Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Freedom Wall - World War II memorial, Washington D.C.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

George Will is going to plotz - Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay throws the second perfect game in just this past month. It looks like this is the shortest interval between perfect games in the "modern era" unless you count the five-day span in 1880.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Something seems off

Look, I understand that political "favors" are exchanged in Washington all the time. I've avoided writing about the Sestak-Obama quid pro quo because I thought it was a tempest in a teapot. "Power politics in Washington!? Perish the thought!"

But now the ham-handed explanation by the Obama White House raises so many questions, I feel like Michael Corleone:
"Only don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry."
So, the (evolving) explanation is that although Sestak earlier claimed he was offered a "high-ranking" position - possibly Secretary of the Navy - now it was just a uncompensated advisory board position. Because, you know, ex-Presidents are regularly dispatched to Democratic primary challengers to relay unpaid job offers. And that Thursday lunch with Bill Clinton along with the near-simultaneous phone call to Sestak's brother? Just good old-fashioned gab, not "getting the story straight before the Friday news dump."

Now let's grill up some burgers!

Update - American Thinker: "Sestak cover story starts to unravel."
As the Georgia Satellites said - Keep your hands to yourself. Oh, man, I don't know how that reporter kept his cool. I would have caused a commotion.
We're all Vikings now - The Stieg Larsson phenomenon led to this Foreign Policy article: "We're all Swedes now."

As coincidence would have it, I just finished "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" this past week. Here's my spoiler-free review: the first third was slow but ably set the stage for the story and the characters, the second third was very good as the suspense built and the plot quickened, but the final third was a let-down.

Let's just say there were elements of the conclusion to which I could not suspend disbelief. Lisbeth Salander (the girl) is a great character, but the denouement just about spoiled it for me.
We gotta get out of this place - Atlantic Crossings reminds us that 70 years ago was the Dunkirk evacuation.
Using the noggin - Obama: big thinker, he thinks.
Gary Coleman dead at 42 - You know what's depressing? The guy who played his father on "Diff'rent Strokes" is still alive (87 and living in Canada).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Atlantic ocean magazine blunders - The Atlantic Online gleefully played up that Ken Starr was charged with security fraud until they found out it was a different Ken Starr. Then they apologized to Bill Clinton. Journalism is hard.
Slightly less deficit spending = savings! - Keith Hennessey explains the extenders bill that includes a one-year "doc fix" will add only $84 billion to the national debt.

Extra - More background from The Foundry.
Hoping for irrationality

The New Yorker has a great piece by John Cassidy about how the fantasy figures used to sell Obamacare depend on corporations to ignore basic math when considering health care insurance benefits for employees:
In a situation like this [a hypothetical business], the firm has a strong financial incentive to junk its group coverage and dump its workers onto the taxpayer-subsidized plan. Under the new law, firms with more than fifty workers that don’t offer coverage would have to pay an annual fine of $2,000 for every worker they employ, excepting the first thirty. In this case, the security firm would incur a fine of $140,000 (seventy times two), but it would save $610,000 a year on health-care costs. If you owned this firm, what would you do? Unless you are unusually public spirited, you would take advantage of the free money that the government is giving out. Since your employees would see their own health-care contributions fall by more than $1,100 a year, or almost half, they would be unlikely to complain. And even if they did, you would be saving so much money you afford to buy their agreement with a pay raise of, say, $2,000 a year, and still come out well ahead.
Sure, it's a win-win for everybody as long as the government picks up the balance of medical expenses. Who will pay for that? Somebody else, as usual.

Related - Opinion Journal: "Obamacare vs. small business."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Mayor of Simpleton

IMHO, the best XTC song.
About last night - While you slept, the national debt entered the terrible teen-trillions. Terrific.

Debt per taxpayer: $118 large. For heaven's sake, I'm not a New Jersey teacher.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I blame Blinky - CNet: "Pac-Man on Google wasted 4.8 million hours." You can play here.
Out of control - WashPost: "New spending plans belie Congress's deficit worries."

Related - WSJ: "The PayGo con." Everything is "emergency" spending now.
Obama is the new Eisenhower

James Fallows set it up in his review of Obama's U.S. Military Academy speech: "Obama at West Point: I like Ike." Interesting comparison considering that Eisenhower was a fan of covert operations and today Fox News reported this headline: "U.S. Orders Covert Military Action in Mideast."

Then there's this from today's Washington Post:

Since the oil rig exploded, the White House has tried to project a posture that is unflappable and in command.
But to those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama's clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there.
"Plug the damn hole," Obama told them.
Which is reminiscent of this quote by Harry S Truman:

When contemplating General Eisenhower winning the Presidential election, Truman said, "He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, 'Do this! Do that!' And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating."
Yeah, Obama needs to go all South Side of Chicago on that oil leak. Take that!
Headline of the day - LA Times: "Obama White House probe of Obama White House finds no Obama White House impropriety on Sestak."

Extra - White House declares: "No controlling legal authority!"

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lindsay Lohan's day in court

I don't normally engage in celebrity gossip or drop the name of starlets in a naked attempt to grab more internet traffic, but the saga of Lindsay is just too funny to pass up. Let me count the ways:

1.) Lindsay showed up for court sporting a revealing white top, obviously hoping she would, um, persuade, a male judge with her, um, assets. Alas, Judge Marsha Revel was unswayed.
2.) When Lindsay's lawyer objected to the terms of her release, including wearing a SCRAM bracelet to monitor her vodka intake, the judge declared she would enumerate her reasons for the conditions. Lindsay's lawyer pulled an Emily Litella: "Never mind!"
3.) Among the reasons Lindsay gave for missing the original court date: somebody stole her passport, some jewelry was missing, she ran out of gas, had a flat tire, didn't have money for cab fare, there was an earthquake, a terrible flood, LOCUSTS!
Health care reform more popular than ever

Sorry, that was misleading. The repeal of HCR is more popular than ever:

Support for repeal of the new national health care plan has jumped to its highest level ever. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 63% of U.S. voters now favor repeal of the plan passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Obama in March.
Wait, but wasn't the strategy of the White House to accelerate the roll-out of health care reforms so that Americans would appreciate this superb piece of legislation? Maybe those who were polled saw this report from the Hill indicating that Obamacare is dissuading small businesses from hiring new workers:

A study by the National Center for Policy Analysis shows that tax credits in the new healthcare law could negatively impact small-business hiring decisions.
Oh, and businesses who already have workers? Well, according to today's NY Times, they could be socked with additional penalties:

About one-third of employers subject to major requirements of the new health care law may face tax penalties because they offer health insurance that could be considered unaffordable to some employees, a new study says.
The study, by Mercer, one of the nation’s largest employee benefit consulting concerns, is based on a survey of nearly 3,000 employers.
It suggests that a little-noticed provision of the law could affect far more employers than Congress had assumed.
A "little noticed provision" deep within a 2,500 bill? Who saw that coming?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Can't blog...watching "Lost" - It's the end of an era for my favorite web site: "Is Lost a Repeat?" Tonight will be the last time it reads "No!"

Update - The "Lost"-themed Target commercials are hilarious.
There's one - The GOP wins one in Hawaii.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Retire at 44 with a six-figure pension - Hugo Tassone, you are my hero. I have got to get a government job.
NASCAR All-Star race - Can somebody explain to me how Dale Earnhardt Jr. "qualified" for this year's race? You know, considering he hasn't won a race in years.

Extra - Ha-ha, one of the Speed TV commentators called tonight's race an "E ticket" event. Considering the E-tickets were phased out at Disney World in 1982, this is really a dated idiom.
Reality intrudes in Europe - I've often written that the European social contract is a crystal ball into the future of entitlements in America. Generous benefits bestowed during boom times simply cannot be sustained in the face of slow growth and demographic shifts. So color me unsurprised to see this article in the NY Times: "Crisis imperils liberal benefits long expected by Europeans." Should have opened a 401(k).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Um, I already did - Christian Science Monitor: "Why you won't quit Facebook." I deactivated my account last week. In the signout process, FB asked why I wanted to drop out and every potential choice had a pop-up box to explain why I'm crazy. If you click on "Privacy concerns" Facebook assures you that there are all sorts of safeguards in place. Finally, I clicked on "Other" and typed in "It's boring."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Road to ruin, good intentions, etc. - Opinion Journal: "Goodbye, employer-sponsored insurance - Companies are discovering that it's cheaper to pay fines to the government than to cover workers." Alternate title: how AT&T can save $1.8 billion just like that [snaps fingers].
Worse than AIG - Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser argues in today's Boston Globe that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be the most costly components of the economic downturn and they must be reformed to remove the incentives to over-borrow.
GOP Smackdown in CT! - I'm sorry, but there's no logical reason why WWE executive Linda McMahon should be anywhere near the U.S. Senate, yet there she is. Boston Globe: "GOP outsider surges in Connecticut polls." It's just another barometer of the anti-D.C. sentiment in this country.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The upside of the Greek crisis - Christian Science Monitor: "Fallout from Greek debt crisis: low interest rates in U.S." Euro down, dollar up.
Looking back on mini-Tuesday - I was pretty bummed about PA-12 until I read (after the fact) that Democrat Mark Critz ran on a platform against health care reform, cap-and-trade, and other issues near and dear to the Obama agenda. Fred Barnes explains: "Anti-incumbent? Try anti-Obama."

Update (5/20) - NRO: "Did Joe Sestak's surge save Mark Critz?" We're going to have to do this all over again in November without these special circumstances.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Forty years of "Exile on Main Street"

The seminal rock classic was borne out of a tax protest when the Rolling Stones fled to the south of France to escape their British tax bill. While everybody partied upstairs, the Stones laid down classic tracks in a dank, smelly basement. On NPR this morning, Mick Jagger recalled those vagabond days; they got Keith Richards' recollections yesterday.
Election update - Gotta sign off soon, but it looks like Specter is out but Mark Critz is going to win PA-12 by a wide margin, including Tim Burns' home county. Didn't see that coming. An astute commenter noted that the Sestak-Specter matchup drove up Democrat turnout. Continuous updates all night at the Real Clear Politics blog.
Two out of three ain't bad - Three Democrats from PA-12 say they're either undecided or voting for Tim Burns. Two of them said it's because they're upset with the health care overhaul. It's a winning issue.
Larry Summers, comic - This must be part of a stand-up act: "Taxpayers can expect 'most, if not all' of GM's bailout back." But seriously, folks.
The polls are open!

I should have made these predictions last night but, since all the polls are open at this writing, they're still valid:

PA Senate Democratic primary: Joe Sestak over Arlen Specter 51%-49%. Sestak's last campaign ad painting Specter as an opportunist was a master stroke. The White House has been distancing itself from Specter for a month now, so I think they know he's toast.

Kentucky Senate Republican primary: Rand Paul wins in a walk over Trey Greyson. A double digit win will make a lot of people wonder how the Tea Party gained so much power, so quickly.

Arkansas Senate Democratic primary: Blanche Lincoln will eke out a "win" here, say 49%-47%, which will force a runoff in three weeks, anyway.

The big one: Pennsylvania-12 special election - This has been an absolute dead heat between Republican Tim Burns and Democrat Mark Critz to fill the late Jack Murtha's seat. I think Tim Burns wins by a point and here's why: elections in general and special elections in particular bring out two kinds of people: the enthusiastic and the elderly (who vote all the time). I don't think I need to reiterate that Republicans are extremely eager to vote today and in November. But a lot of the Gray Panthers who will be heading out the polls today have been unhappy with health care reform and ready to vote. So if the polls are even, it's all about turnout; Burns will pull it out.

The Viking Pundit has spoken!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Playing with a short stack

I've been trying to think of a way to frame the idea that runaway federal spending, including entitlement liabilities which have amassed over decades, is leading to a debt "tipping point" where we'll fall into a trap of permanent low growth and high unemployment.

Think of America at a poker table. For most of our history we've had a really big stack to play with and - perhaps more importantly - easy access to the ATM, with low fees. This gives us a lot of flexibility in the game since we can afford to play a lot of hands and we have the chips to bluff, bully, call, raise, or fold. We can absorb the bad beats because we have the cash and the credit.

But when you're down to a short stack of chips, your options become much more limited. You can't throw around money like you did before and you're forced to wait for good hands (while your blinds are siphoned away.) What's worse, the bank thinks you have a gambling problem and has made it more difficult and/or expensive to take money from the ATM. But you need to keep playing, so you borrow more money to 1) pay back old gambling debts and 2) stay in the game. Which leads to more debt...and now the bank is insisting that you adopt "austerity measures" if you want more cash.

All too soon and before you even realized you have a crippling debt problem, you're taking a serious look at Hawaii and wondering if you can sell it to the Japanese for some fast cash.
Prepare to be shocked, Massachusetts-style

After Governor Deval Patrick refused to allow the Bay State's health insurance companies to raise rates to counter the runaway cost of MassCare, they've now reported huge losses:

The state's four biggest health insurers today posted first-quarter losses totaling more than $150 million, with three of the carriers blaming the bulk of their deficit on the Patrick administration's decision to cap rate increases for individuals and small businesses.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state's largest health insurer, reported a $65.2 million net loss for the three months ending March 31. Its operating loss was even steeper, $95.5 million. The company drew $55 million from its reserve to cover the anticipated losses from the state-imposed premium cap in the second quarter, accounting for the majority of its operating loss.
Since MassCare is the model for Obamacare, get ready for a multiplication of problems. Here's Megan McArdle:

There's a depressing possibility, even a likelihood, that this is our future. It's hard to simultaneously expand demand, while lowering the incentives for supply (i.e. Medicare reimbursements), without having some pretty dramatic mismatches between the two. There's an old adage common in restaurants and engineering that goes "Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick Two." Change that middle word to "Universal" and you've got a pretty good summation of the problem that Massachusetts now faces--and that the rest of us soon will.
Oh boy.
Price controls have always been a good idea - In Bizarro World: "Health insurance regulators struggle to define what makes a rate hike 'unreasonable.'" As before, look to the problems in Massachusetts as a warm-up for the federal plan.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

When every waiting room looks like the set of "ER."

The Hill: "Health reform threatens to overwhelm already crammed emergency rooms"

The new healthcare law will pack 32 million newly insured people into emergency rooms already crammed beyond capacity, according to experts on healthcare facilities.
A chief aim of the new healthcare law was to take the pressure off emergency rooms by mandating that people either have insurance coverage. The idea was that if people have insurance, they will go to a doctor rather than putting off care until they faced an emergency.
People who build hospitals, however, say newly insured people will still go to emergency rooms for primary care because they don’t have a doctor.
Good gravy, wheresoever did they get that idea?

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) suspects the fallout that occurred in Massachusetts’ emergency rooms could happen nationwide after health reform kicks in.
If only the mainstream media had reported this probable issue instead of relying on a little-read blogger who warned about this very problem in the Bay State.

Extra - From Gay Patriot.
NASCAR arcana and Aric - I know this is real "inside baseball" stuff for we racing fans, but earlier today Aric Almirola won the Dover truck race. Almirola "won" a Nationwide race in 2007 after starting the race for Joe Gibbs Racing only to be replaced by Denny Hamlin halfway through because he was late getting back from Sprint Cup practice. Almirola was having a great run before Hamlin arrived and there was no need to pull him from the car; he did not join Hamlin in Victory Lane. So now he has a win all of his own. Good for him.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Look but don't touch - Phoenix New Times: "Why your cocktail waitress hates you." For the record, the Viking Pundit always tips well and says "thank you."
Health care deja vu - That's the strange feeling you've heard about runaway costs before - even before the legislation was passed. Megan McArdle: "The health care reform already costs more than we thought it would." Concluding sentence: "We haven't done anything yet, and we're somehow already at least $100 billion in the hole."

This was the hallmark of the hurry-up-and-pass it method of the Washington Democrats who had to work around Scott Brown's election and drooping public support. It was all about the bill, damned the consequences. Now we're finding (surprise!) that several companies have been forced to re-state earnings, much to Henry Waxman's consternation, and some of these are considering dropping health care coverage altogether.

"Oh, no!" cry the disbelievers, "we didn't see that coming." Yeah, exactly.

Extra - Rahm "begged" Obama to think twice.
Buyer's remorse - Chicago Sun Times: "Voters fed up with spendthrift Obama."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trouble ahead - The Bank of England sez: "Hey, do you know what country has the same structural problems as Greece? The United States." Uh-oh.
The limits of free speech - I've been a First Amendment nut ever since reading Nat Hentoff's book on free speech. But, man, this story is creepy: a male nurse (who posed as a woman online) stands charged of two counts of assisting suicide for giving advice on Internet chat rooms. From the NY Times: "Online talk, suicides, and a thorny court case." Does this meet the "shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater" threshold? Um, not really.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Yeah, we'll see about that - File this under: "Probably-not-true-but-it-would-be-cool-if-it-were-and-we'll-know-more-in-the-morning-but-I'm-going-to-bed-now." Take a deep breath but Big Government is reporting an exclusive that Mullah Omar has been captured. OK, see you tomorrow.
Greece = California = The U.S.A. (soon)

Tim Cavanaugh had a great post on Hit and Run last night titled "California: The American Greece" in which he notes that it's hard to run a government when you set up a hostile business environment:

The insidious thing about an unfriendly business climate is that it takes a long time for the effects to show up in the government's inability to pay its bills. So long, in fact, that when the sovereign bankruptcy comes, it's easy to draw the conclusion that tax rates are too low. Both California and Greece are going through a variety of this type of denial right now. But with the governor of California and the prime minister of Greece both promising to turn over a new leaf, this is a good time to remember that you can't take people's money if you prevent them from making money in the first place.
As the EU tries to prop up Greece with a new round of loans, Robert Samuelson says "Sic semper welfarious" or "Thus always to welfare states"

What we're seeing in Greece is the death spiral of the welfare state. This isn't Greece's problem alone, and that's why its crisis has rattled global stock markets and threatens economic recovery. Virtually every advanced nation, including the United States, faces the same prospect. Aging populations have been promised huge health and retirement benefits, which countries haven't fully covered with taxes. The reckoning has arrived in Greece, but it awaits most wealthy societies.
And, as I've noted before, America's reckoning is on the near horizon.

In this graph, "HI" is Medicare's Hospital Fund and "OASI" is the funds available for Social Security. The Trustees Report estimates that these trust funds for these programs will be exhausted in 2017 and 2039, respectively. At that time, either crushing taxes will need to be imposed or these programs will be limited to payments based on incoming FICA revenues. By then, we'll be begging China for more cash to avoid our own riots.

Extra – Not so outlandish: "Are the Feds Trying to Nationalize Your Retirement Savings?" They're gonna need some money and your fat 401(k) is just sitting there, and well...

More - From Memeorandum.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The debt crisis this time - Is Greece a window into the future of the United States? Los Angeles Times: "When Other People's Money runs out."
Funemployment! - Via Big Journalism, we discover via the mainstream media that a higher unemployment rate is good news. Yay! Look, I get it: job creation is showing signs of life and encouraged workers are re-entering the fray to vie for the new jobs. The problem is that when unemployment was around 5-6% during the Bush administration, columnists like Paul Krugman never tired of writing weekly articles about how the number was artificially low because discouraged people had "dropped out" of the workforce.
Go East Dillon - Is it me or has this been a light news weekend? Ah, here's a review of the season premiere of "Friday Night Lights." Lots of yelling and fighting.

Friday, May 07, 2010

"Come with me if you don't want paint on your clothes."

The NBC show "Community" has easily overtaken "The Office" as my favorite comedy. Last night's episode was the best yet:

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Sighted: a purple Yugo - from Kansas!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Prepare to be shocked, shocked - again - When Nancy Pelosi said we had to "pass health care reform to find out what's in it" couldn't just one of those things be good? Here we go again: "Major corporations may dump health insurance, pay penalties instead."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The slippery situation in Greece - Megan McArdle notes that a Greek tragedy has been averted in Euro-world, but there are few good options: "What this seems to be showing is that you cannot layer rich-world monetary policy on top of countries that don't have the social, political or economic institutions to support it." In other words, you can't pretend that Greece is Germany.
Prepare to be shocked, shocked - Hot Air: "CBO: Doc fix will cost more than anyone thought."

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

CEOs hate CA - Maggie's Farm links to a list on Chief Executive magazine on the "Best and Worst States for Business 2010." California is ranked 51st, which is pretty bad when there are only 50 states.
The sound you make when your expensive system fails - ERP! In management circles, enterprise resource planning is one of those "too good to be true" systems where multiple levels of a business are linked with integrated databases. Sometimes it works and sometimes not: "SAP, Waste Management settle lawsuit."
Interesting take - Jeff Jacoby invites a little controversy: "What's wrong with price gouging?"

Monday, May 03, 2010

Times Square terrorism update - This headline from the NY Daily News says it all: "Hunt is on for missing Connecticut man who bought car bomb Nissan just 2 weeks ago on Craigslist." No name yet, but I'm guessing that will change by daybreak tomorrow. Our mystery man has not been seen by friends, family or work since Saturday night. That's what those in law enforcement call "a big clue."
More Constitutional truthiness in HCR

Put aside the individual mandate for a moment. The Congressional Research Service – showing up with some information that would have been really helpful a couple months ago – says that health-care reform might violate the Tenth Amendment:

Here's the problem: The law imposes fines on employers whose employees take advantage of the bill's available subsidies. In theory, that could include some state governments. The question the report attempts to answer is: If those fines do indeed apply to state governments, would the imposition of those fines "run afoul of the Tenth Amendment?"
It's a little inside baseball, but it has something to do with the "commandeering" doctrine and intergovernmental tax immunity. More directly, it's another example of stuff we had to find out about after the bill was passed.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Amateur hour in Times Square - I don't want to minimize the potential threat in New York this weekend, but it appears the mad bomber used non-explosive fertilizer for his bomb. Plus he abandoned his truck in one of the surveillance centers of the world. They'll have this moron in custody by this week's episode of "Lost."

Saturday, May 01, 2010