Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Red Wedding

It finally happened. And it was freaking AMAZING.

Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire (the books on which HBO's "Game of Thrones" is based) have been looking forward to this scene for at least three years, at least since season one of the series. I was wondering how they'd pull it off.  Well, they did a damn fine job.

I felt all the horror and disgust that made me throw my book at the wall after I finished reading the Catelyn chapter in which she, her son Robb, and all their bannermen are murdered at The Twins. Except, knowing what was coming, I felt the horror and disgust at a remove. The other main emotions I felt during the episode were dread and excitement -- both increasing as the murder scene grew closer. And then ... BAM. They just crushed it. What a great job.

Behold: The Red Wedding

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

IRS releases 2013 1040 for Tea Party


The word of the day is GLOBAL COOLING

Global Warming is so '90s, baby.

A combination of decreased sunspots (the "Wolf Minimum," "Sporer Minimum," and "Maunder Minimum") and regular, multi-decade oceanic cycles (the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation) combined to create the Little Ice Age from the 13th through the 18th centuries. By the mid-19th centuries -- which, coincidentally, was when modern temperature recordings started in Europe and the US -- temperatures started coming back. That has given us the illusion of a rapidly warming climate, when what seems to have been happening was that temperatures were just coming back closer to pre-Little Ice Age levels.

Well, global temperatures haven't gone up in almost 20 years, and we're starting to see some extremely cold winters and springs around the world -- from Russia and China, to Western Europe, to the US. Not coincidentally, we're also seeing a simultaneous dramatic drop in sunspot activity. It looks like Global Cooling is the order of the day.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

4 BIG Obama scandals the Left CAN'T ignore this time

They actually can't ignore them this time, which is actually amazing.

Any one of these four scandals -- the criminal mishandling (and lying about) Benghazi, the IRS explicitly targeting politically conservative organizations, the Justice Department spying on AP journalists, and the HHS Secretary effectively shaking down medical professionals in order to fund health care reform implementation -- would be a big deal individually. Taken together, though? Holy shit.

Jim Geraghty sums these scandals up much better than I could, so I figure I'd just pass on his points (from this morning's Morning Jolt newsletter):

Dear friends in the media.

Come on.

I mean, come on.

You and I know what's going with the Benghazi thing. Let me share something that I first put into play during the "was Anthony Weiner's Twitter account hacked" debate, but that comes from watching the Lewinsky scandal, the where-did–Mark-Sanford-go scandal, the why-is-David-Wu-dressed-in-a-tiger-suit scandal, and a wide variety of wrongdoing committed by politicians: When there is evidence of scandalous or bizarre behavior on the part of a political figure, and no reasonable explanation is revealed within 24 to 48 hours, then the truth is probably as bad as everyone suspects.

Nobody withholds exculpatory information. Nobody who's been accused of something wrong waits for "just the right moment" to unveil information that proves the charge baseless. Political figures never choose to deliberately let themselves twist in the wind. It's not the instinctive psychological reaction to being falsely accused, it's not what any public communications professional would recommend, and to use one of our president's favorite justifications, it's just common sense.

So . . . You and I both know, in our guts, and based upon everything we've seen in Washington since we started our careers, that there's no innocent explanation for the Obama administration's actions before, during, and after the Benghazi attacks.

If there were good reasons for why the requests for additional security from staff in Libya didn't generate any serious response in the halls of the State Department, we would have heard it by now. If there was evidence that everyone within the State Department, military, and White House were doing everything they could to rescue our guys on that awful night, we would have heard about it long ago. If there was a good reason for the "talking points" to get edited down from a false premise (a demonstration) but at least serious information (previous CIA warnings about terrorist activity) to false pabulum, we would have heard it by now; the latest lame excuse is that the 14 edits merely reflect "bureaucratic infighting between the CIA and State." And if there was a good reason for State Department lawyers to call up Deputy Chief of Mission Gregory Hicks  and tell him not to allow the RSO, the acting deputy chief of mission, and himself to be interviewed by Representative Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), we would have heard that by now, too.

Come on, guys. What do we think is going on when Hillary Clinton's chief of staff calls up the acting ambassador, and harangues him about the lack of a State Department lawyer for his conversation with Congress? Does anybody really believe it's just her checking up to make sure protocol was followed?

You can see what's going on here. You may not want to see it, or believe it, but you can see it. The federal government made awful, unforgivable wrong decisions about the security for its people in Benghazi. They compounded the error by failing to put together even the beginning of a rescue mission during the seven-hour assault. Perhaps those responsible for making the call had a fear of a "Black Hawk Down" scenario, in which the rescuers find themselves needing rescue, but whatever the reasoning, the net effect was the same: Our people were under fire, fighting for their lives, and nobody was coming to help. The decisions made that night make a mockery of the unofficial, but widespread motto of our armed forces: "Nobody gets left behind."

The decisions made up until this point may or may not have involved the president or then-secretary of state Clinton, but they sure as hell were involved in the decisions that came afterwards.  The morning after the attack, the administration tried to offer the excuse that it was a completely unforeseeable event, randomly triggered by some YouTube video. And they sought to intimidate and punish anyone who would contradict their storyline.

My friends in media, you know what is going on when you see President Obama say this:
The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow.  What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were.
You know what this is: Stop looking at what I did, and start looking at the people accusing me of wrongdoing. We've seen this tactic before: "The vast right-wing conspiracy."

We know the president's claim that there was confusion is false, because everyone on the ground was clearly telling their bosses that this was a terror attack from the beginning. No one in Benghazi or Libya was saying this was a protest as a result of a YouTube video. Where did that idea come from? Who within the administration decided to take accurate information and start inserting inaccurate information?
The president continues:
It happened at the same time as we had seen attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo as a consequence of this film. And nobody understood exactly what was taking place during the course of those first few days. 
No, the folks on the ground understood what was taking place. They just said so before Congress and a lot of television cameras. Why is the president confused about this? Obama continues:
And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations. We've had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton's integrity, Susan Rice's integrity, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering's integrity. It's a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks. They've used it for fundraising. 
The motivations and fundraising of those who disagree with you are irrelevant to whether or not you're telling the truth, Mr. President.

SCANDAL TWO: Hey, Why Does the IRS Have to Tell the Truth to Congress, Anyway?
NBC News points out that the IRS appears to have directly lied to Congress when asked about the targeting of conservative groups:
Lois Lerner, head of the IRS division on tax-exempt organizations, learned in June 2011 that agents had targeted groups with names including "Tea Party" and "Patriots," according to the draft obtained by NBC News.
She "instructed that the criteria immediately be revised," according to the draft. Ten months later, in March 2012, the IRS commissioner at the time, Douglas Shulman, testified to Congress that the IRS was not targeting tax-exempt groups based on their politics.
The IRS said over the weekend that senior executives were not aware of the targeting, but it remains unclear who knew what and when. [Then IRS commissioner] Shulman, who left the agency last fall, has not spoken publicly about the scandal and did not answer a request for comment Monday from NBC News.
Members of Congress had sent letters to Shulman as early as June 2011 asking specifically about targeting of conservative groups, according to a House Ways and Means Committee summary obtained by NBC News.
The IRS responded at least six times but made no mention of targeting conservatives, according to the committee's summary.
"Oh, you mean that effort to target conservative groups, we thought you meant a different one."
Remember the explanation that this was just some runaway low-level employees in one office? Yeah, that was bull: "Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved in the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, making clear the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post."
SCANDAL THREE: Of Course Eric Holder Is Allowed to Secretly Eavesdrop on Journalists!
You know a scandal is bad when I can point you to the Huffington Post's summary
, because it can't collect any more outrage than I can:
Journalists reacted with shock and outrage at the news that the Justice Department had secretly obtained months of phone records of Associated Press journalists.
The AP broke the news on Monday about what it called an "unprecedented intrusion" into its operation. It said that the DOJ had obtained detailed phone records from over 20 different lines, potentially monitoring hundreds of different journalists without notifying the organization. The wire service's president, Gary Pruitt, wrote a blistering letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, accusing the DOJ of violating the AP's constitutional rights.
Reporters and commentators outside the AP professed themselves to be equally angered. "The Nixon comparisons write themselves," BuzzFeed's Ben Smith tweeted. Margaret Sullivan, the public editor for the New York Times, called the story "disturbing." Washington Post editor Martin Baron called it "shocking." CNN's John King described it as "very chilling."
Speaking to the Washington Post's Erik Wemple, a lawyer for the AP called the DOJ's actions "outrageous," saying they were "a dagger to the heart of AP's newsgathering activity."
BuzzFeed's Kate Nocera was perhaps more pithy, writing simply, "what in the f--k."
You "Hope and Change" true believers were a bunch of chumps.
As this illustration over at Ace of Spades reveals . . .
Description: Photo: Found at Ace of Spades: Image of the Day/Week/Year/Presidency?

SCANDAL FOUR: Dear Doctors, Donate to the Woman Who Controls Your Industry . . . Or Else.
The government official who now effectively controls the American health-care system is now calling up private health-care companies and "asking" them to "voluntarily donate" to a fund for "public outreach" on Obamacare:
Leaders in Congress are questioning Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's solicitation of funds from private businesses and charities to help pay for public outreach on Obamacare to get prospective enrollees signed up for health exchanges.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, ranking Republican on the Senate Health committee, told the New York Times he plans to ask the Government Accountability Office to check the legality of Sebelius's actions, done after Congress denied the administration funds for public outreach in the 2014 budget. The Washington Post also said that Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, top Republican on the Finance Committee, questioned the legality of the action.
The Times said Sebelius obtained $10 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and $500,000 from H&R Block for the effort. HHS officials said that Sebelius's efforts would continue, after first denying they were soliciting funds for the effort. But a spokesman for Sebelius said a section of the Public Health Service Act allows her to encourage others to support those working to help carry out public health activities.
This is like when your boss stops by your desk and "casually" mentions that his daughter is selling Girl Scout cookies. Although as Liz Mair pointed out last night, most people like Girl Scout cookies.
It will undoubtedly shock you to learn there's some evidence the administration is lying here, too:
A flack for Sebelius tells the Post that . . . Sebelius did not explicitly ask for financial donations. Instead, "[HHS spokesperson Jason] said that Sebelius did not solicit for funds directly from industries that HHS regulates, such as insurance companies and hospitals, but rather asked them to contribute in whatever way they can."
That's not how the insurers understood it. An "industry official who had knowledge of the calls but did not participate directly in them said there was a clear insinuation by the administration that the insurers should give financially to the nonprofits," according to the Post. Something like this, perhaps? Hey, we're short on money here. It would be nice if you could help with whatever you can, hint-hint, nudge-nudge.
Or maybe just: Hey, insurers. We just passed a law mandating that everyone in the country buy your product. So how about a million bucks? Or even a couple million? Over the weekend The New York Times reported that, according to an insurance industry executive, "some insurers had been asked for $1 million donations, and that 'bigger companies have been asked for a lot more.'" That sounds rather like there was a direct solicitation.
Allow me to remind you what Obama said a week ago: "Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They'll warn that tyranny always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices."
Since Obama scoffed about those who warn about tyranny, we've learned that the IRS targeted Americans based upon their political beliefs, his Health and Human Services secretary is shaking down companies for cash, his attorney general is secretly listening in to conversations between journalists and their sources, and they threatened whistleblowers on Benghazi.
Admittedly, most tyrants are a little more on-the-ball than what we've been getting lately . . .

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Here's an idea ...

Let's treat health insurance like any other form of consumed good, and let the market bring prices down the way it has brought down the prices of virtually 100% of the goods it has been allowed to act on.

That's so crazy, it might work!

The latest voice of reason making this "radical" suggestion is David Goldhill, the man who wrote the provocative article "How American Healthcare Killed My Father" in The Atlantic in 2009. In his recent NY Times article, Goldhill notes:
In the world of health care analysis, there are basically two schools of thought. The first is that health care is so fundamentally different from other goods and services that a normal market can’t drive down its prices. This school of thought makes a number of assumptions: health care consumers are desperate and have no leverage to avoid high pricing. An individual’s need for care depends on luck and genes, so that social fairness requires pooling risk.

An aging population needs ever more care. New technologies offer beneficial advances but only at great expense. For-profit motivations conflict with fundamental human needs, requiring extensive regulatory oversight. Managing the insurance system requires costly and complex administration (with direct annual administrative costs now running at roughly $1,900 per household).

AN alternative to the conventional wisdom is that consumer ignorance is what differentiates health care from other industries. This results in a lack of discipline that allows for pervasive excess care and exorbitant prices. If people understood how much they were paying for health care, they would insist on greater control of these resources, creating incentives for the kind of competition in price and quality we have seen develop in other industries — even those that were once assumed to be too complex for the average consumer to readily understand, such as personal computing.
Every time people who don't understand or don't trust the free market (a category that encompasses most Liberals) claim that some innovation or technology is too complex for the hoi polloi to understand (or, the market "doesn't work with X"), the great unwashed masses inevitably surprise their would-be masters with their ingenuity and grasp of the fundamental value of the innovation or technology at issue. The market, which is really nothing more than the aggregation of each individual's preference for a given item (as expressed in the price s/he is willing to pay for it), inevitably works magnificently to bring the price of said item down to a reasonable and affordable level.

It does this, that is, when it is allowed to. When regulations or laws forbid the market from working, that's when you get all kinds of perverse incentives and dysfunction. Capitalism is based on the fundamental truth that humans are greedy and self-interested, and the free market works when everybody's individual greed and self-interest leads them to openly and transparently offer goods for exchange in a way that all parties feel is beneficial enough to justify paying for/parting with their goods or resources. But when you have artificial barriers -- price controls, laws forbidding selling across state lines, mandates on the bundle of goods a company must sell, etc. -- that's when the greed on which capitalism is based can overwhelm the system.

In healthcare, this is exactly what has happened. Insurance companies game the system by overcharging. Governments get wealthy off of insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and specialist associations (like the AMA) lobbying them to pass all kinds of legislation and regulation favoring them. That just doesn't happen in a free market, but the average health care consumer is insulated from this reality because they don't pay directly for their healthcare.  That fact is the straw that stirs the drink of American health care dysfunction. No other part of this broken system would be sustainable or possible if people paid for most of their care directly.

Again, here's Goldhill with a great analogy explaining why:
Try to imagine what homeowners’ insurance would look like if we expected everyone’s house to burn down and then added coverage for each homeowner’s utility bills and furniture wear-and-tear. This would be insanely expensive without meaningfully reducing anyone’s risk. That, in short, is how health insurance works.
The article really is worth a read.  Check it out.

"How stupid do you think we are?"

The incredulous tone of the French tire worker unions and the French government to the reality of a businessman walking away from their country is truly remarkable to behold.

This Wall Street Journal editorial lays out more of the background from the letter from Morrie Taylor, CEO of Titan International, to the French "Minister of Industrial Renewal". (That France, a major world economy, feels the need to appoint a cabinet-level position for renewing industry -- instead of, say, lowering taxes and fees to make doing business there more profitable and attractive -- says much about the state of the country.)

The French union imperiously refused to increase productivity at the Goodyear factory in North Amiens, and instead issued the ridiculous ultimatum that unless Taylor agreed to their demands, they wouldn't let him purchase the factory. The unstated assumption obviously in the back of the union members' minds is that Taylor wouldn't -- nay, couldn't -- refuse to buy the factory, so the leverage was all on their end. They thought this even though Titan was the only company bidding on the Goodyear factory.

When Taylor, quite reasonably, walked away, the union and the French government were flabbergasted. Messr. Ministry of Industrial Renewal begged him to reconsider. Taylor's priceless response really sums up the contempt every good businessman has for Liberal anti-business policies promulgated by economically ignorant policymakers.

"How stupid do you think we are?"

That question is the unstated subtext of every wealthy French citizen or business that is moving to Belgium, or the UK, or the US, or anywhere else. It's the unstated subtext of every business or wealthy individual that's moved away from Michigan, or Illinois, or California, or New York.

"You must think we know as little about business and economics as you do. We don't. Buh-bye."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Amateurs in WA-WA Land

Woah, woah, woah, Washington State. Too much honesty, too fast.

You can't show people your real intentions THAT quickly. You need to sound reasonable first so they don't notice how much you want to violate their rights until they're already totally violated.

See? Now you have to bleat all kinds of nonsense about how that provision requiring gun owners to let cops inspect their homes annually was really a mistake, that you didn't intend to put it in the bill. That of course you would never condone a naked abuse of power like that.

You need to engage in more foreplay to deaden the awareness of your citizens -- laws that nibble away at the margins of their liberty repeatedly to numb them to how much they're becoming serfs instead of citizens. They won't bend over and take the violation you want to give them without that. Now you might never get to give it to them.

Amateurs.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Treating promiscuity like we treat obesity ...

People who sleep around cost the US taxpayers $16 billion a year in medical bills. That's pretty outrageous. Sounds like a health crisis to me.

I wonder what would happen if the Nanny Staters like Mike Bloomberg applied their reasoning for combating obesity (by limiting people's freedom to eat whatever they please) to our promiscuity epidemic. It would be like the Massachusetts Bay Colony all over again, except with better technology and (if possible) more smugly satisfied self-righteousness.

Of course, that would never happen. After the sexual revolution, the modern West tends to treat sex like a religion -- and to defend it the way we used to defend religious liberty. (The limited way the Obama administration defends religious liberty today? That was more how we treated sexual liberty before the 60s.)

It's interesting to envision what that would look like, though, just to point out the absurdity of both the Food Nazi Nanny Staters and the sexual libertines. An even better exercise for doing this, though, is to imagine what society would look like if we treated our habits and actions related to food the way we treated our sexual habits and activities.
  • For starters, it would be taboo to tell people what to eat or how much to eat. Doing so wouldn't just be considered bad manners; it would be evidence of hatefulness and intolerance.
  • Eating Big Macs, Whoppers, and other kinds of delicious fast food would be seen as an inalienable right, and any attempt to raise the prices would be decried as "denying access" to those who couldn't afford them. This would lead to calls for Congress to subsidize the cost of such food.
  • In the face of people's bodies blowing up due to obesity, there would be zero calls for people to eat healthier. In fact, studies would be produced proving that eating healthier and avoiding fattening or calorie-rich foods was an ineffective way to manage one's weight. 
  • Popular opinion would make it clear that expecting people to eat healthy was just unrealistic. The evidence would be clear that people would eat what they wanted to eat. Outdated or authoritarian rules regarding eating habits couldn't do anything to change that fact. People who went out of their way to eat healthy would generally be looked at as old-fashioned and weird.
  • Diets would be completely ignored for losing weight, as they would limit people's freedom and autonomy. Instead, the emphasis would be completely on drugs that would allow people to eat whatever they wanted while gaining as little weight as possible.
  • People with extreme food fetishes and perverse eating habits -- such as only taking in nutrition through enemas -- would not be shunned; they would be celebrated. Disapproving of such fetishes or habits would be proof of one's own intolerance and moral shortcomings.
  • The emphasis of all public health programs would threefold: maximizing people's access to restaurants and supermarkets, maximizing people's access to drugs that ensure they'll gain as little weight as possible, and lobbying for government subsidies to make the first two goals as low-cost as possible.
  • The resulting obesity epidemic would be taken as proof that the government had failed both to make access to food widespread enough and to provide enough "gain no weight" drugs.