Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Plea bargain of the decade 

I have a passing interest in how both civil and criminal law have evolved to deal with people who are apparently not mentally competent, or otherwise lack capacity (I happen to be a fiduciary for a small trust set up for a non-nuclear family member who has long suffered from a significant, but not completely debilitating mental illness.)

That said, I was quite surprised to read the lead graf of this AP article:

BALTIMORE – A former religious cult member who helped starve her son to death believes he will be resurrected, but legal experts say her extreme faith doesn't make her criminally insane. The mother made an extraordinary deal with prosecutors Monday that her guilty plea to child abuse resulting in death will be withdrawn if her 1-year-old son, Javon Thompson, comes back to life. Law experts and psychiatrists said there was no problem with the agreement because Ria Ramkissoon, 22, was mentally competent and freely entered into the deal, and extreme religious beliefs aren't deemed insane by law.
Give the prosecutor credit for being creative. The state gets the plea deal and has the mother flip on other cult members.

I always worry about the circularity of logic in situations like this. I mean, this woman is obviously a loon, but the state must pretend that she is not so that she has the capacity to enter into this agreement. But, this agreement on its face is absurd, since one of the conditions relates to the resurrection of a dead infant. That her insanity is given cover by her "religious beliefs" is a pretty lame fig leaf.

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Riding Shiloh 

The TH Daughter rode Shiloh today, through a beautiful early spring afternoon.

Riding Shiloh

Riding Shiloh

A Garden State farm "from a distance," as Bette Midler would say...

Garden State farm on the brink of spring

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Green Team 

From Funny or Die, Will Ferrell and colleagues goof on environmental police. Big time NSFW.

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Taxing Sebelius 

If this had not come after many larger atrocities, nobody would give a damn. Nobody should give a damn about seven grand over three returns -- that is well within the zone of reasonable error or even straight-faced reporting position for some decent plurality of 1040 filers. The Obama vetting team is no doubt moving people from "fairly conservative" in the preparation of tax returns to "Ceasar's wife" mode, and many taxpayers would flunk that standard simply by dint of honest differences in return preparation.

Frankly, simply having to smell Ted Kennedy's breath is penalty enough in my book.

Entertaining as it may be, the GOP should not complain about this one.

Of course, your results may vary.

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AGW Update from Utah 

Tomorrow is the first day of April, and the settled base of snow at Alta Ski Resort in Utah is 151", or about twelve and a half feet.


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Charitable deduction, part deux 

During his most recent press conference, President Obama discussed at length his views on reducing the charitable deduction for those tax payers in the highest brackets.

Ben Smith at Politico blogs: "The White House heard in two meetings today from non-profit officials opposed to lowering the charity deduction for the wealthy, a move they fear would lower contributions."

CWCID: Politico

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Another Senator against EFCA 

Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) wrote in Politico last night that he will not support the Employee Free Choice Act. Sen. Voinovich, who is retiring at the end of his current term, had previously opposed EFCA during the 110th Congress (though he has been considered a moderately pro-labor senator during his tenure), so this does not represent a changed vote. His views on the arbitration provisions of EFCA:

"By subjecting either party to binding arbitration outside the terms of an existing agreement, I believe that this legislation conflicts directly with
fundamental tenets of American contract and labor law. Traditionally, the parties come to a meeting of the minds on the contract’s terms and conditions — after significant give and take. Having a third party with the ability to impose terms and conditions that neither party may want turns this long-standing principle on its head.

"As a former mayor and governor, I have been involved in difficult labor negotiations. And while labor negotiations are challenging, in the end they are designed so that both parties obtain an agreement with which they can live.

"As American workers and companies compete in the global economy, our government should be allowing greater, not less, flexibility in the workplace. The arbitration provisions could have exactly the opposite effect by allowing a third-party arbitrator to dictate terms and conditions of a two-year contract that fails to account for the specific conditions of any given situation."

His piece also reviews recent data from the Congressional Research Service that seems to indicate that the existing NLRB process for labor at a company organizing and joining a union is fairly robust:

". . . in the 2005, 2006 and 2007 fiscal years, unions won roughly 55 percent of the NLRB-conducted representation elections, a significant increase from FY1994 and FY1995, when unions won roughly 44 percent of those elections."

EFCA may still be voted upon in the House in some form, but it is getting more and more difficult to see how it would pass the Senate or even get to cloture this year.

UPDATE: Both sides of the EFCA argument on Politico Video. And also from Politico, former "West Wing" actors lobby for EFCA, as life imitates art.

CWCID: Hot Air

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Housing bubble continues to deflate 

In 20 major cities, home prices sank by the sharpest annual rate on record in January. Some metro areas did experience a slowing in the rate of price declines.

The cumulative decline in the 20 city index is 29% since the peak of the market during the summer of 2006, and the index is currently about where it was in 2003.

As painful as it is for some homeowners, especially those that purchased and financed homes in 2005-2006 and are almost certainly upside down, the market continues to clear.

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Bleg from a father 

If you have not already done so, be sure to render college selection advice to the TigerHawk Teenager. He's loving the comments.

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Threat against the White House 

Baitullah Mehsud, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban, threatened an attack against the White House during a radio interview today, and on Washington, D.C., during a separate phone conversation with AP today.

Mehsud has a $5 million bounty on his head. He claimed responsibility for the attack on the Pakistani police academy on Monday in Lahore.

It is of course hard to tell whether Mehsud is simply taking a page from Baghdad Bob's playbook, or he has been watching the current season of the Fox TV show "24" closely and with envy, but the threat has to at least be considered. He has made such threats in the past.

President Obama is facing the same kinds of foreign extremist threats that his predecessor did. I would be supportive of almost any measure that he might undertake to deal directly with those threats. Attacks by any foreign entity on our capitol are completely unacceptable. Understanding that it is difficult to have a consensus on most issues, I would expect that a clear majority in both political parties (as well as Independents) would agree with that point of view. It would be disappointing if the president has people in his own party, or the opposition party, who are reluctant to do what is necessary to defend the capitol.

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New navigational tool 

Sextant? Compass? GPS?

Forget it.

There's a new device for navigation, particularly helpful, it turns out, when you are near the North, er, Pole.


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Is Mos Def a babbling idiot? 

I'm not a huge fan of Bill Maher's HBO show, but this segment is kind of entertaining and bizarre (though NSFW):

There is a certain Bambi vs. Godzilla quality to Mos Def unintentionally entering into a debate with Christopher Hitchens on TV.

Mos Def seems to get tripped up in a series of conflicting statements and questions. Hitch seems most troubled by the intellectual slovenliness of "Mr. Def." Salman Rushdie tries to be helpful, to no avail. Maher doesn't really know what to do, especially at the end when he tries to wrap up.

What a panel: Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and Mos Def. It's an interesting way to balance a lineup.

CWCID: Hot Air

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Europe to U.S.: stop spending 

The Monday morning edition of Morning Joe (link to video after ad) on, ehem, MSNBC, had an interesting segment with new conservative star Daniel Hannan, a backbench Tory MP who famously dressed down his PM Gordon Brown on the continent last week.

The segment has clips of his greatest hits, including my favorite:
"Prime Minister, you cannot carry on forever squeezing the productive bit of the economy in order to fund an unprecedented engorgement of the unproductive bit."
Sometimes English is best spoken by the English.

Now, this may not go down in history as one of the great quotes in British History, such as:
"I do not say, my Lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea."
which was spoken by John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent, addressing the House of Lords as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1801 (some 107 years before the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk), but there is a certain pithiness in common that is distinctly English.

The segment also includes a discussion of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's statement made in reference to urgings from the White House to stimulate the European economy, "I will not let anyone tell me that we must spend more money." Other EU members have expressed similar reservations about increased spending in Europe and the high level of planned spending in the U.S. We live in strange times indeed if Europe has moved well to the right of the U.S. in terms of fiscal policy.

It was clear during he campaign last summer that a clear majority of Europeans, and most of the elected and appointed officials in Europe, very much wanted Senator Obama to win the election (and many U.S. voters hoped for better relations with Europe as a result). Is Europe now experiencing a case of be careful what you wish for?

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If true, this would be the most egregious example yet of the extent to which mainstream media organizations were in the tank for the Obama campaign. Not only did they ignore his campaign's dodgy fundraising tactics until the last possible moment, but they seem to have actively suppressed a story that might have been a "game-changer."

No wonder Nancy Pelosi wants to bail out the newspapers.

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Finally, a shark swallows a poison pill 

You know how nobody has used nuclear weapons since the American monopoly evaporated because they were just too horrible to contemplate? Well, the same has been true for "poison pills," the quarter-century old technique for deterring hostile takeovers. Until now (pdf):

Stockholder rights plans, commonly referred to as “poison pills,” were developed more than 25 years ago to fend off opportunistic "hostile" offers and other abusive takeover transactions. Poison pills traditionally have been designed to deter unauthorized share accumulations by imposing substantial dilution upon any stockholder who acquires shares in excess of a specified ownership threshold (typically 10 percent–20 percent) without prior board approval, rendering the unauthorized share acquisition prohibitively costly. More recently, rights plans with a lower trigger threshold of 4.99 percent have been deployed to protect a corporation's net operating loss carry forwards, commonly referred to as “NOLs,” against the threat that changes in share ownership could inadvertently limit the corporation's ability to use the NOLs to reduce future income taxes. Until the end of 2008, the risk of economic dilution created by the poison pill had its intended deterrent effect. No stockholder had ever swallowed a modern poison pill,1 and the mechanics of a poison pill trigger were purely an academic exercise.

This is no longer the case. In December 2008, Versata Enterprises, Inc. and certain affiliates triggered an NOL poison pill adopted by Selectica, Inc. in what appears to have been a calculated effort by Versata to obtain leverage in an unrelated business dispute. Selectica's board used its poison pill to dilute Versata's position (exercising the feature that allows the board to exchange rights held by stockholders other than Versata for common stock on a one-for-one basis). Due to uncertainty regarding the issuance and ownership of Selectica shares following the rights exchange, trading in Selectica's common stock was suspended for more than four weeks while the important “back-office” mechanics to implement the exchange were developed and implemented by Selectica and its advisers. In addition, the case of Selectica, Inc. v. Versata Enterprises, Inc. pending in the Delaware Court of Chancery presents for the first time the question of the validity of the NOL poison pill and the board's decisions to use the poison pill against Versata. These events provide lessons applicable to all forms of rights plans.

A frothy brew of corporate tax, corporation law, securities law, M&A tactics and, in this case, vicious anti-competitive behavior! To the many corporate and tax lawyers who read this blog: Are you not entertained?

Given the effectiveness of poison pills in deterring hostile takeovers, it should not surprise us that the first "swallow" was to knock out a competitor rather than to buy it. It is hard to imagine anything more distracting to the target's finance team than actually having to execute the provisions of a pill. That must have hurt!

Blogging for the general TigerHawk audience will return in short order.

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Blogging from inside AIG 

All taxpayers ought to read this blog post from the inside of AIG, even if it does not change any minds. The last two lines are the best of the lot.

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The first person singular 

Victor Davis Hanson is mocking my our president's admittedly tiresome use of the first person singular. I We disagree. We think he is taking ownership of each and every decision, so that we will know precisely who said, did, and decided what when it is time to assign credit and blame. In the abstract, we think this is to his credit (notwithstanding its possibilities for narcissism). It is, arguably, manning up. We only wonder whether our mainstream media or, for that matter, our president will remember his use of the first person singular when that day comes. We expect otherwise.

We also note that the chattering classes are two-faced on the question of taking responsibility, they having mocked our president's predecessor (i.e., our previous president) when he took personal responsibility. President Obama is, after all, all essentially announcing that he is "the decider" with every speech.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Feinstein defects from EFCA? 

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who in co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007, is apparently wavering on her support of it this year. EFCA would provide a "Card Check" method for workers at a company to organize and join a union, not using the traditional secret ballot method. EFCA also would put additional power in the hands of government labor arbitrators.

Sen. Feinstein issued the following written statement:

“I have thought for some time that the way to approach this issue is by trying to see if there can’t be a compromise between the business community, the agriculture community and labor. This is an extraordinarily difficult economy and feelings are very strong on both sides of the issue. I would hope there is some way to find common ground that would be agreeable to both business and labor.”

With Sen. Specter's (R-PA) previously announced opposition, it looks less and less likely that EFCA will be passed this year.

When even Sen. Feinstein appreciates the timing problem of legislatively increasing labor costs during a steep recession, perhaps there is hope.

UPDATE: Language ("in 2007") added in first sentence to reflect the 2007 co-sponsorship of EFCA by Sen. Feinstein. H/T: Anon commenter.

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Lunch with Washington & Lincoln 

The front page of today's Wall Street Journal has a funny article about the licensing of tour guides by the City of Philadelphia, and the law suit filed by the guides, which goes to trial next week.

The City wants the guides to have some basic knowledge of the history that they are purporting to tell, and score at least a 65 on a test, so as to avoid whoppers such as:

  • George Washington is buried in Washington Square
  • Washington once lunched with Abraham Lincoln at Powel House
  • The equestrian statue near the Philadelphia Museum of Art is actually Frederick the Great with George Washington's head
  • The prince of Monaco proposed to Grace Kelly in the Embassy Suites Hotel
  • Ben Franklin had 80 illegitimate children

The guides say that any licensing abridges their First Amendment rights.

Of course, if Kramer can say in "The Rye" episode of Seinfeld, while driving a Handsome Cab:

"Of course, uh, this is Central Park. Uh, this was designed in 1850 by Joe Peppitone. Um, built during the Civil War so the northern armies could practice fighting on...on grass. Oh, yeah. Giddyup. On Rusty!"

then anything is fair game, I suppose.

There is a libertarian argument to let consumer sovereignty and the market determine the outcome -- do people on the tours want entertainment or do they want facts? The attorney for the guides is quoted in the article saying: "Government can't make sure you understand the Constitution before it has to abide by it." That is an interesting point of view, but perhaps is one that The Founders would have shuddered to hear, since their hope was that the populace would have an appreciation for the document that they worked so hard to draft. I hope we are not at the point where our slogan is, "America: Be as ignorant as you wanna be."

I am not sure that people on the tours necessarily rely or act upon the information provided, but it certainly would be nice if it was accurate.

H/T: SportsProf

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"Earth hour" is for the little people 

Remember Earth Hour on Saturday night? You know, we were all supposed to turn off the lights and appliances between 8:30 and 9:30 to signal our commitment to reverse anthropogenic global warming. Well, Al Gore thinks it was a crock, too.

If you are going to be sanctimonious and want to avoid beclowning yourself, you need to act like Ceasar's wife, at least with regard to the subject of your sanctimony.

UPDATE: Gore denies the allegation, and qualifies his denial. His lights were not on, and if they were on they were powered by geothermal and solar.

CWCID: Jonah.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Auto CEOs axed 

It was an especially bad day to be the head of a major automobile company:

GM CEO Wagoner to step down at White House request

Top French carmaker ousts CEO Christian Streiff

I can't think of a more impossible job than running either of those entities, except possibly being the head coach of the Oakland Raiders and working for Al Davis. Good luck to whomever succeeds Wagoner and Streiff (that is, assuming Wagoner's successor isn't already being picked by the White House and Treasury, in which case I wish them extra luck).

The other automobile business news was the potential engagement party being thrown for Chrysler and Fiat. It's probably because I had an old Fiat 124 convertible when I was in my early twenties, and the damn thing never ran well, so I am biased, but the best deal out there is for Chrysler to hook up with an Italian auto maker? Chrysler: the Germans didn't like us, but the Italians will love us.

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Sunday night caption contest! 

The original caption for this hilarious Reuters wire photo reads "U.S. President Barack Obama in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex in Washington, March 23, 2009."

Seriously? That's it? One not need know more about religious symbolism than Hillary Clinton to write a better caption than that.

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I need some College advice or knowledge 

I've got about a month to decide the next 4 years of my life. I could use some advice regarding the colleges I got into. Here's the list:

Cornell College:

This is not the one you immediately think of. Cornell College is a small liberal arts college in Mount Vernon, Iowa. It has about 1,200 students. The gaming club is the biggest organization on campus. The main defining feature is its One-Course-At-A-Time system, which does what you think it does. You take one course for three and a half weeks, with a few days of break in between "blocks", then you start the next block.

While Iowa is not exactly a dream locale, because it has small towns surrounded by corn, the people there are really nice, in general, and Iowa City is 20 minutes away from Mount Vernon. Iowa City is a pretty nice place. It has the typical college-town feeling, except it's surrounded by farms instead of woods.

While I like the idea of One-Course-At-A-Time, I don't know if I want to go to Iowa. I'm revisiting soon to remind myself why I like it, though when I visited it, I was struck by how much like my boarding school it was. The dorms are nice and roomy. Hofstra, by comparison, takes the idea of "economy of space" to a whole new level, with extremely cramped towers for dorms.

University of Iowa:

The main big state university in Iowa, this has about 22,000 people if I remember correctly. Some people I've talked to say it's a good graduate school, but it doesn't treat its undergraduates very nicely. Still, like most state universities, it has literally every club and major imaginable, so it's got the most options. The people seem friendly and smart. The question of how well I would do in big classes is up for debate, though. I don't really remember what the dorms look like.


New Brunswick is not exactly the dream locale either, but at least it's close to home. The area around Rutgers is actually pretty nice, with some good restaurants, shops, and other various amusements. Rutgers obviously has a reputation as a party school, being the state university of New Jersey, but it also has a reputation of good academics. So it seems that Rutgers can be either depending on what you want. It has a rather disjointed campus, but there's transportation to each part of it. The dorms are ok, but kinda far from the rest of campus.


It's a nice medium between a big state university and a small liberal arts college. It has about 8000 students, and it even offers OCAAT for first-years. The academics seem very good, and the music program is famous. It has a really nice campus, which doubles as an arboretum. It seems pretty easy to find one's way around. The engineering building is also called Weed Hall.

While I have heard from many that Long Island is far from the best place to live, it is close to New York and home, so I probably wouldn't hang around Long Island anyway. The dorms range from rather roomy suite-style living to ultra-cramped high-risers. As long as I don't have to stay in Alliance, I think I'll like it.


Obviously, the idea of being in a legitimate big city like Philly is cool. I'm not too far away from home, and everything in Philly is easy to walk, bike, or taxi to. Drexel's campus is nice, and not quite as disjointed as Rutgers's. Drexel also is famous both for engineering and it's co-op program, which both sound really good to me. About 13,000 students go there. It's pretty big, but it's not University of Maryland with its 32,000 students. It has very nice facilities, and the dorms are also pretty spacious.

Virginia Tech:

Blacksburg is a really nice town. It has a vibe that's very similar to Princeton's. VT is famous for its engineering program and its food, which is either the best or third best in the country. My cousin goes there, and he likes it a lot. Despite that it's pretty big, it's one contiguous, beautiful campus.


It's a close battle between Drexel, Hofstra, and Virginia Tech. A revisit might put Cornell back in the running. I just visited Hofstra, and I like what I've seen so far. Drexel seems a little bit too specialized to me, but that might be good, if I really want to do engineering. Virginia Tech is obviously great for that as well, but I could probably be a bit more flexible there than at either Hofstra or Drexel. One of the benefits of OCAAT is that you can try lots of courses to see what you like, and while Cornell doesn't have an engineering program per se, it has a 3 + 2 program with several other universities.

Any advice you could give about any of these universities would be extremely helpful.

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Holes, both literally and figuratively.

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Moats case apology 

In the Moats incident, the policeman involved with the traffic stop has issued an apology through his counsel.

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A naturalistically fallacious moment 

One of the reasons why people who are inclined to be skeptical or subversive resist the prevailing climate model dogma that drives the anthropogenic warming hypothesis is that the climate policy advocates -- meaning those who favor an affirmative program to change or arrest change in the planet's climate -- so often reveal perverse assumptions that are not in the least bit obvious. For example, here is the first paragraph of an otherwise interesting article on geo-engineering ($) in the current issue of Foreign Affairs (bold emphasis added):

Each year, the effects of climate change are coming into sharper focus. Barely a month goes by without some fresh bad news: ice sheets and glaciers are melting faster than expected, sea levels are rising more rapidly than ever in recorded history, plants are blooming earlier in the spring, water supplies and habitats are in danger, birds are being forced to find new migratory patterns.

Now, I have a transportingly obvious question: Why is the blooming of plants earlier in the spring "bad news"? Recognizing that all of these things are held out to be consequences of unnaturally rapid climate change and that most of them probably are bad for at least some flora and fauna (including some people), who is hurt by a longer growing season?* That would seem to fall on the "good news" side of the scale.

Unless I am missing something -- I admit that I am not the ecologist in the family -- a longer growing season is pretty much only "bad news" if you believe that the objectively "best" global climate for each and every purpose is the one that prevailed from 1880 to 1980 or so, the period during which we were able to measure temperature consistently but before the recent "hockey stick" increase in average global temperature of approximately 0.4 degrees celsius in the last 29 years. Is this not committing the naturalistic fallacy in an extreme and literal sense?
*Yes, I know that a longer growing season will favor some plants over others and perhaps disrupt local food chains, but that seems like a small price to pay for more and cheaper food and an earlier end to winter's burdens. Earlier springs are mostly good.

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Pres. Obama = LionHawk, part deux 

President Obama appeared on Face The Nation this morning. An excerpt from the transcript:

Schieffer: Are you giving our commanders now in Afghanistan a green light to go after these people even if they're in what used to be safe havens in Pakistan?

President Obama: Well, I haven't changed my approach. If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we're going after them. But our main thrust has to be to help Pakistan defeat these extremists.

Again, one of the nice benefits of President Obama being the CINC is relative golden silence from the Left when the president publicly discusses pursuing high-value targets across the border into Pakistan.

I am not sure what is involved in the actual logistics of "within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan," but it sounds challenging. I can't tell from the language whether that means being on the coms with Islamabad while in hot pursuit, or something else.

Whether President Obama's Pakistan/Afghanistan plan may actually be effective is a topic for another post, but he at least sounds as though he wants to engage the enemy, which must cause some degree of cognitive dissonance among a particular group of his supporters.

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Flight advice 

TigerHawk had a bad trip home late last week, but he should be thankful that he wasn't on Southwest Flight 1402 from Phoenix to Detroit on Saturday.

In case anyone has to deal directly with that type of scenario in the future, here's a quick instructional video:

I have no idea whether that works, but it kind of looks like fun in that particular setting.

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Petraeus supports his CINC 

Two weeks ago, former VP Cheney remarked during a CNN interview that he believed that the Obama administration's announced changes in U.S. interrogation policies "raise the risk to the American people of another attack."

When asked today on CNN about that statement, General David Petraeus said, “I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that.”

Gen. Petraeus and Sec. Gates were on Sunday morning talk shows to discuss the announced troop deployments to Afghanistan. Gen. Petraeus has a job to do, recognizes the chain of command, and supports his Commander in Chief, President Obama.

I wonder if MoveOn.org will send him a letter of apology now, or flowers or something, for the whole "Betray Us" thing 18 months ago. No hard feelings, Dave, we were just trying to rally the base.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Diplomatic gaffe of the month 

This diplomatic gaffe is so embarrassing that it is difficult to believe that it was not a Republican who committed it. Difficult, that is, if you're a reporter for a mainstream media organization.

"Who painted it?" What a maroon.

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The reign in Spain 

Spanish anti-terror Judge Baltazar Garzon has agreed to consider opening a criminal case against six Bush administration officials in connection with legal advice provided by the officials with respect to the treatment of prisoners at Gitmo.

The commenters at Huffpo are pleased. Very pleased.

Why would any U.S. citizen want a foreign country to indict former U.S. Government officials for providing legal advice in the performance of their duties? Even if you hated the previous administration, and disliked the nature of the advice made by the officials (including former AG Alberto Gonzales) and the actions that flowed from the decisions once those decisions were made by the relevant executives, surely it is permissible to actually provide the advice without fearing legal consequences from an ally. Setting aside for the moment the jurisdictional question (certainly no Spaniard was water boarded, even if there is a claim that there were some Spanish citizens at Gitmo), why would people in this country want some has-been 450-years-ago Empire going all Nuremberg on Bush administration lawyers? If you are over at Huffpo, why do want Garzon doing the work -- wouldn't it be better from their standpoint to at least sic the ABA on the six lawyers so that they might be disbarred (you know, like President Clinton was for a time, after he left office)? If the ABA is not willing to discipline them, that might lead to a reasonable inference about the alleged criminality of their advice.

If an indictment is handed down, it certainly sets a disappointing precedent, not that it will ultimately be consequential in any meaningful way. Somehow, I believe that similarly situated Obama administration lawyers are not rejoicing right now (even if they did not care for any of the six lawyers involved in the referral), because they are smart enough to know that if it can possibly happen to Bush lawyers, it can possibly happen to them.

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I must say, I agree with the sentiments in this video. So, I imagine, would Freeman Dyson (in case you did not click through the link yesterday).

The people who turn the lights on and keep them on have done a lot more for humanity than the people who turn them off. Of course, the people who turn them off care about other things.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Friendly town 

President Obama held a Town Hall meeting in the East Room of the White House earlier this week. The Washington Post is reporting that the "five fully identified questioners called on randomly by the president in the East Room were anything but a diverse lot." The headline to the piece: "Obama Town Hall Questioners Were Campaign Backers."

Now, it is hardly a new tactic to put a sitting POTUS in a situation with friendlies before letting the cameras roll -- why create trouble for yourself? -- but the way in which CNN treats this as a model of the "transparency" that then-Senator Obama talked about while campaigning is remarkable. I happened to be watching CNN earlier today when the discussion turned to the success of the Town Hall meeting, and it was almost as if they believed Daniel had gone into the Lion's den.

I was interested to read the comments by JoeCollins1 in the article in the link above, who said of course the East Room was going to be full of Obama supporters, D.C. went for him 9 to 1, so a random sample of 6 people would be likely to yield 100% Obama supporters. Well, I guess it depends on whether the calculations are done with or without "replacement," but without replacement, chances were pretty good to pick the one red ball from the canister after 6 tries.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds

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Best ribs 

Using this list as a starting point only, what are your favorite restaurants in the U.S. for barbecue ribs?

For purposes of this informal survey, the restaurants can be eat-in or take out joints, and can serve either beef or pork ribs of any style, and the restaurants should not include large national chains greater than, say, 20 locations (although I like Famous Dave's, I am looking for local or regional answers).

I happen to be partial to beef ribs, and thought that County Line (#6 on the list linked above) in Austin, Texas was first rate. I've been to the original restaurarant on Bee Cave Rd., but not for 25 years, and in the mid-1990s used to go to the now closed County Line in Lubbock, near the airport.

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20 times what a teacher made 

While watching Steve Kroft's interview with President Obama on 60 Minutes last weekend, I was interested in this exchange:

KROFT: Do you think that the people on Wall Street and the people in the financial community that you need trust you, believe in you?

OBAMA: Well, I-- you know, I think that there's probably a perception on the part of some on Wall Street and in-- in the financial sector that somehow I can turn off and on people's reactions to something like these bonuses. I think there's a disconnect. I think that maybe they're not spending enough time in some Midwestern town, you know, wandering through Dayton, and hearing stories about how tough things are for people.

And so maybe they're surprised by these reactions, and they expect the President or Congress or others to somehow just quell the frustrations and the angers. And part of my job is to communicate to them, "Look, I believe in the market. I believe in financial innovation. I believe in capital being able to flow to the most productive places in order to spur economic growth. And I believe in success." I want them to do well.

And our financial service sector is one of the hug competitive advantages, comparative advantages, that we have vis-à-vis other countries. But what I also know is that the financial sector was out of balance. You know, you look at how finance used to operate just 20 years ago, or 25 years ago. People, if you went into -- investment banking, you were making 20 times what a teacher made. You weren't making 200 times what a teacher made.

So there was a sense of the financial sector being above the normal rules of the economy. And my attitude is to say, "I want you to succeed. We want to reward wealth. But there's got to be sufficient balance. There's got to be some regulations that actually make the market work better and prevent the kinds of systemic risks that were seeing."

That's not anti-market. That's not anti-Wall Street. I want to protect and preserve what's best about Wall Street. But we're gonna have to get rid of some of the excesses. And that's something that's in their interests, as well in the interests of the American people.

(bolded emphasis mine)

I applaud the president for much of his clear-headed language, not only in this response, but others. Nonetheless, I was struck by his focus on comparative compensation as a means of measuring whether a particular business segment is "out of balance." I agree that the financial sector had and has major problems that will require reform and a restructuring of the regulatory process, so that we have less of a chance of a scenario in which a handful of significant entities take incorrect "bet the ranch" risks that then require government capital to forestall complete economic disaster. But how is compensation the key barometer? Is he saying that compensation levels couldn't have been as high unless something wrong was going on, that therefore there must have been some fundamental disequilibrium?

Let's look at another example -- comparing the compensation of two people in the same business, and not different businesses -- that might be closer to President Obama's heart. In 1997, Barack Obama was married and living in Chicago, and the Chicago Bulls were on another successful run towards an NBA championship, defeating the Portland Trailblazers Utah Jazz four games to two in the Finals. The star player on the Bulls, of course, was Michael Jordan. I am guessing that Barack Obama was a Bulls fan and a Jordan fan (heck, I'm a 76ers fan and also a Jordan fan). Jordan's compensation that season from the Bulls was $30,140,000, and if endorsement compensation is included, his income was likely at least twice that figure. Jud Buechler, also a 6-6 guard, played in 76 games that season for the Bulls, and received $500,000 from the Bulls (neither figure includes extra money received from the league for winning the championship). So, from the standpoint of base compensation, Jordan was 60x Buechler, and that multiple rises if endorsement income is considered. Were the Bulls "out of balance?" They were in enough balance to win. Was the NBA? Well, maybe the NBA was, because eventually it went to a salary cap system -- over the objections of the players, and because the owners (the capitalists, if you will) wanted cost certainty with their labor contracts.

It is certainly irritating to me when I see somebody making a big number, and I perceive that he is mailing it in, or otherwise isn't adding value with his work in a fashion that is commensurate with his compensation. That's easy to see in sports because it's out there on the field or court or rink, and it's usually apparent in business as well. It's also easy to see that Jordan was worth at least 60 times more than Buechler, from the standpoint of the Bulls ownership or average Bulls fan, if the objective was to pack them in the arena and win a championship. It's harder in business to visually see that someone might be worth 60 times another worker, because the action isn't taking place in bite-sized chunks of time right in front of you, but it is entirely likely that such disparate relative contributions occur in many businesses. Maybe the key question is whether relative contributions within the same business, or even across different businesses altogether should result in different compensation levels.

CORRECTION: As commenter Ray points out below, the Utah Jazz lost in the Finals to the Bulls, not the Blazers.

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"We will write you a letter" 

Life is about to imitate art, well, sort of art.

The North Koreans are about to test launch a new rocket, with U.S., Japanese and South Korean military and intelligence assets watching closely.

The same three allies say that the "planned rocket launch would violate a U.N. resolution and said they would take the issue to the world body's Security Council."

Is Hans Blix available to confront Kim Jong Il?

(Video NSFW)

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Bootlegging detergent 

Hey, yo, got any Electrasol?

The Washington State - Idaho border has become a sieve for illegal smuggling of dishwasher detergent. Seriously. Washingtonians living in Spokane County, unable to purchase the good stuff in their home county because of a ban on the sale of detergents that have high amounts of phosphate as an ingredient, drive over the border to Idaho on Interstate 90, stop at their dealer's pad a Costco, load up and drive west back home. The route has become known as "phosphate alley." OK, I might have made up that last part.

The persistence of Spokane residents has resulted in the cleanest contraband ever.

It turns out the hard water in Spokane prevents the more eco-friendly detergents from being fully effective, and that people actually like to have their dishwashers wash their dishes so that the dishes come out, you know, clean.

There's nothing like the Law of Unintended Consequences. Not only are people burning more gasoline than they would otherwise, some who are obeying the low phosphate rule in Spokane are running their dishwashers longer and using more power and water -- using the brute force method to get those dishes clean.

Cue Glen Frey.

UPDATE: It is not actually illegal to transport the detergent across county or state lines, as is implied or stated in the first sentence above ("illegal smuggling"). The law forbids the sale of the high phospate detergent in the county. So, there's no need to make a clean getaway if you have a big load of soap in your trunk. Still, the Glen Frey tune seemed appropriate, and we provide a link to an alternative version as suggested by commenter DEC.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

No AARP in Cuba 

If you are Raul Castro, one of the benefits of ruling by fiat is that you don't have to deal with the objections of organizations such as AARP if you want to raise the retirement age in Cuba by five years.

Does anyone think that people in the Obama administration might be watching this? Is there a chance that President Obama would mess around with the kick-in of Social Security or Medicare? Gotta be political suicide, no?

The reported figure of 77.3 years as the average life expectancy in Cuba was surprisingly high to me. I guess the figure is so high because Cuba's health delivery systems are so strong, as Michael Moore depicted in "Sicko," and Cuba has such a thriving and innovative pharma and medical device industry. Exactly.

I was also surprised that there were different retirement ages for men and women, and that the female age was lower. I thought socialism was supposed to be non-discriminatory between the sexes. Furthermore, I thought that if socialist leaders chose to discriminate in a command economy, that they would account for a woman's child bearing years, perhaps making the female retirement age greater than the male age. There are obviously factors at work here I do not understand.

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R.I.P. Shane McConkey 

Big mountain extreme skier and BASE jumper Shane McConkey died yesterday in a ski-BASE accident in Italy.

He had done over 700 such jumps, and undoubtedly felt that he understood the risks. It is never good when a small thing that goes wrong (in this case, a binding not releasing) cascades into a fatal error.

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Cartoon wars 

Is Pat Oliphant's controversial cartoon:

A) anti-Semitic

B) anti-Zionist

C) darkly funny criticism of Israeli policy towards Gaza

D) all of the above

E) some of the above (specify: A&B, B&C, A&C)

F) none of the above

My first impression of the work is that any cartoon that depicts Israel as having the characteristics associated with Nazi Germany (goose stepping jack boots, right arm raised at an angle suggesting a particular type of salute) is in incredibly bad taste, given the events of the 1930s and 1940s. If you are a cartoonist, and you really despise Israeli policy, can't you pick another objectionable totalitarian regime to use for comparative and mocking purposes? Or is the desired ironic implication just too irresistible?

For now, I'll leave it at that, awaiting comments, except to add that I do not know of any papers or online sites publishing this cartoon whose employees have been threatened with death, which distinguishes this incident from other cartoon wars this decade.

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Freeman Dyson speaks his mind 

Fellow Princetonian Freeman Dyson has, apparently, angered all the right people.

FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson has quietly resided in Prince­ton, N.J., on the wooded former farmland that is home to his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study, this country’s most rarefied community of scholars. Lately, however, since coming “out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned,” as Dyson sometimes puts it, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors’ letter boxes and Dyson’s own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as “a pompous twit,” “a blowhard,” “a cesspool of misinformation,” “an old coot riding into the sunset” and, perhaps inevitably, “a mad scientist.” Dyson had proposed that whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow. Then he added the caveat that if CO2 levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred “carbon-eating trees,” whereupon the University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner looked through the thick grove of honorary degrees Dyson has been awarded — there are 21 from universities like Georgetown, Princeton and Oxford — and suggested that “perhaps trees can also be designed so that they can give directions to lost hikers.” Dyson’s son, George, a technology historian, says his father’s views have cooled friendships, while many others have concluded that time has cost Dyson something else. There is the suspicion that, at age 85, a great scientist of the 20th century is no longer just far out, he is far gone — out of his beautiful mind.

Yeah, well, they also got mad at Galileo.

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Coming home 

On a packed Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Newark, I have rarely felt so much like a prepackaged hostage. Not that I've profiled any of my fellow passengers, or anything, but it does seem as though the people on this plane are larger than usual.

Here's to hoping that the beer is cold.

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Justice for Nachshon Wachsman 

These cases are largely symbolic, but are nonetheless probably worthwhile exercises for the family to get to some sort of closure.

I don't see a quote from the Islamic Republic of Iran saying that it intends to aggressively pursue an appeal of the $25 million award. Nor is it likely that J.G. Wentworth -- the firm that constantly advertises that it will advance you money in exchange for your structured settlement -- will be knocking on the door of the Wachsman family.

It is notable that a U.S. District Court judge could find that the IRGC trained the Hamas personnel responsible for Wachsman's kidnapping and execution, and apply some concept of privity to the case, yielding a sizable monetary award.

To the extent that the Mullahs do not fully understand that in the U.S. system, the judiciary is separate from the executive, this may muddle the intended message of the video from the White House last week.

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Self Strike 

This is a real head-scratcher:

Union employees picket their own union

The Union of Union Representatives - is that like a first derivative concept in Calculus?

If these are the folks behind EFCA, it's probably a good thing that's not coming up for a vote this year.

UPDATE: Stupid and erroneous non-Fair Use lifting of the entire short AP piece deleted. Use the link.

UPDATE #2: Video added below (CWCID - Hot Air). I thought for a moment, because of the colors, that the woman with the megaphone was a Princeton cheerleader.

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President Obama = LionHawk 

President Obama received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University, whose mascot is the Lion; so, if the Princetonian we know as TigerHawk is a "Hawk" not only because of his Iowa connections, but also because of his foreign policy views, then President Obama also gets the "Hawk" designation today, because of the news behind this current AP headline:

Obama: Taliban and al-Qaida must be stopped

The money quotes:

"So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," the president said.

"That is the goal that must be achieved," Bush Obama added. "That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you."

And further down:

"This is not simply an American problem — far from it," Obama said. "It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al-Qaida and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to al-Qaida's leadership in Pakistan."

The president added: "The safety of people around the world is at stake."

He is committing an additional 4,000 American troops as trainers to Afghan forces, in addition to the previously announced 17,000 troops that will be sent to the Afghanistan.

It is helpful that President Obama can do this with only minor grumblings and not howls of protest from the Left.

UPDATE: Michael Yon says it's not enough to get the job done. (via Hot Air headlines).

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The Table of Period Elements can evidently be used for political humor. This arrived in my email inbox this morning and presumably is making the rounds.


Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science.

The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from four days to four years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years; It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

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The ugly left 

Glenn Reynolds links to Mickey Kaus, who has gotten his hands on a thread from the JournoList, the putatively but not actually off-the-record discussion group of lefty journalists and bloggers. Read it all for an interesting look inside a subculture that got a lot more influential last election day.

Look, like-minded people say inflammatory, offensive, profane, and (we hope) humorously mocking things when they believe nobody is listening. This is true of men and (I am told) women when they are alone with friends of their own gender, and since politics is increasingly off-limits in normal social settings (because people have gotten so darn angry about fundamentally amusing stuff) people let their hair down when they are among fellow-travelers. All understandable. But let us not have any more of this very common idea (at least among the liberals I know) that it is only conservatives who are classless troglodytes. If the JournoList proves anything, it is that lefties could also use some charm school.

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The jihadi with fat fingers 

Do you get the virgins for this?

A blundering jihadi suicide bomber blew himself and his combrades to smithereens when he fat-fingered the detonation button on his bomb vest. Or something like that.

Now, lest you think I am being insensitive, I am not mocking clumsy people. Among my many reasons for not becoming a suicide bomber myself is the just-beneath-the-surface fear that I would do something just like this. I am, however, mocking our enemies. There has been far too little of that in this war.

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My screen name 

One of the reasons for the first part of my screen name is a nod to my father's last active duty service on a U.S. Navy warship, which was a Destroyer Escort. The digits are my college class numerals.

The other reason for the use of the term "escort" is that from time to time, I accompany paying clients ladies I am dating to various exotic locations. It is usually time well spent.

One such trip I took a few years back was to the Four Seasons on the beautiful Caribbean island of Nevis (part of the country of St. Kitts & Nevis). I stayed there for a week with an interesting British woman with a rather stressful job as the Sr. VP of a publicly held company in a travel-related business. Here we are in the library-bar of the hotel:

The hotel rooms were equally well appointed, though of course we wanted to balance the time spent outdoors and in the room.

The assignment lasted a few more months, until the client's her stress level was satisfactorily reduced.

Seriously? Yes, I am single, yes, I have dated a good number of women over the last three decades, to the point that my friends (well, mostly their wives) ask, "who are you escorting around this time?" I am not, however, actually a gigolo, and in fact I try never to prostitute myself in any sense of the term. I am happily involved in a monogamous relationship.

On the other hand, if the economy gets much worse, I suppose I'll have to use whatever skill sets I possess to pay the bills.

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Driving or DWB? 

Former Philadelphia Eagle and current Houston Texan running back Ryan Moats was rushing with other family members to visit his mother-in-law, who was dying in a Dallas hospital.

Moats pulled into the hospital parking lot with a police car tailing him, and with lights flashing:

It turns out, as you may already have read in the link, that police videos cut both ways. I am normally quite supportive of police, but this guy is an idiot -- a vehicle is rushing to a hospital (not from, say, a liquor store), and he is not being helpful? One hopes that this was not a case of Driving While Black -- that the policeman may have behaved equally boorishly with a white family, pulling his weapon and everything -- but it sure looks pretty bad.

Time for the policeman to find another profession.

The mother-in-law died before Moats entered the hospital.

Sympathies to Moats and his wife and their family.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dow: Is it safe yet? 

As Lawrence Olivier asked Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man, repeatedly and at the point of a dental instrument, "Is it safe yet?"

Dow hits 6-week high on relief over earnings

Do we have a market bottom at 6,440? The Dow Industrials are up 21% since that March 9 low.

TigerHawk blogged on March 5 that he bought in around that level. Party at his house, date TBD.

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President Obama: business consultant 

AP headline today:

Obama says automakers need 'drastic changes'

Yes indeed.

Here's some more specific advice in the third to last graf:

The president said even as the economy bounces back, Detroit can't focus on "trying to build more and more SUVs and counting on gas prices being low."

Is President Obama making an energy price forecast, or is there the possibility of a gas tax hike (which is generally considered to be regressive in nature) in there somewhere? He wouldn't make that implication in the face of a steep recession, would he?

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What is the object in my father's hand, circa 1945, and what is he doing?
Hint / bonus question: why doesn't the U.S. Navy use these things anymore?

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My godson, on break from Third Form at St. Paul's School, rips up the snow at Solitude, Utah, earlier this month. Note the good knee and hip angulation, and hand position.

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The dark side of populist anger 

The NBC affiliate in Hartford, CT, reports on the specific threats made against AIG employees.

I hope, as the comment from Tony58 below the piece on that site states, that this is just a case of "people blow off steam on emails, big whup."

I am not a First Amendment lawyer, but it seems to me that a number of the reported comments fall outside the realm of protected speech and constitute the making of terroristic threats, which is itself a crime.

I have always felt secure in my home, but I can appreciate that it must be quite upsetting to feel threatened by comments made over the Internet. A close friend who is a senior executive at a large company had his home address posted on the Internet by someone who was a dissatisfied customer, and I could tell that he was concerned. The threats made to current AIG employees, almost none of whom have anything to do with the the company's implosion, are much more serious.

I imagine that this is a good time to be running a private security business.

Let's hope these kinds of threats aren't acted upon, that this anger doesn't get out of hand, and blows over quickly. Put down the pitchforks.

H/T: Hot Air Headlines

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In case it is not obvious, we have a new co-blogger around here, regular and longstanding commenter Escort81. I'm on the road today and tomorrow and more jammed than usual, so his contributions have kept it real around here. No doubt he will elevate the tone!

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Doctors are saying that kidney stones are on the rise among kids. I have had a couple of such episodes as an adult, and it is quite painful. In understand that it is as close as a man can come to experiencing labor pains -- any comments, ladies? Fortunately, I have passed the stone each time, even though they were quite large (7mm). One time I went on a midway ride at a county fair in Maine just to jar the damn thing loose. Centrifugal force seemed to work.

I guess we all need to reduce salt intake, drink more water and have more citrus, and let the kids know to do the same.

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A reunion at Bletchley Park 

The AP ran a story on Tuesday about the WWII code breakers holding a reunion at Bletchley Park in England. It is hard to overstate the importance of their efforts during the war, and the effect that cracking the German codes had on turning the tide against the Wolf Pack in the North Atlantic.

Indeed, this is personal for me, as I have wondered whether my father would have been less likely to survive his five years of active duty in the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic (1940-45, the last part of which was on a Destroyer Escort, partly the reason for my screen name) hunting U-Boats, had Bletchley not been providing the intel.

Many of these code breakers would be Silicon Valley gazillionaires had they been born a generation or two later -- their minds have the kind of quantitative analytical brilliance and keen associative characteristics that are common among today's top software engineers. I think history will regard them more kindly for helping to eradicate Western Europe's most heinous regime.

Thank you for a job well done.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tax brackets, not NCAA brackets 

Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air reports on part of the transcript of Tuesday night’s presser, and snarkily asks whether President Obama was endorsing a flat tax proposal:

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you — thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. Are you reconsidering your plan to cut the interest rate deduction for mortgages and for charities? And do you regret having proposed that in the first place?

OBAMA: No, I think it’s — I think it’s the right thing to do, where we’ve got to make some difficult choices. Here’s what we did with respect to tax policy. What we said was that, over the last decade, the average worker, the average family have seen their wages and incomes flat. Even in times where supposedly we were in the middle of an economic boom, as a practical matter, their incomes didn’t go up. And so, well, we said, “Let’s give them a tax cut. Let’s give them some relief, some help, 95 percent of American families.” Now, for the top 5 percent, they’re the ones who typically saw huge gains in their income. I — I fall in that category. And what we’ve said is, for those folks, let’s not renew the Bush tax cuts, so let’s go back to the rates that existed back in — during the Clinton era, when wealthy people were still wealthy and doing just fine, and let’s look at the — the level at which people can itemize their deductions. And what we’ve said is: Let’s go back to the rate that existed under Ronald Reagan. People are still going to be able to make charitable contributions. It just means, if you give $100 and you’re in this tax bracket, at a certain point, instead of being able to write off 36 percent or 39 percent, you’re writing off 28 percent. Now, if it’s really a charitable contribution, I’m assuming that that shouldn’t be the determining factor as to whether you’re giving that $100 to the homeless shelter down the street. And so this provision would affect about 1 percent of the American people. They would still get deductions. It’s just that they wouldn’t be able to write off 39 percent. In that sense, what it would do is it would equalize — when I give $100, I’d get the same amount of deduction as when some — a bus driver who’s making $50,000 a year, or $40,000 a year, gives that same $100. Right now, he gets 28 percent — he gets to write off 28 percent. I get to write off 39 percent. I don’t think that’s fair. So I think this was a good idea. I think it is a realistic way for us to raise some revenue from people who’ve benefited enormously over the last several years. It’s not going to cripple them. They’ll still be well-to-do. And, you know, ultimately, if we’re going to tackle the serious problems that we’ve got, then, in some cases, those who are more fortunate are going to have to pay a little bit more.

There has been much discussion about what constitutes “fair” with respect to tax rates and charitable giving and deductions, including a recent post by TigerHawk. Me, I don’t see how it is unfair that if someone is in a higher marginal tax bracket, the percentage effect of their allowable deductions is somewhat greater than a lower bracket taxpayer. Admittedly subjective on my part, it just seems as though there should be symmetry in that respect, but maybe that’s just how my mind works.

My point here is that I am pretty sure that the hypothetical bus driver making $50,000 or $40,000 per year that President Obama cites would actually be in the 25% bracket if the driver is single, or the 15% bracket if the driver is married and filing jointly, and not the 28% bracket, unless he is planning to propose raising marginal rates for taxpayers in those brackets, as he implied will be the case with his own marginal rate of 39 (I think he meant 39.6%). Since using the lower figures actually would have made his point stronger by emphasizing a larger difference (assuming you like his overall approach to “fairness”), I am surprised and a bit disappointed that President Obama did not have mastery of those details. He could have used the time he spent marking up his NCAA brackets on TV to take a quick glance at the tax tables.

I do admire the way President Obama seizes the moral high ground: “Now, if it’s really a charitable contribution, I’m assuming that that shouldn’t be the determining factor as to whether you’re giving that $100 to the homeless shelter down the street.” True, that. President Obama obviously has in mind Matthew 6:1-3: “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Setting aside this wonderful passage of scripture for the moment, it is quite hard to believe that the POTUS thinks that a change in the tax code as he proposes will not have an adverse effect on charitable giving, though he stated that on follow up. It is particularly hard to believe when one considers that it is very likely that the executives and/or board members (a good number of whom must have voted for him and perhaps contributed to his campaign) of many significant charitable entities must have communicated their objections to the reduced deduction.

To his credit, President Obama also stated that the best thing he could do to increase levels of charitable giving was to help the economy grow. Donating appreciated securities has for many years been one of the more efficient means of making a large charitable gift (no long term capital gains tax is ever paid on the appreciation), and securities generally rise in value when the economy grows.

Update: Link fixed

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The homeless kids nonsense 

One of Barack Obama's pre-selected softball pitches questioners at the press conference last night was Ebony's reporter, Kevin Chappell, who asserted that one American child in 50 is homeless. President Obama did not dispute the claim in his rambling answer, but at least some viewers, including the always sharp Mrs. TH, immediately called BS. Turns out she was right on the money.

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Quitting in style 

I'm the last righty blogger in America to link to this, a letter of resignation from one of the villified AIG executives to CEO Ed Liddy. If somehow you missed it, read it.

Props to the New York Times, of all papers, for publishing it, and Andrew Sullivan for bucking his fellow travelers.

The blog reactions to Mr. DeSantis' letter expose the enormous and fundamental gulf between left and right over the question of wealth. The lefty bloggers, almost to a one, argue that DeSantis has what he has because of luck and therefore really has no basis to be aggrieved. The righties, though, believe that a deal is a deal, that prosecutors should not use their awesome power to nullify contracts, and that people who work in reliance on a promise of payment later ought to get that payment.

And, of course, we wonder who will wind down AIG's financial products business. Who knows the book other than these people?

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The rehabilitations come faster and faster 

The New York Observer detects a veritable Eliot Spitzer boomlet in press coverage and favorable visibility. Spitzer is being "mentioned" in certain lefty circles -- OK, The Nation -- as the next Secretary of the Treasury. You know, because one administration official who is not all about demonizing the financial industry is too many.

Aren't we rehabilitating our hypocritical misogynists more quickly than we used to?

The prospect of the nomination of Spitzer for any federal post puts conservatives in a difficult spot. On the one hand, they will worry that his confirmation hearings would turn into a ridiculous if hilarious sideshow that would distract the administration and Congress from dealing with the economy. On the other hand, they will hope that his confirmation hearings would turn into a ridiculous if hilarious sideshow that... oh.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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One pound at a time 

If you are an American male of a certain age (say, 47), there is a very good chance that around 30 years ago you had a thing for Valerie Bertinelli. Then she gained a bunch of weight and sort of disappeared (charitable Wikipedia page notwithstanding).

Well, you just got your adolescence back. Bertinelli is in the best shape of her life, she says, and has the People cover to prove it.

I wonder if Eddie Van Halen is bumming right now.

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Deficits over time 

Via Glenn Reynolds, this snarky little graph is making the rounds:

Deficits over time

There is useful commentary here, but the graph is unfair to President Obama in at least one respect. The federal fiscal year runs through October, so the last "Bush" year, 2008, does not include most of the massive spending that came in the fall to manage the financial crisis that Barack Obama indeed "inherited" (recognizing that there is a good argument he "inherited" a part of it from the Clinton administration). If the 2008 budget year ran through December (or January 20, 2009), I suspect that the ramp from 2008 to 2009 would not look nearly so dramatic.

Still, the graph and accompanying factoids do discredit the present administration's argument that the Republicans are in no position to complain about deficit spending. As bad as it was under George W. Bush's wartime economy, it will be infinitely worse over the next decade. Our children will pay it back with massively higher actual taxes or the hidden tax of inflation, both of which will crush their standard of living.

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Specter mans up 

Well, praise be to God, Senator from Pennsylvania Arlen Specter has decided that now would be a bad time to drive a lot of American business offshore. He has committed to vote with his own party to prevent passage of the Orwellian (yes, I always use that term in this context) Employee "Free Choice" Act. Lots of bloggy reactions here.

There is much to celebrate and argue over here, but there are two points that you may not read elsewhere.

First, Pat Toomey, president of the Club For Growth, gets a lot of the credit for this by pressuring Specter from the right. Toomey, who is probably going to run against Specter for the Republican nomination in 2010 (as he did in 2004), has increasingly loud footsteps sounding in Specter's right ear. (As an aside, one of the TH uncles talked me up about the Club for Growth last summer and suggested I contribute. I just did.)

Second, you will continue to see this poorly wrought argument from the left:

Earlier this month, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) noted, “In 1935, we passed the Wagner Act that promoted unionization and allowed unions to flourish, and at the time we were at around 20 percent unemployment. So tell me again why we can’t do this in a recession? … This is exactly the time we should be insisting on a fairer playing field for people to organize themselves.” As David Sirota commented, “Put another way, we don’t have the leeway to pass EFCA despite the bad economy, we have the imperative to pass EFCA because of the bad economy.”

This is foolishness on several levels. Yes, it was possible to pass the Wagner Act with high unemployment, but it was also a mistake. GDP fell sharply in 1937 and 1938 because of the Wagner Act and other anti-business regulation, and only recovered because of the big ramp in defense spending in anticipation of war. The most important difference, though, was that American business had no where else to go in the 1930s. It was a lot harder to move manufacturing overseas then, and to the extent it was possible the risks were far greater. Not only were the great colonies of the European empires destabilizing, but Japan and Germany were challenging Anglo-American control of the seas. American employers had no choice, which greatly improved the leverage of workers. If liberals want to strengthen the hand of American workers, they should work to abolish the United States Navy, the indispensable institution in the service of global free trade.

And, of course, there is the point that unionized private sector businesses -- car manufacturing, big steel, and the big airlines, to name three -- are notoriously unprofitable in good times and bad. Do we really want to turn our best companies into General Motors, Chrysler, United Airlines, or U.S. Steel?

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The composition of debt 

Via Paul Kedrosky, an interesting graph that shows the composition of American debt over time as a percentage of GDP. Corporate debt -- you know, the stuff incurred by those greedy corporate tools -- is substantially lower as a percentage of the total in 2008 compared to 1933. Government debt (including the GSEs, pre financial rescue) is up from 24% to 33%, or an increase of 38%. Household debt is up 50% as a proportion of the GDP, from 18% to 27%. Finally, financial debt, owing in no small part to the revolution in financial instruments in the last 30 years, is up a whopping 157% compared to 1933, from 7% to 18%.

The composition of American debt, over time

There is more than enough "fault" to go around.

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Rule of law 

There is mounting evidence of something everybody knew, that the AIG employees who returned their retention payments did so under an implicit, if not explicit, threat from the government. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is following in at least some of the footsteps of his predecessor:

An email from the head of a controversial unit at AIG suggests employees who gave up their bonuses did not do so voluntarily, but feared their names would be released if they did not.

The email, obtained by CNBC, states the following: “Please be aware that we have received assurances from Attorney General Cuomo that no names will be released by his office before he completes a security review which is expected to take at least a week. To the extent that we meet certain participation targets, it is not expected that the names would be released, at all.”

There's more at the link.

This is more than a curiousity. Politicians, including the president of the United States, demonized these people, few of whom were actually responsible for AIG's losses and all of whom had worked in reliance on contracts willingly entered into. The flower and the chivalry of the Democratic Party whipped up popular anger for nothing more than political advantage, and their political allies stalked some of those executives at their homes. Then the attorney general of New York, who is supposed to protect the rule of law, threatened to make the names of these people public and expose them to the angry mob unless a high enough percentage of them "participated" in returning the money to AIG. Cuomo, of course, denied that he had blackmailed anybody, but he damns himself with this admission:
In a Monday night news conference with reporters the attorney general said that releasing the names would be in the interest of explaining to taxpayers how their money was used—and that if the money were returned, it would severely diminish if not extinguish the need to release the names.

Huh? Taxpayers know how the money was used, and releasing the names would not have added to their knowledge. Neither does the return of many of these retention payments somehow diminish the interest of taxpayers, whatever it was, in knowing what happened. The only thing that has changed is the need to make a threat.

You know, I used to respect Andrew Cuomo's father, Mario, much as I disagreed with him on almost every issue. I wonder if he is proud of his son today. I hope not.

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You say Orion, I say "OAR-ee-on" 

Power Line, with an assist from Iowahawk, has some great fun with Barack Obama's poor knowledge of the constellations. Don't miss the linked video if you have not seen it already.

I do have a question, though: Is Orion visible, or easily visible, from Hawaii? I did a little hunting around for star charts but could not find one that proved to me that Orion was prominent in Hawaii (which is fairly close to the equator). My guess is that it hovers around the horizon in the boreal winter and therefore might not dominate the sky the way it does in, say, Minnesota or Iowa.

And I'm fairly sure Orion is not visible from Indonesia.

Point is, you tend to learn these things at a certain age. If I had gotten to college without having spent hours gazing at the Adirondack sky while my grandmother pointed out constellations, I might not know about Oareeon either.

MORE: An astrophysicist corrects me in the comments, proving that I have no idea how to read a star chart. Orion is visible in Indonesia and Hawaii. Sometimes I marvel at the impressive and varied skills of the TH readership. As a group, I am quite sure I would prefer you guys running the country to the crowd we have, the Harvard faculty, or the first 10,000 names in the Boston phonebook.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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