Friday, February 26, 2010

Hypocrisy that Boggles the Mind

While Democrats contemplate using reconciliation, the so-called 'nuclear option,' to pass health care reform, we reflect on what they were saying about this maneuver during the Bush presidency.

[via exposno1]

Obama Knows Best

Americans have rejected the Democrats' health care bill.

The support/opposition split on the health care bill, according to various pollsters:

Rasmussen: 41/56
Newsweek: 40/49
Public Policy Polling: 39/50
Pew: 38/50
Quinnipiac: 35/54
Ipsos/McClatchy: 37/51
NBC/WSJ: 31/46
CNN: 38/58

Not surprisingly, most people support some provisions of health reform, but they seem to want a more piecemeal approach to fixing the system.

Just look at the latest survey from CNN and Opinion Research. When asked if they support "preventing health insurance companies from dropping coverage for people who become seriously ill," 62 percent say yes. When asked whether they support "requiring all large and midsized businesses to provide health insurance for their employees," 72 percent say yes. And when asked if they support "preventing health insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions," 58 percent say yes.

On the other hand, asked what Congress should do on health care -- pass the current bill, start work on an entirely new bill, or stop working on the issue altogether -- a huge majority opposes the Democratic proposal now on the table. Just 25 percent of those surveyed want to see the bill passed. Forty-eight percent want Congress to start over, and 25 percent want lawmakers to stop working on health care altogether. Put those last two together, and an overwhelming majority of 73 percent do not want Congress to pass the current bill.

Obama ignores the Republican call to pare down the bill, even though this decision pits him against a huge majority of Americans. As is typical with the nanny staters, they believe they know what citizens want better than the citizens themselves.

[via Instapundit]

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Health Summit LIVE

CATO is live streaming/blogging Obama's health summit now!

Bring on the Corporate Bribes

After the Supreme Court decided that limiting corporate speech amounted to limiting individual speech, thus violating the First Amendment, roughly half of America began running through the streets screaming bloody murder.

I'm here to explain to you why those people are idiots.

Over the past several decades, America has been running an experiment to answer this very question:

What happens when corporations are allowed to spend as much as they want on elections?

You might not know it, but about half the states make no restrictions on what corporations or labor unions can spend on state elections.

Governing Magazine, in collaboration with the Pew Center On The States, releases an annual "Grading the States Report Card," where they compare the governments of all 50 states.

According to the report card, the top three states were Washington, Utah, and Virgina. They each recieved A-minus. And all three allow unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions.

California does not limit corporate spending.

Some facts about California's top campaign contributors:

The Top 10 contributers gave $42 million. Of the Top 10 contributers, 2 were corporations, who gave a combined $7 million.

The Top 3 contributers:

A father and his daughter - $8 million
Alliance for a Better California - $5 million
An Indian Tribe - $4 million
That means, of the $42 million given by the Top 10 contributors, $35 million came from individuals, labor unions, indian tribes, teachers, and prison guards.

So boo fucking hoo, corporations can spend on campaigns, it won't make a bit of difference, so will you idiots do us all a favor and kindly shut the hell up about it already?

[NPR Planet Money]

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

IRS Facing Rising Threats

Joe Stack's murderous plane crash certainly garnered the most media coverage, but it was hardly an isolated incident.

There were 1,200 threats and assaults against IRS employees from 2001 to 2008, resulting in 195 convictions, according to officials. J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, said threats that once averaged 170 or so a year are now up to about 900.

Some recent examples: a man in tax trouble hired someone to kill an IRS employee in Tampa, Fla.; an Alabama man tried to use his car as a deadly weapon by driving into an IRS building; and two arsonists in Colorado Springs, Colo., used a sledge hammer to break into and then torch an IRS building.

Some threats are so serious that armed escorts join IRS employees at meetings with potentially dangerous taxpayers.

A growing number of citizens are lashing out at the IRS for perceived injustices and incompetent governance.

This is only the beginning. As the government spends us deeper into debt, and continues its steady encroachment on our freedoms, more people will be driven to violence.

With two misguided wars, a string of corporate bailouts, and a central bank more concerned with lining bank executives' pockets than protecting the value of our currency, our government is losing its citizen-bestowed mandate.

It is becoming obvious who the government is working for, and it clearly isn't us. So why, many will ask the IRS, should we have to pay for it?

No-Win Situation

When it becomes obvious the game is rigged, people stop playing by the rules.

Hoskins told News 5's Courtis Fuller that he issued the bank an ultimatum.

"I'll tear it down before I let you take it," Hoskins told them.

And that's exactly what Hoskins did

The Moscow man used a bulldozer two weeks ago to level the home he'd built, and the sprawling country home is now rubble, buried under a coating of snow.

When the state fails to provide justice, Americans take it into their own hands.

It isn't pretty, but stories like this will become more common as Americans lose faith in their institutions.

[via VoxDay]

Monday, February 22, 2010

Google Power & Light [Googletopia]

Google Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Google Inc., has been granted utility status by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

That's right. Google can now sell you electricity.

Why does Google want to do this? Right now, the company rakes in billions of dollars from ads and it doesn’t have to have extensive support desks and remote repair teams — the kind of people-power providers must have on staff — in order to do it. Selling power is a much more hands-on business.

Google has said it wants to go carbon neutral. With the FERC order, it can now effectively erect as many solar panels and install as many fuel cells as it likes without worrying about having purchased too much capacity; the company can now sell off the extra power it generates.

But more importantly, Google can now exploit its massive data centers to provide services for controlling power consumption in commercial buildings, industrial sites, and homes. It is largely a task that should be handed off to large computer rooms.

It was only a matter of time. Google's data centers use a ridiculou amount of energy, and its founders are strong green energy proponents. Now that they can become a self-sufficient power and data company, there is little stopping them from taking over the world.

With their commitment to green energy and efficiency, this may be a good thing, as long as they don't turn evil.

I personally look forward to the day when Google makes government obsolete.

[via TWig]

Neural Marketing [Mind Control]

Marketing and neuroscience converge at "neuromarketing," which uses scientific instruments to measure people's unconscious reactions to advertisement, and neuromarketers use that data to build better commercials.

Lindstrom is a practitioner of neuromarketing research, in which consumers are exposed to ads while hooked up to machines that monitor brain activity, pupil dilation, sweat responses and flickers in facial muscles, all of which are markers of emotion. According to his studies, 83% of all forms of advertising principally engage only one of our senses: sight. Hearing, however, can be just as powerful, though advertisers have taken only limited advantage of it. Historically, ads have relied on jingles and slogans to catch our ear, largely ignoring everyday sounds--a steak sizzling, a baby laughing and other noises our bodies can't help paying attention to. Weave this stuff into an ad campaign, and we may be powerless to resist it.

To figure out what most appeals to our ear, Lindstrom wired up his volunteers, then played them recordings of dozens of familiar sounds, from McDonald's ubiquitous "I'm Lovin' It" jingle to birds chirping and cigarettes being lit. The sound that blew the doors off all the rest--both in terms of interest and positive feelings--was a baby giggling. The other high-ranking sounds were less primal but still powerful. The hum of a vibrating cell phone was Lindstrom's second-place finisher. Others that followed were an ATM dispensing cash, a steak sizzling on a grill and a soda being popped and poured.

In all of these cases, it didn't take a Mad Man to invent the sounds, infuse them with meaning and then play them over and over until the subjects internalized them. Rather, the sounds already had meaning and thus triggered a cascade of reactions: hunger, thirst, happy anticipation.

While it might be scary to think that companies can control you using your own preconceived predilictions, it is just following the natural evolution of marketing.

What I find most appealing is that this creates a strong economic incentive for neuroscience research, which will benefit all of us.

Let's just hope this technology doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Red vs. Blue

a.k.a. Rural vs. Urban, according to 2008 election data.

[via Rhoetus]

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Breaking Point

Joe Stack fought the system, and lost. He fought the system again, and lost. He fought the system once more, and lost. Then he snapped, and Joe Stack flew his Piper Cherokee PA-28 into the first floor of an Austin, TX IRS office building.

Joe Stack was one of us. He had a job. He had a family. He had hobbies. He played in a band. He flew his airplane. His bandmates knew a normal man, not a creepy introvert, not an obsessive extrovert, just a normal guy.

His airplane mechanic couldn't believe the news of Stack's demise. An old business associate also claims he was just a normal guy.

His manifesto did not have the insane rambling quality that might point to a deeply disturbed mind, despite what the media may say about it. He laid out a reasonable case against a specific tax law that had repeatedly caused him and many like him much psychological and financial pain. He painted a broad picture of the corrupt American system that few can really disagree with.

Joe Stack was not the first person to question this particular tax law, SEC. 1706. No, this law had been questioned since its inception.

It was first proposed by Sen. Patrick Moynihan as a way to pay for a $60 million tax break for I.B.M. It raised funds by essentially requiring engineers like Stack to be attached to a company, rather than allowing them to work on their own through contract work.

One year after the bill's inception, Sen. Moynihan realized his mistake and proposed the bill be repealed. This proposal died before it could get a vote.

This tax law specifically affected Stack. According to his manifesto, he went through all the legal channels available to him to try to right this wrong, but his efforts amounted to nothing but legal bills and more taxes.

Joe Stack is one of us. After decades of IRS harassment, of banging his head against the wall, and seeing a government that only got worse, he reached his breaking point. Who among us could say we could go through what he went through and still maintain a peaceful demeanor?

After nearly 30 years of fighting peacefully, he came to one conclusion: "Nothing changes unless there is a body count."

Judging from what I know of our governance, I'm afraid he was right.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

This Sounds Awfully Familiar

Obama signs the federal debt commission into existence today with an executive order. I'm not sure why, because Ronald Reagan did the same thing 28 years ago with the Grace Commission, and Congress has yet to take any of the commission's debt reducing suggestions.

I am confident that the latest debt commission will be just as successful as the last one.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Depression That Wasn't

In 1920-21, America's GNP plunged 24%, from $91.5 billion in 1920 to $69.6 billion in 1921, in one of the worst economic downturns in history. In response, President Warren G. Harding cut taxes on business, and held personal income tax rates steady at 8% for top earners.

Harding vetoed spending bills, including one that would give bonuses to veterans. He saved billions.

Harding also cut billions from the existing budget. The Federal budget went from $6.3 billion in 1920 to $5 billion in 1921 to $3.2 billion in 1922. Federal taxes also fell, from $6.6 billion to $5.5 billion to $4 billion, respectively. In this time, Harding paid off a significant portion of America's World War I debts.

By 1922, the GNP had rebounded to $74.1 billion and unemployment dropped to 6.7%. Unemployment continued to decline through the roaring twenties.

Without debt, by simply cutting taxes and slashing government spending, Warren G. Harding prevented a Great Depression and turned an ailing economy around in under 18 months.

Suck it Keynes.

How High Taxes Impede Wealth

Between 1999 and 2004, New Jersey experienced strong growth in the wealth of its citizens:

During those five years the Garden State had a $98 billion net influx of capital due to wealthy households moving into the state, and it enjoyed a corresponding $881 million increase in "charitable capacity."

The Garden State was blooming. Then the trend reversed. From 2004-2008, author John Havens found "a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey" as well as "a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving." The result: a net decline of $70 billion in household wealth while the "expected giving" became a net outflow of $1.132 billion.

So what happened in 2004? The study doesn't purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state's most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That's a 40% increase.

In America, the wealthiest 10% pay 68% of the taxes. If you raise their tax rates too high, they will take their money and leave. Then, to pay for the various entitlement programs we have created, tax rates on the middle class will have to go up, until there is no more middle class.

I don't want to find out what happens next.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Unionized Teachers Get What They Deserve

Unionized Rhode Island teachers refuse to work 25 minutes more per day, so town fires all of them.

Central Falls is one of the poorest towns in the state. It looks like the pictures everyone's seen of Detroit or Flint. There are lots of boarded up windows, abandoned buildings, decrepit factories with broken windows, etc. It's an absolutely depressed community. According to Wikipedia, the median income in the town is $22k.

Teacher salaries at the high school average $72-78k. Apparently 50% of the students at the school are failing all of their classes, and the graduation rate is also under 50%. In an effort to turn the school around, the superintendent requested some changes be made whereby the school day would be slightly extended, teachers would perform some extra tutoring, etc.

The union balked and refused the terms, so now she is firing the entire teaching staff of the high school and replacing them. This is yet another example of unions digging their own graves by refusing to negotiate or accept reasonable terms. Sentiment is on the side of the superintendent, at least among the folks I have discussed the issue with.

While private sector workers are losing their jobs, public employees are doing better than ever. Luckily this Rhode Island town decided to fight back.

Some things are best dealt with on the local level, where average people still have a voice.

[Mish via BusinessInsider via Instapundit]

Friday, February 12, 2010

Libertarian Traffic School

Behold, a world without traffic laws.

Obama vs. Pelosi

The battle is heating up.

Pelosi is bitching about how Obama is favoring the Senate, while Obama wants Pelosi to focus legislation that actually has a chance of passing.

Pelosi blames Obama for not pushing hard enough once House bills reach the Senate. I blame Pelosi for pushing bad bills to begin with.

China Lite

Following in China's footsteps, the Iranian government is cracking down on their people's ability to communicate on the internet. The government has drastically throttled the internet, slowing it to a crawl, and it has blocked e-mail service from Google and Yahoo.

This internet slowdown comes in anticipation of the 31st anniversary of the Iranian revolution. The government of Iran is looking to avoid a PR nightmare like the one they had during last June's election, when citizens used services such as Twitter and YouTube to transmit their protest globally.

Some communications experts believe that the authorities’ efforts to block Gmail could be related to Google encryption, which prevents the government from reading e-mail. Yahoo and Hotmail have not been similarly affected, one monitor said.

Whatever its motivation, the government described its e-mail disruptions as well intentioned. Saeed Mahdyun, a telecommunications official, told the semiofficial ILNA news agency that Gmail would be blocked to encourage users to switch to local e-mail services.

The government announced last week that it was starting a national e-mail service to replace foreign ones, as a way to build “trust” with the people. But the opposition says most people use Gmail and Yahoo precisely because they are suspicious of local e-mail services, which they strongly suspect are monitored by the government.

Iran is maintaining 6.5% GDP growth, but suffers from 15% inflation and 12.5% unemployment. Iran echos China's authoritarian internet policy, but without China's strong economic growth.

The situation in Iran is deteriorating. Many of the people seem resolved to change their government, but the government shows no signs of backing down. More blood will be shed before this is over.

[NYTimes via HuffPo via Kevin]

Warrantless Wireless Tracking

In Big Brother news, the Justice Department is arguing in the first federal appeals court today for the right of law enforcement to use tracking data from cell phones without a warrant.

Even though police are tapping into the locations of mobile phones thousands of times a year, the legal ground rules remain unclear, and federal privacy laws written a generation ago are ambiguous at best. On Friday, the first federal appeals court to consider the topic will hear oral arguments (PDF) in a case that could establish new standards for locating wireless devices.

In that case, the Obama administration has argued that warrantless tracking is permitted because Americans enjoy no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in their--or at least their cell phones'--whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers say that "a customer's Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records" that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that constant tracking of roughly every citizen in America is a violation of our 4th Amendment right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects.

When reached for local comment, Kevin Denny of Carrboro said, "This is 24-type shit."

When asked about the 4th Amendment and the necessity of warrants, Denny replied, "Shit is going down every minute. No time for warrants."

[cnet via nmoore63]

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Google Censoring 'iPad' Image Search

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit C.

In another shot in the battle between Google and Apple, Google appears to be censoring images of the iPad on its image search, as none appear on the first page of arguably the best image search available. Yahoo and Bing both display several iPad images on the first image search page.

Don't tell me this was an accident.

Fareed Zakaria: Budget fixes are simple -- and unthinkable

Fareed makes some reasonable points:

If he were to cut spending at this point, the economy would quite likely go into a second recession, a double-dip, and then frankly everything collapses. If you don't have growth, you have no prospect of getting out of this budgetary situation. ... But he must in a year begin really to address the serious issues that make up the budget crisis that we have.

The most significant one is health care costs. ... Obama's health care plan, while it has some cost control measures, is mostly about expansion and adding to the costs. ... There has to be a much, much more serious focus on costs.

The second is a number of sacred cows in the federal budget which are very large but which frankly make no sense. We have a $250 billion a year hole in the federal budget because employers are given a tax deduction for health care plans. This is actually bad for health care, because it is one of the factors that contributes to these out of control costs, because it's an invitation to have inflation in the system.

Fareed has a solid plan for bringing down the deficit, but he is disingenuous about the macro economic effects of doing so. He understands and says that cutting spending would hurt the economy in the short term, but in the next breath he proposes tax increases, which would have almost the same net effect.

Not that I disagree with his proposal, because a little short term pain is going to be necessary. But he should be honest about it, or the pundits and partisans will tear it apart for raising taxes.

[via Raven]

America Jumps the Shark

The Federal government is pulling out all the stops to save our suffering economy, and it's going to send us all to the poor house.

[via Glas]

The British Police State is about to get more Policey

Children's Secretary Ed Balls has submitted a plan to turn publicly subsidized family housing into a Big Brother wet dream.

The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes.

They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.

Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

Around 2,000 families have gone through these Family Intervention Projects so far.
Clearly Ed Balls never read 1984, or if he did he really missed the point.

[Daily Express via Gizmodo]

Life Imitates Art [Robot Apocalypse]

This new robotic spy is being tested for use in the skies above Miami. Do not be alarmed by its striking resemblance to an Imperial Probe Droid.

Equipped with multiple cameras and data transmission capability, it is only a matter of time before they add a small caliber weapon, which will be used to keep the human race in line once the robots take over.

[Reuters via Gizmodo]

Monday, February 8, 2010

Superbowl 44: Saints 31, Colts 17

Pictured: Drew Brees and son Baylen

[Photo stolen from NYTimes]

Friday, February 5, 2010

Douchebag of the Week: Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL)

Richard Shelby, Senator from the great state of Alabama, is a flaming douchebag. He refuses to vote on Obama's presidential appointments until his home state receives billions of dollars in pork.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Shelby's move is holding up about 70 appointments, including a critical top Defense Department position overseeing deployments to the war in Afghanistan.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky offered little defense, saying Thursday that he didn't know much about Shelby's concerns and that he would try to hash them out "sooner rather than later."

Senators frequently block individual appointments, but Shelby's blanket hold is unusual. His spokesman issued a statement about the holds Friday, citing concerns about a contract for an Air Force refueling tanker that could be built in Alabama and a new FBI explosives center that Shelby wants built there. Shelby argues the projects are critical national security priorities.

The value of the Air Force contract could reach $35 billion, plus $45 million for an FBI research facility in his home state.

Shelby argues the projects are critical for our national security. Democrats have shot back, claiming 'There are empty chairs at the Pentagon.'

Democrats are scrambling to not screw this up. Shelby's claims of fiscal conservativism leave him and the GOP wide open to justifiable criticism, exposing his intense hypocrisy, and expose him for the enormous douchebag that he is.

US Patent Office Surprisingly Primitive

The glorious US Patent Office, arbiter of all things innovative, apparently grinds to a halt when page is faxed to them upside down. Yes, you read that correctly. Faxed. Upside down.

Here's the message one potential patent candidate got after submitting his paperwork:

The faxed submission was received upside down. We are unable to continue processing these images.

There is so much wrong with that statement I won't even start, except to say I can't believe the future of American technological innovation relies on these clowns, and I can't believe my tax dollars are supporting them.

I want my money back.

[via Gizmodo]

Robot Apocalypse [UPDATE]

It's 2010 and these guys already look like the bots from I, Robot.

[Thanks Brian]

Afghanistan Bottoms Out

Afghanistan could only get so bad before it had to start getting better, and that inflection point is happening now. Afghanistan appears to be softening against improving security and commerce.

During the summer, McChrystal described the security picture as deteriorating as Taliban influence expanded, especially in Pashtun tribal areas of southern Afghanistan.

"I feel differently now," McChrystal said. "I am not prepared to say we have turned the corner. The situation is serious, but we [made] significant progress in setting conditions in 2009 and we will make real progress in 2010."

Key to the progress, he said, is an operation in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province that will begin within days. Officials have taken the unusual step of announcing the planned offensive, centered on the town of Marja.

McChrystal said the offensive would advance a counterinsurgency campaign begun in Helmand last summer to expand the area under government control. Officials have spoken openly about it in part to showcase the involvement of Afghans in its planning, but also to give militants a chance to lay down their weapons or flee. The discussion is also intended to convince Afghans that the situation in their country is improving.

The Army is running what appears to be a successful counter-insurgency program to bring in the ones you can, and root out the ones you can't. I was ready to pull the plug on the whole situation, but it may still be salvageable.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ginsberg and Stevens Are Out

Obama could get a couple more justices in there, but they won't tip the balance back to the Left.

Court watchers believe two of the more liberal members of the court, justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, could decide to step aside for reasons of age and health. That would give the president his second and third chance to shape his legacy on the Supreme Court.

Last week, when Obama took the nearly unprecedented step of criticizing the court's opinion in a major campaign finance case during his State of the Union speech, some believed he was showcasing for the American people that presidential elections, and Supreme Court nominations count.

I anticipate months of vigorous debate and exceedingly uninteresting news stories about the Supreme Court nominees.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rubik's Solving Robot Built From Legos and a Cell Phone [Robot Apocalypse]

This robot, built using only Lego Mindstorms and a Nokia N95, solved a 4x4x4 Rubik's Cube in 15 minutes. Yes, you should be afraid.

[via Gizmodo]

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Saints, Colts Hoping To Resolve Super Bowl Through Diplomacy

MIAMI—Team officials from the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts emerged from a tense, 12-hour negotiating session Thursday and told reporters that, while they had yet to reach a settlement that would prevent a massive on-field conflict, the AFC and NFC champions were committed to resolving the Super Bowl through diplomatic channels.

"Playing this Super Bowl is our last resort," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was flanked by the coaches and quarterbacks for the opposing teams. "Yes, there are some difficult issues that need to be hashed out, such as who will be the game's MVP, the number of total passing yards for each quarterback, and which team will be named Super Bowl champion, but I think we made progress today."

"The Colts and the Saints are unwavering in their commitment to avoid any violence and wish to resolve the Super Bowl peacefully, without a single football being thrown," Goodell added.

[The Onion]

The iPad Keynote in Three Minutes of Adjectives

"It's Amazing!"

Monday, February 1, 2010

News Report Explains News Reporting

[via exposno1]

Robot Apocalypse [UPDATE]

The robots are at it again, evolving and working in teams. God help us all.

You'll say the whole Robot Apocalypse meme is played out. We say it's your lack of focus that'll eventually be the downfall of society. Gurus at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems in the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne have been working on "evolving robots" for quite some time, but the latest breakthrough is easily the most astounding (and in turn, terrifying) of all. According to new research that was just made public, a gaggle of robots programmed to use Darwinian selection in order to learn, evolve and mutate have now successfully moved sans collisions through a maze and helped each other push tokens around in order to achieve a common goal. Moreover, some of the creatures even displayed early signs of a predatory-prey relationship, which effectively assures mankind that these cute little learners will one day assimilate to rule the world however they please.

Behold their power!