Sunday, July 29, 2007

Rove pointing fingers

Bob Novak reports on Human Events about Karl Rove's diagnosis of the 2006 Republican defeat. I feel a little bad quoting the whole section, but it's only four sentences:

Karl Rove, President Bush's political lieutenant, told a closed-door meeting of 2008 Republican House candidates and their aides Tuesday that it was less the war in Iraq than corruption in Congress that caused their party's defeat in the 2006 elections.

Rove's clear advice to the candidates is to distance themselves from the culture of Washington. Specifically, Republican candidates are urged to make clear they have no connection with disgraced congressmen such as Duke Cunningham and Mark Foley.
In effect, Rove was rebutting the complaint inside the party that George W. Bush is responsible for Republican miseries by invading Iraq.

Um, no. Those two congressmen certainly didn't help, and may have pushed a few voters over the edge, but the proverbial cliff has to exist before one can fall off. If Bush had fired Rummy after re-election in 2004, or even as late as early 2006, the avalanche would likely have been averted. This is extremely weak spin, if that's what it is. If Rove actually believes that Iraq wasn't the primary contributor to GOP losses then he should be fired for sheer political incompetence.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Another blow to the free speech

We have a constitutionally protected right to burn the American flag in protest. Contrary to some conservatives, I agree that this right should be protected.

But apparently it's a hate crime to flush a Koran down a toilet.

I don't suppose flushing the Bible would draw the same rebuke.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Peter Fonda ironically promotes "the album"

So I'm flipping around the boob-tube late at night and what do I see, but a skeletally geriatric Peter Fonda (with some lady I don't recognize) hawking the "Flower Power" sixties and seventies compilation.

Of course they're promoting nostalgia of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Incense and Peppermints and all that. The general "rebellion" phase of a generation - man, those days must have been really groovy! But in between six-second clips of super sounds from the seventies Peter Fonda slips into nostalgia for the "album", a whole new art form, to be listened to like one would read a book.... and he indulges in this nostalgia for album-oriented rock while promoting what might be the most extensive collection of singles from the era of album-oriented rock.

I think I'll go put on NIN's "The Fragile" now - the best double album that Peter Fonda's never heard of. (Damn you iTunes music store, and your single-oriented business model!)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Socialized Medicine at its Best

The all-knowing British healthcare system plans to offer chances to win iPods and other treats to drug addicts who successfully stay off drugs, but do not provide medicine to Alzheimer's patients capable of slowing progression of the disease to the tune of 2.50 GBP's per day, or slightly over US$5.00/day if my memory serves.

Socializing healthcare means rationing of treatment. Sometimes people will not agree with what the "single payer" chooses to pay. It could be this specific example, or it could be something else. Heck, the iPod thing might even work better than whatever was done before. But there are trade-offs, and there will be treatments that are not covered.

Very Late Movie Commentary: Minority Report

I know just about everybody who will ever see Minority Report has already. It came out in 2002, and I just now watched it on cable.

But there's a plot problem bothering me. I'm not referring to why John Anderton's eyeballs still open doors after he's been fingered by pre-crime. And I'm not referring to the general idea of changing the future or free will or any of that.

I have a problem with the pre-cog's vision of Anderton's crime. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy, something resembling the "grandfather paradox" of time-travel science fiction. Now, it's one thing to suppose that a free-standing prophesy of this kind could form spontaneously. I might not agree that it could happen, but if we're talking about seeing the future then the audience is already suspending disbelief. But it's another thing entirely to think that somebody could cause this situation to happen. How did Lamar Burgess cause the pre-cog to see Anderton killing the patsy, thus creating the situtation where Anderton actually killed the patsy?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Missing Obama Comma

Mitt Romney is taking heat for this photo of him with a woman and her home-made sign.

TMZ reports:
"Not everyone is a fan of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but comparing them to one of the most dastardly pieces of human excrement of all time -- that might be bit much. Especially for a presidential candidate. TMZ obtained photos of presidential candidate Mitt Romney trying to win over grammatically challenged South Carolinians Thursday by holding a sign that said, "No to Obama, Osama and Chelsea's Moma."

TMZ is wrong. The woman isn't grammatically challenged, though that's not how I would have spelled "momma". TMZ quotes the sign with commas, but the sign has no commas. This is an obvious reference to the Ted Kennedy brain-fart when he called Senator Obama "Osama Obama", but has in various media accounts been reversed to "Obama Osama" and attributed to Rush Limbaugh, who merely made fun of Kennedy and obviously did not originate the term.

So rather than TMZ looking down on some ignorant, grammatically challenged, backwater, Republican Southerner, the supposed ignoramus made a reference that went right over TMZ's head.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Obama - Birds 'n Bees for five year olds

The headline is worse than what he actually said (and clarified), but I still think Obama's going a little too far:

Sex Ed for Kindergarteners 'Right Thing to Do,' Says Obama

"But it’s the right thing to do, to provide age-appropriate sex education, science-based sex education in schools."

When Obama's campaign was asked by ABC News to explain what kind of sex education Obama considers "age appropriate" for kindergarteners, the Obama campaign pointed to an Oct. 6, 2004 story from the Daily Herald in which Obama had "moved to clarify" in his Senate campaign that he "does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten. . . The legislation in question was a state Senate measure last year that aimed to update Illinois' sex education standards with 'medically accurate' information . . . 'Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it,' Obama said. 'If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing. Although again, that's going to be determined on a case by case basis by local communities and local school boards.'"


I defer to the classic Governator film, Kindergarten Cop: "Boys have a penis; Girls have a vagina". That's pretty much it for a five year old. If some precocious savant asks about where babies come from, a simple "ask your mother" should suffice in kindergarten.

If calling somebody a doo-doo head is the harshest insult you can come up with, you're probably not ready for the "birds and bees" discussion. Most of those kids still believe in Santa Claus. Come back when you can actually spell "vagina".

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Taxes, capital allocation, risk

With the recent Blackstone IPO there has been a lot of discussion on financial TV about various tax rates, and what's "fair". The WSJournal points out that the US has the highest corporate tax rate and seems to be suffering from it. (Oh, there's that Laffer curve. Totally debunked I see, appearing in a mainstream financial publication.) What's a fair level of taxation for one sort of activity versus another?

Anecdotally, I'm still in shock about doing my taxes this past year. I made a small investment in a Canadian oil royalty trust, leading to an unreasonably complicated tax situation as their K1 form had a mysterious "other" line, a twelve page tax prep guide with it, and a special website to download personalized IRS forms which were not fully supported by any popular tax software. I struggled through it, ignoring a few dollars worth of deductions I could have taken in order to save myself some time.

Everybody knows the federal tax code is overly complicated. Politicians often say they want to simplify the code, but all they ever do is offer "targeted" tax cuts, further complicating the tax structure.

I think we would benefit from treating all income alike. Capital gains (short and long term), interest, dividends, "earned" income. Why not treat the sources of income the same? Why the heck are some dividends "qualified" and others not? Should we really be subsidizing FDIC guaranteed savings, perhaps promoting overly conservative investment? (Bank savings are already subsidized by the mere existence of FDIC, though I view this as a good thing as one shouldn't need to have a safe full of gold or inflation-depreciating cash at home in order to save for financial Armageddon.)

Treating income differently depending on its source distorts how capital gets allocated. Perhaps poorer people should be buying more equity investments in order to try to advance financially. Why are we treating risk like a redheaded stepchild? What's so grand about CDs and qualified dividends? If one is concerned about losing capital in an investment then one shouldn't be concerned with whether selling immediately is a short term or long term capital gain/loss. Basically, anything that a person does to avoid taxes represents a market distortion, and a misallocation of capital.

Why do local governments tax "earned" (i.e. wage) income, while the Federal government subsidizes poorer individuals through the earned income tax credit? Taxing earned income instead of all income is a bogus subsidy to those with substantial investment income (mainly the elderly, but also the very wealthy), coming at the expense of working schlubs.

I say treat Blackstone's income the same as Goldman Sachs', and the same as Microsoft's, the same as Caterpillar's. Make it a nice low corporate rate, then adjust the "progressive"* individual tax to suit whatever the political system comes up with in terms of "fairness". Get rid of targeted tax breaks - no marriage benefit or penalty, no student loan interest deductions, nothing except a standard deduction based on number of dependents. I'm even questioning the mortgage interest deduction, but for the moment I'm undecided.


* - One might wonder how a largely libertarian rant could end up with a defense of the progressive income tax. First there's the pragmatic angle - we have a giant bloated government to pay for. Secondly we must notice that individuals with large incomes and assets benefit more from our economic and political system more than poorer individuals. I'm not prescribing how steep the curve should be, just saying that there should be a curve.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Finally, an honest journalistic moment

From ABC's This Week on Sunday July 8th:

George Stephanopoulos: What’s success for you in this campaign?

Ron Paul: What’s success? Well, to win, is one, is the goal.

Stephanopoulos: That’s not going to happen.

Paul: Do you know for absolute? Are you willing to bet every cent in your pocket for that?

Stephanopoulos: Yes.


Hahahahahah. I knew there was a reason I turned on the TV Sunday morning.

Surge Needs Serious Help

There are basically two aspects to the Iraq "surge", the military campaign and the political situation that the military was supposed to "buy time" to fix. Unfortunately, the Iraqi politicians haven't been playing ball.

Whether the military part of the surge is working is difficult to gauge. General Petraeus has talked about a "mini Tet" perhaps to be waged by AQ-types, like the real Tet Offensive, that will probably create bad headlines in Western media but fail to make any real change on the ground. We may be seeing some of this now, though cheerleaders of the war claim that the surge shows early signs of progress. And we're now about a month into the full-strength surge, which is hardly enough time to judge a military tactic of this magnitude.

However, whether Petraeus is doing a good job or not, it has always been accepted that the surge was supposed to buy time for political progress. This is not happening. The WashTimes reports (link above) that the Iraqi government "has not met any of its targets for political, economic and other reform". None. Zip. Zilch.

Not a good sign. I'd say the Iraqi government has about a month (give or take) to make serious progress before US political support totally crumbles. If I were benevolent dictator I would be willing to wait until Petraeus' September report before making major decisions, but the "Washington clock" isn't likely to make it that far.

Monday, July 09, 2007

More Powell - Oh really??

Timesonline reports this headline: "Powell tried to talk Bush out of war". I got to this through Drudge, which linked it as "CLAIM: Colin Powell tried to talk Bush out of war".

The Times reports:

THE former American secretary of state Colin Powell has revealed that he spent 2½ hours vainly trying to persuade President George W Bush not to invade Iraq and believes today’s conflict cannot be resolved by US forces.

“I tried to avoid this war,” Powell said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. “I took him through the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers.”

Powell has become increasingly outspoken about the level of violence in Iraq, which he believes is in a state of civil war. “The civil war will ultimately be resolved by a test of arms,” he said. “It’s not going to be pretty to watch, but I don’t know any way to avoid it. It is happening now.”

He added: “It is not a civil war that can be put down or solved by the armed forces of the United States.” All the military could do, Powell suggested, was put “a heavier lid on this pot of boiling sectarian stew”.

Oh really? That statement by Powell doesn't support the headline, and doesn't contradict what he said on Meet the Press. Maybe Powell said some other things in Aspen, but the Times doesn't report them verbatim. Powell knew it would be messy. "Trying to avoid" a war and "trying to talk somebody out of it" are two different things. Heck, there are probably a few quotes of GWB himself saying he tried to avoid the war - such statements obviously not precluding his decision to wage war. Powell has been public for some time now on his dissatisfaction with how the war was managed, and his initial urging for a larger invasion force. And Powell was just as blunt on MTP as to what the surge could and couldn't do, almost to the word.

Without a direct quote I'm reluctant to say one way or the other what Powell did or didn't think at the time of the invasion. I haven't seen him contradict himself at any time, whether during or after he served as Secretary of State. Whether Powell is right or wrong, I think he's essentially honest, and not one to change his opinion or distort his record in order to gain public favor.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Whatever's important

CNN on the Pennsylvania state budget: Budget stalemate could force closure of casinos, museums

The article goes on to list other things that will probably be closed like Driver's License centers and state parks, but it's amusing that casinos were the first problem given.

Great Googa-mooga! I'll have to drive to Atlantic City to get my slots machine fix!

Funny how the budget deadline just sort of sneaks up on them every single year.

So, 24 thousand state workers will be furloughed, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the Governor and legislators will get paid for not doing their jobs.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Fuller Spectrum of Bullcrap

I just noticed the tagline on MSNBC.com's banner: "A fuller spectrum of news"

On the page I happen to be reading, there is a "live poll" question: "Do you think America is ready to elect a minority to the White House in 2008? Yes, no, not sure".

Ok, so there's one serious candidate for President who can be called a minority. No, Richardson doesn't count.

Unfortunately there isn't a choice for "some generic member of a minority, but not that quasi-socialist empty-suit demagogue Obama".

Exit question, are we ready to elect a woman Prez? I'm just trying to do my part to promote a fuller spectrum of poll choices to which one should answer "whoever the Dem candidate is because otherwise I'm a bad person".

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What's in a name?

Why is today commonly referred to as "the Fourth of July" rather than "Independence Day"? Nobody wishes anybody a merry December 25th. A happy January 1st? Even the neo-pagan freaks will wish somebody a happy solstice.

Well meaning and patriotic folks wish people a happy Fourth reflexively, but we really ought to remember that we're celebrating Independence Day.

The Fourth of July is a made-up holiday where people worship their barbecue grills and blow things up for fun. Independence Day is the holiday where we remember that the American colonists valued free self government and individual rights above life itself, each signature on the Declaration of Independence an act of capital treason by the mere stroke of a pen.

So happy Independence Day.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Libby Extravaganza

As per Mike's request, I'm putting in my two cents about Bush's recent commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence. There are a whole lot of angles to this. I'll try to at separate them out a bit.

The "Political" / Public Opinion aspect
:
Bush's approval numbers are in the basement. He's not going to lose anybody by commuting Libby's sentence. In fact, his numbers might actually go up a little. With the amnesty debacle, the base has been more than a little upset with Bush, and this might make some amends. Influential elements of the conservative base have been begging for some relief for Libby, including the editorial staff at National Review and The Weekly Standard - probably the two most important conservative periodicals. (I am a current NR subscriber and a former Standard subscriber.)

Bush is well within his Constitutional authority. So why not grant Libby some relief?

The Justice and Rule of Law aspect:

--Libby was convicted of a crime--

There are quite a few background facts about this case that color public debate, but do not directly address the issue of Libby's crime. First, Libby did not leak Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald knew this very early on in the investigation, and also had determined that prosecuting the act of leaking the name was difficult to impossible, leaving one to question whether a crime had actually been committed at all. The investigation should have ended at this point. For reasons known only to Fitzgerald, it did not. The untrue and/or contradictory statements Libby made occurred after the investigation should have already concluded.

Now to the question of whether Libby was justly convicted of this crime. It is beyond my current knowledge of the case to say whether Libby intentionally lied to the prosecution, that is, whether he actually committed the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice. What I do know from media reports is that virtually everybody involved in the case gave contradictory statements, most notably several witnesses for the prosecution who contradicted themselves and other witnesses. Valerie Plame herself is on the record giving massively contradictory statements to Congress regarding her role in selecting her husband for his infamous investigation in Niger. Given this, I was a little bit surprised that Fitzgerald got a conviction. But that's our system. So, let it ever be known that I. Lewis Libby was convicted of a crime.

Given his conviction, was Libby fairly sentenced? No. Libby's sentence was significantly higher than that recommended by court officials and higher than sentencing guidelines. Somehow, Fitzgerald was able to convince the court that the severity of the non-existent crime that Libby was convicted of covering up warrants throwing the book at him. That's nuts.

For some comparison, former Nat'l Security Adviser Sandy Berger was caught red-handed and subsequently pleaded guilty to stealing and destroying documents from the National Archives during the 9-11 Commission investigation. (Remember this the next time you see somebody interviewing Berger on TV.) He got a $50k fine, two years probation, 100 hrs community service, and a temporary loss of his security clearance. Libby, on a malicious prosecution, a questionable verdict about the cover-up of a non-crime was sentenced to a $250k fine and 30 months in prison.

This is the point when the conservative base started making serious noise about the Libby issue. It was at this point the idea was floated of a commutation (if not a pardon), particularly if the judge ordered Libby's prison sentence to begin before the appeals process was complete.

Even after the commutation, Libby's conviction is still on his record, and he's still stuck with his quarter million dollar fine and two years probation. And the utter ruin of his life.

Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame get to go on being MoveOn.org heroes, perpetuating their lies about how Wilson allegedly proved a negative over a refreshing cup of tea, and how Plame had nothing to do with the selection of her husband to go to Niger despite her recorded Congressional testimony to the contrary.

I'd say, despite their protests about Libby's commutation, the Democrats won this round.