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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, December 31, 2010

WORD AROUND THE NET

"Obama uses his control over Executive Branch agencies to do what Congress or the courts have forbidden."

Ignoring Separation of Powers
Sometimes the news media can get so bad that even other left leaning media sites can't help but take note. For example, the Los Angeles Times couldn't help but snicker at the headline that ran earlier this year:

Obama assails Republican foes, urges bipartisan effort

That's from Stan Holland at the Reuters News Service. Was he trying to be ironic? Was he mocking President Obama? Or did he just not consider what that says?

New York City got socked pretty hard by a blizzard, like most of the east coast, and the cleanup of all that snow was so slow that people died waiting for emergency services to reach them, like ambulances. At first New Yorkers were upset at Mayor Bloomberg, but it turns out he might not have been the problem at all. Sally Goldberg, Larry Celona and Josh Margolin write at the New York Post:
Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.

"They sent a message to the rest of the city that these particular labor issues are more important," said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens), who was visited yesterday by a group of guilt-ridden sanitation workers who confessed the shameless plot.
Seeing as these are sanitation workers who replaced the last batch who went on strike, you'd think they would know better than to enrage a public more opposed to public unions than at any time in the last 100 years.

Scientists are baffled by the way the sun is acting, with such minimal solar activity for so long they haven't ever seen the like before. What worries them is that it might be building up to massive activity after such a long quiet. The problem is nobody really knows why the sun acts how it does or what really causes the storms or inactivity, so there's no basis for prediction or even guessing. Solar storms cause radio interference (yes, your phone too), and can even cause greater damage. AFP quotes various scientists (courtesy Breitbart):
In the front line are telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbit, at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres (22,500 miles) and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, on which modern airliners and ships depend for navigation, which orbit at 20,000 kms (12,000 miles).

Another precaution is redundancy -- to have backup systems in case one malfunctions.

On Earth, power lines, data connections and even oil and gas pipelines are potentially vulnerable.
...
An early warning of the risk came in 1859, when the biggest CME ever observed unleashed red, purple and green auroras even in tropical latitudes.

The new-fangled technology of the telegraph went crazy. Geomagnetically-induced currents in the wires shocked telegraph operators and even set the telegraph paper on fire.

In 1989, a far smaller flare knocked out power from Canada's Hydro Quebec generator, inflicting a nine-hour blackout for six million people.
...
Recurrence of a 1921 event today would fry 350 major transformers, leaving more than 130 million people without power, it heard. A bigger storm could cost between a trillion and two trillion dollars in the first year, and full recovery could take between four and 10 years.
Then again, maybe it won't happen for decades, and be very mild. Nobody really knows.

Put this in the abuse of power folder: a woman who protested TSA groping "security" by showing up in lingerie has been banned from flying, according to Oklahoma's channel six news. The YouTube video of her protest was a big hit on the internet, but the security officials claim it is because of nitrates detected on her.

Passengers aren't the only ones feeling this pressure to shut up and obey the TSA. Kim Minugh and Cathy Locke write at the Sacramento Bee about a pilot who filmed TSA misadventures for YouTube:
The video, posted Nov. 30, has since been pulled from YouTube, and Liu has been stripped of his role in a federal anti-terrorism program that allowed him to carry a handgun while flying.
...
TSA officials arrived at Liu's Colfax house earlier this month and confiscated his weapon. Placer County sheriff's deputies, who accompanied the TSA, suspended his permit to carry a concealed weapon.

TSA authorities have defended the action, saying that pilots who participate in the program "must be able to maintain sensitive security information."
Lesson learned: if you anger this administration, it will use its federal powers to make you pay.

Speaking of power, one favorite trick of the Obama administration when it can't get congress to go along with its wishes is to just tell agencies to do it anyway. Jeffrey Anderson at The Weekly Standard writes:
Not satisfied with the colossal amounts of power that she would acquire under Obamacare if it isn't repealed, Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Kathleen Sebelius has issued a 136-page "rule" that will now give her (and her subordinates) largely unchecked power to pass judgment on the prices of health insurance throughout the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that 43 states already regulate and approve health insurance premiums, Sebelius claims that we need an additional, more centralized, protection against insurers' unseemly 'profit motive.'
It must be nice to be able to just write a report granting yourself greater federal power without even needing to bother with legislation. Nice and unconstitutional.

Gabriel Malor at the Ace of Spades HQ has a great year-end wrap up of the ways the Obama administration has been using executive orders and agencies to ignore congress and enact his wishes without bothering with legislation or legality. Here's the lowlights:
  • Forcing Card Check
  • Blocking offshore drilling
  • Shut down Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage
  • Implementing FCC control over the internet
The courts have already shot down several of these attempts, but when that happens, the Obama team tries it again, with slightly different wording. When it comes down to a choice between being constitutional and carrying out the agenda of pointy headed leftist academics, Obama knows where he's going, full speed. Hey, they believe what they're doing is so right and so important that they have to ignore that old and confusing separation of powers bit.

The Ford Motor Company was praised by a lot of people (including me) for not taking auto bailouts this time around, and having turned their company around on their own. At least Ford wasn't taken over by the Obama administration like GM and Chrysler. Except, according to Jalopnik, Ford did get federal money, under the table.
In the depths of the financial collapse, the U.S. Federal Reserve pumped $3.3 trillion into keeping credit moving through the economy. It eventually lent $57.9 billion to the auto industry — including $26.8 billion to Ford, Toyota and BMW.

The Fed on Wednesday was forced to reveal the identity of the companies it aided during the crisis, after contending to Congress that keeping their identities and the details of such lending secret was essential. Much of Wall Street, and corporate giants such as General Electric, Harley Davidson and McDonald's, took advantage of the Fed's help. We've done the math on how the Fed propped up the auto industry.
...
According to the data, from October 2008 through June 2009 the fed bought $45.1 billion in commercial paper from the credit arms of four automakers - Ford, BMW, Chrysler and Toyota - along with GMAC (the former General Motors credit arm). Of those, Ford sold the most, with $15.9 billion.
Ford has benefited from the perception they were pure of this sort of bailout. They aren't.

Accountability is something people really prefer to see in their government, and its one of the things President Obama campaigned on then abandoned when in office. the Government Accountability Office (GAO) supposedly checks figures and issues trustworthy information on federal government financial state, when it can. With this administration, its just given up, according to Accounting Today:
The main obstacles to a GAO opinion were: (1) serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its financial statements unauditable, (2) the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.

In addition, the GAO said last week it was unable to render an opinion on the 2010 Statement of Social Insurance because of significant uncertainties, primarily related to the achievement of projected reductions in Medicare cost growth. The consolidated financial statements discuss these uncertainties, which relate to reductions in physician payment rates and to productivity improvements, and provide an illustrative alternative projection to illustrate the uncertainties.

Dodaro also cited material weaknesses involving an estimated $125.4 billion in improper payments, information security across government, and tax collection activities. He noted that three major agencies — the DOD, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor — did not get clean opinions. Nineteen of 24 major agencies did get clean opinions on all their statements.
Most transparent... well you know the rest.

Lest you think Democrats are the only problem, check out this bit from the New York Times, courtesy Hot Air about how Republicans are finding new ways to hide their spending:
Though Mr. Kirk and other Republicans thundered against pork-barrel spending and lawmakers’ practice of designating money for special projects through earmarks, they have not shied from using a less-well-known process called lettermarking to try to direct money to projects in their home districts…

Lettermarking, which takes place outside the Congressional appropriations process, is one of the many ways that legislators who support a ban on earmarks try to direct money back home.
Mind you, Democrats do the same thing, but nobody really expects them to do anything but increase spending and throw money to their districts. Essentially, they're doing earmarking without bothering to actually write anything into the law. Instead they send letters, emails, or call on the phone and "request" spending, which agencies understand is like a request from Don Soprano: we can cut off your funding at any time. Well, I guess technically they only promised not to use earmarks...

Publishers of books might be looking at a real problem. Because they pay their artists so little and make it such a pain to get published, writers are looking at other, newer options. Take Joe Konrath, author of books such as Shot of Tequila, Trapped, and Whiskey Sour, who is tired of going through the old system. Alex Pham writes at the LA Times:
Joe Konrath can't wait for his books to go out of print.

When that happens, the 40-year-old crime novelist plans to reclaim the copyrights from his publisher, Hyperion Books, and self-publish them on Amazon.com, Apple Inc.'s iBooks and other online outlets. That way he'll be able to collect 70% of the sale price, compared with the 6% to 18% he receives from Hyperion.

As for future novels, Konrath plans to self-publish all of them in digital form without having to leave his house in Schaumburg, Ill.
Its hard to argue with the numbers. Even if he only sells a quarter as many books as a publisher can get out there, he's still making about as much money as a well-paid author. Publishing houses have got to look at this and reconsider their business platform and how they treat the talent. The only drawback to this system: you can't simply write and publish a book online, if nobody knows its there or has heard of you. I've had a book in publication over a year and sold about 3 dozen total copies.

One of the talking points of the left during the Bush administration (dumped when President Obama won) was that Guantanmo Bay is a source of fury and propaganda among "Arab Street" and with al`Qaeda. Why, those people being held there are being used to recruit terrorists, they claimed. The truth is, not so much. Thomas Joscelyn writes at The Weekly Standard:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has reviewed translations of 34 messages and interviews delivered by top al Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan (“Al Qaeda Central”), including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, since January 2009. The translations were published online by the NEFA Foundation. Guantanamo is mentioned in only 3 of the 34 messages. The other 31 messages contain no reference to Guantanamo. And even in the three messages in which al Qaeda mentions the detention facility it is not a prominent theme.

Instead, al Qaeda’s leaders repeatedly focus on a narrative that has dominated their propaganda for the better part of two decades. According to bin Laden, Zawahiri, and other al Qaeda chieftains, there is a Zionist-Crusader conspiracy against Muslims. Relying on this deeply paranoid and conspiratorial worldview, al Qaeda routinely calls upon Muslims to take up arms against Jews and Christians, as well as any Muslims rulers who refuse to fight this imaginary coalition.
The trouble is that people were projecting their understanding and ideals on al`Qaeda, which makes no sense at all. They don't give a damn if some guys are in prison somewhere; they have no outrage at people being kept in a warm vacation region (people pay a lot of money to stay in the Caribbean) and well-fed with medical care. Their anger is the usual: Jews, you won't submit to Islam, yadda yadda.

Professor Jacobson at Legal Insurrection has been looking at the "birther" conspiracy and he's noticed something odd:
It also seems that the supposed intellectual poles have been reversed.

People who supposedly are irrational and driven by hatred demand to see the evidence. People who supposedly are rational and driven by dispassionate intellect demand that the evidence not be seen.
Look, when even Chris Matthews is asking to see a physical copy of the actual birth certificate, maybe its time to stop stonewalling. President Obama was born in Hawaii, but there surely seems to be something on that document he really doesn't want anyone to see.

It is said if you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by. If you wait online long enough, your ideological enemies often will admit you're right. Such as this editorial in the New York Times which admits:
Starved for revenue and accustomed to decades of overspending, many states have been overwhelmed. They are facing shortfalls of $140 billion next year. Even before the downturn, states jeopardized their futures by accumulating trillions in debt that they swept into some far-off future.
Sure, their solution is "more taxes so we can continue to overspend," but at least they're willing to admit spending has been a mistake.

Juan Williams claims that Sarah Palin is "not on the same intellectual stage" as President Obama. I disagree. I don't see Obama as any great intellect. Sure, he's smart -- nobody makes it to that position of power without some smarts -- he's just not the vast intellect he was sold as and pretends to be. He's got the mannerisms, he's got the phrases the elite left love to hear and watch. He's just not particularly brilliant. Neither is Sarah Palin, from what I've seen. I'd consider them roughly equal, in a lot of ways. But its typical for the left to think anyone who agrees with them politically is a gargantuan brain and anyone who disagrees isn't just suspicious, wicked, hateful, and possibly insane, but idiotic.

America spends more on education than any other nation on earth. That's both in absolute dollars (which you'd expect) but as a percentage of its economy. Hans Bader writes for Open Market all about the data and points out something inevitable: this money isn't making for better education, and it might be making things worse. Given the vast administrative costs and the way teachers' unions have rammed pay, benefits, and pensions up, I'd say he has a point when he calls for cuts. Certainly the usual "we just need to spend more on education" leftist chant has less bite given this data.

And that's the Word Around the Net for December 31, 2010

Have a wonderful new year's day and I'll see you next year!

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