real issue is this," Dean said [snip] "Who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America, a group of people who never served a day overseas in their life, or a guy who served his country honorably and has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star on the battlefields of Vietnam?"

McCain, by the way, has been awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Star Medals, a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Details aside, that was sure nice of Governor Dean.
Has Zimbabwe's moment finally arrived?

From the NY Times: "Zimbabweans Vote, Desperate for Change"

Lines were long at the polling stations here well before morning had unscrolled its first light. And when the doors did not open exactly at 7 a.m., voters in the impoverished township of Warren Park rushed the schoolyard gate, most of them desperate to cast a ballot to oust the man who has been president for most of their lives, Robert Mugabe.
Recap from the Atlantic: "Turning a breadbasket into a basket case in ten easy steps - the Robert Mugabe way"

More - From Gateway Pundit.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I've heard that song before

Marc Ambinder makes some corrections:

2. Yesterday, I wrote that McCain adviser Charlie Black was taking a "leave of absence" from his lobbying firm. In fact, Black is resinging.
Ha-ha. This, in turn, calls to mind this exchange:

Homer: Look kids! I just got my party invitations back from the printers.
Lisa: [Reading the invitation.] "Come to Homer's BBBQ. The extra B is for BYOBB."
Bart: What's that extra B for?
Homer: It's a typo.
Meanwhile, in Africa - Economist "Zimbabwe on tenterhooks": "No one is confident that President Robert Mugabe will let himself be voted out of office."
Eco-conscious Americans relieved of their green by ZAP

Who killed the electric car? This month's Wired magazine has an absolutely must-read account of the Zap Corporation which promised to deliver electric cars to the people, save the environment, and make a profit. It was all a green pipe dream and the only people enriched were Zap's top officials:

Scheder-Bieschin says that Starr and Schneider have been insulated from criticism because of the business they are in. "Steve plays the game that nobody's ever gonna be tough on us because we're the EV guys.'" (Indeed, Robert Taicher, a consultant for ZAP, called Wired editors as this story was in process, asking the magazine to tread lightly on ZAP, given that "we're in the green space.") "Gary Starr and Steve Schneider have likely done more damage to the EV industry than Detroit and the Japanese combined," Scheder-Bieschin says. "And the failure of this industry to thrive has affected everything from global warming to the war on terror. How do you put a price on that?"
(Have I mentioned before that Wired is the absolutely best magazine out there? Every month they have at least one great article, well worth the cover price. Word on the street is that Kevin Spacey read the September 2002 article "Hacking Las Vegas" and immediately optioned the story to make the movie "21.")

But I digress: the Zap story reaches its denouement with the story of Austin schoolteacher John Martin who turned over his life savings to Zap for a dealership. The cars didn't arrive and when finally did, they were impossible to sell (max range of a charged Xebra: 20 miles) and broke down constantly. The now-destitute Martin is delivering pizzas and at the end of the article you can feel his pain as he says: "I wanted so much to believe."
Coffee and "Juno" - Boston Globe: "10 things white people like"

Thursday, March 27, 2008

One says $43 trillion, the other $53 trillion, but who's counting?

We're either in super-duper debt or mega-atomic debt. Glenn Beck reviews "The $53 trillion asteroid" heading our way:

Let me give you three numbers that will put this economic asteroid into perspective: $200 billion, $14.1 trillion, and $53 trillion:

- $200 billion is the approximate total amount of write-downs announced so far as a result of the current credit crisis.
- $14.1 trillion is the size of the entire U.S. economy
And $53 trillion is (drum roll please) the approximate size of this country's bill for the Social Security and Medicare promises we've made.
If Washington takes action to reform entitlements, the impact can be spread out over decades instead of slamming us all at once. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. From the Christian Science Monitor: "Congress in no rush to fix Medicare and Social Security - A new report projects a $42.9 trillion shortfall for the two entitlement programs over the next 75 years."

To put it another way: It would take an immediate 122 percent increase in the payroll tax (to 6.44 percent) or a 51 percent reduction in program outlays to bring Medicare into balance, the trustees said.
That's the current (immediate!) impact just to cover the long-term liabilities of Medicare and Social Security. As we fall further behind, it's going to take much more drastic actions down the road to cover this debt.
Caring, not sharing - George Will in "Conservatives more liberal givers": "While conservatives tend to regard giving as a personal rather than governmental responsibility, some liberals consider private charity a retrograde phenomenon -- a poor palliative for an inadequate welfare state, and a distraction from achieving adequacy by force, by increasing taxes."
There but for the grace of God go I...not.

CNN has one of those human interest stories about a poor woman in California who fell on hard times: "From $70K to food bank, one family's struggle" The story is meant to evoke sympathy or warn us of the consequences of a sputtering economy but it doesn't take too long into the article to see that things don't add up:

Guerrero is estranged from her husband and raising her two young children. She's already burned through her savings to help make ends meet, and is drawing unemployment checks. She has had to take extreme measures to pay for her interest-only mortgage of $2,500 a month. In fact, her mother moved in with her to help pay the bills.
1) She's too proud to ask her estranged husband for help, yet won't divorce him and sue for child support.
2) She had absolutely no savings if she's unemployed for a single month and already filing for food stamps.
3) There is no way somebody making $70K a year can afford a $2500/month mortgage. She's clearing somewhere around four grand a month, meaning she's spending a mammoth 63% of her take-home pay for a mortgage on which she's gaining no equity.

If only she had the fiscal knowledge that interest-only loans are a dead-end:

A former loan processor, Guerrero knows all about that, although so far she has been able keep her house.
There are genuine tales of hardship out there in America but this story just does not make any sense. Worst poster child since Graeme Frost.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Yeah, that'll bring 'em back - Taxpayers flee Massachusetts. Today in the Boston Globe: "State's fiscal picture dims - Cuts, tax hikes may be on the table."

And here's some fun trivia for you: "All of this is set against the fact that the state already has the highest per capita government debt in the country." We're #1 baby! Hmmm...I wonder where all that money went? Oh, wait, there it is: "Healthcare cost increases dominate Mass. budget debate" Universal health care is bankrupting the Bay State - who saw that coming?
Incurious Paul

NY Times columnist, alleged economist and self-regarding blowhard Paul Krugman does it again. In his latest blog entry, he's taken a look at the latest report by the Social Security trustees and finds that, since the actuarial balance not quite as red as before, everything's peachy:

Moral: Social Security's financial problem is relatively minor. It doesn't deserve the emphasis it receives from most pundits.
Big whoop! And the Titanic was fine until all that water rose above the third-class levels. Krugman has become so biased and intellectually dishonest that whenever the unemployment rate drops, he immediately assigns it to phantom "people who stopped looking for work." Now he sees a hiccup in the actuarial tables at Social Security, which is still going bankrupt in 2041, and shrugs his dwarfish shoulders.

What's worse, he doesn't seem the least bit interested in trying to uncover why the demographically-driven collapse of Social Security is showing signs of life. For that, we have to thank Kevin Drum for doing some heavy lifting to find that an accounting trick has tipped the balance somewhat:

Translation: instead of just pulling a net number out of a hat, the trustees built a model that estimated the actual demographic characteristics of both immigrants and emigrants. And guess what?

- Illegal immigrants tend to skew young. This benefits the system.
- Young people have more children than older people. This benefits the system.
- Some illegal immigrants pay taxes for a few years and then leave. This benefits the system.

Bottom line: "This year's report results in [...] a substantial increase in the number of working-age individuals contributing payroll taxes, but a relatively smaller increase in the number of retirement-age individuals receiving benefits in the latter half of the long-range period." Give or take a bit, it turns out that this shores up the Social Security system to the tune of around $13 billion per year. Thanks, illegal immigrants!
That's right, illegal immigration is shoring up Social Security and Medicare and this is precisely the kind of economic and social dynamic that drives most economists. But not Paul Krugman.

Extra - Here's Tom: "Let's fleece the illegals"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Jericho re-cancelled - Well, the nuts helped to gain "Jericho" fans closure, and the final episode of the post-apocalyptic show airs tonight. So we got that going for us.
The requisite Social Security trustee report post

For today's entitlement reform update, I'm going to borrow a headline from Fark:

Medicare program funds will be wiped out by 2019, Social Security by 2041. Thank goodness baby boomers are living their dreams while sucking the country dry
Yeah, that pretty much says it all, but in case you missed today's news, here's CNN: "Treasury Secretary says program is 'financially unsustainable.' - Trustee report says government will have to pay back what it owes starting in 2017"

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, saying that Social Security is "financially unsustainable," called Tuesday for quick action to keep the system strong and released a report detailing the program's funding shortfalls.

The federal government will have to start paying back what it owes the Social Security trust fund in 2017 so the program can continue paying 100% of benefits. By 2041, if the system is left unchanged, Social Security will only be able to pay out 78% of benefits promised to future retirees.
And from the Baltimore Sun: "Social Security, Medicare 'train-wrecks:' Warnings"

"The latest report from the trustees shows once again that the aging of the population along with rising health care costs per capita threaten to bankrupt the country if nothing is done,' Sawhill said today. "Yet, none of the presidential candidates has been honest with the American public about the magnitude of the challenge and the importance of dealing with it sooner rather than later."
Know why? Kids don't vote.

More - From Betsy: "Hillary on Social Security"
Obama's campaign hit hard by Wright controversy in North Carolina - And by "hit hard" I mean he's opened up a 21-point lead in the most recent poll. (Also, Hill is down slightly in Pennsylvania.) Quick, change the subject, Hill!
There they go again - If my company is a microcosm of America, then Hillary is toast. All day my co-workers were making wry, eye-rolling remarks about Hillary's dangerous mission to Bosnia. Everybody seemed to be on the wavelength that a Clinton showed his/her true colors once again. As media mogul David Geffen said: "Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quote of the day - It's strikeout goodness from Chris Orr on the Plank: "Hillary Clinton supporter Evan Bayh suggested yesterday that superdelegates should decide whether to support Clinton or Barack Obama based on pledged delegate count popular vote electability severity of candidate's late-night insomnia alphabetical order the total electoral votes of the states each has won, a metric by which (surprise!) Clinton wins." Extra bonus: a YouTube clip featuring my favorite piano player Tom Lehrer.
Easter Mass protestors will be enjoying the Chicago penal system - Via Hot Air, the judge set the bond for the "Holy Word 6" at $25,000+ for their felony indictments. Yowza.

Boston Globe: "Casino vote is a blow to labor"

It was a dramatic moment that captured the anger Haynes and other union leaders felt about the House position on casinos - and their inability to affect it. When the House voted a few minutes later, just 46 members supported the bill, a top union priority for the thousands of jobs casinos would bring. Afterward, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi crowed over labor's defeat, praising House members for withstanding "incredible pressure" from unions.
Heaven forbid if the Bay State unions didn't have a new Big Dig to siphon off piles of cash.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

No health care for you - A former intern for Michael Moore is selling an autographed book on Ebay. Scroll down for the mini-rant.
Some funny videos - It's the weekend, so here are some good ones passed on by one of my contemporaries. Enjoy!

Over 200 performance artists, frozen in Grand Central Station.
Vampires or German prank? People can't see their reflection.
If Saul Bass did the opening titles for "Star Wars."
500 years of chicks in art.
And this one is in the news: Delta's new safety video with sexy finger-wagging around 1:50.
Cause sometimes I use big words and stuff

blog readability test
A stupid decision, remarkably, not made by the Ninth Circuit - NYT "Colorado Court Rules 'No Smoking' Means Exactly That, Even on Stage": "A Colorado appeals court ruled on Thursday that smoking by an actor on stage, while possibly important to character and theatrical message, is still banned by the state's two-year-old indoor smoking law."

Well, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his cigarette holder taken away to appease the gods of political correctness, so now the Arts will also have to suffer.
The Tarheel State gambit - Interesting analysis from a reader over at the Real Clear Politics blog. If Hillary can somehow pull out a win in North Carolina and take three primaries in a row, can she claim that Obama has been irredeemably damaged by the Wright controversy? Hmmm. Of course, it's also possible I'm imagining this scenario because I want the Clinton train wreck to be as devastating as possible. That seems closer to the truth.
Quote of the Day - It's Bill Richardson describing his pre-Obama endorsement conversation with Hillary: "Let me tell you: we've had better conversations." Awkward!
I doubt it - Fox News: "A John Edwards endorsement is one the big X factors left in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination..." Give me a break.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A portent - McCain may have a slight lead in the polls, but he's getting crushed in the money war. Usually funds are helpful during an election.
Superdelegates run from the Hill

CNN: "Bill Richardson to endorse Obama"

Like Ron Fournier wrote last month, it's looking like a lot of Democrats are just plain fed up with the Clintons:
For years, Bill and Hillary Clinton treated the Democratic National Committee and party activists as extensions of their White House ambitions, pawns in a game of success and survival. She may pay a high price for their selfishness soon.

Top Democrats, including some inside Hillary Clinton's campaign, say many party leaders - the so-called superdelegates - won't hesitate to ditch the former New York senator for Barack Obama if her political problems persist. Their loyalty to the first couple is built on shaky ground.
And, frankly, I don't see how the former First Lady's document dump helps except to remind everyone of Monica, Johnny Chung, and "missing" law firm records. This can only augment the "Clinton fatigue" that has plagued her campaign from the start.
Not the happiest place on Earth - Fox News: "Woman Charged With 'Line Rage' Beating at Disney World." In her defense, it was at the Mad Tea Party.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rigged elections set for March 29th in Zimbabwe - The Economist (UK) has a long article on the presidential campaign in Zimbabwe where tyrant Robert Mugabe is poised to steal another term despite this: "Some economists think that, if prices double every month, a government can still collect revenue. But if prices double every week, you hit a point where people start to flee the currency altogether. Zimbabwe is heading in the abandon-ship direction, perhaps only a few months away." Right now the polls are leading towards the opposition with a quarter "undecided" (i.e. afraid of Mugabe's thugs.)
Big thief - You can't spell misappropriation without "O". Fox News: "Report: Oprah Being Sued for Stealing 'Big Give' Idea"
Landslide against Massachusetts casinos

I'm so accustomed to Beacon Hill being in conflict with my beliefs, I've pretty much given up voting in local elections. Finally something went right in this state: "House defeats governor's casino bill"

The House voted 108-46 this evening to defeat a proposal to license resort casinos in Massachusetts, rejecting one of Governor Deval Patrick’s cornerstone economic initiatives.
Whew! Not even close. House speaker Salvatore DiMasi deserves credit for blocking Governor Deval Patrick's plan for "easy money."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's a big airport - Since I've recently written another technical paper, there's a 95% chance I'll be visiting Brussels in September. So this was a troubling headline: "Belgium no longer exists." Oh well, I guess I can hang out in the airport in Amsterdam.
The Obama speech reax - I suppose I should say something so I'll just repeat something I said at work today: the fans of Obama have forgiven (or forgotten) the fact that the guy has almost no record to speak of. They don't care. Obama is all about the future and this jazz with Reverend Wright is in the past. Therefore I really don't see how he loses any of his Democratic base in the long run (update: I could be wrong).

The GOP is planning to bring up the "damn America" sermon in the general election, but I think it's a mistake along the same lines, that is, looking to the past. McCain needs to make a positive argument for his candidacy, looking forward, otherwise he'll never beat Obama's effective "hope" and "change" mantra (although it doesn't look terrible right now.)
Shouldn't global warming involve some, you know, warming?

From NPR: "The mystery of global warming's missing heat"

Some 3,000 scientific robots that are plying the ocean have sent home a puzzling message. These diving instruments suggest that the oceans have not warmed up at all over the past four or five years. That could mean global warming has taken a breather. Or it could mean scientists aren't quite understanding what their robots are telling them.
Well, the answer is obvious: the robots are on the take from Exxon. (HT: Strata)

More - Tim Blair notes that the robots have betrayed their master.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A headline begging for a campy, teenage movie - "Mideast's first women-only hotel opens in Saudi Arabia" It's a fish-out-of-water scenario meets out-of-control hormones: will our heroes get lucky, or the lash? This script writes itself.
Soon we'll be nostalgic for $400 billion deficits

Remember the good ole days, we'll reminisce, when our country wasn't awash in stunning debt and floated by Chinese bondholders? When we controlled our own economic destiny and didn't have to beg OPEC ministers to pump more crude? Ruefully, we'll look back and wonder why we didn't do something when the entitlement problem was manageable. But for now, it's candy for everyone!

The budget situation is already dire. In the last six years, the federal government has spent some $1.8 trillion more than it has taken in. This year, the deficit will hit an estimated $410 billion. If the economy falls into a recession, the gap will grow.

Believe it or not, these are the good old days. In the next few years, the budget will begin to show the effects of a mammoth event that has long been dreaded: the retirement of the baby boomers. Social Security and Medicare already account for one-third of federal spending, and over the next 30 years, they are expected to nearly double in cost as a share of the total economy.

A recent report from the Brookings Institution found that just to pay for all federal outlays, we would have to raise taxes by at least one-third by 2030. To avoid such tax increases without cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, our leaders would have to make cuts of 50 percent or more in all the other federal programs. Or we could slash benefits for the elderly.
Oh, that'll happen. If you thought entitlement reform was difficult before, wait until millions of baby boomers join the public rolls and spend their retirement boating and writing letters to Congress. Forget it.
Bearing arms and disarming bears

I listened to the C-Span re-air of the Supreme Court arguments today on the gun case Heller v. District of Columbia and the back-and-forth was absolutely riveting. As Supreme Court cases go, this is major league originalism or, in the phrasing of one wag, "Justice Scalia's Stanley Cup." Slate's outstanding Supreme Court reporter Dahlia Lithwick has a review.

More - SCOTUSblog!

Also, my favorite moment was when Justice Scalia revealed his knowledge of firearms: "You mean you can't have more arms than you would need to take with you to the militia? You can't have...a turkey gun and a duck gun and a 30.06 and a 270..." The "30.06" is pronounced "thirty aught six" for the record.
Proposed communication satellites - Sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke died today in, strangely enough, Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was 90 and two years short of "2010."

Monday, March 17, 2008

This story seems familiar - New York governor admits to affair. No, it's the new guy.
No revote in the Sunshine State - Marc Ambinder: "No Florida revote = blow to Clinton"
Massachusetts' forced health care program already a big hit

From the Boston Globe: "Health provider predicts big loss - Hospital alliance cites impact of reform law; Could cut 300 jobs, suffer $25m shortfall"

Cambridge Health Alliance, a key part of the Boston area's healthcare network, is facing a potentially "catastrophic" loss this year and is looking to eliminate up to 300 jobs, or about 9 percent of its workforce, in an effort to stabilize finances.

The alliance, which includes Cambridge Hospital, Somerville Hospital, and Whidden Hospital in Everett, says it is being hit hard by the state's new healthcare reform law, which has left it responsible for providing free care for those without insurance while reducing the hospitals' compensation for such services.

"A significant downturn in our volume and the transition to the new free care pool reimbursement system created a perfect storm for us," said Dennis D. Keefe, chief executive of the alliance.
Thus completes the "good intentions/unintended consequences" trifecta. This is probably just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for the Bay State's new health care mandate. Spread that pain, Beacon Hill.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bear Stearns collapses - Fox News: "JPMorgan Chase to Purchase Bear Stearns for $2 a Share" That's quite a bargain for the 85-year old company, a victim of the subprime mortgage crisis and disappearing liquidity. Still, it's a better deal than the storied Barings Bank got after rogue trader Nick Leeson forced England's oldest investment bank into insolvency; Barings was sold to the Dutch financial company ING for one British pound.
The spy on the boat - Clip of next week's episode of Lost leaked to YouTube, possibly by Ben.
Got trivia?
The Zogby axiom - Taking into account my (low) opinion of John Zogby's polling skills, this analysis suggests that John McCain would lose to either Obama or Clinton in the general election.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sunday morning talkshow lineup - Former Senator Bill Bradley will be on "Meet the Press" while "Crazy Eyes" Nancy Pelosi will be on "This Week." I've always really liked Bill Bradley since he was my Senator back in New Jersey.
People obey the law, bankrupt city - Remember that story about tax revenues drying up because people were too good at conserving water? Here's another tale from the land of unintended consequences, (via Fark) "Dallas' red light cameras may face changes as revenue estimate drops": "Dallas City Hall has idled more than one-fourth of the 62 cameras that monitor busy intersections because many of them are failing to generate enough red-light-running fines to justify their operational costs, according to city documents."
"Dreadfully awful" - That's Will Franklin on Obama's Social Security plan and I tend to agree: raising the payroll tax turns the universal system into another welfare program.
Pass the popcorn, again - Wow, the Left side of this presidential election has everything: identity politics run amok, another Florida voting disaster, Hillary trying to override the "will of the people" and now Daily Kos diarists going on strike. Can I get a Dean Scream Amen, my brothers?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Obama's new problem - Tom Maguire has a good review of Obama's relationship with Rev. Wright, who seems, well, a little nuts. Also, there's a huge roundup at Memeorandum.
Hillary imitates O.J.

Today a guy at work who knows my political opinions said "You were right." Specifically, he was commenting on my prediction that Hillary would try to steal the Democratic nomination, no matter what. And here she is floating that balloon on NPR:

Hillary Clinton says the results of Michigan's Democratic presidential primary should count, even if Barack Obama's name did not appear on the ballot.

"That was his choice," she says in an interview with Steve Inskeep. "There was no rule or requirement that he take his name off the ballot. His supporters ran a very aggressive campaign to try to get people to vote uncommitted."
If you listen to the NPR audio, Inskeep is dumbstruck by Hillary's contention. Here's how the Atlantic's James Fallows describes it:

Flatly false from Bill Clinton? Sure: "I did not have..." But flatly insulting to the intelligence, in the fashion of an old press briefing by Scott McClellan when defending Scooter Libby or Alberto Gonzales? No. And that is what Hillary Clinton did yesterday -- to the plain incredulity of the normally calm-sounding Inskeep, who kept asking things like, "But how could the primary have been 'fair' if Barack Obama's name was not on the ballot?"

Listen to the clip to hear for yourself, if you haven't already done so -- but it came down to a "how stupid does she think we are?' argument that it was Obama's own fault that he obeyed the party's rules (as other candidates did) and took his name off the unauthorized Michigan ballot.
I think I've found the perfect allegory for Hillary's campaign now. Remember when O.J. Simpson robbed that Las Vegas office and tried to explain it away that he was taking back what was really his? The inevitable candidate can't allow somebody to take what is rightfully hers, so she plans on stealing it back, without compunction, qualms, or regrets.

Extra - Right Wing Nuthouse "Hillary's scorched earth campaign": "As far as the Clinton campaign can see, this is their only avenue to the White House and by hook or by crook, whether they bring the Democratic party down or not, they’re going to take it."
Fool me once, shame on you

The repercussions of Boston's Big Dig are reaching all the way across the country. From the Boston Globe: "No Big Dig copycats"

If all had gone as planned, the mayor of Seattle would don a hard hat next year and break ground on a multibillion-dollar project to replace the city's downtown overpass with a tunnel.
But in a post-Big Dig world, that vision has popped like a $15 billion balloon.
In a ballot initiative last March, Seattle voters weighed in on a waterfront tunnel project, smaller in scope than the Big Dig, but similar in goals. In the run-up to the vote, the words big and dig became political shorthand for bloat and delay, with shoddiness thrown in for good measure.
Seventy percent of Seattle voters said no, thanks.
So tunnels are out and elevated highways are an eyesore. What can major cities do to relieve congestion? As it turns out, nothing.

On the same ballot, they also rejected a replacement overpass.
Instead, Seattle, like a growing number of cities around the country, is looking at taking down its elevated highway structure and replacing it with - nothing. The idea is to slow traffic in the city on ground-level streets, reclaim the waterfront, and let drivers who want to bypass downtown use another route.
Sounds like a plan.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

You rabble rouser - Bull Dog Pundit has become a Democrat, at least long enough to vote for Hillary. She doesn't really need help in the Keystone State, though.
I'm Al Gore and I approve this retort to the French

International Herald Tribune: "'Magic is over' for U.S., says French foreign minister"


Professor Hubert Farnsworth: [Professor Farnsworth is showing Cubert, his clone, some of his inventions] This is my Universal Translator. It could have been my greatest invention, but it translates everything into an incomprehensible dead language.
Cubert J. Farnsworth: [into the translator's microphone] Hello.
Universal Translator: Bonjour!
Professor Hubert Farnsworth: See? Lousy gibberish!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obama punts on Social Security

From the WSJ: "The Obama Tax Hike"

Until recently, Sen. Barack Obama took a responsible position on Social Security, noting the urgency of reform and saying all options should be on the table.

But having cornered himself among Democratic activists whose attitudes toward Social Security reform range from demagoguery to denial, Mr. Obama has recently veered sharply left. He now proposes to solve the looming Social Security shortfall exclusively with higher taxes.
Surprisingly, it's Clinton (Bill) who evinced a true understanding at what "taxing the rich" by raising the wage cap means with regard to Social Security:

President Bill Clinton considered lifting the wage ceiling modestly, but was skeptical of eliminating it outright. Doing so would "tremendously change the whole Social Security system . . . We should be very careful before we get out of the idea that this is something that we do together as a nation and there is at least some correlation between what we put in and what we get out," Mr. Clinton said in 1998. "You can say, well, they owe it to society. But these people also pay higher income taxes and the rates are still pretty progressive for people in very high rates."
Exactly. If Social Security is to remain a "universal" program - and not another vehicle for wealth transfer - everybody needs to get a benefit proportional to the money put into the system. Otherwise, none dare call it universal.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The race so far - If we factor in Obama's win tonight and put Pennsylvania aside for the moment, let's assume that Clinton and Obama split all the remaining contests 50/50. This is not altogether unreasonable considering that Obama should do well in North Carolina whereas Hillary should do OK in, oh let's say Oregon.

Given that scenario, by what margin would Hillary have to win in Pennsylvania to take the lead in pledged delegates? Here's the deal: Obama would have to fall below the threshold of 15% so that all of the Keystone State's 158 delegates would go to Hillary. In other words, Clinton would have to win by slightly more than 70%.
Whiplash - The Dow jumped a near-record 417 points today after dropping 150 points Monday and thrashing around like an EKG last week. This volatility can't be good.
Obama's campaign hits Clinton on her so-called foreign policy experience.

Hillary's campaign responds: "Oh yeah?"


Monday, March 10, 2008

David Walker exits

Who? It's the Comptroller General of the United States - the nation's accountant - and he's leaving his office on Wednesday to head up the newly created Peter G. Peterson Foundation. But before he goes, here's his latest on USA Today "How the U.S. can avoid a fiscal wreck":

The U.S. government's total liabilities and unfunded commitments for future Social Security and Medicare benefits and other items are estimated at $53 trillion, up from about $20 trillion at the start of this decade, and are rising at a rate of $2 trillion to $3 trillion a year.

This fiscal gap translates into an IOU of about $455,000 for every American household. In other words, our government has made a whole lot of promises that it will be hard-pressed to keep without increasing taxes to levels far beyond what the American people have tolerated historically. By refusing to make tough choices and by charging up the nation's credit card, we are mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren.
How much? You better sit down, kids:

Every child born in this country enters the world owing $175,000 in retirement bills.
So, to recap, the nation's chief accountant David Walker and the former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan both agree that runaway entitlement spending pose a clear and present danger to the nation's economic well-being. The fiscal burden is so massive, it will wipe out all the discretionary spending and leave little room for anything except Medicare, Social Security, and interest on the ever-expanding debt.

Extra - Repeat post: Walker on "60 Minutes"
Spitzer exits - Well, this all happened really quickly: "Sources: Spitzer to Resign Following Reports of 'Involvement' With Prostitution Ring" I have to ask: why do the wives always stand next to their husbands? Must be the Tammy Wynette rule.

Extra - Links galore over at Memeorandum.
Email is forever - The NY Times has a great tech story today about a bunch of guys who hated Microsoft's new operating system Vista. The problem: they're all Microsoft executives. Awkward!
That's one talented insect - Headline of the day: "Locust fills vacant council seat"

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Tony Stewart flips out - After today's NASCAR race at Atlanta, Smoke tore into Goodyear and their tires: "I hate to say it, but the best thing that Goodyear does is make that gold trophy at the end of the year." Ouch. Video and more over at Ace. Maybe Tony should have stuck with that eggplant color; it's more soothing to the senses.
The ethanol scam and the sub-prime crisis

Thanks a lot, Washington. Here's Jeff Jacoby in today's Boston Globe with "How government makes things worse":

But now comes word that expanding ethanol use is likely to mean not less CO2 in the atmosphere, but more. Instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline by 20 percent - the estimate Congress relied on in requiring the huge increase in production - ethanol use will cause such emissions to nearly double over the next 30 years.
And the subprime mortage crisis found its genesis in the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 which created incentives for banks to make risky loans in the interest of "helping" people.

Banks nationwide thus ended up making more and more subprime loans and agreeing to dangerously lax underwriting standards - no down payment, no verification of income, interest-only payment plans, weak credit history. If they tried to compensate for the higher risks they were taking by charging higher interest rates, they were accused of unfairly steering borrowers into "predatory" loans they couldn't afford.
Needless to say, ethanol would never survive as an alternative fuel without massive government subsidies (and Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus doesn't hurt). Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter's attempt to legislate equality has succeeded in spreading the pain to everybody by crippling banks and financial institutions.

The next act in this endless and misguided crusade to play Robin Hood is surely in health care where the Democratic candidates are pushing the new "'fairness." Everybody should have health care, regardless of whether they want it, need it, work for it or just demand it. Hillary has stated as much by darkly proclaiming that, unless everybody signs up for universal coverage, the insurance companies will pick who they will choose to cover. In other words, healthy Americans must be compelled to subsidize those who choose to eat Big Macs everyday. It's only fair, and what could possibly go wrong?

Extra - More from the Globe "Surging costs of groceries hit home": "Several factors contribute to higher food prices, analysts say, but none more than record prices for oil, which last week closed above $105 a barrel. Oil is not only driving up production and transportation costs, but also adding to demand for corn and soybeans, used to make alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel." Because we won't inconvenience some polar bears in a very small section of Alaska, we're all paying high food costs and sending billions to Saudi Arabia.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Hillary's back to her losing ways - Early reports indicate Hill's getting creamed in Wyoming and she'll likely lose by double-digits in Mississippi on Tuesday. Sure they're not big states, but take a look at Slate's Delegate Counter if you want to get a feel for the uphill battle Clinton is facing. Just for laughs, I gave Clinton 60% of the vote in all the remaining contests and she still can't overtake Obama's pledged delegate count.

Extra - Michael Barone: "Clinton has only one plausible path to the nomination." In short: convince the superdelegates to ignore the pledged delegates. He also floats the idea of getting the Michigan and Florida votes in play, but Clinton won't accept caucuses and the DNC will not spend tens of millions of dollars for another round of "do-over" primaries.
Have a drink - Fark characterized this as "Pretty much the greatest news story ever published." Who am I to disagree?
Lawsuits ahoy! - If anybody can figure out how the Democrats' problem with the Michigan and Florida delegates does not end up in a courtroom, I'd like to hear 'em.
Never seen on TV - Banished to YouTube, the Budweiser "swear jar" ad always make me laugh. Warning: you can guess what they're saying.
Weirdest legal pleading ever, with pictures - An unbalanced lawyer decided that the Florida Supreme Court needed visual aides to understand his arguments. Be sure to click over to pages 4-6 for the cut-and-paste of Paul Newman and Ray Charles.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Somebody's not a Hillary fan - From the New Republic "Go Already!": "Pennsylvania is a swing state that Democrats will almost certainly need to win in November, and Clinton will spend seven weeks and millions of dollars there making the case that Obama is unfit to set foot in the White House. You couldn't create a more damaging scenario if you tried."

Extra - John Cole is also upset at Hill and Bill.

More - And here's Andrew Sullivan: "If the Clintons, after having already enjoyed presidential power for eight long years, destroy this movement in order to preserve their own grip on privilege and influence in Democratic circles, it will be more than old-fashioned politics. It will be a generational moment - as formative as 1968. Killing it will be remembered for a very, very long time. And everyone will remember who did it - and why."
That 3 a.m. call again - It looks like the ad that saved Hillary has people asking who they really want answering a late night crisis phone call at the White House. The winner? John McCain.
Heard it on the radio today - Glenn Frey's "Smuggler's Blues"

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The latest from NYC - Politico: "8 House Dems get letters, photo of New York recruiting station before bombing"
Religion of peace strikes again - Fox News: "Gunman Opens Fire at Jerusalem Seminary, Killing at Least 8" Well, maybe I spoke too soon since the gunman hasn't been positively identified yet. However: "Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip praised the operation in a statement, and thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza to celebrate." Color me unsurprised.

More - Pics of the big celebration via Gateway Pundit.
Be careful what you wish for - According to the Plank, Michigan may hold a do-over caucus. This is bad news for Clinton who has done poorly in caucuses and faces one in a state that voted for Jesse Jackson in 1988.
Let the cheating begin! - CNN: "Clinton repeats calls to seat Florida and Michigan delegates"

Well, Hillary has to do something since she can't win enough pledged delegates and she would have to garner 60% of the superdelegates (with some other favorable state outcomes*) just to tie Obama.

(* For example, from Ambinder's "Gertrude" scenario, Hillary wins North Carolina. Nope, that's not likely to happen.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

And let's throw in a Social Security post for good measure - Megan McArdle "Social Security really is in trouble": "The supporters of the system are right that Social Security is not quite the catastrophe that conservatives claim--but they're wrong when they aver that the system doesn't have deep structural problems. It does, and those problems are going to become big political problems over the next decade."
Non-political interlude - I'm exhausted by the Obama-Clinton battle. Hillary "won" and picked up like a dozen delegates and the whole thing is going to the convention for a floor fight.

Zimbabwe, take me away! ABC News: "Zimbabwe Currency Falls to Record Low"

The Zimbabwe currency tumbled to a record low of 25 million for a single U.S. dollar Wednesday, currency dealers said.

With Zimbabwe dollars mostly available in bundles of 100,000 and 200,000 notes, one $100 note bought nearly 40 pounds of local notes at the new market rate Wednesday.
In other news, neo-dictator Robert Mugabe has not yet killed his opponent in the March 29th national election. So we got that going for us.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Have fun everyone! - I gotta go to sleep. As I see it, the only certainties we'll know in the morning is that 1) McCain will be the Republican nominee and 2) Hillary will not drop out. Night-night.
Trouble with a capital "T" and that stands for "trillion"

From CNN/Money/Fortune: "The $34 trillion problem - Medicare is poised to wreak havoc on the economy. And our presidential candidates are avoiding the issue."

Unfortunately the day of reckoning is imminent. Sometime in the next President's first term, Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) will go cash-flow-negative, and it's all downhill from there. Medicare provides a wide range of services and subsidies to more than 40 million old and disabled Americans. As the country ages, Medicare and Medicaid (for those of any age with low incomes) will devour growing chunks of U.S. economic output. So will Social Security, but its cut of GDP should stop increasing around 2030. The federal budget has averaged about 18% of GDP over the past several decades. If that average holds and if the rules of our social insurance programs don't change, then by 2070, when today's kids are retiring, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will consume the entire federal budget, with Medicare taking by far the largest share. No Army, no Navy, no Education Department - just those three programs.
The unfunded liability to Medicare over the next half-century is $34 trillion and yet there isn't a presidential candidate who isn't making unrealistic promises to enhance Medicare. It simply cannot be done because it means either an improbable tax rate that nobody will pay or the collapse of the U.S. credit rating and, by fiscal extension, the slow enervation of the government into a third-rate power.

Here's the author posing a question to Alan Greenspan:

Twice I have asked Alan Greenspan what he considers the greatest threat to the U.S. economy, and both times he has answered immediately with a single word: Medicare.
Washington does not have the will to reform what must be reformed, so watch in horror as the banks and our foreign creditors dictate terms to the U.S. government. Coming soon.

Hat tip to Bull Dog Pundit who has much more over at ABP.
Back to the Dems - Rhode Island has just been called for Hillary and, with 6% of the vote counted, she's cruising in Ohio thereby proving the Zogby axiom. Obama has a slight lead in Texas with only 3% of the vote counted.

Update (10pm) - RCP Blog explains why Hillary looks so strong in Ohio:
9:44PM - The populous Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) counties have not reported results yet. This plays a huge role in why Clinton is currently up 20 points, according to CNN's results reporting. Those two counties should bring the race closer as they begin reporting.
In other words, it's going to be a long night.
On the GOP side - John McCain is projected to have 1195 delegates which means he has clinched the Republican nomination. Woo-hoo.
Preliminary exit polls - Right here, via The Page. Interesting:

Texas - Women: Clinton 54, Obama 46.
Democratic men have voted for Obama in much larger margins lately so this could be encouraging news for Obama unless female turnout was large.
Except for Vermont, it's close - The Drudge siren is now (6:29 EST) reading: "Exit polls: Deadlocked in three states." Really, Rhode Island too? That was supposed to be a solid Clinton state. Hillary will win Ohio but the margin may be the story tonight (or maybe the weather.) And then there's Texas where Rush Limbaugh is urging Dittoheads to vote for Hil.
Running to stay still - Jonathan Alter with "Hillary's Math Problem": "Hillary Clinton may be poised for a big night tonight, with wins in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island. Clinton aides say this will be the beginning of her comeback against Barack Obama. There's only one problem with this analysis: they can't count."

What's Hillary's end game? Try for a brokered convention and hope that some dirt comes out on Obama? More likely, Clinton would have to finagle some kind of deal to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates. If you liked "Bush v. Gore" then you'll love "Clinton v. Obama."

Monday, March 03, 2008

Meanwhile, in Finland - Why are the Finns so smart? They focus on - get this - education: "Finnish students, who start school at age seven, are expected to be more independent than American children. Well-trained teachers focus on making sure slower students keep up; there's no special attention for gifted students. Homework is minimal. So are extra-curriculars: A model school has "no sports teams, marching bands or prom," writes Ellen Gamerman." (More here).
Happy ending - I've never known Drew Carey to dabble in political and/or controversial subjects but here he is narrating a tale of a rebellion against the awful school system in Watts. The parents wanted a charter school to take over; the teacher's union, not so much.
Makin' stuff up - I'm sure I've made this observation before, but how can anybody take the pollster John "Kerry's gonna win" Zogby seriously? I'm convinced that he manufactures contrary polls just for media attention. Anyway, he's the only pollster to have Obama up in Ohio to which I can only conclude that Hillary will win big. First Read reports that she'll be spending "Little Super Tuesday" night in Columbus.
Hillary's woman problem - Elinor Lipman in the Boston Globe "She's not my cup of tea": "May I advance the notion that in the year 2008, a woman may dislike a fellow woman and not be considered a traitor to her gender?"
Wait, what? - According to the CBO, the Bush tax cuts have resulted in an 8.9% reduction in taxes for the top quintile of taxpayers and a 32.8% reduction for the bottom quintile.

On a related note, I finished my taxes this weekend. The tax forms are just hopelessly - and, dare I say, purposely - complicated. Let me state conspiratorially that I think the Byzantine nature of the tax code is all a big racket by the H&R Blocks and tax accountants across the country. The time, energy, and money spent preparing these forms is a like a hidden tax on Americans. (/rant)
The Great Boston Contractor Support project continues

From the Boston Globe: "Big Dig still runs a long to-do list"

Two months after turnpike managers parted with the Big Dig's chief engineer, shuttered the project's offices, and let its lead contract expire, workers are contending with a 2,000-item to-do list, an indication that the Big Dig remains a long way from finality.
There is no conceivable end to this $5 billion $15 billion project that has squandered federal and state funds alike.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The geek fad straight from Germany: PowerPoint Karaoke

From the Boston Globe: "Slide Show"

If you've never heard of PowerPoint Karaoke, that probably means you're neither German nor a hardcore techie. The phenomenon has been spreading geek to geekand conference to conference since it was invented by a German artists' group in 2005. PowerPoint Karaoke sessions have been held at last year's E-Tech conference in San Diego, the Chaos Conference in Berlin, and at smaller tech gatherings in Los Angeles, London, and Montreal.

In a typical event, a few brave people volunteer to "present" a random deck of slides pulled off the Web, or borrowed from friends or employers. ... The audience laughs, cheers, and yells out suggestions as the presenters gamely struggle to link one slide to the next, transforming something that probably started life as a tedious corporate monologue into a five-minute flight of creative irony.


Some karaoke slides are pure cliche. ("We offer a wide range of solutions!") Others, taken out of context, feel purely, startlingly random. A chest X-ray. The planet Earth surrounded by cartoon heads. And who thought it was a good idea to superimpose an image of Sony's AIBO toy robot dog over pages from a Dick and Jane-type storybook? And more importantly, what do you say if you're confronted by that slide? (One presenter's take: "Sony AIBO: The Greatest Threat to Humanity Yet!")
For the chest X-ray, I would have quipped: "Now let's get to the heart of the matter."

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Everybody loves Jack

Of course, I do not approve this message but thought it was damn funny. What, no "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"?
Whatever - In a phone conference call, Clinton's campaign advisors were asked, in response to Hillary's 3am crisis call spot: "What foreign policy moment would you point to in Hillary's career where she's been tested by crisis?"

Others are pointing to the uncomfortable pregnant pause but take a listen to the flaccid, demoralized, pro forma response offered by her top staff. They're just going through the motions now.