Monday, November 29, 2010

Escape from the Taliban - Heard this on NPR today: New York Times correspondent David Rohde was abducted by the Taliban and held for seven months while they tried to secure an outrageous ransom. His captivity and daring nighttime escape to a Pakistan military base are the subject of a new book called "A Rope and a Prayer."
The obligatory Wikileaks post – Christian Science Monitor: "WikiLeaks Top 5 Revelations."

I think the big news of the document dump is that the Middle East countries surrounding Iran, especially Saudi Arabia, are secretly promoting a security position towards Iran that is indistinguishable - if not more aggressive - than the United States and Israel.

In other words: the enemy of my enemy.

Extra - The Atlantic: "By whatever means necessary."
Masked motorcyclists with magnetic bombs – This story is like something out of a James Bond movie: "Bombs kill Iran nuclear scientist, wound another."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Surely we'll not see a comic like him again - CNN reports that "Airplane" star Leslie Nielsen has died at age 84.
Amazing Race update – Hong Kong sushi

We're down to the final four and teams made their way from crowded Bangladesh to somewhat less-crowded Hong Kong. Jill & Thomas start out first and wisely head to a travel agency. It looks like everybody's going to be on the same evening flight which could be a little awkward for Team Faceless Young Couple who U-Turned Team QVC on the last leg. At the airport, Thomas tries to paint the U-Turn as a "compliment" because he characterized Brook & Claire as the strongest team. Team QVC isn't placated.

Once in Hong Kong, it's a dash for the ferry to an island and the next clue. Nick & Vicki just miss it because Vicki's asthma slows her down. Nick is as unsympathetic as ever and keeps griping like a five-year-old. Back from the island, teams are heading to a Chinese restaurant. Once there, it's the Roadblock: one team member must search through a buffet for pieces of food that are fake (plastic) using only chopsticks. But if they pick food that is real, they must eat it. Team Surgeons finish quick and head to the next clue near a statue of Bruce Lee.

This clue is the Detour: Ding Ding or Sampan. Teams may either ride along a trolley and search among the Hong Kong signs (at night) for clues to the Pit Stop; or they can deliver parakeets via the traditional Chinese boat to a designated boat in the harbor. Nat & Kat choose the birds while Jill & Thomas ride the trolley. Back at the Roadblock, Nick & Vicki arrive at the restaurant just as Claire looks like she's going to collapse from eating food. Suddenly, she bolts for the bathroom and there are some sickening sounds from the toilet. What's funny is that almost immediately after emerging from the bathroom, Claire finds the fake food and Team QVC heads off to the Detour.

Jill & Thomas give up on the trolley Detour and switch to the sampan; they quickly find their harbor boat ahead of Nat & Kat. But then there's a twist, Team Surgeons get a taxi ahead of Jill & Thomas so it's a race to Statue Square and the Pit Stop. Sure enough, Nat & Kat arrive first with the others close behind for the first two spots. Brook & Claire are still trying to find a home for their parakeets. Vicki can't find the fake food at the Roadblock and she also pukes in the bathroom. Nick floats the idea of skipping the Roadblock and taking the penalty which, by my guess, will be a couple hours so they're pretty close to done.

Back from commercial, Vicki says the penalty will be four hours; she gives it another shot. Eventually she finds the fake food but it looks like Team Vegas has been there a long time because you can see the kitchen staff standing around in the background. Brook & Claire are heading to the Pit Stop and the Amazing Race producers aren't even trying to make it look close. Nick is now whining on the sampan Detour and literally lays down on the deck of the boat while Vicki is left to look at harbor boats.

They get off the boat and take a six-hour penalty. Nick is a crybaby all the way to the Pit Stop where Phil tells them this is another non-elimination leg and they get to race again tomorrow. Team Vegas will be starting out the next leg at least six hours behind all other teams and they'll have to face a Speed Bump that will slow them down even further. The fact that they've made it this far in the Race is baffling but now I can't see them making it to the final three with such a handicap.

Final standings:
#1 – Team Surgeons – Nat & Kat
#2 – Team Faceless Young Couple – Jill & Thomas
#3 – Team QVC – Brook & Claire
#4 – Team Vegas – Nick & Vicki

Next week: Looks like the DMZ in South Korea.
Unexpected consequences redux - WSJ "Union drops health coverage for workers' children": "One of the largest union-administered health insurance funds in New York is dropping coverage for the children of more than 30,000 low-wage home attendants, union officials said. The union blamed financial problems it said were caused by the state's health department and new national health-insurance requirements." Whoops.
The underwear gnomes consult the Obama White House

1.) Get a lot of smart people together and talk
3.) Jobs!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The shortfall cometh

The New York Times (!) gets it right on Social Security:
No matter how you think of the problem, it's fundamentally the same: The government will not raise enough tax revenue in coming years to make good on the promises it has made. Social Security is facing a much smaller long-term shortfall than Medicare, but it's still facing a shortfall.
As the article reminds us, Social Security starts cashing in treasury bonds in 2015 and these bonds are exhausted in 2037 (or so), leaving behind an automatic 22% benefit cut to all future retirees. But once the SSA starts redeeming money from the Treasury in five short years, the federal government - which must honor the security - needs to find the money somewhere. That can only come from new taxes, spending cuts, or trillions in new borrowing.
Plans for today - Watching reruns of "Psych" on Netflix and digesting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Unexpected flaw in Obamacare: doctors want to get paid - Q&O: "The right to health care vs. the right to earn a living." Well at least we're going to start saving on Medicare expenses once the automatic 23% rate cut kicks in next week.
Will the next fiscal crisis start in Washington?

In the debate over economic policy, there are those like Paul Krugman and Nancy Pelosi who think the "bond monsters" are a myth. Then there are people like me and the Tea Partiers and the head of the FDIC who believe debt is a cause for real concern:

Unless something is done, federal debt held by the public could rise from a level equal to 62 percent of gross domestic product this year to 185 percent in 2035. Eventually, this relentless federal borrowing will directly threaten our financial stability by undermining the confidence that investors have in U.S. government obligations.
America's long-term debt obligations have been known for decades:

Retiring baby boomers, who will live longer on average than any previous generation, will have a major impact on government spending. This year, the combined expenditures on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are projected to account for 45 percent of primary federal spending, up from 27 percent in 1975. The Congressional Budget Office projects that annual entitlement spending could triple in real terms by 2035, to $4.5 trillion in today's dollars.
As I've noted before, this level of entitlement spending means that there will be virtually no money remaining to pay for all the other things we call "the government." To maintain the current proportions of government spending, the federal government would have to borrow more and more money at increasingly higher rates, since lenders are going to be skittish about any person/corporation/country already owing 100% of total earning power.
Stop (spending) in the name of the law - Is it now trite to repeat that "we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem?" In "There's no escaping Hauser's law" Kurt Hauser explains that tax revenues as a percentage of GDP is fairly constant at 19%, no matter the tax rate. Federal spending is much, much higher.
Presidential elbower paid off by the Koch Brothers - Michael Gerson: "Liberals resort to conspiracy theories to explain Obama's problems." Get well soon, Mr. President.
That pesky Commerce clause - The NY Times notes that a federal judge in Virginia is putting the stink eye on Obamacare's principle tenet that people can be compelled to purchase health insurance: "Administration is bracing for setbacks to health law."

Most legal opinion I've seen so far holds that Congress can do whatever the heck it wants but I can't understand how a law designed to regulate the exchange of goods across state lines can be used to regulate the non-purchase of services within state lines.

Extra - Althouse notes there's no severability language; if the individual mandate goes, it all goes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

As we gather for Thanksgiving

Let's give thanks for freedom. Reason: "The Pilgrims and property rights."

The Emerald Isle - Let me atone for some, um, misstatements on Ireland by linking this Megan McArdle post: "7 thoughts about Ireland." NPR also had a good review on yesterday's All Things Considered: "How Ireland's bank bailout shook the world."
Nauru is number one - Eight Pacific island nations are on the list of the world's top 10 fattest countries. Isn't that weird? You'd figure the diet would be mostly fish and fruit.
Jobs are back! Well, not so fast.

WashPost: "Fed lowers economic expectations for 2011": "Unemployment is set to remain higher for longer than previously thought, according to new projections from the Federal Reserve that would mean more than 10 million Americans remain jobless through the 2012 elections - even as a separate report shows corporate profits reaching their highest levels ever."
Ezra beclowns himself on Social Security

In mock seriousness, the WashPost blogger presents a graph showing how Social Security benefits will decline under different deficit-cutting scenarios. Meanwhile, the "current law" line continues on it's merry way with this disclaimer:
It's worth noting that the "current law" line is looking at what Social Security promises to pay out under current law, not what it can afford to pay out under current law.
Emphasis added to indicate fantasyland estimates. Everybody and his brother knows that under current law, Social Security is poised for an automatic 20% benefit deduction about 2037. Ezra Klein seems to believe that the illusion of government promises will outweigh reality.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Erin Go Broke

CNN: "Ireland requests billions in euro loans from EU"

Dublin had long publicly insisted it would not seek an external bailout, despite widespread concerns that a ballooning budget deficit and wobbly banking sector would further cripple the Irish economy.
According to this NPR story, the Irish are deeply humiliated that their once-robust economy is now forced to take an IMF bailout. It's funny how one day you're on top of the world and the next you're having terms of surrender refinance dictated to you.

On a totally unrelated note, can Republicans reign in spending to reduce the budget deficit? History is not kind and we're focusing on the edges:

Then the senator tells them what his party is going to do to bring the runaway federal budget under control. "We will vote to freeze and cut discretionary spending," he vows. What is important is not so much what is said but what is omitted. The four biggest items in the federal budget are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and defense. And those programs escape any mention from McConnell.
Robert Samuelson hit upon our national denial in "The Politics of Avoidance":

It's scary. From 2006 to 2035, federal spending goes from 20 percent of GDP to almost 29 percent. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (including Obamacare) account for all the increase. The reasons: More elderly people and climbing health costs. In 2035, the 65-plus population will be 93 percent larger than in 2010. Paying for bigger government would require a tax increase of about 50 percent. If we want to avoid a tax increase -- while honoring existing Social Security and health care benefits -- we'd have to cut all other programs by about 80 percent.
In other words, there is simply no way to avoid the fate of Greece and Ireland without addressing our spiraling debt and there's no realistic way to do this without paring entitlement spending. The sooner we can acknowledge this, the better for the country.

Related - Opinion Journal: "Higher taxes won't reduce the deficit."
The lightworker strikes again

Politico: "View from Mideast: Obama's a problem"

Even those who still believe in the process that Obama has championed view his conduct as a deeply unfunny comedy of errors.
Yeah, we're used to that.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Amazing Race update – Bangladesh bricks

Five teams remain including three young couples and two young all-female teams. All started out in Muscat, Oman and need to make their way to Dhaka, Bangladesh which is described as the most populated city in the world. Teams are told there's a "Double U-turn" ahead which means that two teams will be required to complete two Detours (if memory serves). While everybody else takes the direct flight from Oman, Nat & Kat take a flight to Dubai with the hope they can find a connecting flight to Dhaka. Jill & Thomas persist and find a quicker flight through Qatar Airlines. Nick & Vicki also find another airline that gets in quicker.

Early in the morning, Jill & Thomas arrive at the market square where they need to make a sugar drink by turning a mill. They finish quickly then open the clue for the Detour: Balanced Meal or Balanced Bricks. Teams may either deliver a bunch of food containers or move 100 bricks to a boat. Jill & Thomas finish the bricks quickly and take their next clue. Meanwhile, Nat & Kat find they're on the same connecting flight with Chad & Stephanie along with Brook & Claire. After the brick Detour, Jill & Thomas U-Turn Brook & Claire, who haven't even arrived in Bangladesh yet.

Next up is the Roadblock: one team member must assemble a rickshaw. Jill takes on this challenge putting together the bolts and "bullets?" They finish fairly quick and head to the Pit Stop, far ahead as Team #1. Nick & Vicki are on the Detour, while the remaining teams are close together after getting off the last flight.

Nat & Kat complete the Detour and decide to U-Turn Chad & Stephanie which is sweet Karma since Chad was considering U-Turning Team Surgeons. Brook & Claire get to the U-Turn and discover: 1.) they need to complete the Brick Detour and 2.) they're ahead of Chad & Stephanie. Team Bickering Young Couple is in last place, very lost, and yet to discover they've been U-Turned; it looks very bad for them. Team QVC seems dehydrated as they arrive at the Roadblock; one of them says they're going to charge through the challenge "like a spider monkey." Shades of Talladega Nights! Team Surgeons leaves the Roadblock next.

Team QVC and Team Bickering Young Couple leave the Roadblock last and now it's a race to the Pit Stop. It's pretty close (even with TAR editing) but Brook & Claire make it to the mat first where Phil reminds them they're on track to be the first all-female team to win the Race. Recently engaged team Chad & Stephanie arrive last and they're eliminated.

Final standings:

#1 – Team Faceless Young Couple – Jill & Thomas
#2 – Team Vegas – Nick & Vicki
#3 – Team Surgeons – Nat & Kat
#4 – Team QVC – Brook & Claire
#5 – Team Bickering Young Couple – Chad & Stephanie - PHILIMINATED

Next week: Looks like Bangkok.
An unsustainable track - Let's listen to Senator Judd Gregg and Governor Rick Perry.

Dear NASCAR/France family: I'm done.

I've been a racing fan for many years. I have the scanners I purchased off Ebay for the races I attended at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. They're sitting next to my orange #20 Tony Stewart soft-sided cooler. I'm wearing my Lenox Industrial Tools 300 t-shirt as I type this. But I won't be renewing my "NASCAR Illustrated" subscription and I doubt I'll watch another race.

For today, Jimmie Johnson won his fifth championship in a row. How is this possible? He's so much better than any other racer? I have nothing against the guy, but I can't imagine how one driver can be so dominant over everybody else behind the wheel. It's boring and predictable and I have no interest in watching anymore.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Health care exchanges

Megan McArdle predicts that Americans will be disappointed with the new exchanges set up with the health care reform bill: "In health care, no free lunch."
What people are expecting seems to be a very expensive form of insurance (no gatekeepers or restrictions) on the cheap. What they're going to get is cheap insurance that they will be forced to buy.
Force seems to be the modus operandi of this Administration. So far, people aren't buying.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Surprise best-seller - NY Times: "Mark Twain's autobiography flying off shelves."
An accumulation of promises

NPR's Planet Money asks "Are the Social Security Trust Funds a mirage?" and explains the situation rather well. The trust fund is an accounting trick - money the federal government owes itself and promises to pay back. Now here's the critical thing to remember:

"The policy choices that we have to make good on Social Security obligations are exactly the same with the trust fund or if we'd never had the trust fund," MacGuineas says. "Raise taxes, cut Social Security benefits, cut other government spending, or borrow the money. That's the only way to repay the money."
Take a wild guess which option the brave souls in Congress will choose. Sorry kids (and grandkids)!
From the Golden State to "It probably won't turn your neck green" State – Jerry Brown has his work cut out for him. LA Times: "Poll: Californians want it both ways on budget."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Of course! - The rationale behind the TSA pat-downs suddenly comes into focus. Rick Moran: "The Conspiracy to make Amtrak profitable."
Meet the new G.M., same as the old G.M. - Detroit author Paul Clemens notes in the New York Times that today's temporary "win" over General Motors' IPO doesn't make up for the hollowing of a once-proud company in "The Ghosts of Old G.M." (Hat tip: TTAC).
It's like a flip book, but on toast

OK Go's latest video:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The other expensive time-bomb - The Bush tax cuts are set to expire on January 1st but on December 1st, doctors who serve Medicare patients will get hit with a 23% automatic deduction. This is the result of a decade of procrastination as Congress kept ignoring and overriding cost controls in the system. Reason: "Doc fix problem still not fixed."
Was this trip necessary? - So the ethics committee found Charles Rangel guilty of eleven violations of House rules. He can look forward to a sternly-worded letter and a paltry fine while he serves out his Congressional seat until he expires. Even the U.N. is laughing.
Stuck at 61 - When are they going to finish re-counting the ballots in the five undecided House races? I have +64 in the election prediction competition.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Derek doesn't like the new TSA procedure

Jeffrey Goldberg has a great suggestion for National Opt-Out Day (November 24th): kilts. If I could make a "Spinal Tap"-inspired suggestion, I'd go for the cucumber wrapped in aluminum foil. That will make for an interesting X-ray picture.

(Disclaimer: do not wrap anything in aluminum foil and put it in your underwear. That is all.)
In which I agree with Peter Orszag - The former OMB director thinks the Commission on the Federal Debt is (mostly) on the right track with regard to reforming Social Security.
The hangover

Robert Samuelson looks to Japan's "lost decade" (which continues today) and how uncertainty and deficit-spending are sending us down the same path:

So Japan's economy is trapped: a high yen penalizes exports; low births and sclerotic firms hurt domestic growth. The lesson for us is that massive budget deficits and cheap credit are at best necessary stopgaps. They're narcotics whose effects soon fade. They can't correct underlying economic deficiencies. It's time to move on from the debate over "stimulus."

Economic success ultimately depends on private firms. The American economy is more resilient and flexible than Japan's. But that's a low standard. Neither the White House nor Congress seems to understand that growing regulatory burdens and policy uncertainties undermine business confidence and the willingness to expand. Unless that changes, our mediocre recovery may mimic Japan's.
The rejection of President Obama's policies is the story of the midterm elections, obvious to everybody but Obama and Paul Krugman who wrote his hundredth column today on how the stimulus should have been larger.
But it feels so right - Somebody slashed the tires of those Westboro Baptist protesters who were disrupting another soldier's funeral. Well that's just terrible to confront free speech with violence.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Amazing Race update – Chad proposes in Oman

Teams start up in St. Petersburg and need to make their way to Muscat, Oman. Chad and Stephanie – whom I've dubbed "Team Bickering Young Couple" – oversleep by two hours and miss their starting time. No matter: all teams arrive in Oman and they are bunched up at some landmark waiting for it to open. As the dawn breaks, Chad drops to one knee and proposes to Stephanie, who accepts. The Amazing Race changes their description from "Dating" to "Engaged."

Next teams go up a mountain where they need to rappel down 500 feet to a canyon then find a ring among a bunch of "Aladdin lamps." Chad finishes first and they head off to their next clue at some big stack of books. Meanwhile Team Surgeons and Team Kentucky are way lost. Mallory starts praying to Jesus which is probably frowned upon in Oman.

At the stack of books, it's the Detour. Teams must chose between two tasks: Water Table or Wedding Table. Teams must either pump up some water and deliver to a house, or prepare a chicken soup for a wedding meal. Everybody picks the water which seems to be the better choice since there's a driver for the truck and basically the teams just need to direct the truck to the right location. Jill & Thomas finish first and head to the next clue which is just searching around a large bazaar. They complete their task and now it's off to the Al Alam Palace and the Pit Stop.

You can tell by the position of the sun in the sky that Team Kentucky is going to finish in the dark. Meanwhile, at the mat, Jill & Thomas arrive first and they're told they're the "first team to arrive" and not "team #1." It turns out they violated a rule about getting a taxi driver to guide them so they've incurred a half-hour penalty. In the interim, newly engaged Chad & Stephanie arrive and they are dubbed Team #1. Jill & Thomas then check in as Team #2. The Amazing Race producers try some creative editing to suggest the race is close but Team Kentucky arrives in last place and they're eliminated from the Race.

Final standings:

#1 – Team Bickering Young Couple – Chad & Stephanie
#2 – Team Faceless Young Couple – Jill & Thomas
#3 – Team Vegas – Nick & Vicki
#4 – Team QVC – Brook & Claire
#5 – Team Surgeons – Nat & Kat
#6 – Team Kentucky – Gary & Mallory - PHILIMINATED

Next week: Bangladesh.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

America purchases GM's lemon - George Will reviews the wreckage of the government's decision to bail out General Motors with a focus on the Chevy Volt: "The Volt was conceived to appease the automotive engineers in Congress, which knows that people will have to be bribed, with other people's money, to buy this $41,000 car that seats only four people."
Ecclesiastes 1:2 - Weekly Standard: "American Narcissus."

Friday, November 12, 2010

That's a skinny house - Via Maggie's Farm, here's an amusing account of spite houses on Wikipedia.
The deficit commission and Social Security

I'm sure I'm going to be writing about this subject quite a bit as the details unfold, but I think the deficit commission proposals are a step in the right direction with regard to reforming Social Security for the 21st century. Writing for the Atlantic, Clive Crook thinks so too "In praise of Bowles-Simpson":

Some of the proposals probably ought to be bolder. On social security, for instance, the main points are: index the retirement age to longevity in such a way that it would rise from 67 under current law to 69 only by 2075; make the benefit formula more progressive; and tweak the inflation-indexing formula so that it is slightly less generous. The savings add up; the changes would be phased in so gradually as to be imperceptible (except for the elderly poor, who would be better off than under current law). It's mild to a fault. I don't understand why so many Democrats are aghast at this.
In my opinion, it's ridiculous to say that a program formed when people where still using horse-and-buggies as a form of transportation must remain untouched in modern society. (Here I simplify: the FICA tax has marched steadily upward.) The default/do nothing option is to impose a 25% benefit cut starting around 2039. Better to take sensible, incremental steps now to secure long-term solvency than chop off benefits in a couple of decades.

Extra – Also in the Atlantic, Megan Mcardle: "On fixing Social Security, and the budget."

More - From Peter Suderman on Reason and SSA trustee Charles Blahous on Economics 21.
Obamacare bait and switch

George Will wonders if the health care reform law can be overturned on appeal because the legislation was fundamentally misrepresented in Congress:

Republican gains were partly a result of the "shock-and-awe statism" (Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels's phrase) of the health-care legislation passed in March. Seven months later, a federal judge in Florida, hearing arguments about the constitutionality of penalizing Americans who do not purchase health insurance, was bemused.

Lawyers defending the legislation said that the fee noncompliant Americans would be forced to pay is really just a tax. But during congressional debate on the legislation, Democrats adamantly denied it was a tax. So, in a rehearsal of an argument that will be heard by the Supreme Court, the judge said:

"Congress should not be permitted to secure and cast politically difficult votes on controversial legislation by deliberately calling something one thing, after which the defenders of that legislation take an 'Alice-in-Wonderland' tack and argue in court that Congress really meant something else entirely, thereby circumventing the safeguard that exists to keep their broad power in check."
Much as I'd like to believe that prevarication is a cause for appeal, I think it's more likely the Supreme Court will take the Democrats' "Animal House" defense:

A mighty, and lucrative, wind – Reason: "Corporate Welfare Watch: Wind Farm Subsidies"
What's that now? – Karl Rove quotes Sara Bareilles in "Obama has a listening problem." He listened, and decided 9.6% unemployment was somebody else's fault.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Harpooning the whale

The White House deficit commission has given America a preview of the shock therapy required to wean the country off its debt addiction: "Deficit Panel Pushes Cuts."

Of course, there's little chance that the recommendations would even get out of the panel because individual actions require agreement from 14 out of the panel's 18 members. Then they have to get through the Senate and the House, where newly emboldened Republicans will oppose any tax hikes and skittish Democrats will oppose many spending cuts.

My opinion? I'm the anti-Krugman: instead of endlessly griping that the stimulus wasn't large enough, I'm on the side that we should go full-bore on debt reduction. The future of America is already on display in England, France, Japan and Greece where sky-high debt is suppressing growth and leading to austerity measures. Better to take our medicine now than to fall into the debt trap later, where escape that will be all the more difficult once the entitlement bomb hits.

More - Lots and lots of reax at Memeorandum.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Limiting the Commerce Clause - George Mason law professor Ilya Somin believes the Supreme Court could knock down Obamacare's individual mandate: "Mandate challenge could prevail."

In related news, it does not appear that Justice Elena Kagan will recuse herself from any health care reform legal challenges even though she was Solicitor General for the Obama Administration and certainly had a legal role in the legislation.

Extra - From Wizbang: if the Commerce Clause can compel Americans to do something for the "good of society" does that mean we can force people to give up smokes? Hey, why not!?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Why I don't want to fly anymore

Let me start out by saying that growing up I had very few chances to fly on an airplane; just two trips to Orlando, if memory serves. It was only after I started working that I had the opportunity to fly on a semi-regular basis.

And I loved it. My first business trip was to St. Louis and since then I've been all around the world either visiting customers or attending professional conferences. But on my last trip to Copenhagen, I was pulled out of line for a random pat-down and then the woman at the ticket counter wouldn't give me a boarding pass without my baggage ticket for the connecting flight (which I eventually found.)

Now I've heard that that airports are using full-body scanners and - if you don't want your body exposed to dangerous levels of radiation - you can opt for the will-you-buy-me-a-drink-first pat down. This is the latest act of security theater, designed to make travelers believe they're somehow safer by moving through security gates in their socks.

I'm just not sure I want to do it anymore. On the one hand, I like to travel and visit places I would never be able to see on my own dime. On the other hand, air travel is a dehumanizing event - a cattle call from check-in, through boarding and disembarking, and the multiple stages of identification confirmation.

(Well, this post has probably landed me on a TSA list of some kind.)
Talk of the clown

If you were filled with trepidation that the New Yorker would fail to produce an analysis of the midterms sniffing with Central Park West superciliousness, then fear no more dear reader:
Another part of the problem, it must be said, is public ignorance. An illuminating Bloomberg poll, taken the week before the election, found that some two-thirds of likely voters believed that, under Obama and the Democrats, middle-class taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program are gone, never to be recovered. One might add to that list the public’s apparent conviction that illegal immigration is skyrocketing and that the health-care law will drive the deficit higher. Reality tells a different story. For ninety-five per cent of us, taxes are actually lower, cut by around four hundred dollars a year for individuals and twice that for families.
One may take note that $400 is quite a bit of money for those red staters in flyover country. Sure it's just a typical restaurant bill for the New Yorker staff at the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill (with drinks) but those people can purchase a used Ford pickup with that.
The economy has been growing, however feebly, for five straight quarters. Most of the TARP loans have been repaid and the rest soon will be, plus a modest profit for the Treasury. And the number of illegal immigrants fell by close to a million last year, thanks in part to more energetic border enforcement. The health-care law, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says, will bring the deficit down.
Really? We're really going to go down the path of debunking these "savings" from the health care bill, despite all evidence to the contrary? Also: no mention of the trillion-dollar "stimulus" bill that revved unemployment up to 9.6%? The New Yorker laughably parrots the Administration's line from a world that drops off at the Hudson River.

Fixing Social Security - American Thinker has a good review by Randall Hoven on the many options available to bring America's favorite entitlement back into solvency. Plan A, by the way, is the status quo where everybody gets a 25% benefit cut starting in 2039 or so. Plan B, well, as Hoven writes: "the CBO did all the heavy lifting" and the most effective fix is to index benefits to inflation which would require no additional taxes.
Maybe he should write a column about it - Does anybody know if Paul Krugman thinks the stimulus bill should have been larger? Anybody? His position is ambiguous.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Amazing Race update – Clowning around

We're still in Russia and teams start out in St. Petersburg where they must find a circus on the city outskirts. This is the Detour: Circus Band or Circus Clown. Teams may either learn to play an accordion or spin ten plates on a stick. Everybody appears to try to spin plates except Team Surgeons and Team Kentucky. A lot of the plate-spinning teams can get up to eight or nine plates, but can't get to ten. Brook & Claire of Team QVC finish first and head to the next clue at Bank Bridge. Nat & Kat learn their accordion song and head off next. Jill & Thomas, last week's #1 team, give up on plates, then give up on the accordion to go back to the plates.

At the bridge, teams find a clue indicating they must walk to a tower where a small figurine indicates they need to go to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. They are instructed to walk but not use a taxi; therefore, one team (Michael & Kevin) follow a cab which sets them up for a penalty at the Pit Stop. At the church, the next clue directs teams to the Peter and Paul Fortress where Peter the Great is buried. Nick & Vicki can't find a cab. Brook & Claire discover that they were supposed to walk from the tower to the church so they turn their taxi driver around so they can complete the leg properly. At this point, I can't figure out who's in the lead, although Chad & Stephanie are still at the tower trying to find the next destination.

Nat & Kat arrive first at Roadblock where one team member must play a bowling-type game; you whip a stick at a bunch of logs and knock them off a framed area. They finish this very quickly and head off to the Pit Stop in first place. Meanwhile, Michael of Team YouTube can't seem to get past this Roadblock. Nick & Vicki arrive third which makes me wonder: weren't they supposed to do a Speed Bump for coming in last the previous leg?

A couple teams complete the Roadblock then go back to their taxis to retrieve bags. But they must pay the taxi drivers who, it seems, are demanding rather large amounts for a fare. One asks for 10,000 rubles which is like $325 to go across town; they end up paying $60 in American dollars. Chad & Stephanie try to check in without their bags but Phil sends them back to pay their driver. In the interim, Michael & Kevin try to check in at the Pit Stop but they broke two rules and incurred an hour time penalty. Chad & Stephanie broke only one rule, so they get a half-hour penalty, and they're automatically checked in as team #6. Team YouTube might have pulled it out if they had read their clues, but instead they're eliminated.

Final standings:

#1 – Team Surgeons – Nat & Kat
#2 – Team QVC – Brook & Claire
#3 – Team Vegas – Nick & Vicki
#4 – Team Kentucky – Gary & Mallory
#5 – Team Faceless Young Couple – Jill & Thomas
#6 – Team Bickering Young Couple – Chad & Stephanie
#7 – Team YouTube – Michael & Kevin – PHILIMINATED

Next week: A team sleeps late.
Best magazine articles - Over at Ace of Spades, there was a link to the best magazine articles ever and my mind immediately jumped to the wonderful author (and former airline pilot) William Langewiesche and his Atlantic magazine article "The Crash of EgyptAir 990."

If a magazine article or book or blog is supposed to evoke vivid images and make you think, then this article has it all. One thing I'll never forget from this article is the assessment of an official from the NTSB who must listen to the cockpit voice recorders. He said that every recording starts the same way - the pilot says: "What the hell was that?" That wasn't the case with EgyptAir 990 which plunged into the ocean under, um, less-than-mysterious circumstances.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Last refuge of a scoundrel: blaming the teleprompter - Washington Examiner: "Obama stays on message about his messaging problem."

Say, Mr. President, how did the MTV/Jon Stewart/urban radio/Ryan Seacrest whirlwind tour work out for you? Oh...not so good: "Exit poll: Lower turnout among youth and black voters."
And now, back to business

Which means that this blog will get back to my singular obsession with America's debt in general and entitlement spending in particular. Let's get back in the swing of things with "Entitlements and Guaranteed Bankruptcy" over at Lew Rockwell:
The Social Security numbers do not add up. This is slowly becoming obvious to a minority of voters. When combined with Medicare, the numbers are simply ridiculous. There is no way that the promises can be fulfilled.
Author Gary North hits upon many themes including the heresy that the federal government can simply take away your Social Security benefits; there is no "guarantee" in the system. It would be so much more honest for the Feds to fess up and tell workers under 40: under current law, we're going to lop off a quarter of your promised Social Security benefit. Please plan accordingly.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Community" is on tonight

Time for a well-deserved break from politics:

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Obama's press conference after the midterms

I was going to write a longer post about Obama's presser today, but here's the abridged version: the President has no regrets whatsoever about the policies and practices of his Administration.

If Americans are angry, it's because Republicans failed to compromise or there's a communication misstep or he "adopted" the problem. All of the legislation he pushed - especially healthcare - is as pure as Obama's altruistic intentions, and segregated from the deficit-busting cost or the actual and unintended results.

In other words, it's not him America - it's you.

Extra - I swear I wrote what's above before I went to AoSHQ: "It would have been much shorter and much more honest if he just said what he really wants to say, 'Let me be clear, I'm still awesome. If you're not smart enough to get that, it's on you not me'."

More - Jennifer Rubin has some thoughts on Contentions.

And this - From Protein Wisdom and Legal Insurrection.

Finally – Here's the great Victor Davis Hanson with "Obama doesn't get it." Excerpt:

President Obama came close, but he still just cannot admit that his radical policies and their effects on the economy are the cause of his devastating political rebuke. For most of his press conference, an oddly depressed Obama voted present, as he all but said that the problems are mostly ours, not his - or at least not his agenda but perhaps an occasional inadequate communication.

In clingers fashion, he once more is talking down to us, explaining that we confused his necessary solutions with a bogeyman increase in big government, and so typically, in fright and ignorance, lashed out at his party. He is claiming the outrage grew from the same frustration that elected him, rather than arising precisely because of him and his agenda.
Obama's intransigence, coupled with the bad blood generated with his petty personal attacks on Speaker-to-be John Boehner means that we're in for a "small ball" Congress where very little on the President's agenda gets passed. Thank heaven.
America turns the keys over to the Slurpee sippers - Well, several news outlets have declared that the Republicans have officially gained enough seats to control the House and - by the morning - it looks like the swing will be bigger than 1994. The Senate was always a longshot and there were some victories (Rubio, Kirk) balanced by some disappointments (Reid). Both the Washington and Colorado Senate races are too close to call but I can't stay up any longer.
More symbolic - Harry Reid - who hasn't led in any poll in a month - is projected to beat Sharron Angle in Nevada to hold his Senate seat. Let's face it: it's a bad night for conservative women from Delaware to Nevada to California. Maybe Nikki Haley is the counterbalance, but not by much.
Symbolic - Mark Kirk wins in Illinois. That's Obama's old seat.
Midnight update

Daniel Inouye wins in Hawaii.
John Kasich wins in Ohio for governor.
Nevada and Colorado Senate races are too close to call.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hooray! - My vote was on the wrong end of every decision on the Massachusetts ballot except for one: question #1 has passed, rolling back the sales tax on alcohol.
11pm update

Polls close and they call the California Senate for Boxer.
Jerry Brown will be Governor of the Golden State.
Mike Crapo will return to Senate for Idaho.
That was a long wait - Ron Johnson wins over Russ Feingold for Wisconsin's Senate race. Also, Nikki Haley is called for South Carolina governor.

One unexpected win tonight: Gibbs over Space in Ohio-18 for a pickup. I like him on NCIS.

Kentucky-6 looks like it's going to absentee ballots and/or recounts with a couple hundred votes separating incumbent Chandler and GOP candidate Barr.
9:45 update

Both Illinois and Pennsylvania Senate races are "too close to call" although the Democrats are leading in each race at this point.
Ron Johnson looks likely to beat Russ Feingold but they're not calling this one either.

It looks like the Democrats will do well holding on to Senate.
Nine p.m. calls

Andrew Cuomo wins governor in New York over a nutcase.
Kirsten Gillebrand wins Senate in NY along with Chuck Schumer (no surprises).
John Hoeven wins in North Dakota - Senate gain.
Jerry Moran wins in Kansas.
John Thune re-elected in South Dakota (unopposed).
Rick Snyder wins governor in Michigan.
Rick Perry wins re-election for governor of Texas.
A bellwether, so they say - Five-term House rep Baron Hill was defeated in Indiana-9. This is ranked #41 on the FiveThirtyEight ranking, indicating that the GOP is heading somewhere around a 41-seat pickup at least.
West Virginia Senate - Well, I called this one way wrong: Joe Manchin was just declared the Senate winner to replace Robert Byrd's seat. This means that the GOP has (virtually) no chance of taking back the Senate, even though they'll pick up more seats overall.
Massachusetts governor - Tax hiker Deval Patrick has jumped out to a lead over Charlie Baker who, in my opinion, ran a terrible campaign. Only 3% of the vote is in, but it's probably done.
Obama campaigned for only one House member this year - He lost. Republican Charles Hurt put the hurt on Democrat Tom Perriello in Virginia.
Eight p.m. calls

Marco Rubio wins in Florida with 50% of vote in a three-way race.
Linda McMahon does not in Connecticut. Blumenthal holds that seat for CT.
Christopher Coons wins in Delaware.
Kelly Ayotte holds the GOP seat in New Hampshire.
Roy Blunt wins in Missouri.
Barbara Mikulski wins in Maryland.
Richard Shelby wins in Alabama.
John Lynch wins governor's race in New Hampshire.
Crash - Sharron Angle's Intrade account is down 30% since I finished dinner. What's going on in Nevada? The polls aren't closed yet.
That was quick - I didn't think the news networks would call the Kentucky Senate race so fast, but they're giving it to Rand Paul. One for the Tea Party.
The Dixville Notch vote? - Why is Fox News showing twelve votes from New Hampshire? It's annoying when I'm trying to check out Indiana and Kentucky.
Bay State upset? - I haven't written much about the Governor's race in Massachusetts because Republican Charlie Baker has consistently trailed incumbent Deval Patrick and I'm so used to disappointment in this state - with the notable exception of Scott Brown. But the poll spread has stayed in single digits and Patrick has never cracked 50%. Now the Corner adds this ray of sunshine: "Early news is good news in Massachusetts." Keep your powder dry, boys.
Point break

It's election day! - Hotline has the races to watch for in their "Starting Lineup" along with news that Tea Party Express members have provocatively booked space in the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas because that's where Harry Reid is setting up shop to watch election results. Oh boy.
The intellectual snob gets his come-uppance

Dorothy Rabinowitz in the WSJ: "Why Obama is no Roosevelt"

But it was about far more than health-care reform, or joblessness, or the great ideological divide between the president and the rest of the country. It was about an accumulation of facts quietly taken in that told Americans that the man they had sent to the White House had neither the character or the capacity to lead the country.

Their president was the toast of Europe, masterful before the adoring crowds - but one who had remarkably soon proved unable to inspire, in citizens at home, any belief that he was a leader they could trust. Or one who trusted them or their instincts. His Democratic voters were unhappy? They, and their limited capacities, were to blame.

These are conspicuous breaks in the armor of civility and charm that candidate Obama once showed - and those breaks are multiplying.
There's been a lot of talk about how Obama's administration is (so far) following the trajectory of Reagan or Clinton's: a poor economy at the start followed by a Congressional shift, then recovery and re-election. But I honestly don't believe Obama can get re-elected; he's a one-termer.

Politically, he can position himself to the center but that would go against his statist instincts and I think he's much too arrogant to bend his will (you do it, Obama whines to the Republicans.) So you have a liberal President living in a center-right country. But beyond that, Obama does not connect with Americans. Clinton, Reagan, the Bushes: you can see yourself sharing a hot dog at the baseball game with them. Obama – not so much.

It's the "living room" test all over again. Every election Americans need to ask if they want this guy in their living room for four years. Other candidates are like Captain Kirk while Obama is as cold as Spock. And that might have been enough if Spock had guided us through the Kobayashi Maru test. But he didn't and we've blown through a galaxy of Federation dollars in the process.
This too shall pass - Michael Gerson has a darkly funny article today about the irrational exuberance that surrounds political movements that are always cyclical but feel permanent: "A short history of bad book titles."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Nancy Pelosi beats George W. Bush in a proxy war - Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants for winning the World Series! Man, that long-haired hippie pitched a good game.
Prediction markets - Tomorrow the polls will end all speculation, but what are the bookies saying? The Iowa Electronic Market is pretty solid (>80%) that the Democrats will hold the Senate and British bookmaker Ladbrokes agrees putting the odds of a GOP takeover at 9-to-2. But over at Intrade, the "Democrats to control the Senate" contract has fallen to 44% (at this writing). Interesting.
GMTA - I just noticed that Ed Morrissey's prediction of +65 for the GOP in the House and +9 in the Senate is almost exactly the same as mine (+64/+9). I still think Robert Byrd's West Virginia seat is going to flip.

Update - Election Projection's final prediction: +64 and +8. Oooh, so close!
Re-Volt-ing – Writing in the WashPost, Charles Lane rains down withering criticism of the Administration's obsession with electric cars: "For a president who claims to make policy based on "facts and science and argument," lavishing subsidies on electric cars is an intellectual scandal."
Ten thousand "car in the ditch" speeches later - Fox News: "Democrats blame bad communication." Whatever you say, chief.
Just vote for me, you stupid kids

Hot Air Greenroom: "Obama to do interview with Ryan Seacrest." Happy now?

An election bombarded with gamma rays - Over at the Weekly Standard, Jay Cost's has moved the midterms into "Incredible Hulk" territory. His analysis isn't merely based on the generic ballot but on the accuracy of different news organizations in predicting the actual election outcome vs. their predicted Republican-Democrat split.

And guess which news/polling org is most accurate in predicting the election? It's Gallup, who earlier today said the Republican lead is so large, it's moved into "uncharted territory." Yowza.

Extra - Maggie's Farm: "Jay Cost can't believe the numbers."
Helpful household hints from the Viking Pundit

Every once in a while something happens with my car or around the house and I figure I should share in case there's somebody else with a similar predicament. Anyway, my gas range has one of those electric ignition knobs where you turn it until the gas lights. At some point, I spilled some liquid down by the ignition switch and the stove wouldn't stop clicking. The electric ignition would tick off every second or so and I had to throw the breaker to turn it off.

So I spent part of the day looking for a replacement ignition switch. But then I found that this happens when liquid gets near the ignitor, it will arc across the electrode. Long story short: I just needed to clean out the top of the ignitor and then dry it off with a blow dryer. Once the moisture was removed, the clicking stopped and the problem was solved.