Saturday, June 29, 2013

Muppet Crime Open Thread

Sesame Street has a new Muppet. This Muppet is called “Alex” and Alex has a problem. Alex’s father is doin’ a dime up at Muppica for going Hannibal Lector on a school bus full of Muppets after getting high on a little Kermit dust. And poor Alex doesn’t know how to handle this. :(

In all seriousness, Sesame Street is introducing the first Muppet with a father in prison, and quite a few people are upset. Sesame Street claims that 1 in 28 kids has a parent who is in jail and they want to offer those kids some support (I suspect the number is closer to 1 in 172). Some people are bothered by the idea of introducing the concept of jail to Muppet-land, because they think it will ruin childhood. I don’t buy that. Kids know what jail is because they see it on other cartoons, on other television shows, and their parents threaten them with it - "This will go on your permanent record and you'll end up in jail when you grow up!" And it’s not like they’re glamorizing it by having Alex be happy about it... this is not Muppetfellas.

Others are upset that they are being one-sided and aren’t telling the kids why Alex’s dad is in the joint. I don’t have a problem with that either. The point here is to sympathize with the kids whose parents are in jail, not to justify the sentence imposed on the father. Indeed, all that really does is make the child accountable for the sins of the father, which is kind of crappy.

On the other hand, I doubt this will help much of anything, as Sesame Street seems to hope. For one thing, it’s not like the show is telling anyone anything they don’t already know: gee, a child with a missing parent is a sad child--


Wait a minute! Doesn’t that conflict with the idea that single parent families are cool? Isn't this going to cause an entire generation of kids to grow up believing that it’s depressing and difficult not to have a father? Snort. Once again, it looks like politically correct liberals are contradicting their own messages by adding new, poorly thought out messages to prior poorly thought out messages and thereby creating a big old steaming pile of conflict. Liberals really are their own worst enemies, aren’t they?

In any event, the real story here is that, apparently, Muppets can be dangerous criminals. Bring a Muppet into your home at your own risk!
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Friday, June 28, 2013

Our Wrongs and Our Rights

Well, we've had fun times this week, what with DOMA being struck down and other silliness. Not being a deep and learned scholar of constitutional law like our dear President, I doubt I could say anything as to the legal details of the case or its rights and wrongs. I would, however, like to address this whole notion of gay marriage as a "right."

The lure of accepting gay marriage as an inevitability and even perhaps a positive good is something many conservatives, especially young conservatives, have snapped up, and while I for one refuse to go gently into that good night (or whatever the phrase is), I do, on some level, understand its appeal. Nobody likes to be mean, or to be perceived as mean; and the libertarian ethos that is part and parcel of American conservatism would have a hard time in any climate opposing calls for the freedom to marry. Consider the stance of groups like "Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry," which argues that endorsing gay marriage "is in line with our core belief in limited government and individual freedom," not some "partisan issue." Well, I can forgive them that (though not their rejection of opposition as not "a conservative or an American value"). But their rhetoric strikes me all the same as extremely muddle-headed, to say the least, and as indicative of our modern obsession with rights.

Although it seems most glaring today in connection with gay marriage, this is hardly a new obsession. The history of the modern West could almost be summarized as people conceiving of rights and then being determined to get them, no matter how noble or absurd. Consider, for example, the UN's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," which includes in its list not only the right to marry, the right to equal pay, and the right to free education, but also the right of copyright, the right to an international order, the right to develop one's personality (whatever that means), and the right to "rest and leisure." Well. But are these claims merely laughable, or actually wrong?

Conservatism has always been suspicious of such broad declarations of personal right. And rightly so: Too often, people mean by "right" something nice that they think everyone should be able to have. That is hardly its true meaning, though--rights have never existed in a vacuum, but are always dependent on circumstances and the obligations that go with them. As Russell Kirk put it, more presciently than he knew, in The Conservative Mind: "If a man has a right to marry, some woman [or in this case, some man] must have the duty of marrying him; if a man has a right to rest, some other person must have the duty of supporting him." Rights and obligations: You can rarely have the former without the latter, and in the real world, obligations often take precedence altogether. This is why I never understood the furor over DADT being cast as a matter of one's right to serve in the military. No one has a right to serve in the armed forces; if such a right existed, anyone not drafted could call themselves "oppressed." Military service is, in the final analysis, an obligation which the military authorities include or exclude a man from as they see fit.

Though the two are hardly identical, something similar could be said about the "right to marry," whether it concerns gays or straights. No individual or board has oversight of marriages, it is true. But just as it would be foolish for me to say my rights are being violated if I don't get drafted, what should I say if I'm unlucky in love and can't find a spouse? Who's violating my rights then? The ladies who shot me down? The government for failing to provide me with a wife? Does any of this make sense?

Now maybe you'll say that I'm interpreting this too narrowly. "Right to marry" doesn't mean the right to be provided with a spouse, it means being able to get married if you and another person want to do so. Fair enough (though you really can't call it a "right" in that case). But at no time in history have we permitted the fulfillment of such desires at face value. Incestuous marriages are not allowed; neither are polygamy or group marriages (yet). Feel free to compare those behaviors to homosexuality or not; the point is that restraints on who can get married are and always have been universally accepted, regardless of the banned people's feelings or whether they "love each other."

Concepts like freedom, liberty, and fighting for one's rights are part and parcel of American conservatism, and should not be denied. But in order to do that, we must not confuse libertarianism with libertinism, nor our desires, sexual or otherwise, with actual rights. At its heart, conservatism understands that liberty exists alongside an often-fragile social fabric; where an institution as important to that fabric's continuation as marriage is concerned, accepting a concept like "homosexual marriage" can only come after careful deliberation and weighing of the costs and benefits (if any), and certainly not because it's demanded as a right.
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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Film Friday: Presumed Innocent (1990)

Presumed Innocent is the best legal thriller ever filmed. It’s gripping, it’s tense. It’s incredibly realistic. It’s populated with real characters with real motivations. It’s unpredictable. It’s thoroughly enjoyable. Needless to say, I recommend it.

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms
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New York State of Mind and more stuff...

Bikes, bikes, everywhere bikes. No, that photo is not of NYC, but Amsterdam. But it's only a matter of time before we look like this too. So, this last Memorial Day, our fearless leader Mayor Bloomberg rolled out his latest idea to make us better humans. Our soon-to-be-Ex-Mayor along with his intrepid Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (or should we say, Anti-Transportation Commissioner) have brought us Citibike - a bike sharing alternative to traditional subway, bus, or just plain walking.

Ever since their unsuccessful bid to impose "congestion pricing" fees for driving cars and trucks in the "inner city" of Manhattan early in his, Bloomberg and Sadik-Kahn have done anything they can to make sure driving (and walking) in Manhattan is nearly impossible. First, they turned Times Square, Herald Square, and just about all of the other "Squares" in Manhattan into "pedestrian malls" replete with little tables and chairs thereby shutting down blocks and blocks of avenues to all car, truck, and bus traffic.

Here's a before and after shot of the Times Square pedestrian malls:

Looks lovely right? Well, I guess if you are a tourist or homeless and it's not raining, snowing or just plain freezing, it's great. But if you are actually trying to get anywhere or delivery anything, you're kind of out of luck. Now, we have bike lanes and bike-share racks appearing all over the city. We've known this was coming for a long long time. For the last several years, Sadik-Kahn has been cutting down driving lanes and putting in bike lanes all over the city. (We finally got ours on the Upper East Side on First Avenue in the last six months.) But then the blue bike racks started appearing in the dead of night in the most inconvenient places. Now we have Citibike!

Okay, the way Citibike works is that you join Citibike (sponsored and financed by Citibank, an evil bankster-type operation) online for a yearly membership fee plus a per-rental fee, get an electronic key card, and then you can rent and return a pretty blue bike from any of the many racks stationed around the city mostly in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You just slide your card in, get a green light, and take a bike. Then return it to any designated rack in the city. With some plans, you can access a bike as many time as you need to get from Brooklyn to Midtown in no time flat. The catch is you can only rent in 30 minute intervals (some plans you can rent for 45 minutes).

Now as most things that happen in this city, it has not been without problems and, of course there have been hiccups. First off, all the access kiosks/bike racks are run on energy-saving green solar powered batteries. Yey! But one of the things that is at a premium in NYC is...well...sunlight. Oops, someone didn't take that into consideration when placing racks, so the batteries that run the kiosks where you put in your electronic keycard to access your bike rentals are losing power very quickly. (and I will point out that city sunlight is greatly reduced for about eight months out of the year and we are going into the "sunniest" part right now. But hey, that's just me thinking out loud...) This is causing delays in access and sucking up some of that valuable 30 minutes for which you will be heavily charged if you go over.

Nextly, the Commissioner plunked down massive bike racks like these in the middle of the night, without any warning:

Let's just say that New York City dwellers do not take to change quietly. And to wake up to a giant blue bike rack on your block without any warning has many with their noses out of joint. Now, that would be okay because NYC dweller ALWAYS have their noses out of joint about something, but there doesn't seem to be any thought with where they plunked these racks down. In more than one case, they plunked racks down in front of buildings blocking access to say, emergency access. The first weekend, some poor guy was in the middle of a life-threatening stroke and the EMS team was delayed in rendering care just trying to figure out how to get into the building. Needless to say, that rack was "adjusted" the next day. But complaints are pouring in from everywhere the racks have been plopped down including a pending lawsuit from an arts group where a rack was placed in a space designated for large "art" installations. At this point the city has only placed about half of the proposed 600 rack (10,000 bikes in all). And, oddly, none will be anywhere near Mayor Bloomberg's tony neighborhood. [Personally, I think one should be placed right in front of Mayor Bloomberg's mansion, but then it would block his many idling SUVs and many armed police guards. Again just thinking out loud...)

So far, one bike has been stolen, one bike has been destroyed in a car/bike collision (no one was hurt yet), and all pedestrians are at risk to riders biking the wrong way on one-way streets and blasting through red lights. And the summer has just started! BTW, I am wondering how many of these bikes (like the pedestrian malls) will be used during the winter, but then, that's Citibank's problem.

Moving on...

Mayoral News - Guess what? I bet you can't. Okay, I'll tell you in my own version of a NY Post headline - "Weiner On A Roll!". Yes, folks, Anthony "Look At My Big Weiner" Weiner is leading the pack of Democrat Mayoral hopefuls in our upcoming elections in November. Frankly, I am not the least bit surprised. In the entire field of candidates, Weiner is actually the best candidate.

Related - Anthony Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, former Sec't Hillary Clinton's Deputy Chief of Staff at the State Department is in the hot seat these days. It is alleged that at the same time she was drawing a nice government salary at the State Department, she was earning a six-figure salary as a private consultant. It was only in the last month of her government job that her status was changed from "special government employee" to "private contractor", so she could "consult", but it is unclear how long she was privately consulting (not to be confused with consulting with one's privates as per her husband). It has been explained that Abedin was using her consultant hat to clear the path for Clinton's private life. Investigations to follow...

Other Mayoral news - New York may be in a financial pickle. It was revealed this week that many of the groups that have been subject to city budget cuts during the Bloomberg administration have been receiving private donations from....Mayor Bloomberg to cover the cuts. Now, this may sound very generous and benevolent of our Billionaire Mayor, but what happens when he is no longer mayor and these and other groups can no longer benefit from the NYC Mayor's largesse? Or more importantly, when we need to make more cuts and there is no one to come in behind them and cover them privately? Like I have said, the only thing I worry about more about than "Mayor Bloomberg" is the fallout from the "Former-Mayor Bloomberg".

Oh, one last thing - Just in case you think I may have forgotten, I am happy to report that no NY elected officials have been arrested in over a month. This may be a new record, but don't be sad. US Attorney Preet Bahrara says it is just a lull and more are coming. I will keep you posted.

Okay, that's it for this report. As always, please feel free to comment on these or any other issue...

BTW, I will be traveling today, so I will be responding sporadically. I am off to the Great State of Texas to celebrate my Dad's 85th Birthday...
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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hollywood Will Implode!!! Or Not

A week or so ago, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg both predicted that the film industry would “implode.” That drew a lot of attention, but honestly, I think they are mistaken.

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms

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Is Affirmative Action In College Admissions Dead?

Prepare your brains. . . we’re going to talk about law. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the Supreme Court “punting” on the issue of affirmative action in the Fischer v. University of Texas case. That’s how everyone is describing it, but they are wrong. The Court’s decision very likely has killed affirmative action in education.

The Fischer case involves a white student who sought admission to UT and ran into their admissions policies which favored minority students. She sued claiming discrimination in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause.

The case was heard by a Federal District Court and then appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of UT. In reaching that decision, the Circuit Court relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Grutter v. Bollinger which allows colleges to use race “as one of many plus factors” in admissions decisions. Basically, that ruling has been interpreted to mean that colleges cannot set aside places by race, but they can grant minorities extra points for their race provided that race is one of many different “plus” factors that can be awarded AND provided that race is not the predominant deciding factor. That's stupid.

“You can consider it, but you can’t base your decision on it” works out logically to X is true, but just not THAT true, and logically speaking, that’s nonsense. Morally speaking, this is nonsense as well. Either the use of race is acceptable or it is not. If it is acceptable then there is no reason to disallow its use. If it’s not acceptable, then it should not be allowed at all. And this attempt to allow its use, but not in any meaningful way, straddles the morality in such a way as to offend both sides.

When the Supreme Court agreed to take up the Fischer case, there was hope that the Court would finally kill this hypocritical doublespeak. Conservatives hoped the Court would invalidate all affirmative action. Liberals hoped the Court would endorse affirmative action. The Court did neither, however, which has the MSM universally saying the Court “punted” on the issue.

But that’s not accurate.

What the Court held was this: UT (i.e. the state) bears the burden of proving both a “compelling state interest” in causing diversity at their schools AND UT must prove that their method for achieving that goal of diversity is “narrowly tailored.” This is the standard “strict scrutiny” test for laws that violate fundamental rights like equal protection.

The Court then accepted the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that UT’s goal of increasing diversity was a valid goal which stands up to strict scrutiny, i.e. the Fifth Circuit correctly concluded that UT had shown a compelling state interest in promoting diversity. BUT the Court rejected the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning on the second part of the test... whether or not UT’s policies were narrowly tailored. In that regard, the Court held that UT needed to show that under its plan to increase diversity, each applicant was still evaluated as an individual and not in a way that made an applicant’s race into the defining feature of their application. To do this, the Court held that UT must prove that is it “necessary” for UT to use race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity. “Necessary” in this case means this: “The reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the education benefits of diversity.”

In other words, the school must show that it could not have generated diversity in any other way. The Court then sent this back to the lower courts for further evaluation in light of this new standard.

So what does this mean?

Well, for people looking for a bold pronouncement: affirmative action is dead/is fine! They were disappointed. They didn’t see that. And since it was sent back, the MSM seems to have decided the Court didn’t resolve anything. Hence, “they punted.” But that’s not true.

What everyone is missing here is that the Court has changed the standard for when race may be considered. In the past, the Court has held that race can be used as “a plus.” But now the test is that race can only be considered when there is “no workable race-neutral alternative” to create diversity. That’s a huge difference. Basically, before you could use race as a plus if you wished, now you need to prove that you can’t achieve diversity through any other means. And here’s the kicker: I can’t imagine a situation in which that would be possible to prove. For one thing, many schools already use alternate means of attracting diversity like setting aside places based on income level or by setting aside places based on geography (top X% of every high school in the state). Given that, how can a school ever argue that there are no workable race-neutral alternatives? They can’t.

What the Supreme Court has done here is kill affirmative action by leaving it in place but making it impossible to use. And in the process, they have killed affirmative action without anyone realizing that’s the case, which is a brilliant way to make a social change because no one protests something they don’t realize has happened.

So what happens next? My guess is that once college lawyers look over this decision, most will simply abandon race-conscious admissions programs and will switch to income or geography-conscious admissions programs. The ones who don’t will be challenged and will find that they can never prove what the Court requires to maintain their race-conscious programs. Thus, ultimately, affirmative action will vanish from college admissions.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

News Nuggets

Let’s do a couple of quick-hit news items you may have missed... nuggets, as it were... golden chicken parts.

Obamacar-nage: We’ve been saying all along that Obamacare will kill jobs. Now there’s some interesting proof in the form of a poll. The poll was commissioned by a law firm and it was conducted by Gallup. They surveyed 603 small business owners and found this:
● 41% said they have frozen hiring to avoid Obamacare.
● 19% said they have laid off employees to avoid Obamacare.
● 48% think Obamacare will hurt their bottom lines. Only 9% think Obamacare will be good for their business.
● 55% think Obamacare will lead to higher costs. Only 5% think it will lead to lower costs.
● 52% think Obamacare will lead to a reduction in the quality of healthcare. Only 13% expect an improvement.
This is rather interesting, especially the first two points. If half of small businesses have either frozen hiring or laid people off, that’s a horrible sign for any sort of economic improvement. Small business accounts for two-thirds of all new jobs over the past couple decades. Interestingly, this has some “experts” shocked as they figured small business would happily take a bullet to solve Obama’s problem... ha ha. Others are still stupidly holding out hope that “education” can change minds. Propaganda is fun, but it doesn’t work when people can see the bottom line.

Obamacare Lies: Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services boasted that insurance premiums fell nearly $4 billion last year, which they called "savings" and which they attributed to the Obamacare requirement that insurers spend at least 80% of their revenue on providing medical services. Well, not quite.

Someone asked the industry lobbyist, America's Health Insurance Plan, about this and the response was that they had no idea where the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid got their data because the industry didn't give it to them. Moreover, they noted that most insurers were already well above the 80/20 requirement, so the requirement isn't likely to have done anything in any event. In the end, they weren't sure why premiums would have gone down. I can tell you why though. When Obama first announced his plans to destroy our medical system, there were 43 million uninsured. Now there are 49 million. That means somewhere around six million people lost their insurance since Obama deigned to bless us with "universal coverage." Call me crazy, but I'm thinking those six million people no longer paying health insurance premiums is probably what caused the overall amount paid in premiums to drop by $4 billion.

Economists Are Liberals? A lot of people seem to think that economists are conservatives. I’m not sure why people think this, but it’s not true. According to a 2008 survey of the American Economic Association:
● 49% of members were registered Democrats and only 17% were registered Republicans.
● 60% supported Obama.
In a 2003 study of 1,000 economists, only 8% supported free-market principles.

China Breaking: I’ve said several times that China has serious problems and will probably never overtake the US economically. Their demographics are against them, as their population is aging ultra-fast, and China's population will start shrinking dramatically soon. Similarly, their costs of doing business have been rising so fast that they are no longer competitive. They’ve lost manual labor work to Bangladesh and apparently it now makes more sense to open most new factories in the US rather than China. Making things worse, China appears to have slipped into recession and their growth is well below the level people have generally assumed they need to maintain social stability. Indeed, there is also a question of whether they ever actually had the growth they claimed. Everyone knows official statistics in China are fantasy, so people have been estimating growth based on electricity consumption figures. Now it turns out that China knew this and has been faking that data as well. Some people think China is only growing at 4% compared to the 9% they have been claiming.

Historically speaking, when you look at the other Asian tigers, each of whom burned out, China is following the same pattern – fast growth as they move people from the peasantry into the working class, followed by stagnation once they run out of peasants and as wages rise. If China's growth is in single digits, then they're pretty far along that curve. To put it simply, history tells us that China has peaked.

Now their last gasp appears to be a plan to move more people to the cities. Right now 1/2 of the population lives in cities. They want to increase this to 2/3. To do that, they are moving the equivalent of the entire population of the US into cities they are only now building. The plan is to get them all relocated by 2030. This sounds like a disaster in the making as it sounds unlikely there will be jobs for these people in those cities. Be thankful that for all of our problems, we are nothing like China.
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Monday, June 24, 2013

Immigration Bill Update -- 25% Reduction?

By now you’ve probably heard about the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the Rubio bill. Let’s discuss that because it clears up the cost issue and it simultaneously raises a concern... this 25% estimate, though that’s not nearly as bad as you have heard.

Cost Estimate: When Heritage put out their $6 trillion report, I took it apart and showed you why not one single bit of it was legitimate – others have since performed the identical analysis and reached the same conclusions. At the time, I mentioned that CBO would be scoring the bill and that number would come in significantly lower. It has... a lot. CBO found that rather than increasing the deficit by $6 trillion, the Rubio bill will reduce the deficit by $197 billion between 2014 and 2023, and then reduce the deficit by another $700 billion between 2024 and 2033. In other words, rather than costing $6 trillion over 50 years, the Rubio bill will save $897 billion over 20 years, with something similar happening each decade thereafter.

This is no surprise. Texas has 1.4 million illegal immigrants and, in 2006, the Texas State Comptroller examined this issue and found that illegal immigrants paid $427 million more in taxes than they used in services (including things like education). The Comptroller also found that these people contributed an additional $18 billion to the state’s economy.

So is the $897 billion figure accurate? Probably not. But it does provide an order of magnitude which tells us the bill is unlikely to add to the deficit.

Only Stops 25%? The big new issue is buried in the middle of the report. In an odd conclusion, CBO says that the bill is only likely to reduce the rate of illegal immigration by 25% compared to what would happen without the bill.

Opponents jumped on this as proof that the bill does nothing about border security and they are demanding a longer wall with Mexico. Only that doesn’t address what CBO says it found. The CBO says that the bill will restrict the flow of illegal immigrants by making it harder to enter the country illegally and harder to find work once they are here. In other words, the border and employment provisions work. BUT the CBO concludes that a large number of the people in the guest worker program, which will be doubled in size, will overstay their visas and become the new illegal alien population. Hence, improving the fence is meaningless because that’s not how they’re coming here.

This raises a couple issues.

First, this section of the report is only four sentences long and it has no footnotes. None of those four sentences says at all how the CBO reached its conclusion. Where did the 25% figure come from? We don’t know. Are they taking into account that these people can be spotted and deported? Again, we don’t know. Chuck Schumer says they didn’t. He notes that the bill includes provisions to find these people and to send them home and to keep them from working once they are illegal:
“But the bill creates a system to track people who overstay their visas and prevents employers from hiring them, so the number is likely to be much lower than CBO projects.”
Could be. But here’s the thing on this point. IF this is true, then we have discovered a weakness in the bill. In that case, we should fix it. How should we fix it? How about this: add a provision that says that for each guest worker who overstays, one slot will be deleted from future admissions until that person is deported. Simple enough.

Unfortunately, no one is talking about this because the opponents can’t stop talking about building a fence. This has focused the public on that aspect and is making the fence the only political play people will accept. Hence, there’s a new deal to spend $30 billion to hire 21,000 more border patrol agents, expand the fence a few miles more, and add more high tech surveillance like drones... none of which will help this problem at all, yet everyone will act like it will. This is the problem with behaving irrationally: it locks you into fantasies and keeps you from being able to address genuine problems with genuine solutions - it also tends to keep your voice from being heard at the negotiating table because people already count you out.

In any event, this doesn’t actually appear to be that large of a problem. Indeed, while 25% sounds like a lot when you think of 11 million people, that’s not what CBO meant. What CBO has said is that the rate of new arrivals will slow only by 25% and the CBO specifically says this will result in 1.6 million more illegals over ten years than would be here if the bill was perfect (if we do nothing, CBO says another 2.5 million will be here). That means that to get back to the same level of 11 million illegals will take approximately 70 years, assuming none of them get deported. And in that regard, it’s worth noting that we currently deport three times the number each year that CBO says would overstay. So ultimately, Schumer may be right on this.

In the end, this 25% isn’t at all what the opponents are characterizing it as. It’s not an issue we should be ignoring, but it will be because opponents are obsessively focused on building a wall that won’t stop a single one of these people. Personally, I would like to see the provision above added to the bill about reducing future years by the number of over-stays, but no one seems to be suggesting that.
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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Outraged! And Open Threaded

This week saw the greatest outrage of our generation. The IRS scandal? No. Syria? No. The Death Camps for Glenn Beck listeners? No. This is much... much... worse.

In the most shocking news of last week, Men’s Wearhouse Inc. fired their founder and CEO George Zimmer. Who is Zimmer? He’s the extremely likable guy you’ve seen on their television spots since 1986!... “You’re going to like the way you look!” As pitchmen go, I’d say he ranks third behind Billy Mays and Dave Thomas, and I’d call this a HUGE mistake. Apparently a well-deserved consumer backlash is already building.

It’s interesting to me that certain people manage to become so likeable, that the public actually cares personally about them. Walt Disney had it. Arguably, Lee Iaccoca had it. Reagan had it too. I'm hard-pressed to think of anyone else though. That's pretty select company.

What I think each of these people had in common was a 100% positive outlook on life, a love for people, and something about them that said they wanted to make the world better for everyone else, and people responded by considering them friends even though they only knew them through their televisions.

So anyway, get your pitchforks and let’s burn down a few Men’s Wearhouses in support of George! :D

What? Too much?
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Friday, June 21, 2013

Film Friday: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

Sometimes a box office bomb is actually a gem. Indeed, even great films can get lost when the marketing goes wrong or when the general public just doesn’t get it the first time through. More often, however, a bomb is just a bomb. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a bomb.

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms
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Trickle, Trickle, Trickle....

"Trickle-down economics." "Voodoo economics." "Reaganomics." Ooh, I'm getting a chill down my spine. I am referring, of course, to the poorly understood and very maligned idea that is "supply-side economics," with a title much newer than the idea itself. What is it, and why do liberals say it doesn't work? Let's discuss.

What we call supply-side only got its name in the '70s, thanks to some of Nixon's economic people, and frankly, that alone should be reason to look for a new title. But it has a long pedigree, going back to Adam Smith and other greats of the time. It's not so much a philosophy of the size of government as a question of how to get the most bang for your (literal) buck where state revenue is concerned. And it is a simple idea, really: Very low taxes may not bring in a sufficient amount of revenue, but high taxes strangle the productive capacity of taxpayers, causing them to earn less income, therefore they pay fewer taxes, therefore the government gets less revenue as well. The trick is to find an optimum tax rate at which citizens earn the most income and pay the most taxes. In twentieth-century circumstances, that generally means tax cuts, especially on the most productive members of society--the rich.

There have been lots of criticisms of this idea, some of them rather sophisticated and pointed, admittedly. All too often, though, especially when voiced by partisan leftists, such critique devolves into "tax cuts for the rich," "Republicans looking out for their fellow fat cats," etc. And also, liberals have claimed that these policies don't work, that they only benefit the wealthy and end up causing economic slumps down the road.

What actually happens when these "unfair" tax cuts go into effect? Let's look at one of the more famous extended examples of this working, those terrible "Roaring Twenties" of the Coolidge presidency.

After a nasty recession in the early '20s, Harding and then Coolidge pushed through, over intense opposition from progressives in Congress, a drastic tax cut. Top rates went down to 25 percent, lower than they have been at any point since. What happened? Well, if you're even passably familiar with 20th-century America, you probably know there wasn't a sudden economic collapse, a bankrupt government, a disintegration of law and order, etc. U.S. GDP grew by 59 percent between 1921 and 1929, and even more importantly, during this same period, annual tax revenue over the same period grew from about $300 billion per year to $700 billion per year.

But the other feature of these 1920s tax cuts is especially worth dwelling on. So top earners, i.e. the rich, saw the greatest reduction in tax rates. That means the rich bore less of the total tax burden under Republicans Harding and Coolidge, right? Well, actually, no. Statistics show that when the first of the 1920s' Revenue Acts was passed, those making over $100,000 paid about one-third of all taxes per year. By decade's end, after all the tax cuts had taken effect, said group paid two-thirds of the total burden. Conversely, while those making over $100,000 saw their average income increase by a healthy 15 percent, those earning between $10,000 and $100,000 saw a whopping 84 percent growth in income. In other words, the farther down the economic ladder one was, the better deal one got from these "tax cuts for the rich." It might be noted further that minorities weren't excluded from this good fortune; black Americans saw a rapid improvement in their standard of living over the decade, until by 1930 their unemployment rate was slightly below that of whites.

Since I mentioned "Reaganomics" as one of the derogatory terms used by critics of supply-side policies, it bears mentioning how things went when similar policies were tried in the '80s. Reagan began his administration with across-the-board tax cuts, provoking the inevitable caterwauling from liberals; once more, the government did not fall apart, but saw a doubling in annual income tax revenue over the course of the '80s. Moreover, the top 1 percent's share of the tax burden rose by 40 percent, despite having their income tax rates lowered from 70 to 28 percent, while the bottom 60 percent saw a 20 percent drop in its share. As in the '20s, there was remarkable growth among the lower and middle classes, with particular expansion among middle-class and small business-owning African-Americans.

That these periods of prosperity were followed by economic downturns in the '30s and early '90s should be taken into account, of course. But by the same token, we cannot and should not ignore the very real economic improvements up and down the ladder that took place after the implementation of supply-side policies. They made a positive difference in America.

But if liberal mockers of supply-side really want a target to unload on, I can give them one just as good as Reagan. Namely, a President who cut the tax rate for top earners from 91 to 70 percent, proportionally a far greater cut than, say, G.W. Bush undertook; a man who argued high taxes caused low revenue and defended tax cuts on capital gains as a means of "obtaining capital and thereby the strength and potential for growth in the economy." His name was John F. Kennedy.
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Caption This: Putin Us Off

Well, it's not been a particularly good week for President Obama and it has nothing to do with the ever-growing list of domestic scandals. As you know, Our Dear Leader has been in Northern Ireland lecturing world leaders at the G8 Conference about stuff. Then on to Germany to lecture the Germans about more stuff. The crowd at the Brandenburg Gate, where he gave his latest grand speech was downsized from a Hope-N-Change crowd that was 200,000 strong in 2008 to around about 4,800 invited guests. Sadly, his usual big finish was spoiled by the sun. Yes, the sun got in his eyes and he couldn't read his teleprompter, so the crowd wasn't awed by the wonder of his soaring rhetoric. But, it is reported that he covered nicely. Feeling that he was losing the crowd, he decided it would be a good time to disrobe and that was met with thunderous hoots and applause of an appreciative crowd. [Note to speech-givers: When sensing you might be losing the crowd, take off an article of clothing]

But, not everyone was impressed this week. Earlier, President Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the reception was kind of...well...let's just say that maybe former President Medvedev didn't give Putin the whole "I can be more flexible after the election" message. Or maybe someone accidentally pushed the famous Hillary Clinton reset button and it got re-reset again. Maybe it is over Syria or that questions about an allegedly stolen Super Bowl ring. Maybe Putin was just not in the mood to talk because of his pending divorce. Who knows, but whatever it is, it was kind of chilly. What could have caused these two world leaders to be so uncomfortable with each other?

I mean, we've gone from this in March of 2012 -

To this -

Is it something Obama said or did? What could that have been?

Okay, so you know the drill. Tell us what you think is going on here? So, do your stuff. Btw, extra point will be awarded for using "epipheral" in your caption.

*Actual awards will sent to the winner or winners as soon as we can locate them. Dang invisible t-shirts keep getting lost. Hey, if the NSA is listening, maybe they can help us locate them with some of their super-duper detecting stuff they use to find terrorists and/or wayward former whistleblower. But we won't bother the IRS. They have enough trouble...
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guest Review: Side Effects (2013)

A Film Review by Tennessee Jed
Since his arrival in 1989 with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, celebrated director Steven Soderbergh has been nothing if not prolific in his output. Critics argue with some justification that his work is best described as uneven or inconsistent. Though hardly an expert on his career, as a fan of independent, low budget films, I owe him at least a debt of appreciation for his notable contributions in that regard. To be sure, this director has made many complete stinkers, but he’s also made several films I have truly enjoyed. Side Effects, fortunately, falls into that latter category.

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms
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Consumerism and GM Foods

One area where conservatives have had a real blindspot is recognizing misbehavior by corporations. All an oil company has to do is scream “commies tryin’ to steal our jobs!” and any number of conservative pundits will jump to defend them. That does seem to be changing though. Let’s talk about this in the context of the “Monsanto Protection Act” (MPA) and Genetically Modified (GM) crops.

The MPA isn’t actually called that. What it is, is a rider placed anonymously into a spending resolution in the Senate. It passed both chambers very quietly, with most Congress critters claiming they didn’t even know they had voted for it, and Obama signed it. No one has admitted to placing it into the bill, but Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo) has admitted that he “worked with Monsanto” to draft the rider, and it appears the thing was put into the bill by Blunt or the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). What it does is that it bars federal courts from halting the sale or planting of GM seeds even if the court finds the seeds to be harmful. This appears to be in response to a 2010 ruling by a federal court that ordered the USDA to halt Monsanto from planting GM sugar beets after the court found that the USDA approved the planting of those beets before the environmental impact assessment was even completed. In other words, the USDA declared it safe before its own scientists studied whether or not it was safe. Naturally, we can’t have courts doing things like that to stop our corporate masters!

But this is nothing new for Monsanto. They use the courts like a weapon and they are THE poster boy for “cronyism.” Consider the case of bovine growth hormone. That growth hormone is used in cows in the US because the USDA approved it. It was approved by Michael Taylor of the USDA. Before joining the USDA, Taylor was a Monsanto lobbyist. After approving it, he returned to Monsanto as a Vice President. The USDA approved it after the FDA declared it safe. The FDA reached that conclusion based on a report submitted by Monsanto about the hormone’s safety. The FDA employee who examined the Monsanto report and approved it was Margaret Miller. Before joining the FDA, Margaret Miller worked for Monsanto AND she wrote the very report she would then approve at the FDA. In other words, she wrote a report claiming this stuff was safe when she worked for Monsanto, that report was submitted to the FDA, Miller then moved to the FDA, where she reviewed her own report and approved it. Talk about a rigged game! But is there any reason to think the hormone isn’t safe? Well, Europe, Japan, Australia and Canada all ban it. Want another example of cronyism? Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui, took a job at the USDA, where he wrote the USDA’s “organic food standard,” which allows GM foods to label themselves “organic.”

“Coincidentally,” the USDA has never denied a single application by Monsanto to use GM crops. Yet, it is interesting to note that Monsanto does not have similar success anywhere else in the world. GM foods are banned or labeled in 60 countries. In fact, Monsanto has stopped trying to change the laws in Europe to get GM crops approved because: “We’re going to sell the GM seeds only where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system.” Translation: they’re only going to sell where they can control the regulators. Hey, that’s us!

So what’s the danger?

Well, leaving aside the health question, there is this problem: GM foods are banned or labeled in 60 countries. When GM crops are planted here, there is a high risk that these crops will contaminate other fields, as just happened in Oregon – Monsanto blamed “saboteurs” (the rest of you call those things wind and birds). When that happens, it becomes impossible to separate the GM from non-GM products as they mix. Since GM products are banned in a vast number of countries, a few careless GM farmers can potentially destroy the ability of all American farmers to export their products.

That’s the concern with salmon. The FDA is in the process of approving a GM salmon created by a company called AquaBounty. Their salmon grow faster and twice as large as normal salmon. And while GM proponents typical (falsely) claim that their products are no different than selective breeding and thus “could be found in nature,” the salmon completely disproves that. This thing was engineered with genes from eels and could never be found in nature. It is a true frankenfish, and the salmon industry is freaked out about this because consumers don’t want these things and, if they escape into the wild, it will be impossible to tell real salmon from the frankensalmon. If that happens, it will kill the US salmon industry as consumers shift to salmon from other parts of the world. It’s also not clear what will happen if these mongo salmon start eating everything in sight.

AquaBounty, like all other GM food makers, not only opposes mandatory labeling, but it opposes letting others label their salmon as non-GM. Why oppose voluntary labels? Because consumers don’t want this GM stuff and the industry knows that. This is why Monsanto has given up on Europe, because their regulators won’t let them hide the GM products amidst the others and Monsanto has concluded: “We’ve come to the conclusion that this has no broad acceptance at the moment.” And they know that if companies start labeling their products as free of GM materials, then the products made from GM materials will be abandoned. Yep.

I’ve discussed this briefly in my book, but the Republicans need to latch onto these issues and stop being patsies for industry. When (not if) these things escape, we could be looking at billions of dollars in lost sales as other countries ban our foods.

Even more importantly, though, why are we helping companies hide information consumers want? Consumerism lies at the heart of conservatism because consumerism is about letting billions of consumers make their own choices. . . it IS the free market and conservatives should never support laws that seek to control consumers to protect the politically connected. Robbing people of knowledge is no different than forcing them to do what you want. It’s time conservatives grasped that and stopped believing that industry is always good. Industry is great... when it satisfies consumers. But when it uses the government to control consumers, then it’s evil. Pure and simple.

Fortunately, some conservatives are starting to get this. Mixed in with the consumer advocates, environmentalists, and food safety advocates who are opposing things like the Monsanto Protection Act are Tea Party people. Said the blog of the Tea Party Patriots: this is “a special interest loophole and a doozy at that. This is a situation in which a company is given the ability to ignore court orders, in what boils down to a deregulation scheme for a particular set of industries.” Yep.

Keep this principle in mind: companies turn to the government when they can’t win over consumers in a free and fair market place. The role of the government should always be to ensure that producers are as free as possible to offer what they think consumers want AND that consumers are free to make informed decisions about what they want. For free markets to work, you can’t just support half that equation.
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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gallup, Rubio and the Talk Radio Base

Bev will probably kill me for talking about 2016, so don’t tell her I said this. ;-) I said last week that despite the howling on talk radio that Rubio was finished, Rubio will be the man to beat in 2016. Now there’s some proof to back that up in the form of a Gallup poll. This poll also tells us something interesting about the party’s base.

Gallup quizzed the public about five Republican contenders. What they found suggests that the Republican base is very much in tune with its leaders and not with talk radio. Consider these numbers on how Republicans responded:
Notice that despite the near universal hatred poured out at Rubio from talk radio and conservative blogs, Rubio has a 58% approval and only an 11% disapproval.... and that’s among Republicans, not the public at large. That’s significant. That means that despite months of an intense anti-Rubio campaign by the supposed leaders of the base, the Republican base approves of Rubio in overwhelming numbers – by a 6 to 1 margin. Even more significantly, only one in ten disapproves of Rubio. That’s an amazing repudiation of the talk radio message, and that suggests several things.

First, that suggests broad acceptance (if not endorsement) of immigration reform by the Republican base, otherwise Rubio’s disapprovals would be higher. This is consistent with the large and growing number of conservatives who support the initiative and the polls which show surprisingly high support for the measure. This further suggests that Rubio won’t be hurt by pursuing immigration reform, or else his disapprovals already would be higher.

Secondly, it suggests that the talk radio base is not the supermajority within the Republican base they like to think they are... not even close. Consider this: Rubio has been blasted for months with near 100% vehement opposition from the talk radio base. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that some high proportion of the talk radio base disapproves of Rubio. Yet, he only polls 11% disapproval. That means that only 11% of the Republican base is following the talk radio line. Similarly, look at Christie. Christie is viewed favorably (52% - 25%) by the Republican base despite being attacked daily for several years now as a RINO traitor by talk radio. Thus, only 25% of the Republican base toes the talk radio line on Christie.

Think about what this says about the size of the base. Talk radio has blasted Christie so long, so harshly and so universally that it is likely that everyone in the talk radio base disapproves of him as well as a good number of conservatives who don’t align with the talk radio base. That means not only that it’s logical to see his 25% disapproval as the upper cap on the potential size of the talk radio base, but it also means that 25% likely overstates the size of the talk radio base. Looking at these numbers suggests to me that the talk radio base is somewhere between 11% and 25% and I would place them at around 16% (Rubio disapproval times 1.5 or Christie disapproval times 2/3). Again, that is not consistent with the picture painted by talk radio of a silent conservative majority oppressed by a small RINO leadership. Why does this matter? Well, I think it explains why the Republican leadership seems to be willing to decouple themselves from the talk radio base. I see hints of this everywhere, everything from a change in the agenda to a change in the rhetoric to the pushing aside of bomb throwers like Michelle Bachmann. And I don’t think the Republicans would be doing this if these numbers were reversed.

Other thoughts on this data:
● This data suggests that Paul Ryan (69% - 12%) would be the leader if he chooses to run, but I actually doubt he will. I like Ryan a lot, but he just never looked comfortable in 2012. I think he will happily stay in the House and run the budgets.

● This data suggests that Christie is stronger than I would have guessed last year, though I wonder how far his appeal really runs? I suspect a lot of his support is at the level of “Oh, I like him in New Jersey, but not nationally.” In either event though, he must be considered a serious contender. Ultimately, I interpret his approval rating as a sign that the base is being much more practical than they been have in the past. This seems to be a statement that they will accept people who aren’t ideologues if they can win in places Republicans don’t win and they can bring some conservatism to the table in those areas.

● Rand Paul’s support (56% - 13%) is interesting too. Paul embraces issues that sit uneasily with the Republican base. His foreign policy and defense policy make the neocons angry, the religious right is suspicious of his claims to social conservatism, and his attempts to appeal to minorities and youths through civil liberties issues are upsetting to many conservatives. Yet, six in ten approve and only one in ten disapprove. That suggests that the Republican base is much more open to new ideas than you hear.

● Finally, the data suggest that Ted Cruz may have a problem. He has hooked his star to the talk radio base and they have rewarded him with an intense amount of coverage and praise. He is the anti-Rubio. Yet, all of this has resulted in only 40% approval and 52% indifference. Those aren’t great numbers when the guy you’ve cited as your mortal enemy is 20% higher than you. Even worse, if the “not Rubio” agenda hasn’t worked so far, there is little reason to think it will work any better in the coming two years, and Cruz doesn’t really offer more than that. If he wants to win, he’ll need an agenda, not just opposition to the new Republican agenda.
I guess we’ll see.
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Monday, June 17, 2013

Obamacare Update No. 437

It’s time for another Obamacare update. This thing truly is a gift to bloggers. Today’s theme in the slow motion train wreck of Obamacare is “That’s not fair!”

The First 49,000: When Obama pimped his plan to destroy our healthcare system, he promised over and over: “If you like your healthcare, you can keep it.” That was a lie, as people are now learning. Aetna announced Saturday that they will stop selling individual insurance in California because of the new regulations imposed under Obamacare (they will still sell business policies). They will cancel around 49,000 policies. No comment from California.

That’s Not Fair!! I: It turns out that Obamacare has a problem. It’s not affordable for low income people. To make the insurance “affordable,” the amount an employer can pass on to employees is capped at 9.5% of their income. Well, it turns out that this is way too high for most people. Take the case of a restaurant worker who makes $21,000 a year. That 9.5% works out to $1,995 or $166.25 per month – and that’s before the $3,000+ deductible they will need to pay before the insurance kicks in. For someone who most likely lives paycheck to paycheck, that is not something they can afford. Indeed, we are suddenly awash in articles pointing out all the people in the restaurant, retail, hotel and service industries who can’t afford the insurance. The service employee unions are furious.

Even worse, they are now discovering that employers can get around Obamacare by offering expensive plans that require the full 9.5%. This keeps them from being fined because they actually comply with the law by offering the insurance, but they don’t end up paying for it because none of the employees will sign up. (As an aside, no one has recognized this yet, but this will destroy the Obamacare funding mechanism.) Even more hilariously, those employees then cannot get subsidies because their jobs technically offer plans. Ha ha. Nice work donks! Way to punish your supporters.

That’s Not Fair!! II: Reuters just discovered something dastardly which no one could have seen coming... except Obamacare critics. Employers are finding ways to avoid providing insurance:
● A survey of 52 Wal-Mart stores found that 27 were only hiring temps, 5 weren’t hiring, and 20 were hiring a combination. And it turns out there is a company directive to hire as many people as possible as temps.... because they don’t qualify for insurance. They are also planning to cut back hours on others so they don’t qualify. Liberals are shocked and called this “creepy” (noting specifically that Wal-Mart lobbied for this, so they don’t understand why Wal-Mart would do this), and they claim it will backfire in some non-specific way. This is going on all across the country right now.

● Obamacare requires that insurers cover people’s kids until they turn 26... but it says nothing about spouses. The result is that policies are springing up everywhere that exclude the employee’s spouse – an alternate form allows the spouse on the policy, but only if they are primarily covered by insurance at their own workplace. The idea is to get employees to shift onto their spouse’s policy so the employer doesn’t need to cover them.

● Employers are instituting requirements in policies that allow the employer to force the employee to seek a second opinion before they can do anything expensive. There are actually firms that specialize in “finding savings” by talking employees into less expensive options. Sounds like the mob: “Be a real shame if something happened to your colon...”
That’s Not Fair!! II: “This is simply not fair,” whined Democrat John Larson (Conn). What was he talking about? Chuck Grassley slipped a provision into Obamacare which requires Congressional staffers to suffer with the rest of us by seeking insurance through an exchange rather than getting the gold-plated government plan they get now. Apparently, this has deeply upset the poor dears and they are headed for the exists. This has led to fears of a “brain drain” on Capitol Hill... which isn’t possible as no one on Capitol Hill has a functioning brain. Trust me, zombies would never attack Congress.

Anyway, the Democrats are demanding a fix. After all, they shouldn’t be forced to endure the things they force upon us! That “is simply not fair!” The initial reports were that Boehner was onboard with fixing this as there is bipartisan upsettedness over this. But Boehner shot that one down. Said his spokesmonkey:
“The speaker would like to see resolution of this problem, along with the other nightmares created by Washington Democrats’ health law, which is why he supports full repeal. In the meantime, it is Democrats’ problem to solve. He will not sneak any language into bills to solve it for them — and the Democratic leadership knows that.”
Excellent Mr. Boehner! In light of this, Harry Reid has grumbled that there will be no legislative fix... “And cancel Christmas!” He is, however, hoping that OPM will rule that the Feds can contribute to these plans on behalf of those staffers – something which isn’t clear yet.

This has been a fascinating discussion to watch because the Democrats are claiming how this is actually anti-reform to force the staffers onto Obamacare because the government program they were in is the better model of reform. Huh? Then why didn’t you make that law instead of Obamacare, you turds? In any event, this truly shows the elitist mentality and why no one would shed any tears if zombies did eat the Congress.

Setting The Goal High: Most people typically set their goals higher than they can achieve to motivate themselves. Not Obamacare. Gary Cohen, who is involved in implementing the federal exchanges, says “As we move closer to October, my hopes are the range of things that could go wrong gets narrower and narrower.” In other words, he’s expecting problems and hoping they can be fixed as they go. How bad could these problems be? Fellow implementeer Henry Chao, put it this way: “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.” Aim high, el Hefe.

Rate Shock Continues: Finally, rate shock continues. In a private briefing of insurers, the big players conceded that rates are going to shock people. Said Aetna’s CEO:
“In some markets, insurance premiums could increase as high as 100 percent. And we’ve done all that math. We’ve shared it with all the regulators. We’ve shared it with all the people in Washington that need to see it. And I think it’s a big concern.”
UnitedHealth, WellPoint, Humana and Cigna have all said the same thing. They blame (1) the “community rating” which jacks up the costs on the young to pay for the old, (2) forcing higher “minimum actuarial values,” (3) forcing insurers to take anyone who applies, (4) HHS forcing them to include new benefits people wouldn’t normally pay for, and (5) a tax on premium insurance.

In an article this week, Forbes outlined these things and explained how the Republicans could win votes by fixing some of these problems. To put this kindly, that is F**KING WRONG!!! NO!! DO NOT TRY TO FIX THESE THINGS!!!

This is the problem with the Republicans historically. The Democrats pass some disaster of a bill and act all smug about it. The Republicans try to minimize the negative effects of the bill. In the process, they make it tolerable because they redirect the harm it does so that most people don’t get hurt. That takes away the pain. No pain, no learning. No learning, no desire to repeal. Meanwhile, the Democrats smear them for trying to undo the “noble thing” the Democrats passed even as they are thankful the Republicans are saving their butts. This needs to stop. The Democrats created a bill that will mock poor people by offering them insurance they cannot afford and then fining them for not taking it, that will allow big business like Wal-Mart to dump their healthcare, that will turn everyone into part-timers, that will force millions of people off the insurance they currently like, that will eat into the budgets of hundreds of millions of people, and which will eventually bankrupt states and insurers.


Do NOT let the Democrats off the hook. Make them face the wrath of the public for what they have done. Do not alleviate that wrath by sparing the public from the full brunt of the Democrat’s stupidity.

Fortunately, Boehner’s words give me hope that the Republicans are on to this: ”It is Democrats’ problem to solve.” Exactly.
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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Human Evolution Open Thread

I don't know how many of you saw this the other day, but some scientist created pictures to show how human beings supposedly will look in 20,000, 60,000, and 100,000 years. Here's a link to the article: Link. The image on the left is what humans are supposed to look like in 100,000 years.

Personally, I don't buy it. In fact, the one thing I'm pretty sure of is that we won't look like that because nature loves to make fools of humans who predict anything. But it is pretty fascinating if you think about it. Looking back, we've evolved quite a bit already and there's no logical reason to think that's stopped, even though we like to think it has.

Creepy, isn't it? The idea that future generations may not look like us (i.e. human) at all. In fact, thinking about it, future generations may look back at us and see us the same way we see neanderthals! Can you imagine? Some snot-nosed kid with a low GPA and a forehead the size of a basketball with gills where his wings should be could be looking back at US and calling US primitives! Jerk. I say we bomb the future now and teach them the same lesson we taught those stinking neanderthals!

Ok, I'm calm again.

Seriously though, think about it. In the past 100,000 years or so, we've lost most of our body hair. Our brains have grown. Our heads apparently are larger. Our muscles are smaller, but we're a lot taller too. We really could be unrecognizable in 100,000 years. Creepy.

What do you think? How different will we be in 100,000 years?
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Friday, June 14, 2013

Film Friday: Cop Land (1997)

Imagine a film staring Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick and a dozen more people you’ll recognize. Now imagine if the thing is really well written. Yet, few people know about it. That’s Cop Land, and this is truly an excellent film.

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms
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Hero, Traitor, or Blah?

So there was a pretty big story in the news this week. It involved government surveillance, questions about civil liberties, and cloak-and-dagger work. And unfortunately, there was a hipster at the center of it.

Last week, word came of a massive information leak from the NSA, thanks to one of its employees, Mr. Edward Snowden, who had accumulated a bunch of data, sent it all to a reporter, and then made his escape to Hong Kong. The information has to do with the NSA's means of gathering data, which include the collection of personal emails, phone records, etc., all with the click of a mouse by government employees. So, naturally, this was going to get tied into the broader "Scandal-gate" (tm) and become controversial, which Snowden helped along by saying in interviews from his new port of call that he could have downloaded the data and personal correspondence of literally anyone who was a U.S. citizen (and probably lots of people who weren't).

As inevitably happens, there's been a lot of back-and-forth about how damaging to national security the intel leak is, whether Snowden did the right thing, what his motives are, etc. Lots of people think he's a hero (so much so that he's beginning to have a weird cult following), others that he's betrayed America or at best is just an opportunist and media whore. So it's worth diving into to sort out what's going on.

Specifically, what Snowden leaked was the details of a surveillance program known as PRISM, which to my profound disappointment doesn't actually stand for anything. Simply a codename for a vast operation involving spying on both foreign and domestic individuals and corporations, not to mention other governments and military forces. Partly, the operation accomplished this by mining tons of personal data from such sites as Facebook, Yahoo, Google, etc., raising fears that the heads of these companies were deliberately colluding with the government in eavesdropping on their users. (The CEOs dispelled these fears right away by issuing denials unusually similar to each other.) Anyway, Snowden, who had been working for one of the firms handling all this data collection, gathered a bunch of documents related to it, then sent them off to a reporter before high-tailing it out of here.

The reaction of the politically powerful, in both parties, has been rather predictable. Given that the damage is occurring to a Democratic administration, it's no surprise to see people like Dianne Feinstein accusing Snowden of treason. Among Republicans, too, leaders from Boehner on down have denounced the leaker as a traitor, with even Ron Paul fighting shy of calling the man an American hero (although I bet he really wanted to).

The guy's claim, all along, has been that he was morally repulsed by the extent of NSA spying activity and felt it was his duty to let the American people know about it. In his own words, he's neither a hero nor a criminal, just a guy who saw something that needed to be done. Well, that's noble (in an annoying do-gooder sort of way). And Snowden's online history shows a long record of hostility to Big Brother, so it's certainly plausible. Do note, however, that he was only working for the NSA for a few months, which for many people has raised the question of whether this was a huge play from the beginning. Either way, for him to sit down with the Chinese press and talk about the NSA's surveillance of leading members of the People's Republic doesn't suggest a natural-born patriot. As one blogger put it (I paraphrase), "It's one thing to talk to the American people about the American government's snooping. It's another thing entirely to talk to the Chinese people about the American government's snooping." And the fact that Snowden's openly discussed fleeing to Russia and putting himself under Vladimir Putin's protection suggests that he may be, at best, a monumentally stupid man.

Snowden seems like a rather unsavory character the more we learn about him (I'm assuming bragging about having sex in a playground can still qualify one for the definition of "unsavory character"). But does it matter? Even talking to China about the NSA's snooping on them, something the Chinese undoubtedly knew about already (although maybe not in all its details), probably isn't specific enough to qualify for a charge of "treason."

Plus, there doesn't seem to be any mass reaction to the leak one way or the other. A recent poll showed 56% of Americans saying they had no issue in principle with extensive government surveillance; another survey had it at 49% of people being mostly okay with it. So it's a split decision, which may or may not be encouraging to the DC pols. Certainly it won't provide mass support for a witch-hunt, if that's what they're after. Probably, there will be a lot of harrumphing about the guy and then he'll be forgotten, especially if his image becomes more and more tarnished and he winds up as Putin's puppet (like everyone else in the Kremlin).

Frankly, I think the big take-away here, once more, is the extent to which the Obama White House closely resembles its predecessor. After coming into office four years ago with promises of respecting "the rule of law" and ending abuses of power a la Patriot Act, The One is trying to plug leaks and clamp down on his underlings' lips just like any other executive. So much for being transformative.

As for Snowden....meh. Like I said, he's a hipster, and kind of a weirdo. I say we waterboard him if we get him back, just because.
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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Commentarama-Social Summer...

Politics, schmolitics! How many more scandalous revelations will hit before Labor Day? Ah, we've got all summer to talk about that. So let's take a break from all the revelatory fun and talk summertime fun! So what's on your summertime bucket list? Is it a trip to exotic lands or just mellowing out by "going to Denver"? Maybe you are planning to take a class to learn a new skill like mixology or yarn bombing (Dear IRS and NSA, this is "harmless" fun with yarn, okay?). Could it be scuba diving in the Caribbean or an archeological dig in China?

Okay, maybe your plans aren't as exotic as yarn bombing [Again, IRS and NSA, harmless, okay?] Maybe it's barbequeing in the backyard next to the inflatable kiddie pool or finally getting to that stack of Andrew Price novels [Shameless plug!] to read by the beach. Seriously, is anyone planning to do anything fun, dangerous, exciting or just sedate and harmless?

Let us know or feel free to talk about anything.
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Star Wars VII by JJ Abrams

“I think that the thing is so big and so massive to so many people that the key to moving forward is honoring but not revering what went before.”

– JJ Abrams about Star Wars

Click Here To Read Article/Comments at CommentaramaFilms
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The Recovery That Wasn’t

There is something wrong with the stock market. The housing market too. I see no evidence that the economy is picking up. To the contrary, all the numbers are horrible. Yet, the stock market and the housing market seem to disagree. Why? Well, there are reasons.

The Stock Market: Ug. The stock market. The stock market is my nemesis in rational times, but forget times like this. Since 2009, the stock market has been on one long, uninterrupted ride straight up. We’re up 117% from the lows of 2009 with no signs of stopping. Does that make sense? Well, consider this:
● Unemployment grew from 6% to 10% during that period and still remains around 7.5%. Is that good news?

● Corporate profits are weak. 80% of S&P 500 companies have issued negative guidance on corporate earnings growth, and 56% missed their revenue targets. As the market increased 5% in the first two months of this quarter, earnings actually dropped 3.4%. Should stocks really go up?

● Economic growth in the US has been anemic.

● The US government is paralyzed by debt and infighting.

● There have been repeated near-collapses of the Eurozone, which still has virtually no growth and no jobs.

● China’s economy has slowed to a crawl and is well below the level where the Chinese government fears a revolution.
So if things are this bad, then what justifies this long, steady rise? One thing: the Fed. The Fed is pumping money into the market each month. Right now it’s buying $85 billion in bonds each month to prop up the world’s biggest companies. Even a hint that the Fed might cut the heroin is enough to make the market lose 2% until someone at the Fed says, “Just kidding!”

In fact, we’ve reached a point where market watchers say that the worst thing that could happen to the market would be good economic news because it would mean the Fed might end its buying. Think about how sick that is that our stock market, which supposedly represents the value of American companies, wants bad news to maintain its drug habit. This is basically subsidy behavior. Buyer and sellers and profits no longer matter... government money matters.

Jobs: And what has that government money gotten us? No jobs, that’s for sure. May’s jobs report showed that 175,000 jobs were added as compared to 149,000 in April. Sounds good, right? After all, it is higher than in April. Well, no. For one thing, this number of jobs is the average for the last 12 months. So this isn’t exactly a break out... it’s just more of the same. Moreover, 26,000 of those were temp jobs, meaning they aren’t real. Some number will also be summer jobs, which will end in August. So we’re looking at something less than 149,000 real jobs were created. Unfortunately, the economy needs to create around 180,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth. So all we did last month was increase the number of unemployed people.

Moreover, while the official unemployment rate fell to 7.6% the real number remains double that. And this is after five years of the Fed pumping 2-3 trillion dollars “into the economy.” So why didn’t this stimulus work? Well, the problem is that they didn’t put it “into the economy.” They gave it to rich banks, who sat on it. And as I point out in my book, just giving money to someone does nothing to make working more profitable nor does it make the cost of labor cheaper. In other words, it will never spur hiring.

Housing: So what about housing? Strangely, over the past couple years, the housing market has started rising again. This makes little sense unless the economy is doing better and people have more confidence, right? Well, no, because it turns out that “people” aren’t buying the houses. According to a company that tracks mortgage financing, “first-time home buyers” are buying only 16% of homes at the moment. That is a surprisingly low number. So who is buying the rest? Well, it turns out that 69% of purchases are being made by “investors,” and these aren’t people who flip homes.

According to Fitch, “The housing price growth is being propelled by institutional money.” Companies like Blackstone are buying homes. (There are other companies too.) In the past couple years, Blackstone has spent nearly $4 billion to buy 24,000 homes with plans to rent them out. And they’re doing it in pockets, which is why the housing market has taken off in some cities but not others. For example, according to Bloomberg, Blackstone bought 1,400 properties in Atlanta in 2012 for a total value of $100 million. The result was that home prices increased 12.4% in Atlanta compared to 10% nationally.

But who cares, right? A buyer is a buyer, right? Well, no. For one thing, these companies are jacking up the price of homes in markets where the natural economy can’t support the price. That always happens when you get an influx of outside money. Basically, you get a price spike that is unrelated to the natural market value of a thing which distorts the market and makes it harder for the locals to buy homes. Moreover, when the outside money stops, the prices will crash. In fact, warned Fitch: “The question is how much the change in prices really reflects the market demand, rather than one-off market shifts that may not be around in a couple of years.”

Do I ultimately care that investors are doing this? No. But what bothers me about all of this, is that our economy is off-kilter because it no longer seems to be focused on helping average people. To the contrary, our government has decided that “the economy” means “Big Business” and it has set out to take care of them on the theory that this will make everyone’s lives better. This is called “socialism” and it doesn’t work any better when it’s done using a handful of big companies as agents than it does when it’s done directly by bureaucrats. We genuinely need to rethink our economy and open it up to the free market. The government needs to stop trying to prop up big companies and their stocks, it needs to stop giving tax breaks to investors to buy homes rather than home owners, and it needs to focus on eliminating the barriers to the creation of jobs. America is a country of people and their government should recognize that... it is time to think about the people and not the balance sheets of the incorporated. We are the United States of America, not America, Inc.

Free the free market!
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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rubio's Victory

I thought it was time for an immigration update. More specifically, I think it’s time to talk about Marco Rubio. Rubio has impressed the heck out of me in this process. He has achieved the unachievable and he’s done it with seeming ease. He has proven to be a master politician, who can control both the process, the media and the public.

Let’s start with the obvious: the immigration issue is the third rail of modern politics. No one has managed to get any traction on this and those who have tried have been destroyed. Yet, Rubio is succeeding. And not only that, he’s succeeding beyond anything anyone could have expected.

For one thing, Rubio has managed to create a bill that has broad support on the left and the right. I know some people don’t want to believe that, but it’s true. Conservative support for this is both deep and wide. The latest “RINO” to jump on board is Tea Party darling Sen. Kelly Ayotte. She joins other RINOs like Paul Ryan, Jeff Flake, Sean Hannity, the American Conservative Union, CATO, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Susan B. Anthony List, the Manhattan Institute, the Hudson Institute, Paul Wolfowitz, Arthur Laffer, Grover Norquist, Linda Chavez, and on and on and on. The RINO Southern Baptists are apparently lobbying for the bill.

Others like Rand Paul are posturing, but clearly intend to support the bill after claiming to make it better. RINOs Tom Coburn and Rob Portman appear ready to support the bill as well with some minor tweaks. RINO John Cornyn might too if the border security provision are tightened up. RINO Pat Toomey also is considered a likely supporter as he has expressed support for reform generally but has yet to say if he supports this bill.

Ultimately, this bill will pass. Rubio has set a target of getting 70 votes in the Senate and there is a fair chance he will get that. The House will be closer, but I expect it will pass by at least 25 votes, though the number could be much higher.

This is an impressive achievement.

Even more impressively, Rubio has kept the publicity positive and focused on the GOP’s support. This is a real trick. For one thing, this is the kind of bill the Democrats need to take the credit for if they want to keep getting Hispanic votes, and the MSM knows this. Obama in particular needs some better legacy than “he ruined healthcare and spied on us,” so one would assume he would take credit for this. Yet, Rubio has entirely shut Obama out of the process by creating the Gang of 8. They have actually rebuffed White House efforts to get involved and have refused to meet with Obama for photo-ops on this. Consequently, his name never comes up in relation to this.

Moreover, Rubio has made himself the salesman of this bill to such a degree that few even know who the other seven are or that there are others. He is selling this thing everywhere and the MSM even calls it “Rubio’s bill” or refers to him as “the architect.” Unless something truly unusual happens, it appears almost certain that the credit for this will fall in Rubio’s lap. That is really good news for fixing some of the GOP’s tolerance problem because it means this will be seen as a Republican initiative.

More impressively yet, Rubio has kept the publicity on this positive despite the best efforts of talk radio. Throughout this process, Rubio has faced a series of lies, more lies, smears and childish taunts from his conservative flank (naive, nuts -- arrest Rubio as an enemy combatant -- liar, clueless -- Rubio’s folly, etc.). Rubio’s handling of these people has been a tour de force of public relations. He has engaged them by going on talk radio, writing articles and meeting with prominent conservative opponents. He has done so with a smile and by sticking to the facts. Then he has reported on the meetings as positive and constructive even as the various hosts went right back to their tantrums. Did this win them over? No, but that was never the point because they’re unwinnable. The real point was public perception and, in that regard, the end result has been that the MSM has focused on Rubio’s positive assessments rather than the nasty things being said by the talkers, with the result of that being that Rubio has managed to shield conservatism from what is not its finest hour. In fact, outside of the conservative echo chamber, you just don’t hear the things these people are saying.

The bill has now entered the next phase of the process and, again, Rubio has shined. As with any legislation, the initial bill wasn’t perfect. It actually addressed all the things conservatives have always claimed to want from immigration reform, but the border security issue was viewed as insufficient. Rubio has now said that he believes the border security provision needs to be amended and he has proposed that Congress, not the President, vote to certify that the border is secure. I doubt that will pass, but his criticism will likely result in a stronger enforcement mechanism, which should win over the last few rational holdouts.

There are several aspect of this that are interesting. First, Rubio has managed to kill off all the attempts to add poison pills to the bill – everything from impossible requirements to pro-gay amendments. Being able to stop those things is unusual, but the process set up with the Gang of 8 has given them the power to do that. That is what made this possible. It also resulted in an amazingly pork-free bill. Secondly, Rubio has made himself so important to the process that his suggestion that he couldn’t support the bill without stronger border security was enough to shake everyone up -- and he’s the only with that level of power. That’s pretty impressive and it shows a level of control that one would never expect from a junior Senator.

All in all, I am honestly amazed. Rubio tackled what is probably the hardest issue in the Congress and he has produced a bill that objectively addresses all the concerns conservatives have always cited and he has managed to find broad-based support for that bill across the political spectrum. That is an achievement that should not be underestimated. At the same time, he has kept the publicity extremely positive, despite a vehement, irrational opposition from his own flank and an MSM that knee-jerk seeks to help the Democrats. Again, that is truly an impressive achievement.

Right now, it looks like this thing will pass with overwhelming support and with his name on it. If that happens, I genuinely suspect that he will be our next president.
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