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2851  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: March 28, 2011, 12:27:49 PM
The GE-no income tax- thanks to Charles Rangel- a congressional tax cheat-yet re-elected- and GE payoff to Rangel- with Obama demogogary about corporate greed-etc.

Indeed, it is beyond infuriating.  And the 48% who still approve of Bamster are similar to the same croud that re elects a criminal - Rangel.  They are all into stealing tax payer moenies.

Everyone is bribed with government money or tax loop holes.

Did you see on Stossel how Bruce Springstein pays no property tax in NJ, the highest property tax state in the country because he has an "organic" gardener/"farm" on his huge spread?

Or Bon Jovi, another one who sings Katherine's song lyrics and claims he writes them (I allege wink) and pays no property tax because he breeds bees on his property ) actually they might pay like $200 I think Stossel said).

This is why I am so pessimistic and look at it all like a joke.

2852  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: March 28, 2011, 09:31:17 AM
"and yet 48% approve of the job he is doing"

This is what we get when 50% pay no Federal Income Tax.

What do they care?

And an estimated get more money then they pay in.

The real middle class, that actually works AND pays taxes continues to run faster and faster on the treadmill.

Many of the wealthy continue to enjoy gaming the system.  Yes they create wealth but they also have the system gamed.

Nothing ever changes.
2853  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: American History on: March 26, 2011, 01:24:15 PM
Of note most deaths were due to disease and malnutrition and not batlle deaths:

If I recall in the "Battle Cry for Freedom" it was pointed out that for every soldier killed in battle around two died of disease in the Civil War.  In Napoleon's day it was more like 90% died from exposure, disease, etc.  God knows what it was in ancient times.

2854  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy on: March 26, 2011, 12:47:21 PM
"Of course, just because we can't help everywhere does not mean we can't help somewhere. President Barack Obama has steered a reasonable middle course. He was right to delay action in Libya until the Arab League, the United Nations Security Council, France and Great Britain were fully on board, and even then to restrict our military actions and objectives. He doesn't want the U.S. to own the Libyan problem, which could drag on chaotically for years. President Obama is not feeble, as some have said; he is cunning"

I agree that Obama is right to keep us out of it unlike Hillary and McCain who can't seem to wait to jump in to "prevent a humanitarian crises".
I don't agree doing anything under the guise of Nato or the UN makes any sense other than creating a huge amount of confusion.
He certainly didn't help specifying Ghaddafi must go than get cold feet realizing that whoever/whatever replaces him could be worse and back off that declaration.
I wouldn't call that cunning as much as stupid and incompetent.

And GHWBush started this whole coalition thing.  What a darn mess this has left us with now.
Kaplan is exactly right that China freeloads.  And why not?  This country is lead by a bunch of suckers and idiots. 
Even O'Reilly is talking up this "we are an exceptional nation".  Oh really?  So that means we were founded on having to be the world's Nanny???
I don't think our founders had any inclination for that.

Hey Bill.  Why don't you buy 50 million in arms and pay off some mercenaries to go fight and arm the "rebels" and you stop the "humanitarian cirses".
The rest of the US is broke.
2855  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Housing Crisis Explained and Questions Answered on: March 26, 2011, 09:32:16 AM
Excellent segment on "freeloaders" by John Stossel yesterday.  I think it will likely be replayed over the weekend.  I only post here because part of it deals with "freeloaders" who get out of their mortgages without paying a cent.  They simply don't pay for several months and get to walk away. He interviews one guy whose house lost value below what his mortgage amount was and simply walked away.  He shows another lady who found some sort of loopholes to stay in her house for 20 yrs without paying any mortgage.  Businesses are making money teaching people how to screw the banks (and all of the rest of us who do pay our mortgages) over.  So what else is new?
2856  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / white collar and organized crime on: March 26, 2011, 09:24:54 AM
Recall all my posts about how we are being robbed by white collar coward-like criminals who sureveillence us in multple ways with hidden cameras, listening devices, and all computers as well as any wireless electronic devices.  Remember how I said I am positive this HAS to be rampant on Wall Street.  Remember I said how every single person who comes into our house is a suspect and nearly all of them can be bribed or it is arranged that someone who works for the thieves shows up to do any kind of contractor work.  Finally, finally someone is actually caught.  Don't expect to find out who is really behind this or even to hear anything about it again.  This will be white washed.  For someone to suggest he was not trying to pick up insider tips with cameras in BR is an insult.  Of course he was.  The only other thing would be to try to get incriminating evidence on some traders to later extort information from them.  

Folks this is RAMPANT.   This kind of crime is absolutely rampant.  And no one does a thing.  Where is law enforcement on these kinds of crime?  When some of them are also not taking bribes to get in on it?

"So was he spying on the trading floor trying to pick up insider tips? Not quite. He was apparently installing the cameras in the men's restroom."


****Was a Guy Arrested for Hiding Cameras Inside Deutsche Bank?
Published: Friday, 25 Mar 2011 | 3:46 PM ET Text Size By: John Carney
Senior Editor,
A man was arrested for covertly installing cameras inside of Deutsche Bank, according to a report from DealBreaker.

DealBreaker's source describes him as "the guy that delivers water bottles to the trading floor."

So was he spying on the trading floor trying to pick up insider tips?

Not quite.

He was apparently installing the cameras in the men's restroom.

DealBreaker wasn't sure which bank the arrest took place in at first. Sources have now come forth to claim it was at Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank is declining to comment.****
2857  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tea Party, Glen Beck and related matters on: March 25, 2011, 04:04:38 PM
"Separately he discussed Baraq's trip to Brazil, the US helping fund Petrobras's deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico"

I heard that too.  I made the mistake of buying some petrobas after they had made huge undersea discoveries the last oil spike.
The government controls PBR and takes much of the profit to spend on Brazilian domestic programs thus leaving foreign suckers like me holding the bag.  The stock went from 130 to 30.  Despite the re rise of oil the price is still only around 40.  The dividend stinks.

And now I read we are sending them tax moeny too???

So who can wonder why the Brazialians love OBama as reported in the liberal MSM?

Of course they do.  Like all the countries where he is loved.  He is spreading our wealth around and buying their love.

I am ready to vote for Trump. cry
2858  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / health care wavers, political gifts on: March 25, 2011, 01:22:40 PM
Health care mandates for everyone - except Bamster's friends:

****Michelle Malkin  •  March 25, 2011 10:39 AM

The Weiner Waiver Wormhole
by Michelle Malkin
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2011

New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner toasted the one-year anniversary of Obamacare this week — and accidentally spilled his champagne glass all over the disastrous, one-size-fits-all mandate. Ostensibly one of the federal health care law’s staunchest defenders, Weiner exposed its ultimate folly by pushing for a special cost-saving regulatory exemption for New York City.

If it’s good for the city Weiner wants to be mayor of, why not for each and every individual American and American business that wants to be free of Obamacare’s shackles?

Weiner joins a bevy of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s” loudest cheerleaders — unions, foundations and left-leaning corporations — in clamoring for more waivers for favors. (The list of federal waiver recipients now tops 1,000, covering more than 2.6 million workers.) And he follows a gaggle of health care takeover-promoting Democrats maneuvering on Capitol Hill for get-out-of-Obamacare loopholes.

At a speech before the George Soros-supported Center for American Progress, as reported by, Weiner revealed that he’s “in the process now of trying to see if we can take (President Barack Obama) up on” a favor waiver and is “taking a look at all of the money we spend in Medicaid and Medicare and maybe New York City can come up with a better plan.” Echoing all the Republican critics of Obamacare who objected to top-down rules that override local variations in health care expenditures, Weiner explained: “I’m just looking internally to whether the city can save money and have more control over its own destiny.”

More local control over taxpayers’ destiny, eh? Give that man a “Hands Off My Health Care” sign, a Gadsden flag and a tea party membership card ASAP!

I kid, of course. The ultimate agenda of many waiver-seekers is to create a wormhole path to even more radical restructuring of the health system. Weiner has brazenly called for a single-payer “public option” to replace Obamacare should it be repealed. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has also crusaded for more Kabuki “flexibility” in the law through a bipartisan state waiver proposal.

But as The Heritage Foundation noted, the plan “simply changes a date on an existing ‘state innovation’ provision of Obamacare from 2017 to 2014 — still well after the federal Obamacare infrastructure has been cemented in place.” And it is essentially “a back-door vehicle for progressive states to enact the ‘public option’ and speed up the establishment of a single-payer system for health care.” White House health care advisers Nancy-Ann DeParle and Stephanie Cutter further reinforced in a conference call to liberal advocates that the bill would help states implement single-payer health care plans, such as those tested in Connecticut and Vermont.

Weiner argues that the waiver process dispels “this notion that the government is shoving the bill down people’s throats.” But only the politically connected, deep-pocketed, lawyered-up and Beltway-savvy can apply. And the White House refuses to shed more light on its decision-making process. Obama’s selective favor waivers simply underscore the notion that unaccountable regulatory bureaucrats are presiding over government by the cronies, for the cronies and of the cronies.

Real control over our destinies means flexibility and choice for all. Repeal is the ultimate democratic waiver.****

2859  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Housing Crisis Explained and Questions Answered on: March 25, 2011, 01:09:48 PM
From what I recall about Wesbury from Gilder days was that he is alwas a bull.

If my memory is correct he was completely wrong about the tech crash.

I also recall one of the penny stocks recommended by Gilder who got the idea from Brian and then added it to his letter had in Wesbury listed as preferred stock holder of a large amount of shares.  This was not disclosed by Gilder or Wesbury.  Unethical for sure.

In some ways Webury reminds me of Larry Kudlow.  Endless jibberish, endless bull market speak, and like all advisors getting very wealthy selling advice to those that lose money listening to them.

Like Steve Forbes said on a Rush Limbaugh radio show around 1998, his father taught him you can get a lot richer selling market advise rather than following it.

2860  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Anti-semitism & Jews on: March 25, 2011, 12:43:21 PM
"My question earlier, which no one seems to want to address is why are Jews hated so deeply throughout the world by non Muslims?"

Excellent question, and one which I though I have tried to address.

Perhaps it has been in part to the success of Jews throughout history, their above average numbers in banking finance, legal system, academia and certianly in politics.

It is interesting to note the inordinate number of Jews involved in "progressive" as well as socialist movements.

Many are jealous of anyone who is successful.  Many don't like other preaching to them.  I am proud of Jewish success and scientific and other major contributions to mankind.  With regards to socialism, marxism, communisim, I certianly believe the intentions are well meaning but in my view misguided.

I think their forefront in many of these areas have made Jews, us, who are different than Christians, Muslims easy to spot and apparently the objects of scapegoating.

I even hate to say it but I find my own fellow liberal Jews who get on cable and tell us it is *our responsibility* as a wealthy free strong nation to stop the bloodshed in Libya like one guy yesterday.  Oh really?  It is now our responsibility to be the world' policemen and emergency medical personel?

Who says? You?  I find it insulting annoying and condescending.  And unfortunately all liberals annoy me this way.  Yet many in the forefront are Jewish.
I say to them you want to send your children in harms way, you want to spend your hard earned money to free and save the world go ahead but do not tell the resto of America it is OUR duty to do so.

I don't know if this helps.

But sometimes I wish my fellow liberal Jews would just shut up and stop telling other people what they must do.

My personal standard is to be a law abiding honest human being.  I believe in the golden rule.  I honr those who want to be kind or charitable.  But that is their choice.
2861  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy on: March 25, 2011, 12:31:28 PM
"Therefore I wonder why..."


We keep making the same mistake over and over again that if we try to do humanitarian things the world will love us.

I say enough stupidity and naivity.

The world want our money.  That is it.

We should kill Khaddafy and put the world on notice you murder our citizens (LOckerbie) than *you* are next.  Otherwise get the hell out of Libya.  Now we are in Iraq/Afghanistan we need to finish the job.

I have no doubt that most Americans have elected a President to look out for our interests not the rest of the thankless planet.
2862  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / One question on: March 25, 2011, 11:52:59 AM
Has anyone EVER heard someone from any Muslim country get on a "news" network and explicitly THANK the US for investing lives, limb and money to free THEM?

I have yet to hear ONE SINGLE Muslim thank us.

Perhaps they did I just missed it.
2863  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Libya and on: March 24, 2011, 07:38:23 PM
"What Next?"

We simply send our young men and women to remove all the despots of the Middle East.  Then Asia, Then Africa.

Sound absurd?  It would have some years ago. 

Not now.

Throughout history countries with our power would have taken over the conquered.

Now we risk our blood and treasure to free everyone else?

I don't get it.  Have those calling for us to get involved in Libya lost their minds? 

Why we are f?)&*^%g broke!   Get out in front of what I ask Gates who lectured that comment to Israel?  Getting out of every one of these messes jump in the middle and spend the next multiple generations building their countries?

I am finding myself agreeing with Pat Buchanan more and more.
2864  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants & interesting thought pieces on: March 24, 2011, 07:23:05 PM
"It we had lost our will after the Surge worked, the whole dynamic we are looking at now would have an entirely different hue."


However I just don't know that Iraq 2 will benefit this country in the long run.  I guess no one can know at this time.

Iraq 1 did what it was supposed to, but I like George Will (who pointed out in one of his columns back than) still don't like Bush Sr.'s starting this having to seek the approval of the "international community".

Fast forward to the present.  Now we have the One placing our military under the command of other countries or in some way the UN.

To me it is all just an evolution of America's giving it all away.

At this rate OUR military will work for the UN.

2865  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: March 24, 2011, 02:18:21 PM
"My prediction that Obama won't be the nominee"

Who else?

Hillary puts her self on the line with Lybia.  Outcome good her loyalists will tout her as the courageous one who pushed for the policy despite BO's reluctance.  Outcome bad - silence from her worshipers.

"Parroting the Bush-haters, everything is an opportunity to attack Obama."

2866  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Anti-semitism & Jews on: March 24, 2011, 12:42:37 PM
I assume everyone here saw on Drudge that Egyptian airlines now no longer shows Israel on its maps.

And Obama has Gates telling Israel "they" have to get out in front of this middle east "populist wave".

It is too early but I am not liking what I am seeing here.

2867  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The US: The world's NANNY now? on: March 24, 2011, 12:38:59 PM
I was for invading Iraq 1 and getting rid of Saddam (Iraq).

Bush senior started this whole deal with getting "international coalitions" and making sure we bribe enough countires to sound like they are on our side.

HE started that whole thing.  Bush junior went in to finish the job and started this freedom democracy thing in Iraq two.  I was for that too.

Prominent republicans were against at least Iraq 2 if not 1.

I look back and do not feel Iraq 2 it was worth the American investment in lives, money, time, attention.  Iraq 1 I believe was because we couldn't let Saddam control 25% of more of the World's oil supply.

I am completely against going into Egypt going into Lybia.  I don't know what has gotten into McCain.  Yet IF we are to do it we must win.  Not half hearted.

I do not want America to be the world's policeman (every hot spot) or the world's ambulance crew (every world disaster).

It is bad enough we have ever expanding NANNY domestic goverment, now we are going to have our military be the world's nanny??
2868  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Seize the MOment on: March 23, 2011, 01:28:55 PM
"Seize the Moment" is the last one I wanted to post but it won't let me, 5 is the limit this week

It can be found at the website:
2869  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Government on: March 23, 2011, 01:25:24 PM
I like this quote from John Stuart Mill who has one of the higest estimated IQ's in history:

" John Stuart Mill, himself a civil servant, famously defined this minimalism: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”

Also this part:

"The bolder reforms, championed by Mr Cameron’s main domestic adviser, Steve Hilton, are centred on structure. They are hidden behind a confusing slogan that the Tories adopted to make themselves sound cuddlier: “The Big Society”. It brings together three things: pluralism, localism and voluntarism.
How to get there
To promote pluralism, the Tories aim to build the “post-bureaucratic state” that Tony Blair wanted (they even use the same phrase). Haunted by the idea that Mr Blair did not move fast enough, they are rushing to hand over many more state services to outside providers."

Full article:

***Big society
Radical ideas from a fusty old island
Mar 17th 2011 | from the print edition
 FOR all its pomp and tradition, Britain has played an outsized role in promoting radical thought about the state. In the 19th century it championed modernisation, with the same liberal Victorians who campaigned for free trade (and set up this newspaper) also dismantling the courtly system under which posts in government were sold off or given to political allies. The Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1854 led to the creation of a politically neutral civil service, with appointments made on merit. Liberals prided themselves on the leanness of a state that ruled India with a few thousand bureaucrats. John Stuart Mill, himself a civil servant, famously defined this minimalism: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”

Yet as the 19th century wore on, “New Liberals”, including Mill himself, began to question the morality of the “night-watchman state”. How could liberty flourish when so many people lived in misery and ignorance? Reforming governments introduced compulsory education, laws to regulate safety at work, tax-funded libraries and welfare—all robustly condemned by Herbert Spencer in his libertarian bible, “The Man versus the State” (1884). But the intellectual traffic was mainly towards more intervention, with socialists (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were based in London) and then Fabians taking New Liberal arguments to the extreme. A more active state became the answer.

Britain continued in that vein for most of the 20th century, with the Depression only increasing anti-market sentiment. In 1938 an ambitious young right-wing MP surveyed the British economy: “The weakness of partial planning seems to me to arise from the incomplete and limited application of the principles of planning. The lesson of these errors, which I regard as errors of limitation, is not that we should retreat. On the contrary, we must advance, more rapidly and still further, upon the road of conscious regulation.” Harold Macmillan went on to become a post-war Conservative prime minister, which shows how far the centre had shifted.

Gradually, however, an anti-state right began to emerge. In 1960 Friedrich Hayek wrote “The Constitution of Liberty”, partly in response to what he saw in Britain. In 1978 another young Tory with a Macmillanish pedigree, William Waldegrave, took a very different line in “The Binding of Leviathan”: “No one knows how to run bureaucracies. Bureaucracies are increasing. No wonder the public thinks something is wrong.” In 1979 Margaret Thatcher hurled herself at these bureaucracies—and a new creed, very different from Fabianism, rippled out across the world.

Now the promise of renewed radicalism is in the air. David Cameron’s coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is pursuing the most daring course in the rich world. That judgment is based on two things: the severity of its spending cuts (many departments are being slimmed by a fifth) and the fact that it is trying to change the structure of the state.

The spending cuts currently dominate the British media. Manchester is in turmoil because it will be reduced to only one public lavatory. The Tories are plainly taking an economic gamble by tightening fiscal policy so fast, but seem less fixated on the overall size of the state than Mrs Thatcher was. For political reasons they left health care, perhaps the most wasteful part of the British state, out of the cuts. One senior Tory thinks you cannot reduce state spending below around 40% of GDP, or the politics will turn against you.

The bolder reforms, championed by Mr Cameron’s main domestic adviser, Steve Hilton, are centred on structure. They are hidden behind a confusing slogan that the Tories adopted to make themselves sound cuddlier: “The Big Society”. It brings together three things: pluralism, localism and voluntarism.

How to get there

To promote pluralism, the Tories aim to build the “post-bureaucratic state” that Tony Blair wanted (they even use the same phrase). Haunted by the idea that Mr Blair did not move fast enough, they are rushing to hand over many more state services to outside providers. They have opened the doors to Swedish-style free schools set up by parents, and they want more parts of welfare to be delivered by outsiders, paid by results. They have also announced the biggest shake-up in the history of the health service by shifting spending power to groups of general practitioners, who will buy in services from both public and private hospitals.

Haste has caused problems. Whereas the education reforms follow on neatly from the academies that Mr Blair set up, the changes in the health service, introduced with little prior warning, come just as the system is adapting to the previous round of reforms. Oddly for a party that believes in the free market, the Tories have rejected for-profit providers for some services, notably education.

Even so, pluralism could lead to a much smaller civil service than anyone thinks. “Once you start letting people compete, it is incredible how few people you need in the centre,” says one of Britain’s most senior mandarins. And, since the change is technocratic not political (the state, after all, is still paying), it will be difficult for a future Labour government to reverse.

Handing over control of schools to parents and medicine to local doctors also fits in with localism. The Tories want more cities to have elected police chiefs and, eventually, elected mayors, like London’s Boris Johnson. They are providing reams of information to make government more transparent; a new crime map of Britain’s streets crashed on its launch day because so many people wanted to see it. Combined with pluralism, this amounts to a substantial attack on the centralised state. For instance, Suffolk County Council hopes to knock a third off its budget of £500m by becoming a “virtual” authority that outsources all but a handful of its services to social enterprises or companies.

This localism is somewhat marred by the Tories’ deep distrust of local government. Handing over schools to local associations risks creating bodies that can be taken over by teachers’ unions, as in America. Lord Adonis, a Blairite who now heads the Institute for Government, a think-tank, argues that the Tories should also have given more power to elected local mayors, especially in the 14 big cities where one in three Britons live. Apparently Tory and Liberal-Democrat local councillors took against this.

Volunteer, or else

Volunteerism, the idea of Burkean small platoons taking on the functions of the state, is the trickiest part. On paper, this is a big idea. The people around Mr Cameron argue that just reducing the supply of government won’t wean people off the state; you also have to reduce the demand for it. That persistent demand, after all, has been the main reason for sprawling government from California to Cardiff.

In practice, however, the idea has flaws. Running your local library sounds attractive, but most people lack the time and expertise required, and there is not a lot of money around to help them (thanks to the spending cuts). Britons seem to band together of their own accord only when they want to oppose something—such as the government’s plans to sell off the nation’s forests, which they halted.

To be fair to the Tories, the Big Society is not their only scheme to reduce demand for government. Their welfare reforms are based on moving poorer Britons away from dependence on the state. A lot of state spending is “avoidable”, argues one insider: if you can get people into jobs, strengthen families, stop teenagers getting pregnant and teach children early, you will save a fortune a decade hence. Just two particularly troublesome families have cost British taxpayers £37m over three generations.

The Cameroonians are also trying to do something about the tangle of regulation that costs the British economy around 10-12% of GDP. A neat scheme whereby any new rule would have to show a net decrease in regulation was shelved after civil servants gamed the system. One of Mr Cameron’s advisers, Oliver Letwin, is now working on another plan. But not all the regulation is domestic. A British Chambers of Commerce study of 144 new rules in 1998-2010 put the total cost at £88 billion, of which two-thirds was attributable to European Union legislation.

Implementation is crucial: unless reform of the state is seen to be equitable and effective, citizens will not accept it. But with that huge caveat, two things stand out. First, the government’s breadth of ambition is impressive—even set against that of Mrs Thatcher, who did far less in her first year. And second, most other rich-world governments will have to do something similar soon. That is partly because of their fiscal situation: even America will have to start reconciling its revenues and its spending in the near future. And once you start to cut, you need to decide what should go and what should remain. Mr Cameron, for all his haste, is at the front of a great wave. In that, he resembles Mrs Thatcher—and those great reformers of the 19th century.
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2870  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: March 23, 2011, 01:18:31 PM
Patient, heal thyself
A bottom-up approach to the biggest problem in government
Mar 17th 2011 | from the print edition
 IN ANY discussion about the role of the state, one subject soon dwarfs all others: health care. McKinsey points out that American spending on this has grown at an annual lick of 4.9% over the past 40 years, whereas GDP per person has grown by just 2.1%. Pessimists are convinced nothing can be done to restrain it. A refreshingly different perspective is provided by Sir John Oldham, a British doctor who is clinical lead for productivity in the National Health Service.

His view of what he calls the coming tsunami is as pessimistic as anybody’s. Health costs, he points out, are determined by long-term conditions—things like diabetes, heart disease, obesity and lung disease, which are usually linked to lifestyle and diet. Some 15m Britons suffer from such conditions, which take up 70% of “bed days” in hospitals.

The numbers of cases in other countries are equally worrying. They explain why America, which currently spends 16% of its GDP on health care (see chart 5), is theoretically on track to spend 100% of its GDP on health care by 2065, followed soon by Japan. China too has seen a huge rise in such conditions. They are no longer diseases of the old: in America, says Sir John, the Facebook generation is picking them up so rapidly that it might be the first not to live longer than its parents. But they are still mainly diseases of the poor, who live less healthy lives, smoking more, drinking more and consuming more salt and trans fats in processed food.

A hard-hearted economist might spot potential savings (especially on pensions) from people dying younger. But even he would be disappointed: any such savings would be wiped out by the adverse effect of such diseases on the productivity of the working-age population. One obvious way to alleviate this problem is to tax the things that are causing it: when governments are having to strengthen their ambulances to cope with heavier patients, it is time for a levy on cheeseburgers. But Sir John reckons that getting patients to help manage their illnesses might be even more promising.

Technology is starting to make this vastly easier. Futurists dream of small gadgets roaming people’s bodies and reporting their findings to computers, but lower-tech versions of this already exist. In one pilot scheme in Britain’s Stoke-on-Trent patients use fairly basic methods to record their own weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and so on every week and text the result to a computer, which tells them what to do about them.

This can be economically attractive, because the most expensive things in health care tend to be unscheduled visits to hospital. But it also improves people’s health. A patient is always around to monitor himself, and he will be highly motivated. A big study by the Cochrane Institute showed that among people who managed their own anticoagulant treatment, repeat blood clots declined by half; deaths from clots also fell.

Sir John suggests that the NHS should set up an incentive scheme for its workers to lead healthier lives that would create rewards (or, as he likes to call them, “care miles”). That would set a good example. But for the biggest employer in the country it could also save a lot of money.
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2871  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Big Government on: March 23, 2011, 01:08:12 PM
I like this part:

"When Bismarck introduced the world’s first state pension system in 1889, he set the retirement age at 70, some 25 years beyond the average Prussian’s life expectancy, so it did not cost much to run. When America brought in its Social Security system in 1935, average life expectancy was only 62. In the OECD countries men on average now live to 76 and women to 82. In most rich countries raising the pension age to, say, 70 by 2025, and thereafter linking it to life expectancy (which keeps on increasing), would go a long way towards reducing the government’s structural deficit."

and this one:

"Another cause for pessimism is that government does not respond to normal pressures. Most obviously, there is rarely the threat of bankruptcy. Indeed, most of the examples of efficient government involve warfare or other crises. The idea that business skills do not translate to politics would seem to be borne out by the string of businesspeople who have failed to make much of a mark in government. Silvio Berlusconi has achieved a lot less as Italy’s prime minister than he did in business. A more successful transplant from the media industry, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, says he had not realised how different running a city would be: “People are motivated by different things and you face a much more intrusive press. You cannot pay good staff a lot of money…In business you experiment and you back the projects that win. The healthy bits get the money, and the unhealthy bits wither. In government the unhealthy bits get all the attention because they have the fiercest defenders.”

Full article:

The gods that have failed—so far
Could technology and good management bring the public-sector up to scratch?
Mar 17th 2011 | from the print edition
 ASKED to talk about how technology affects productivity, Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who backed Facebook, draws a simple graph on his whiteboard: input on the Y axis, output on the X axis. He then dabs on two blobs. The private sector goes in the bottom right (you put in relatively little and get out a lot); government goes in the top left: a lot of input and very little output.

Mr Thiel, a prominent libertarian, may be unsympathetic to the public sector, but his chart is not a bad guide to the past 40 years or so. Productivity in government is difficult to measure and statisticians have generally stopped trying to come up with precise figures. But such numbers as there are all point in the same direction. With a few small exceptions, government lags behind the private sector.

Two closely related things have transformed the private sector since 1970. The more obvious one is technology: think what ATMs did for banking. But management ideas—everything from profit-related pay to lean manufacturing—have arguably done even more to raise productivity. Toyota spent less on computers and robots than General Motors did; it won by out-managing its rival.
The public sector has certainly dabbled in both these things. From Berlin to Bangkok, every big consultancy has a thriving public-sector practice. Many of the ghastliest examples of management-speak come from the public sector. And some of the biggest disasters in public spending have involved technology, such as the attempt to link up Britain’s health records nationwide. But neither has really changed government profoundly.

The pessimistic explanation is that they never will: there are good reasons why the public sector will always be resistant to change. Optimists have to make the case that “this time will be different,” which is harder. But just this once it could be true.

Government is different

Begin with the depressingly long list of reasons to be pessimistic. The most fundamental one remains the Baumol effect: labour-intensive services, such as nursing and teaching, have thus far proved as immune to productivity-enhancing technology as string quartets.

Another cause for pessimism is that government does not respond to normal pressures. Most obviously, there is rarely the threat of bankruptcy. Indeed, most of the examples of efficient government involve warfare or other crises.

The idea that business skills do not translate to politics would seem to be borne out by the string of businesspeople who have failed to make much of a mark in government. Silvio Berlusconi has achieved a lot less as Italy’s prime minister than he did in business. A more successful transplant from the media industry, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, says he had not realised how different running a city would be: “People are motivated by different things and you face a much more intrusive press. You cannot pay good staff a lot of money…In business you experiment and you back the projects that win. The healthy bits get the money, and the unhealthy bits wither. In government the unhealthy bits get all the attention because they have the fiercest defenders.”

There are even ideological reasons why liberals in particular should want to keep the state relatively inefficient. Joseph Nye, a former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School and author of a book on power, says that Americans do not really want their state to work too well: “There is something special about government. It has coercive power, so it is essential that you have a healthy scepticism of it.”

So why should this time be different? The immediate reason is that in many countries the state is now so bloated that, even without changing the basic structure of government, it could be made much more efficient.

In the short term, assuming a recovering economy, government can surely be slimmed relatively painlessly—if only because it has grown so fat. The howls across Europe about unprecedented budget crises ignore three things. First, Sweden and Canada have chopped their public sectors after financial crises and lived to tell the tale (albeit against a much more clement global economic backdrop). Second, most European countries need do no more than reduce government spending to its level of three or four years ago. And third, many of the cuts are tiny by private-sector standards. At a private dinner in Paris recently a group of French businesspeople listened politely to a politician moaning about his department having to reduce its costs by 5%, until one of the private-sector bosses pointed out that he had knocked out a fifth of his costs in a little over two years. The politician shut up.

People can argue over the respective virtues of making across-the-board cuts or targeting particular departments (they usually do a bit of both), but managerially speaking it is not a tough ask. Reforming American defence procurement does not require structural change, just making use of the Pentagon’s clout with suppliers. A recent study by the National Audit Office showed that Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) could save £500m (well over $800m) a year by bundling its buying power; there is no need for hospital trusts to buy 21 different forms of A4 file paper and 652 different kinds of surgical gloves.

In the longer term, though, two sorts of opportunities present themselves: changing what the state does; and changing its structure. The first set tends to be administratively (fairly) simple but politically hard. For instance, getting rid of industrial and agricultural subsidies makes sense, but politicians cling to them. Even bigger potential “quick wins”, though ones fraught with political difficulty, are to be found in pensions. Switching state employees from defined-benefit to defined-contribution plans and raising their retirement ages to prevailing private-sector levels would save most governments a fortune—but not as much as upping the age at which everyone starts receiving their state pension.

When Bismarck introduced the world’s first state pension system in 1889, he set the retirement age at 70, some 25 years beyond the average Prussian’s life expectancy, so it did not cost much to run. When America brought in its Social Security system in 1935, average life expectancy was only 62. In the OECD countries men on average now live to 76 and women to 82. In most rich countries raising the pension age to, say, 70 by 2025, and thereafter linking it to life expectancy (which keeps on increasing), would go a long way towards reducing the government’s structural deficit.

In America Social Security is known as the “third rail” of politics: state pensions electrocute any politician who touches them. But the case for increasing retirement ages is overwhelming. It also begins to open the door to a proper debate about social transfers, including things like means-tested benefits. That argument will be much easier to make if the second set of opportunities to do with updating the structure of the state has been grasped.

On this score, unlike on benefits and transfers, almost everyone agrees what needs to be done. Britain’s Tony Blair puts it this way: “The modern Western state was created in the era of mass production and command and control, where governments told you what to do and provided everything. Modern life is about choice—and the state, even if it pays for something, should not be the only choice.” He argues that creating “a post-bureaucratic state”, with a small centre and a multitude of public and private providers, should be a particular cause for the centre-left to embrace. “In every other walk of life a citizen gets services from bodies that are anxious for their business. We have to open up the state to transparency and competition, or else anyone who is rich enough will pay to opt out.”

Mr Blair has no truck with the idea that the public sector is bound to keep growing. The key, he thinks, lies in breaking the state down into innovative smaller units, like charter schools in America and academies in Britain. “As more and more choices are made by consumers, not politicians, we will shrink the state,” he predicts.

As is his wont, Mr Blair tends to be more messianic about this than most politicians. But to see how such ideas might work, consider two changes in the car industry. First, in the era of mass production Ford did not just make its own steel; it also owned the fields on which grazed the sheep whose wool went into the covers of its car seats. Now it contracts out much of this, even though its name remains on the car. Second, in the 1970s there was a big gap between the quality of the output and the efficiency of, say, Japanese carmakers and their American peers. Now competition has minimised that advantage (and no longer always in favour of the Japanese).

Don’t do it yourself

For its part, the public sector in many countries still wants to do everything itself. Surprisingly, America, the country that has preached the Washington consensus of privatisation to the world, still owns a lot of its railways, ports and water systems; it also makes less use of for-profit schools than does Sweden. And if Britain’s gargantuan NHS were to contract out as much of its business as the French and Dutch health services do, it would be a lot more efficient. The District of Columbia has shown how much can be saved by outsourcing: it has reduced its e-mail costs by 80% and its video-hosting costs by 90% by moving them to Google and YouTube respectively.

The huge variance in performance between different bits of the public sector that do the same thing is shocking. Sweden spends half as much on health care per person as America does, yet Swedes live longer. Research on degree courses at public universities shows that some Western countries spend 30% above the average on a degree whereas others remain 70% below it, says Lenny Mendonca, a public-sector expert at McKinsey. “In anything even resembling a free market, many of the best-performing public institutions would have wiped out all the others,” he adds.

Variance within countries is harder for public-sector unions and other local vested interests to ignore. Sir John Oldham, an expert in health productivity, points to two similar adjacent areas in southern England where “unscheduled admissions” to hospitals (ie, the expensive sort) vary by a factor of eight; in another there is a 13-fold difference in the number of hospital referrals from similar doctors’ practices.

By reducing these variances, quality would be improved and a huge amount of cash could be saved. Sir John has calculated that if every NHS organisation in Britain currently operating at costs one standard deviation above the mean were to improve its performance to the mean level, the NHS would save somewhere close to the £15 billion it is supposed to find over the next five years.

It is about care as well as costs. The McKinsey Global Institute points out that at some American hospitals nurses spend under 40% of their time with patients. Naming and shaming is one way of getting better results. Sweden’s health registries, a much-cited example, provide statistics on the performance of individual hospitals. The fear of coming out badly in a national league table is a powerful incentive to try harder. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that Sweden’s National Cataract Register not only reduced the severity of astigmatism resulting from eye surgery but also narrowed the variance between the best and worst hospitals by half.

Just wait till they find out

With such examples in mind, some argue that government reform will be akin to a popular revolution, driven by the spread of information. Just as American motorists, resigned to cars that broke down, rapidly ditched Detroit’s products once they found they could buy cars that worked, so American parents will no longer tolerate the excuses of the teachers’ unions when they discover that children get a much better and cheaper education elsewhere.

There is something in this. Few politicians now question the need to publish school-performance tables, despite the furious fusillades from the unions when they were introduced. One education minister argues that the most powerful force in school reform now is the OECD’s international PISA ranking (see chart 6). “Waiting for Superman”, a documentary by Davis Guggenheim, the director who made “An Inconvenient Truth”, but this time attacking America’s teachers’ unions rather than climate-change deniers, was a big hit. As charter schools and the like outperform their peers, there is pressure to break up the old fiefs and introduce competition.

Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School, perhaps the world’s most respected writer on innovation, thinks the public sector will be upset by what he calls “mutants”—new organisms spinning out of it. He points to the success of Guaranteach, an online store of teaching videos set up by two former teachers in 2008, and other similar outfits.

A new wave of frugal innovation coming from emerging markets will also make an impact on the public sector. South Korea is a leader in education testing. India is taking a dramatically different approach to health care. It has found a way to reduce the cost of heart operations by setting up huge hospitals that can reap economies of scale. It is already cheaper for Westerners to fly to India as health tourists than to have treatment at home.

Many think the web will shift the balance of power between the public sector and its clients. Worried about your child’s school? You can join a discussion group on Facebook. Furious with the American government? You can see how much it is costing you at Fed up with Britain’s lousy roads? Go to Don Tapscott, one of the cleverer cybergurus and co-author of “Macrowikinomics”, points to the rise of “prosumers”: rather than merely accepting what the government offers, citizens will shape new services as they appear. Places like the District of Columbia and Canada’s province of New Brunswick have been pioneers, spurred on by a new generation of younger, more web-savvy civil servants. Even health care—the field most resistant to change—could be turned upside down (see article).

So a bottom-up revolution is under way. But for all the obvious reasons, it is advancing more slowly than it did in the private sector. For instance, a recent survey by the New York Times of failed schools in eight American states that were bad enough to get federal turnaround money showed that 44% of the schools’ principals had kept their jobs. Resources are another problem: there are fewer computers in the public sector than in the private because many government departments still do not distinguish capital budgets from operating ones.

Mr Christensen thinks one of the main problems is the lack of a common language. As a young academic he was able to persuade Intel to change course by telling its bosses that the sort of disruptive change that had happened in steel (the arrival of cheap mini-mills) would also happen in chipmaking. Yet when he goes to health-care conferences, he says, nobody uses the same terminology. Doctors, insurers, hospitals and politicians all talk about completely different things: “The only people who could really bang heads together would be the federal government.”

Indeed, for all the evidence of mounting pressure from below, a command-and-control organisation will change only when the top wants it to do so. And here most Western countries have something in common with China: leaders are scared. Some attempts to institutionalise innovation have been made. Geoff Mulgan points out that America has committed $650m to a schools-innovation fund; Britain has allocated £200m to health. Barack Obama has appointed Vivek Kundra, the man who led the District of Columbia’s technology drive, as America’s first chief information officer. Mr Kundra has already saved $3 billion by culling programmes.

Yet the same Mr Obama has recently delivered a budget to Congress that does nothing to reform entitlements. It is not just the threats from vested interests that inhibit progress. Mr Mulgan explains that the first wave of privatising governments in the 1980s and 1990s often did badly at the ballot box. Voters could not see enough change to justify the aggravation. And sometimes restructuring was done in several phases, so it was not clear who was responsible for the good things.

The recent economic crisis has changed minds. There now seems to be far greater acceptance that government is broken, and voters are more prepared to give their leaders leeway to mend it. Even if the debate has barely begun to tackle benefits and social transfers, that still gives politicians an opportunity. In various American states governors have seized it. But on a national scale nobody has grabbed it with more gusto than an Old Etonian Tory.

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2872  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Unions:"Enemies of progress" on: March 23, 2011, 01:01:16 PM
Enemies of progress
The biggest barrier to public- sector reform are the unions
Mar 17th 2011 | from the print edition
 IF JIMMY HOFFA were reincarnated as a modern trade unionist, he would probably represent civil servants. When Hoffa’s Teamsters were in their prime in 1960, only one in ten American government workers belonged to a union; now 36% do. In 2009 the number of unionists in America’s public sector passed that of their brethren in the private sector. In continental Europe most civil servants belong to unions, though these generally straddle the private sector as well. In Britain more than half of public-sector workers but only about 15% of private-sector ones are unionised.

There are three reasons for the public-sector unions’ clout. First, they can shut things down without suffering much in the way of consequences. Second, they are mostly bright and well-educated. There are some Luddites left, such as Bob Crow of London’s perennially striking Tube drivers. But it is much harder to argue with Randi Weingarten, the articulate head of the American Federation of Teachers. Most workers in the public sector are women, and many of them are professional types. A quarter of America’s public-sector workers have a university degree. Officers of the British Medical Association (which represents doctors) and America’s National Education Association (the biggest teachers’ union) often appear on the news as experts on health and education rather than as representatives of interest groups.

Third, they now dominate left-of-centre politics. Some of their ties go back a long way. Britain’s Labour Party, as its name implies, has long been associated with trade unionism. Its current leader, Ed Miliband, owes his position to votes from public-sector unions. Spain’s prime minister still likes to brandish his union card. In America the links have become more explicit. Between 1989 and 2004 the biggest spender in federal elections was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and $39.4m of the $40m it shelled out over that period went to Democrats. One in ten of the delegates at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver was a teacher.

At the state level their influence can be even more fearsome. Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California points out that much of the state’s budget is patrolled by unions. The teachers’ unions keep an eye on schools, the CCPOA on prisons and a variety of labour groups on health care. It was the big public-sector unions which squashed the 2005 reforms proposed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, then California’s governor.

In many rich countries average wages in the state sector are higher than in the private one. But the real gains come in benefits and work practices. Politicians have repeatedly “backloaded” public-sector pay deals, keeping the pay increases modest but adding to holidays and especially pensions that are already generous.

Many Germans were horrified to discover that the EU rescue package for Greece last year helped to bail out public-sector workers who could retire in their mid-50s on almost full pay. One scam in American cities has been to link pensions to employees’ earnings in their final year, rather than average earnings over a longer period. Naturally the subway drivers or policemen concerned put in heroic overtime in that final year.

Reform has been vigorously opposed, perhaps most egregiously in education, where charter schools, vouchers, academies and merit pay all faced drawn-out battles. Even though there is plenty of evidence that the quality of the teachers is the most important variable, teachers’ unions have fought against getting rid of bad ones and promoting good ones.

As the cost to everyone else (in terms of higher taxes and sloppier services) has become clearer, politicians have begun to clamp down. In Wisconsin the unions have rallied thousands of supporters against Scott Walker, the hardline Republican governor. But many within the public sector suffer under the current system too.

John Donahue at Harvard’s Kennedy School points out that the egalitarian culture in Western civil services suits those who want to stay put but is bad for high achievers. Heads of departments often get only two or three times the average pay. As Mr Donahue observes, the only American public-sector workers who earn well above $250,000 a year are university sports coaches and the president of the United States. Hank Paulson took a 99.5% pay cut when he left Goldman Sachs to become America’s treasury secretary. Bankers’ fat pay packets have attracted much criticism, but a public-sector system that does not reward high achievers may be a much bigger problem for America.

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2873  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / california:example of what NOT to do on: March 23, 2011, 12:57:13 PM
California reelin'
Lessons from a place that combines most of the shortcomings of the modern Western state
Mar 17th 2011 | from the print edition
 DON NOVEY does not look like a typical Californian entrepreneur. The grandfatherly, fedora-wearing conservative began his career as a correctional officer at Folsom State prison in the 1970s. But he helped build one of the Golden State’s largest industries.

Thirty years ago, when Mr Novey became president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), only 2,600 members walked what he calls “the toughest beat in the state”, and there were only 36,000 inmates in California’s prisons. Now, as Barry Krisberg of Berkeley Law School points out, some 170,000 people are locked up there, and CCPOA has 31,000 members. From the air California can look like an archipelago of prisons.

Mr Novey made CCPOA a dominant force in state politics, and not just by dishing out political contributions in Sacramento, the state capital. He shrewdly formed an “iron triangle” with Republican lawmakers and prison-builders. And he gave it a cause: tougher sentencing for criminals. CCPOA sponsored the “three strikes” law, mandating life imprisonment for three serious felonies, and helped set up victims’ rights groups.

By the time Mr Novey gave up the CCPOA’s presidency in 2002, the state had built 21 new prisons. Some guards now earn more than $100,000 a year (with overtime). Mr Novey negotiated pensions of up to 90% of salary, with retirement starting as early as 50. To many of his members Mr Novey remains a hero—a man who provided good jobs and made them safer. And the taxpayer footed the bill.

Jerry Brown, the Democrat who was recently elected governor, faces a deficit of around $25 billion this year—bigger than the total budget in 1975. That was the year when Mr Brown in his younger “Governor Moonbeam” phase first ran the state. Back then California’s government was widely admired for its highways and its universities, and also as a font of political ideas both on the right (Reaganism) and the left (environmentalism). Now the roads and colleges are crumbling, even though total government spending in the state will reach $230 billion this year (see chart 4). Californian politicians get some of the lowest ratings in the country. Like a paranoid movie star, the state has kept on grasping at miracle cures—from Proposition 13, the tax-cutting ballot initiative, in 1978 to the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the cyborg-ex-machina, in 2003.

California is now widely studied as an example of what to avoid. Why is the home of Apple and Google so useless when it comes to running school districts or budgeting, and why have so many clever people settled for such a bad deal? Such questions are worth asking because what happens in California, which is famously like America, only more so, tends to happen elsewhere. And indeed a list of its ailments applies to a greater or lesser extent throughout the Western world.

• A messy structure of government. Look at an administrative map of California and you might assume that a child had scrawled over the design. It is a muddle of thousands of overlapping counties, cities and districts. Beverly Hills and West Hollywood sit in the middle of Los Angeles but are separate cities. The LA school district has 687,000 pupils, but there are 23 others with 20 pupils or fewer. Often voters have little idea what their officials do for their money. Last year the residents of Bell, a poor Latino city of 38,000 people, found their city manager was paid $788,000 and their police chief $457,000 a year.

In Sacramento things are no clearer. Thanks to various voters’ initiatives, as much as 75% of the budget is outside Mr Brown’s control. Proposition 13, which halved and capped property taxes, forced the state to bail out local government. A chunk of the state’s own money comes from the federal government. So cash for health, schools, welfare and much else sloshes backwards and forwards between Sacramento, Washington and various Californian cities. That makes it impossible to hold any Californian politician fully accountable for any part of government.

Some of this stems from specifically Californian afflictions, especially the ballot initiatives. But overlapping areas of responsibility are common throughout the West. In Australia, for instance, the federal government runs primary health care but the states run hospitals. In most European countries taxes are raised centrally but tend to be spent by local or regional government. The European Union increasingly plays the same role that Washington does in America, adding another layer of rules and mandates.

• Out of date. The most recent full redesign of California’s government was in 1879, when the state had only 865,000 people; now it has 37m, and a single state Senate seat represents more people than the whole Senate did then. As California’s pre-eminent historian, Kevin Starr, observes, “it is not surprising that an organisation set up to look after fewer than a million people should have a collective political nervous breakdown when it governs something almost 40 times that size.”

The same argument could be applied to the United States as a whole. Its constitution was designed for a country of 13 states and 4m people, when things like religious tolerance, the right to form militias and preventing people trying to become king mattered a lot. The Founding Fathers had no plans to bring either North Dakota or California into their union, nor could they imagine the ramifications of those two states both having the same voting weight in the Senate even though California’s population is 57 times bigger.

In Europe, thanks in part to two world wars, the state has been redesigned more recently, though many antiquated structures—such as Britain’s House of Lords—have survived. Many of these oddities work well in practice, and Americans revere their constitution. But structure matters. It is hard to think of any successful commercial outfit that has stuck to the same organisational design for 23 years, let alone 230.

• Too much power for vested interests. In “The Logic of Collective Action” (1965), Mancur Olson argued that rational individuals will work hard in a group with a selective aim reserved for its members (prison guards banding together to press for higher wages, for instance); they will expend less energy to push for public goods whose benefits are widely shared. Once entrenched, an interest group is extremely hard to shift. Its members have much to gain by fighting to retain their particular privileges, and would-be reformers have to take on disproportionately large costs to push for a vaguer public good. Californians have moaned about their prison guards’ perks for a while, yet have only recently plucked up the political will to do anything about them.

In rich countries no group has illustrated Olson’s work more clearly than farmers. In California’s Central Valley you can watch Californian tax dollars evaporating before your eyes as farmers guzzle most of the state’s precious water to cultivate crops that were never meant to grow in a desert. In the European Union two-fifths of the budget still goes to agriculture. In Poland farmers are exempt from income tax. Just as with the prison guards, the subsidies keep flowing to farmers largely because of conservative politicians. Although the greediest public-sector unions are firmly allied with the left (see article), the supposedly low-tax right also lavishes money on its own priorities. The new Republican leadership in Washington started its search for waste in the foreign-aid budget by trying to get the biggest recipient of American largesse, Israel, moved to the Pentagon’s budget.

Interest groups work especially well in systems like America’s where money needs to be raised and where party primaries matter. A Republican politician describes how the gun lobby works. If a Republican congressman signs up to the National Rifle Association’s agenda, he gets a little money and some organisational help from vocal supporters. If he does not, the NRA will put a lot of resources behind his opponent in the primary. Going with the NRA is thus a lot easier. Many Democrats would say exactly the same about the teachers’ unions and education reform. Opposing them is not worth the hassle.

Olson’s theory also helps explain why broad-based lobbying by big business has given way to narrower special interests. Fifty years ago California was run by a business elite, keen to keep taxes down and infrastructure spending up but with a broad interest in the well-being of the state. Since then Californian businesspeople have discovered that targeted lobbying can do a lot for their specific business. That has made it harder to get commercial interests to support projects of general benefit such as transport in the Bay area. It has also brought about an increase in regulation as individual businesses have lobbied for rule changes that create barriers to entry for other firms.

• Ever more rules and taxes. A study last year by the Pacific Research Institute said California had the fourth-largest government of all American states, with state and local spending equal to 18.3% of its gross state product. Texas, a state with which California is often compared, chewed up just 12.1% of GSP. It also looked at tax structures, and on that count California came 45th out of 50 states, with its steep income tax being especially damaging. Its tax system has been a mess ever since the dotcom boom when it relied too heavily on capital-gains taxes. As taxpayers have got crosser, the state has tried to tax them as sneakily as possible while adding tax breaks for favoured lobbies.

This points to two endemic problems with government throughout the West. The narrow one is that tax systems are in need of reform. America’s tax code has grown from 1.4m words in 2001 to 3.8m in 2010. Members of the European Union, too, have made their tax systems increasingly complicated—with the heroic exception of flat-tax Estonia. Most economists think taxes should be shifted towards consumption and away from income and investment. But whatever the system, it should be easy to understand.

The broader problem is the growing thicket of regulation—of which taxes are merely the most onerous part. Many of the new laws that have been passed in both Europe and America have admirable aims: better health care, cleaner air, less discrimination against minorities. But as Philip Howard of Common Good points out, they are amazingly cumbersome—Mr Obama’s health bill was over 2,000 pages long—and once on the statute book, they seldom come off again. One solution is to follow Texas’s example and let legislatures meet only occasionally. Another would be to introduce sunset clauses so that all regulations automatically expire after a while.

• The politics of gridlock. Sixty years ago California’s politics were rather cosy. In the early 1950s Pat Brown, Jerry’s father, who was then the Democratic attorney-general, used to share a car from Sacramento to San Francisco on Fridays with Earl Warren, the Republican governor. This year Jerry Brown in his inauguration speech described politics as a primordial battle between “Modocians” and “Alamedans” (Modoc being a rural, conservative Republican county and Alameda a liberal enclave east of San Francisco).

It is fashionable to blame this animosity on the internet and on partisan media channels such as Fox News. But it often has structural causes, such as gerrymandering. California has tended to choose centrists—liberal Republicans or conservative Democrats—in statewide elections, but the legislature’s electoral boundaries have been drawn to produce the biggest number of safe seats. That means primaries are the only real test for most politicians. Here reform may at last be on the way: Mr Schwarzenegger managed to force through an initiative that handed over redistricting to an independent commission.

But at a national level it will be a long time before America has a sensible debate about its budget deficit. George Lodge, a Harvard Business School professor who ran as a Republican against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts in 1962, argues that many Western countries are now conducting a dialogue of the deaf. Conservatives want to talk about the “macro” vision (a smaller state) but not the “micro” specifics (the unpopular cuts to achieve that). Leftists want to talk about specific micro programmes they want to build up without ever discussing the macro bill for all of them.

• Towards the older middle. Given the fury from the left about bankers and from the right about welfare spongers, you would expect all that extra government spending to have been swallowed by either end of the income spectrum. In fact in California, as in most of the West, the cash has flowed mostly towards those with middle incomes and the old.

Both the rich and the poor do relatively badly out of government. The rich pay for most of it. In California the top 1% by income accounted for 43% of income-tax revenues in 2008 and the top 5% paid 64%. In America as a whole the top 1% paid 38% of federal income taxes and the top 5% paid 58%; their respective shares of national income were 20% and 38%. The wealthy pay the lion’s share in most European countries too. Getting the rich to cough up so much might be a desirable social goal in a time of great inequality, but it is hard to claim that they are not paying their share.

The poor pay virtually no income taxes, and many countries, especially in Europe, have a problem with entrenched welfare dependency. Britain, for instance, has a quarter of a million households in which no one has ever held a formal job. But overall it is not clear that the poor benefit from government transfers and benefits as much as you might expect. In America two-fifths of all “social payments” are made by the private sector through employers’ pension contributions and health plans—both spurred on by tax breaks that go mainly to middle-income Americans.

When you look at overall public spending, the gap widens. Middle-income Californians go to better schools than poor ones do. Their streets often have more policing. They are far more likely to go to a publicly financed university, to claim mortgage relief on their home, to own a farm that collects subsidies or to attend a ballet supported by public funds. Europe is different only in that it subsidises the middle classes less through tax breaks and more through “universal” benefits—things like free bus passes for the old—which often started out being targeted at the poorest but are now given out to all.

That points to another distortion, which is generational. A large number of welfare payments and social transfers are now aimed at the elderly. The huge baby-boom generation that is just about to retire will make these even more expensive. In Christopher Buckley’s political satire, “Boomsday”, America’s young eventually start bribing their self-indulgent parents to end their lives early. In his interesting book “The Pinch”, David Willetts eschews that solution for Britain’s baby-boom generation, but calculates that it will take out nearly 20% more from the system than it has put in. The first budget of the new Tory government, in which Mr Willetts is a minister, still directed money disproportionately towards the old.

Across the rich world, politicians keep on pushing money towards the middle class and the old because that is where elections are decided. People aged 65 and older still account for only 13% of America’s population, but they made up over a fifth of its electorate in 2010. No group is better organised: the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) has 40m members.

• The secession of the successful. Hollywood, Silicon Valley or any of the other places where successful Californians gather show a profound contempt for their government. At the most extreme, such people have walled themselves off in gated communities, with their own security, health services and even schools. Their main relationship with the state, at least as they see it, is to write a cheque for their taxes—and their only interest in it is that the cheque be as small as possible. Philanthropy continues, but remarkably little goes into beautifying their environment (Silicon Valley is the ugliest industrial cluster imaginable).

Similar complaints can be heard in other centres of elitism: Wall Street does not do much about the Bronx, and the City of London usually ignores the East End. Both globalisation and the internet have increased this sense of separation. Companies with strong local links have been swallowed up by larger groups. Wells Fargo used to be a powerful force in San Francisco and Security Pacific in Los Angeles; both are now part of bigger empires. The Indian tycoons in Palo Alto feel closer to Bangalore than they do to Bakersfield (and so do many of their American colleagues).

This secession has an effect on government. It makes capital, as well as businesses and talented people, more footloose, so it becomes harder to raise taxes overtly. Worst of all, the secession of the successful means that the most talented brains are largely left out of the mix. One leading California Democrat describes the list of businesspeople prepared to run a public commission as “painfully short”.

• You, yes you, are to blame. California is interesting for one final reason. Throughout most of the West, people are in denial about the consequences of wanting both more government and lower taxes. In California ballot initiatives have actually given voters a direct say. Generally they have made government worse, protecting bits of spending yet refusing to pay for it. Having voted for Mr Schwarzenegger in 2003, they deserted him the moment he tried to introduce structural reforms in 2005.

Interviewed shortly before his exit at the start of this year, the gubernator had two thoughts. One was that his successor would find reform easier because the system is more manifestly bust now than it was in 2003 (and Mr Brown is certainly having a go). The other is that Californians are still determined to get something for nothing. “People here are addicted to improving their lifestyle. They want more and more from their government.”

Is there a better way? Many of those who used to see the future in the Golden State now prefer to look across the Pacific—towards emerging Asia.

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2874  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / controlling the growth of the "state" on: March 23, 2011, 12:53:45 PM
 A special report on the future of the state
Taming Leviathan
The state almost everywhere is big, inefficient and broke. It needn’t be, says John Micklethwait
Mar 17th 2011 | from the print edition
 THE argument sounds familiar. The disruptive reforms that have so changed the private sector should now be let loose on the public sector. The relationship between government and civil society has been that between master and servant; instead, it should be a partnership, with the state creating the right environment for companies and charities to do more of its work. The conclusion: “We are in a transition from a big state to a small state, and from a small society to a big society.”

A Republican presidential candidate in America? David Cameron rallying Britain’s Tories? Neither: the speaker is supposedly China’s most highly regarded bureaucrat. Last year Ma Hong won the country’s national award for government innovation—a great coup for her department, which is trying to get more non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to take over parts of welfare, health and education services in the city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.

The award partly reflects the whirl of activity that is Ms Ma. She has dismantled most of the controls on local NGOs: rather than be sponsored by some government department, all they have to do is register with her. She began in 2004 with industrial associations, but has extended the net to include independent charities. Almost 4,000 “social groups” are now registered—nearly double the number in 2002, when they were all tied to the state.

In this special report
The gods that have failed—so far
» Taming Leviathan «
California reelin'
Enemies of progress
Big society
Seize the moment
Go East, young bureaucrat
A work in progress
Patient, heal thyself
Sources and acknowledgments
Offer to readers


Related topics
Lawrence Summers
United Kingdom
United States
Over the past five years Ms Ma has paid out 400m yuan ($57m) to the NGOs for social work, mainly to do with the elderly. The groups are evaluated by third parties on things like their corporate governance: the higher their rating, the more money she trusts them with. She provides training in social work and tax advice. She would like donations to more NGOs to be tax-deductible, as in the West.

Ms Ma has studied what works elsewhere. In Hong Kong, where she trained in 2005, some 90% of social work is done by NGOs, paid for by the state. Like many Chinese bureaucrats, she also admires Singapore—especially its balance between easy registration for NGOs and stern punishment if they underperform. She wants her social groups to become the engines of Chinese society “just as private companies are in the economy”.

Even allowing for Ms Ma’s dynamism, there was, as so often in China, a message implied in her award. The country’s rulers are acutely aware that their government does not serve ordinary Chinese well. Back in 2007 the five-yearly Congress of the Communist Party embraced “scientific development” to create “a harmonious society”. Shenzhen is supposed to be the showcase for a new public sector, just as it showed the rest of the country how to embrace capitalism 30 years ago. The city has classified some 280 government functions as “social” ones, which means they can be contracted out to Ms Ma’s NGOs.

It is not hard to poke holes in China’s version of the Big Society, as we shall see later in this special report. But there is plainly a drive to make government work a little more like the private sector. “Just as a human has two legs, China has a very long economic one and a very short social one,” observes Ms Ma. “They should be of equal length.”

Many Western politicians feel the same way about their own bloated and inefficient governments. The immediate problem is the financial crisis: governments have had to spend furiously, both to prop up their banks and ward off a depression. With the average gross debt burden in OECD countries just over 100% of GDP and sovereign-debt markets fearful of another Greece or Ireland, every government, even America’s, is under pressure to produce a credible plan to shrink its deficit.

What is government for?

Costly though it has been, the financial crisis has merely brought forward a fiscal reckoning. In most of the rich world ageing populations have been driving up the cost of public health care and state pensions. Emerging countries that are becoming richer, such as China and India, are now wondering what sort of state they need to meet their citizens’ demands for better schools, health care and infrastructure.

Indeed, the fiery argument about capitalism prompted by the credit crunch has obscured a nascent, and much broader, debate about the nature of government. The future of the state is likely to dominate politics for the next decade at least. How can government be made more efficient? What should it do and not do? To whom should it answer? Ms Ma is one voice in this, but so are the anti-tax tea-party activists in America, French workers protesting against later retirement and British parents trying to set up independent schools with state money.

This special report’s central argument is that Leviathan can be made far more efficient. The state has woefully lagged behind the private sector. Catching up is not just a case of nuts-and-bolts productivity improvements but of liberal principle: too often an institution that, at least in a democracy, was supposed to be the people’s servant has become their master.

But nobody should expect that to be easy. The vested interests opposing change are huge: the state’s growth has been encouraged by the right as well as the left, by favour-seeking companies as well as public-sector unions, by voters as well as bureaucrats. Indeed, given the pressures for ever larger government, many reformers feel they will have to work hard just to keep it at its present size.

Government has always tended to expand (see table 1), and people have always fretted about it. In 1888 a French economist, Pierre Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, calculated that a share of 12-13% of GDP (just above the Western average then) was the sustainable limit for a modern state. By 1960 sprawling welfare states had pushed the average in the rich world to 28% (see chart 2), enough to convince Friedrich Hayek that “the deliberately organised forces of society [ie, government regulation]” might “destroy those spontaneous forces which have made advance possible.” Yet the next quarter-century saw another surge, pushed mainly by transfer payments and subsidies ostensibly aimed at the poor but often of most benefit to the middle classes.

This sparked a counterblast to halt Leviathan, led by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. By the 1990s many people thought that global capitalism would stop the state’s advance. This was the decade, after all, when Bill Clinton and other leaders declared the end of big government; when left-wingers claimed (inaccurately) that half the world’s biggest economies were multinational firms; when the emerging world was embracing the Washington consensus of deregulation: and when industrial policy mainly meant hanging on to golden shares in privatised companies. A special report in this newspaper, published in 1997, examined the then fashionable idea that the state was withering away. Its author, Clive Crook, now at the Financial Times, argued that it was not.

He has been proved right several times over. In continental Europe, where the state’s share of the economy was already pretty big, it has not risen that much. However, in America a Republican, George Bush, pushed up spending more than any president since Lyndon Johnson. In Britain New Labour became even less parsimonious: the state’s share of GDP rose from under 37% in 2000 to 44% in 2007; with the British economy struggling, it then jumped to 51% in 2010.

Share of GDP is not the only way to measure state power. “Big governance” can be just as costly to an economy as big government. Some 1,000 pages of federal regulations were added each year Mr Bush was in office. A quarter of a million Americans have jobs devising and implementing federal rules. The European Union has also produced a thicket of red tape. Some are prompted by the left (diversity, health and safety), others by the right (closed-circuit cameras, the war on drugs).

Or look at the state’s role in business. In the 1990s privatisation seemed to have settled that argument. Now state capitalism has returned, sometimes accidentally (several banks have become government-controlled) but often intentionally. Many of the new industrial champions of the emerging world are state-owned, and industrial policy is no longer a rude expression even in Anglo-Saxon countries.

There is a belief in boardrooms and among America’s tax-cutting right that a monstrous, ever-growing state is the creature of make-work bureaucrats and leftist politicians, and sometimes that is true. But often the beast is responding to popular demand. Globalisation, for instance, has increased many people’s reliance on the state: greater job insecurity among the middle classes has increased the calls for bigger safety nets, and the greater inequality that comes with bigger markets has made voters keener on redistribution. Or look at the threat of terrorism, to which the knee-jerk response on America’s right was to build up the government in Washington. As Stephen Walt, a professor at Harvard, puts it, “when September 11th happened, nobody rang Bill Gates or the Open Society Institute.”

The next battle

The recent advance of government is once again prompting a fightback. The Republicans’ victory in the 2010 mid-term elections was hailed as a return to small-government conservatism. Bruised rather than reinforced by his huge health-care reform, Mr Obama is limping back to the centre, suddenly promising businesspeople that he will rein in regulation. In Britain Mr Cameron’s government is pushing ahead with reforms that will slim some departments by a fifth. And even in big government’s continental European core, private-sector workers are reacting with fury to the perks their public-sector cousins enjoy at their expense. The German Language Society’s word of the year for 2010 was Wutbürger (irate citizen).

But will this fury stop Leviathan’s advance? Some scepticism is in order. None of the continental European government-slashers is really trying to change the structure of the state. Mr Cameron’s attempt offers a better chance of genuine radicalism, though even his savagery will take back the size of Britain’s state only to its level in 2008. The tea-party Republicans seem to be all milk and no caffeine: their first budget proposal did not touch defence or the three great entitlement programmes, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Like the apocryphal sign at a tea-party rally last year, warning government to keep its “hands off my Medicare”, they are refusing to confront reality.

Nor is it just spineless politicians who are at fault. A lot of economic theorists have predicted an ever larger state since Adolph Wagner linked its growth to industrialisation in the 19th century. The Baumol cost effect is often cited. In the 1960s William Baumol and William Bowen used the example of classical music to show that some activities are not susceptible to improvements in labour productivity. You still need the same number of musicians to play a Beethoven symphony as you did in the 19th century, even though real wages for musicians have risen since then. Larry Summers, Mr Obama’s main economic adviser till the end of 2010, argues that the goods governments buy, especially health care and education, have proved much more resistant to productivity enhancements than the rest of the economy. Since the 1970s real wages in America have risen tenfold if you measure them against the cost of televisions; set against the cost of health care, they have gone down.

Mr Summers expects that trend to continue. An ageing population will need ever more health services provided by the state. Better education means longer school years, smaller classes and more after-school activities, all of which cost more. Greater inequality will mean greater redistribution. In Italy and France cash social transfers alone take up 19% of GDP. The pressure to spend more is continuous, Mr Summers points out, whereas things that reduce the size of government tend to produce one-off savings: the end of the cold war, for instance, took a slice out of defence spending, but that was it.

Mr Summers has a lot of history on his side. This special report takes a more optimistic view. To start with, it is not inevitable that spending will keep on going up. Countries such as Canada and Sweden have reduced public spending when they had to. Moreover, some governments are massively more efficient than others, and there are huge gains to be achieved merely by bad governments copying what good governments do—such as planning ahead, backing winners and rewarding people for doing the right thing. With a smaller central core and much more competition for the provision of services, most governments could do the same for much less.

Most of this special report will focus on that overdue reorganisation. A second set of reforms, for which there is still less political appetite at the moment, would retarget government spending—especially adjusting social transfers (a category that in America’s national accounts rose from 8% of GDP in 1970 to 16% in 2009). Benefits that have become middle-class boondoggles should be redirected at the poor.

Not all of history is on the pessimists’ side. Fifty years ago companies seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. Business has since changed shape dramatically. The state can catch up by doing many of the same things business did to transform itself, not least bringing in competition and rethinking what it should do itself and what it should contract out to others. And the state, too, has changed shape in the past. In 19th century Britain, for instance, liberal reformers dismantled the patronage state of rotten boroughs and bought offices, building up a professional civil service. Government got leaner and much more efficient. It can surely do so again.

Second, even if Mr Summers is right that the state is unlikely to shrink, there is still a vast amount of work to be done to make it deliver more for the same money and become much more accountable. The ramifications are huge—for people, the economy and society.

Reasons to change

On a personal level, the state matters because it has a big impact on people’s lives. As Geoff Mulgan observes in his excellent book on the state, “Good and Bad Power”, the quality of the state you live in will do more to determine your well-being than natural resources, culture or religion. In the surveys that measure people’s happiness, decent government is as important as education, income and health (all of which are themselves dependent on government).

To business, government can make an enormous difference. Most obviously, if the state accounts for half the economy then improving any part of that will create better conditions for growth. Even if government were to cost the same but produce more (better-educated workers, decent health care, roads without holes, simpler regulation), the effect on private-sector productivity would be electric.

For society, the debate about the state matters because liberalism is on trial. “The challenge of Western democracy is always presented as one to do with transparency and accountability,” reflects Tony Blair, who served as Britain’s prime minister for ten years. “In fact it is really a challenge of efficacy. Our politicians on the whole are not corrupt. But they are not delivering the services people want. The emerging world is deciding what sort of government it wants. It looks at us and sees a system that costs a lot and does not deliver enough.” Another prominent Western politician goes further, seeing government as an increasing problem for the West too. “If it carries on as it is, eventually our own voters may also be more tempted by ‘something that makes the trains run on time’.”

A host of books have recently been singing the praises of China’s authoritarian approach. This special report will look at that model, but it will focus on the rich world, where most of the problems and solutions are to be found. No place better illustrates the troubles of the public sector than California, the American state that has become synonymous with private-sector ingenuity.

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2875  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy on: March 22, 2011, 10:48:05 AM
Maybe we should forget "doctrines".  Every situation is unique and to tie us down with doctrines doesn't really make sense.
Maybe we simply do what is best for the US period in each given situation.

I am of the opinion we should either go arrest the Colonel for war crimes (using new evidence he ordered Lockerbie), or simply assasinate him.

To go about these military/political rituals for this ONE guy is nuts.

That said I don't see how he can survive long unless we let him.  And letting him do that for political reasons just doesn't seem worth it.  Either kill the guy or attempt to arrest him.  IF necessary to appease the libs arrest the guy and have the mock war crimes trial drag on for years while the ACLU gives him all the lawyers he needs and go through the silly spectacle of giving him them the motions of a justice system and then hang him anyway.

2876  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: March 21, 2011, 06:32:08 PM
Numerous articles in this week's Economist mag. delving into the issue of how much government is good and bad.  The world wide trend is for less government at least in the West.  All over Europe are movements that are akin to the Tea Party here in the US.  The Economist also seems seems to come down on the side that too much gov. is bad, is like a tsunami that is impossible to stop from growing and is leading the West to financial ruin.

Great Britain is actually leading the way to reign in on the costs of an out of control state.

GB is also going the opposite way on health care that the lobs here in the US are praising them for.

After reading several articles one can only conclude as we here on this board have already believed that Bamster, to the contrary of what he and his liberal cronies allege are not on the right side of history, but instead are on the WRONG side of history.

And this leads me to believe that this is the fundamental issue to take him on for '12. 

The two problems in convincing a majority that he is the one who is wrong and pushing us the wrong way are:

50 % pay no taxes.  So this groups has to be convinced despite the bribes, that this situation is not sustainable.

The other is Republicans MUST in my small time opinion address the wealth gap and how the middle class is not going to continue falling behind and ever more government entitlements paid for by taxpayers including years of retirement, health care, is not the answer to sustain a middle class lifestyle.

2877  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Rest in Peace on: March 21, 2011, 12:50:13 PM
As a lover of animals:

BERLIN (AP) -- Veterinary experts performed a necropsy Monday on Berlin zoo's celebrity polar bear Knut to try to determine why he died suddenly over the weekend.

The four-year-old polar bear died Saturday afternoon in front of visitors, turning around several times and then dropping to the ground, and falling into the water in his enclosure.

Polar bears usually live 15 to 20 years in the wild, and even longer in captivity, and the zoo is hoping the investigation may help clarify what happened.

Results were expected later Monday or on Tuesday, the zoo said.

In the meantime, people continued to flock to the zoo to sign their name in a condolence book in tribute to Knut.

"Every visit to the Zoo brought happiness, because he was such a warmhearted animal and he brought us all so much fun," visitor Eveline Plat told AP Television News.

Knut was rejected by his mother at birth, along with his twin brother, who only survived a couple of days. He attracted attention when his main caregiver, Thomas Doerflein, camped out at the zoo to give the button-eyed cub his bottle every two hours. The bear went on to appear on magazine covers, in a film and on mountains of merchandise.

Doerflein, the zookeeper who raised him, died in 2008 of a heart attack.

Soon after Knut and Doerflein's first public appearance in early 2007, fan clubs sprang up across the globe. "Knutmania" led to a 2007 Vanity Fair cover with actor Leonardo DiCaprio shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz, a film and plush Knut toys.

Zoo spokeswoman Claudia Beinek said that they had to set up another condolence book online to accommodate the outpouring of sympathy from around the world for the polar bear.

In addition, the zoo said it was starting a special account to accept donations on Knut's behalf, which will be used for polar bear research and the preservation of their habitat.

"He has brought joy to us, the Berliners and many others around the world," the zoo said in a statement. "Knut also was an icon for the endangerment of his species and natural habitats of all wild animals."

2878  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Twain.What horse poop on: March 19, 2011, 12:54:37 PM
Shania Twain 'Why Not' airing in May
March 18, 2011 01:45 PM EDT
Shania Twain's new show, Why Not, will begin airing on OWN, on Sunday, May 8. On the show, the country superstar will share her innermost feelings about her failed marriage and her journey to a new beginning. She does so by heading out in to the world to meet people who have inspirational stories of survival after "deep life

**What a joke.  The multimillionairess got divorced.  She is already remarried.***

Twain will go on a tour of sorts to talk with people who have overcome hardships and who have asked themselves the question, "why or why not?" The show will encompass all that Twain has gone through privately over the past couple of years, and will embrace her voyage back to the top.

***Voyage back to the top?  Another joke.  The issue is she has no songs, no music, couldn't right a song lyric to save her life, and if she could and had the creative talent she would cut an album and it would be back on the radio in minutes.***

OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) is a great outlet for Shania Twain to really reach out to people who want to listen. Oprah was very cautious in choosing which shows she would have on her network, and Twain's sounds as though it fits in with the type of inspirational, educative, and stimulating shows that are already airing on OWN.

***the show will be a flop.  Twain is a simpleton with no personality.  One person who apparently is in the know called her the "biggest bitch in Nashville".  Unfornately, I can't prove it but I can only allege all the hits she claim she wrote were stolen (lyrics).  Perhaps Mutt Lange did come up with the melodies I don't have any clue about those.***

There are so many people who love and support Twain, and want to see her succeed. Her divorce was very shocking to the watching world, who have yet to see her publicly regain her confidence and her spirit. Why Not will showcase her journey back to the top.

***So many people who love and support Twain.  Of course, they love her for the wonderful lady she is, not they want to make tons of money promoting her.***

2879  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / school bullying a Federal crime??? on: March 19, 2011, 12:33:15 PM
With all the white collar crime in this country what the crazy One thinks is important is to hire and maintain a large civil rights staff at the DOJ, "Democrat Party Of Justice" is to troll for bullying at school.   The Prez is a nut.

****DOJ to white male bullying victims: Tough luck

Kerry Picket
Published on March 18, 2011
viral video sensation showing a bullying incident at an Australian school has brought the issue of bullying back into the spotlight. Here in the United States, the Obama administration has made school bullying a federal issue. Last week, President Barack Obama addressed an anti-bullying conference with First Lady Michelle Obama at his side. The administration's anti-bullying campaign has been ongoing since the beginning of Mr. Obama's term.  The Department of Justice announced in December 2010 its intention to hold liable school districts that fail to protect students that are bullied.

DOJ’s website states:

The Civil Rights Division and the entire Justice Department are committed to ending bullying and harassment in schools, and the video highlights the Department’s authority to enforce federal laws that protect students from discrimination and harassment at school because of their race, national origin, disability, religion, and sex, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes.

The statement later says:

The enforcement of the Equal Protection Clause, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 in school districts is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information is available at the Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section website at

Here is the catch. DOJ will only investigate bullying cases if the victim is considered protected under the 1964 Civil Rights legislation. In essence, only discrimination against a victim’s race, sex, national origin, disability, or religion will be considered by DOJ. The overweight straight white male who is verbally and/or physically harassed because of his size can consider himself invisible to the Justice Department.

Apparently, the Justice Department is going by George Orwell’s famous Animal Farm ending: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

 “We can only take action where we have legal authority,” wrote DOJ spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa in a December 2010 e-mail to The Washington Times Water Cooler. She continues:

“As stated in the website below, we are statutorily authorized to initiate suits under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, and under Title III of the American with Disabilities Act. More information on the Civil Rights Act, Equal Educational Opportunities Act, and the ADA can be found here: "

 The Justice Department’s anti-bullying initiative is tantamount to bringing hate crime legislation to the public school system. Obviously, not only is the heterosexual white male student out of luck but  inner city minority students lose out in this deal too.

 If a schoolyard bully is a straight black male and his target is another straight black male where does that leave the victim in the eyes of Attorney General Eric Holder? What about two female students of the same sexual orientation and race?  Is the victim in the latter situation considered to be less equal in the eyes of Obama’s Justice Department than a minority student who is picked on by a heterosexual white male student with no disabilities?

 Unfortunately, the Justice Department is politicizing its priorities yet again. One must wonder why the administration believes it should be micro managing local school districts bullying problems. When the Justice Department is more interested in making ideological statements through seemingly sugar coated campaigns, no one should feel protected.****

2880  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 2012 Presidential on: March 18, 2011, 04:11:56 PM
Strategy of going after the "white working class" "defined as those without college degrees".

I smile when the author points out how "Clinton figured out" a way to get these voters in his camp.  Well, despite the screw up by WHBush throwing away a 90% approval rating in 1992 and a three way race for the Presidency, and a very weak candidate in Dole,  Clinton still never got more than 48% of the vote. I guess, despite Dems furious bribes to people with more and more taxpayer money this is a center right country.

The lib armies are already trying push this strategy to make the union issue in Wisconsin a "middle class issue".   They are actually trying to persuade most Americans that government spending for public union workers is great for all.     
2881  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy on: March 18, 2011, 03:40:19 PM
"no one seemed to question Reagan much for an attempted assassination of a foreign leader"

Good point.  Except for some hypocrite-Hollywood types I believe the sense was Reagan finally did the common sense thing.

I don't recall people sitting around ringing their hands wondering who would have replaced him if the attempt had succeeded.

We have a murderer slaughtering his own people.  If the "Colonel" (why not "general" or "admiral" anyway?) and his son got executed their regime would collapse.

Could it actually be any worse?
2882  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: American History on: March 18, 2011, 02:33:03 PM
Interesting read.  I just watched a Globetrekker episode where they visited two plantations in Lousianna.

(who needs to travel anymore - we get to see the world on TV)

The first one was beautiful but lacked ANY mention whatsoever that it was a slave plantation.  No remains of slave quarters, pictures, etc.

The one down the road had the remains of one slave house and spoke of the issue during the tour.

Again Southerners can call me a Yankee if they want but this whitewash of is no different than say Germans covering the site of Auschwitz with a beer hall.

Blacks have every right to be angry.   

Forget Haley Barbour.  I've read enough about him.
2883  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Nuclear Power on: March 18, 2011, 02:23:47 PM
"hook up their exercise machines to run the lights and charge the iphones"

And environmentalist elistist basketball players should give up basketball and take up treadmills to power their batterries. cheesy
2884  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Foreign Policy on: March 18, 2011, 12:18:37 PM
"Just as there are long term, potentially negative consequences for acting, there can be the same for failing to act. Power vacuums never go unfilled."

Well, that is the problem.  Khaddafi, Qaddafi, Gaddafi, or however it is spelled, leaves and what replaces him?

Again we have a vaccuum and the US is in the middle.  I don't know.  I tend to agree with those who feel we have enough on our plate.  On this point I agree with Gates.

Or just kill the Ghaddafi and get it over with.
2885  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Nuclear Power on: March 18, 2011, 10:51:31 AM
Nobody is "writing off nuclear power".

But we shouldn't be building them in earthquake zones perhaps.
2886  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: March 18, 2011, 10:12:43 AM
OK now he is the "weakest" prez in history?  He is not liberal enough.  The guy who with the Dem leadership in both houses rammed the biggest soicalistic agenda down all our throats is suddenly not strong enough?  The left still is in denial.  He is not falling in poll numbers because he is not liberal enough.  They refuse to get it.
Madcow was on the other night saying how the media is not covering the story in Wisconsin enough.  She thinks it is huge and they are not covering it.  The Miami mayor got fired for raising taxes and giving pay raises to gov employees.  Just the opposite of her tirades.  Yet, they ignore the truth.  They still want to demaguage this to death and the country into the sewer.

Can anyone believe the insanity of below's article with statements like:

"Ditto the country’s ecological health; the American love affair with the car and oil remains undiminished despite any alleged commitment. But the White House appears to shy away from any tough action."

These are the same liberal people who were the first to condemn Bush for Iraq and Afghanistan.

****President Barack Obama's supporters believed that he had the vision to transform America
Friday March 18,2011
By Anna Pukas 
INEFFECTUAL, invisible, unable to honour pledges and now blamed for letting Gaddafi off the hook. Why Obama’s gone from ‘Yes we can’ to ‘Er, maybe we shouldn’t’...

Let us cast our minds back to those remarkable days in November 2008 when the son of a Kenyan goatherd was elected to the White House. It was a bright new dawn – even brighter than the coming of the Kennedys and their new Camelot. JFK may be considered as being from an ethnic and religious minority – Irish and Catholic – but he was still very rich and very white. Barack Obama, by contrast, was a true breakthrough president. The world would change because obviously America had changed.

Obama’s campaign slogan was mesmerisingly simple and brimming with self-belief: “Yes we can.” His presidency, however, is turning out to be more about “no we won’t.” Even more worryingly, it seems to be very much about: “Maybe we can… do what, exactly?“ The world feels like a dangerous place when leaders are seen to lack certitude but the only thing President Obama seems decisive about is his indecision. What should the US do about Libya? What should the US do about the Middle East in general? What about the country’s crippling debts? What is the US going to do about Afghanistan, about Iran?

What is President Obama doing about anything? The most alarming answer – your guess is as good as mine – is also, frankly, the most accurate one. What the President is not doing is being clear, resolute and pro-active, which is surely a big part of his job description. This is what he has to say about the popular uprising in Libya: “Gaddafi must go.” At least, that was his position on March 3.

Since then, other countries – most notably Britain and France – have been calling for some kind of intervention. Even the Arab League, a notoriously conservative organisation, has declared support for sanctions. But from the White House has come only the blah-blah of bland statements filled with meaningless expressions
and vague phrases. Of decisive action and leadership – even of clearlydefined opinion – there is precious little sign.

What is the Obama administration’s position on the protests in the Gulf island state of Bahrain, which the authorities there are savagely suppressing with the help of troops shipped in from Saudi Arabia? What is the White House view on the alarming prospect of the unrest spreading to Saudi Arabia itself? Who knows? Certainly not the American people, nor the leaders of nations which would consider themselves allies of America.

The President has not really shared his views, which leads us to conclude that he either doesn’t know or chooses, for reasons best known to himself, not to say. The result is that a very real opportunity to remove an unpredictable despot from power may well have been lost. Who knows when or if such an opportunity will come along again?

Every day for almost the last two months our television screens, radio broadcasts and the pages of our newspapers have been filled with the pictures, sounds and words of the most tumultuous events any of us can remember in the Arab world. The outcome of these events, once the dust has settled, could literally change the world. Yet Obama seems content to sit this one out. He has barely engaged in the debate. Such ostrich-like behaviour is not untypical of the 49-year-old President who burst through America’s colour barrier to become the first African-American to occupy the White House.

Two days after taking office in January 2009, he pledged to close down the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, which has become notorious for holding detainees for years without trial. Obama promised to lose the prison within 12 months and to abolish the practice of military trials of terrorism suspects. It was an important promise. America’s reputation had been severely tarnished by revelations about the conditions at Guantanamo, by reports of waterboarding and extraordinary rendition (transporting prisoners to a third country for torture) and by the appalling treatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Closing Guantanamo was a redemptive gesture. Two years on, not only is the prison still in use but its future is as assured as ever. Ten days ago, the President signed an executive order reinstating the military commissions at the island prison. Human rights organisations were outraged. “With the stroke of a pen, President Obama extinguished any lingering hope that his administration would return the United States to the rule of law,” said Amnesty International while Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, declared the President’s action to be “unlawful, unwise and un-American.”

White House spokesmen insisted the President was still committed to closing Guantanamo, which currently has 172 detainees in custody. It was Congress, they said, that had refused to sanction the transfer of the prisoners to the US mainland for trial, leaving no option but to keep the prison open in Cuba. Very little has been achieved in the quest to secure peace in the Middle East. Under Obama, US foreign policy is founded on extreme caution. At first this cool-headedness was a welcome change from the naked aggression of George W Bush and his henchmen Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

It is also true that the President is constantly stymied by a hostile, Republican-ruled Congress. But Obama’s apparent reluctance to engage with momentous events is starting to look like more than aloofness. Some tempering of America’s role as the world’s No1 busybody may be no bad thing but under Obama the US appears to be heading towards isolationism. He is hardly doing much better at home. Economically, the US is in big trouble but the national debt is not shrinking.

Ditto the country’s ecological health; the American love affair with the car and oil remains undiminished despite any alleged commitment. But the White House appears to shy away from any tough action. The energy with which Obama entered the White House seems to have all gone in the push to bring in health care reform, which many Americans didn’t want (or still don’t realise they want).

All of which means that it is starting to look as if Obama and the Democratic Party have but one aim in mind for the rest of this presidential term: to get elected for a second. That means not doing anything that might upset any number of special interest or niche groups, which in effect means not doing very much at all. So, not too many harsh but necessary measures to tackle the financial deficit; no clear direction on where America goes with Afghanistan, even though the war there is going nowhere except from bad to worse.

The Obama government can’t even give clear direction on whether the American people are in danger of exposure to nuclear fallout from Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami. The US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin advised San Francisco residents to stock up on radiation antidotes, prompting a run on potassium iodide pills, while the President said experts had assured him that any harmful radiation would have receded long before reaching the Western shores of the US.

Yes we can was a noble and powerful mantra which secured for Barack Obama the leadership of the free world. Those than can, do. It is time he started doing.

2887  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Rest in Peace on: March 16, 2011, 02:35:11 PM
I remember travelling to Lehigh to see Timothy Leary give a lecture in the mid 70's.

My impression was he was brain damaged due to too much LSD.  He was somewhat incoherent, rambling, almost "Sheen-like" saying something about space colonies.  That is all I remember.  My friend was also as less than impressed.

OTOH, maybe it wasn't the acid but was Harvard that did that to him.
2888  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Rest in Peace on: March 16, 2011, 02:29:35 PM
"He was a fanatical carnivore who once said that eating broccoli may have contributed to a heart attack several years ago."


I remember reading the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in the seventies.  Then seeing the movie One Flew Over the Coockoos Nest.  Tom Wolfe came to our college to speak.
I guess a movie on 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' is coming out this year?

I was never a big Dead fan though.

***The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a work of literary journalism by Tom Wolfe, published in 1968. Using techniques from the genre of hysterical realism and pioneering new journalism, the "nonfiction novel" tells the story of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters. The book follows the Pranksters across the country driving in a psychedelic painted school bus dubbed "Furthur," reaching what they considered to be personal and collective revelations through the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs. The novel also describes the Acid Tests, early performances by The Grateful Dead, and Kesey's exile to Mexico.

In 1968, Eliot Fremont-Smith of The New York Times called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test "not simply the best book on hippies… [but also] the essential book."[1]

Film adaptation
A film adaptation of the book is in development for a 2011 release. It will be directed by Gus Van Sant.[2]
2889  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Like the kamikazees of WW2 on: March 16, 2011, 02:16:17 PM
Reminds me of the suicidal fighting of the Japanese during WW2.  Kamikazees.  Clint Eastwood's movie about the diary from Iwo Jima was moving in this regard.  Of course I am not trying to white wash history.  The Japanese were particularly holocaust-like cruel to Chinese, Koreans, American prisoners of war, Phillipinos and everywhere else.
2890  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / MaureenDowd:enough is enough on: March 16, 2011, 02:04:37 PM
In Search of Monsters
Published: March 12, 2011
The Iraq war hawks urging intervention in Libya are confident that there’s no way Libya could ever be another Iraq.

Of course, they never thought Iraq would be Iraq, either.

All President Obama needs to do, Paul Wolfowitz asserts, is man up, arm the Libyan rebels, support setting up a no-fly zone and wait for instant democracy.

It’s a cakewalk.

Didn’t we arm the rebels in Afghanistan in the ’80s? And didn’t many become Taliban and end up turning our own weapons on us? And didn’t one mujahadeen from Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, go on to lead Al Qaeda?

So that worked out well.

Even now, with our deficit and military groaning from two wars in Muslim countries, interventionists on the left and the right insist it’s our duty to join the battle in a third Muslim country.

“It is both morally right and in America’s strategic interest to enable the Libyans to fight for themselves,” Wolfowitz wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

You would think that a major architect of the disastrous wars and interminable occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq would have the good manners to shut up and take up horticulture. But the neo-con naif has no shame.

After all, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates told West Point cadets last month, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Gates boldly batted back the Cakewalk Brigade — which includes John McCain, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry — bluntly telling Congress last week: “Let’s just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”

Wolfowitz, Rummy’s No. 2 in W.’s War Department, pushed to divert attention from Afghanistan and move on to Iraq; he pressed the canards that Saddam and Osama were linked and that we were in danger from Saddam’s phantom W.M.D.s; he promised that the Iraq invasion would end quickly and gleefully; he slapped back Gen. Eric Shinseki when he said securing Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops; and he claimed that rebuilding Iraq would be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues.

How wrong, deceptive and deadly can you be and still get to lecture President Obama on his moral obligations?

Wolfowitz was driven to invade Iraq and proselytize for the Libyan rebels partly because of his guilt over how the Bush I administration coldly deserted the Shiites and Kurds who were urged to rise up against Saddam at the end of the 1991 gulf war. Saddam sent out helicopters to slaughter thousands. (A NATO no-fly zone did not stop that.)

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is also monstrous, slaughtering civilians and hiring mercenaries to kill rebels.

It’s hard to know how to proceed, but in his rush, Wolfowitz never even seems to have a good understanding of the tribal thickets he wants America to wade into. In Foreign Affairs, Frederic Wehrey notes that “for four decades Libya has been largely terra incognita ... ‘like throwing darts at balloons in a dark room,’ as one senior Western diplomat put it to me.”

Leslie Gelb warns in The Daily Beast that no doubt some rebels are noble fighters, but some “could turn out to be thugs, thieves, and would-be new dictators. Surely, some will be Islamic extremists. One or more might turn into another Col. Qaddafi after gaining power. Indeed, when the good colonel led the Libyan coup in 1969, many right-thinking Westerners thought him to be a modernizing democrat.”

Reformed interventionist David Rieff, who wrote the book “At the Point of a Gun,” which criticizes “the messianic dream of remaking the world in either the image of American democracy or of the legal utopias of international human rights law,” told me that after Iraq: “America doesn’t have the credibility to make war in the Arab world. Our touch in this is actually counterproductive.”

He continued: “Qaddafi is a terrible man, but I don’t think it’s the business of the United States to overthrow him. Those who want America to support democratic movements and insurrections by force if necessary wherever there’s a chance of them succeeding are committing the United States to endless wars of altruism. And that’s folly.”

He quotes John Quincy Adams about America: “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy ... she is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

As for Wolfowitz, Rieff notes drily, “He should have stayed a mathematician.”

2891  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Nuclear Power on: March 16, 2011, 11:59:14 AM
Doug I am sure this picture is more or less recyled.  It looks familiar.

One could just as easily substitute Bamster making March madness picks with a bunch of hoopsters while Japan, the Middle East, our financial insitutions, the budget mess, and everything else is burning down.

I remember someone telling us a supposedly true story about Reggie Jackson getting on an elevator in the WWTC with an old lady in the 1980's.  He had a dog with him and at some point on the way down shouted sit!  The lady not the dog sat down in the elevator.  And Jackson reportedly looked at her incredulous and kind of embarassed and told her he was talking to the dog.  Well I told that story to someone who told it to an old timer.  The old timer said that is an old story that gets recycled every generation or so.  He heard the same story with Jackie Robinson in the 50's.

Well low and behold a few weeks later I am reading the sports section in my local paper and one of the sports writers told this hilarious story about Reggie Jackson!  It was the same one I had just heard and soon found out was a crock of crap.   I am sure he felt like he had egg on his face when he found it is was all BS.
2892  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / libs distorting truth as usual on: March 16, 2011, 11:32:28 AM
Miami mayor recalled for raising taxes.  HIs recall was rightly called a tax revolt by Fox yet liberal news outlet *Time* twists the truth saying he was fired for bravely increasing taxes so as not to cut government benefits and trying to claim it was to preserve "critical departments like fire and police".   Libs are also trying to tie this somehow in their favor to the recall attempt by Democrat machine operatives in Wisconsin saying politicians better watch out.  Thye must be sorely frustrated that the MIami mayor is recalled for raising taxes not cutting government benefits:

Alvarez Recall: Miami-Dade Prepares to Vote Out Mayor
 By TIM PADGETT / MIAMI Tim Padgett / Miami – Mon Mar 14, 6:45 pm ET
Politicians often do the right thing wrongly. Democrats are mistaken to think we can stanch our hemorrhaging budgets without cutting entitlements, but Republicans are just as delusional to suggest it can be done without raising taxes. Carlos Alvarez, the Republican mayor of Miami-Dade County, or greater Miami, understood this. And so, staring at the revenue free fall caused by South Florida's housing collapse, he engineered a property-tax increase last year to plug a near half-billion-dollar budget hole and keep critical departments like fire and police from being, as he said, "gutted."

Problem was, taking that step during the Great Recession, when Miami-Dade unemployment was approaching 13%, meant that you and your administration better be models of fiscal responsibility. But it turned out that Alvarez, one of the few Miami politicos with a reputation for probity, was at the same time raising high-level staffers' salaries as high as 15% while calling for a 5% cut for county workers; he also used his government car allowance to help pay for a new luxury BMW 550i Gran Turismo. Couple that with the fact that the Miami-Dade County Commission, which passed Alvarez's tax hike, is widely considered a feckless body - many of its members recently ran up hundreds of thousands of dollars in police overtime costs with the all-too-common practice of using cops as their personal chauffeurs - and you can expect a bruising backlash. (See 25 crimes of the century.)

It looks like that's coming on March 15, when Alvarez will face a recall vote. "We've all been complaining about the quality of our government for a long time, and now we finally have a chance to do something about it," said Norman Braman, the Miami billionaire who led the recall-petition drive, after casting his anti-Alvarez ballot when early voting opened last week. Polls indicate that Alvarez probably won't be parking his beemer in the mayor's downtown-Miami space much longer. According to a March 6 Bendixen survey, 67% of Miami-Dade voters want to dump him. And when and if they do, Miami and its dysfunctional civics are likely to become a new rallying point for the antigovernment wave that swept so many ultra-conservative candidates - including Florida's controversial new governor, Rick Scott - into office last year.

The fall of Alvarez, who was first elected in 2004, would be resounding. Before the recession hit, he was riding high: Miami's housing boom was like a never-ending South Beach party, and in 2007 he won a referendum that gave the mayor, occupying a then relatively weak post, broad new powers that residents hoped would check the incompetent county commission. (Alvarez aides say that was the reason for the staff raises: the new mayoral powers thrust additional duties on the office.) (See "40 Under 40: The Rising Stars of American Politics.")

But though he handily won re-election in 2008, Alvarez may have overestimated Miami-Dade's new mayoral mandate as the recessionary hurricane bore down on South Florida. Even his accomplishments soon came under critical scrutiny, including the deal he and the county commission inked with the Florida Marlins for a new downtown baseball stadium, which in many respects now looks like a sweeter arrangement for a fat-cat sports franchise than for a struggling, low-wage county. Meanwhile, the 13-member county commission remains as clueless as ever. It hardly blinked, for example, when the Miami Herald last fall reported that Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz is the director of a construction firm hired to do work at Miami International Airport, which is overseen by the commission. Diaz claims he never directly voted to give the firm contracts, but the Herald found that companies that have won airport concessions have in turn employed his firm.

All of which was too much for Braman and other Alvarez critics, who were able to secure almost twice the number of petition signatures needed to force a mayoral recall vote. Commissioner Natacha Seijas, who reportedly warned a political rival in 2002 during a debate that she'd "leave here in a body bag," also faces a recall, and four other commissioners may confront one soon. After exhausting his appeals to nullify the petition last month, Alvarez curtly stuck by his fateful tax-increase decision. "I recommended a budget that preserves services," he said. (See the top 10 unfortunate political one-liners.)

But he did it, as far as many if not most Miamians are concerned, while he and the county commission preserved their privileges. In the process, they handed more leverage to controversial watchdogs like Braman - who, as an owner of car dealerships, has used his financial clout to kill sales-tax levies for badly needed public-transportation improvements in Miami. If Alvarez and Seijas (who voted with seven other commissioners for the property-tax hike) are toppled on March 15, their political tone-deafness will only have made it harder for the next politician to do the right thing when it's warranted.

2893  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Nuclear Power on: March 15, 2011, 01:55:48 PM
" On the whole, I'd rather have the Japanese running things when you absolutely positively don't want to have an inadvertent clusterfcuk"

Well, WE do have Obama... wink
2894  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Nuclear Power on: March 15, 2011, 10:11:18 AM
"Here in CA with the Diablo Canyon reactor being built on an earth quake vault, the experts, business interests, and politicians swore "not to worry".  Sorry but that strikes me as madness-- and so now I am leery of the reassurances of the experts, business interests, and the politicians."

Even one in NY we are hearing is built on a fault line.  I don't know what this means.  In general I am for nuclear energy but....

***Nuclear reactor nightmare: Could it happen in the U.S.?
Experts say many reactors in U.S. share same basic design as stricken reactors in Japan
As workers in Japan struggle to limit the release of dangerous radiation from the nation's earthquake-stricken nuclear reactors, some in the U.S. are wondering: Could the same thing happen here?

Some experts say yes.

"We have 23 nuclear reactors that are the same design as the Fukushima plants that have failed," Dr. Ira Helfand, past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a long-time critic of nuclear power, told CBS News.

A database maintained by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows that 23 of 104 nuclear plants in the U.S. are boiling water reactors that use GE's Mark 1's radioactivity-containment system, the same system used by the reactors at the troubled reactors at the Fukushima Dia-ichi plant in Japan, MSNBC reported. The reactors are in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.

Calls to GE were referred to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group. In an email to CBS News, it confirmed that some plants use the same basic system as the Japanese plants, but added that "specific elements of the safety systems will vary."

According to Dr. Helfand, some of the U.S. plants with containment systems similar to the ones in the Japanese reactors are built on fault lines, including one near New York City.

"The Indian Point reactor just north of New York City is built on a fault capable of generating a magnitude 7 earthquake, but it was only built to withstand a magnitude 3 quake," he said. "If the Indian Point reactor experienced a major meltdown, the entire New York metropolitan area, with 20 million people, would be at risk."
The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant on the central California coast, which is within about 60 miles of the San Andreas Fault, and even close to other faults, was built to withstand a 7.5 earthquake, according to owner Pacific Gas and Electric. The company maintains that the faults in the region are not expected to produce any larger quakes.

Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Gregory Jaczko was asked at a press briefing by CBS News White House correspondent Chip Reid whether reactors in the U.S. could withstand a quake similar to the 9.0 event in Japan. He offered a vague response:  "At this point what I can say is we have a strong safety program in place to deal with seismic events that are likely to -- to happen at any nuclear facility in this country."

What steps, if any, should be undertaken by people living near a power plant in the U.S.?

"I would want the nuclear facility to be honest with me and tell me if this is the same kind of reactor design as the ones in Japan," Dr. Jerome M. Hauer, former director of emergency management for New York City, told CBS News. "And what are they doing to ensure that the flaws that this earthquake exposed are being dealt with. If anything happens to the plant, how are you going to deal with them?"

In its email to CBS News, the Nuclear Energy Institute said it was premature to draw conclusions from Japan's nuclear crisis about the U.S. nuclear energy program.

"Japan is facing what literally can be considered a 'worst case' disaster and, so far, even the most seriously damaged of its 54 reactors has not released radiation at levels that would harm the public," the email said. "That is a testament to their rugged design and construction, and the effectiveness of their employees and the industry's emergency preparedness planning."

© 2011 CBS Interactive Inc.
2895  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Time article on: March 14, 2011, 02:36:06 PM
"Wisconsin's Governor Wins, but Is He Now Dead Man Walker?"

What is interesting is that author Dawn Reiss points out on her website she does NOT pick the headline.  In other words the headline was chosen by Times editors.

Amazing how the MSM points out how peaceful the protests were.  I guess chalk outlines with body parts drawings are peaceful.  Get a load of the last paragraph from the union members in tears as though not getting her pay raise or  totally free health care is some sort of human rights violation.  Indeed.

*****Wisconsin's Governor Wins, but Is He Now Dead Man Walker?
By Dawn Reiss / Madison Saturday, Mar. 12, 2011
Protesters march outside the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison on March 11, 2011

Scott Olson / Getty Images
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The Wisconsin State Capitol had taken on an eerie quiet by late Friday. Gone were the throngs of protesters who had occupied its marble floors like it were a summer campground. The midnight honking of cars circling the white building had ceased. The chalk outlines around fake dead bodies etched with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's name remained in dismembered parts, not yet completely washed away by hoses.

It was the governor, however, who had walked away the legislative victor in the showdown. On Friday, as angry protesters chanted "Shame" and blew horns and vuvuzelas, Walker took up a dozen pens, one at a time, to sign into law a bill that not only takes away the ability of unions to bargain collectively over pensions and health care but also limits pay raises of public employees to the rate of inflation and ends automatic union dues collection by the state. It also requires public unions to recertify annually. It was a coup by Wisconsin Republicans against the labor movement in one of its strongholds.
(See how Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker got his way.)

The governor allowed himself a moment to reflect on how his signature might play historically. "Some have asked whether this is going to set a national precedent," he said. "And I don't know ... but if along the way we help lead a movement across the state for true fiscal reform, true budgetary reform to ultimately inspire others across this country, state by state and in our federal government, inspire others to stand up and make the tough decision to make a commitment to the future so that our children across all states don't have to face the dire consequences we face because previous leaders have failed to stand up and lead, I feel that is a good thing." He also attempted to be magnanimous toward the thousands of protesters who had gathered in Madison since he first announced his legislative intentions on Valentine's Day. "I think we've had a civil discussion," he said. "It's been passionate, but it's been civil along the way."

The public outcry had been unexpected and brought out many first-time protesters who stayed on or returned again and again, even as observers thought the remarkably peaceful demonstrations would dissipate. And so, for the many who showed up, some at great sacrifice, were the protests in vain? "No," says Kenneth Mayer, who teaches political science at the University of Wisconsin. "It was pretty clear that the protests, as massive as they got, weren't going to change the governor's mind. Even though they didn't succeed in getting what they wanted, they mobilized a lot of people and made this a salient issue. A protest doesn't have to succeed in its immediate goal to have a long-term impact."
(See pictures of the showdown in Wisconsin.)

That probably means the protesters are going to turn from slogans to pocketbooks, funneling millions of dollars in donations into the state's unions. Their anger will likely also provide momentum for recall petitions. Wisconsin allows for the recall of elected officials once they have been in office for a year. According to Mayer, signatures amounting to 25% of the original voters must be gained to start a recall election. Getting rid of Walker would be tough. The governor was just voted into office and therefore could not be subject to a recall until Jan. 3, 2012. And it would require about 540,000 signatures to get his name on a recall ballot. Wisconsin has never recalled a governor in its history. Still, the threat of a recall — to Walker and his allies — could keep the governor in check. Democrats need to gain three seats in the state senate to win back control of the body; there are eight GOP senators who are now eligible for recall.
(See pictures of the Japan earthquake.)

The anger and activism could also propel legal challenges regarding the way Republicans may have violated open-meetings law and internal procedures to get the bill passed without a quorum (Democratic senators fled to Illinois specifically to prevent passage). But Mayer says that such claims are unlikely to succeed because "there is case law where the state courts have declined to get involved and force a legislature to enforce its own rule." A constitutional challenge on the basis of whether the Republican reclassification of the bill from fiscal to nonfiscal were legal may have a better chance, says Mayer, but "it's not a slam dunk."

The protesters have a lot of contained anger to vent. The demonstrations — a "quiet riot," according to some — managed to avoid turning violent. Though tensions mounted toward the end, there were never any door-busting, glass-breaking riots. It was horn blowing and button wearing instead of fistfights. There was drum beating and dancing instead of destruction. There were baby strollers and wheelchairs decked out with snarky signs. When Bill Hoyt, 52, saw his middle- and high school daughters and their friends banging on glass panels on the capitol grounds, he reminded them to be respectful of government property, saying destruction wasn't a good use of their frustration and that it would only create more problems.
(Comment on this story.)

The frustration from the defeat will be channeled elsewhere. Wiping tears from beneath her dark-rimmed glasses, Anne Moser, 47, who works for the University of Wisconsin-Madison's science-based Water Library, said, "People know that violence doesn't get you anywhere. The attack the Republicans have made is violent and a violation of human rights. It is an attack on the middle class. We teach our children to follow rules and to sit at the table and work it out, but that certainly hasn't happened here." And so she and her allies may seek their revenge elsewhere: in a court of law or, most likely, a polling booth.

Read more:,8599,2058601,00.html#ixzz1GbWOMOYE*****
2896  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Real cause for concern on: March 14, 2011, 12:34:16 PM
Is Anthony Watts calling the US military a bunch of panicking banana heads?:

***US moves ships out of path of Japan radiation
The Navy says it has moved several US ships away from a troubled Japanese nuclear plant after detecting low-level radiation on 17 helicopter crew members positioned there for relief efforts.
Navy Cmdr Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the US 7th Fleet, said on Monday that the Navy is committed to continuing the operation to help the Japanese after last week's earthquake and tsunami. But he says officials had to figure out how to continue safely after airborne radiation was detected on Sunday by the carrier USS Ronald Reagan and on a helicopter crew returning to the ship from search and rescue operations.
By moving the ships in the carrier group out of the downwind path of the power plant, Davis says the Navy can continue with less risk to Americans participating.
- With inputs from AP***
2897  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Nuclear Power on: March 14, 2011, 11:12:46 AM
The WSJ article contradicts itself:

"Before we respond with such panic, though, it would be useful to review exactly what is happening in Japan and what we have to fear from it."


Well it is too soon to know what is going on and what will happen.


Japanese authorites are less than forthcoming.
One cannot deny that no matter how many times we are told these things are safe another event occurs and we find the truth is not that they are perfectfully safe as sold. 

But this is also a  premature conclusion:

"What the Japanese earthquake has proved is that even the oldest containment structures can withstand the impact of one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. The problem has been with the electrical pumps required to operate the cooling system. It would be tragic if the result of the Japanese accident were to prevent development of Generation III reactors, which eliminate this design flaw."

Lets also not blow it off as already its proven to be no big deal and start off with design 3 - just yet.

2898  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Yogiisms on: March 12, 2011, 12:33:20 PM
Yogi Berra is also well known for his pithy comments and witticisms, known as Yogiisms. Yogiisms very often take the form of either an apparently obvious tautology, or a paradoxical contradiction.

[edit] Examples
As a general comment on baseball: "90% of the game is half mental."[18]
On why he no longer went to Ruggeri's, a St. Louis restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."[19]
"It ain't over till it's over." In July 1973, when Berra's Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by 9½ games in the National League East; the Mets rallied to win the division title on the final day of the season.[20]
When giving directions to Joe Garagiola to his New Jersey home, which is accessible by two routes: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."[21]
On being the guest of honor at an awards banquet: "Thank you for making this day necessary."[22]
"It's déjà vu all over again". Berra explained that this quote originated when he witnessed Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hit back-to-back home runs in the Yankees' seasons in the early 1960s.[23]
"You can observe a lot by watching."[24]
"Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't go to yours."[25]
Responding to a question about remarks attributed to him that he did not think were his: "I really didn't say everything I said."[26]
2899  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Internet and related technology on: March 12, 2011, 09:59:53 AM
"For me, oversight? - yes. Government in charge (other than fighting off things like unfair business practices) - no."

Yes I agree.  But correct me if I am wrong, the Repubs are not advocating any oversight.  It is the same as a lawless wild west.
2900  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Carteresque on: March 11, 2011, 01:55:32 PM
Now he sounds like Carter for sure.  The job is just too big for the ONE.  Remember when Carter admitted he didn't know if one man could handle the Presidency anymore?  Here we go again:

“Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, ‘No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.’”

“Obama Seeks a Course of Pragmatism in the Middle East,” The New York Times, March 11, 2011.

Mr. Obama is right.

If you’re president of China, people around the world who are fighting for freedom don’t really expect you to help. If you’re president of China, you don’t have to put up with annoying off-year congressional elections, and then negotiate your budget with a bunch of gun-and-religion-clinging congressmen and senators. If you’re president of China, you can fund your national public radio to your heart’s content. And if you’re president of China, when you host a conference on bullying in schools, people take you seriously.

Unfortunately for him and us, Barack Obama is president of the United States. That job brings with it certain special responsibilities. It’s a tough job—maybe tougher than being president of China. But Barack Obama ran for president of the United States. Maybe he should start behaving as one.
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