Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Deep thought....

Listening to Michele Bachmann (R-LuluLand) on Sean InsHannity's radio show today, the question occurred to me:
Why do all the Rethuglican Congresscritters sound just like John Birch Society members?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy Birthday!!!

I got up this morning and I missed it. Not there in the paper. No note of this wonderful anniversary. I'd plumb forgot, and no one was going to remind me. But ThinkProgress was nice enough to mark the auspicious sixth birthday of our Iraq adventure ... as well as the deafening silence from the M$M ... that owes so much to this adventure, and who should be passing on their "best wishes" for this salutary day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Richard Cohen: Clueless to the Nth degree

Richard Cohen doesn't like Jon Stewart's legendary dumping on Jim Cramer.

In a Washington Post article, he writes:
What Jon Stewart needs is Jon Stewart. He could use a droll comedian to temper his ferocity and correct him when he's wrong, as he was about the financial media, particularly CNBC and its excitable analyst Jim Cramer. They didn't cover up the story of financial shenanigans. They didn't even know it existed.

For proof, I can offer some names. Let's start with Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, who was instrumental in building what is now probably the world's most reviled corporation, AIG. He resigned as chairman and CEO in 2005, but still it is logical to assume that few people knew more about the company than Greenberg. He kept much of his net worth in AIG stock. He's now lost much of that worth.

Or take Richard Fuld. He is the former chairman of Lehman Brothers, which, as we all know, is no more. He lost about $1 billion.

Or take Citigroup's former chairman, Sanford Weill. He lost about $500 million.

Or take all the good people at Bear Stearns, the company Cramer adored almost to the bitter end. They went down with their stock.

If these people kept their money in these companies -- financial and insurance giants they had built and knew from the inside -- how was even Jim Cramer to know these firms were essentially hollow?
What a pile of bunk(o).

ODM (for eedjits like Cohen, that's "owners, directors, and managers") are compelled to file prospective stock trades well in advance of the transaction date. They can't just bail when the thing's tanking (that's what we might suspect is "insider trading", with a real stiff ticket for violations).

Plus, their stock transactions must be publicly reported ... and when the ODMs are going to sell, you can rest assured that every one else will take notice. And if there's a massive sell by them, everyone else will probably run for the hills as well, so that the stock is assured of tanking. So of course, they wouldn't sell even if they could, if they think they can just keep up <*cough-cough*> "cinfidence" and keep the Ponzi scheme going a bit longer....

Plus, such a sell might well be seen as an admission of guilt. Which may be just as painful.

Cohen admits he's wrong:
Trouble was, Cramer almost instantly sank into a classic case of Stockholm syndrome, agreeing much of the time with his captor. He came with sleeves rolled up but with the droopy eyes of a chastised puppy.
No, not Stockholm syndrome. Cramer, unlike the AIG top dogs, does have a slight sense of shame. He admitted that Stewart was right.

Cohen finishes with:
Stewart plays a valuable role. He mocks authority, which is good, and he mocks those, such as the media, who take the word of authority as if, well, it's authoritative. But given the outsize reception to his cheap shot at business media, he ought to turn his wit inward: Mocker, mock thyself.
Uh-oh. Cohen hasn't learned a thing from this. Stewart didn't jump on Cramer initially; the initial tiff was with Rick Santelli. Then Cramer jumped into the fray ... and got pasted (even though Stewart, in fairness, allowed that his beef wasn't just with Cramer -- "this song isn't about you" -- but rather with CNBC and the rest of the snake oil salesmen as a whole). Now Cohen seems to be begging for Stewart's attention. Hmmmm...... Stay tuned. ;-)


Monday, March 09, 2009

Defending the indefencible

From a Christian Science Monitor article defending the misnamed USA-PATRIOT Act:
By Nathan A. Sales
ARLINGTON, VA. - Remember when the USA Patriot Act was seen as a common-sense counterterrorism tool? Congress enacted the law shortly after the 9/11 attacks by large bipartisan majorities. It wasn't even close.

And for good reason: The Patriot Act made relatively modest changes to the law as it stood on Sept. 11, 2001. The act simply let terrorist- and spy-hunters use some of the same tools regular cops have had in their arsenal for decades. And it updated existing laws to make them more effective against terrorist threats.
To the extent it allowed what was already done, it was superfluous.
As President Obama forges new security policies, let's hope he keeps the Patriot Act intact. The act works. According to the Justice Department, the Patriot Act helped take down Al Qaeda cells in Buffalo, N.Y. and Portland, Ore. Prosecutors used it to convict a Floridian who pled guilty to raising money for a terrorist group called Palestinian Islamic Jihad. And The act led to the conviction of a man who threatened to torch a Texas mosque.
The Department of Justice has lied and/or grossly overstated various "successes". There's nothing in these prosecutions that could not have been done with standard gum-shoe work.
Despite those successes, the act has become a civil libertarian bugaboo. We've all heard how the act poses a dire threat to liberty and privacy. Federal agents can search your house without ever telling you. The feds can force the phone company to reveal whom you've been calling, and they can rummage through library records to find out what books you've been reading....
They can do so without warrants. "National Security Letters", absent oversight of a judge, are allowed. What more pernicious is that there was no way to find out -- at any time -- how many of these were being used. The recipients could not disclose at all that they'd been served with such. And in the aftermath of the USA-PATRIOT Act, thousands of these issued, and these NSLs were being misused.
... They can even brand you a terrorist and throw you in jail if you get in an argument with a flight attendant.

The daily reality is much less dramatic – and much less frightening.

Let's start with the flight attendants. It's been illegal to interfere with airline crews since JFK was president. The Patriot Act made it a crime to attempt or conspire to do what the law already barred.
Then it wasn't necessary. And occasionally drunks and jerks have been snared in this web, to no good reason. While I agree that drunks and jerks ought to behave themselves, it shouldn't be a federal felony with massive fines and jail sentences to be such.
The basic idea behind the change is prevention. We shouldn't have to wait for a passenger to take a crew member's life before we throw the book at him. We should be able to prosecute the steps he takes along the way – ignoring an order to return to his seat, pulling a box cutter from his pocket, and so on.
Hate to say it, but massive penalties for being a jerk are not going to prevent something. If we're talking hijackers, they aren't really looking too much at how many years they'll serve should they be captured and convicted. If you want prevention, you should do stuff -- you know -- to actually prevent airplane hijackings, like maybe stronger cockpit doors (which had been recommended before 9/11) and sky marshals.

There's more such silly argumentation in the article along the same lines.
Nathan A. Sales is a law professor at George Mason University. He previously served at the Department of Justice (where he helped write the Patriot Act) and the Department of Homeland Security.

Let's be honest: The USA-PATRIOT Act was a poorly thought out, reflexive after-the-fact response , to pretend that we're doing something ... and an attempt to persuade people that, prior to 9/11, it was legal manacles that had prevented the gummint from doing its job properly, not the incompetence of those in the gummint.

Friday, March 06, 2009

John Galt's conundrum

The Republican flacks for the health insurance industry are saying just a tad more than they should have:
Five senior Republican senators, including Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, and the minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, warned the president on Thursday that the public option would face opposition from many in their party.

In a letter to Obama, they said that "forcing free market plans to compete with these government-run programs would create an unlevel playing field and inevitably doom true competition. Ultimately, we would be left with a single government-run program controlling all of the market."
So if they're required to compete with a new entity, the private "free market" plans would lose? Isn't that a tacit admission that the public plan would be cheaper?

And just how is this not "true competition"? If the private companies can't deliver the services at an attractive price, don't they deserve to go under? Calling John Galt, calling John Galt!!!

CA Prop. 8 oral argument post-mortem

There's plenty of note in the arguments, but here's a few of the early highlights (from this S.F. Chronicle article):

In defending the removal of a previously recognised right via "amendment", here's Ken Starr for the respondents:
"Rights are in the power of the people," said Starr, law dean at Pepperdine University and formerly the special prosecutor in the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.
Yes, indeed. That's how our country was founded. Your rights are just what the majority (at any time) say they are. Starr opined that the (bare) majority have a right (which shouldn't be taken away) to implement their views. Under a democracy (that believes that a majority should win elections and decide propositions, rather than a minority, a dictator, or necromancy), the majority does in fact have this inherent "right" (or more accurately, advantage). The only reason for putting in actual "rights" into a constitution is to protect them from such majorities. If Starr is correct, then such "rights" as are in the constitution simply fight it out against the majority ... and the majority wins. Which makes a hollow mockery of such rights. Why bother pretending? It is arguable that this is the proper view of the California constitution, as textually read. Which would indicate that this constitution is fundamentally broken.

* * * * *
Starr also argued that Prop. 8 was a modest measure that left the rights of same-sex couples undisturbed under California's domestic-partner laws and other statutes banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The initiative "does not erode any of the bundle of rights that this state has very generously provided," he said, but merely "restores the traditional definition of marriage."

Several justices seemed to agree. Kennard said the voters arguably "took away the label of marriage, but ... left intact most of what this court declared," including unprecedented constitutional protections for gays and lesbians.
But these are provided by the legislature through majority vote, and they can be taken away as well (and Starr, arguing that even free speech protection could be removed from the California constitution by "amendment", can't make a principled claim that these remanent rights couldn't be taken away through similar initiative "amendment"). And if voters, by a 50.001% margin can take away one right (to the "label of marriage") this way, there's no stopping any of the other constitutional rights being removed, so saying that these remain (for now) is cold comfort.

And then there's this portion of the above, which deserves to be highlighted. Starr:
"[The initiative] does not erode any of the bundle of rights that this state has very generously provided,"....
So the state "generously provide[s] rights".... And this from the "conservative" clan, that doesn't trust gummint to do anything right....