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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

WHEN FILIBUSTERS ARE BAD

"Isn't that conveeeeenient!"
-The Church Lady

Integrity Street
Probably most people are in agreement with me when I say I prize intellectual and ethical consistency. Even if someone is rotten, they are more respectable to me if they're consistently so than changing with the wind and personal gain. Integrity still ranks quite high in people's esteem even though politicians are getting sleazier and smaller every year.

And that's why when you read something like this from the New York Times, I think you sneer along with me:
It is time to end the ability of a single senator, or group of senators, to block the confirmation process by threatening a filibuster, which can be overcome only by the vote of 60 senators. We agree with President Obama’s call in the State of the Union address for the Senate to change its rules and require votes on judicial and executive nominees within 90 days.

This is a major change of position for us, and we came to it reluctantly. The filibuster has sometimes been the only way to deny life terms on the federal bench to extremist or unqualified judges. But the paralysis has become so dire that we see no other solution.
Yes, now convenient, just in time for Democrats to face filibusters of judges by Republicans the Times changes its mind on the topic... until a Republican is president again, that is. Here's the thing, though. The reason that 60 votes are required in the Senate for major decisions (such as treaties or lifetime judicial nominations) is that this means except in very rare cases (such as early in Obama's administration) the minority necessarily gets a voice in what is done.

The founding fathers and early Senators decided that some decisions were so critical that everyone had to have a say. And since getting 60 out of 100 Senators to agree on something almost certainly means that must include the minority, that's a way to ensure such a thing takes place.

The problem with the filibuster isn't its existence, its how the filibuster is done. You used to have to actually stand up and physically keep speaking (or have a series of people do so) until the other side gave in. The film Mr Smith Goes to Washington shows a classic example (incidentally, his filibuster failed). The last major real filibuster I can recall was the Democrats trying desperately to stop the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s from passing. Yes, you read that right, Democrats. Sue your teachers if you didn't know that.

These days all you have to do is threaten a filibuster and its presumed to have taken place, and the other side caves in. Its pathetic. I am all for the filibuster in principle, but you have to force people to pay a price to make it work or it becomes meaningless. Unless its hard to do and has a personal cost, it ceases to have significance and simply becomes a political stunt. If you were to force some coddled multi-millionaire fat politician to actually stand up and talk for hours on end, chances are they'd find a way to get along with the majority more readily.

But the New York Times is just transparent here. They were all for filibusters - enthusiastically - during the Bush administration, and didn't care about them while the Senate was 60-40 in control of Democrats, but now suddenly they've had a change of heart! Yes, I'm sure they have.

EYE ON PRODUCTION

"Gentlemen, you are hereby granted a full pardon for having - through song and dance - brought joy and laughter into the hearts of every murderer, rapist, and sex maniac in Sing Sing! You're free!"
-The Producers

Legendary Pictures
I don't know if you've ever paid much attention but at the beginning of every movie made these days, there's a whole chain of different production companies that helped make a film. Each one of them has a thirty second animation for their company and you have to sit through them all to get to the actual film. Its funny because in the old days, they'd put all the credits at the beginning, and you'd have to sit through them but now most of those are at the end.

And I've noticed that some of these companies I like more than others. Films I want to see and enjoy I keep spotting the same production companies on over and over. And other companies I tend to be less impressed by.

For example, Dreamworks SKG was founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen in 1994, which is pretty much the dream team of entertainment moguls. You'd expect such a wealth of experience, creativity, and ideas to produce amazing stuff. Except... they don't very often. There have been some good movies, they started on a high note with Peacemaker, Amistad, and then the put out... Mouse Hunt and other than a few like Saving PRivate Ryan, its been largely mediocre or silly movies. Here's their last five films:
  • I Am Number Four
  • The Help
  • Fright Night
  • Real Steel
  • War Horse
Now I haven't seen most of these, and The Help did get a lot of good word of mouth (what did you expect, its a white person saving blacks from evil southerners in the 50s). But you see that lineup and you expect stuff like Indiana Jones and Schindler's List, not Hotel for Dogs and The Tuxedo.

On the other hand, Lionsgate is a production studio I keep seeing movies I really like from. Lionsgate is an independant company which started out with little projects such as The Pillow Book and Gods and Monsters, but their first big movie was Dogma by Kevin Smith. They've gone on to make movies such as American Psycho, The Punisher, Hotel Rwanda, and Crash. And they put out a lot of crap like Saw, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Secretary, so its not all great but when they put things out like The Expendables and From Paris With Love I can't help but like the company. They've been so successful they just bought Summit productions (Twilight films, Hurt Locker, The Dark Knight.

What's interesting is how many of these companies are out there. It used to be just the big studios, with Fox and MGM and Universal and Paramount. I think the first independent company was Tri-Star, created in 1984. Their first movie? The Natural . Now there's hundreds and movies are so expensive they pile on by the half dozen or more. These little independent companies have becomes so successful that big studios have created subsidiary companies to produce different kinds of movies like Miramax, which was successful for a time.

So I actually watch for these companies now to see who is putting out films, such as Legendary Pictures (Batman Begins, 300, Watchmen etc) or Icon (Mel Gibson's company, which put out Braveheart and Payback). Usually they're going to be well made and entertaining. Others, I tend to think less of, such as Franchise Pictures (Battlefield Earth, Get Carter) or Morgan Creek (Juwanna Mann, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves).

The thing is, they all are up and down, even Franchise put out Boondock Saints, and Legendary put out Superman Returns. Its just that some seem a lot more consistent in their choices and product than others, and while actors can pick some real turkeys or get like DiNiro and just show up for a paycheck, directors can lose their way like George Lucas, a production company can help tie it all together and give you some idea what a movie might be like.

LOBBY OR DIE

"Adam Smith told us that whenever two capitalists get together, their conversation turns to scheming on how they can get the government to restrict entry into their business, and thus reduce competition."

Fascists Kill This Machine
What other people call "crony capitalism" I just call cronyism because it has nothing to do with capitalism. Its rather the opposite, in fact, of the free market. Ace at his HQ (and Senator Jim DeMint R-SC) calls it "Venture Socialism" because its offering funds for companies to expand socialism with the presumption of future rewards.

By either term its the same thing: businesses working to benefit themselves through government regulation and law in such a way that it hurts their competition. The idea is that these businesses figure the laws are going to happen anyway, so its in their best interest to find a way to work with the system to their best advantage (or, at least, least detriment) and hurt any competitors. That's why Goldman Sachs and other mega corporations have such an in with congress. Jerry Pournell writes:
More lobbyists mean more revenue for the Nomenklatura, more parties for the staff, more campaign donations for the Members of Congress and the Senators. Even “good” lobbyists (i.e. ones advocating policies we approve of) raise the cost of doing business. This results in more regulation, which results in higher to prohibitive startup costs in any industry which can get the attention of the Nomenklatura (and you can always get that attention if your lobby budget is large enough), which results in reduced competitiveness, more pay for “compliance officers” who produce nothing, higher costs for the affected trade, and higher costs for the consumer. Eventually that drives jobs overseas, so the lobbyists then turn to restricting imports.
So it works to benefit both sides: government and business - at least the business which wins in their lobbying efforts. They've gone way beyond lobbying directly into helping to write legislation and craft how agencies apply that legislation.

To a certain extent this is reasonable. If a bill is going to affect insurance, then its not just reasonable but proper for insurance companies to have their say and help agencies understand how that will affect them and be applied. To an extent. But these businesses have long since crossed that line.

The problem is, we've reached a point where for a business to prosper, even survive, in America, it has to work through the government. Its not enough to run a good business and try to follow the law, you have to actively work to protect your business from government regulators and competitors who are lobbying the government.

Consider Gibson Guitars, who ran afoul of the federal government for importing a kind of wood that lobbyists had made legally questionable. Kimberley Strassel explains how that came about at the Wall Street Journal:
On a sweltering day in August, federal agents raided the Tennessee factories of the storied Gibson Guitar Corp. The suggestion was that Gibson had violated the Lacey Act—a federal law designed to protect wildlife—by importing certain India ebony. The company has vehemently denied that suggestion and has yet to be charged. It is instead living in a state of harassed legal limbo.

Which, let’s be clear, is exactly what its persecutors had planned all along. The untold story of Gibson is this: It was set up.
How, you ask?

Well here's what happened. It started with the Lacey Act in 1900 to control imports of rare and exotic animals, so you can't just bring tigers and wombats into the US. The idea was to control trade of illegal game and give the government the power to police this at the borders. Except in 2007 the law was expanded because of lobbying by environmental groups, labor unions, and industry groups. Strassel explains:
Congress had previously resisted such a broad definition for the simple reason that it would encompass timber products. Trees are ubiquitous, are transformed into thousands of byproducts, and pass through dozens of countries. Whereas even a small U.S. importer would know not to import a tiger skin, tracking a sliver of wood (now transformed into a toy, or an umbrella) through this maze of countries and manufacturing laws back to the tree it came from, would be impossible.

Furniture maker Ikea noted that even if it could comply with the change, the “administrative costs and record-keeping requirements” would cause furniture prices to “skyrocket.” The wood chips that go into its particleboard alone could require tracking back and reporting on more than 100 different tree species.
Which is exactly what the Lacey expanders wanted. The drive was headed up by a murky British green outfit called the Environmental Investigation Agency. The EIA is anti-logging, and, like most environmental groups, understands that the best way to force developing countries to “preserve” their natural resources is to dry up the market for their products. They would prefer that wood be sourced from the U.S. and Europe, where green groups have more influence over rules.

The EIA was joined by labor unions such as the Teamsters and industry groups such as the American Forest and Paper Association. As Mark Barford of the Memphis-based National Hardwood Lumber Association told one news outlet: “We need the protection of the Lacey Act.... Our small, little companies cannot compete with artificially low prices from wood that comes in illegally.... This is our Jobs Act.”
Ron Wyden (D-OR) promoted the bill and the Democrats who controlled congress tacked it on to the farms bill and it passed. President Bush dutifully signed the bill and the game was on.

Although other guitar companies used the same wood, Gibson was targeted for daring to use wood covered by the now-expansive Lacey Act. Why? Well its a famous wood importer that the American Forest and Paper Association wants to make an example of, and besides the company tends to support Republican politicians and is not sufficiently leftist. And, most importantly, they didn't lobby to get protection from the government. It didn't matter that the Indian Government gave Gibson paperwork okaying the export of this wood, it didn't matter that other guitar companies were importing the wood. Gibson was too big and had to be taught its place.

Its one thing for groups to hire someone to go to congress and present their side of things, to argue for their ideas or concerns. That's what lobbying is all about. The problem is lobbying has become a multi-billion dollar industry and became a tool to get government to do what you desire. Then it went beyond that into being a necessity for businesses to control damage and competition.

When government becomes so powerful and expansive that it controls every aspect of the economy and your business, you must spend money, give gifts, and bow to the legislators, paying your tribute in hopes of a positive outcome. Every new business-related bill that passes will damage your company unless you can find a way to work with government to avoid the damage, minimize it, or at least be aware of it before it hits you.

So government becomes less a tool of the lobbyist and more a mob boss who demands tribute and regular protection payments or, well things burn, don't they? And so now, if you don't lobby you're in trouble. Consider the pharmaceutical corporations and the Government Health Insurance Takeover Act. When the legislation was being crafted, they strongly opposed the bill, but couldn't stop it - no one could, because the Democrats were hell bent on getting this bill through no matter how much opposition they faced, this time.

So these companies were forced to go to congress bowing and scraping to get some measure of protection from the legislation's effects on the industry. Gifts and praise were given, obeisance was shown, and some of the damage that was going to happen was staved off.

The problem is that government is too big. Because the US Federal government, under the flimsy cloak of the commerce clause, has become a massive monster with tentacles in every aspect of life, businesses have to appease this creature to function. Because government has become so pervasive and controlling in the economy, businesses are able to control their destiny and cripple competition by lobbying and helping craft legislation.

If the US Federal Government was not so unconstitutionally mammoth, there wouldn't be the need to lobby or the motivation to do so. Companies wouldn't need to fear the next bill being written and government wouldn't have the power to help or harm businesses with legislation and regulation. Power invites corruption, because power means you have the ability to do what a corrupter desires. No one tries to bribe a bum on the street, he can't give you anything.

So to the extent government becomes powerful, that's the extent corruption will be attempted, and humans being what we are, become successful. The more powerful and extensive a government becomes, the more corrupt it inevitably will be. That's why tyrannies are always defined by corruption and graft; if survival means keeping the government friendly, then its worth paying them to do so.

So the only way to stop this cycle of ever-rising corruption and lobby abuse is to weaken and shrink the federal government. There is no law, no idea, no restriction, no regulation that will stop it, or even slow it. In fact, the more laws and regulations you put into place, the more corruption will occur to protect people from those laws and regulations. Smaller, constitutional government is proper, more virtuous government. And in the end it means smaller, more controllable businesses. Gigantic megacorporations thrive in corruption and lobby cultures, they survive on heaps of laws, because each one is just a tool to get bigger and get away with what they want.

If you have a problem with lobbying and corruption, then you have a problem with big government.

PICTURE OF THE DAY


Modern princesses

Quote of the Day

“This president didn’t talk about his record for one simple reason; he doesn’t want you to know about it. But you do know about it, because you feel the failure of his leadership every single day of your life”
-Marco Rubio

Monday, January 30, 2012

OBAMA THE SOCIALIST?

"A group of us got together and decided we would rather have your wealth in our pockets than your wealth in your pockets."

Obamunism
There's a funny little exchange that often happens on political blogs. Someone will say President Obama is a socialist, and at least one lefty will respond that is simply not the case. Usually they do so in insulted, angry tones. This is interesting to me for two reasons.

First, the response presumes that they at least think other people consider socialism bad. That if it became widely perceived that President Obama was a socialist, then that will hurt him politically. They seem to realize that the American people do not like socialists and really open socialism.

The second is a bit more complex. I believe its fairly obvious that President Obama is a socialist, he doesn't even try to hide it. He specifically and openly says things like "It's not that I want to punish your success; I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you that they've got a chance to success, too. I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." He makes no secret of his continual push to take money from the wealthy and give it to other people.

Further, President Obama has been absolutely clear that he believes the economy is shaped by government, and needs to be more closely controlled. Over at Powerline, Paul Mirengoff has been reading the book Radical In Chief by Stanley Kurtz, the man who worked so hard trying to dig up information on President Obama's past before the 2008 election. Mirengoff writes:
Kurtz has persuaded me that Obama probably is a socialist. Before reading his book, I did not believe this to be the case.
He examines both President Obama's actions and philosophies over the years, from what little we know about his college past (in his books) through the present day. His entire legislative and pre-government past has been shaped by socialist themes and efforts. His present governing style is still shaped by these themes, as are most of his speeches. Even in speeches when he tries to talk about the free market and business, he shapes it in terms of how government acts and what government does to bring about the desired results.

Now, what the left responds when they hear Obama called a socialist is that he's been more business friendly than any other president they know of. That he's been working with big corporations, that he's clearly no socialist at all. Which is partly true: President Obama did let Big Insurance help craft the Government Health Insurance Takeover act to best benefit them. He did work closely with Goldman Sachs and pack his advisers with their cronies. He has been working closely with corporations. That's why I consider what others call "crony capitalism" to be much closer to National Socialism. At least some on the left are frustrated by the fact that President Obama isn't being the socialist they want and likely hoped he'd be.

To understand this, you have to examine definition and expectations. Leftists seem to define socialism as sort of a anti-corporation total government lockdown and absolute control of every business. And they do so in such a way that any work with or that benefits corporations must by definition negate the possibility that someone can be socialist. They expect that a socialist would be totally focused on redistribution of wealth and command economy, and if they are not, then they must not be socialist.

The problem is, socialism doesn't all fit in one box, and you can be an inconsistent or limited socialist without failing entirely to be one. President Obama cannot suddenly command all businesses to be controlled by the state, he's under restrictions by the other parts of government, law, and wanting to be reelected. But that's the point. As Jay Cost points out:
The progressive ideology dating back to the turn of the last century, and in which Obama is comfortably situated, was never really about overturning the established order, but rather in co-opting it.
Socialism as it works out in the United States isn't like after some grand revolution but rather is something you step by step implement by working within the system and corrupting it. Cost goes on to explain that Obama's socialism is a bit different than, say, Marx:
It’s not just that Obama is a big government guy in the progressive tradition, which conservatives have opposed for more than a century. It’s also that he’s a client guy, meaning that his idea of big government inevitably has special payoffs hidden in it somewhere.
So like there's been Maoism and Marxism and Leninism, we now have Obamanism, a new blend of the stuff. He's not out to destroy capitalism, he's out to reshape it into socialism. At his HQ, Ace puts it this way:
If a guy comes over to your business and begins demanding that you do x and pay y tithe to group z, and is all up in your grill about it, you'd probably either call the cops or spare them the trouble by getting out your gun and telling the miscreant to remove himself from your site or be removed from the earth.

But these cats get a degree in Public Policy and worm themselves up the Media-Distributionist Complex, and suddenly that behavior isn't merely legal -- now they've got the coercive force of the government on their side.

And then they ask: What's the problem? I'm smart. You're not as smart. I am telling you how to better allocate your small pile of money for the benefit of society; and sure, it just so happens my salary is coming out of a skim from your wealth.

Why don't you thank me for telling you how to best direct your own resources, instead of being all angry about it?

They just don't get it and never will.
Its a divergence of worldviews that's really stark. Democrats used to be the party of small government, states rights, and constitutional protections, and they stayed that way through the progressivism of Wilson, and then with FDR started to move to the left, and by the time McGovern won in 1972, had given up entirely the old school. Sure, there were still some old school Democrats in the party, like Zell Miller, but they were the dinosaurs, left behind by the push for progressivism.

And when President Obama won, they thought that they'd finally won everything and could take off the mask. No more hiding behind a facade of free market concepts, they could cut loose and really be openly socialist. But they couldn't, with the restrictions of the system, directly implement socialism. And when they tried to get their first step to socialized medicine implemented, they ran into opposition, which they characterized as the last, obsolete dying throes of the conservative movement they'd totally defeated.

And their followers on the left see this as too slow, too limited, too much a failure to do what they want. So they characterize this as not socialist at all, because its not socialist enough, fast enough.

ASBESTOS HYPOCRISY

"I’m sure the nonpartisan League of Women Vultures has been gearing up to run ads showing asbestos victims complaining about Lizzy"

Crusading Lawyer
Having run a Democrat so obnoxious, arrogant and unlikable last time that Massachusetts voters chose a Republican instead, the Democrats tried to find a more likable and populist candidate to face Scott Brown. They chose Elizabeth Warren, who then proceeded to claim that she created the Occupy Movement (back when it was slightly popular) and has been running on being an advocate for consumers and the little guy.

And how we hear news that as a lawyer, she helped corporations avoid asbestos lawsuits. Holly Robichaud writes at the Boston Herald:
What did Lizzy do to earn $44,000 in compensation from the insurance company? She made it harder for claimants to collect. Warren helped establish the bankruptcy strategy for companies to avoid crushing lawsuits. In short, go bankrupt to avoid paying victims.

In court briefings, she supported the effort to protect Travelers Insurance from future lawsuits after agreeing to a $500 million settlement with asbestos plaintiffs.
Supposedly President Obama considered Elizabeth Warren for a cabinet position but realized she'd never survive the confirmation process. This kind of news doesn't exactly help with her "consumer advocate, damn the corporations" campaign, assuming it gets anywhere past the anti-Democrat Herald.

And while I can't help but note the callous hypocrisy, I don't really have much of a problem with Ms Warren's previous work. The Mesothelioma/Asbestos lawsuits and scare is largely a scam. While it has been shown that people exposed to asbestos do have a slightly higher rate of lung cancer, that's only from airborne asbestos, and generally if you leave it lie, it won't cause any problems.

But asbestos is one of those sweet money makers that lawyers found in the 80s and they got the consumer advocate groups and legacy media behind them to create a public perception that this stuff is like plutonium: get near it and die. So now, if there's any in your house or business in any form, you clear it out, even if the law doesn't require you to. To avoid the lawsuits.

And its not cheap to get that stuff cleared out. You can't just have the janitorial service or maintainance team deal with the problem. You have to hire a specialist to come and do it according to special government-mandated codes, which costs tens of thousands of dollars a day. They wall off the area with plastic and seal it up and even put up showers and blowers, and wear special outfits and have to get a special license. Its a whole industry now, and it doesn't come cheap.

Asbestos tiles are harmless until you start breaking them apart and cutting them, because they don't put anything in the air. Insulation can even be safe if you leave it alone, which is almost always what happens with insulation; its inside walls and ceilings, not out being stepped on and stirred up. But they have to go, and they have to go at the expense of a business who has had them for decades without incident because otherwise someone will sue for the GDP of a small country.

So Ms Warren helped businesses avoid the ambulance chasers who've been advertising for a class action lawsuit over mesothelioma for thirty years on television? That's actually a mark in her favor from where I sit.

OF COST AND FALLACY

“At some point, you are charging enough tuition.”

Laborer
Question: What does it take for academics at major universities decide that government is getting too big and has too much power?
Answer: When it threatens their money.

President Obama recently brought up a plan that would penalize universities and colleges that did not contain tuition costs by reducing federal funds. This comes at the same time as states are trying to control debt and have reduced state funds for these institutions as well. The Associated Press reports that academics are displeased:
The reality, said Illinois State's Al Bowman, is that simple changes cannot easily overcome deficits at many public schools. He said he was happy to hear Obama, in a speech Friday at the University of Michigan, urge state-level support of public universities. But, Bowman said, given the decreases in state aid, tying federal support to tuition prices is a product of fuzzy math.
...
At Washington, President Mike Young said Obama showed he did not understand how the budgets of public universities work.

Young said the total cost to educate college students in his state, which is paid for by both tuition and state government dollars, has gone down because of efficiencies on campus. While universities are tightening costs, the state is cutting their subsidies and authorizing tuition increases to make up for the loss.

"They really should know better," Young said. "This really is political theater of the worst sort."
Obama's plan would need approval by Congress, a hard sell in an atmosphere of partisan gridlock.
Now, ordinarily you can rely on left-tending academia to welcome greater government interference in an economy and greater government power, but in this case, its affecting their bottom line. So now instead of enthusiastic support, they are complaining that this is just a stunt, simply grandstanding for voter support.

And there's good reason to think so. When he spoke at a college recently, President Obama told the students: "We are putting colleges on notice, you can't assume that you'll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down."

Now, as the AP story notes, President Obama needs congressional approval to do this legally, but the academics should know better: he's shown over and over he's more than willing to ignore the constitution and implement rules and changes without congressional approval.

Still, I suspect they're right, that this is just theater. I doubt President Obama has the slightest inclination to hurt or limit money going to academia, but it sounds good to students who think that government orders fix everything. You probably remember it from your youth. When you saw a problem for the first time, you demanded that "someone do something" and imagined what it would be like if only the right sort were in government and forced the bad guys to change or stop.

So when President Obama stands in front of college students and yells about how he'll make those dirty colleges stop charging so much, he got applause and smiles. That fits how they think the world works at that age, and President Obama never grew out of it.

Its true that colleges and universities charge too much, and waste a lot of the money they get. They pay people too much, overload their administration massively, have incredibly expensive campuses and facilities, and keep asking for more, while far too often delivering an essentially awful product. I've written about how I think that ought to be addressed, and I think its going to change in the future.

But what strikes me is this insistence that everyone should go to college, that its not just some kind of human right but a critical necessity for any possible future. And its a common theme among the very poor to think that if only you can get to college, you'll get out of poverty and hit the good life. And that can happen; in fact I suspect if the student and his parents work hard and sacrifice to get that kid through college, they will do well and get out of poverty.

But was it the education, or the drive to succeed and work hard? Was it the classes he took or the dedication to finish and excel? Rich people tend to think hard work gets you success, if you ask them. I doubt its all one or the other, but of the two, hard work is certainly the greater contribution.

Its this presumption of success and wealth by college education that's driving the occupy movement. Colleges aren't supposed to be really expensive trade schools, you don't get a liberal arts education so you can get a better job. But that's what they're viewed as, and if you don't get that six figure salary and bonus upon graduation, well they throw a tantrum.

Not everyone ought to go to college. Most people probably shouldn't bother with higher education. You don't need it for most jobs, even the ones that claim you do. And even if you did, often you an work through a job from the starting floor and get that education in practice.

We need bus drivers and long haul truckers and mechanics and plumbers and burger flippers, too. Society cannot function if its entire workforce is an elite high education cadre. We can't all be dentists and lawyers, we need carpenters and bricklayers, too. In fact, we probably need them more. What's more critical in your life: that your streets aren't trashed and your house stays standing or that you have perfect teeth and can sue when you don't?

There's nothing shameful about having a job like miner or steelworker, its just as noble and meaningful as surgeon or engineer - perhaps more so, at times. The brain surgeon needs someone to build that operating theater and make his tools. Without them he's just a guy with a lot of knowledge. This presumption that you have to make a lot of money and do a high profile job to be worth anything is not just stupid, its corrosive. The idea of work goes from something constructive and beneficial to your fellow man to status and what you personally get out of it.

And that's what's behind this push for everyone to get a college education and to make it ever cheaper and even free. If its that good, its worth paying for, and its worth working hard to be able to pay for, at jobs that aren't so elite.

PICTURE OF THE DAY


Sup, bro?

Quote of the Day

"If it’s between Obama and Romney, there isn’t all that much difference"
-George Soros

Friday, January 27, 2012

GREEN COWBOYS

"I, Hal Jordan, do solemnly swear to pledge allegiance... to a lantern, that I got from a dying purple alien in a swamp."

Well I watched two movies recently with my brother, and we agreed on both of them. Green Lantern was lousy, I don't recommend it to anyone. Cowboys and Aliens was pretty fun and its worth a Netflix view.

What's interesting to me is that I had low expectations for both films. I'd heard both weren't that great, and wasn't really looking forward to watching them. In one case I was surprised and the other it just was confirmed.

Which is interesting, because I'm sure that sometimes movies are better for being downplayed. If I'd heard that Cowboys and Aliens was four-star great entertainment and favorably compared to Raiders of the Lost Ark I would have probably not enjoyed it nearly as much. Going into it with the bitterness of people upset at how it didn't live up to their expectations, I found it enjoyable.

Cowboys and AliensAnd given the people involved, it could have been spectacular. The acting included Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Daniel Craig, and Keith Carradine. The director was Jon Favrau and one of the producers was Ritchie Cunningham. So it should be pretty great stuff, right? Except it had like 18 writers and it was pretty uneven.

Overall the film was entertaining, and both Ford and Craig were great at their roles, very watchable and engaging. Olivia Wilde did a good job as a strange girl who weaves through the story, and the tale was a fun fable with lots of interesting action. And thankfully, instead of the original graphic novel's theme of "evil European explorers shown their place by aliens exploiting them" it was just a straight adventure romp.

There were, however, some parts that had me going "what the hell?" when people acted completely irrationally (like Harrison Ford's tough rancher thinking some drunk cowpoke blew up a herd of cows and like 40 acres of Texas landscape somehow). And the big the aliens alternated between nigh invulnerability and completely soft and squishy depending on what the plot and scene required. But it was visually fascinating and it worked, overall. I'd give it 2 1/2 stars.

Green Lantern, on the other hand didn't really have anything going for it. The bad guys sucked, the main character was an unlikable lout, the girls weren't that great looking and acted completely randomly based on what the plot required. The first ten minutes or so of the movie was totally CGI, I mean not a single frame that had anything real whatsoever in it. And it was obviously CGI, like the Hulk Dogs in the Ang Lee movie.

I'm not a big Ryan Reynolds fan, and he smarmed it up above and beyond the call in this movie. It was just not very inventive, but long and cliche riddled. Large portions of the film made no sense, I didn't care about any of the characters, and as I've never been a fan of the Green Lantern Corps part of the storyline anyway, a lot of the movie was just not engaging in any way.

Plus, they mangled the character of Hal Jordan. Hal was always a straight arrow, strong willed character with terrific moral character and personality, but not a joking sophomore. In this movie he was a frat boy doofus who made jokes about everything and was a waste of space.

So the low expectations of Green Lantern I had were actually... higher than the movie deserved. I figured it would be entertaining and interesting to look at, but it was just lousy.

SPENDY RIDES

"But its an American car, so anything I'd normally like about it I'll find fault with and call it too big"
-Jeremy Clarkson (translated)

Want a new car? Well you're like fewer and fewer people, because most folks are getting their car worked on and maintained rather than buying a new one. We just don't have the money lying about to buy something new any more in the Obama economy.

But if you did have a lot of money, here are a few cars you could buy. These are some of the most expensive cars for the 2012 model year, courtesy Forbes magazine:

The Porsche 918 Spyder hybrid costs just $845,000. Its not available for purchase just yet, but will be by the end of the year. It gets an effective 78 mpg and goes from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds, but I doubt the battery lasts a fraction as long as they claim.


Or you could get an Aston Martin One-77 for $1,400,000. It hits 220 mph and develops 730 horsepower.


If you'd rather have a nice luxury car, you can get this Maybach Landaulet, for the same price as the Aston-Martin. However, Maybach is going out of business next year; it just can't compete with established luxury cars. The Landaulet has a 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V12 engine that produces 620 horsepower but gets 10 miles per gallon in the city, according to Maybach. Then again, if you can buy this, gas prices are the least of your priorities.


Then there's the Koenigsegg Agera R which is a flex fuel car, for $1,711,000. It has a reported top speed of 261 and can go 0-60mph in 2.9s.


If you prefer Italian supercars, there's the Ferrari 599xx for a cool $2,000,000. With a body by Pininfarina (one of my favorite designers) it looks beautiful and set a new lap record at the Nurburgring track in Germany.


And of course there's the reliable Bugatti Veyron, still the fastest production car on earth - and the most expensive, for $2,600,000.

Well, in tough economic times, its nice to dream.

WORD AROUND THE NET

“Kerry Kennedy, daughter of RFK and human rights lawyer, is coming to Ecuador... This could give us a real boost... Will cost money, but not much.”

Dem Operative
Most people probably know Rwanda as the place where one tribe tried to obliterate another tribe as the UN stood aside and even facilitated the massacre. However, in the years since that, the country has been doing much better. One of their biggest turnarounds was in industry and the economy largely due to coffee. William Easterly and Laura Freschi at Aidwatchers explain:
Rwandan specialty coffee is winning international competitions, commands some of the world’s highest prices, and is sought out by Starbucks, Green Mountain Coffee, Intelligentsia, and Counter Culture Coffee. There is preliminary evidence that the coffee industry is creating jobs, boosting small farmer expenditure and consumption, and possibly even fostering social reconciliation by reducing “ethnic distance” among the Hutus and Tutsis who work together growing and washing coffee.

How did this happen? First, the Rwandan government lowered trade barriers, and lifted restrictions on coffee farmers. Second, Rwanda developed a strategy of targeting production of high-quality coffee, a specialty product whose prices remain stable even when industrial-quality coffee prices fall. Third, international donors provided funding, technical assistance and training, creating programs like the USAID-funded Sustaining Partnerships to Enhance Rural Enterprise and Agribusiness Development (SPREAD). SPREAD’s predecessor started the first Rwandan coffee cooperative as an experiment in 2001, and the project continues its work improving each link in newly-identified high-value coffee supply chains.

In other words, they worked on an industry by freeing the market and getting away from outside money and more toward training and education. They've got a ways to go but things are really looking better for the country, thanks to coffee.

The GDP for last year on average was a grand total of 1.7%, which while technically growth and not recession is so slow and tepid as to be damaging to jobs and productivity. By contrast, 2010 was 3.0% growth, although you wouldn't have known it at the time. Which makes me wonder: what is the metric being used here, exactly? Because 3% is not great but its pretty good and the nation was suffering that year.

Although registered as a non-profit and as such is tax free, the website Media Matters For America is specifically and overtly trying to create better news coverage of Democrats. Founded by Soros and the Clintons, the website claims it is a corrective to right wing distortion and media stories, but in truth its just a Democratic Party mouthpiece. Vince Cogliansese writes at The Daily Caller:
The far-left nonprofit Media Matters for America (MMFA) has attempted to court at least one Democrat lawmaker as its “all[y]” in “gain[ing] favorable media coverage” in the ongoing Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline debate. Claiming an alliance with lawmakers appears to be the latest red flag for the organization critics allege has frequently overstepped its tax-exempt privileges.

In an email distributed to the offices of both Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican Sen. James Inhofe on Wednesday — and obtained by The Daily Caller — Media Matters employee Emilee Pierce sought to “flag” a liberal study by the organization released Thursday in an effort to manipulate coverage of the Keystone pipeline.
I remember early on, Media Matters was primarily a Clinton spin machine, trying to attack anyone who questioned or criticized the Clintons, but its got a broader perspective these days. Tax free non profits have to avoid endorsing or attacking one political party or the other, according to tax law. The IRS has been strangely reluctant to act against this group, though.

Also at the Daily Caller Matt Lewis ripped Reuters News Service to bits over an error-packed story about Florida Republican Marco Rubio. Among the errors:
  • Claiming Rubio voted against Sotomayor's confirmation
  • He makes a lot of money but failed to make two payments on his house
  • He used a party credit card for purchases
Why this story was written and in this manner is a matter of some curiosity, to say the least.

Vice President Biden has repeatedly used racist tones and statements that would have gotten a Republican thrown out of office, but no one seems to care. His most recent was to affect a faux Indian accent while talking about the call service industry, which probably was kind of funny and not racist in my book, but again: double standard.

Who was the richest president the United States has ever had? Was it Kennedy? Either Bush? Roosevelt? No, it was George Washington, when adjusted for inflation. And John Kerry would have been even richer. Funny how wealth only matters when its not a Democrat these days.

Mitt Romney is a rich man running for president. He pays about 15% federal income taxes despite having such wealth, largely because his money isn't due to income like a paycheck but other sources. While I am annoyed that the very wealthy find it so easy to dodge taxes, I don't care much that he's rich. I'd like to be rich. However, Noel Sheppard looked at IRS data and found that 97% of all Americans pay less than 15% income tax. In other words, Romney pays higher taxes than 97% of America.

This graph looks a bit messy:

TempChart

But here's what all those lines mean. The IPCC FAR are the various climate reports from the UN IPCC. The estimates are the various estimates that were stated in 1990 and repeated as years went on, high and low, including variation that they predicted within those estimates (the red, blue and green straight lines). The wiggly lines are the actual temperatures as recorded in oceanic and surface temperature reports. Noted are also various global events such as when Mt Pinatubo erupted.

As you can see, every single estimate by the IPCC was wrong. All of them, even the lowest possible one. Now, at what point should a scientific endeavor change gears? When do they decide "well maybe this isn't working?" For the global climate alarmist, apparently never.

Although it had been happening for more than a century, the retreat of glaciers on Mt Kilimanjaro was one of Al Gore's exhibits of how horrible global warming was and how we're ruining the planet. According to guides who work on the mountain, however, the glaciers are growing again.

NASA's Goddard Space Institute notes that the global temperature of 2011 (as best it can be measured) was lower than in 1998. Overall the trend of temperature, as far as there is one, seems to be downward, and has been since 98. Between the two choices, cold is actually worse for humanity than warm.

Piracy isn't just something from the distant past or off the shores of western Africa. Entertainment "piracy" by copying materials and selling it illegally is very problematic for the entertainment industry. Which brings us to 3D. Customers don't actually love 3D movies that much, if they did, those 3D televisions would sell better - and they are not. Hollywood loves the format though, because its very difficult to pirate. You can't steal a movie with a video camera if the film is 3D, so that very common form of piracy is locked out. Plus, you can charge more for a 3D movie and people will pay it. So the format is not going anywhere despite being at best tolerated by most viewers and potentially causing eyestrain.

Meanwhile, cable TV and the big entertainment companies that own it are very worried. More and more people are abandoning viewing shows on cable and just watching what they want, when they want, on Netflix, Apple, and other sources. Why wait for a show to come on (often with ads) when you can just watch it at your leisure, without ads? Although DVD and movie ticket sales are down, TV licensing is the big money for big entertainment. Edward Jay Epstein at explains:
Consider Warner Bros. Its library has more than 60,000 licensable properties, including 6,500 movies and 40,000 TV episodes. Whereas its DVD sales have been on the wane, its TV licensing has skyrocketed. In 2010, according to sources at Time Warner, Warner Bros. harvested over $4 billion from worldwide licensing to TV.

Nearly 80 percent came from just four cable customers — HBO, Turner, ABC Family, and NBC Universal’s cable channels. Not only did this far exceed ithttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifs share of theatrical box-office receipts, which were $2.4 billion in 2010, but this licensing is highly profitable:

The studio pays none of the cost of advertising, prints or logistics. Almost all proceeds, minus some residuals paid to third parties, go to a studio’s bottom line. Whatever the vagaries of the box office, licensing is the largest and most reliable source of profits for the studios.
These industry experts estimate that if 5% of cable customers dump their subscriptions, it would mean financial disaster. Well, maybe if you offered more content with less annoyance, and let people buy what they want rather than bundled you wouldn't pressure customers away. Oil Companies and banks are considered evil blood thirsty corporations but nobody seems to mind what awful people entertainment corporations are.

All those waiver madness of giving specific allies exemption from the "Obamacare" Government Health Insurance Takeover Act has come to a close, finally. Here are some running totals:
A recent paper by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services found that Sebelius has granted waivers to labor unions representing more than 547,000 employees. "By contrast, private employers with a total of 69,813 employees, many of whom work for small businesses were granted waivers," the Daily Caller reports. And last year, according to Washington Examiner columnist Michelle Malkin, "Sebelius granted 38 waivers to restaurants, nightclubs, spas and hotels in former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco congressional district. Pelosi's office said she had nothing to do with it." At another point last year, unions were getting so many waivers that Malkin asked why "union members are only 12 percent of all employees but have gotten 50.3 percent of Obamacare waivers?"
Again, if its such a great idea, why are so many people asking to not be a part of it?

Attorney General Eric Holder is known for his willingness to ignore crimes by blacks and his heading up a deliberate effort to get automatic weapons in the hands of drug gangs to help build momentum for gun control, but his past is less known. However, Reuters dug up some past information on him and found this:
Reuters reported in December that under Holder and Breuer, the Justice Department hasn’t brought any criminal cases against big banks or other companies involved in mortgage servicing, even though copious evidence has surfaced of apparent criminal violations in foreclosure cases.

The evidence, including records from federal and state courts and local clerks’ offices around the country, shows widespread forgery, perjury, obstruction of justice, and illegal foreclosures on the homes of thousands of active-duty military personnel.
...
In recent weeks the Justice Department has come under renewed pressure from members of Congress, state and local officials and homeowners’ lawyers to open a wide-ranging criminal investigation of mortgage servicers, the biggest of which have been Covington clients. So far Justice officials haven’t responded publicly to any of the requests.

While Holder and Breuer were partners at Covington, the firm’s clients included the four largest U.S. banks – Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo & Co – as well as at least one other bank that is among the 10 largest mortgage servicers.
Wait, aren't banks throwing people out on the streets the bad guys, Occupy? Well, I'm sure all the foreclosures were on white guys. Its social justice.

President Obama has had a lot of staffers and people working with him in the past. One of them was Zach Edwards, his "New Media" director for the 2008 campaign. He works for a Democratic Party strategy business linked to Tom Harkin at present. And he was arrested for attempted identity theft. What was he doing? He was trying to use the identities of the Iowa Secretary of state and or his brother, planning to implicate the the SoS of illegal or unethical behavior. Iowa's Secretary of State has been a serious roadblock in the way of George Soros' Secretary of State project to replace each state's SoS with ones friendly to the left. Since this office controls and oversees vote counting and elections, you can guess why they might want to do this. "By any means necessary," I believe is the quote. Or perhaps its "the ends justify the means."

Texas like all US states redrew their congressional districts because of population changes found in the 2010 census count. Every time this happens, the party in charge tries to abuse the system to maximize their power and the party out of power screams bloody murder because they can't do the same thing. The Texas Democratic Party, famous for running away and hiding last time redistricting happened, ran to their reliable allies in the courts. Unsurprisingly they were able to find a judge who drew up a map that favored Democrats better. However the Supreme Court ruled that judges cannot draw redistricting maps, only legislatures as the US and state constitutions plainly say.

Chevrolet's Volt is by all accounts a well-made car, unlike many GM products these days. However, its far too expensive for what you get and has virtually no resale value and tons of massive hidden costs. In order to inflate sales numbers and try to encourage car dealers to move the vehicle, they required lots to buy the Volt rather than lease it in order to have one on their lot. So its no surprise that Chevy dealers have been reluctant to carry the thing. Mike Colias reports at Auto News:
For example, consider the New York City market. Last month, GM allocated 104 Volts to 14 dealerships in the area, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Dealers took just 31 of them, the lowest take rate for any Chevy model in that market last month. That group of dealers ordered more than 90 percent of the other vehicles they were eligible to take, the source said.

In Clovis, Calif., meanwhile, Brett Hedrick, dealer principal at Hedrick's Chevrolet, sold 10 Volts last year. But in December and January he turned down all six Volts allocated to him under GM's "turn-and-earn" system, which distributes vehicles based on past sales volumes and inventory levels.

GM's "thinking we need six more Volts is just crazy," Hedrick says. "We've never sold more than two in a month." Hedrick says he usually takes just about every vehicle that GM allocates to him.
Given the "burst into flame" news and recalls, its no surprise these things just aren't welcome at lots. I guess that effort to destroy Toyota last year didn't work out so well.

Ever sit through a meeting and suspect everyone is getting dumber by gathering? Well now there's some evidence that actually happens - especially with women.
Researchers conducted a series of tests on groups of men and women with similar high IQ ratings. In the first set of tasks, the subjects were given basic puzzles to solve.

Then they were each told how well the others in the group had performed before being given another series of similar tests.

Once they knew the others were good at the tasks, the performance and IQ of both sexes dropped, but women's more significantly.

Scans showed the part of the brain dealing with emotion increased in activity while that associated with problem solving decreased.

The researchers, at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in the U.S., say the results suggest companies should develop strategies to get the most out of staff who may be 'susceptible to social pressures' in small groups.
Its possible that its distraction, or the need to shift to different parts of your brain in focus for social interaction, and it may be just that people tend not to think or analyze as much in groups because they figure someone else will do it for them.

Tax day is coming up in a few months. Have you paid your taxes this tax year? Well you're better than many federal workers. According to Emily Miller at the Washington Times, federal employees owe $1,000,000,000 in unpaid back taxes.
Figures released this week show 98,291 current civilian employees have a severe tax lien against them. When retirees and military personnel are included, the debt figure goes up to an astounding $3.4 billion. Without some kind of accountability, the number will grow larger.

The ironies abound. The Office of Government Ethics has one of the highest delinquency rates at 6.5 percent. You might think the U.S. Tax Court would pay its taxes, but its staff owes Uncle Sam $62,508. The Government Accountability Office has 65 employees not being held accountable. The Board of Governors for the Federal Reserves has 91 staffers who have reserved $1,265,152 in their own pockets.
The Postal Service has the most people not paying taxes, a total of 25,640.

Recently, President Obama celebrated the anniversary of the Roe v Wade debacle in the Supreme Court. While millions of people around America were remembering how many children have died (far more than the holocaust killed), the president was saying this:
And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.
Aside from not having sons, apparently President Obama's kids dream of infanticide.

Meanwhile, thousands of people gathered for a pro-life rally in Washington DC, but the press consistently reported it as "hundreds" and showed almost no pictures of the event. Why? Well it not only makes the president's remarks look out of touch, but it gives credence to the public shift away from abortion support in America. Ann Althouse suggests that the legacy media has become "truth-phobic" because it keeps getting in the way of their narrative.
That’s why 250 people camping out in a park gets thousands of stories, while half-a-million marching on Washington does not get reported at all, or if it does, the pictures are cropped; the attendees are caricatured, mis-named and under-represented while their opponents are over-represented.
Whatever the reason, its plain that the legacy media has one perspective and only reluctantly cares to share anything that conflicts with it.

South Carolina's dead vote. After the recent primary, the attorney general of the state requested an investigation because an estimated 900 people appear to have voted in recent elections (which would go back before the GOP primary there). Zombie rebs?

Remember Dr Ann Maest, specialist for anti-oil drilling forces? She was caught on film telling how to fake data and claim damage not being done for a court case in Ecuador. Well there's an update in the New York Post (via Whizbang) about her lawyer pall Donziger who was in on the scam:
Kennedy, 52, was secretly hired as a “public-relations consultant” by the lawyer representing the Ecuadoreans in an $18 billion lawsuit against Chevron, according to court documents.

Cashing in on her respected family name and legacy, Kennedy raked in tens of thousands of dollars and was given a 0.25 percent stake — worth as much as $40 million — if the $18 billion judgment handed down by an Ecuadorean judge is ultimately upheld. (Chevron has not yet paid pending its countersuit in Manhattan federal court.)

Kennedy was paid a flat $50,000 by lead attorney Steven Donziger on Feb. 22, 2010, bank statements made public in the case show.
“Nothing could prepare me for the horror I witnessed,” she wrote, but the money probably helped, and the horror was certainly made more plausible.

Incidentally, something you might want to think about: Newt Gingrich was fined an "unprecedented" $300,000 for alleged ethics violation by the House of Representatives. Everyone figures he was guilty because he paid and resigned. Except... when he was investigated for the actual crime he was accused of, he was found not guilty. They didn't abandon the case for lack of evidence or a weak case, they said he was absolved and had engaged in no wrongdoing. So why pay? Well to get the investigation over with and behind him, many suspect. I would guess few people know this, and its worth passing on.

The 2008 Democratic Party fight was pretty hilarious to watch: both sides looked like idiots, both were acting self destructive, both were tearing each other apart and demonstrating plainly that neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton should be president. Clinton pushed the "Obama wasn't born in the USA" theory, and Obama pushed the "Clinton can't be trusted" one. David "astroturf" Axelrod came up with this one. Memos released recently from the campaign have the details, from Amy Willis at the LA Times:
Rather than fight out their differences in policy, Mr Axelrod told Obama that the only way to secure a defeat was to attack Mrs Clinton's character. The goal was to paint Obama as the "authentic 'remedy' to what ails Washington and stands in the way of progress" and to discredit his main rival in the process.

"It may not be her fault, but Americans have deeply divided feelings about Hillary Clinton, threatening a Democratic victory in 2008 and insuring another four years of the bitter political battles that have plagued Washington for the last two decades and stymied progress," the memo added.
It was obvious to everyone in early 2008 that the Democrat candidates were lousy, crazy, and stupid. They were tearing each other apart instead of going after the opposing party's candidate. They looked silly to the world. Sound familiar?

President Obama is running around attacking greed and demanding rich people give more to help those in need. Inevitably that comes around to how Republicans are those evil greedy rich and how Democrats just want to help but keep being stopped by the minority party in congress. Except when you look at the numbers, a different picture emerges. Mitt Romney released his tax info recently, and its shown that he gave 15% of his income to charity. President Obama, by contrast, gave... 1%.

However, Jon Stewart at Comedy Central was shocked, shocked to learn that Mitt Romney made so rich. Stewart, who makes $15,000,000 a year in salary alone at Comedy Central (plus any residuals, advertising he does, and speaking appearances) couldn't believe Romney makes so much money. Having a candidate be so wealthy and successful in business was apparently offensive to Stewart, who fought hard to get from the game show Remote Control to another TV show on MTV's network.

Google's motto is "do no evil." However, their actions pretty much put that to lie on a regular basis. Their most recent effort is to always gather all information you type into the internet for any reason on any of their platforms (such as blogger, Google searches, Youtube, Gmail, and so on) and use it to advertise to you. You cannot opt out, but you can avoid this by using other sites, such as Startpage.com for your internet searches (it uses Google through a third party, thus keeping your information anonymous).

Recently Obama's Education Department did a study on the impact of ethnic background on student loan repayment rates for... well there had to be some reason. They made a small error in their data, however. They didn't study blacks at all. Completely left them out. And it took a court order to get the data released and the error brought out. I'm sure it was completely by accident.

Daniel Greenburg at the Sultan Knish blog has an interesting examination of politics and food, and how food is used as a class weapon.
But the politicization of food goes beyond the fair trade and locally grown fetishes of the politically correct elites, the more politics ends up on your plate, the more the elites are driven to involve everyone else in their food fights. What begins as a way of raising prices while diminishing value to assert wealth and privilege becomes imposed on everyone in the name of their political morality. Once everyone else is paying more and getting less, then the classist left demands new ways to set its superior moral eating habits apart. Instead of everyone ending up with more food, everyone ends up with less.

The cultural ascendance of the left has meant that instead of conspicuous consumption, the consumption has to be disguised with conspicuous political pieties. The food may cost twice as much, but it's locally grown on a farm run by handicapped union workers who visit Cuba to receive free health care or by the indigenous peoples of Tuba-Tuba with the proceeds going to a complete sonic library of their chants and ceremonies. The entire thing is meaningfully meaningless, but it disguises the consumption in a hairshirt, which is the entire point.
He notes that Russia, once a net wheat exporter and breadbasket was a net wheat importer with the inability to produce its own food by the time the left was done with it.

Finally, Drudge has gone on record as being anti-Newt Gingrich, and is using his hugely popular site to bash and destroy the man any way he can. Recently he ran several quotes that make it seem like Newt despised Ronald Reagan in an attempt to get conservatives to abandon support of Gingrichs, but those quotes were a bit misleading as Dan Reihl shows in video of the whole interview, not just a few quotes. And over at Legal Insurrection, a commenter notes a few facts about Gingrich. He notes several strong Reagan supporters defending Newt:
Reagan Nat’l Security Advisor Bud McFarlane: http://bit.ly/zd9eAF
Reagan Economist Art Laffer: http://bit.ly/xEDETi
Reagan WH political director Jeffrey Lord: http://bit.ly/zw2ZMb
Reagan Policy Analyst Peter Ferrara http://bit.ly/zq1QxI
Reagan media consultant Richard Quinn: http://on.msnbc.com/y2sPM2
Reagan’s Speechwriting Dir. Bently Elliott: http://thedc.com/xOkDvA
Reagan’s older son Michael Reagan: http://bit.ly/yYVy7L
Reagan’s beloved wife Nancy: http://bit.ly/zrWvAw
Newt Gingrich has his problems, but being against Reagan was not among them.

And that's the Word Around the Net for January 27, 2012

PICTURE OF THE DAY


Who am I?
I'm known as British but was born in Ireland
I'm a writer and playwright
My last words were "Dying is easy, comedy is hard."
Answer after the fold...

I'm George Bernard Shaw!

Quote of the Day

"Already, we have but too much reason to deplore the violence and animosity of party spirit. It has gone far to destroy social intercourse, and all the endearing charities of life, between ancient friends and neighbours, and to substitute political opinions for virtue, intelligence, and patriotism. Already the wise and good of all parties, entertain apprehensions, lest the interests of the people and the duties of government, might be forgotten in the solicitude for party power, and the hatred of political opponents."
-Masachusetts Governor Christopher Gore, 1809

Thursday, January 26, 2012

LEISURE ECOLOGY

"The person who built his mountain cabin last year is an environmentalist. The person who wants to build one this year is a developer."

Broken Windmill
This has been sent and linked a lot in the last couple weeks but I wanted to push it here as well, in case some of my readers had not seen it. William Tucker wrote a piece in American Spectator - a source I view with some suspicion given the antics with facts they played in the Clarence Thomas story - that actually is really insightful and fascinating.

It starts out with another examination of the Keystone pipeline extension, but then Tucker gets into an area that I hadn't considered but makes a lot of sense, when you think about it:
People who are already comfortable with the present state of affairs -- who are established in the environment, so to speak -- are happy to go along with this. It is not that they have any greater insight into the mysteries and workings of nature. They are happier with the way things are. In fact, environmentalism works to their advantage. The main danger to the affluent is not that they will be denied from improving their estate but that too many other people will achieve what they already have. As the Forest Service used to say, the person who built his mountain cabin last year is an environmentalist. The person who wants to build one this year is a developer.
Its a lot like the SOPA/PIPA debacle. Big, established corporations do not want competition or change, unless they control the change. They are for these laws not out of some selfless desire for greater copyright protection, but because it cripples competition and keeps the sweet money train rolling in. And like those corporations, many environmentalists - even if they aren't aware of it themselves - are driven by a desire for things to never change.

Like the idiot boomer generation who thinks that if weather changes from what it was like as they grew up something catastrophic must be happening (which they, as the greatest humans in history, must be causing and can stop), these environmentalists are driven by how things are and how comfortable they are. No one has only one motive, so there probably are some genuine desire to protect beauty and care for the environment mixed in. Its just that this is a driving concern as well.

The richest environmentalists are set and comfortable, they have things how they want it, and don't want to see change. Those wind turbines make my horizon ugly, and besides they mince birds and terrify whales. Those solar panels are ugly in the neighborhood and bring down the property value. I saw China Syndrome you can't build that power plant, on and on. There's always an excuse but behind it is the certainty that things will be different than how we understand and like them. We got ours, you can't have yours if it involves making me uncertain.

So the third world countries that want to have prosperity and cut back the jungle? You're killing the rain forests, you can't have that, it might cause the weather to change where I am. You all have to cut back, you all have to fly less, you all have to stop producing and become more "sustainable" so I can keep flying and living like I do.

Just something I thought was pretty wise and helpful to understand what's going on behind the scenes.

NATURALLY GASSY

"Fracking is the exact same as licking the spoon and the bowl clean after Mother Nature's frosting is all gone."

Drill diagram
Oil companies are a bit unsavory and untrustworthy. Like any huge, vastly wealthy corporation, they're willing to let ethics and even humanity slide in the name of profits and it becomes far too easy to incrementally ignore more and more of what you know is right. It isn't that they're any more evil than, say, the average person, its that they have far more opportunities and varied ways to let that evil come out. That's what wealth and power does: you're no more responsible than the powerless, you just have more opportunities.

Yet at the same time, the oil companies aren't uniformly awful and evil, either. They do a lot of good, not the least of which is power our entire civilization. An in fact, almost nothing they do is unethical and evil, the vast majority is either ethically neutral or beneficial, like most of us.

The problem is, the perception generally held is that oil companies are particularly wicked and evil, that they're some special nexus of satanic destruction to the world and humanity. That's just not the case, they're just another company made up of ordinary and extraordinary human beings trying to make a living and provide a service or product.

Because of this general perception, its easy for someone with an agenda to make them look awful and find an audience, while difficult for the oil companies to defend themselves. Everything they say people figure "yeah, that's what they would say, who did they pay to lie for them?" No one wants to give them the benefit of the slightest doubt, while those who attack and criticize them are met with credulty: we want them to be right, even if they don't really present the facts.

Now, no industry that makes hundreds of billions of dollars a year needs my help or protection. The fact that they do so in ways that I find problematic at times makes me even less interested in helping them out.

At the same time, I like the truth, and I especially like finding out truth when I've been told lies or distortions my whole life. Its one of my favorite times, when I read or learn something that shatters a bit of conventional wisdom and I think "aha!" Its like learning some secret or gaining a treasure: I've gained something precious and rare. And I want to share that when it happens because I want everyone to know the truth.

Then there are times when the truth isn't certain but I want people to hear and consider both sides rather than just pick one and cling to it for some reason or affection. So with that long winded introduction, I'd like to pass on a bit of information about natural gas drilling, "fracking" and the problems with one particular faux documentary called Gasland. Its one of many in the Michael Moore genre of "documentaries" which are not meant to dig into the facts and inform, but to shape opinion and attack. They are, in effect, propaganda for a cause.

I can't stand that kind of thing. If it was presented as a fiction, like Oliver Stone's history-mauling JFK or Cameron's similarly history-mauling Titanic it would be one thing. Those are bad enough, even though they leave people thinking they know the real story when its just someone's fable. But when you put out a documentary, people tend to think they're getting the unvarnished, bold truth by a crusading filmmaker against tough odds.

So Gasland basically tries to make the case that drilling for natural gas using "Fracking" is a horrific environment-destroying monster that is causing water lines to burst into flame and terrible poisons to destroy crops, kill children, and force people to run over puppies.

At Zero Hedge, Marin Katusa of Casey Research took a close look at the film and its claims and found them desperately wanting. And its not just him, the EPA (no friend of fracking or the oil companies) has been trying for years to find proof that the process is evil, and never had any success. They thought they'd found some, but they had to dig a well many times as deep as anyone ever does for water before they ran into negative effects of fracking. In essence, they dug into the natural gas layer and... found the stuff pumped into the ground to fracture the ground and release the gas. Shock of all shocks.

Like any good agit prop work, Gasland relies on distortions more than outright falsehoods. For instance:
  • Fracking is exempt from the clean water act! (Only because its a state-level affair, and thus not affected by federal rules. States do regulate the procedures.)
  • Frac fluids that flow back out of a well are often stored in pits in the ground that aren't even lined, where a lot of the fluid just seeps into the ground. (in the past this has happened, but the regulations and company policies require careful storage now, and its a booming business to design and build better storage units).
  • Frac fluids are toxic mixtures of 596 deadly chemicals. (There are 596 chemicals used in fracking but only a few of them in any given operation, similar to how cooking takes thousands of ingredients, but a recipe only takes a few. Fracking fluid is typically a bit under 91% water and 9% sand with traces of other chemicals).
  • People who live near fracs have been found to have elevated levels of benzene in their blood. (Only smokers in the area had the elevated levels. Non smokers showed no such change an all smokers have elevated levels of benzene in their blood.)
Then there are the outright inventions, complete falsehoods which they simply assert, either due to ignorance, misinformation, or malice:
  • Fracking contaminates ground water! (The shales that contain natural gas are 5,000 to as much as 18,000 feet below ground. The aquifers we tap for drinking water are at about 500 feet. That means roughly 2 miles of rock lie between aquifer and frac.)
  • Fracking causes water to become flammable! (methane in the water table does this, and it always has in these areas. The fact that you find methane gas in the same areas as shale gas is not exactly surprising. Methane pockets are quickly expended and harmless.)
  • Drilling companies refuse to disclose just which deadly chemicals they use to create their frac fluids. (Actually they are required by law to show what they use, and do, on Material Data Sheets which are freely available, if a bit confusing to a non-professional.)
  • The EPA has never really studied fracking. (They have done two studies, the latest of which just came out and had the false positive from drilling too deeply.)
Again, its not like the oil companies are saints here. They're as cheap, sloppy, and quick as they can get away with, because they're in the business of making money, not taking care of the environment.

There are real concerns that need to be addressed, which Marin freely discusses, such as storage of the waste water, how much water is needed (millions of gallons), and the fact that they think the procedure may have caused very small earthquakes in California(!). Granted releasing small amounts of built up pressure in tiny earthquakes is better than waiting for a Japan-level one to rip loose, but its not really anything we can control.

But they're closely watched, regulated heavily, and aren't murdering people and destroying farms like is being portrayed in this movie and an insulting, preachy CSI episode. And its good to have the facts out, or at least another side of the issue, to avoid being completely taken in by someone with an agenda.

Because while we knjow what the oil companies agenda is, and they keep it out in the open - get as rich as humanly possible - the agenda of guys making movies like Gasland is a bit more hidden, deliberately. And if we're going to be well informed and honest, we should consider both.