Saturday, February 28, 2009

The "Atlas Shrugged" index

The Economist reports that sales of Ayn Rand's master tome spike whenever capitalism takes it on the chin:

Reviled in some circles and mocked in others, Rand's 1957 novel of embattled capitalism is a favourite of libertarians and college students. Lately, though, its appeal has been growing. According to data from TitleZ, a firm that tracks bestseller rankings on Amazon, an online retailer, the book's 30-day average Amazon rank was 127 on February 21st, well above its average over the past two years of 542. On January 13th the book's ranking was 33, briefly besting President Barack Obama’s popular tome, "The Audacity of Hope".

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pieces of junk - U.S. automakers take three out of four of the bottom slots for reliability, according to Consumer Reports.  Suck on that, Ford taunted Suzuki.  Honda laughs from on high.

My old man's Chrysler Fifth Avenue never ran right and, after sending a barrage of angry letters to Chrysler, he sold it at a significant loss.  Soon afterwards he gave me this advice: "Never buy an American car."  I actually drive a Pontiac Vibe only because it's made on the same assembly line as the Toyota Matrix and - surprise, surprise - Consumer Reports lists it as one of the few American cars with good reliability.
Trillion is the new billion - Maggie's Farm has some critical quotes about Obama's spend-a-thon.
Trading fear for socialism - Scrivener: "The not-so-great Depression"
Obama won't take your dime. He'll be taking your dollars. Lots of 'em.

The Obamessiah, earlier this week:

Now, let me be clear. Let me be absolutely clear, because I know you'll end up hearing some of the same claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people. If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, a quarter-million dollars a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime.
Nobel laureate Paul Krugman says: "No way"

And even if fundamental health care reform brings costs under control, I at least find it hard to see how the federal government can meet its long-term obligations without some tax increases on the middle class.
But then we all knew that was coming.

Extra - Mankiw on the White House's "way too optimistic" assumptions.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A man of action – Boston Globe: "Locke nominated for commerce"

Good for him!
Comment of the day – From (appropriately!) Commentary: "Reagan thought he could reduce Federal Spending by cutting taxes and "starving" Congress of resources. It looks like the Democrats have learned to flip that equation. They are spending so much now so that sometime in the future they will "have to" raise taxes in order to be fiscally responsible and balance the budget."

And raise taxes they will: "The bottom line is that Mr. Obama is selling the country on a 2% illusion. Unwinding the U.S. commitment in Iraq and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire can't possibly pay for his agenda. Taxes on the not-so-rich will need to rise as well."
Obama can't vote "present" this time – Karl Rove's refusal to testify before the House Judiciary Committee puts President Obama in a bind.
I have to ask: how many BTUs does $6.2 billion generate?

Fox News: "General Motors Corp. says it lost $9.6 billion in the fourth quarter and burned through $6.2 billion in cash as it sought government help to avoid running out of cash."

This is the unsurprising reaction: "Meanwhile people have had it with the auto companies: "Just one-fourth of Americans think the government should continue lending money to Detroit automakers, according to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll, even though the manufacturers say they’ll go out of business without federal help. That’s a huge, and fast, change of heart. In December, before the government approved emergency auto loans, the poll found that 61% favored some kind of government help."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Supreme Court strikes down casino plan in Massachusetts

Ancillary to the efforts of Governor Deval Patrick to create a new Sin City in the Bay State, the Mashpee Wampanoag had been trying to gain federal land around Middleborough for their own casino. Well, they came up double-zero when the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the government can't carve out land for them. From the Boston Globe "Ruling puts tribe hope for casino in doubt":

The US Supreme Court delivered a crippling setback yesterday to the Mashpee Wampanoag in Massachusetts and many other tribes across the nation that are seeking to build casinos, ruling that the federal government cannot place land into trust for newly recognized tribes.

The ruling instantly cast doubt on the Mashpee Wampanoags' quest to build a $1 billion casino in Middleborough, disappointing tribal officials who had hoped to get 539 acres put into federal trust as soon as this spring.

The ruling also eliminates one of the political rationales that had been advanced last year by Governor Deval Patrick and other gambling proponents for approving casinos in Massachusetts. Administration officials had argued that the tribe was likely to win a Native American casino someday, so the state should get in on the action first and control the flow of revenues by setting up its own network of licensed casinos.
Instead of looking for a new source of revenue based on grandmothers playing nickel slots, maybe Beacon Hill should try to bring spending under control. I'm kidding, of course.
Fonts may not be WYSIWYG - Every time I cut and paste text from my Google Chrome browser, it looks all weird the next day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama's speech - Well, he carved out two sentences for entitlement reform.  First, Medicare will be saved with "health care reform" while Social Security will be helped with - did I hear this right? - "tax-free universal accounts"?  Are those the much-vilified private accounts?  Details, please.

For the record, here's the text, via CNN:

"To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans."

For the record, Medicare is already running a deficit and we've only reached the first wave of Baby Boomers.  All the political and demographic pressure is towards much more spending.

Extra - Melissa Clouthier is liveblogging the address.
Who said anything about individual choice? - The Minuteman says: get ready for voluntary mandatory health care.  It's for your own good.  Besides, individual mandates have worked out great in Massachusetts.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Now they tell us

Boston Globe: "A warning for Obama on deficits"

Just one week after President Obama signed a stimulus package designed to give a short-term boost to the economy, some of the nation's top budget analysts plan to deliver a stark warning today at a White House summit that an even more foreboding long-term crisis will unfold unless Obama quickly fixes Social Security, healthcare, the tax code, and more.
For not the first time, Paul Krugman deploys his "Medicare is in worse shape so pay no attention to Social Security reform" head fake. Poligazette corrects:

Unfortunately, what Krugman’s blizzard of numbers leaves out is the simple question of where the additional 2% of GDP dedicated to Social Security (and far more for the massive increases in Medicare he calls for) would come from. Krugman ignores the additional tax load that would be imposed on workers and the depressive effect that continual massive wealth transfers from young to old would have an a weak economic recovery.
Exactly. Two percent or 20% GDP, somebody's gotta pay. Nobel Prize or not, Krugman's insouciance puts him at odds with the reality-based community of people who understand math:

Analysts across the political spectrum agree that the current path is unsustainable. Unless there is a major budgetary change, federal spending will go from being about 20 percent of the nation's economy to 42 percent in 2050, according to the Concord Coalition. The major reason is that entitlement programs for older Americans are running short of funds.
Medicare, Social Security, public pensions...they're all coming.

Related – NY Times: "Democrats resisting Obama on Social Security." Of course. Old habits die hard.

Extra – Willisms notes that entitlement spending robs the young now and later. And here's a fun graphic from Heritage:

Metaphor of the dayReason Online: "The idea of Joe Biden…being in charge of anything other than a card game on the Acela club car is pretty disturbing. To have [him] overseeing the implementation of nearly $800 billion in government loot boggles the mind. It's like Jimmy Stewart turning over his bank's money to Uncle Billy for safekeeping in It's a Wonderful Life." Zing!

In a totally unrelated story, the stock market dropped 250 points today after it was announced that Joe Biden would oversee the stimulus money. Remember: coincidence is not causality.
Bring on the leeches

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Florida governor Charlie Crist defended the Obama stimulus plan with the rationale that we can’t do nothing and we’ve got to do something:

MR. GREGORY: Do you think the president has the right prescription to ease this recession?
GOV. CRIST: I think he's on the right track. I don't think anybody says this is a perfect bill. I don't. I don't think even President Obama says that. But we've got to do something. We are at a time of need, and to do nothing certainly is not acceptable. This is not perfect, but we've got to do something to try to get our country back on track for the benefit of our people.
MR. GREGORY: I want to talk a couple of minutes about housing. Florida, of course, second highest rate of foreclosures in the country in 2008. You also benefited from an incredible housing boom and a speculative boom that preceded the fall of the housing market. Now, the Obama administration's plan essentially boils down to this: more available refinancing for about five million homeowners, and help with payments--modification of payments, reduction in payments--for three to four million homeowners. Is this the right plan?
GOV. CRIST: It may be a good start. I think some of the details still have to be rolled out in early March, as I understand it, and we're going to watch it very closely. But we need to do something to help the housing market. Certainly it's huge in Florida, as you know and you, and you alluded to. One thing that's happening in Florida that's encouraging, in December of '08 we had a 27 percent increase in housing sales over December of '07. I think that's mostly a matter of people getting reasonable about the prices they expect for the value of their home.
MR. GREGORY: But this housing plan, can you describe how it will stop the slide of housing prices?
GOV. CRIST: Well, I'm not sure that it will. I don't think we know that yet. I think it's too early to tell.
MR. GREGORY: Can it be called a success if it doesn't do that?
GOV. CRIST: Well, probably not. But you know, none of us have a crystal ball.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
GOV. CRIST: So we have to try something, we have to do something to make this economy move forward. I think it was Warren Buffett who said--and maybe it was quoted earlier--that this is like the Pearl Harbor of the economy. I mean, we are in a crisis. I think everybody understands that and appreciates it, whether it's housing or whatever sector.
GOV. CRIST: We've got to do something to get it going again.

Maybe we should have taken that $800 billion dollars and built that machine that sees into the future from the movie “Paycheck.” Then we would have a crystal ball – that would be something. Maybe we should have dropped the cash from helicopters, because that would also be “something.” But the one thing we should not do is “nothing” because “something” is always preferable to “nothing.”

Like when George Washington caught a cold, well, the doctors couldn’t do “nothing”:

Modern doctors believe that Washington died largely because of his treatment, which included calomel [mercury chloride] and bloodletting, resulting in a combination of shock from the loss of five pints of blood, as well as asphyxia and dehydration.
Yet to a doctor: good intentions!

Related – Robert Samuelson: “Obama's Stimulus: A Colossal Waste?”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Amazing Race update – Mountain men and Swiss misses

Ten teams started out from Switzerland and headed to Munich, Germany. Everybody is going to the airport at three in the morning, and the smart teams borrow a cell phone from the cab driver to figure out flights. Only Team Mighty Mites and Team Drinkcart are on the flight that leaves an hour after the other teams so they're in the hole.

Once in Germany, teams go up a cable car and it's the Roadblock: one team member must paraglide off the mountain to land in a field below. If wind conditions are too dangerous, teams may either wait or take an hour-long hike down. Tammy & Victor arrive first but the wind is high and they won't let her go; she decides to hike down the mountain. Eventually there are five teams waiting but, one by one, they decide to take the trail instead of waiting for the wind to die down. Mel of Mel & Mike tries to wait because he strained a muscle in the last leg and doesn't think he can make the hike.

Back from commercial, the wind suddenly stops and Mel floats down the mountain. Meanwhile, the other teams are reaching the bottom and they drive themselves to some chateau for the next clue. Once there, it's the Detour: Balancing Dolly or Austrian Folly. Teams may either take a Segway over an obstacle course or throw pies at each other until they find one with a cherry filling. Team Esquire throws pies and make their frosting-covered way to the Pit Stop at Schloss Hellbrunn.

Meanwhile, back at the mountain, Linda of Team Appalachia fails to follow the arrows on the pathway and comes down far away from where she's supposed to be. After some whimpering, she hitches a ride to the correct parking lot. I'm pretty sure this is not allowed on the Race so, even if they make it to the Pit Stop, they're going to be penalized. Team Sistahs get lost driving to the Detour.

It's getting dark in Germany and they note "14 hours after the start of the Race." One of those minor little tasks the teams need to do after the Detour but before the Pit Stop is to find a woodcutter who will make a little disk that is stamped with the name of the final destination. Team Drinkcart can't seem to figure out where the woodcutter is, so they pick up a piece of lumber outside a barn. Eventually, they find the right guy. The last four teams are having a terrible time navigating the roads in the dark. In the end, Team Appalachia can't make up their earlier misstep and they are eliminated from the Race.

Team standings:

#1 – Team Esquire - Tammy & Victor
#2 – Team White Guys - Mel & Mike
#3 – Team America - Amanda & Kris
#4 – Team Say What? - Margie & Luke
#5 – Team Something - Brad & Victoria
#6 – Team Ginger - Jaime & Cara
#7 – Team Sistahs - Kisha & Jen
#8 – Team Mighty Mites - Mark & Michael
#9 – Team Drinkcart - Christie & Jodi
#10 – Team Appalachia - Steve & Linda – PHILIMINATED

Next week – Romanian gymnastics.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

They call him the Seeker – CNN: "Obama seeks to halve deficit by 2013" Yeah, good luck with that. Hopefully there aren't any big expenditures coming up.

Extra – Gateway Pundit says depression is coming while Patterico writes that Obama's plan to soak the rich has worked out great in California.

More – It looks like Obama's going to fulfill at least one campaign promise: he's going to spread the wealth around. Sure, the top 1% already pays almost 40% of all income taxes but they can take another one for the team, right?
Sweeet - It's maple sugar time over at Maggie's Farm.
Investors don't believe the hype – Real Clear Markets "The market is shorting Obama's 'stimulus'": "If historic U.S. budget deficits are any indication, the economy is already “stimulated.” The predicted 2009 federal deficit stood at 8.3% of GDP before Obama’s package sent it to about 12%. This is a stunning level of debt, double the previous post WWII high when Reagan’s 1983 budget deficit amounted to 6% of GDP."
Paying for the Big Dig

Boston Globe "Motorists cringe at gas tax plans":

Massachusetts motorists yesterday greeted the prospect of paying the highest gas tax in the country with a mixture of anger, wincing resignation, and measured support as a way to help fix the state's dilapidated transportation system.

Governor Deval Patrick, who formally unveiled the proposal to raise the tax by 19 cents a gallon, seemed conflicted himself as he abandoned previous statements opposing the gas tax hike or calling it ill-timed as families struggle through a recession. Now, his proposal would not only raise the gas tax, but continue to increase it yearly with the rate of inflation.
Well, that's just great. I drive 100 miles a day to-and-from Connecticut for my job, so this is not a minor increase. But a gas tax is also a "hidden tax" because it adds to the cost of everything that's transported by truck which is, um, everything. Meanwhile there are no shortage of stories about lavish state pensions including the MBTA's "23 and out" full-pension plan, not to mention the skyrocketing cost of the state's mandatory health insurance law. Deval Patrick has done nothing to address these issues. Instead, his modus operandi seems to be "spend the money first and scramble to find the money later" leading to schemes like luring casinos to the Bay State. If the Republicans can't field a candidate to replace him as governor, the Massachusetts GOP might as well fold up tent.

Extra - Hub Politics: "Business owners blast Patrick gas tax."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mr. Clean, he's not - Gay Patriot takes on former LBJ hatchet-man Bill Moyers.
The Golden State has been downgraded to bronze - Opinion Journal: "How California became France - Unable to afford a welfare state and unable to reform it."
The Crisis of Credit Visualized

A friend at work tipped me off to this very good explanation of why we're in trouble:

Be sure to click through to part 2.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Detroit can't afford benefits and neither can the federal government

In "GM's plan: Subsidize our 48-year-old retirees", Opinion Journal notes that the big automakers were unwilling or unable to reform their generous benefit programs, and now they're in a mess of trouble. Sound familiar?

So why were these problems allowed to fester, when smart people recognized them all along? The answer is that the solutions were painful, requiring not just brains but considerable amounts of courage. UAW officials weren't brave enough to risk re-election defeat by agreeing to curtail the 30-and-out plan. Detroit executives weren't about to take on the union and risk a strike that could cost them billions. GM likewise felt hamstrung on Saturn and Saab by state dealer-franchise laws, especially after they spent $1.3 billion to shut down Oldsmobile a few years ago.

Perhaps the best analogy, and one that Washington will understand, is Social Security. Everybody in Congress and the White House has known for years that it's a ticking time bomb, thanks to actuarial trends and inadequate funding. But when President George W. Bush tried to reform the system early in his second term, he was handed a crippling defeat.
Last month, Robert Samuelson made a similar comparison between the U.S. automakers and the legacy costs of the Baby Boomers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When a plus becomes a minus

Here's the conclusion of an Opinion Journal article on "A short history of the national debt":

While today there is no hope of balancing the budget -- or wisdom in trying to -- until the economy substantially improves, we could make a sort of down payment on reforming Washington's porky ways by simply starting to tell the truth.

It has been widely noted that 2009 will have the first "trillion-dollar deficit" in American history. Actually it's the second. In fiscal 2008, the national debt increased from $9 trillion to slightly over $10 trillion. Yet the budget deficit in the last fiscal year was officially reported as being $455 billion. How could the national debt have increased by considerably more than twice the "deficit"? Simple. Just call the money borrowed from the Social Security trust fund an "intragovernmental transfer" and exclude it from the calculation of the deficit.

Corporate managers have gone to jail for less book cooking than that.
Just so, but like every other news story on the economy, things are worse than they seem. The federal government can paper over the real deficit because Social Security is still pulling in more money in FICA taxes than it pays out in retiree checks. But all that is about to change. Sometime around 2017, the Social Security trust fund will stop buying U.S. Treasuries and start cashing them in.

From the Social Security Trustees' Report:

How will the government pay for all this entitlement spending? Even more borrowing:

Say that Social Security calls the Treasury sometime in 2017 and says it needs to cash in $20 billion of securities to cover benefit checks. The only way for the Treasury to get that money is for the rest of the government to spend $20 billion less than it otherwise would (fat chance!), collect more in taxes (ditto), or borrow $20 billion more (which is what would happen). The spend-less, collect-more, and borrow-more options are exactly what they would be if there were no trust fund. Thus, the trust fund doesn't make it any easier for the government to cover Social Security's cash shortfalls than if there were no trust fund.

Social Security's negative cash flow becomes so horrendous - hundreds of billions of dollars a year - that our nation's twenty- and thirtysomethings aren't going to let the government cover it, regardless of how many Treasuries the trust fund holds. So forget about 2039 or whenever. Starting worrying about 2016 or 2017.
In other words, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Extra – Heritage Foundation: "Hiding the real deficit"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Economic policy as analgesic - McQ has a post on the stimulus package that notes: "Pain avoidance drove the call for stimulus."  The solution: more debt leveraging to keep the good times rolling.
Distractions aside - Much to the delight to the readers of my little-read blog, I finished my take-home exam tonight.  So, hopefully, I'll get back to my previous level of adequacy.
Incorrect uses of the word "despite"

CNN: "Stocks fall despite rescue"

Mark Steyn notes: "Britain has the highest underage pregnancy rate in western Europe, despite channelling substantial resources into sex education for children as young as five."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Two days - That's how long it took me to read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.  I just couldn't put it down.  Aside from some truly gruesome scenes, it was a great read about what binds people together and what tears humanity apart.  Highly recommended.
Gimme gimme gimme! - I filed my federal taxes electronically this past weekend and mailed in my state returns this morning.  Better get yours in quick before the government decides to keep it (I'm looking at you California).  AP: "Kansas suspends income tax refunds."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spinal Tap lives! - "Derek Smalls" has an article in the UK Guardian that goes to eleven.
New season of The Amazing Race - Spoiler alert: the CBS web page for TAR has this season's itinerary on display. Anyway, I'm still recovering from the Daytona 500 so here's the abbreviated version: the teams started in LA and headed to Switzerland where they had to bungee jump off the Verzasca Dam. Then teams had to transport 200 pounds of cheese from an "aging shed" before heading to the Pit Stop. The first team to arrive was the mother-son team of Margie and Luke, who is deaf. The coolest part of this 14th season-starting episode was when Phil Keoghan used sign language to tell Luke he was "team #1."
Tough luck for Elliott Sadler - If the rain had started fifteen minutes earlier, Elliott Sadler would have won the 51st Daytona 500. But Matt Kenseth, who didn't win a race last season, zoomed ahead and took the lead just before the race was called for rain. Still, you can't take anything away from Kenseth: he started the NASCAR classic in last place (because he wrecked his primary car) and made his way to the front at the right time.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ah, we were doomed anyway

While everybody's wringing hands over the projected budget deficit and the $1 trillion jump in the national debt, it turns out we were screwed already. World Net Daily: "Federal obligations exceed world GDP"

As the Obama administration pushes through Congress its $800 billion deficit-spending economic stimulus plan, the American public is largely unaware that the true deficit of the federal government already is measured in trillions of dollars, and in fact its $65.5 trillion in total obligations exceeds the gross domestic product of the world.

The total U.S. obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits to be paid in the future, effectively have placed the U.S. government in bankruptcy, even before new continuing social welfare obligation embedded in the massive spending plan are taken into account.

The real 2008 federal budget deficit was $5.1 trillion, not the $455 billion previously reported by the Congressional Budget Office, according to the "2008 Financial Report of the United States Government" as released by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Familiarize yourself with this phrase: "debt monetization."
Bailouts forever - WSJ "GM to offer two choices: bankruptcy or more aid": "General Motors Corp., nearing a federally imposed deadline to present a restructuring plan, will offer the government two costly alternatives: commit billions more in bailout money to fund the company's operations, or provide financial backing as part of a bankruptcy filing, said people familiar with GM's thinking."

Between bankruptcy and restructuring versus a government-controlled entity, I choose the former. Time to cut the corporate cord.

Related - Vital promotional spending from GM. As Fark notes: "GM's problems haven't stopped them from building a 17 foot tall replica of Bumblebee for the Chicago Auto Show." That's a character from the latest Transformers movie. You know, for kids.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The end - Fox News: "Congress passes stimulus bill"  This spending bill will push the budget deficit as a function of GDP well past anything seen since World War II.  The bottom line is: this stimulus may work, and it may not work.  But no matter what happens, the United States will owe a mountain of debt to foreign and domestic lenders, crowding out commercial lending, and pushing the federal government closer to the non-activist role I've warned about for years.

That is: Social Security and Medicare already account for more than 50% of the federal budget.  Now our interest obligations on the national debt are about to rise.  We're reaching a point where there will be no such thing as "discretionary" spending.  There will only be entitlements and debt payments.

That's our bleak, and unavoidable, future.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How Wall Street works, according to Schoolhouse Rock

Ripe for parody, here's "Walkin' on Wall Street":

Good times, good times.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Aaron Abram is ready to serve

William F. Buckley: "I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University."

Rasmussen Reports: "Forty-four percent (44%) voters also think a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress, but 37% disagree. Twenty percent (20%) are undecided."
Secret spice #7: Soylent Green!?!

By a long shot, this is the weirdest story today. From the Boston Globe: "Colonel's secret recipe in safer vault" Thank heaven!

Colonel Sanders's handwritten recipe for fried chicken was back in its Kentucky home yesterday after five months in hiding while KFC upgraded security around its top corporate secret.

Nothing went afoul when the recipe was returned from an undisclosed location to KFC's headquarters late Monday in a lockbox handcuffed to the wrist of a security consultant.
Did you catch that: "afoul"? Oh, Associated Press.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another one bites the dust

Know what's the funniest part of this story about the Obama Administration continuing the "state secrets" policy of the Bush Administration? It's the shocked reaction of the famously left-leaning Ninth Circuit:

During the campaign, Mr. Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees, and he has broken with that administration on questions like whether to keep open the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
To quote Sheila Broflovski: "What what what!?!?"
"Ha, ha, good one Obama. Now step away from entitlement reform and nobody gets hurt."

In a nice follow-up to the post below, here's Politico with "Left silent on Social Security, Medicare"

Opponents of significant changes to Social Security benefits were jarred in January, when the then-president-elect echoed George W. Bush's claim of an entitlement "crisis," warning of "red ink as far as the eye can see" in Social Security and Medicare. Obama promised that those programs would be a "central part" of his plan to reduce the federal deficit.
Uh-oh. With their cherished socialist spending at risk, the liberal left has responded with apoplexy stony silence:

The relative silence of liberal activists who smashed Bush's hopes of slowing entitlement spending is a mark of the deep trust Obama enjoys from the left of his party - and it's also giving hope to those who would like to see major shifts in the way Social Security and other programs are funded and managed.
Can Obama reform entitlement spending the way "only Nixon can go to China?" Unfortunately, I fear we've gone beyond the tipping point where the power of the retiree lobby (i.e. the AARP) will overwhelm any chance for genuine reform. For reference, check out this excerpt of P.J. O'Rourke's "Parliament of Whores" where Congress double-quick unpassed a catastrophic health care bill when the seniors discovered they'd have to pay for something.

Aww, snap! - Well, the P.J. O'Rourke section isn't loading right. Anyway, in 1988, Congress passed the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act to prevent the kind of economic ruin that occurs when seniors are faced with extended illnesses. But the $4 flat monthly fee was too much for the grayheads who flooded Washington with complaints. The world's greatest deliberative body folded like a cheap card table and reversed their own legislation by a vote of 99-0. (see pages 215-216 of the paperback version.)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Obama's news conference

Very briefly: although some of his answers were long-winded (five minutes or more) he did a competent job explaining his position on the stimulus bill. I just fundamentally disagree that the country can afford all this new spending and tax cuts without crippling the economy over the long term. I'd love to have a shiny new RV, IPhone, and tickets to the Daytona 500, but the only way that's going to happen is if I max out my credit cards and pay them off over 20 years.

Still, I swooned when I heard this slice of straight talk:

Having said that, I think there are a lot of Republicans who are sincere in recognizing that, unless we deal with entitlements in a serious way, the problems we have with this year's deficit and next year's deficit pale in comparison to what we're going to be seeing 10 or 15 years or 20 years down the road.
Damned right. The question is whether the Democrats also recognize the generational crisis ahead.
Not so timely - Gateway Pundit: "Only one-tenth of stimulus package will be spent in 2009"

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Shouldn't we listen to this guy?

Peter Schiff warns that Spendulus will lead to "unmitigated disaster" (w/video). "The fiscal stimulus bill being debated in Congress not only won't help the economy, it will make the recession much worse, says Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital."

Remember Mr. Schiff? He was the voice in the wilderness warning of a housing collapse and recession while everyone was blissfully flipping real estate:

Oh boy.
Obama doesn't question the patriotism of Republicans - He merely praises the patriotism of those who choose to vote for Spendulus.  Fine Americans, all three of them.
Long live AVG - All weekend, I was struggling with my McAfee Security software which chose to turn off anti-virus protection at random.  Suddenly, there would be flashing, red icons in my taskbar and the hard drive would lock up in an endless loop.  Anyway, I removed the McAfee software and loaded on AVG 8.0 which gives the same protection, quicker, and for free.  What's not to love?  CNet's Download is a lifesaver.
Quotes to compare

Marge Simpson: "You know, Fox turned into a hardcore sex channel so gradually, I didn't even notice. Yeesh!" ("Lisa's Wedding," set in the future)

"The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of "Liberalism", they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened." – socialist Norman Thomas (via Maggie's Farm)
Clean up your street

Boston Globe: "Breakthrough on 'broken windows' - In Lowell experiment, crime linked to conditions". First, a review of the "broken windows" theory and how a sense of order (or disorder) is linked to crime:

The broken windows theory was first put forth in a 1982 Atlantic article by James Q. Wilson, a political scientist then at Harvard, and George L. Kelling, a criminologist. The theory suggests that a disorderly environment sends a message that no one is in charge, thus increasing fear, weakening community controls, and inviting criminal behavior. It further maintains that stopping minor offenses and restoring greater order can prevent serious crime.
A year-long experiment in Lowell, Massachusetts indicates the effect is real:

Researchers, working with police, identified 34 crime hot spots. In half of them, authorities set to work - clearing trash from the sidewalks, fixing street lights, and sending loiterers scurrying. Abandoned buildings were secured, businesses forced to meet code, and more arrests made for misdemeanors. Mental health services and homeless aid referrals expanded.

In the remaining hot spots, normal policing and services continued.

Then researchers from Harvard and Suffolk University sat back and watched, meticulously recording criminal incidents in each of the hot spots.

The results, just now circulating in law enforcement circles, are striking: A 20 percent plunge in calls to police from the parts of town that received extra attention. It is seen as strong scientific evidence that the long-debated "broken windows" theory really works - that disorderly conditions breed bad behavior, and that fixing them can help prevent crime.
Remember how they laughed at Rudy Giuliani for chasing away the windshield cleaners at every corner of New York City? Well, he was right. Now cut your lawn, America.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Spendulus in perspective

Including debt service, the cost of the Generational Theft Act is estimated at $1.175 trillion, all of which will be borrowed to be paid by America's children.

Think of it this way: we're going to borrow and spend almost one Russia, or one India. We could buy South Korea or Mexico. We could have our own continent by purchasing Australia and all their handsome actors and actresses. We could have Belgium, Sweden, and still have some pocket change left over for Greece. We could have five Hong Kongs.

Wikipedia: list of countries by GDP

Extra - WSJ "The Stimulus Tragedy": "The spending will take the U.S. budget deficit up to some 12% of GDP, about double the peak of the 1980s and into uncharted territory."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

They really don't like to spread their wealth around – Another Obama cabinet nominee with tax problems. Instapundit quips: "Is this, like, some kind of karmic payback for all the Joe-the-plumber tax business?"
Quote of the Day for Porkulus

"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money" – Alexis de Tocqueville
And there's this: "CBO: Obama stimulus harmful over long haul": "President Obama's economic recovery package will actually hurt the economy more in the long run than if he were to do nothing, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday." Because we have to pay back the money we borrow.

Extra - Greg Mankiw: "My preferred fiscal stimulus."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sanity – Hot Air notes that support for the Generational Theft Act has dropped to only 37%.
Not so fast – According to this Foreign Policy update, President Obama called to congratulate General Anthony Zinni as the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Then...something happened. Memeorandum has a roundup, of course.
Let's be friends!

Jeff Jacoby finds parallels between Jimmy Carter's detente with the Soviets that led to the invasion of Afghanistan and Obama's overtures to the Muslim world:

Radical Islam's hatred of the United States is not a recent phenomenon, it has nothing to do with "respect," and it isn't going to be extinguished by sweet words - not even those of so sweet a speaker as our new president. Sooner or later, Obama must confront an implacable reality: The global jihad, like the Cold War, will end only when our enemies lose their will to fight - or when we do. Let us hope he's a quicker study than Jimmy Carter.
Osama Bin Laden said: "When the people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they naturally gravitate toward the strong horse." The President can, of course, forge his own path on foreign policy but it would be better if he remembered that there are some factions who will perceive his overtures as weakness.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Corruption breed corruption

Boston Globe: "Casino, slots back on state agenda"

Governor Deval Patrick and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo briefly discussed expanded gambling yesterday during their first weekly leadership meeting since DeLeo, a supporter of gambling, was elevated to his post last week.
DeLeo rose to the speaker position in the Massachusetts House because the former speaker, Salvatore DeMasi, left in an ethics cloud. Whatever his faults, DeMasi at least was a strong opponent of casinos in the Bay State. Deval Patrick wasted no time looking for an easy way to solve the state's budget problems by pushing them onto to penny slot jockeys.

Monday, February 02, 2009

"Serenity now, insanity later"
Stimulus now, $14,000 bill later.
No need to review, just sign away - Sometimes I feel that the massive stimulus bill being pushed through Congress is akin to Radar O'Reilly trying to get Colonel Blake to sign orders without reading them first. "Sign here, initial here, sign here." Now it turns out one goal of the bill is to dismantle welfare reform. Whoops, somebody found it.
How do the little people get around? - Tom Daschle explains his tax dodge: "I just assumed a bigshot like me gets free limo service." Also, Betsy has more on Daschle.
Stupid rodent.
How I spent my Super Bowl Sunday

So yesterday I went to the convenience store to buy my Sunday papers, slipped on the ice, and dislocated my shoulder.  I would not recommend it.

I drove to my local Western Massachusetts hospital where a doctor did a "Mr. Miyagi" fix by rolling my arm in a circle and popping it back into place.  I'm in some moderate pain but it's mostly just when I reach my arm beyond a certain limit.  Which recalls a certain vaudeville joke:

"Doctor, it hurts when I do this."
"Don't do that."

Then I went to a neighbor's house (arm in sling) to watch the Superbowl.  Now I've seen the Giants come back in the second half (1986?), and I saw the Patriots defeat the "unbeatable" Rams to win their first Superbowl, and I recall last year's Giants upset.  (I was too young for Superbowl III.)  Without a doubt, this was the greatest Superbowl game ever.

And I'll confess I was rooting for the underdog Cardinals, but you have to hand it to the Steelers.  They were not to be denied.  This game had it all: a 100-yard interception runback, a safety, lead changes, an impossible toe-tip catch with 35 seconds left on the clock.  Wow!  Congrats to the Steelers.  I (painfully) tip my hat to you.

Related - Time/CNN: "Best and worst Superbowl commercials."  It wasn't the funniest, but I thought the one where the auto execs finally get the name "Hyundai" right (because it won car of the year) was effective.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

It's not too late to turn back - Mark Steyn on the slide into serfdom: "Big government is where nations go to die - not in Keynes' "long run," but sooner than you think." (HT: Flopping Aces)
Sleek and topical - Q&O blog has a new look.  Be sure to check it out.
Place your bets – Astute Bloggers: "British bookies slashing odds that this will be the coldest winter ever." Insert your own Al Gore joke here.
Failure is not an option, but it should be

This past week, everybody was grumbling about Wall Street handing out bonuses to bankrupt and bailed-out banks. Before that, we were agitated because Detroit CEOs took private planes to testify in Washington instead of driving their hybrids. Now word comes down that General Motors is going to use their bailout money and spend it in Brazil. Also, Citigroup cancelled delivery on a new corporate jet due to the public outcry.

So this is the future of America where everybody's "too big to fail". It's the same sentiment that flows from the "Oscar goes to..." nonsense and handing out trophies to everybody who participates instead of the team that, you know, scores more points. No more winners, no more losers.

Instead of bailing out these companies and then agonizing over every stupid move they make, why not let them collapse from the consequences of those stupid moves? We're now a nation that gripes about everything that bailed-out companies do wrong from corporate pay to recycling policies.