Whatever else might be said about him, President Obama operates on a different philosophy of government from that of the Founders. As Michelle Malkin observes, he spoke the most revealing and clarifying 10 words of his administration this week: “I think at some point you have made enough money.”
The Founders thought that at some point the government had enough power. Obama, however, is a devout believer in unlimited government. The common denominator among so-called health care reform and financial regulatory reform as well as Obama’s other big proposals is the augmented power they confer on the government in general and the executive branch in particular.
Alluding to other elements of Obama’s Quincy speech earlier this week, Michelle observes that we have a president who presumes to know when you have earned “enough,” who believes that only those who provide what he deems “good” products and services should “keep on making it,” and who has determined that the role of American entrepreneurs is not to pursue their own self-interest, but to fulfill their “core” responsibility as dutiful growers of the collective economy. Michelle concludes: “That famous mock-up poster of Obama as the creepy socialist Joker never seemed more apt.”
George Steinmetz captures great images from his paraglider.
Check out his website — and this is important — click the View Story on each gallery to see all the photos.
There is a lot to see.
For decades, public sector unions have peddled the fantasy that government employees were paid less than their counterparts in the private sector. In fact, the pay disparity is the other way around. Government workers, especially at the federal level, make salaries that are scandalously higher than those paid to private sector workers. And let’s not forget private sector workers not only have to be sufficiently productive to earn their paychecks, they also must pay the taxes that support the more generous jobs in the public sector.
Data compiled by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis reveals the extent of the pay gap between federal and private workers. As of 2008, the average federal salary was $119,982, compared with $59,909 for the average private sector employee. In other words, the average federal bureaucrat makes twice as much as the average working taxpayer. Add the value of benefits like health care and pensions, and the gap grows even bigger. The average federal employee’s benefits add $40,785 to his annual total compensation, whereas the average working taxpayer’s benefits increase his total compensation by only $9,881. In other words, federal workers are paid on average salaries that are twice as generous as those in the private sector, and they receive benefits that are four times greater. (more…)
John Edwards was right. There are two Americas, just not his two (the rich and powerful versus everyone else). The real divide today is, on one side, the 20 million people who work for state and local governments and the additional 3 million who’ve retired with fat pensions. On the other, the rest of us, roughly 280 million Americans. In short, there’s a gulf between the bureaucrats and the people.
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey puts his fight with teachers and their union in roughly those terms. He says there are “two classes of citizens in New Jersey: those who enjoy rich public benefits and those who pay for them.” The teachers want to keep a pay raise and continue to pay a minimal share of their retiree benefits.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, state and local government salaries are 34 percent higher than those for private sector jobs. Okay, that’s partly because government workers tend to have white-collar jobs. Benefits, 70 percent higher for these workers, are the real rub. And benefits for government retirees are the most flagrant. They’ve become a national scandal, a fiscal nightmare for states, cities, and towns, and an example of unfairness of the sort liberals routinely complain about but are mostly silent about just now.
Let’s start with horror stories of pensions run amok. If these tales of wretched excess at the expense of taxpayers don’t infuriate you, you’re jaded from decades of overindulgence by governments large and small:
• In Contra Costa, California, the final salary of one fire chief, 51, was $221,000. He was given an annual, guaranteed pension of $284,000. Another chief, 50, whose final salary was $185,000, got a pension of $241,000. Credit the Contra Costa Times with uncovering this.Posted by Jim Bass under Labor Friday, April 30, 2010 at 8:42 am
• Christie cited two tales in February when he declared a state of fiscal emergency in New Jersey. One retiree, 49, paid “a total of $124,000 towards his retirement pension and health benefits. What will we pay him? $3.3 million in pension payments and health benefits.” A retired teacher paid $62,000. She’ll get “$1.4 million in pension benefits and another $215,000 in health care benefit premiums over her lifetime.”
by J.C. Phillips
Some voters in Arkansas’ 1st Congressional District will believe Princella Smith is just too young to be a congresswoman. Doing business on Capital Hill requires wisdom and life experience; at 26-years-old, Smith is a baby. Of course, age was not an issue for Edward Rutledge, who at 26 signed the Declaration of Independence. Nor was age an issue for Amelia Earhart, who at 25 set an altitude record for female aviators.
Besides, according to Article 1, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution the only qualifications required to serve in the House of Representatives are that a person “have attained the age of 25 years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.” Princella Smith certainly passes constitutional muster. It is, however, her vast experience that makes her not only more than qualified, but perhaps the best choice to represent the people of the 1st District.
Princella Smith has clerked at the U.S. Department of Labor, was e-campaign director for then Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele’s Senate campaign, national spokesperson for “American Solutions,” the issues advocacy group begun by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; she was even a prime-time speaker at the Republican National Convention in New York.
However, the road to Washington is both long and is scattered with more obstacles than just age.
Princella is a conservative Republican running for office in a district that hasn’t elected a Republican since 1872, which, no doubt, explains why the district is filled with crumbling schools, high unemployment, and deep-seated racial tensions. Smith is also black and the district she seeks to represent resides in a Southern state that has never elected a black person to a congressional or state-wide office.
The good news is that Arkansas is still a place where values matter. What Princella has going for her is that while she may not share party affiliation with many of the voters of the 1st, she shares their values; she is one of them.
The 1st is a large district extending from the Mississippi River to northern Arkansas near the Missouri border and encompassing 26 counties. Miss Smith was born and raised in Wynne, Arkansas, a rural farming county in the Delta and one of the poorest regions in the country. Her father is a pastor and former school board member. Her mother is a vice-principal at one of the local high schools. The people of Wynne know the Smiths and more importantly they know Princella. People from all over the district watched her grow-up; some of them coached her to a college basketball scholarship, others watched her clean toilets to make spending money; some cheered her academic success, and many proudly tuned in to their televisions when she began appearing on the cable news as a political commentator. Smith is home grown, which presents a challenge to local Democrats.
For generations the Democratic Party machine has controlled elections in the 1st District by using the black churches to turn out large numbers of black voters. We will now see what happens when these black church going voters have a choice between a young, dynamic, black candidate from good, home-grown stock and a candidate from the party machine that makes, (and breaks), the same promises that Democrats.
We will also see if the Republican Party agrees with Smith that, “the Republican Party must become a party of energy, of ideas, of passion and citizen participation.”
The “Grand Old Party” is increasingly seen as precisely that: old! This is, after all, the party that saw fit to dust off a tired 73-year-old John McCain to run against a young, energetic, and charismatic Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Besides Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Republicans are hard pressed to point to very many young, smart, and charismatic voices; Princella Smith is all three.
She also possesses common sense, a trait displayed in Washington far too infrequently. For instance, she recognizes that increased entitlements must be paid for through higher taxes. Increased entitlements, coupled with tax cuts lead to increased debt. Talking about tax cuts without talking about spending cuts is a failure of Congress to exercise its fiduciary responsibility.
Smith is also a proponent of the flat tax. “I would like to replace the monstrous tax code with a single sheet of paper that every American can fill out,” She says. “One flat tax-rate that everyone—corporations included—will pay.”
Yes, Princella Smith is only 26. However, given the propensity of our older and wiser representatives to spend money the country doesn’t have–running up trillion dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see—I find a bit of comfort in Smith’s youthful enthusiasm. “I am fighting on behalf of my generation,” she says. “It’s my generation that is going to have to pay this debt!”
Run, Princella, run!
A comedic comeuppance for the Tech Messiah.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
A”tell” in poker is a subtle but detectable change in a player’s behavior or demeanor that reveals clues about the player’s assessment of his hand. Something similar has happened with regard to the insurance mandate at the core of last month’s health reform legislation. Congress justified its authority to enact the mandate on the grounds that it is a regulation of commerce. But as this justification came under heavy constitutional fire, the mandate’s defenders changed the argument—now claiming constitutional authority under Congress’s power to tax.
This switch in constitutional theories is a tell: Defenders of the bill lack confidence in their commerce power theory. The switch also comes too late. When the mandate’s constitutionality comes up for review as part of the state attorneys general lawsuit, the Supreme Court will not consider the penalty enforcing the mandate to be a tax because, in the provision that actually defines and imposes the mandate and penalty, Congress did not call it a tax and did not treat it as a tax.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) includes what it calls an “individual responsibility requirement” that all persons buy health insurance from a private company. Congress justified this mandate under its power to regulate commerce among the several states: “The individual responsibility requirement provided for in this section,” the law says, “. . . is commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce, as a result of the effects described in paragraph (2).” Paragraph (2) then begins: “The requirement regulates activity that is commercial and economic in nature: economic and financial decisions about how and when health care is paid for, and when health insurance is purchased.”
In this way, the statute speciously tries to convert inactivity into the “activity” of making a “decision.” By this reasoning, your “decision” not to take a job, not to sell your house, or not to buy a Chevrolet is an “activity that is commercial and economic in nature” that can be mandated by Congress.
It is true that the Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause broadly enough to reach wholly intrastate economic “activity” that substantially affects interstate commerce. But the Court has never upheld a requirement that individuals who are doing nothing must engage in economic activity by entering into a contractual relationship with a private company. Such a claim of power is literally unprecedented.
PBS’s Nova series usually sticks to hard science, but Tuesday’s show dipped into the world of economics and market psychology.
The resulting episode was both shallow and subtly partisan.
Here is how they describe their show:
In the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, NOVA presents “Mind Over Money”—an entertaining and penetrating exploration of why mainstream economists failed to predict the crash of 2008 and why we so often make irrational financial decisions. It’s a show that reveals how our emotions interfere with our decision-making and explores controversial new arguments about the world of finance. Before the current crash, most Wall Street analysts believed that markets are “efficient”—that investors are reasonable and always operate in their own economic self-interest. Most of the time, these assumptions of classical economics work well enough. But in extreme situations, people panic and conventional theories collapse. In the face of the recent crash, can a new science that aims to incorporate human psychology into finance—behavioral economics—do better?
With mentioning Hayek by name, the producers were taking sides in the great economic debate of the 20th century: Hayek’s free market economics vs. Keynesian government-directed economics.
The topic was better explored in the PBS Frontline six-parter, The Commanding Heights. You can watch it online.
Nova showed some mildly interesting social science experiments that demonstrate how human beings will, at times, make irrational choices.
This is news?
Human beings are flawed. We’re often greedy, emotional, vindictive, etc. Open a newspaper and read any advice column for examples. (I’m assuming you have none in your own life.)
History is replete with economic bubbles. Charles MacKay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds covered some doozies and it was written in 1841.
Since then we’ve had bubble after bubble.
The Florida land boom of the 1920s made some people into overnight millionaires. The Internet/tech bubble of the Clinton years made a lot of people rich and then poor. A lucky few, like Mark Cuban, got out on top.
There was even a Beanie Baby bubble.
So it isn’t news that human beings are subject to bubbles.
What’s the prevention? What’s the cure? A more intrusive regulatory scheme?
Given that government policy prompted the loose lending rules that fueled the housing bubble, why trust the government? Didn’t we already have numerous agencies staffed with smart people in place to prevent such things?
Who is to say that regulators are immune to bubble psychology, which, when you consider it, is just group-think writ large.
The Democrats will probably pass their finance reform bill, which will no doubt have unintended consequences that depress economic activity. Wealth that otherwise would have been created, won’t be. We won’t notice the loss because it will be invisible. There will be no flashy bubble bursting.
Of all the ideas floated since the 2008 “crash,” the most innovative came from Daniel Roth in Wired. He proposed that all financial reporting be done in a unified electronic format, then posted online so that the role of financial watchdog can be crowd sourced. That is, unleash Glenn Reynolds’s “Army of Davids” to study the fine print.
Even the regulators can’t keep up. A Senate study in 2002 found that the SEC had managed to fully review just 16 percent of the nearly 15,000 annual reports that companies submitted in the previous fiscal year; the recently disgraced Enron hadn’t been reviewed in a decade. We shouldn’t be surprised. While the SEC is staffed by a relatively small group of poorly compensated financial cops, Wall Street bankers get paid millions to create new and ever more complicated investment products. By the time regulators get a handle on one investment class, a slew of new ones have been created. “This is a cycle that goes on and on—and will continue to get repeated,” says Peter Wysocki, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “You can’t just make new regulations about the next innovation in financial misreporting.”
That’s why it’s not enough to simply give the SEC—or any of its sister regulators—more authority; we need to rethink our entire philosophy of regulation. Instead of assigning oversight responsibility to a finite group of bureaucrats, we should enable every investor to act as a citizen-regulator. We should tap into the massive parallel processing power of people around the world by giving everyone the tools to track, analyze, and publicize financial machinations. The result would be a wave of decentralized innovation that can keep pace with Wall Street and allow the market to regulate itself—naturally punishing companies and investments that don’t measure up—more efficiently than the regulators ever could.
Now there’s a novel idea for Nova (and Congress): rely on the wisdom of crowds, also a great book.
Baltasar Garzón, a high-profile Spanish judge and leftwing champion of the legal doctrine of universal jurisdiction, has been charged with abuse of power. Spanish Supreme Court investigating magistrate Luciano Varela charged Garzón with knowingly overstepping his jurisdiction by launching an illegal investigation into political crimes committed during and after the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.
The indictment of Garzón has implications that reach far beyond Spain. A guilty verdict would effectively terminate Garzón’s career as a judge, and thereby deprive the global Left of one of its most ambitious legal activists. It would also mark the beginning of the end of Spain’s foray into cross-border jurisprudence, which has been branded as politically motivated harassment of select right-leaning foreign governments, including in Israel and the United States.
The current dustup began in October 2008, when Garzón accused General Francisco Franco and 34 of his former generals and ministers of crimes against humanity in connection with mass executions and tens of thousands of disappearances of civilians between 1936 and 1952. Garzón also ordered the exhumation of 19 mass graves.
Considering that the Spanish Civil War ended more than 70 years ago, and that Franco died in 1975, few suspects, even if identified, would be alive today to stand trial. But the main objection to Garzón’s probe has stemmed from the fact that he decided to limit his investigation only to crimes committed by the right-wing Nationalists (ie, the Francoists). His enquiry did not extend to political crimes committed by the left-wing Republicans (anti-Francoists), which included Marxists, liberals and anarchists. Republican death squads murdered up to 70,000 clergy, nuns and ordinary middle class Spaniards in a veritable reign of terror that largely contributed to the rise of Franco.
When Leon Panetta was named to run the CIA the commentariat fretted that he had no intelligence experience, amusing because Obama had zero executive experience.
But Panetta did have executive experience and it seems to be paying off, writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post.
CIA Director Leon Panetta has a new trophy in his seventh-floor office at Langley: It’s the fuse from a Chinese-made rocket that he helped disable (with a CIA technician hovering close by) during a visit to an agency paramilitary training base.
That’s a good metaphor for Panetta himself as he completes 14 months as CIA director. He has defused a number of bombs that threatened to blow up what was left of the agency’s credibility, and in the process he has focused the CIA on getting the job done.
Panetta was a controversial choice because his experience was in politics, rather than espionage. But that Washington savvy was just what the beleaguered agency needed most. Panetta took on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after she accused CIA officials of lying, and he quietly prevailed. Congressional Democrats have tempered their CIA-bashing, recognizing that Panetta is carrying out President Obama’s policies.
Panetta also defused the ticking bomb of the intelligence reorganization. When Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, tried to assert authority over CIA operations, Panetta protested to the White House. He complained that he couldn’t operate on that basis — and that Blair should have no more say over CIA operations than over those at the FBI. Panetta won that fight, too. Blair is now focusing on his main challenge of coordinating the sprawling intelligence community.
The surprise with Panetta is how aggressively this Democratic former congressman has been waging the war against al-Qaeda. One official describes the Predator campaign to assassinate al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders as “the most aggressive operation in the history of the agency.” The tempo has increased to two or three strikes a week, up roughly fourfold from the George W. Bush years.
Good going. The increase in the drone fleet accounts for some of this.
To provide intelligence for the Predator strikes, the agency is running clandestine sources inside Pakistan and paying off tribal leaders on both sides of the border. The agency’s assets are hardly squeaky clean: They are former terrorists who have decided to flip. And Panetta has authority to direct the Predators to hit “signature” targets, meaning vehicles or training locations that are connected to known al-Qaeda operatives.
One wonders: if Bush were doing this, would the left be screaming about human rights abuses?
The debate over financial regulation is now focused squarely on the ability of the government to take over a failing financial institution such as a bank holding company or hedge fund—so-called non-bank resolution authority. This is the linchpin of reform because allowing the government to intervene in a crisis will affect investors’ risk-taking behavior from the start—for better or worse.
A resolution regime that provides certainty against bailouts will reduce the riskiness of markets and thus help avoid a future crisis, while a reform that enshrines the possibility of bailouts will foster risky behavior and unwittingly make future bailouts more likely. The key choice is thus whether financial regulatory reform gives the government discretion to bail out creditors or instead ensures that these counterparties take losses.
President Obama’s approach, as embodied in Democratic Senator Chris Dodd’s bill, is for discretion and thus for bailouts. Top administration officials state that they will impose losses on counterparties such as lenders to a failing firm.
The reality, however, is that the Senate bill gives the government discretion, without a vote of Congress, to put money into a failing firm to pay off creditors. Shareholders will take losses but creditors can benefit from government-provided funds. Regardless of the administration’s intentions, markets participants will understand that the Senate financial regulation bill allows for bailouts, and this will give rise to riskier behavior that in turn makes future bailouts more likely.
For some time now, people have been forwarding me an email that lists the ten most poverty-stricken cities in America. By this time, I imagine you’ve all committed the names to memory, along with the fact that these cities have been electing one Democratic mayor after another for at least the past quarter century. In one case — Miami, I believe — they’ve never elected anything else. The civic blights, in alphabetical order, are Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, El Paso, Miami, Milwaukee, Newark, Philadelphia and St. Louis.
But, unlike those people who keep forwarding this message around, I don’t blame all those rotten, corrupt mayors, I blame the lazy louts who keep electing them.
In this country, after all, the only people who keep living generation after generation below the poverty line are the indolent and the ignorant. These are the folks who persist in relying on welfare and feeding on a diet of bitterness and entitlement. As for those who insist that nobody chooses to be ill-educated and unskilled, and that if only more money were spent on schools, we’d be churning out an endless supply of young Einsteins, Hawkings and Jeffersons, I say, phooey!
During the 1980s, more money was shoveled into the St. Louis school system than any other system in America, more than any other system in history. At the end of the decade, standardized school test scores had gone down. But that carries no weight with those liberals who believe the solution to every problem is to throw money, other people’s money, at it. They actually regard it as a good thing that America’s students, who inevitably score the lowest among kids in the industrialized nations when it comes to math, science and language skills, score highest when it comes to self-esteem. “Maybe we’re as dumb as a box of doorknobs,” they seem to be saying, “but we sure are cool. Just listen to our cool music and look at our cool tattoos.”
Those who shower the most praise on our public education system are those least likely to ever expose their own kids to it. I refer to the pinheads who hold public office. In fact, the only time a president or first lady ever wanders into a public school in Washington, D.C., is for an election year photo op, after having made certain that their Secret Service detail is operating at full strength that day. It’s not a school system, it’s a penal colony with report cards.
Whenever I come across a statistic that suggests it costs about $11,000 to keep a child in school for a year, I find myself thinking that, aside from the 535 members of the House and Senate, the biggest thieves in America are all members of the education swindle — school teachers, administrators and union officials. They should all be kept after school and made to write on the blackboard a thousand times: I will never again say it’s all for the kids.
Believe me, I’m not bragging when I say I could teach the young sprouts geography, math and English, just as badly as the professionals do it, and I could do it for a lot less than $11,000-a-head.
What’s more, this problem could have very dire consequences. As absurd as it sounds, if we don’t improve our education system, I can foresee some time in the future when we could wind up with members of Congress who confuse the Declaration of Independence with the U.S. Constitution and who actually believe that if you put 8,000 Marines and their families on Guam, you’d run the risk of capsizing the island.
Listening to the national uproar, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Arizona has marched into the civil rights apocalypse with its new state law cracking down on illegal immigrants.
Last Friday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070, making it a crime to be in the state illegally and requiring cops, where “reasonable suspicion” exists, to determine a person’s legal status.
Rev. Al Sharpton is promising to come to Arizona to march, the New York Times says that the state has gone “off the deep end,” and the Nazi references are flying. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony likened SB1070 to “German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques.”
Riding the noise for political advantage, President Obama is summoning his Justice Department to look into the matter, saying that the law would “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.”
But 70 percent of Arizona residents support the law, according to Rasmussen.
What’s going on here? Do we know something the rest of the country doesn’t?
Actually, we do. Context is everything, and it’d be nice if the national media provided some, rather than simply slamming Arizona as a redneck haven filled with nativists and bubbas with a hankering for racial profiling.
An estimated 500,000 illegal aliens live in Arizona, and many are decent folks, to be sure. But the border is still wide open, and many more are coming. Last year in Border Patrol’s 262-mile-wide Tucson Sector, agents arrested 241,000 illegal aliens, a drop of more than 130,000 from 2007.
It sounds great until you understand that gotaways outnumber arrests by three to one.
Does the country realize this, or have the people bought Janet Napolitano’s political fairy tale that border security has been “transformed” from where we were in 2007?
As Obama lectures Arizona, citizens here await his decision on an urgent request to send three thousand National Guard troops to the border. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl (more…)
I can’t say I’m surprised, but I didn’t know the deceptions surrounding Obamacare went quite this far, to the point of smothering a government report. From The Prowler:
The economic report released last week by Health and Human Services, which indicated that President Barack Obama’s health care “reform” law would actually increase the cost of health care and impose higher costs on consumers, had been submitted to the office of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius more than a week before the Congressional votes on the bill, according to career HHS sources, who added that Sebelius’s staff refused to review the document before the vote was taken.
“The reason we were given was that they did not want to influence the vote,” says an HHS source. “Which is actually the point of having a review like this, you would think.”
We imagined — and said in an editorial — that the report had probably been months in preparation. But that it could have actually been finished and on Sebelius’s desk (and at the White House) a week before the vote reinforces the notion that dishonesty was the White House’s most important tool in passing Obamacare.
Obama takes credit, but it was Bush who pushed TARP with virtually no GOP support. (Obama was still a candidate when TARP was passed.)
It turns out, at least financially, to be a good deal for the taxpayer.
At a time when both parties are competing to crack down the hardest on Wall Street banks, it might come as a surprise to know that the Treasury has been making a tidy profit on most of the government’s Wall Street rescue operations.
What few in Congress are disclosing is that the government’s non-bank rescues have become the biggest drain on taxpayers, including the burgeoning bailouts of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, insurance giant American International Group, and Detroit’s General Motors and Chrysler.
All but one of the megabanks that have raised populist ire — including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America — repaid the government bailout funds long ago, along with interest and dividends that made the deals profitable for the Treasury. Citigroup is the only major bank that has not repaid in full, though it has announced plans to do so.
While many smaller banks still have not repaid their government assistance, industry lobbyists say the much-maligned Troubled Asset Relief Program has proved to be mostly a big win for taxpayers and the economy.
“Two-thirds of the TARP investment from banks has already been repaid with a large profit to the taxpayer,” said Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable. “TARP was a positive boost to the economy and the government, and taxpayers are seeing a positive return on their investment.”
The Federal Reserve reported last week that it had transferred a record $47.4 billion in profits to the Treasury in 2009 from its Wall Street rescue operations — up 50 percent from 2008.
The Penn State climate professor who has silently endured investigations, hostile questioning, legislative probes and attacks by colleagues has finally spoken out. He says he’ll sue the makers of a satirical video that’s a hit on You Tube.
Their response: Bring it on.
Michael Mann, one of the central figures in the recent climate-data scandal, is best known for his “hockey stick graph,” which was the key visual aid in explaining how the world is warming at an alarming rate and in connecting the rise to the increase in use of carbon fuels in this century. E-mails stolen from a university in England were released online, revealing exchanges between climatologists and a reference to a “trick” that Mann had used to get the graph to portray what global warming scientists wanted to see.
The parody video, titled “Hide the Decline,” had more than 500,000 viewers on YouTube and received national attention when Rush Limbaugh played it on his radio show. It features a cat with a guitar, a talking tree, and a dancing figure sporting the image of Professor Mann. It’s the use of his image that Mann is complaining about, arguing that the video supports “efforts to sell various products and merchandise.”
Okay, perfesser, you asked for it.
…In a way, the muzzling of “South Park” is no more disquieting than any other example of Western institutions’ cowering before the threat of Islamist violence. It’s no worse than the German opera house that temporarily suspended performances of Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo” because it included a scene featuring Muhammad’s severed head. Or Random House’s decision to cancel the publication of a novel about the prophet’s third wife. Or Yale University Press’s refusal to publish the controversial Danish cartoons … in a book about the Danish cartoon crisis. Or the fact that various Western journalists, intellectuals and politicians — the list includes Oriana Fallaci in Italy, Michel Houellebecq in France, Mark Steyn in Canada and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands — have been hauled before courts and “human rights” tribunals, in supposedly liberal societies, for daring to give offense to Islam.
But there’s still a sense in which the “South Park” case is particularly illuminating. Not because it tells us anything new about the lines that writers and entertainers suddenly aren’t allowed to cross. But because it’s a reminder that Islam is just about the only place where we draw any lines at all.
Across 14 on-air years, there’s no icon “South Park” hasn’t trampled, no vein of shock-comedy (sexual, scatalogical, blasphemous) it hasn’t mined. In a less jaded era, its creators would have been the rightful heirs of Oscar Wilde or Lenny Bruce — taking frequent risks to fillet the culture’s sacred cows.
In ours, though, even Parker’s and Stone’s wildest outrages often just blur into the scenery. In a country where the latest hit movie, “Kick-Ass,” features an 11-year-old girl spitting obscenities and gutting bad guys while dressed in pedophile-bait outfits, there isn’t much room for real transgression. Our culture has few taboos that can’t be violated, and our establishment has largely given up on setting standards in the first place.
Except where Islam is concerned. There, the standards are established under threat of violence, and accepted out of a mix of self-preservation and self-loathing.
This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that “bravely” trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.
Happily, today’s would-be totalitarians are probably too marginal to take full advantage. This isn’t Weimar Germany, and Islam’s radical fringe is still a fringe, rather than an existential enemy.
For that, we should be grateful. Because if a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there’s enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down.
Indeed, and such tremulousness might inspire a fringe into a foe. After all Osama bin Laden declared the US a paper tiger after Clinton retreated from Somalia.
IT took years for Hollywood to create the perfect woman. Now it wants the old one back.
In small but significant numbers, filmmakers and casting executives are beginning to re-examine Hollywood’s attitude toward breast implants, Botox, collagen-injected lips and all manner of plastic surgery.
Television executives at Fox Broadcasting, for example, say they have begun recruiting more natural looking actors from Australia and Britain because the amply endowed, freakishly young-looking crowd that shows up for auditions in Los Angeles suffers from too much sameness.
“I think everyone either looks like a drag queen or a stripper,” said Marcia Shulman, who oversees casting for Fox’s scripted shows.
Independent casting directors like Mindy Marin, who worked on the Jason Reitman film “Up in the Air,” are urging talent agents to discourage clients from having surgery, particularly older celebrities who, she contends, are losing jobs because their skin is either too taut or swollen with filler. Said Ms. Marin: “What I want to see is real.”
Even extras get the once-over. Sande Alessi, who helped cast the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, said she offers to photograph actresses in their bathing suits, telling them they can keep the photo for their audition books.
Professional courtesy? Not exactly. Moviemakers prefer actresses with natural breasts for costume dramas and period films. So much so that when the Walt Disney Company recently advertised for extras for the new “Pirates” film, the casting call specified that only women with real breasts need apply. By taking a photograph, Ms. Alessi said, “we don’t have to ask, we will know.”
The move toward “less is more” is being propelled by a series of colliding social and technological trends, more than a dozen film and television professionals said.
Cosmetic enhancements remain popular, with 10 million surgical and nonsurgical procedures performed in the United States in 2009, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. At the same time, the spread of high-definition television — as well as a curious public’s trained eye — has made it easier to spot a celebrity’s badly stitched hairline or botched eyelid lift.
Men, of course, are not immune to the youthful lure of a surgeon’s scalpel. But it is women, to the surprise of no one, who are being scrutinized most closely.
The recovery is picking up steam as employers boost payrolls, but economists think the government’s stimulus package and jobs bill had little to do with the rebound, according to a survey released Monday.
In latest quarterly survey by the National Association for Business Economics, the index that measures employment showed job growth for the first time in two years — but a majority of respondents felt the fiscal stimulus had no impact.
NABE conducted the study by polling 68 of its members who work in economic roles at private-sector firms. About 73% of those surveyed said employment at their company is neither higher nor lower as a result of the $787 billion Recovery Act, which the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers says is on track to create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of the year.
That sentiment is shared for the recently passed $17.7 billion jobs bill that calls for tax breaks for businesses that hire and additional infrastructure spending. More than two-thirds of those polled believe the measure won’t affect payrolls, while 30% expect it to boost hiring “moderately.”
Who can forget the hysterics on the left over President Bush’s faith-based initiative, which was supposed to destroy the separation of church and state?
Well guess who’s preaching now? Megan Clyne in the Weekly Standard:
If the Obama administration has its way, the gospel of climate change will be coming to a pulpit near you. That at least seems to be the dream of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships—a 25-member group of leaders from across the religious spectrum that is part of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Last month, the council spent a day at the White House briefing senior administration officials on its “final report of recommendations” for improving collaboration between the government and religious organizations. The 164-page document, entitled “A New Era of Partnerships,” takes up the “priority areas” identified by President Obama—Economic Recovery and Domestic Poverty, Fatherhood and Healthy Families, Environment and Climate Change, Global Poverty and Development, and Interreligious Cooperation.
Poverty, families, interreligious co-operation: All pretty standard. But what does an office created to help better provide social services to the needy have to do with climate change?
Apparently, the president’s council envisions the “partnership” between government and religious institutions as a means of spreading the administration’s environmental warnings, rather than just a way to help churches feed the hungry and clothe the poor. Faith-based organizations, the report notes, can take “a prominent leadership role in influencing policy, education, and action in those areas.”
How exactly can the government enlist congregations in the climate-change fight? Step 1: Set up an office at the Environmental Protection Agency “to actualize the potential of faith-based and community groups and their networks across the country toward greening and retrofitting buildings”:
[A]n Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the EPA could . . . activate faith- and community-based networks to promote energy efficiency, environmental responsibility, and green jobs. With minimal personnel costs to the government, massive partnerships could be scaled up through engaging religious and community leaders and organizations.
The council hopes the new EPA faith office will also help churches and other nonprofits improve “access to financing,” including “establishing revolving loan programs or working with utility companies to help finance greening building projects.” The ultimate aim of all this government-supported retrofitting is clear: “Regional staff would work to engage local faith-and community-based groups to help meet Obama administration targets for greening buildings and promoting environmental quality.” [Emphasis added.]
The report adds: “We believe that faith- and community-based groups, as well as the general American public, could be better mobilized toward environmental goals with a well-publicized and centralized educational campaign” (to be hosted and promoted through a government website) that, among other things, “asks faith-based and neighborhood organizations to collaborate in developing these resources which should emphasize that environmental and climate change concerns are often closely connected to issues of justice and equity.”
Via Dan Savage’s blog at The Stranger, some clever chappie (I don’t know who) has declared May 20, 2010 “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day,” in support of Matt Stone and Trey Parker and in opposition to religious thuggery. Why May 20? I haven’t a clue, though it could have something to do with Otto ascending the throne of Greece. Or, more likely, King Sancho IV of Castile’s founding of the Study of General Schools of Alcalá.
I will be employing my tremendous skill as an illustrator, of course, and expect that my colleagues will do the same. If they refuse, they will be declared weak-kneed, namby-pamby, quisling infidels and will be shamed on this blog (Though such idle threats rarely work these days; perhaps I could threaten them with a painful death, which seems to do the trick). If readers would like to show their solidarity, please email your Mohammad masterpieces to me here: mmoynihan at reason.com. The best ones will be published on Hit & Run, which, along with the concomitant death threat, is reward enough.
No kidding. It’s that rare, it merits a headline.
Thomas Shelden, a Los Angeles city schoolteacher who spent nearly two years outside the classroom with full pay and benefits while district officials investigated accusations against him, has been dismissed by the school board.
Shelden was a fourth-grade teacher at Charles White Elementary in Westlake when Los Angeles Unified School District officials removed him from the campus in May 2008. At that time, the district had about 160 employees assigned to administrative offices while claims against them were under review.
Under a long-standing practice, those employees are not given any assignments and receive their full wages and benefits.
Shelden, whose annual salary was $73,500, had been accused of sexually harassing another instructor, who later took out a restraining order against him. A district inquiry did not substantiate that claim, but Shelden was assigned to an office for allegedly contacting the woman repeatedly against district orders.
…The time he spent away from the classroom will count toward his pension and retirement benefits, according to district officials.
Biofuels such as biodiesel from soy beans can create up to four times more climate-warming emissions than standard diesel or petrol, according to an EU document released under freedom of information laws.
The European Union has set itself a goal of obtaining 10 percent of its road fuels from renewable sources, mostly biofuels, by the end of this decade, but it is now worrying about the unintended environmental impacts.
Four major studies are under way.
Chief among those fears is that biofuel production soaks up grain from global commodity markets, forcing up food prices and encouraging farmers to clear tropical forests in the quest for new land. Burning forests releases vast quantities of carbon dioxide and often cancels out many of the climate benefits sought from biofuels.
Apple investors could be excused for feeling on top of the world. Another blowout quarter has sent the stock booming to another all-time high. The iPad seems to be a success. Everything the company touches seems to turn to gold.
Savor the moment, by all means. But don’t get complacent. If you’re an Apple shareholder, here are seven things to be concerned about—and one thing you can do about it.
1. Apple’s good—but not that good. It’s just that the competition is so bad. Nokia, Microsoft, Samsung, Palm: From smartphones to Internet tablets to computers, it’s hard to believe so many big companies have blown it so badly. And they’ve committed mainly unforced errors, such as terrible user interfaces. I bought a non-iPod MP3 player the other day. It’s great … except making playlists is nearly impossible.
As long as the competition acts like this, Apple will keep winning. But its success owes less to the genius of Apple than the incompetence of everyone else. And that’s something you can’t control.
2. Apple fatigue. Was anything so ridiculous as the coverage of the new iPad? A computer company launched a new computer. Time and Newsweek put it on the cover, for heaven’s sake, complete with fawning copy from the likes of Stephen Fry. A lot of people are getting absolutely fed up with this circus. Fashions come, but fashions go. Is Apple becoming overexposed? Right now Steve Jobs could sell his old underwear for $200 a pair (the “iPants”), and the sheep would line up at your local Apple store. If this mania lasts, it will be a first in human history.
3. The share price. At $260, Apple’s stock price has more than doubled in a year. Amateur investors say, “It’s going up.” Present tense. Serious investors say, more accurately: “It has gone up.” Past tense. No one knows the future. And the more it rises, the less attractive it gets. It’s now 20 times annual cash flow and 5 and a half times annual sales. At $235 billion, the company is being valued at more than Sony, Research In Motion, Dell, Motorola, Nokia, HTC, SanDisk and Palm … put together. That assumes a lot.
In an unusually candid and sometimes biting assessment of his successor as attorney general, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer portrayed Andrew M. Cuomo as a man whose decisions have often been driven by political considerations and whose worldview has largely been shaped by the culture of Albany.
Spitzer was a bully who abused his AG power to obtain more power.
Ask the victims of his sketchy criminal charges who copped pleas rather than bankrupt their families with legal bills.
Americans are being inundated with claims about renewable and alternative energy. Advocates for these technologies say that if we jettison fossil fuels, we’ll breathe easier, stop global warming and revolutionize our economy. Yes, “green” energy has great emotional and political appeal. But before we wrap all our hopes — and subsidies — in it, let’s take a hard look at some common misconceptions about what “green” means.
1. Solar and wind power are the greenest of them all.
Unfortunately, solar and wind technologies require huge amounts of land to deliver relatively small amounts of energy, disrupting natural habitats. Even an aging natural gas well producing 60,000 cubic feet per day generates more than 20 times the watts per square meter of a wind turbine. A nuclear power plant cranks out about 56 watts per square meter, eight times as much as is derived from solar photovoltaic installations. The real estate that wind and solar energy demand led the Nature Conservancy to issue a report last year critical of “energy sprawl,” including tens of thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines needed to carry electricity from wind and solar installations to distant cities.
Nor does wind energy substantially reduce CO2 emissions. Since the wind doesn’t always blow, utilities must use gas- or coal-fired generators to offset wind’s unreliability. The result is minimal — or no — carbon dioxide reduction.
Denmark, the poster child for wind energy boosters, more than doubled its production of wind energy between 1999 and 2007. Yet data from Energinet.dk, the operator of Denmark’s natural gas and electricity grids, show that carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation in 2007 were at about the same level as they were back in 1990, before the country began its frenzied construction of turbines. Denmark has done a good job of keeping its overall carbon dioxide emissions flat, but that is in large part because of near-zero population growth and exorbitant energy taxes, not wind energy. And through 2017, the Danes foresee no decrease in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation.
2. Going green will reduce our dependence on imports from unsavory regimes.
In the new green economy, batteries are not included. Neither are many of the “rare earth” elements that are essential (more…)
Noam Chomsky, America’s greatest exporter of anti-Americanism, is making big news in such media as Pravda and the Tehran Times.
He fears the “Far Right.”
Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite and the myths they perpetrate. Chomsky has done this despite being blacklisted by the commercial media, turned into a pariah by the academy and, by his own admission, being a pedantic and at times slightly boring speaker.
A pariah by the academy? He teaches preaches at MIT.
He combines moral autonomy with rigorous scholarship, a remarkable grasp of detail and a searing intellect. He curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state, excoriates the liberal intelligentsia for being fops and courtiers and describes the drivel of the commercial media as a form of “brainwashing.” And as our nation’s most prescient critic of unregulated capitalism, globalization and the poison of empire, he enters his 81st year warning us that we have little time left to save our anemic democracy.
“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky told me when I called him at his office in Cambridge, Mass. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”
“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on.
Some folks think Obama Messiah is quite charismatic.