Archive for April, 2012

British deploy GOP’s economic plan, return to recession

When he became prime minister of Great Britain two years ago, Conservative Party leader David Cameron began to implement an economic strategy much different than that pursued here in the United States under President Obama.

Cameron and his chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, decided that Plan A was to cut cut cut. They would cut their way to economic growth by slashing government spending by more than 20 percent across the board. Other aspects of their plan may sound familiar as well. Just last month, they announced that they would be cutting the top tax rate for Britain’s richest households while raising taxes on those who collect pensions, a proposal dubbed “the granny tax” because of its impact on the elderly.

A reader of the London Telegraph posts his reaction to news that Britain's economy has fallen back into a recession.

A reader of the London Telegraph posts his reaction to news that Britain's economy has fallen back into a recession.

When “Plan A” was first announced, American conservatives saw it as a model for their own economic theories. As Fox News noted back in …

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Metro Atlanta housing prices plummet

We kicked off the week talking about the economic challenges facing metro Atlanta and the region’s need to adapt to suit the modern real estate marketplace.

Yesterday, we got a rather harsh confirmation that change is indeed necessary. According to the latest S&P Case-Shillernumbers, housing prices in the 20 largest metro areas fell by 3.5 percent from February 2011 to February 2012.

In the 28-county metro Atlanta region, however, the year-to-year price decline was 17.3 percent, easily the largest drop in the nation. The decline was twice as large as that in Las Vegas, the second worst-performing metro region in the country.

As the Case-Shiller analysts put it:

“Phoenix and Atlanta stand out this month in terms of their contrasting relative strength and weakness in the early 2012 housing market. At one end of the spectrum, we have Atlanta posting a double-digit, and lowest on record, annual rate at -17.3%. Atlanta has now recorded five consecutive months of double-digit …

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Second Amendment is not an excuse for vigilantes

So you’re sitting at home minding your own business and you hear noises from the place next door, which hasn’t been occupied for months.

You look outside and see two people, an older man and woman, at the front of the place, trying to open the door. What do you do?

Bake your new neighbors a pie? Call the police to report strangers next door?

Jean Kalonji and his wife, Angelica, were held at gunpoint by neighbors outside the home their son had just purchased for them.

Jean Kalonji and his wife, Angelica, were held at gunpoint by neighbors outside the home their son had just purchased for them.

If you’re Robert Canoles of Porterville, you apparently take it upon yourself to grab your teenaged son, arm him and yourself with AR-15s, then march next door to confront and hold the terrified couple at gunpoint until sheriff deputies arrive.

Read the story by the AJC’s Christian Boone. Once deputies arrived, the older couple were arrested, charged with loitering and prowling and forced to spend the night in jail. Nobody paid much heed to their explanation that their son had just purchased the empty house and …

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Big-money donors bet heavily on the GOP

As USA Today reports, eight of the 10 biggest contributors to SuperPACs this election cycle have been backers of conservative causes or candidates.

And those are only the contributions that have become public record.

American Crossroads Super PAC, headed by Karl Rove, reports that it had raised $99.8 million by the end of March, but thanks to the Citizens United decision and other vagaries of federal law, it is not required to disclose who contributed that money. We know only that it has received 24 donations of a million dollars or more, and two donations of $10 million or more, and together those large donations account for 87 percent of its contributions.

In stark contrast, The New York Times reported Saturday that the Obama campaign is struggling a bit to tap big-money contributors, “with sharp dropoffs in donations from nearly every major industry forcing it to rely more than ever on small contributions and a relative handful of major donors….”

“From Wall Street to …

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What Chris Hitchens and Jonah Goldberg both got wrong

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

In his atheistic diatribe “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” the late Christopher Hitchens revisited the various evils and excesses committed in the name of religion over the centuries. And they are many.

Yet what about the brutal excesses of secular, atheistic regimes, such as Stalin’s USSR, Hitler’s Third Reich, Mao’s China and Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge? Doesn’t their existence challenge the claim that it is somehow religion that is at fault, rather than something still deeper in the human psyche?

In response, Hitchens offered what I consider to be an intellectually lazy answer, an answer designed to try to win a debate rather than get at the truth:

The regimes of Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot were also religious in nature, Hitchens argued, because they substituted the worship of an individual or ideology for the worship of a god. Therefore, all evil that those regimes did must be totted up on religion’s side of the ledger, leaving the …

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Metro Atlanta needs tools to rethink itself

Unemployment in metro Atlanta fell by almost a full point between February 2011 and February 2012, declining from 9.9 to 9 percent. In more human terms, more than 60,000 of our friends, neighbors and relatives are now back to work.

That’s a welcome sign of progress, as was Thursday’s announcement of 1,500 jobs coming to a new medical-products plant to be built near Social Circle. After a difficult lag, metro Atlanta finally appears to be benefiting from the nation’s slow, awkward recovery, even if we still have a long way to go.

In fact, Atlanta has a lot farther to travel than many metro regions that we might think of as competitors. Almost every region got hit hard by the recession; as an economy highly dependent on home construction, Atlanta got hit worse than most. But if you look closely, this region’s economy had begun to stumble and falter long before the recession hit. The housing bubble merely made those problems harder to recognize.

Through the ’90s, for example, per …

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Rock ‘n roll heaven a little more crowded

According to the Sunday Times of London, organizers of the 2012 Summer Olympics approached the manager of Keith Moon recently to ask if the Who drummer would be available to play as part of the closing ceremonies in this year’s games.

The manager replied that unfortunately, Keith was booked at another venue and would be unable to appear.

Keith will now have to share that gig with another famous rock drummer, the great Levon Helm of The Band, who died this week after a long fight with throat cancer. Helm, an Arkansas boy who never lost touch with his roots, played a central role in American rock history in the ’60s and ’70s.

And then, of course, there was the passing of America’s oldest living teenager, Dick Clark, longtime host of American Bandstand. Clark, too, played a critical role in the development of rock and roll, helping to convert it from a dangerous, rebellious form of music to a mainstream business opportunity. To Clark’s credit, he performed that function without …

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Big Brother is here, and We are Him

“Character is what you do when you think that no one is looking.”

But here’s an interesting question: What happens to character when someone is always looking? How is the concept of character altered in a 24/7/365 world in which more and more of our lives are conducted in public and the sphere of privacy shrinks to the point that it threatens to implode upon itself like a black star?

We live in a world in which knowledge about what we buy, eat, drink, read, wear and watch is now bought and sold freely by corporate America. We are tracked in the virtual world as we travel from website to website; we are tracked in the actual world by the unblinking eye of video cameras recording us from the highway to the parking lot to the store to the bank to the restaurant and back home again.

If we rent a hotel room, board an airplane, make a cellphone call or fill our gas tank, someone somewhere knows it and records it.

And increasingly, such exposure is active rather than passive. It is …

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America 2012: ‘In Nothing We Trust’?

Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton, writing in National Journal, have produced a thoughtful piece about the current state of affairs in the American culture, using Muncie, Indiana as their prime illustration:

Here’s what journalists call the “nut graf” of the piece:

“Muncie is a microcosm of a nation whose motto could be, “In Nothing We Trust.” Seven in 10 Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track; eight in 10 are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed. Only 23 percent have confidence in banks, and just 19 percent have confidence in big business. Less than half the population expresses “a great deal” of confidence in the public-school system or organized religion. “We have lost our gods,” says Laura Hansen, an assistant professor of sociology at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass. “We lost [faith] in the media: Remember Walter Cronkite? We lost it in our culture: You can’t point to a movie star who might inspire us, …

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Why Wall Street execs want to silence their shareholders

Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved a new “say on pay” policy that allows shareholders to vote on the pay package for a company’s top executives.

You wouldn’t think that would be a particularly controversial measure. For one thing, the vote isn’t even binding; it is advisory only. And shouldn’t shareholders — the people who actually own a company — be allowed to at least voice an opinion about how their own top employees are paid? Surely that is consistent with free-enterprise market principles, right?

Republicans, however, have fought the measure tooth and nail. It was approved by the SEC by a party-line 3-2 vote, with Republican appointees to the panel trying vainly to delay, weaken or kill it. They also fought it in Congress, voting against “say on pay” in party-line votes in 2009, back when Democrats still had enough votes to pass it.

As the Chicago Tribune reported back then:

“Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), in a comment echoed by fellow …

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