Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Matter of Murphy

Let's say this straight out -- no Catholic is happy about the horrors that certain members of the priesthood visited upon innocent children over the course of the last 60 years. That we continue to find victims saddens all of us. Every Catholic that I know hopes that the victims can find some form of recompense for what happened.

Having said that, as a Catholic I believe it is long past time to stop accepting the dictates of fools and charlatans about our Church and, by extension, our faith. The matter of Lawrence Murphy, the priest who abused potentially hundreds of innocent children at the St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, has been only the latest brickbat by which the Catholics have been beaten over the last 20 years. A few thoughts:

  • I don't think any Catholic, or any Christian of any denomination, needs to pay much attention to the harangues of a cynical atheist like Christopher Hitchens.
  • Likewise, I don't much care what the cynical, blowsy Maureen Dowd has to say, either. She may claim to be nominally Catholic, but there is nothing in her background or her writings that suggests she understands the first thing about the Church.
  • The glee that the MSM has demonstrated in invoking the Watergate narrative in this matter ("What did the Pope know, and when did he know it") is either silly or offensive. I'm having a difficult time deciding which. The latest "revelation" I've read moves the scandal all the way back to Paul VI. I supect a letter directed to one of the Avignon Popes will surface in the coming days.
  • The key to understanding what happens is one word: anachronism. We are imposing the value judgments of today on events that happened years ago. The belief that was prevalent at the time was that pedophile priests could be treated and cured. As it turns out, that is not the case. It took too long for the Church to understand that, but we understand many things now that we didn't in, say, 1963.
  • Is there evidence that Pope Benedict was derelict in his duties? Not especially. We now have the testimony of William Levada, formerly the Archbishop of San Francisco, who now heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office held by Benedict when he was known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Levada goes into great detail in discussing recent events and the news coverage. It's a longish piece but it's well worth your time to read it in full. The most relevant paragraphs are these:

Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996. Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial.

The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others.

I grew up in Wisconsin, in the Green Bay Diocese. Rembert Weakland, the Archbishop of Milwaukee, was always a controversial figure in the Church and his role in what happened in Milwaukee has not received a lot of attention. Weakland himself was forced from the Church in 2002, following revelations that he was an active homosexual who had long-standing affairs during his time as Archbishop. Weakland had both the motive and the standing to take action against Lawrence Murphy, but he did not. Is there a reason? No one knows, because it doesn't appear that he has been asked.

Weakland's successor, Jerome Listecki, says the blame belongs in Milwaukee:

Mistakes were made in the Lawrence Murphy case. The mistakes were not made in Rome in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The mistakes were made here, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, by the Church, by civil authorities, by Church officials, and by bishops. And for that, I beg your forgiveness in the name of the Church and in the name of this Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Listecki is correct. Yes, the Church has had a global problem and only in the last decade or so has it started to find a solution. It is important to understand that individual Archbishops have great authority and their own views matter a lot. If you doubt the importance of an individual archbishop, consider the ongoing attacks that John Nienstedt, who is the Archbishop here in the Twin Cities, faces from the likes of Nick Coleman. Weakland wielded enormous power in the Archdiocese, and by extension throughout heavily Catholic Wisconsin. And for reasons we do not know, he did not stop what happened at the St. John's School for the Deaf.

But you know what? In the end, the issue isn't really affixing blame for what happened. The larger issue is healing those who were hurt and ensuring that future generations of children will never face what the children at St. John's did. The Church continues to make progress on both fronts. We have a long way to go and it will take the prayers of the faithful. As a Catholic, I have a responsiblity to offer prayer and support for the victims. I do not have any obligation to accept the dictates of Maureen Dowd or her partners at the New York Times.

Credit Where Due -- Update

UPDATE (4/1/10): My esteemed colleague W. B. Picklesworth has convinced me that half the premise of this post is faulty. The President's announcement on oil exploration turns out to be a bit of a crap souffle on closer examination. Apologies to all for being a rube on this one -- Mr. D

We certainly bash the President around here rather a lot, primarily because much of what he does deserves bashing. But fairness requires that we praise the President when he does the right thing. And today, he did the right thing twice.

First of all, he has cleared the way for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia. Later on, we learned that the U.S. test-fired a Trident missile in military exercises with Saudi Arabia, which was a clear message to Iran that clowntime is over.

Two good moves -- the environmentalists on Obama's side will go as ballistic as the missile that was fired, but too bad. There's no good reason to leave oil or natural gas in the ground. Meanwhile, the whackjob Iranian government gets a welcome reminder that while they might have designs on blasting Israel or immolating some Sunnis, there would be a fearsome price to pay. It's a clear message that should have been delivered a long time ago, but at least the message is clear. We take what we can get these days. Good show, Mr. President.

Home Truth

Greg Gutfeld gets to the heart of the matter:

Look, this debate is basic: it's small government vs. big government. So how cowardly do folks like Blood and Frank Rich have to be that they can't man up and defend their love for collectivism? The only reason they scream race, is because that debate scares them. They know a racial accusation prevents dialogue, because such a harmful charge far outweighs any benefits of winning an argument.

Read the whole thing -- won't take you long.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Radio Free Dilettante — Month-End Clearance Edition

And if there's ever been a month worth clearing out, it's this one:

Last Five:
Whipping Post, The Allman Brothers
Rudie Can’t Fail, The Clash
Touch Me I'm Going to Scream, Part 1, My Morning Jacket
Bang and Blame, R.E.M.
God Only Knows, The Beach Boys

Next Five:
Guajira, Santana
Strange Meadowlark, Dave Brubeck
Brand New Day, Van Morrison
The Ice of Boston, Dismemberment Plan
There's No Home for You Here, The White Stripes

I don't know if it makes any difference, but. . .

. . . given the absolute glee in the media over the latest pedophile scandal, especially the "what did the Pope know and when did he know it" meme, it might behoove a curious reader to get the actual view of one of the most important participants in unraveling the Lawrence Murphy scandal in Milwaukee. The always excellent Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia has excerpted a long piece from Fr. Thomas Brundage, who was judicial vicar in the Milwaukee Archdiocese and was responsible for overseeing the Murphy case. A small taste:

With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”

The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.
There is no question that Lawrence Murphy was an evil man. There is also no question that the Church enabled his predations for a period of nearly 25 years, in ways small and large. The Church has much to explain and the explanations must continue. Most of all, I don't begrudge the victims seeking redress for the sins of Lawrence Murphy.

Yet this must be said as well: it also troubles me when leading news organizations don't bother to fact check the information they publish. I would strongly recommend that you click the link I've provided and read the statement of Fr. Brundage.

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don't It?

From the Tea Party rally at Searchlight, Nevada, a provocative image. Lots more at the link.

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don't It, Part Deux

From an "anti-war" rally in Los Angeles, one week prior to the Searchlight event. Charming.

News You Could Have Used

In the Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson locks the barn door after the horses are gone:

When historians recount the momentous events of recent weeks, they will note a curious coincidence. On March 15, Moody's Investors Service -- the bond rating agency -- published a paper warning that the exploding U.S. government debt could cause a downgrade of Treasury bonds. Just six days later, the House of Representatives passed President Obama's health-care legislation costing $900 billion or so over a decade and worsening an already-bleak budget outlook.

Should the United States someday suffer a budget crisis, it will be hard not to conclude that Obama and his allies sowed the seeds, because they ignored conspicuous warnings. A further irony will not escape historians. For two years, Obama and members of Congress have angrily blamed the shortsightedness and selfishness of bankers and rating agencies for causing the recent financial crisis. The president and his supporters, historians will note, were equally shortsighted and self-centered -- though their quest was for political glory, not financial gain.

Well, yeah. Historians will also note that the publication date of this piece was March 29, 2010, not March 16, 2010, when it might have helped. Despite that, you should read the whole thing. I especially commend it to the attention of my lefty friends, as many talking points are demolished here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What about the Hutaree?

1) Give them Kathleen Soliah's old cell; or
2) Send 'em to Gitmo

Pay Attention Redux

You might remember last week that I brought up the bond markets and suggested that it's time to start paying attention to what's happening. It turns out some people are paying attention:

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said the recent rise in Treasury yields represents a “canary in the mine” that may signal further gains in interest rates.

Higher yields reflect investor concerns over “this huge overhang of federal debt which we have never seen before,” Greenspan said in an interview today on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt.”

“I’m very much concerned about the fiscal situation,” said Greenspan, 84, who headed the central bank from 1987 to 2006. An increase in long-term interest rates “will make the housing recovery very difficult to implement and put a dampening on capital investment as well.”

And then there's this:

The first warning was in mid February, the bad news was that led by China, foreign countries dumped U.S. Treasury bills at a record rate in December. The worry was that the weak marketplace lead to a rise in interest rates to make the bills more attractive to investors. The interest rate rise which could be the beginning of an inflationary period. According to the Treasury Department foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury bills fell by a record $53 billion in December. That topped the previous record drop of $44.5 billion in April 2009.

If we're going to continue spending like crazy, we need someone to finance our debt. If foreign investors aren't going to do it, we have issues. The message is increasingly clear to those who are willing to listen: the party is pretty much over.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration and its friends on Capitol Hill aren't listening:

The trigger for last week's sell-off was poor demand at Treasury auctions, linked to the passage of the Obama health care reform. Critics say it will add $1 trillion (£670bn) to America's debt over the next decade, a claim disputed fiercely by Democrats.

And they've got the gamed CBO report to prove it! But there's even more:
Looming over everything is the worry that markets will not be able to absorb the glut of US debt as the Fed winds down its policy of bond purchases, starting with an exit from mortgage-backed securities. It currently holds a quarter of the $5 trillion of the MBS market.

The rise in US bond yields has set off mayhem in the 10-year US swaps markets. Spreads turned negative last week, touching the lowest level in 20 years. The effect was to drive credit costs for high-grade companies such as Berkshire Hathaway below that of the US government. This may have been a technical aberration.

I sure hope it's a "technical aberration." But it seems like more of a feature than a bug.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Henry is Not Happy

AT&T Inc. will take a $1 billion non-cash accounting charge in the first quarter because of the health care overhaul and may cut benefits it offers to current and retired workers.

The charge is the largest disclosed so far. Earlier this week, AK Steel Corp., Caterpillar Inc., Deere & Co. and Valero Energy announced similar accounting charges, saying the health care law that President Barack Obama signed Tuesday will raise their expenses. On Friday, 3M Co. said it will also take a charge of $85 million to $90 million.

Oops. That wasn't supposed to happen. And now Congress is getting involved. . . by attempting to intimidate the companies for mentioning it. Powerline reprints a letter that the odious Henry Waxman (and his new best pal, Bart Stupak) sent to AT&T after it had made the announcement -- page one is here, page two is here. Waxman is very good at running star chambers and his goal is to cow the corporate execs into disavowing such statements, lest they contradict the promises that Waxman, Obama, Pelosi, Stupak and the rest of our protectors have made regarding this legislation.

There's a problem with all that, though -- the reason that AT&T has to disclose such things is because of another federal rule, Sabanes-Oxley. Section 409 requires the following:

Issuers are required to disclose to the public, on an urgent basis, information on material changes in their financial condition or operations. These disclosures are to be presented in terms that are easy to understand supported by trend and qualitative information of graphic presentations as appropriate.

Of course, if you follow the law and disclose things that Henry Waxman doesn't like, you'll be dragged in front of his committee to explain yourself.

In most cases, the truth is an absolute defense. That may no longer be true. As if you needed any other reason to vote out the Democrats in November, I can think of few better reasons than taking the gavel out of Henry Waxman's hand.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

If you read nothing else today. . .

. . . make sure you read this outstanding essay from Doctor Zero. There's so much good stuff here that it's hard to pick just one excerpt, but try this:

There’s no reason a country with vast natural resources, tended by a bold and innovative people, should suffer double-digit unemployment and capital flight. A compassionate nation, whose daily industry has done more for the downtrodden than every utopian scheme combined, has no reason to lower its head in shame, and tolerate the extraction of “charity” at gunpoint. The veterans of bloody wars against lawless tyranny should not accept a system that makes fools of the industrious. A great people, who live in reverence of equality, require no lists of class and racial enemies from opportunistic politicians.

There's a lot more at the link. Click it, capisce?

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Poop Bank

As many of you know, I write catalog and web copy for a decent-sized privately held company. Sometimes in the course of my duties I am asked to write catalog copy for gag gifts. One of the products I wrote for an upcoming catalog is the "Poop Bank," which is a coin bank that is shaped like a pile of, well, poop. Rest assured, my presentation of this item was tastefully rendered and you'll be able to see it for yourself when the catalog comes out in the fall. (By the way, the link is to our vendor).

As it turned out, I wasn't the only person writing about poop banks this week. A couple of reporters for the Washington Post were describing a steaming pile as well:

The Obama administration plans to overhaul how it is tackling the foreclosure crisis, in part by requiring lenders to temporarily slash or eliminate monthly mortgage payments for many borrowers who are unemployed, senior officials said Thursday.

Banks and other lenders would have to reduce the payments to no more than 31 percent of a borrower's income, which would typically be the amount of unemployment insurance, for three to six months. In some cases, administration officials said, a lender could allow a borrower to skip payments altogether.
This is madness, of course. Let us count just some of the ways:
  • Perhaps I'm simply being provincial here and haven't gotten wise to the new realities, but there was a time, really not that long ago, when the government viewed one of its duties to be helping to enforce legal contracts, rather than abrogating them.
  • Once again, let's go back to one of the most important issues in any economic system: moral hazard, which can be defined as follows: the risk that the presence of a contract will affect on the behavior of one or more parties. The classic example is in the insurance industry, where coverage against a loss might increase the risk-taking behavior of the insured.
  • When the federal government inserts itself into a mortgage contract and changes the terms, it is inviting moral hazard up the wazoo. Let's be honest here: why should anyone be prudent and buy less home, or save for a rainy day, when the government is willing to rewrite a mortgage to your benefit if you are laid off? Why not just live large instead? Uncle Sam will hook you up.
  • If you were a prudent banker, and yes there are still a few of them extant, how would this ruling affect your bank's underwriting and decisionmaking process? Would you even want to make a loan to anyone who isn't gold-plated and as risk-averse as a prudent banker would be?
  • And where is the money coming from? Do we simply expect the banks to eat the costs? Or will they be made whole somehow? What are the chances we'll have the money, now or in the future?

The Post article claims the money is there to make the banks whole:

Officials said the new initiatives will take effect over the next six months and be funded out of $50 billion previously allocated for foreclosure relief in the emergency bailout program for the financial system. No new taxpayer funds will be needed, the officials said.

Do you believe that? Everyone knows that while the money may have been previously allocated, it's simply money that the government borrowed from someplace else.

Let's do the math here: according to this document (note: it's a PDF) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 14.9 million people who are currently unemployed in the United States. According to this piece on MSN, the average weekly unemployment benefit in the United States is $293. At 4 weeks per month, that works out to $1172.

If the limit on a mortgage payment is 31% of that, it would mean that, on average, the maximum mortgage payment an unemployed person would make is $363.32. At the height of the housing bubble in 2006, the average monthly mortgage payment was $1,687. If we assume that in 2010, housing values have dropped by, say, 25%, we could assume that the average mortgage payment is also about 25% less, which would be about $1,265. That means that the banks would have, on average, about a $902 shortfall per month. Presumably the government would make the banks whole for this shortfall.

If the benefit lasted for six months, that would mean each taxpayer affected would receive a benefit of about $5,412. Let's assume that 60% of the unemployed are homeowners with mortgages -- that would mean about 8.9 million homeowners would receive a benefit of $5,412. How much money is that? $48.4 billion, just shy of the $50 billion that is available.

But riddle me this: does anyone assume that the benefit would go away after 6 months? Or would it continue? I think we know the answer to this one. And does anyone think that unemployment is going to abate any time soon? Not even the Obama administration believes that.

We are broke now. The government thinks it can afford to do things like this program, but it can't. And the government can't assume that foreign investors are going to continue to pay for our profligacy, because it's simply not true.

Then again, if the government has no trouble abrogating existing contracts, perhaps they won't hesitate to abrogate the arrangements they have made with its lenders, right? There are other people who worry about these things, too, and their views matter a lot more than mine do.

We have some serious issues, folks. And the people who are currently running the federal government don't appear to be thinking through the implications of the commitments they are making.

Lightning Round - 032610

Gotta go fast:

  • If this report in the Times of London is true, and I really hope it isn't, it says something truly awful about the Leader of the Free World. Actually, many things.
  • I've been trying to watch the NCAA men's basketball tournament in between everything else that's been going on and it's been great theater, as usual. Last night's game between Kansas State and Xavier, which K-State won in double overtime 101-96, was some kind of classic. My bracket is destroyed (heartfelt thanks to the University of Northern Iowa) but it's been a hoot. The Benster could win our office pool if his team (West Virginia) pulls it off, so go Mountaineers, I guess.
  • If you've suspected that the evil right-wing kook violence against members of Congress meme is overplayed, we now have conclusive evidence that it has jumped the shark entirely.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Brain space

Enough of the damned politics.

Fearless Maria and I weren't able to get our act together to write a Guilty Pleasures tonight, so I thought I'd try something different. I'm going to offer you two video links from the late 1970s. These are two songs that I personally like a lot. Tell me if you think these songs work together well, because I think they do.

The first was probably the biggest hit for the Los Angeles funksters the Brothers Johnson, from 1977:

About a year later, we heard from the British band 10cc, who were a pretty spotty outfit overall but had a habit of hitting their singles on the nose:

These are two different songs but they have always shared space in my brain because they are both soft-spoken, minor key songs with a medium tempo with a somewhat dream-like quality, I guess. I think that's it, at least.

So here are my questions for you:

1) Do you hear the same thing I hear?

2) Are there any two similar songs that share space in your brain the way these two songs share space in my brain?

The Ghost of Christmas Past

In all the hoopla/wailing and gnashing of teeth over ObamaCare, it would have been easy to miss this news -- Social Security is now paying out more than it is taking in:

This year, the system will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes, an important threshold it was not expected to cross until at least 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, said that while the Congressional projection would probably be borne out, the change would have no effect on benefits in 2010 and retirees would keep receiving their checks as usual.

The problem, he said, is that payments have risen more than expected during the downturn, because jobs disappeared and people applied for benefits sooner than they had planned. At the same time, the program’s revenue has fallen sharply, because there are fewer paychecks to tax.

Analysts have long tried to predict the year when Social Security would pay out more than it took in because they view it as a tipping point — the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency, unless Congress strengthens the program’s finances.
We've known that this moment was going to come and we've known it for rather a long time. The demographic problem in this nation has been evident for at least 25 years, when it became clear that the Baby Boomers were not going to have enough children to keep paying the freight. We've continued to kick the can down the road; while George W. Bush made an effort to reform Social Security in 2005, he got shot down pretty fast, mostly by the people who are now at the helm. Consider the words of Nancy Pelosi, in her 2005 "prebuttal" to President Bush's State of the Union address:

The President talks about a crisis, but according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security will be solvent for nearly 50 years.

This was a common thread back then. I remember well having discussions/arguments with one of my liberal co-workers about this. He insisted that Social Security was doing just fine and that there was nothing to worry about -- he tended to take Talking Points Memo literally in those days -- every argument that Joshua Micah Marshall made in TPM back then hurtled through the cubicles of our Bloomington offices. My co-worker, TPM and Mrs. Pelosi won the day and Bush retreated from his plans.

Now we are 5 years on and the day of reckoning is beginning to approach. We have this week added another entitlement with costs that will explode into the trillions. We pile this on the costs imposed through Bush's greatest mistake, Medicare Part D, Medicare itself and the grossly underfunded public pension system.

It is my assumption that the Baby Boomers won't willingly sign up to be Soylent Green; if they follow their normal pattern, they will be clawing for every penny that was ever promised to them. I'm part of that demographic (born 1963), but most people my age don't assume that we will see much from Social Security; we've watched our generational big brothers and sisters long enough to see that they'll take what they can get and won't worry much about the rest of us.

Like me, Barack Obama is part of the late Boomer set (born 1961, in Hawaii I might add). He's seen the same things I've seen and has decided to kick the Social Security can down the road, too, as well as throwing his new load on our shoulders. I honestly wonder how we're going to pay for all this largesse. More importantly, who is going to pay for it? Somehow, I don't think Benster or Fearless Maria will be too keen about ponying up half their income to support my generation in our dotage.


Megan McArdle makes an important point:

Americans were not told that American households would be 1% less worried about bankruptcy, or that we'd save a hundred thousand lives over thirty years.
They were regaled with eye-popping statistics on deaths from lack of health insurance--I certainly was, by many of the very same commenters who are now suddenly wary of prediction making. If you quoted those statistics, you were committing to a pretty strong position on the benefits of this bill. By my count, since we're now supposed to be covering at least 2/3 of those who are currently uninsured, and the remainder are often immigrants who trend younger than the general population, you believe that we should see a reduction of at least 15,000 deaths a year. You might argue me down to 12,000, but you couldn't get me as low as ten. That is what is implied by citing a figure of 20,000 deaths a year.

If you quoted Himmelstein et al's 45,000, obviously you should be expecting deaths to fall by at least 25,000 a year, very conservatively. If we don't see such improvements, then those studies were wrong. And if you won't commit to saying that you expect such a sizable reduction in our mortality rate, then you were wrong to cite them.

We are committing a huge amount of the public fisc to this bill. We'd better see the benefits. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pay Attention

The auction of 5-year treasury bills didn't go so well today. Pay attention everyone: the market is trying to tell you something:

At today’s auction, investors bid for 2.55 times the amount on offer, the lowest since September’s sale. Indirect bidders, a class of investors that includes foreign central banks, purchased 39.7 percent of the notes, the lowest since July.

The auction drew a yield of 2.605 percent, compared with the average forecast of 2.556 percent in a survey of eight of the Federal Reserve’s primary dealers. The gap of 4.9 basis points was the largest since a 5.4 basis point spread in July, according to Bloomberg surveys.

The decline in indirect bids comes as U.S. lawmakers have resumed efforts to force China to allow the value of its currency, the yuan, to appreciate. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said yesterday he will seek to pass legislation before the end of May that would push China to raise the value of its currency.

“I would not be surprised if the low indirect bid had something to do with the Chinese sitting on their hands,” said Joseph Brusuelas, a strategist at Brusuelas Analytics in Stamford.

So what kind of legislation can Chuck Schumer push that would cause the yuan to appreciate? And why are the Chinese "sitting on their hands?"

The Quality Goes In Before the Name Goes On

Real politicians of genius:

Hours after President Barack Obama signed historic health care legislation, a potential problem emerged. Administration officials are now scrambling to fix a gap in highly touted benefits for children.

Obama made better coverage for children a centerpiece of his health care remake, but it turns out the letter of the law provided a less-than-complete guarantee that kids with health problems would not be shut out of coverage.

Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill Obama signed into law Tuesday.
Bummer, dude. But there's a fix in the works, right?

Full protection for children would not come until 2014, said Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, another panel that authored the legislation. That's the same year when insurance companies could no longer deny coverage to any person on account of health problems.
All the urgency to pass this crap sandwich and no bennies until 2014? Where's our Big Rock Candy Mountain?

Fortunately, I was able to find the relevant language at this link:

Step right up

Please allow thirty days for delivery, don't be fooled by cheap imitations

You can live in it, live in it, laugh in it, love in it

Swim in it, sleep in it,

Live in it, swim in it, laugh in it, love in it

Removes embarrassing stains from contour sheets, that's right

And it entertains visiting relatives, it turns a sandwich into a banquet

Tired of being the life of the party?

Change your shorts, change your life, change your life

Change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy, get rid of your wife

And as always, remember what Mr. Waits says:

You got it buddy: the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away

Holy Boland Amendment, Batman!

It's a longstanding Washington tradition -- using the legislative process to score cheap points and complicate the lives of your opponents. We're going to see a lot of it in the coming days.

First, a little history. If you were around in the 1980s, you might remember something called the "Boland Amendment." The Boland Amendment was the handiwork of a backbencher Massachusetts congressman named Edward Boland. During the Reagan years, Boland would routinely attach an amendment to the last-second omnibus spending bills that Congress would pass to keep the government running. The amendment would bar the Reagan administration from aiding the efforts of the Nicaraguan contras against the Marxist Sandinista government. This was ridiculous, of course -- it wasn't the purview of a backbencher congressman to dictate foreign policy, but Reagan was forced to either sign the budget bill with the Boland Amendment or issue a veto and shut the government down. And it was precisely because of the Boland Amendment, which was treated as a Holy of Holies by the Democrats and their media pets, that we had the Iran-contra "scandal."

Now that ObamaCare is law in the form of the Senate bill that is much hated for the corrupt dealings that were involved in its passage, Congress is acting to take up a reconciliation bill that would supposedly fix things like the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase and other such goodies that grabbing Senators received for their votes. And this gives the Republicans a chance to embarrass the Democrats. We have two pretty good examples already.

First, the amusing one:

On Tuesday, the GOP put its strategy into action, with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okl.) introducing an amendment beyond agreeable. Titled “No Erectile Dysfunction Drugs To Sex Offenders” it would literally prohibit convicted child molesters, rapists, and sex offenders from getting erectile dysfunction medication from their health care providers.

While it will undoubtedly be difficult for Democrats to vote against the measure (one can conjure up the campaign ads already), the party plans to do just that.

“Democrats in the Senate are very unified that this is not going back to the House,” Sen. Wyden (D-Ore.) told the Huffington Post on Tuesday, minutes before the Coburn amendment was introduced.

Allahpundit makes an appropriately mordant observation:

Everyone get the joke here? If the Dems amend the reconciliation bill for any reason, they have to send it back to the House for yet another vote. So anything the GOP proposes — anything — they’re basically bound to vote no on. And Coburn knows it. One tasty shinola sandwich, coming up! Although I’m confused: If, as the left has convinced itself, ObamaCare is pure win for them politically (see, e.g., today’s ridiculously overhyped Gallup poll), what’s the aversion to another House vote? In fact, why not ping-pong the bill back and forth between the chambers for another month, loading it up with ever more crowd-pleasing amendments? It’s time to own the glorious political victory that looms in November, liberals.

Then there's this:

As the Senate grinds through 20 hours of debate on the health care reconciliation bill, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Tuesday night offered an amendment that would require the president, vice-president, members of Congress, political appointees and congressional staff to get their federal health benefits through the soon-to-be-created health insurance exchanges.

This group currently gets insurance through a system overseen by the Office of Management and Budget and under the health care bill signed into law today, some of the congressional staff would have to sign up for insurance through the exchanges. But some would be exempted. Politico filed a story Tuesday night pointing out that leadership and committee staff are exempt from having to use the exchanges. This has caused a bit of an uproar on Capitol Hill, with Republicans accusing top Democratic staff of writing a health care law that's not good enough for them to participate in.

"President Obama has publicly advertised that his reforms would give members of the public the same coverage available to Members of Congress," reads a GOP summary of the Grassley measure. "This amendment would ensure that he, his
successors, and all his appointed political officials would also have the same coverage members of the public enrolled in the Exchange receive."
Your assignment: tell me why such an amendment is a bad idea.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's next from our overlords?

How about a VAT? Michael Barone explains:

On Sunday, 219 House Democrats, soothed by their leaders' gaming of the CBO scoring process, voted in reckless disregard of what the bond market has been telling them. Some may share Speaker Nancy Pelosi's optimism that the government's looming fiscal disaster can be avoided by imposing a value added tax -- in effect, a national sales tax.

Gee, there's a great idea. And the drums are already beating from the op-ed hamsters. The always-reliable David Brooks thinks it's inevitable:

The task ahead is to save this country from stagnation and fiscal ruin. We know what it will take. We will have to raise a consumption tax. We will have to preserve benefits for the poor and cut them for the middle and upper classes. We will have to invest more in innovation and human capital.

The issue with a VAT is simple: it's a tax designed to be hidden from view. The end consumer pays the tax in a hidden way, as producers up and down the supply chain pass along their costs. Eventually everything you buy will cost 15-20% more than it would have ordinarily. And that is a best-case scenario, given the way the feds have been printing money. Ever since Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan wrung the Carter-era monetary bungles out of the economy, inflation has been modest. We are currently recreating the economic conditions of the 1970s, with a vengeance.

Will this cunning plan work? Back to Barone:

But, as we know from the experience of high-tax Western Europe and relatively low-tax America over the last three decades, higher taxes tend to retard economic growth. Lower economic growth means less revenue for government than in CBO projections. Less revenue means more borrowing -- and at some point lenders are going to call a halt.

And already we're seeing the implications, as Moody's has already threatened to lower the credit rating for U.S. Treasuries:

If Moody’s were to downgrade the country’s rating, the impact could be severe. It would signal to lenders worldwide that the US is no longer one of the safest places to invest money.

That, in turn, would threaten the country’s ability to borrow freely and extensively from other countries on favorable terms. Investors would likely demand a higher interest rate to finance US debt, which would push federal debt higher still.

And remember, Moody's issued this warning last week, before the House passed ObamaCare. Not to put too fine a point on it, but as our Vice President said today in a different context, this is a big $@*! deal.

Let's be honest here -- the VAT is going to be a non-starter, and it should be. There's only one sure way to stop this madness and that is cut down on the spending. It's going to suck, but the current path Obama and the rest of his minions are charting will be a whole lot worse.

Another Home Truth

Jonah Goldberg gets to the heart of the matter:

The government has surged over the breakwater and is now going to flood the nooks and crannies of American life. Americans will now fight over what tax dollars should cover and not cover. Debates over "subsidizing" this "lifestyle" or that "personal choice" will erupt. And when conservatives complain, liberals will blame them for perpetuating the culture war.

Put simply, if your "lifestyle choice" is tied to the public fisc, it is subject to review. And when this bill is signed into law, we lose a significant chunk of our freedom. And the irony is this: a lot of people who supported this legislation routinely make lifestyle choices that are, shall we say, potentially bad for their health. Your eating habits, your sexual practices and your leisure activities will soon be matters of scrutiny. And there is no more dangerous moralist than a moralist with the power of the purse.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Something to watch

The Democrats are going to lose seats, potentially a lot of them, because of their perfidy in passing the bill last night. But you know what's going to be interesting? Here is the list of Democrats who voted no. I will be very curious to see how many of this group lose their seats, especially in comparison to the number of members who voted yes.

Whatcha think?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The final tally

From the roll call.

Tim Walz? Ron Kind? Steve Kagen?

We comin' for you. Congratulations to all of you for signing your resignation letters.

Lessons of the day

It's pretty simple, really:

  • There is no such thing as a "pro-life" Democrat. In the end, Bart Stupak sold out every principle he has ever publicly espoused on this issue, for a promise from a man whose word is no good. Bart Stupak might be bunking with Doug Kmiec in Malta come January.
  • When you elect the Party of Government, don't be surprised if they try to extend their governing to every aspect of your life.
  • Because of the previous mistakes that the Party of Government has committed (Social Security, Medicare) and the complicating mistakes that the Stupid Party has made (extending the prescription drug benefit and committing us to trillions of unfunded liabilities), we are facing a financial catastrophe in the next 10-20 years. The Party of Government has decided to face that issue by doubling down.
  • Elections have consequences. Sometimes, very, very bad consequences.

But enough of that. Time to get to work. We have a Republic to save.

It was a bright cold day in March, and the clocks were striking thirteen

UPDATE (10:10 p.m., 3/21/10): make that 219 votes.

As the House of Representatives meets today to change our nation forever on a strictly partisan vote, remember that despite the best efforts of our betters, there will continue to be innovators who will develop work-arounds to the rotting edifices of government design. We have not reached the point we are in this world by dimly accepting the dictates of the busybodies and blackguards who will vote today to impose their misguided dream.

We will continue to learn, to adapt, to pioneer, to achieve and to overcome the obstacles that we place in our own path. We will do these things because we have abilities, drive and faith.

It's a beautiful early spring day in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. We've done what we could to change the course of the events that will take place today in our nation's capital. I'm going to enjoy this day, secure in the knowledge that whether our representatives do the right thing today, we as Americans still will have the opportunity to put things right if they don't.

Be not afraid. God has blessed this nation and blessed us all. That doesn't change because 216 or 217 individuals vote otherwise.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gina Bauman Wins SD 50 Endorsement

At this time Minnesota Senate District 50 is DFL territory, but the team that is working to change that was finalized this afternoon at the SD 50 convention at Christ the King Lutheran Church in New Brighton.

The delegation overwhelmingly selected New Brighton City Council member Gina Bauman to face incumbent Sen. Satveer Chaudhary in the November election. Gina is now in her second term on the the City Council and has served with great distinction as a consistent voice for fiscal sanity. She was instrumental in keeping the city property tax levy at 0% for this year, a rare and positive change for the city. Gina has an extensive financial and budgeting background and also runs a coffee shop in New Brighton, Cuppachiodo's, which is well known and regarded in the area.

Gina has a strong campaign organization already in place and a significant group of supporters in New Brighton. She's extremely smart and quick on her feet, which proved to be a significant advantage during the endorsement process. She's also not afraid of a fight; she was instrumental in challenging the political barons who have run New Brighton for much of the last 20 years. She is well acquainted with the local issues within the district and her background provides her with the right skill set for the Senate, which is sorely lacking in fiscal discipline these days. She will be a formidable candidate.

Senate District 50 spans Anoka and Ramsey Counties and includes the cities of Columbia Heights, Fridley, New Brighton, Arden Hills and portions of St. Anthony and Shoreview. The incumbent, Satveer Chaudhary, has served two largely anonymous terms in the State Senate. He has been a loyal member of the DFL caucus, which may turn out to be a mixed blessing in this election cycle. Chaudhary might be best known for a political kerfuffle he went through in 2008, when it was revealed that he had advanced the interest of Arctic Cat, which was sponsoring an outdoor sports cable show Chaudhary hosted. It also turned out that Arctic Cat had given Chaudhary a discount on a snowmobile. Our friends at Boots On wrote about the case at the time.

Bauman joins the endorsed House candidates, Tim Utz (50A) and Russell Bertsch (50B), who are running against DFL incumbents Carolyn Laine and Kate Knuth. While it will not be easy to oust this trio of DFL incumbents, this is a strong group of Republican candidates. We'll continue to follow the races closely here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Two more portraits in the Charmin Gallery

The scales continue to fall from the eyes.

You'll recall that Caterpillar once was the proud scene of an Obama photo opportunity early in his presidency, in which Obama promised that because of his manful work in passing the stimulus bill, Cat would be hiring soon. It hasn't happened, of course. So how is Obamacare playing in Peoria?

Caterpillar Inc. said the health-care overhaul legislation being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives would increase the company's health-care costs by more than $100 million in the first year alone.

In a letter Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, Caterpillar urged lawmakers to vote against the plan "because of the substantial cost burdens it would place on our shareholders, employees and retirees."

Caterpillar, the world's largest construction machinery manufacturer by sales, said it's particularly opposed to provisions in the bill that would expand Medicare taxes and mandate insurance coverage. The legislation would require nearly all companies to provide health insurance for their employees or face large fines.

The Peoria-based company said these provisions would increase its insurance costs by at least 20 percent, or more than $100 million, just in the first year of the health-care overhaul program.

$100 million dollars is a lot of money. That may not seem to be the case to our friends in Washington, especially when you consider that our solons are spending that much money each time they blink, but Caterpillar doesn't have the luxury of turning on a printing press. What will Caterpillar do? It's hard to say, but if I were the average laid-off machinist in Peoria, I wouldn't be betting on getting a job with Cat any time soon. And if they do hire, I would imagine that at least some of the people will be offered work as independent contractors. The people who run Caterpillar are smart enough to understand that it doesn't do a lot of good to plan for the future when people who can affect your future are as mercurial as Team Obama.

Then there's the prodigal speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, who seems to have noticed something:

Excuse me, but it is embarrassing—really, embarrassing to our country—that the president of the United States has again put off a state visit to Australia and Indonesia because he's having trouble passing a piece of domestic legislation he's been promising for a year will be passed next week. What an air of chaos this signals to the world. And to do this to Australia of all countries, a nation that has always had America's back and been America's friend.

How bush league, how undisciplined, how kid's stuff.

You could see the startled looks on the faces of reporters as Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who had the grace to look embarrassed, made the announcement on Thursday afternoon. The president "regrets the delay"—the trip is rescheduled for June—but "passage of the health insurance reform is of paramount importance." Indonesia must be glad to know it's not.

We've had a number of these sorts of epiphanies in recent days, especially among people like Noonan who were quite blithe in reassuring us that the man who now occupies the White House would do a good job and was the far superior choice. Those assurances now? How bush league, how undisciplined, how kid's stuff.

The prodigal is starting to see things clearly, though. Here is a sharp observation on the Wednesday interview that Obama conducted with Brett Baier of Fox News:

Thursday's decision followed the most revealing and important broadcast interview of Barack Obama ever. It revealed his primary weakness in speaking of health care, which is a tendency to dodge, obfuscate and mislead. He grows testy when challenged. It revealed what the president doesn't want revealed, which is that he doesn't want to reveal much about his plan. This furtiveness is not helpful in a time of high public anxiety.
You'd be furtive, too, especially if you were doing what Barack Obama is trying to do, which is to cram down perhaps the most fundamental policy change in the last 50 years with a completely partisan majority, in a time where public opinion is decidedly against such a sweeping change.

What to make of this? I'm somewhat torn. I was a fan of Peggy Noonan for a long time and her two-year infatuation with Obama has been highly frustrating, because she should have known better. She's less silly than the risible David Brooks, but she's a long way from emulating the late William Safire, the New York Times columnist and old Nixon hand who supported Clinton in 1992, came to regret it and said as much. Perhaps Noonan will be willing to step all the way back from where she's been.

Home Truth

The always brilliant Doctor Zero zeroes in:

The only guarantee you have that ObamaCare will provide the promised benefits, and remain within its boundaries, is the trust you place in the word of Barack Obama and his party… and your faith in future politicians who have yet to be elected.
Talk about a faith-based initiative. What's a more likely scenario?

It would be a horrible mistake to accept a deal with the creators of history’s most staggering natonal debt, based on assurances they will place your interests ahead of theirs, for decades to come. As Darth Vader memorably explained to Lando Calrissian, the State can always alter the terms of the deal, and your only recourse will be praying they don’t alter it any further.
Damn straight. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reasons to be cheerful

I'm trying to smile. Really, I am.

Given the way Congress and the president have chosen to shove the crap sandwich of "health care reform" down our throats, it's easy to be angry or bitter right now. But if we are to be effective, we must remain happy warriors. And it's always a good idea to stay cheerful.

An example -- while I was sad to see that Alex Chilton died, I'm cheerful because my brother Mike has rejoined the fray to post about Chilton and his work in the post immediately below. Chilton should have been one of the biggest names in music but he never got over, for a lot of reasons that were mostly outside of his own influence. He gave us a lot of wonderful songs and he continued to pursue both the audience and his own muse throughout his life and he made this world a better place because of it. That's worth celebrating, even as we mourn his loss.

There's another song by a long-gone rocker that I always remember when I start to get angry about things: Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3), by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, from about 1979, in which the irrepressible Dury, who survived childhood polio and had a fair-to-middling career, relates things that make him cheerful, including the following random things:

Some of Buddy Holly, the working folly
Good Golly Miss Molly, and boats
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet
Jump back in the alley add nanny goats

18-wheeler Scammels, Domineker camels
All other mammals plus equal votes
Seeing Picadilly, Fanny Smith and Willy
Being rather silly, and porridge oats
A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You're welcome we can spare it - yellow socks
To short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty
Going on forty - no electric shocks

I can definitely agree with Buddy Holly and the references to Little Richard. As for nanny goats, and no electric shocks? Hey, whatever works.

We all have our reasons to be cheerful, whether we want to say them or not. But as we go through this low, mendacious period in our lives, we owe it to ourselves to remember those things that make us cheerful. There are plenty of things to hate in this world but spending too much time on hate diminishes us.

Children by the Millions...

...won't be noting the passing of Alex Chilton, of Box Tops fame, and Big Star fame (such as it is). But I wanted to drop a quick note noting it. As any good music snob knows, Big Star never sold many records, but were tremendously influential on some of the best music of the 80s and 90s (especially acts like REM). And, perhaps my favorite Replacements song is named after him (link is Paul Westerburg solo).

Couple of links to Big Star songs via YouTube:

September Gurls

Back of a Car

And, with the Box Tops...

The Letter

The sad thing is that Alex Chilton and a new version of Big Star was set to play at South by Southwest in Austin this year.

RIP, Alex.

March Madness

Quick break from the politics and the David Brooks bashing. Always gotta love the NCAA basketball tournament. I filled out my bracket and I have Kansas beating Kentucky in the finals. Our resident expert, Benster, picks West Virginia to beat Kansas State in the finals.

What's your pick? Only hint: don't go with Winthrop. The floor is open.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ballad of a Times Man

You can almost hear Dylan warming up in the background. David Brooks, he sings for you:

You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Uh, make that Mister Brooks:

David Brooks: But I persist in the belief that government is more fundamentally messed up than ever in my lifetime. Barack Obama campaigned offering a new era of sane government. And I believe he would do it if he had the chance. But he has been so sucked into the system that now he stands by while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks about passing health care via “deem and pass” — a tricky legislative device in which things get passed without members having the honor or the guts to stand up and vote for it.

Deem and pass? Are you kidding me? Is this what the Revolutionary War was fought for? Is this what the boys on Normandy beach were trying to defend? Is this where we thought we would end up when Obama was speaking so beautifully in Iowa or promising to put away childish things?

Criminy. Where to begin? How about at this risible statement:

Barack Obama campaigned offering a new era of sane government. And I believe he would do it if he had the chance.

Emphasis mine. Uh, Mr. Brooks? Based on what evidence? President Obama's storied legislative career in Illinois? His permanent campaign? His years learning the art of politics in Chicago? My goodness, man -- look at the luminaries he brought with him to the White House! No one is going to confuse Rahm Emanuel or David Axelrod with Edmund Burke. Let's give the President some credit here: he's smart enough to recognize a political operative when he sees one. And he's got a brigade of operatives sitting in the West Wing.

Ah, but True Believer Brooksie has figured out the issue. Cherchez la femme:

But he has been so sucked into the system that now he stands by while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks about passing health care via “deem and pass” — a tricky legislative device in which things get passed without members having the honor or the guts to stand up and vote for it.

It's Pelosi! Foul temptress! Using her nasty tricks and feminine wiles to fool the noble Othello, er I mean Obama. Obama is just like the other noble men who come to Washington and are tempted by the painted ladies who parade on Pennsylvania Avenue. Poor, noble Barack Obama, patron saint of the pants crease: just like Marion Barry some 20 years before, the bitch set him up.

Our Timesman is taking it all kinda hard, and it's all that evil Pelosi's fault. But it's not just the president she's led astray. She is also Keyser Sose, apparently:

Something that’s even more depressing is people in our business. We pundits consult think tankers and experts and bloggers in hopes of getting an honest opinion. Many of the experts I consult have become party apparatchiks over the last few weeks. Pelosi says jump and they ask where they can check their intellectual integrity to lighten the load.

My God -- how can Pelosi do these things? She-devil! Siren! Good heavens, look at the carnage -- all the boys from Brookings piled on the rocks between Scylla and Charybdis, their position papers fluttering about in the breeze. And what of Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall, face down on their respective keyboards? And Gergen -- left bleeding at Rachel Maddow's desk! It's all too much for our puzzled pundit:

Either this whole city has gone insane or I have or both. But I’m out here on the ledge and I’m not coming in the window. In my view this is no longer about health care. It’s just Democrats wanting to pass a bill, any bill, and shredding anything they have to in order to get it done. It’s about taking every sin the Republicans committed when they were busy being corrupted by power and matching it with interest.

You could turn to that noted philosopher Jack Nicholson for two possible responses. But you know what's funny? Either Brooks is a complete liar or he really is an utter rube about all this. How else can you explain the incredible faith that Brooks apparently has in his hero? How else can you explain the 800-word rationalizations he offers twice weekly to the bien pensants who take the Times? What other possible reason would there be for a seemingly grown man of accomplishment to try to assign blame for this train wreck of an administration on Nancy Pelosi?

Here's the thing: in order for Brooks to believe these things, he has to simultaneously argue that Barack Obama is both a philosopher-king and an ingenue, a worldly-wise innocent. You could call it a nuanced argument, or you could call it cognitive dissonance. But you know what -- I think the rube theory is the right one. Brooks believes every word of it. If it weren't so profoundly icky and stupid, it would almost be touching.

And what did you expect, Mr. Brooks?

David Brooks is aghast:

Reconciliation has been used periodically before. That was bad enough. But at least for major legislation like the first Bush tax cuts, there was usually significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure partisanship.

Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.

We have a political culture in which the word “reconciliation” has come to mean “bitter division.” With increasing effectiveness, the system bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.
To which a far smarter pundit of a different era replies:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

I know you don't think of yourself as common, Mr. Brooks, but you supported the election of this Congress and this administration on the theory that the common people deserved the ministrations of your friends with top notch pants creases. And now we're getting it through reconciliation, good and hard.

This is the world you requested, Mr. Brooks. No complaining now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Radio Free Dilettante — Cramdown Edition

iTunes gauges the mood:

Last Five:
Nowhere to Run, Martha & the Vandellas
Breakfast in Bed, Dusty Springfield
Get the Funk Out Ma Face, the Brothers Johnson
Moonlight Mile, the Rolling Stones
Change is Now, the Byrds

Next Five:
Give Me Strength, Eric Clapton
Mercy, Duffy
Long Train Running, Doobie Brothers
Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Keep on Smilin', Wet Willie

Monday, March 15, 2010

Please send the letter

My good friend and blogging colleague Brad Carlson sent me a link to a site that will send an e-mail to your member of Congress (in my case, Betty McCollum) and another to the 58 members of the so-called "Blue Dog Coalition." The site gives you form letters that you can edit. I've edited my letters as follows.

First, my message to Cong. McCollum, who it must be noted doesn't give a damn what I think:

I write to remind you that your constituents oppose government-run health care and any legislation which might broaden the federal government's control over health care. There is no real support for the path you are currently considering.

Current health care legislation will result in lost health insurance and lost jobs for the American people and will push us deeper into recession. An employer would be foolish to hire a person now and be saddled with ruinous costs. Rather than providing more insurance, this legislation will eventually turn most employees into independent contractors. This will inevitably lead to a single-payer government healthcare regime. While you might think this desirable, rest assured that your constituents will not.

More importantly, a yes vote for this monstrosity will fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between the government and those it purports to govern. If my health care is subject to the whim of the government and the battery of bureaucracies that will result from the implementation of this legislation, I will face compulsion in my lifestyle choices.

You have been told, no doubt, that this is an historic vote. Indeed it is. If you vote yes for the bill, you will permanently harm the country in an irreparable way. And please note this -- the citizens of the 4th District will view your vote as a resignation letter and I will do everything within my power to ensure your defeat, so you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your historic vote as a private citizen.

Next is the message I have sent to the Blue Dogs:

I write to encourage you to oppose government-run health care and any legislation which might broaden the federal government's control over my health care.

Current health care legislation will result in lost health insurance and lost jobs for the American people and will push us deeper into recession.

I hope that you fight against health care legislation that would drive up costs, diminish quality and limit access. Please know that I'll be looking to see how you vote this March. If you vote yes, I and millions of others will consider your vote a resignation letter and we will use our collective energies to oust you from office. If you believe that this healthcare initiative is such a fine idea, we will give you an opportunity to enjoy the results of your handiwork in January of 2011.

The hour is growing near. These people need to hear from you. I don't have any illusions about my own representative. Cong. McCollum will vote for this crap sandwich -- it's a foregone conclusion that she will since Cong. McCollum is essentially sewn into the lining of Nancy Pelosi's coat pocket and the next independent thought McCollum has will be her first. We'll get to work on ousting her pretty soon.

Even if your representative is a lost cause, send a note -- it doesn't take that long and the Blue Dogs are the ones who really need to hear from you. Perhaps your note will be the one that sends a Blue Dog's careerist, survivalist instinct into gear and leads to a No vote. In addition, there are non-Blue Dog representatives here in the Upper Midwest (Tim Walz, Ron Kind, Steve Kagen) who might break the right way if they feel enough heat. If these guys think they can get by with voting yes, they will. Make sure they understand the implications of their vote. Do it today.

Lightning Round - 031510

Never enough time and always so much to say:

-- Even though he manages the hated White Sox, you gotta love Ozzie Guillen, who was an intelligent and fearless ballplayer and has been a really fun adversary as a manager. Ozzie doesn't much like Sean Penn, apparently (H/T to Instapundit):

The outspoken White Sox manager called Penn a “payaso” (clown) and “izquierdista
estupido” (stupid leftist) on Twitter Friday for his praise of controversial Venezuela President Hugo Chavez.
“Oh my God, Sean Penn defended our President Hugo Chavez,” Guillen, a Venezuela native, tweeted. “That’s easy when you [don't] live in Venezuela and have money. LOL…shame on [you].”

I am amused.

-- I'm sure glad that the Congress has been heading the call of the citizenry and listening to their impassioned pleas on Obamacare. They now have a working bill that's 2,309 pages long. That makes Atlas Shrugged look like a pamphlet.

-- I don't know what's worse: that David Axelrod is a ridiculous buffoon, or that my alma mater has selected Axelrod to be the speaker at this year's commencement. Check out this howler from the press release:

A political idealist who has played a critical role in American politics for a quarter century, Axelrod served as senior advisor to the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition and chief strategist and media advisor for the 2008 Obama campaign. Following the campaign, the President named him to his current post.

A political idealist, huh? I worked in the Beloit College public relations office 25 years ago and I'll say this much: I don't think I ever had to write anything that transparently ludicrous.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bensterology -- March Madness is Here!

Hey everyone, Benster's in the house. And as you can guess, I can already feel the HYYYYYYYPPPPPE!!!!!!!!!!!

No, really? You don't say!

I've been feeling it since about 2:30 this afternoon, Decrepit, when the Gophers took the floor against The. Ohio. State. University. Unfortunately, Evan Turner didn't want to see the Gophers celebrate.

Yeah, it was a bit of a butt whoopin', Seabiscuit. But I understand that the Gophers got in anyway.

Yes, because they beat the Illinois Cheating Illini in Champaign, so the great brains on the Selection Committee decided to send the Gophs instead. And I also think they wanted to prevent any possibility of Bruce Weber wearing his godawful orange sport coat, especially since the Tennessee coach, Bruce Pearl, has one that's even worse -- I've even added the picture to prove it. Which is saying something, old fella!

I appreciate the fashion critique, Benster, but I thought you wanted to talk about the tournament. Or are you channeling Fearless Maria?

No, I'll leave the fashion talk to Fearless Maria, and/or Joan Rivers. They can fight it out on the red carpet. I know who I have my money on, geezer!

Well, let's do it this way, youngblood. I'll ask you some questions. Do you like the brackets generally?

I have to think that the brackets seem to be heavily stacked at the top, and I was a little surprised that the mid-majors got a bunch of at-large bids, especially after last year. I think we could see more than a few upsets in the first weekend.

Who do you think is going to pull an upset?

I have to like Cornell. I don't think they are really a 12 seed at all. Now the Ivy League isn't exactly the Big East, but Cornell can play basketball and their opponent, Temple, should be on high alert.

Were you surprised that the Badgers got a 4 seed and Michigan State got a 5?

I was a little surprised, because Wisconsin got thoroughly drubbed by the Cheating Illini in the conference tournament, but apparently that didn't matter very much and you do need to remember that the Badgers beat the Spartans badly in Madison and were competitive in East Lansing. Also, winning against Duke really helped the Badgers' cause. Now, can I ask you a question, old dude?

Sure. Shoot.

Who do you think is on upset alert?

Well, I'll go with the easy choice and say Purdue. The Boilermakers were a very good team before Robbie Hummel got hurt, but without him they don't have a lot of firepower and they looked almost helpless against the Gophers on Saturday. Siena has a history of being a tough team to beat in the tournament and I would expect that they will be able to handle Purdue. I'd also suggest that Butler better watch its step against Texas-El Paso, and the aforementioned Tennessee will wish they didn't have to play San Diego State. Pearl may hope that his neon sport coat will frighten and/or blind the Aztec players. Now, let me ask you this: how will the Gophers do against Xavier?

I guess it depends on which team shows up. The team that played like demons this weekend against Purdue, or the team that didn't bother against Michigan. Xavier is undoubtedly a talented team and has been pretty good in recent years, but the Gophers should be able to give them a lot of trouble, especially with the Twin Towers of Sampson and Iverson. And it would help if Blake Hoffarber decides to throw up a few prayers like he did in high school.

I agree with that. Any opinion on who is going to win the whole thing when it's done?

I like the West Virginia Mountaineers. They play good defense and they won the Big East tournament, which is no easy thing. I'd like to think they can harass John Wall and Kentucky enough to get to the Final Four, and then they can annihilate Duke, because everyone wants Duke to lose, except maybe Jay Bilas and Coach K. But Jay Bilas is one of those ESPN guys who is going running on coffee this weekend and probably wishes he was back at Duke instead of being a stat head.

So you've already developed a dislike of the Dukies, huh? A sign of good judgment, grasshopper. We are quite pleased to see that.

I'll give Bilas this much, at least he doesn't try to match his tie to his highlighter like Digger Phelps, who probably needs a fashion intervention right after they get to Bruce Pearl and Bruce Weber.

Good to know, Benster. So you're going with West Virginia, huh?

John Wall may be talented, but if West Virginia won't let him get near the basket it won't matter very much. And Kentucky cheats even more than the Cheatin' Illini. Maybe after Calipari gets run out of Lexington, maybe the 'Cats can bring in Lou Henson. Wait, I'd better check on that and make sure he's not dead. Okay, he's available. Ben out!

When the student is ready, the teacher appears part two

And the learning continues, as Europe feels the love of The One:

Within days of becoming president, Obama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. This, followed by Obama’s odd choice of gift to Brown — a box of DVDs including Psycho and Toy Story — prompted speculation of something deeper. In his memoir, Obama writes of how his grandfather was beaten by British troops in colonial Kenya.

A senior official from No 10, who was in Washington in December for Obama’s big speech on Afghanistan, was horrified that the president did not once mention Britain in the 45-minute address despite the presence there of 10,000 British troops.

British diplomats recently complained to the State Department over the handling of the Falklands dispute with Argentina. Although the US position of neutrality has not changed, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, endorsed the Argentine president’s call for talks on sovereignty while visiting Buenos Aires. A State Department spokesman responded to a question about the Falklands by saying: “Or the Malvinas, depending on how you see it.”

The British can have a chat with Abe Foxman over the realization that He's Just Not That Into You. And they'll have company -- from the article:

London is not alone in feeling snubbed. In July last year Obama received an open letter from 22 prominent central and eastern Europeans, including Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, expressing their concern over his policy of wooing Russia.

He managed to offend Poland and the Czech Republic with his clumsy handling of the scrapping of missile defence agreements last September. The announcement, partly to appease Russia, came on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.

At the Copenhagen summit on climate change, European leaders expected to have a big say, having led the way on environmental legislation. Instead they were left out of the room while Obama cut a deal with China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The most recent recipients of the Obama brush-off were the Spanish, who were curtly informed that Obama would not be attending the annual European Union-US summit in Madrid in May, something Bush did. When Jose Luis Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, came to Washington after the cancellation, he was not even granted a private meeting with the president or vice-president. His only encounter with Obama was at the national prayer breakfast, an event attended by thousands.

Hey, look on the bright side, Europe -- at least you're rid of that despicable cowboy Chimpy McHitlerburton.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears

Another frog ponders the scorpion:

"We are shocked and stunned at the Administration's tone and public dressing down of Israel," Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman said in a statement. "We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States."
Uh, Abe? The people who run this administration aren't your friends. And, despite the generous support you and your organization have offered these people, they haven't been your friends for rather a long time now. If you have any further questions, let me know.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Maltese Falsehood

Chad the Elder at Fraters asks a really great question:

Question for all those Catholics out there who voted for Barack Obama because--despite his clear and consistent views and record on abortion, stem cells, and other life issues--he would do more to help promote "social justice." You know people like Douglas Kmiec and other ProLife ProObama folks who claimed that being pro-life was more than just opposing abortion and anyway as president Obama would take actions that would "drastically" reduce the number of abortions.

More than a year into the Obama presidency, what exactly has President Obama done that in any way could justify your vote?

Go click the link, because Chad has run the numbers and they aren't pretty. But he does remind us of one undeniable benefit:

Douglas Kmiec got a sweet gig as U.S. Ambassador to Malta, but what about the rest of you?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My American Medical Story

It was nearly 3 years ago and I blogged about it at the time. I had suffered from severe headaches for most of my adult life, but on the morning of Tuesday, March 27, 2007, I had a headache for the ages. It came on in the night and no amount of painkiller was enough to stop it. More alarmingly, my vision had become blurred and I was having trouble speaking clearly, although I had no trouble screaming in agony. There wasn't much that Mrs. D could do for me except to get the kids off to school and then get me to the doctor's office.

We'd been through the drill before but after I described the symptoms to the doctor at our clinic, he immediately ordered a CT scan. I'd had a CT scan about six years before but nothing came up. We drove from the clinic to St. Paul Radiology's location in Arden Hills, about a mile from my house. The scan was completed and sent back to the clinic. This time, the news was different. I can still hear his words now. We saw something on the CT scan. The good news is that you didn't have a stroke, but you may have a tumor. You need to get to United Hospital right away. We'll call over there and have you admitted. Can you go right away?

Well, yes, we could go right away. We got down there and I was admitted immediately. Shortly thereafter, I went to the radiology department and had an MRI done. At that point, the diagnosis was provided. Pituitary adenoma. The doctors were concerned about the tumor, which had grown to 2.5cm and was showing signs of bleeding, which would have required emergency surgery. I was admitted to United for 4 days while the medical team put me through a battery of tests. While the need for immediate surgery might not materialize, there was little time to waste.

One of the things that was most impressive about my initial stay at United was how doctors seemed to appear out of nowhere. In the course of the first day I met the neurosurgeon who would later perform the surgery. Then a neurologist arrived, and an endocrinologist and otylarynologist. Finally, I met an opthamologist. I later learned that a number of these doctors were regularly featured on the list of top doctors that runs in Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine each year.

What I learned was about my condition was troubling, especially from the opthamologist. I took a test of my formal visual fields, which measures peripheral vision, both left and right and up and down. While I hadn't realized it, I had lost almost 30% of my visual field, on the top and bottom. While I could see peripherally, the tumor was impinging on my optic nerve and I could not see things up and down. If the tumor were to grow much more, I would likely suffer permanent vision loss.

After consulting with the doctors, the surgery was scheduled for the following Wednesday. The surgery would be a six hour procedure. The otylarynologist (an ear, nose and throat surgeon) would clear a path through my nose that would allow the neurosurgeon to reach and remove the tumor.

The surgery was uneventful and successful. It helps to have some of the best doctors in Minnesota working on your behalf. I spent about a week in the hospital recovering. The timing wasn't the greatest, as it was Easter weekend and I wasn't able to spend time with my family except for a few short visits. But eventually I was able to go home and slowly recover. By the 4th of July, I was healthy.

Three years on, the change is nothing short of remarkable. I rarely have headaches anymore and my vision has returned to 100%. I have no limitations on my physical activities and while I have to take a lot of medications to maintain my hormonal levels, I can do whatever I want. I'm a lucky guy.


So why did I share this story now? I'm concerned. The primary basis of my good fortune is that I had immediate access to a team of specialists in a variety of medical disciplines, who were able to work together quickly to solve a serious medical problem. I did not have to wait for care -- if it had been necessary, I would have been on the operating table the same day as the initial diagnosis. Beyond the skilled and dedicated medical professionals who were available to help me, I also had the good fortune of living in a metropolitan area with a number of top-flight hospitals, all with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, including an available MRI machine. We did not have a "Cadillac" health insurance policy -- in fact, we weren't doing so well financially in early 2007. My wife had coverage through her employer, which was a good thing because I had been laid off from my job in 2006 when my employer moved its operations out of state. I had not been able to find a full-time job and my health had been complicating my job search. This diagnosis and the related medical bills could have been catastrophic, but we came out of it just fine. Although we had some good-sized deductibles, we were able to manage the expense. The insurance company paid the bills, which likely ran into six figures, and did not fight us in any way.

There are undeniable problems with the medical delivery system in this country, especially the reality that third parties end up paying for medical services. And it is true that millions of Americans do not have health insurance at any given time.

What we do have an incredible amount of capacity to deliver medical care in this country. I ended up having my surgery at United Hospital, but I could as easily have had the procedure performed at Methodist Hospital, or Regions, or Fairview Southdale, or any number of other hospitals in the Twin Cities. Or I could have gone to the Mayo Clinic, home to some of the best doctors in the world. If I lived just a few hundred miles to the north, I would have had to wait.

Why is that? In Canada, everyone waits. The average wait for an MRI in Ottawa, Ontario is anywhere from 52-173 days, according to this website. There would have been an alternative, which is to have an MRI done privately, but the cost would have been around $1,000, which would have been close to impossible for a guy who was unemployed at the time. I would have had to wait for an MRI and endure more headaches, with the potential that the adenoma would indeed start to bleed and cause other damage. And in any event, as the website notes, there isn't an endocrinologist who specializes in the pituitary in Ottawa, which happens to be the capital of Canada.

Meanwhile, in the capital of this nation, there are politicians who believe that our current medical system must be overhauled. These politicians are currently involved in some amazingly convoluted measures to fundamentally change the medical system that helped me. I'd be willing to stipulate that their intentions are good, even though I'm not really convinced of that. But do we really want to change the system we have now in unalterable, unknowable ways? I would hope that the next guy who wakes up on a sunny March morning with a horrifying headache, blurred vision and slurred speech can get the same level of care that I received in 2007. If we change nothing, chances are he will. If our politicians change our system, good luck to him.