Taxpayers Aren't Asked

So I was intrigued by this Victor Davis Hanson post at the Corner:

I think our president needs to invest more in the use of the third-person "government," since his speeches more and more center on the narcissistic "I" and "me." Even the car-takeover speech was "I-ed" to death. E.g.
My Auto Task Force

And so today, I am announcing that my administration will...

In this context, my administration will offer General Motors adequate working capital over the next 60 days. During this time, my team will be working closely with GM […]

… and so on. Is this fair? I mean, most politicians have healthy egos. (And by "healthy egos", I mean "egos that dwarf those of most normal people, which probably isn't healthy at all".)

But there will always be at least one brave blogger to do the math. Dan Riehl, in this case. He compared Obama's speech with Dubya's "first big bailout speech." Result: Obama's speech used the first-person singular nearly twice as frequently as Dubya's. Not definitive, but one data point is better than none.

If you would prefer a more substantive critique of Obama's speech yesterday than pronoun-counting, Russell Roberts of Cafe Hayek does a pretty merciless fisking. Check it out.

Pun Salad, on the other hand, would like to hit on this one little thing from the speech that drives your faithful blogger slightly nuts, emphasis added:

What we are asking is difficult. It will require hard choices by companies. It will require unions and workers who have already made painful concessions to make even more. It will require creditors to recognize that they cannot hold out for the prospect of endless government bailouts. Only then can we ask American taxpayers who have already put up so much of their hard-earned money to once more invest in a revitalized auto industry.
Argh. I hate that.

I am an American taxpayer. I wasn't asked.

I will not be asked.

Saying that I will be asked insults my intelligence.

As a matter of fact, when my elected representatives were asked—specifically—to authorize a automaker bailout, they failed to approve it. Good old Dubya went ahead and did it anyway, using funds that were—specifically—intended for bailing out financial institutions. And Obama continues this relatively dictatorial abuse of executive power.

If it were a matter of "asking", then GM could "ask" investors to voluntarily provide the funding for its makeover. Since that would be insane, "asking" is not in the cards. It's a matter of coercive force, thank you very much.

In a just world, using such dishonest, weaselly rhetoric by high government officials would be grounds for old-school punishment.

"Mr. Obama, step to the chalkboard, and write 'Taxpayers aren't asked' one hundred times. Neatly. Then you will write a 300-word essay on the meaning of that statement. And please remember: each time in the future you claim that taxpayers will be 'asked' to fund one of your schemes, you will be 'asked' (in the same sense) to come back here and redo this assignment, doubled."

If I could do that without getting involved with the Secret Service, I would. In a heartbeat.


Last Modified 2009-03-31 8:31 PM EDT

The Ghost Brigades

[Amazon Link]

An impressive sequel to Old Man's War (blogged here). John Scalzi imagines a future where intelligent life is plentiful in our neck of the galaxy; unfortunately, most of it is really pissed off at humanity and not shy about demonstrating it without remorse. Genetic bio-engineering, transfer of consciousness, computer/human interfaces, and nanotechnology are all highly developed, and all developed into awesome and awful war-fighting tools.

This book concentrates on the "Special Forces" of humanity's interstellar soldiers; they are mostly clones, created from the DNA of Earthlings who volunteered for duty, but kicked the bucket before actually getting to serve. (Hence the term "Ghost Brigades") One exception is the hero: Jared Dirac, a clone of an apparent traitor to humanity, scientist Charles Boutin. Dirac gets a download of Boutin's consciousness in an attempt by higher-ups to get clues about what Boutin's up to; this doesn't appear to work, so Dirac goes right into the Special Forces. But then…

Scalzi continues to write wonderfully Heinleinesque prose, in service of a great yarn. I don't read much science fiction any more, but I've gone ahead and ordered the next book in the series (The Last Colony) and it will go near the top of my depressingly tall (and fortunately virtual) to-be-read pile. There was a Last Colony preview at the end of this book, so I know that the hero of Old Man's War, John Perry, will return; he's only mentioned in passing here.

[Update: just noticed, nearly six years after posting, that I misspelled Scalzi's title The Last Colony as The Lost Colony. Don't know why I did that, fixed in 2015.]


Last Modified 2015-02-01 10:31 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2009-03-30

  • You should read Amy Kane's post about the Newburyport (MA) tea party. It got Instapundit-linked, with even a picture of Amy's daughter. Awesome!

  • But in other news, the country's headed down the Road to Serfdom in in a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid with failed brakes.

    Lileks, as he often does, has the exact right words.

    Maybe I'm old-school, but "President fires CEO" looks as wrong as "Pope fires Missile." Does not compute.

    He Who Used To Be JayTea looks at what's slightly further down the road. Unfortunately, he doesn't see any U-turns or offramps:

    Wagoner's head is most likely the first demand from the Obama administration. It's not hard to see future demands GM may face:
    • The death of SUVs.

    • More development resources into hybrid, electric, hydrogen, and other alternative-fuel vehicles.

    • More concessions to the UAW and other unions.

    • GM changing its tune on a host of issues, such as fuel efficiency standards, tightening emissions, and safety regulations.

    In other words, GM will be used to pay off various Democratic interests and constituencies.

  • So, since the real news is so depressing, Pun Salad must link to a New York Times essay on puns. The author, Joseph Tartakovsky, is not encouraging:

    THE inglorious pun! Dryden called it the "lowest and most groveling kind of wit." To Ambrose Bierce it was a "form of wit to which wise men stoop and fools aspire." Universal experience confirms the adage that puns don't make us laugh, but groan. It is said that Caligula ordered an actor to be roasted alive for a bad pun. (Some believe he was inclined to extremes.)

    If you make it through the article without at least an inner chuckle, though, you are a better man than I. <voice imitation="groucho">Unless you're a woman. In which case, you're a worse man than I.</voice>

  • Also: Heh!

    [Google Classic]

    (Via Technology Liberation Front).


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:20 PM EDT

On Dangerous Ground

[3.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I wanted to like this 1952 film noir much more, but alas…

Robert Ryan is Jim Wilson, a bitter and lonely cop in the gritty big city, who works out his bitter loneliness by beating the crap out of lowlifes who rub him the wrong way. His cop buddies and cop boss (hey, it's Ed Begley!) are relative paragons; although they like the results, they deplore the whole brutality thing. To cool him out a bit, he's sent "upstate" where it's cold and mountainous; he's assigned to assist local law enforcement in bringing a murderer to justice. The hunt leads him to the home of saintly, but seeing-impaired, Mary (hey, it's Ida Lupino!). Will her saintliness rub off on the rogue cop? Well, maybe.

The genetics of this movie are impeccable: directed by Nicholas Ray, a Bernard Herrmann score. The first part of the movie is impressively atmospheric as the cops go down some very mean streets. But the main character and his travails just didn't work for me, and—come on—the second part is pretty darn sappy, even by 1950's standards.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:08 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-03-28

  • Of course, just when the Democrats are poised to drive the economy off a fiscal cliff, you can always count on Republicans to totally botch their response, with easily-lampooned vagueness.

  • Captain Ed at Hot Air has a New Hampshire story involving two good guys I actually know, Pat Hynes and Doug Lambert of Granite Grok. They're being pilloried for "negative" (translation: "accurate") stories about the Democrat in the race for a state senate seat.

  • They didn't call it the Enlightenment for nothing, y'know. Instead of turning your lights out tonight, celebrate Human Achievement Hour.

  • If you do plan to turn off your lights, beware of doing anything else that might tarnish your environmental halo:
    "When asked to extinguish electricity, people turn to candlelight," [Bjorn] Lomborg wrote in an op-ed in The Australian. "Candles seem natural, but are almost 100 times less efficient than incandescent light globes, and more than 300 times less efficient than fluorescent lights. If you use one candle for each extinguished globe, you're essentially not cutting CO2 at all, and with two candles you'll emit more CO2. Moreover, candles produce indoor air pollution 10 to 100 times the level of pollution caused by all cars, industry and electricity production."
    Do it right: just sit there in the dark. Whimpering optional.

Suckers!

President Obama's campaign site is still online, for now, and you can read his campaign promises on taxes here. They will either make you laugh or cry. For example:

Obama's plan will cut taxes overall, reducing revenues to below the levels that prevailed under Ronald Reagan (less than 18.2 percent of GDP). The Obama tax plan is a net tax cut - his tax relief for middle class families is larger than the revenue raised by his tax changes for families over $250,000. Coupled with his commitment to cut unnecessary spending, Obama will pay for this tax relief while bringing down the budget deficit.
Voters should have, but didn't, notice the sheer phoniness oozing from the language here: middle class families get "tax relief", while families over $250K get "tax changes".

Just about every blogger has posted this Washington Post graphic to show where we are with that "bringing down the budget deficit" promise, slightly over two months into his presidency:

[Whoa]

Nor did that little promise to restrain federal revenues to less than 18.2% of GDP survive the first Administration budget. Here's my own graph showing actual and proposed Federal revenue as a percent of GDP (red line); the green line shows the 18.2% level. (Click for a bigger version):

[Fed Rev]

Obama's own budget numbers show revenues bouncing up to 18.7% of GDP in FY2012 and increasing after that.

(Note this graph also shows Obama's claim that an 18.2%-of-GDP level "prevailed under Ronald Reagan" is, um, also reality-challenged. FY1983-1986 revenues were well under that; the average level for FYs 1982-89 was about 18.0%.)

The Obama campaign's main selling point, though, was:

Middle class families will see their taxes cut.
… aaaand that particular feature is also in the process of being thrown under the bus:
President Obama's budget chief hinted Wednesday that the president's signature campaign issue -- a middle-class tax cut -- will not likely survive a budget battle with Democrats on Capitol Hill.

On a conference call with reporters in advance of the president's trip to the Hill to speak before the Senate Democratic caucus, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag indicated that, while 98 percent of the budget mark-ups in the House and Senate are on par with the administration's budget blueprint, some campaign trail promises, like middle-class tax cuts, may get left on the cutting room floor.

Hope you didn't spend that money already. (Via Greg Mankiw, who notes the history-repeating-itself factor.)

There's also this bit of disgusting euphemism:

Obama will ask the wealthiest 2% of families to give back a portion of the tax cuts they have received over the past eight years…
"Oh, he's just going to ask? Well, then…"

"No, he's not 'just going to ask.' Dimwit."

But also notice the sleazy underpinning assumption: "tax cuts" are something you are given by the government. They aren't about letting you hang on to more of your own money; it all belongs to the government, and government lets you keep some.

No surprise, really. That's the way these people think.

Obama was elected on sweet words, transparent lies, and now-broken promises; voters should have seen through it. Suckers!


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:08 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-03-27

  • For the second day in a row, an economist named Jeffrey commends himself to your attention. Today it's Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, writing on…
    The Geithner-Summers plan, officially called the public/private investment programme, is a thinly veiled attempt to transfer up to hundreds of billions of dollars of US taxpayer funds to the commercial banks, by buying toxic assets from the banks at far above their market value. It is dressed up as a market transaction but that is a fig-leaf, since the government will put in 90 per cent or more of the funds and the "price discovery" process is not genuine. It is no surprise that stock market capitalisation of the banks has risen about 50 per cent from the lows of two weeks ago. Taxpayers are the losers, even as they stand on the sidelines cheering the rise of the stock market. It is their money fuelling the rally, yet the banks are the beneficiaries.
    Funny spelling due to the Britishness of the publication, Financial Times.

    It's not just us right-wing whack jobs who think this is a bad, bad, idea.

  • You might want to save these two URLs the next time someone commits the broken-window fallacy about "green jobs": (1) this Bloomberg story:
    Subsidizing renewable energy in the U.S. may destroy two jobs for every one created if Spain's experience with windmills and solar farms is any guide.

    For every new position that depends on energy price supports, at least 2.2 jobs in other industries will disappear, according to a study from King Juan Carlos University in Madrid.

    and (2) this post from Chris Horner, who has more numbers from the study.
    The study calculates that since 2000, Spain spent €571,138 to create each "green job," including subsidies of more than €1 million per wind-industry job.
    (That € symbol is allegedly an actual currency unit. As I type, you multiply by 1.33 to get dollars.)

URLs du Jour

2009-03-26

  • Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has a brief and persuasive essay at (of all places) CNN in favor of drug legalization. It receives the coveted Pun Salad Read the Whole Thing Award for today.

    Would legal drugs cause problems? Sure. But the problems of liberty are always preferable to the problems of prohibition.

  • This study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranks New Hampshire as one of the freest states in the country, in a virtual tie with Colorado and South Dakota. Unfortunately, although the study was just released last month, their evaluations were as of 2006; our state government has been hard at work since then …

  • In the same state-comparison game, the American Legislative Exchange Council has released "Rich States, Poor States", a ranking of current economic performance and economic outlook for the states. Here, New Hampshire does OK on "economic performance", in 19th place; unfortunately, it ranks a dismal 37th place for "economic outlook", mainly as a result of our wacky tax structure.

  • Discuss amongst yourselves: is Tsutomu Yamaguchi the luckiest person in the world, ever, or the unluckiest? Myself, I can see it either way.

  • And in our occasional series: Aieeee, we're all gonna die!

  • Note to self: don't fall for a too-good story. (Original post also corrected.)


Last Modified 2009-03-26 6:30 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-03-25

  • You don't have to be an AIG bailout fan—I'm not—to be appalled at extortionary tactics used to get bonus money returned:
    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 thug behind this is New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

  • In related news, a number of people (e.g., the Libertarian Leaner; Betsy Newmark) are pointing out this resignation letter from Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president of AIG's financial products unit, to AIG's CEO, Edward Liddy.
    After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company -- during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 -- we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.
    If DeSantis's claims are true (and he seems very credible), he and people in his position have been scapegoated and exploited in a particularly nasty manner.

  • Professor Althouse has Barney Frank pegged as either a liar or incompetent fool. Or, most likely, an incompetent foolish liar.

  • From Cato@Liberty:
    The Hill is reporting that Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) "has slashed Obama's proposed increases in domestic discretionary spending from 12 percent to 6, according to lawmakers who met with Conrad."
    Moral: Beware of people who talk about "slashed" budgets, when all they really mean is they changed a budget increase from "indefensibly ginormous" to "outrageously huge".

  • I got 16/18 on the BBSpot Science Quiz. See how you do, then tremble before my Geek Fu.

Asked and Answered

I noticed this recent article by Daniel Gross at Slate. The title is "Man Up, Capitalists!"; it discusses the Geithner plan for rescuing financial institutions from their bad bets. Key paragraph:

The plan raises the disturbing question: Where the hell are the capitalists? Where are all the people who are willing to put their own money, and that of people willing to lend them cash, at risk in pursuit of profit? Why are Wall Street's tough guys such a bunch of girly men? The Geithner plan assumes that Wall Street's bravest investors won't spend a penny or borrow unless the government is willing to cover losses, make loans, and give away extra profits. It assumes, in short, that these great businesspeople are afraid to do business.
It's interesting that Gross adopts a tone of sarcastic/petulant manhood-questioning here. A sudden testosterone shortage—there's your problem, right there.

George Will's column today, I think, has a better answer, and it doesn't involve making sexist insults.

With the braying of 328 yahoos -- members of the House of Representatives who voted for retroactive and punitive use of the tax code to confiscate the legal earnings of a small, unpopular group -- still reverberating, the Obama administration yesterday invited private-sector investors to become business partners with the capricious and increasingly anti-constitutional government. This latest plan to unfreeze the financial system came almost half a year after Congress shoveled $700 billion into the Troubled Assets Relief Program, $325 billion of which has been spent without purchasing any toxic assets.
Will goes on to describe how the US is (in some respects) being tutored in the fundamentals of free-market rule-of-law capitalism by such unlikely teachers as Sweden, China, and Mexico. Plenty of examples, and depressing reading, but I'd nonetheless suggest it to clueless pundits, like Daniel Gross.

Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:19 AM EDT

Why I Am Not a "Progressive"

I noticed that a few folks have been taking the "Progressive Quiz" found here; it's part of a project of the Center for American Progress (CAP), designed to measure the acceptability of, and prospects for, the "progressive" ideology in America.

When taking the quiz, you're asked to "agree less" or "agree more", on a 0-10 scale, with forty assertions; after that, you're assigned a score between 0 and 400, measuring how "progressive" you are. I tried it, and gave up about 10 questions in. I may get around to explaining why later on.

Aside: I can't resist, by the way, putting those quotes around "progressive". I know the term has a long history, and in theory, it means something specific. But to me, its current-day usage is mainly a marketing-buzzword effort to avoid more conventional political terms that are (deservedly) out of favor with the public. And (in fact) one of the main things you can read about at the CAP site is how easily you can get Americans to swallow "progressivism" as opposed to (say) "liberalism".

The rise of progressivism in America is reflected more starkly in direct ratings of various ideological approaches. Today, more than two-thirds of Americans rate a "progressive" approach to politics favorably, a 25-point increase in favorability over the last five years, with gains coming primarily from those who were previously unaware of the term. "Progressive" now equals "conservative" in terms of overall public favorability (67 percent, respectively).

Um, hooray; at least for now, they've found more acceptable marketese for the same old crapola. [End of Aside]

CAP's report on the "State of American Political Ideology, 2009" contains the 40 assertions. They are, CAP says, "equally divided between progressive and conservative beliefs." You can also find out how Americans agreeed/disagreed with the assertions.

Some observations:

  • The poll shows one thing conclusively: you can get Americans to agree with just about anything, if you phrase it pleasantly enough. Respondents could score any assertion from 0 (total disagreement) to 10 (total agreement), with a 5 scored as neutral. In the survey results, the average "agreement" score ranged from 7.9 to 4.6. Only one assertion got that 4.6, and it was the only one that garnered less than the "neutral" score of 5:
    Homosexuality is unnatural and should not be accepted by society.
    According to CAP, the average American mildly disagrees with that (allegedly) "conservative" assertion. One assertion (see below) got a precisely-neutral 5.0 score; the remaining 38 assertions all scored on the "agree" end of the spectrum.

  • One thing you'll note is how "progressivism" piggybacks on environmentalism; Americans love to buy into sounds-good "green" slogans, and "progressives" will be happy to claim such sentiments as their own. Here's the assertion with the highest level of agreement (7.9) in CAP's polling:
    Americans should adopt a more sustainable lifestyle by conserving energy and consuming fewer goods.
    This screams for some explanatory text to be tacked on:
    By the way, economists call "consuming fewer goods" a "recession"; we're in one now. Like it?
    Posing things that way might have driven down the agreement level a tad. Unfortunately, CAP didn't do things my way.

  • CAP is not above presenting the status quo as "progressive". For example, this got a high level of agreement (7.6):
    Government investments in education, infrastructure, and science are necessary to ensure America's long-term economic growth.
    But all but the hardest-of-hardcore libertarians will agree with that to some extent. Similarly, this one got a 7.1:
    Government regulations are necessary to keep businesses in check and protect workers and consumers.
    Other than anarchists, is there anyone out there who thinks that all government regulations are unnecessary? I wouldn't think so, but 12% of their poll respondents scored this on the "disagree" end of the scale.)

    (If I'm remembering correctly, this is the statement that made me bail out on the quiz in disgust. I'm sorry, but mild theoretical agreement with some regulation does not make me a "progressive", and I'm not gonna buy into a methodology that makes it appear so.)

  • Some questions are really loaded, with question-begging wording that practically dares you to disagree:
    Our country has gone too far in mixing politics and religion and forcing religious values on people.
    No way, dude! In fact, I think it hasn't gone far enough!

    Amazingly, this only garnered mild agreement (5.1) with roughly equal percentages on "agree" and "disagree" sides.

  • People who want to cut back on US world-saving will find a small measure of cheer. For example, this one is billed as a "conservative" assertion, and it got the highest agreement score (7.4) of all 20 "conservative" assertions:
    America has taken too large a role in solving the world's problems and should focus more at home.
    And this "progressive" assertion scored lowest of all "progressive" assertions, getting a neutral 5.0:
    America should spend more to help meet the basic economic, health, and education needs of people around the world.
    Not even a survey designed by "progressives" can sell this particular flavor of interventionism.

  • Libertarians will find plenty to moan about. This scored a solid 7.0 agreement:
    There should be stronger regulation of sex and violence in popular culture and on the Internet.
    And even this scored on the "agree" side (5.1):
    It is unpatriotic to criticize our government leaders or our military during a time of war.

  • On the other hand, libertarians can cheer themselves up by looking at the 6.8 agreement with:
    Free trade is good for America because it creates new markets for our goods and services and lowers costs for consumers.
    This one got a 6.5:
    Government spending is almost always wasteful and inefficient.
    Also with a 6.5:
    Free market solutions are better than government at creating jobs and economic growth.
    And I was kind of surprised that even this scored well, with a 6.1:
    Social Security should be reformed to allow workers to invest some of their contributions in individual accounts.
    57% of respondents agreeed with this, as opposed to only 24% on the "disagree" side. If you buy that, it leads one to wonder how inept George W. Bush had to be in order to lose on this issue.

Well, I could go on, but you get the idea. An interesting idea, poor execution, nevertheless interesting results. If you want to do this sort of thing to yourself, I recommend the World's Smallest Political Quiz. Probably just as slanted, but much faster to complete.

URLs du Jour

2009-03-23

  • Earth Hour approacheth. My pictorial comment:

    [Lights out, pal]

    (Click for a bigger version and an explanation, if necessary.)

    Inspired by similar comments from Harvey at IMAO.

  • Jennifer Rubin—can she really be just one person? Here she is commenting on the Obama Administration's vague proposals to play Big Brother with executive salaries paid by (what used to be known as) private companies.

    Apparently the game plan is to freak out everyone who works for any financial institution and encourage them to pursue other lines of work. Good thing we don't have to rely on these institutions for our economic recovery. Oh wait.

    And this was posted at 4:08am on Sunday morning; how, exactly, does Jennifer manage to make more sense at that hour than the Administration does during the normal work day?

  • At Big Hollywood, Jeffrey Jena translates what it means when a politician says he or she "takes full responsibility" for some recent f-up.

    Generally speaking it means; "I have been caught and there is so much evidence against me that only the feeble of mind would buy my defense, so I admit it was my fault. Can we now forget about it?"

    You might want to keep that handy by the chair in which you typically watch TV news.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:22 PM EDT

The Deal

[1.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

William H. Macy, everyone's favorite schlub, co-wrote and stars in this movie satirizing the film business. According to the IMDB, it went straight to DVD after bouncing around some film festivals last year. That's almost never a good sign, and this is no exception.

Macy plays Charlie, a has-been movie producer; as the movie opens, he's ready to end it all via car exhaust into his decaying living room. He's interrupted by nephew Lionel, who gives him a screenplay about Disraeli and Gladstone in Victorian England. Charlie pairs this up with a news story about black action star Bobby Mason, who's recently converted to Judaism, and is looking for his next movie to reflect that heritage. So Charlie decides that, instead of killing himself, it might be fun to fool Hollywood into letting him make a movie that hitches up Mason's desires to Lionel's script. Along the way, Meg Ryan appears as a movie studio executive who's tasked with handling the project sanely; she's no match for Charlie's determined manipulations, though, so she rapidly turns into a love interest.

Movies about the movie business can be good, but this one seems more inside-baseball than usual. The Hollywood ecology between producers, directors, writers, studios, actors, agents… this movie is immersed in the details of the interactions, and seems to assume (I think wrongly) that the average viewer has the background knowledge to figure out why the plot is developing the way it does. It also (again, wrongly) assumes that the viewer cares enough about all the normal machinations to be amused at how Charlie subverts them here.

It's billed as a comedy, but usually forgets to be funny. The one exception: during filming of an intense action sequence, the totally bad-ass, death-dealing heroine of the movie-in-the-movie gets set to blow up some villains with a grenade—and throws it like a girl. (Which, in fairness, she is.) That could have been made into a pretty good Saturday Night Live sketch, but it's really not worth sitting through a whole movie.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:06 PM EDT

Why My Local Paper is a Worthless Rag

My local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, saw fit to put this article at the tippy-top of the front page today. Headline:

'Take back the economy': Protesters in Portsmouth rally against banking, corporate ills

This is front page news, why? Let's see. The story, by Foster's reporter Charles McMahon, begins:

PORTSMOUTH -- When Pauline Chabot goes to work as a Child Support Officer for the Department of Health and Human Services every day she doesn't just read about the nation's economic woes in the newspaper or listen to it on the radio.

It's nice to know that a state employee doesn't just read the newspaper or listen to the radio at work.

She sees it up close and personal.

Clichés-R-us.

The Sanbornton resident was one of a dozen working class citizens from all over the Seacoast who gathered in front of the downtown Bank of America Thursday afternoon to not only protest corporate abuses in the banking industry, but to tell Congress to take action now to build an economy that works for everyone.

Gee, they got twelve entire people from all over the Seacoast? And are you wondering how the reporter verified that they were all "working class citizens"? My bet: that's what he was told, and that's what he wrote.

And note the sneaky inclusion of the demonstrators' talking points, not as a quote, but as part of the here's-what-happened "news". We'll see that again.

With a sign reading "Oink of America," Chabot stood in front of the bank during her lunch break as part of the "Take Back the Economy" rally organized by the NH Change That Works project.

You can view a picture of Ms. Chabot and her "Oink of America" sign at the Foster's site; the "O" is a sketch of a pig. Heh!

What the reporter fails to mention is that "NH Change That Works" is hardly a grassroots organization. In fact, about 30 seconds on Google reveals it to be a completely-owned subsidiary of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The SEIU is remarkably sleazy, even for a union. Part of the Illinois Blagojevich scandal involved the SEIU acting as an intermediary between the Obama Administration and Blagojevich; part of the deal was to guarantee the Gov a cushy SEIU-sponsored gig once out of office. [The good folks up at GraniteGrok have long been on the case of the local SEIU, especially their equally phony "I'm a Healthcare Voter" schtick awhile back.]

So the Foster's reporter fails to accurately convey the sponsorship of the protest; however, he does manage to drop a hint or two [emphasis added]:

The state employee, who is also an active member of the Service Employees International Union, said on a daily basis she encounters people who may owe or are due child support, but are without jobs and suitable health care coverage.

"We really need a serious and proper health care system to help all Americans," said Chabot.

Yeah, yeah. So a union activist, in a thinly-disguised union activity, parrots a standard union line? Why is this news?

Chabot was one of over 100 Granite Staters in 11 communities joining together at a dozen Bank of America locations across the state Thursday to protest and to tell Congress that Americans have had enough corporate excess and CEOs draining the finances of working families and hurting the economy overall.

Approximately 10,000 working people in cities nationwide also took part in similar demonstrations at the offices of major banks Thursday afternoon.

I strongly suspect these numbers were not independently verified by the reporter, or anyone; he's meekly reproducing what he was told by the SEIUites. (The 10,000 number also appears in the SEIU press release here, produced before the demonstrations.)

Certainly that would go together with his echoing, once again, the union-produced soundbites, not as quotes, but as "news".

Organizers had billed the event as being for people who are upset about "the recent corporate bonuses given to failed executives paid by taxpayers" and "concerned about the nationwide loss of health care and job security or about what passes for health care and job security."

Finally, the reporter manages to put quotes around the propaganda. He doesn't feel obligated, however, to point out the inconvenient facts about those corporate bonuses being a Geithner/Dodd production.

Marie Choi, a member of the Service Employees International Union Long Term Care Division, was also on hand Thursday and said the demonstration wasn't just about protesting the greed of corporate banks, it was about giving the people a voice.

The reporter might have more accurately identified Ms. Choi as Communications Director for a couple SEIU puppet groups.

For a Communications Director, Ms. Choi is remarkably incoherent:

Choi said Bank of America has taken $45 billion from taxpayers to help stimulate the economy, but instead of giving workers and consumers a little luck, all they created was more greed. In addition to that, Choi said that while the institution has the highest fees of any bank in the nation, its CEO earns nearly $4,800 an hour, while his employees make only $10.50 an hour.

I am baffled as to what "giving workers and consumers a little luck" might possibly mean. Lottery tickets? I am, however, mortally certain that the surest way to drive Bank of America further into the ditch would be to let people like Monica Choi set its fees and employee compensation.

That lavish executive pay and the bank's inability to provide more consumer and small business lending is what sparked the group into action, she added.

"This is the people's opportunity to take it to the streets," said Choi.

"And also," she thought to herself, "my opportunity to use those old sixties slogans Grandma always told me about."

By the way, the "action day" yesterday has its own website, takebacktheeconomy.org: you'll note that the Foster's reporter used this slogan uncritically in his headline. It shows that the national effort was sponsored not only by SEIU, but more of the usual left/Democrat pressure groups: ACORN, Moveon.org, Rock the Vote, etc. And once again, the Foster's reporter might have disclosed this backing in his article, but apparently was too busy with uncritical copying of the tendentious talking points.

The hour-long demonstration featured protesters holding a variety of signs and handing out pamphlets urging passers-by to get involved and tell Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Judd Gregg to support President Barack Obama's budget.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention: the groups involved in this action are solid partisan shock troops backing whatever Obama is doing this week. At least for now. As their invitation put it: "Congress needs to join us and President Obama to deliver real change…"

Or: "Please lie down right here, and remain quiet as the steamroller approaches…"

By passing the budget and the Employee Free Choice Act, coupled with strong banking reform, Choi said the government could begin to ease the pressure on working-class citizens.

Sure it could. But here's an opposite view that won't be making it into Foster's anytime soon:

Ronald Reagan's famous line that "government is the problem" kept going through my head as the AIG hearing demonstrated the dangers of Washington's role in the economy. The very people, Republicans and Democrats alike, who can't balance America's budget now claim the expertise to run banks, insurance companies and automakers.

If we let them, we're dumber than they are.

Indeed.

So to summarize: Foster's decided to put an SEIU press release at the top of their front page today. Is this the newspaper's full-fledged dive into the fetid water of left-wing advocacy journalism? Or are they just stupid? I don't think there's a third possibility.

(Pun Salad's previous screeds about stupid stuff in Foster's: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:06 PM EDT

The Duchess

[1.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Yes, back to the Chick Flick genre. I wouldn't mention it, other than my compulsive need to log in every new movie I sit through. This barely qualifies, since Mrs. Salad is pretty sure I slept through large swatches. But, if you're a woman, you might like it.

Keira Knightley plays Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806). She's placed into a loveless marriage with the older Duke, played by Ralph Fiennes; her main duty, as far as he's concerned, is to produce a male heir. He's much more attracted to his mistress, and she has a lover on the side as well. She's also outspoken, controversial, a gambler, a drunk, … Basically, it's a Lifetime movie set in the English past.

All that may remind you of a more recent British couple. It's supposed to. And it turns out that Georgiana is actually an ancestor of Princess Diana.

Other than the melodrama, there are a lot of glorious costumes and fabulous settings, on which one can feast one's eyes, if one's eyes are hungry for that sort of thing. Mine pretty much aren't.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:04 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-03-18


Last Modified 2009-03-26 1:14 PM EDT

Consumer Note: Netflix Rules, Blockbuster Drools

Readers may have noted my occasional references to Blockbuster as the satisfier of my prodigous appetite for rental DVDs. I've been a customer of their online DVDs-by-mail program since the summer of 2005; at that time I pronounced it "pretty good" on this very blog.

Unfortunately, it's been a slow and bumpy trip downhill since then. The monthly fee was increased, and a number of tweaks to the program were imposed, all in an effort to make it more profitable (for them) and inconvenient (for customers).

The last straw was a slightly-sneaky change imposed last month: Previously, if you returned a mailed DVD to one of their brick-and-mortar locations, you could take a DVD from the store's shelves at no charge, plus they would send you the next available disk in your online queue. You could play this trick up to five times a month.

But now if you exchange a mailed DVD for a store DVD, that store DVD counts against the number of DVDs your plan allows you to have at home simultaneously; they don't send your next online disk unless and until you return the store DVD. (This change has brought some news coverage at the Consumerist and Slashdot.)

In addition, their online operation has grown significantly more sluggish. They used to be pretty good at "next business day" shipping of your online disks. For the past few weeks, it's been more like two business days.

The net effect of these changes is to throttle back DVD throughput to Pun Salad Manor while charging the same amount. Hmph!

So, sorry Blockbuster, but this is capitalism. I'm dumping you at the end of my current billing period.

I signed up for Netflix last Friday, and got my first three disks yesterday. This includes one that had been stuck at the top of my Blockbuster queue for months with a "Very Long Wait" annotation. Although it's mail only, the Netflix plan is a little cheaper than what I had at Blockbuster.

Just so you know: The kids who work at my local Blockbuster store are very friendly and courteous—no complaints there. I'm afraid they're gonna have to start updating their resumes, though.

Volver

[3.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Yes, this did make two arty foreign movies in a row for me. Just coincidence, I'll try not to make a habit of it. It's written and directed by acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, but it's nevertheless accessible even to a Philistine like me. It stars the impressively beautiful Penélope Cruz; she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her role.

Ms. Cruz plays Raimunda, a woman with a pile of family, financial, and personal problems. Her mother and father are dead, burned to ashes in a nasty fire years back. Her sister runs an unlicensed beauty salon. She's married to a lazy drunk. She has a teenage daughter (with problems of her own). Her aunt is senile, and still thinks her sister (Raimunda's mom) is around, helping her out. A dope-smoking family friend is suffering a serious illness.

And then things get even more complicated.

Discussing things further would involve some serious spoilers, so I'll refrain. Despite being set in Spain, Raimunda's travails are very recognizable and she's easy to sympathize with. Despite some very serious not-funny-at-all themes, there's a considerable amount of humor.

Much of the movie takes place in the La Mancha region of Spain; at one point, a TV newscaster claims that the area is known for its high levels of insanity. And darned if they don't still have windmills: the characters are shown driving by a field of enormous modern wind turbines. There was probably some symbolism there, which (of course) escaped me, but at least I got the reference.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:03 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-03-16

  • Via And Rightly So!: the poster at Theodore's World is disgusted by HR 1388, aka the "GIVE Act" ("Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education"). He finds the following language, where the duties of the new "Congressional Commission on Civic Service" are described, particularly ominous:
    [To "address and analyze"] Whether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation and overcome civic challenges by bringing together people from diverse economic, ethnic, and educational backgrounds.
    While the bill itself (apparently) doesn't impose mandatory service, it pretty clearly is aimed at moving the country in that direction. I wouldn't be surprised if, underneath all the bafflegab, is unsubtle encouragement for local and state authorities to (for example) institute a "service" requirement for high school graduation or college entrance.

    And naturally, my very own Congresscritter/Toothache, Carol Shea-Porter, is one of the 25 current co-sponsors of the bill.

  • Charles Murray's Irving Kristol lecture, given at the American Enterprise Institute's annual dinner is online. He notes that a major goal of "progressives" is to move the US to a "European-style social democracy", and hack away at "American exceptionalism". Read the following excerpt while keeping the "national service" effort mentioned above in mind:
    The exceptionalism has not been a figment of anyone's imagination, and it has been wonderful. But it isn't something in the water that has made us that way. It comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government's job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government's job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away.
    My version: my ancestors moved here because they didn't want to live in Norway anymore. If the US turns into a bigger, slightly-warmer Norway, what was the point?

  • Roger Simon pens a tribute to Ron Silver, who died over the weekend. I remember Ron Silver mainly as (a) Gary Levy, Brenda's boyfriend on Rhoda; (b) the (very) bad guy in Timecop. In recent years, he was a brave leader in the struggle against terrorism. His very good essay on fear is here.

  • "Send a private message to" is the most common 5-word sequence the Google sees on the web, according to this post at Language Log.

    Funny, I thought it would have been "Heh. Read the whole thing", but I probably spend too much time at Instapundit.

    The article has more, plus scholarly discussion. My conclusion: there's a stunning amount of eBaying going on.

Let the Right One In

[3.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

An arty Swedish horror movie; it is currently #188 on the IMDB's Top 250 movies of all time. I doubt that, but it's still pretty good.

Twelve-year-old Oskar is a skinny and awkward outcast at school, the preferred target of a bunch of bullies. He also, probably not coincidentally, has developed some pretty serious psychological problems, evidenced by his de-Niro-in-Taxi-Driver-style monologues while waving a knife.

But things change when Eli, a twelve-year-old girl—that's what she looks like, anyway—moves into the apartment next to his. She's reclusive, only coming out at night, and seems a tad mature for her age. And, oh yeah, people start getting murdered in grisly fashion for some reason.

The movie's set in 1982 Sweden; in one of the DVD extra features, the director speaks of Sweden being "halfway behind the Iron Curtain" at that time, with the clear implication that it was a drab and dispiriting place to live. Funny: back in 1982, it was only conservatives who said things like that. Nowadays, it's conventional wisdom.

The "bullies pick on unusual kid" theme appears in a lot of movies. American ones, of course, but over the past few years I've seen it in movies set in Britain, Afghanistan, Japan, and now Sweden. Sadly, it seems to be a cross-cultural human universal.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:03 PM EDT

Also Has Hopes Of One Day Becoming Mediocre

I got a chuckle out of Jim Fusilli's music column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. It's about Steve Wilson, the mastermind behind the band "Porcupine Tree". He sounds like a nice guy, and a dedicated, talented musician, but …

I've taken the liberty of bolding the phrase that amused me in this paragraph:

As the 31-year-old Mr. Wilson reminded me when we spoke by phone last month, contemporary bands like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Mars Volta and Flaming Lips embrace experimental and progressive rock. But, he said, "There really was a period there when ambition and experimentation were dirty words. Art rock had a negative connotation. I always thought that music that aspires to be pretentious was valuable."
"Aspires to be pretentious." That's a pretty a low bar to clear, isn't it? Darned if that quote wouldn't have been out of place in the Spinal Tap movie.

"Aspires to be pretentious" has been added to the Pun Salad subtitle rotation, and you may see it up there from time to time in the future.

URLs du Jour

2009-03-14

  • After yesterday's linkfest, I thought I was done with stem cells for awhile. But here's one more, for two good reasons: (1) it's P. J. O'Rourke; (2) he's as pissed as any serious thinker must be. In response to Obama's claim that he's against "a false choice between sound science and moral values", P. J, points out:
    A false choice means there's no choosing. The president of the United States tells us that sound science and moral values are united, in bed together. As many a coed has been assured, "Let's just get naked under the covers, we don't have to make love." Or, as the president puts it, "Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose this research. And I understand their concerns, and I believe that we must respect their point of view."

    Mr. President, sir, if this is your respect, I'd rather have your contempt or your waistline or something other than what you're giving me here.

  • The past couple days Pun Salad has pointed out (here and here) the Obama Administration's continued overuse of scornful references to the "(past|last) eight years", contrasted with Obama's phony inaugural disdain for "recriminations".

    It turns out Pun Salad was slightly ahead of the curve; today, the Washington Post quotes the inaugural rhetoric and notes: "It hasn't taken long for the recriminations to return." They miss the "eight years" thing, but instead concentrate on the various Administration whines about what they "inherited."

  • Genius Harvard Econ Prof Greg Mankiw is "too embarrassed" to reveal his score on this spelling quiz. As Mrs. Salad points out occasionally, I'm tough to embarrass; my score: 78%. Math is hard, but spelling's harder. Give it a go.

Closing the Ring

[1.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Every so often, domestic peace requires that a Chick Flick be shown at Pun Salad Manor; rest assured, this is one of the Chickiest. People with a different Y-chromosome count should discount my opinion totally.

Quoting the back of the DVD.

From Academy Award-winning director Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) comes this sweeping romance starring Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment), Christopher Plummer (A Beautiful Mind), Mischa Barton (TV's The O.C.), and Neve Campbell (The Company). Moving seemlessly through time, this lush epic follows a beautiful 1940's Michigan girl (Barton) secretly married to a WWII pilot who crashes in the hills near Belfast, Ireland. 50 years later his wedding ring resurfaces -- along with the smoldering secrets that have kept the widow (MacLaine), her estranged daughter (Campbell) and devoted friend (Plummer) each from finding true love.
You might read that and think, "Oooh, sounds romantic!". Congratulations, you are a woman.

If, on the other hand, your thoughts run more to "Sounds like maybe the cast could have been improved by the inclusion of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson," then …

As near as I can tell, the movie did negligible box-office business.

It is not totally without guy-merit, however: the folks at "Mr. Skin" named Mischa Barton's efforts here the number one Celebrity Nude Scene of 2008. So at least one other guy watched the movie besides me.

(You can read the entire top-20 list here, although don't ask me how I know that.)


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:03 PM EDT

Happy π Day

It's the 21st Annual Celebration. Maintaining our geeky tradition from last year, this post should show up on 3/14 at 1:59:27pm EDT. Here's a simple yet profound animated GIF from the Pi article at Wikipedia for you to contemplate:

[Pi Unrolled]

(Click for the big version and a whole bunch of WikiLegalese.)

  • Last year's post on this was pretty good (if I do say so myself); since π's a constant, it still holds up pretty well.

  • What's new this year: House Resolution 224 "Supporting the designation of Pi Day, and for other purposes" (which passed in a squeaker: 391-10). Betsy Newmark rolls her eyes at the recent Politico article describing the legislative process. She notes a typical bit of Congressional egomania:
    "It makes you realize how consequential you really are," Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) said with a smile.
    Betsy comments:
    Yup, that's how consequential you Congress critters are. You can pat yourself on your collective backs for recognizing something that people have been doing on their own for 20 years.
    Good point. But as one of Betsy's commenters notes: wouldn't it be great if Congress could limit itself to harmless stunts like this?

  • If you haven't made your celebratory plans yet, there's a wikiHow article you can mine for ideas. Number seven is intriguing:
    Progressive rock musician Kate Bush performed a song titled π on her 2005 album Aerial. Bush sings pi to its 137th decimal place, but omits the 79th through 100th decimal places of pi for currently unknown reasons. Playing π on Pi Day, therefore, is left to the discretion of the celebrant. Just watch out for party-crashers playing Zero by Smashing Pumpkins.
    And that's not the worst idea! An MP3 of Kate's song can be had for a mere 99 cents at Amazon.

Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:23 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-03-13

It's stem cell day here at Pun Salad, looking at reactions to Obama's recent executive order enabling federal funding of baby-killing embryo-destroying research in that area.

  • Very much worth reading on that front is Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post, who is pretty darn happy he avoided the order's signing ceremony at the White House.

    Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men. Such as his admonition that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values." Yet, exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds later he went on to declare that he would never open the door to the "use of cloning for human reproduction."

    Does he not think that a cloned human would be of extraordinary scientific interest? And yet he banned it.

    Much more at the link. If you can only read one thing today, it should probably be Mr. Krauthammer. Even if you're not that interested in this specific issue, his evaluation of Obama's approach has more general applicability:

    This is not just intellectual laziness. It is the moral arrogance of a man who continuously dismisses his critics as ideological while he is guided exclusively by pragmatism (in economics, social policy, foreign policy) and science in medical ethics.

    That could be … problematic.

  • And did Obama's speech work in another snarky reference to the "past eight years"? Why, yes it did, for what must be the 3473d time that phrase has been employed negatively in Administration documents since January 20.

  • Also unimpressed with the stem cell show was Steve Chapman at Reason. He also notes the Barackrobatic disconnect on cloning, and points out:

    What this mandate means is simple: It may be permissible for scientists to create cloned embryos and kill them. It's not permissible to create cloned embryos and let them live. Their cells may be used for our benefit, but not for their own.

    There lies the reality of embryonic stem cell research: It turns incipient human beings into commodities to be exploited for the sake of people who are safely past that defenseless stage of their lives.

    If you have a firm belief in your own moral self-righteousness, however, that won't be seen as much of a problem.

  • You might also want to check out William Saletan at Slate who notes just how slippery this particular slope is.

  • And Captain Ed has CNN video (with transcript) of Bill Clinton discussing the issue with not-gonna-be-Surgeon-General Sanjay Gupta; the Captain says it "may be the stupidest thing I've heard since Phil Donohue and Vladimir Posner tried arguing a few years back that human embryos become fish and dogs before becoming humans."

    [Comments Frank J: "But know who's dumb? Palin!"]

  • Closer to home, Drew Cline is disgusted at NH Senator Jeanne Shaheen's creepy exploitation of her granddaughter Elle (who has diabetes) to advocate the federal funding of embryo-destroying stem cell research.

    The Shaheens have stated that Elle's hope for a cure rests on federal taxpayer money being used to destroy human embryos. But that is completely untrue. And they certainly knew that.

    Click for details.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:01 PM EDT

Google Ad Notes

A couple things about the Google ads over there on the right sidebar:

  1. Sometimes they will insult your intelligence. For example, when we were talking about Obama's stimulus package, they all seemed to be promising you free government "stimulus" grants, if you would just throw them a couple three bucks.

    This is an old problem. To some extent, it's common to all advertising. As you know, if you are a customer of any other commercial media at all.

    I haven't had any complaints, so it may be that I'm more embarrassed than my readers are insulted.

  2. Google is soon introducing "interest-based advertising" which may have some impact on your privacy. Here's what they suggest I should tell you about that:

I've placed a dire (and slightly tongue-in-cheek) warning above the ads to notify readers of these things. A click on the privacy part should lead back to this article.

The good news is that the second item may ameliorate the first: if you surf to smarter sites, you may see smarter ads.

No promises, of course. And you might find it off-putting that the site "knows" stuff about you. Berin Szoka at the Technology Liberation Front has a long article about Google's entry into "behavioral" advertising; it's suggested reading if you're interested in or concerned about Internet privacy policy.

URLs du Jour

2009-03-12

  • Daniel Henninger has a good column at the WSJ today, focusing on President Obama's rhetoric of retribution, as exemplified in the recently released budget document "A New Era of Responsibility" (PDF).

    The 145-page document contains a lot of gratuitous partisan sniping at the previous administration. (How many times do you think "A New Era of Responsibility" refers disparagingly to the past "eight years"? Guess before you mouse-select the invisi-answer here, Saladeers: [ten, not even counting equivalent sneering references, such as "the previous Administration"].)

    Obama preached against "recriminations" in his Inaugural Address, but I guess the official transcript missed where he added "unless we're doing the recriminating" under his breath.

    It's not all partisan mudslinging against Dubya, though. The budget reproduces, and takes as gospel, the work of two French economists who purported to show an outrageous "share" of income being taken in by the top 1% of the citizenry. (As Henninger points out, there's much to doubt about that result.)

    Spurred by that factoid, the budget document, at every chance, turns into a little Two-Minute Hate against the well-off. Typical is this snippet quoted by Henninger:

    While middle-class families have been playing by the rules, living up to their responsibilities as neighbors and citizens, those at the commanding heights of our economy have not.
    It's a little stunning to see a blanket denunciation of an entire class; note that there's no "some of those…" or even "many of those…". It's all of them, and they behaved badly.

    Well, some did behave badly, not "playing by the rules." Some of those will (probably) get their proper handslap (Bernie Madoff, Allen Stanford, …). Others haven't yet (Chris Dodd, Charlie Rangel, John Murtha, …); some will almost certainly get away with their rule-breaking entirely, or even rewarded with prestigious jobs (most notably Timothy Geithner).

    But demonizing a whole class for not "playing by the rules" is a little scary, especially when such scapegoating comes from the top.

  • Doug Bandow notes Republican stupidity on the earmark issue.

  • The Rochester Police Log contains some poetry this week. At 9:34am on February 26:
    Who's mailbox this, I think I know,
    But someone's filled it up with snow,
    On Thomas Street -- plus extra woe,
    For mail's been tossed where mail don't go.
    And 10:54pm on February 28:
    The Draught Pick calls a cabby,
    But a customer won't use him.
    The barman, in the background,
    Yells he hasn't paid his tab.

    The ejectee calls to police
    To say the bouncer did abuse him,
    And walks home leaving officers
    With no one they can nab.
    (Reformatted from the original.)

  • Thanks to DCE at Weekend Pundit for blogrolling Pun Salad. Weekend Pundit is a frequent read here.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:27 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-03-11

  • And people wonder if The Road to Serfdom is out of date.

    Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people. The basis of unfavorable comparisons with conditions elsewhere, the knowledge of possible alternatives to the course actually taken, information which might suggest failure on the part of government to live up to its promises or to take advantage of opportunities to improve conditions—all will be suppressed. There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practiced and uniformity of views not enforced.

    From the WSJ today:

    Big Labor's drive to eliminate secret ballots for union elections has united American business in opposition, so labor chiefs are putting on the brass knuckles: The new strategy is to threaten companies with government retaliation if they don't stop lobbying against turning U.S. labor markets into Europe.

    Also see the MinuteMan with comments on the new progressive attitude toward free speech.

  • In Slate, Christopher Beam attempts to address the "secret ballot" issue of the (so-called) "Employee Free Choice Act":

    Does the measure eliminate the "secret ballot" in union elections? Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say yes. (Warren Buffett has voiced his concern as well.) Labor groups like the SEIU and AFL-CIO say no. Which is it? Would the bill eliminate the secret ballot?

    The short answer: yes. Although Beam tries to put as much pro-union spin on his article as possible. Example:

    The problem is, the secret ballot isn't so secret. In reality, labor leaders argue, it's hardly the democratic process suggested by its name. During unionization campaigns, companies routinely hire consultants to explain to workers, during work hours, why starting a union is such a bad idea. These consultants can also hold one-on-one meetings with workers and ask them how they plan to vote.

    Careful readers will note: nothing about company-hired consultants, or meeting with employees makes the secret ballot any less secret.

    Yes, companies can urge their employees to vote against the union. So?

    Businesses defend this practice as "free speech." But unions see it as intimidation or, at the very least, an imbalance in influence. Union officials can lobby workers, too, but only outside the workplace. Hence the stories about goons showing up at your door during dinner. (Reported cases of intimidation by employers vastly outnumber those by unions.)

    … mainly because it's unions doing the "reporting," I would imagine.

    But Beam then drops another clear non sequitur:

    The upshot for a worker is: By the day of the election, both sides know how you're going to vote.

    The obvious rejoinder is: if and only if you tell them. You can refuse to say. You can say you haven't decided yet. You can even lie; you aren't put under oath.

    Bottom line: if EFCA passes, say goodbye to the secret ballot.

  • But as Betsy Newmark points out, there's another gotcha in the EFCA: automatic mediation of labor disputes. She quotes a DC Examiner editorial:

    Former Bush Labor Department officials Vincent Vernuccio and Loren Smith, Jr. correctly point out that [EFCA] thus gives union negotiators little incentive to bargain in good faith, knowing that their every outrageous demand would be a starting point for the binding arbitration most likely conducted by government bureaucrats. Said arbitrators would have sole discretionary power to force employers to make concessions far beyond what they would otherwise accept. Small businesses with limited resources would be particularly vulnerable to this new form of government meddling. The bill even bars workers from overriding their union leaders and terminating the binding arbitration process even if doing so would save the company and everybody's jobs. This is progress?

    Only if by "progress" you mean taking power out of private hands and putting it in those of the state.

  • For another bit of "progress" in that vein, the US Senate yesterday voted to kill the small voucher program for District of Columbia kids. (For Granite Staters: Senator Shaheen voted to kill it, Senator Gregg voted to preserve it.)

    At Commentary, Jonathan Tobin does a good job of eviscerating the hypocrisy of (mostly) Democrats on this issue. Specifically, President Obama's:

    This happens to be a man who is sending his own two adorable children to a private school, not the awful D.C. public schools that he is trying to "protect" from voucher advocates. In fact, the Sidwell Friends School that his daughters attend has a number of recipients of the D.C. voucher plan. Though Obama says he wants the kids who are currently in the program not to be chucked out, he doesn't want any voucher children to be there in the future. He wants to deny other kids whose parents are not as wealthy as Sasha and Malia's parents the same chance for a decent education.

    Sorry, folks. When it comes down to a choice between the teachers' union and you: you lose.

  • I scored 14 out of 16 on the BBook of Geek Movies Quiz. See how you do.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:01 PM EDT

In the Electric Mist

[3.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I'm a huge fan of author James Lee Burke and his series of novels featuring Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux. One of his best was In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. And, in addition, ever since I read the first entry in the series, my mind's eye always pictured Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux.

So when I heard they were making a movie version, with Mr. Jones in the Robicheaux role, I was pretty psyched. Even if they amputated three words from the title, it was one of the rare movies I would have hit the theater for.

But I waited, and waited, … eventually, the movie went straight to DVD here in the US. Still excited, though, I put it right at the top of my Blockbuster queue, and … eh.

The plot is faithful to the book: Dave is on the trail of a sicko who has killed a local prostitute. A movie is being filmed in the area; one of the stars discovers long-dead corpse of a black man in the Atchafalaya swamp. As is usual in Burke's work, these two deaths have connections that enmesh Dave in a lot of psychic grief.

It's an OK movie, but several notches down from where I wanted it to be. I can't really put my finger on the reason. The casting is great, the location is right, … It may have been they were too faithful to the book while neglecting the little elements of magic that make a good movie.

Still, it was better than Heaven's Prisoners, where Alec Baldwin played Dave's role. Sheesh.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:19 PM EDT

Pretty Pictures of the Federal Budget (FY 2010 Version)

The Federal Budget for Fiscal Year 2010 has been out for awhile. We continue the tradition (because we've done it thrice before, in 2005, 2007, and 2008) of producing some simple graphs from the tables provided.

It's a little more depressing this year.

(Remember: at Pun Salad, all puns are intended.)

Kvetch: The Office of Management and Budget used to provide a "Historical Tables" standalone document that showed how the new budget numbers fit into historical context. As near as I can tell, they haven't generated that document this year. Jerks. So I've taken last year's document and replaced/appended data for current/future years from Table S-1 in the new document here.

So, without further ado, here's a graph of Federal receipts and outlays since 1977, expressed as percent of GDP; post-2008 numbers are estimates:

[In and Out]

Here's what that works out to in terms of deficit spending:

[Usually More Out]

Click on the graphs for their fullsize versions. Data is here and my Gnuplot script is here. If you'd like to see the data extended back to 1930: here's the receipt/outlays graph and here's the deficit graph.

Standard disclaimer: if you're thinking this is simple-minded, you're right. In my defense, the percent-of-GDP seems appropriate for historical comparison; it seems to be (arguably) a good measure of what we can "afford"; and, if you believe deficits "damage the economy", then it's a pretty good proxy for the level of damage.

There is, of course, a stunning difference between the numbers produced last year and the ones this year. Most striking are the numbers for FY2009:

  • Outlays predicted to be 27.7% of GDP, the highest since 1945;

  • Receipts predicted to be 15.4% of GDP, the lowest since 1950;

  • … which gives us a deficit of 12.3% of GDP, also the biggest since 1945.

That speaks for itself, and explains why you've been seeing the phrase "uncharted territory" coming up so much in economic news.

Some other random comments and URLs:

  • Last year's budget (and the one before that) predicted a modest surplus in FY2012 and FY2013. In contrast, the new budget predicts deficits in the neighborhood of 3% of GDP in FY2012 until FY2019 (and, probably, as far as the eye can see).

  • Before you say "Hey, once we get past 2009, it's not as bad as I thought," you should read Greg Mankiw on the Rosy Scenario that the Obama Administration relied upon for these projections: numbers for GDP growth pretty far out of whack from private forecasters.

  • Robert Samuelson is not as polite as Professor Mankiw:
    Obama is a great pretender. He repeatedly says he's doing things that he isn't, trusting his powerful rhetoric to obscure the difference. He has made "responsibility" a personal theme; the budget's cover line is "A New Era of Responsibility." He says the budget begins "making the tough choices necessary to restore fiscal discipline." It doesn't.

    With today's depressed economy, big deficits are unavoidable for some years. But let's assume that Obama wins re-election. By his last year, 2016, the economy presumably will have long recovered. What does his final budget look like? Well, it runs a $637 billion deficit, equal to 3.2 percent of the economy (gross domestic product), projects Obama's Office of Management and Budget. That would match Ronald Reagan's last deficit, 3.1 percent of GDP in 1988, so fiercely criticized by Democrats.

    You should really read the whole thing.

We'll do it again next year. Assuming we're not back to calculating with abaci and communicating with tribal drums by then.

Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:00 PM EDT

City of Ember

[2.5
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A PG fantasy adventure, this kept putting me to sleep.

A brief opening sequence sets up the idea: the world is going to Hell in a handbasket, so a group of scientists set up Ember, a city deep underground, designed to preserve a remnant of humanity for 200 years. For unlikely reasons, the inhabitants are (somehow) unaware of their situation; as far as they're concerned, the universe stops at the city limits.

Unfortunately, the process designed to release the Emberites back into the world after two centuries fails. Further decades pass, and it begins to be evident that Ember's infrastructure is crumbling, dooming the citizenry to death in the dark.

There are two plucky teens; will they discover the secret, find a way out, and save humanity? It would spoil things to tell you, but it's PG, so what do you think?

There are some good things here: the production design is outstanding, giving a rich and detailed feel of the once-proud, now-decaying city. Bill Murray plays Ember's corrupt mayor; he delivers his lines with a slight loopiness that's fun to watch. And Martin Landau has a pretty good minor role.

But that's about it.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 12:59 PM EDT

Watchmen

[5.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's currently #132 on IMDB's best movies of all time; yet it garners a relatively modest 65% on Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer. Clearly a love-it-or-hate-it movie.

I loved it, pretty much. It's a movie that deserves a big screen; I saw it at the Strand Theater in Dover NH. (The Strand was originally built in 1925, but it's still a decent place to see a flick.) I hit the 12:10 Sunday matinee (a mere $6); the showing was sparsely attended.

I have not read the graphic novel on which it is based, although I've thumbed through it a couple times at bookstores. So I wasn't worried about the movie's fidelity to the book, although that's something that obsesses true fans.

The story is set in an alternate-history 1985, one with superheroes: Ozymandias, Silk Spectre, Doctor Manhattan, The Comedian, Nite Owl, and Rorschach. They mostly originated as vigilantes with costumes. Dr. Manhattan, however, is a "true" superbeing with powers of telekinesis, teleportation, a smattering of psychic ability; he's also blue and often naked. (As the New Yorker reviewer puts it: "like a porn star left overnight in a meat locker.")

There are also indications the superheroes had an active role in turning the USA into a left-winger's nightmare: they're shown fighting and winning the Vietnam war; they violently put down street protests; one is shown as the triggerman in the JFK assassination. And Richard Nixon is still president. But in 1985, superheroes have outlived their usefulness to the government, and now overt masked superantics are banned.

Things kick off with the murder of the Comedian; a mysterious figure is shown breaking into his high-rise apartment, easily outclassing him in physical combat, and finally tossing him out the window to the street below. Rorschach decides to investigate, thinking this might be the beginning of a plot against the group generally. And… well, it is and it isn't.

The movie does a fine job of setting up its history and characters. The superheroes are in varying states of dysfunction and alienation. It's very bleak, and deserves its R-rating (for, as the MPAA says, "strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language." It's also 163 minutes long, so plan accordingly, bladder-wise.

Particularly amazing is Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach; I haven't seen him in a movie since 1979's Breaking Away. (Yes, somehow I managed to miss Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence.) In a just world, he'd get an Oscar nomination for his work here.

I'll leave the political commentary to others. The reviewer previously mentioned described the movie as "twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon." At Reason, Brian Doherty calls Rorschach an "Objectivist saint" but Peter Suderman thought the movie was "stilted and lifeless". I dunno, I just know what I like.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:13 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-03-08

Many people out there are linking to the following, but if you haven't seen 'em yet:

  • When Rahm Emanuel was named Obama's chief of staff, many people pointed out his quote:

    You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before. […] This is an opportunity. What used to be long-term problems -- be they in the health care area, energy area, education area, fiscal area, tax area, regulatory reform area -- things that we had postponed for too long that were long-term are now immediate and must be dealt with. And this crisis provides the opportunity for us, as I would say, the opportunity to do things that you could not do before.

    At the time, some bright people pointed to that remark as an indication that we were in for another confirmation of Robert Higgs' thesis in Crisis and Leviathan: a temporary "crisis" used as an excuse for the panic-stricken imposition of large and permanent increases in government control over the economy and our everyday lives.

    I thought that was kind of a cheap shot. More fool I; it may have been cheap, but the shot was precisely on target. Recently, Hillary Clinton showed that she was on board too:

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience Friday "never waste a good crisis," and highlighted the opportunity of rebuilding economies in a greener, less energy-intensive way.

    Economies "rebuild" themselves all the time, of course; it's the natural free-market course of things. What this administration doesn't want to "waste" is the opportunity to take that rebuilding out of private hands, instead putting it under control of politicians.

    And the One also chimed in over the weekend:

    Overseeing a dispirited nation, President Barack Obama on Saturday sought to assure people that bleak times will give way to better days, calling the mounting economic crisis a time to discover America's next "great opportunity."

    "Opportunity" for what? For enacting his leftwing to-do list, of course. Charles Krauthammer addressed this crisis-mongering in his Friday column, first by looking at Obama's argument for his schemes:

    The logic of Obama's address to Congress went like this:

    "Our economy did not fall into decline overnight," he averred. Indeed, it all began before the housing crisis. What did we do wrong? We are paying for past sins in three principal areas: energy, health care and education -- importing too much oil and not finding new sources of energy (as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf?), not reforming health care, and tolerating too many bad schools.

    Obama has come to redeem us with his far-seeing program of universal, heavily nationalized health care; a cap-and-trade tax on energy; and a major federalization of education with universal access to college as the goal.

    He could also add: increased regulation, and tax increases both overt and sneaky.

    Krauthammer then goes on to describe the disconnect from reality:

    Amazing. As an explanation of our current economic difficulties, this is total fantasy. As a cure for rapidly growing joblessness, a massive destruction of wealth, a deepening worldwide recession, this is perhaps the greatest non sequitur ever foisted upon the American people.

    There is no evidence that Obama's "cures" have anything to do with the actual problems bedeviling the economy.

    Why the urgency then? Ask Rahm, Hill, and Barack.

  • Via Michelle comes word that New Hampshire's own Portsmouth Tea Company is planning on donating 70 pounds of tea to the folks planning the "tea party" protests for April 15.

    I drive by the Portsmouth Tea Company's retail outlet at least a couple times every week. Superficially, I passed it off as a pinky-in-the-air place, and if I had to guess at its politics, I would have guessed it would be in New England's Ben & Jerry's/Stonyfield Farms pinko tradition.

    But now I'll stop in.

  • On a related note: mad Google Sketchup skillz are used to picture one trillion dollars.

  • On an unrelated note, the New Yorker has put up an essay about the tragic final years of genius author David Foster Wallace.

    It's good, but if you would also/instead like to follow Shawn Macomber's excellent advice and read something by Wallace instead of about him, they've also put up "Wiggle Room", an excerpt from his unfinished novel The Pale King. The first paragraph runs (by my trusty computer's count) 2609 words. Here are the first couple sentences:

    Lane Dean, Jr., with his green rubber pinkie finger, sat at his Tingle table in his chalk's row in the rotes group's wiggle room and did two more returns, then another one, then flexed his buttocks and held to a count of ten and imagined a warm pretty beach with mellow surf, as instructed in orientation the previous month. Then he did two more returns, checked the clock real quick, then two more, then bore down and did three in a row, then flexed and visualized and bore way down and did four without looking up once, except to put the completed files and memos in the two Out trays side by side up in the top tier of trays, where the cart boys could get them when they came by.

    Wallace's publisher will be putting out The Pale King next year.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 12:58 PM EDT

Barackrobatics IV: Rhetoric vs. Reality

In our occasional series: Cato@Liberty points out President Obama's rhetoric at yesterday's "White House Forum on Health Care Reform":

In this effort, every voice has to be heard. Every idea must be considered.
And contrasts with the simultaneous reality:
Of course, he spoke those words to a room that contained not a single advocate of free-market health care reform.
In other words: who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?

Trivial aside: The "who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" quote is often attributed to Groucho Marx, but was actually spoken by brother Chico in Duck Soup. Although he was disguised as Groucho at the time.

Richard Pryor did a variation, in an R-rated context.

Also at the forum, Obama said:

The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds.
This was reported by Gary Langer of ABC News. Only problem, Langer says:
That claim, based on a 2001 survey, is simply unsupportable.
More detail at the link. For a guy who claimed his election was due to an electorate who had "chosen hope over fear," he's certainly not adverse to dragging out scary-but-false statistics.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

[2.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Just to demonstrate my utter Philistinism: the movie is (as I type) #204 on IMDB's list of the Top 250 Movies of All Time; it gets a stunning 93% on the Tomatometer; and I didn't think it was all that hot. Someone with a more refined cinematic taste (like you, dear reader) might like it more.

It's the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of (French) Elle magazine, felled by a massive stroke in 1995 at the age of 42. He body is in near-total paralysis, but his mental functions are unimpaired. He learns to communicate by blinking his left eye in response to letters called out by his therapist. He uses this technique to write an entire book (on which the movie is based). And then—sorry, spoiler is upcoming—he dies.

Much of the movie is shot from Bauby's point of view, meant to give an idea of what it must be like to be trapped inside a broken body in this way; the cinematography for this is inventive. Bauby is played by Mathieu Amalric, who I liked as the Bond-villain Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 12:58 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2009-03-04

  • ABC News reports that stimulus-package projects will be stamped with the magic logo:

    not a blue eagle

    In the laugh-because-otherwise-I'd-cry department, this set some creative folks a-photoshoppin'. Michelle has two collections here and here. My personal fave:

    Heh!

    (Via Betsy Newmark, who titles her post "The new Blue Eagle", referring to FDR's fascist NRA symbol.

    [Facist NRA Symbol]

    Good article on that here.)

  • In all our Democrat-bashing, it's easy to forget that Republicans are stupid too. The latest data point comes from the New York Times, where the Bits blog reports:

    A lawmaker in California wants to force Google Earth and similar services to blur images of so-called "soft targets" like schools, hospitals, churches and government buildings to protect them from terrorists. Assemblyman Joel Anderson, …

    … oh, please, dear Lord, not a Republican …

    … a San Diego Republican, …

    Dammit!

    … said he decided to introduce his bill after reading reports suggesting that terrorists used online map imagery to plan attacks in Mumbai and elsewhere.

    Fortuntely, the Bits blogger quotes Bruce Schneier, so I don't have to look up his take on this myself:

    Bank robbers have long used cars and motorcycles as getaway vehicles, and horses before then. I haven't seen it talked about yet, but the Mumbai terrorists used boats as well. They also wore boots. They ate lunch at restaurants, drank bottled water and breathed the air. Society survives all of this because the good uses of infrastructure far outweigh the bad uses, even though the good uses are -- by and large -- small and pedestrian and the bad uses are rare and spectacular.

    If GOP pols want to do something non-stupid on the anti-terrorism front, they should try sponsoring legislation encouraging an armed citizenry.

  • NYT "conservative" op-ed columnist David Brooks: Robert Stacy McCain is not a fan.

  • And it's rare that fictional New Hampshire congressmen make the national media, but here you go: Congressman Offers Preemptive Apology For Extramarital Affair


Last Modified 2012-10-19 3:58 PM EDT

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

[Amazon Link]

[3.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

A sweet little romantic comedy, although with PG-13 levels of (as the MPAA puts it) teen drinking, sexuality, language and crude behavior.

Nick and Norah are New Jersey teenagers on the brink of college. Nick is not recovering well from his breakup with Tris. He still produces CDs for her to listen to, complete with cover art; Tris—in a sign that she is a total bitch on wheels—scornfully tosses them into the trash after she gets them.

Norah retrieves them from the trash, though. Although she doesn't yet know Nick, she's impressed with his sensitivity and musical taste.

One night, Nick and his friends, and Norah and her friends, head into New York City to frequent the club scene. Nick and Norah finally meet, and set off on a series of zany madcap adventures. The course of true love does not run smooth, but they eventually get there.

One problem: Norah's smart, funny, and beautiful. But the script portrays her as being insecure about her looks. That would have made a lot more sense if she were played by an actress a couple notches further down the gorgeous-scale. Maybe they couldn't find one of those in Hollywood.

The "sexuality" thing mentioned above made me feel uncomfortably dirty-old-mannish at a couple points in the movie. Also, I kept asking myself: where's the adult supervision?. Parents don't appear at all, nor do teachers, and the only grownups are in menial jobs: janitor, shopkeeper, ticket seller. It really is a young-person fantasy.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 12:56 PM EDT

The Lady Eve

[Amazon Link]

[3.0
stars] [IMDb Link]

The critics swoon over The Lady Eve, a 1941 comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges; me, not so much.

Henry Fonda is Charles Pike, heir to the Pike's Pale Ale fortune. He's more of the naturalist type, though, with a passionate interest in snakes. As the movie opens, he's boarding an ocean liner, returning home from an expedition. But it's one of those ocean liners that tolerates a gang of card sharks, out to fleece the rich passengers. Barbara Stanwyck plays Jean, the female member of the gang. She throws herself at Pike; you can imagine her doing the same thing to dozens of previous marks. But this time, for some reason, she falls for the sap, and he falls for her. Things are working just fine until he becomes aware of her sordid past.

To my ear, the famously "witty" Sturges dialog is stilted and forced; the actors don't speak it so much as recite it. Fonda is wooden, although (to be fair) his role in the movie is pretty much limited to playing a straight man to Stanwyck's flamboyant personality. As often happens with Sturges movies, the supporting characters get some of the best lines.

But I'm just carping against the critical consensus; there are some funny things here. But if I'm looking for old-comedy laughs, Hawks, Capra, and the Marx Brothers are more reliable.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 12:55 PM EDT

Kids Today

Michelle Singletary is billed as the "Personal Finance Columnist" for the Washington Post; she devoted a recent column to people she called "Bailout Snivelers".

There are two kinds. As we'll see, Michelle conflates the two varieties, calling them both "snivelers". Here are a couple of examples of the first kind:

"How come only those who spend irresponsibly get bailed out?" a reader asked. "As a person who thinks before he spends, I have a lot to be frustrated about these days."

Another reader from Indiana wrote: "Frankly, I'm infuriated. I don't make a ton of money, but I live within my means. I purchased my home eight years ago and just paid my mortgage off this past November. It's extremely frustrating to see us bailing out people who made foolish decisions while many others meet the obligations they agreed to."

This is understandable. When you rob Peter to pay Paul, Peter is understandably pissed. Michelle ignores that minor issue, instead quoting The One like Holy Scripture, and turning her condescension dial up to 11:
"We have lived through an era where, too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity," Obama said.

I understand that people who did the right thing are frustrated. They saved. They scrimped. They crunched the numbers and bought homes they could afford long term.

I understand their need to have someone pat them on the back.

So consider this your pat.

If Michelle were a man, and tried that line in person, instead of from a newspaper column, I'd bet the "pat" would be returned with a punch in the nose from many.

It gets better, though. Because Michelle is not only condescending, she's very, very tired.

But I'm getting increasingly weary of people carping that they aren't getting a piece of the billions of dollars in debt the federal government is amassing to try to dam up this economic mudslide.

These people are suffering from what I call "WAM Syndrome" or "What About Me?" disease.

My children have WAM. I see them looking as I pour juice or cut a piece of pie. They watch closely to see whether their siblings get more. If I give one child a little extra of something, the other two pout and whimper, "What about me?"

But I expect this from children. They often don't understand that sometimes one person -- whether he or she deserves it or not -- will get more. They can't comprehend that life isn't fair.

Yes, Michelle really is calling people who complain about the inequity of bailing out the irresponsible at the coerced expense of those who played by the rules to be just like her tedious children haggling over pie. And she really is making the dreadful analogy that the relationship between government and governed is like that between juice-pouring Mommy and kids.

She apparently sees nothing wrong with that.

But wait, it gets even better, because Michelle introduces us to Margaret from Massachusetts:

Several readers have complained that they can't take advantage of the new $8,000 first-time home buyer's credit. This is an improvement on a $7,500 tax credit that is really a 15-year, interest-free loan.

Margaret, a first-time home buyer from Massachusetts, said she was outraged that some people will benefit from the $8,000 tax credit, which doesn't have to be paid back.

"I am a single woman who has worked long and hard to finally purchase a home," she wrote. "I purchased a home on July 30, 2008, and await my $7,500 interest-free loan. I was thrilled and grateful that this was offered to me."

After learning about the better tax break, Margaret is no longer grateful.

"I am totally disgusted. I would like justification and an answer to how this administration can justify doing for some and not for all," she wrote. "If you do for one, you must do for all. After all, this is America."

This is the second type of sniveler, significantly different from robbed-Peter irked at paid-Paul. In this case, Mark's being robbed to pay Matthew and Margaret. Margaret eyes Matthew's take suspiciously, and bitter resentment—this is America!—occurs if there's the slightest bit of perceived favoritism there.

And here is where Michelle actually has a point with the analogy to her kids.

Because what group naturally springs to mind when you think of those who receive undeserved benefits from the hard-working?

Sure: children. And we don't mind, because we love 'em, right?

But lesson one from this bailout should be: when you treat people like children—like irresponsible tykes who can't be expected to provide for themselves, who shouldn't bear the burden of their unwise choices, who are utterly dependent on the resources of others…

Why should you be surprised when they act like children?

The pointer to Michelle's column came from Russell Roberts of Cafe Hayek. He has similar comments about just how degrading it is to civil society when mommy-government doles out taxpayer-funded goodies to freeloaders. Bottom line: watch for more Mad Margarets screaming like spoiled brats.

URLs du Jour

2009-03-01

  • [Amazon Link] A sign of the times, as reported by the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights: (via the Corner.)

    Sales of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" have almost tripled over the first seven weeks of this year compared with sales for the same period in 2008. This continues a strong trend after bookstore sales reached an all-time annual high in 2008 of about 200,000 copies sold.

    If you're skeptical about figure-fudging from something named the "Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights", the Economist verifies, even providing a chart based on Amazon sales data, annotated with news events (via Viking Pundit):

    [Atlas Shrugged sales chart]

    Plus which, just the other day, a bum on the street asked me "Who is John Galt?"

  • Arnold Kling points out this post from Office of Management and Budget Director (and blogger) Peter Orszag, who defends the Obama proposals to cut back the deduction for charitable donations in the upper brackets. Arnold comments precisely and pungently:

    If you want to predict the Obama Administration's behavior, ask yourself what policies can strengthen government and weaken the private sector. That methodology will tell you that private charities are going to come under assault. Charitable organizations offer services that compete with government. That cannot be permitted in a "progressive" state, in which all forms of civil society must be suppressed. Our country has a remarkably very strong tradition of civil society, and I expect that we can put up a good fight on the charitable deduction issue. But the fact that the Obama folks are even willing to try this is a sign of just how potent they are feeling and how impotent they think the opposition is right now.

    Also relevant to that point is Jen Rubin's reaction to an Eleanor Clift comment that Obama is "saving capitalism":

    [Obama] is not out to "save" capitalism, but to disable it and replace it with a statist arrangement wherein the government owns banks and car companies, directs employers on how to pay and treat their employees, limits industrial output, and runs the healthcare system.

    A huge fraction of the American economy is currently under political control; never mind the Barackrobatic rhetoric, Obama's goal is to increase that fraction. So if you're going over to Amazon to buy Atlas Shrugged, maybe you should toss a copy of The Road to Serfdom in your shopping cart at the same time.

  • I believe the key sentence in this story is:

    The workers said they became suspicious when the caller then told them to urinate on each other.

    [Update: Hooray! Also blogged by one of my favorite people, Dave Barry. Just knowing that the Barry fingers typed "Thanks to Paul Sand" gives me goosebumps. Or maybe that's due to the snow shoveling.]


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:28 PM EDT