Archive for May, 2010

Obama eyes emergency aid to schools; GOP objects

Thousands of teachers are being laid off across Georgia, and as many as 300,000 teachers may be laid off nationwide as state and local governments struggle under a broad financial crisis. To soften the blow, the Obama admininistration is proposing to add $23 billion in education money to a $60 billion supplementary military spending bill, most of it  to fund operations in Afghanistan.

But House Minority Leader John Boehner, among others, objects:

“The American people recognize that Washington’s out-of-control spending is hurting our economy and stifling job creation, and they’re asking their elected leaders to make tough choices on fiscal responsibility.  Unfortunately, the Administration’s call for another $23 billion to pad the education bureaucracy will only make state governments more dependent on the federal government and more vulnerable when the federal funding explosion disappears. This latest state bailout proposal promotes the same flawed logic as the …

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Gingrich and ‘The machine out to destroy America’

My email brings news that Newt Gingrich has a new book — excuse me, “a blockbuster new book” — coming out from Regnery Press. His title:

“To Save America:
Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine”

“America is facing a mortal threat… If we don’t act now, our great nation will no longer exist,” Gingrich writes in the book. And the mortal threat in question is of course “The Secular-Socialist Machine”, described in the press release as “a corrupt bureaucracy which uses manipulation, bribery, and dishonesty to steamroll the will of the people and destroy America’s core values.”

670px-Robosaurus

The Obama Secular-Socialist Machine, steamrolling the will of the people and destroying America's core values

As you can see, it really is quite a machine. On weekends, when it’s not busy wrecking America from within, it moonlights as Robosaurus, crushing the opposition at monster truck rallies.

In fact, that’s not a bad metaphor for Gingrich’s approach to politics — to him, it’s just a monster truck …

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Travelin’ to the dock of the bay on a Friday afternoon

Thinking melancholy thoughts about the Gulf put me in the melancholy mood for this classic, by Georgia’s own Otis Redding. The fact that Otis died in a plane crash at age 26, just three days after cutting this recording, only adds to its mood.

There are a lot of songs with nautical themes to be explored, but this one seemed right to kick things off.

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Dimensions of Gulf oil spill may be immense

After weeks of stonewalling, BP this week finally agreed to release a small piece of the hours of video it has taken of the spill site 5,000 feet below the Gulf. This, taken May 11, shows the flow of oil and methane from one of the two leaks:

There’s a reason why BP has tried to withhold such video. As NPR reports:

At NPR’s request, experts analyzed video that BP released Wednesday. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.

BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that.

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.

A computer program simply tracks …

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Did end of Cold War contribute to economic crisis?

In his book “IOU: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay,” John Lanchester lays out a theory that I’ve also long harbored as well. In effect, he argues, the roots of this economic collapse and the growing chasm between rich and poor can both be traced to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

In shortened form, the reasoning goes like this:

Since the nuclear standoff ensured that the Cold War could not be decided militarily, it was fought instead as a propaganda war. And of course, the standard Communist critique of Western capitalism held that the worker was being exploited by the rich.

Therefore, Western leaders worked hard to make sure that they did not validate that critique. The rougher edges of capitalism were sanded; its profits and benefits shared somewhat equitably. As Lanchester colorfully puts it:

“… the jet engine of capitalism was harnessed to the ox cart of social justice, to much bleating from the advocates of pure capitalism, but with the effect that the …

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A quiet social change that might almost go unnoticed

(NOTE: This is largely a repost from earlier in the week. I’m putting it up because it’s today’s dead-tree column, so folks will have a venue in which to comment on it if they wish. You’ll have something fresh to gnaw on in a bit.)

When I heard that “Avenue Q,” a Tony-winning Broadway musical, would be playing May 18-23 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, I had to smile.

We’ve all had to deal with a lot of change in recent years, much of it written in big headlines. But some important changes happen more quietly, so quietly they go unnoticed.

“Avenue Q,” for example, is a rather ribald coming-of-age story told largely through puppets. Among other story lines, it follows a closeted gay character named Rod (at one point, he sings “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada” to explain his lack of female companionship) as he comes to accept and acknowledge his sexual orientation.

In that regard, “Avenue Q” follows in a long tradition in which the arts have explored …

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Throwing dirt on a lie that should be dead and buried … but will rise again

Wall Street analyst Barry Ritholz, author of “Bailout Nation,” offers a pretty entertaining and damning assessment of the claim that the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac helped drive the housing collapse.

As he notes, people such as Kevin Hassett (co-author of the infamous “Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market (1999) continue to peddle that line of nonsense, but offer no data to support it.

After pointing out that he has offered a $100,000 reward for proof of a major role played by Fannie, Freddie and the CRA — proof that has yet to be forthcoming — Ritholz concludes:

“Of course, folks like Hassett hate this factual history, as it conflicts with their goals and politics. Rather than produce evidence, they create story lines unsupported by facts. But Monkeys love a good narrative, and so they give that to them.

However, as an investor, I demand evidence, data and facts. The blame Fannie & Freddie crowd have …

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Sweetheart tax deal for hedge-fund billionaires may be at risk

Last year, the 25 most profitable hedge-fund managers on Wall Street collected a record $25 billion in income, with one individual manager, David Tepper, collecting an incomprehensible $4 billion. The second-place manager has a name familiar to many — George Soros. He earned a mere $3.3 billion last year in fees and investment gains.

Hedge-fund incomes haven’t drawn the same scrutiny as CEO pay, in part because hedge-fund managers are paid a percentage of the profit that they earn for from investors, rather than salaries and bonuses awarded by a board of directors. However, the sweetheart tax treatment enjoyed by the hedge-fund managers has been an outright scandal for years. They pay a 15 percent tax on their fee income — the rate charged on capital gains — instead of the 35 percent top rate paid for earned income.

Allies in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, have protected that little arrangement until now, but that may be about to change, reports the New York …

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The inner workings of the paranoia machine, exposed

A few weeks ago, a conservative friend of mine complained that the Democrats were plotting to seize the money in our 401(k)s as a way to reduce the deficit and fund their spending programs.

Now, I read a lot, and very widely. If such a crazy idea had been seriously suggested, I told my buddy, I would have run across it.

“Where did you hear that nonsense?” I asked. He said he couldn’t remember. I told him I could guarantee it was off some right-wing website and that it had no basis whatsoever in fact. It was ridiculous on its face, because it would be instant political suicide for the Democrats.

This week, our good friends at Investors’ Business Daily stepped forward to help track this nonsense down. Some of you may remember IBD as the outlet that claimed last summer that if physicist Stephen Hawking had been British and forced to rely on the British government-run health care system, he would have died a long time ago. The IBD geniuses overlooked the fact that Hawking IS …

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Government’s role in labor disputes should be to play no favorites

Under the so-called “card-check” rule, union organizers would no longer have to win a workplace election by secret ballot before they could claim the right to represent workers. Instead, they could win that right simply by collecting signatures from a majority of the workforce.

Barack Obama ran for office as a supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, as the card-check legislation is called. But much to labor’s disappointment, Obama has hardly made its passage a priority, and the legislation has gone nowhere.

Personally, I never thought EFCA was a good idea. By substituting signature collection for a secret ballot, it introduces the possibility or even likelihood of decisions being influenced by coercion and peer pressure. (There’s already a lot of that in union elections, but EFCA would add to it considerably). Union organizers would know who had signed the cards, and who had not, and could target the holdouts. That sounds neither fair nor wise.

On the other hand, a new …

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