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Monthly Archives: May 2009

You’ll Pay for Your Sins

May 13th, 2009 - 8:43 am

Under the Obama Plan, 95% of Americans will receive a tax cut. Except for the ones who smoke, drink, or snack.

Welcome Back, Carter

May 12th, 2009 - 3:00 pm

Carter to Obama: “Bring back gas lines!”

So Where’s the Money Now?

May 12th, 2009 - 2:07 pm

Yet another hopey-changey program languishing under bad management:

As the Obama administration attempts to turn around the beleaguered Hope for Homeowners program to fight foreclosures, it faces a nettlesome new headache. The primary lender involved is under investigation by the Department of Justice.

Senior federal housing officials say that of 51 loans made under the program, 50 were made by Melville, N.Y.-based Lend America, and those 50 loans are being held up pending ongoing federal investigations. The officials, who insisted on anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, declined to offer specifics except to say anything from inadequate documentation to unethical practices could be the focus of the queries.

The investigations are just the latest problem plaguing the Hope for Homeowners program, which stumbled after an inauspicious start under the Bush White House. It was an attempt to help 400,000 troubled borrowers by getting them into fixed-rate government-insured mortgages. But thanks to overly strict guidelines and weak incentives, the program foundered, producing just 51 closed loans in six months. In April, Obama unveiled an overhauled version as a key part of the $75 billion Making Home Affordable plan.

Bad government. No cookie.

Brave New World

May 12th, 2009 - 2:00 pm

Hey, here’s a well-meaning fool who likes the idea of your car being computer controlled to never exceed the speed limit.

I, too, have a plan. Americans should be forced to wear shock collars that will zap us if we cross against the light.

Safety first, you selfish bastards.

(Hat tip, Glenn.)

Tighten the Leash

May 12th, 2009 - 1:14 pm

Our new Wizards of Wall Street Washington can’t even manage a lousy $5 billion in bailout money:

After General Motors Corp. approved his company for the program, the CEO spent weeks trying to obtain guarantees on his receivables, including three weeks of due diligence with his lender and others.

“But Citibank does not return phone calls or e-mails,” he said.

The program allows suppliers designated by GM or Chrysler L.L.C. to get paid early for their parts shipments or to use government guarantees of payment to borrow from their private lenders. The cash outlays are administered by Citibank, but GM and Chrysler decide which of their suppliers can participate.

Another CEO, who runs a Detroit-area trim supplier, faced similar problems. GM and Chrysler “say we are on the list of suppliers qualified for aid,” he said. But he has yet to hear from Citibank, which he said is overwhelmed by supplier demand.

Calls by Crain’s sister publication Automotive News seeking comment from Citibank were not returned.

And where is the oversight Congress should be supplying? Where is the President and his bully prompter? Er, bully pulpit?

So I have a better idea. Since this five billion was some of the first bailout/stimulus/payout money to go out the door, let’s establish a new rule. No more new spending by Washington until they can prove that the initial spending did what it was intended to do.

No?

Then: Bad government, no cookie.

Rules of the Road, and Off

May 12th, 2009 - 12:49 pm

I didn’t know about the Porsche Wave until just now, but I did learn about the Wrangler Wave — mere hours after I picked up an old Jeep a few years ago.

First time I took the Wrangler out — not off-road, mind you; just down to the store — another Wrangler passed in the opposite direction. The driver had his left hand in the 12 o’clock position (I assume his right hand was, like mine, on the stick), and as he passed he raised and waved four fingers at me, his thumb still locked around the wheel.

“I wonder who he mistook me for?” I thought.

Next day: same thing, different Wrangler. And again, just a couple seconds later. (There are lots of Wranglers on — and off — the roads of Colorado.) So I caught on quickly that Wrangler drivers give each other a little wave. Sometimes a nod. Less frequently, a headlight wink. But almost always a wave.

There’s more to it than that, though. Here’s what I’ve gleaned over the years.

Now That's a Jeep• If the driver of an old Jeep Cherokee (not the Grand, mind you) initiates a wave, Wrangler drivers are encouraged, but not required, to wave back. Same goes for any Jeep produced before the Chrysler buyout.

• Drivers of old CJ Jeeps have wave seniority, like salutes.

• If a Liberty driver waves, try not to laugh.

• Odds are, if the Wrangler in question is one of those new four-door models, and the paint is shiny, then they have never heard of the Wrangler Wave. Also, they’re probably still trying to figure out why they couldn’t get a leather interior.

• The driver of a Grand Cherokee or a new Commander will never wave, as it might distract them from their cell phone, their mocha latte, their snacks, and whatever is playing on their in-dash DVD.

• If, as the driver of a Wrangler, you ever receive a wave from a Jeep Compass or Patriot, you are required by Federal law to pull off the road immediately, drop your transfer case into Four-Lo, and drive up over the nearest great big rocks.

Alternately, you may drive up over the Patriot or Compass in question.

Crony Socialism

May 12th, 2009 - 10:43 am

How would you like to invest $80 billion in a dead-company-walking over the next couple of years?

No?

Well, what if I told you that company was producing mostly sub-standard products in a mature, highly-competitive industry?

Still no? Huh.

What if you also knew that the company’s one interesting product might never see the light of day, but if it does, it won’t sell without massive subsidies and even then in numbers too small to save the company?

What — you’re still not interested?

Well, how about if I told you, “Tough cookies, buster — you don’t get to choose your investments anymore?”

Under President Obama’s plan, 95% of Americans will receive a tax cut. Except for the ones who drink soda.

Stupid Is

May 12th, 2009 - 9:24 am

Anyone who thinks all of Washington’s new spending is somehow “temporary” had best read this story:

President Obama’s call last year for “shared sacrifice” doesn’t extend to federal employees, at least based on the details of his administration’s 2010 budget released this week.

At a time when the official unemployment rate is nearing double digits, and 6.35 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, the U.S. government is on a hiring binge.

Executive branch employment — 1.98 million in 2009, excluding the Postal Service and the Defense Department — is set to increase by 15.6 percent for the 2010 fiscal year. Most of that is thanks to the Census Bureau hiring 102,000 temporary workers, but not counting them still yields a net increase of 2 percent in one year.

There’s little belt-tightening in evidence in Washington, D.C.: Counting benefits, the average pay per federal worker will leap from $72,800 in 2008 to $75,419 next year.

Federal employment up, salaries up — and this is how Obama, Pelosi, Reid & Co. behave when times are bad. When the rest of us, I might add, are tightening our belts and saving money to pay down our debts.

Does anyone really think that once tax receipts start going up again, even one of those new federal workers will be shown the door? Or that any of these programs will see a cut?

OK, So That Didn’t Happen

May 11th, 2009 - 7:24 pm

Thankfully, the worst scene in the new “Star Trek” could have been worse, but wasn’t.

Deep in Denial

May 11th, 2009 - 7:23 pm

Was there anyone in power from 2001 and on who didn’t approve of torture? Certainly, it seems, not Nancy Pelosi:

Deep Inside Nancy PelosiHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi learned in early 2003 that the Bush administration was waterboarding terror detainees but didn’t protest directly out of respect for “appropriate” legislative channels, a confidant of the San Francisco Democrat said Monday.

The Pelosi camp’s version of events is intended to answer two key questions posed by her critics: When, precisely, did she first learn about waterboarding? And why didn’t she do more to stop it?

Pelosi has disputed a CIA document, released last week, that shows she was briefed in September 2002 on the “particular” interrogation techniques the United States had used on Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah. Pelosi has said she was told then only that the Bush administration was considering using certain techniques in the future — and that it had the legal authority to do so.

You know what this reminds me of? John Kerry’s lame denial, back in the 2004 election, that just because he voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in ’03, didn’t mean he ever expected President Bush to use it. That’s like giving me a sixth icy cold martini, then being shocked, shocked to find me under your table.

Must-See PJTV

May 11th, 2009 - 6:58 pm

This week’s edition of Hair of the Dog is up. On the big show:

Adequate nuclear safeguards in Pakistan.

Graphing Nancy Pelosi’s torturous denials.

Dick Cheney gets stood up.

Plus, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari wants our drones! Can we cover all that in just seven minutes of (really super duper high quality) television? Yes! We! Can!

Quick & Dirty Guide to War

May 11th, 2009 - 12:43 pm

James Joyner has some instant analysis of the big shake-up in the Afghanistan command, saying, “From my outside perch, however, this strikes me as both unfair and counterproductive.” Read the whole thing.

Henhouse, Meet Fox

May 11th, 2009 - 11:28 am

Payback’s… kinda nice, actually:

The President’s fiscal year 2010 budget for the federal government was unveiled last Thursday and surprisingly he found one agency that he thinks deserves a 9% budget cut. This agency is the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) in the U.S. Department of Labor. Obama proposed to cut its budget from $45 million in fiscal year 2009 to $41 million in fiscal year 2010.

OLMS is the federal agency that investigates financial crimes that occur when union officials steal from their union. OLMS also investigates cases where union officials engage in fraud and other corrupt practices in conducting union officer elections.

Who needs “card check” when you can cheat the old-fashioned way?

Douglas Adams Fans Will Understand

May 11th, 2009 - 5:43 am

All those Pakistani nukes are perfectly safe:

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said his country isn’t adding to its nuclear arsenal and doesn’t have to disclose the location of its weapons to the U.S.

Pakistan is “not adding to our stockpile as such,” Zardari said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “Why do we need more?”

Asked whether Pakistan would tell U.S. intelligence officials where all its nuclear weapons are located, to allow for a joint strategy to keep them secure, Zardari said Pakistan is a sovereign country.

“Why don’t you do the same with other countries yourself?”

My sources tell me to sleep tight, because Pakistan’s nukes are quite secure, in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.”

Must-See Radio

May 10th, 2009 - 1:01 pm

It’s another giant edition of PJM Political. This week:

From his weekly “American Tea Party” series on PJTV.com, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com interviews Randy Barnett, professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, about his recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Case for a Federalism Amendment: How the Tea Partiers can make Washington pay attention.”

PJ Media.com CEO Roger L. Simon interviews Norman Podhoretz, the founder of Commentary magazine about his provocative new article there titled, “How Obama’s America Might Threaten Israel.”

Jennifer Rubin, and Ed Driscoll survey the wreckage from “Arlen Specter’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.”

Plus, Ed and I get into demographics, blue to red migratory patterns, and U-Haul arbitrage! Check it out.

Going Boldly — With Spoilers

May 10th, 2009 - 12:01 pm

If you haven’t seen the new Star Trek yet, or if you don’t care about spoilers, then go ahead and click through. Everyone else — move along.

UPDATE: Will Collier has his review posted.

(more…)

Going Boldly

May 9th, 2009 - 7:48 pm

“Star Trek” isn’t just a perfect reboot of an old — and lately, tired — franchise, it’s a perfect sci-fi thriller. In fact, it’s a damn-near perfect little summer popcorn movie. And more. This will be a spoiler-free review, but I’ll put up a spoiler discussion in just a bit.

The picture “Trek” reminded me of most, strangely enough, was Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s 11.” That was a movie with a constant swirl of color and thrills and a crackling ensemble cast, with each character having something important to contribute to the action. The “Star Trek” which director J.J. Abrams has given us is one where even Uhura, finally, is more than legs in a mini skirt. In fact, she has one of the film’s more powerful moments, when she’s forced to hold herself together in public in a way that’s nearly… Vulcan in her self-control.

The plot is simple — er, simply convoluted. There’s time travel involved. The fun isn’t in the resolution, which any smart viewer can see coming a mile away. The fun is in watching this ensemble come together, in sometimes unexpected ways. And the time travel motif gives Abrams freedom to change stuff up. Long time fans will notice — and, I think, enjoy — the differences. Newbies will just enjoy it, period.

The drama hinges on one terrible, stupid catastrophe. It’s a terrible, stupid catastrophe tragic on an epic scale, and for one character, on a very personal level, too. I found myself wondering how the crew of the Enterprise would use time travel to “fix” things and save the day. As time started running out, however, an extra level of dread kicked in as I realized the terrible, stupid catastrophe would be allowed to stand. It’s a bold move by the filmmakers, going somewhere the Star Trek universe has never gone before. The only time travel in the movie is accidental and occurs basically off-screen, and the characters must live with the results. There’s no cheating here.

And that’s about as much about the plot as I can talk about without revealing a bunch of spoilers. So let’s move on to the cast.

Chris Pine: He owns James T. Kirk like James T. Kirk owns the bridge of his starship. The swagger, the gleam, the ‘tude, the intense interest in what’s under that (i.e., any) skirt… Pine has it all. All without descending into parody or simple imitation of Shatner.

Zachary Quinto: He’s Spock. Younger, so his inner human/Vulcan turmoil is more on the surface — not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’d say more, but I found myself so accepting of Quinto (who I’d never seen before in anything) in such an iconic role, that I’m not left with anything to add. This is Spock.

Karl Urban: He comes the closest to doing an imitation, of Deforest Kelly’s “Bones” McCoy. But he’s given so many great lines, and delivers them so perfectly, that you just won’t care. He damn near steals the movie.

Simon Pegg: An inspired choice to play Scotty, and his constant questions about where to find a decent meal fully explains the greatly-expanded girth of James Doohan (the original Scott) over the years. His manic genius is, well, genius.

Zoe Saldana: The above-mentioned Uhura. My latest movie crush. There’s quite a bit of character development, and even some plot, riding on her slender clavicles. And she carries it all effortlessly. Comparing her to Nichelle Nichols would be unfair, since Nichols — unfortunately — was rarely used as anything more than tasty, tasty eye candy.

John Cho: At first it was distracting seeing a Korean guy playing Sulu. Then he brought out his sword. Sweet!

Anton Yelchin: Chekov. Another scene-stealer, although with the least-defined role.

Eric Bana: Best Trek bad guy since Khan — which isn’t saying a whole lot, considering the intervening eight movies. But his job is to kill a whole bunch of people, then get killed himself. Both of which he does convincingly enough.

Oddly enough, I found the two “grown-up” Vulcans to be the most disappointing characters in the movie. This is doubly surprising when you consider that it’s Ben Cross, a fine actor, playing Sarek (Spock’s dad.) Maybe it’s just because Mark Lenard played Sarek for so many years on so many different shows, but I don’t think so. Cross somehow doesn’t bring enough gravitas. And it’s quadruply surprising that the “real” Spock, Leonard Nimoy, turns in his least-impressive performance in the part he created. Maybe it was bad direction, maybe it was his mostly-expository part, or maybe age has finally caught up to Nimoy. But if there’s a weak link in the casting, he was it. Oh, except for Winona Ryder. I have no idea what she was doing in this movie, and I’m not sure she did, either.

Giant kudos to Bruce Greenwood as Kirk’s commanding officer and (in some ways) surrogate father. Greenwood delivers the weight Nimoy and Cross should have, but didn’t. And he did so well enough to make up for the other two, and then some. When he says to young Kirk, “Your father was Captain for twelve minutes and saved 800 lives… Including yours — I dare you to do better,” it’s no spoiler to tell you that, of course Kirk does better. He’s James Tiberius Kirk, mothereffer.

Years ago, I reviewed the then-new “Enterprise” TV series, and argued that the original series worked because of “the Holy Trinity of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.” Re-watching the old show a couple years ago, I was amazed at how, from the very first episode, Kirk, Spock & McCoy formed such a tight unit. The new movie, I figured, would succeed or fail by how well it showed that camaraderie form and gel.

Well, let me tell you: Star Trek not only succeeds, it exceeds. Not because the reboot trinity is any better than the old one — it couldn’t be. It exceeds the original because, for the first time, the supporting cast is just as strong and just as integral. And when I say integral, I mean: integral to the movie, to each other, and most importantly, to the USS Enterprise.

Put simply: This is the Star Trek movie fans have been waiting for, going on 30 years now. It’s also the Star Trek movie newbies will still be watching 30 years from now. Or as my friend (and devoted Trekker) Charlie Martin wrote to me last night: “Best. Trek. Evah!”

The Brutal Truth

May 9th, 2009 - 5:15 pm

Yawn:

Russia on Saturday sternly warned its foes not to dare attempt any aggression against the country, as it put on a Soviet-style show of military might in Red Square including nuclear capable missiles.

The display to mark the 64th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II came amid renewed tensions with Georgia after NATO’s decision to hold war games in the Caucasus country infuriated Moscow.

“We are sure that any aggression against our citizens will be given a worthy reply,” President Dmitry Medvedev said in a speech in Red Square side-by-side with powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Oh, please. The Russian military is in disastrous shape. The only reason Great Russia remains intact is, her major neighbors can be reasonably sure that some semi-respectable fraction of Russia’s nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles have been maintained well enough to hit just enough targets to be a deterrent.

But the Russian Army is good for little more than shelling Chechnya and bullying tiny neighbors like Georgia.

Guilty As Charged

May 9th, 2009 - 10:53 am

Here’s how to ween ourselves off of foreign oil (or not):

A last-minute torrent of drilling permits filed by energy companies under Colorado’s old oil and gas rules has been followed by a trickle of filings since new rules took effect.

Barely one application a day, or 34 in total, came in to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in April, after the rules’ implementation on nonfederal land April 1.

The near-halt in applications comes just a month after companies submitted a record 1,470 applications in March in a rush to beat the new, stricter rules. Permits applied for before April 1 will be reviewed under the old rather than new rules.

The previous one-month record for permit applications had been 784.

State officials say the new rules strike a proper balance between oil and gas development and protection of health, the environment and wildlife. But the industry argues they are costly and burdensome, and it worries about how long it may take for permits to be approved under the new rules.

Anyone else sitting on this much wealth wouldn’t hesitate — and in the history of the world, hasn’t hesitated, ever, once — to dig it up or drill it out. We, on the other hand, are morons.

What to Watch

May 9th, 2009 - 9:51 am

On this week’s Meet the Blogs:

A butler in every cupboard.

President Obama: International Man of No Mystery Whatsoever.

And just saying NO! to endless deficits.

It’s a good show. Check it out.

Issue of the Day

May 8th, 2009 - 7:14 pm

Photoshop THIS!

Must-See PJTV

May 8th, 2009 - 6:02 pm

If it’s Friday, it must be time for your Week in Blogs.

Give Him Points for Honesty

May 8th, 2009 - 10:37 am

Howard Dean, caught on video: “I think we had quite enough capitalism.”

Thinking Big

May 8th, 2009 - 10:13 am

President Obama doesn’t merely want to run the domestic auto industry, control the banks, nationalize health care, and change the weather. Now he wants to do the impossible — run California. Read:

The Obama administration is threatening to rescind billions of dollars in federal stimulus money if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers do not restore wage cuts to unionized home healthcare workers approved in February as part of the budget.

Schwarzenegger’s office was advised this week by federal health officials that the wage reduction, which will save California $74 million, violates provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Failure to revoke the scheduled wage cut before it takes effect July 1 could cost California $6.8 billion in stimulus money, according to state officials.

Message to the other 49 states — don’t worry about those deficits, don’t try to control spending, just take the money from Uncle Sugar and do what I say.

The Greeks call it hubris, but that only brought down tiny little Sparta and Athens.

Required Viewing

May 7th, 2009 - 3:55 pm

Is it the best-ever episode of Silicon Graffiti? It might just be.

Party Time, Latin America Style II

May 7th, 2009 - 3:42 pm

Guess what? You’ll never guess. Because this is such a shocker, it is. So I’ll go on and tell you. The bond markets aren’t happy with our new Democratic overlords! Read:

Political risk is becoming more of a U.S. issue as some investors howl over what they see as arbitrary intrusion by the government in business affairs.
They view President Obama’s restructuring plan for bankrupt automaker Chrysler as an attempt to subvert the legal rights of lenders and say lenders will also be unfairly targeted if the U.S. Congress passes a bill to rewrite bankruptcy law to reduce home mortgage payments.

Investors concerned that politics could hurt them may demand a risk premium before they buy stocks or bonds or do a business deal. That could make the U.S. less competitive and money might flow elsewhere.

“There is a much larger political risk premium on investing in the United States than there has been in years,” said Sean West, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a research and consulting firm that studies political risks.

“What we’re seeing now in the United States is much more like what we see in emerging markets, where the government either by choice or as a result of circumstance is in a position to decide which companies or banks survive and which ones don’t,” he said. “These were almost unthinkable risks a year ago.”

Funny, how under President Bush the US was always descending into fascism — yet it’s under President Obama that the bond markets react as though our government is made up of thugs.

Welcome, again, to the Banana States of America.

Going… Going… Not Yet

May 7th, 2009 - 3:22 pm

Amazon’s Kindle has been around only barely long enough for a couple of sequels, but

Mahaney estimates that the Kindle already accounts for “about 10% of total North American book units,” or or 4 million books sold during the first quarter out of a total of 38 million books, he tells me. Those 4 million Kindle books equated to an estimated $34 million in revenues during the quarter (which doesn’t include sales of the Kindle device itself) and added 2 to 3 percent to Amazon’s growth in media revenues for North America. Mahaney also thinks that the 35 percent sales figure suggests that Kindle owners are buying two books per month on the Kindle.

I got to fiddle with a new Kindle 2 last weekend, and it’s certainly an improvement over the original model. Also, the numbers above suggest there really is something to it. But I’m still not sold.

However — I’ll be quite anxious to check out the Kindle 3, whenever it arrives.

Required Reading

May 7th, 2009 - 2:53 pm

Absolutely, positively the best-most finest, truest thing ever written by the hand of Man. Also, it’s a hoot.

That’s all I’m telling you.

A Low Down Dirty Shame

May 7th, 2009 - 11:06 am

First the Viper — next the ‘Vette? Peter De Lorenzo explains why he’s worried:

In this new world order we’re living with – where the unions and Washington politicos will most likely be running General Motors right into the ground – I fear for the most iconic nameplate in the GM Empire, the Chevrolet Corvette.

In this doomsday scenario of a neutered GM, I see the company cranking out Shiny Happy Smiley cars that don’t sell to consumers who won’t care. And under this scenario of Not Good I see a great nameplate like Corvette and all of its glorious history – being kicked to the curb like yesterday’s news – unappreciated, misunderstood, unwelcome and unwanted.

The one car built in America by an American company that’s truly world-class — and sold at a profit! — could very well be killed by politics.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, two of the worst cars in the world get a new lease on life.