Friday, December 31, 2010

The cartoon of the day.

The bad name of the day so far...

...is a tie, between identical twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised...

...that Facebook surpassed Google last year as the most visited Web site in America. (I actually get Facebook and don't get it at the same time. What's so great about reading which of your friends had French toast for breakfast? And yet, Facebook has an astonishing 500 million users.)

What did surprise me, though, is that MySpace was the most visited Web site as recently as 2007 and is currently No. 7. (Who the heck is still using MySpace?)

Also, I was taken aback (literally -- I had to sit back in my chair) that Yahoo, for all its troubles, is in third place.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

No sooner did I finish my post...

...on Mitch Daniels than I read Steve Kornacki's piece in Salon touting Mike Huckabee for the 2012 Republican nomination.

I especially liked the opening paragraph:

The race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination looks a lot like the race for the NFC West title did for most of this fall: You know someone has to win it, but all of the contenders have glaring flaws that should rule them out of contention.

I guess Huckabee's as good a guess as any, especially since it's still early -- no one has even announced yet. And who knows what the next two years will bring?  Remember how the 2008 election was supposed to be about foreign policy? 

But still, would the GOP really nominate a guy -- in 2012 -- who doesn't believe in evolution? Really?

If my family of origin had...

...had a motto (and, yes, those were two "hads," back-to-back), it could have easily been Saepe in errore, Raro in dubio, which translates into English as, "Often in error, Seldom in doubt."

With that, I think I'll take a stab at predicting the 2012 Republican nominee for president. (It's a slow day.)

In a previous post, I mentioned my difficulty in seeing either Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney at the top of the GOP ticket. I did, however, predict that Marco Rubio, the freshman senator from Florida and tea party darling, would be on everyone's short list for the number two slot.

So who does that leave for the nomination, Mike Huckabee? Newt Gingrich? Tim Pawlenty? John Thune? Rick Santorum? No, no, no, no, and, for the love of God -- no!

Partly by the process of elimination, I'm going to go with -- drum roll! -- Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, above. (This is subject to change, of course, as early as ... tomorrow.)

But for now, Daniels is the best Republican I can see on the horizon (as long as Jeb Bush stays out).

Mitch Daniels is in his second term as governor, having won reelection in 2008 by 18 points in a state carried by President Obama. (Daniels will be term-limited from running in 2012. Republican Congressman Mike Pence is expected to succeed him.) Before that, the Hoosier native spent most of his career in Washington, after attending Princeton and Georgetown Law School.

Daniels worked for Indiana Senator Richard Lugar in Washington and, before that, when Lugar was mayor of Indianapolis. He's been chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee; President and CEO of the Hudson Institute, the conservative think-tank; a senior vice president at Eli Lilly (private sector cred); and as director of the Office of Management and Budget under the second President Bush. (Whew! That's quite a resume. Reminds me of the first President Bush.)

As governor, Daniels turned a $600 million budget deficit into a $300 million surplus in his first year, by, among other things -- Shhh! -- raising taxes. (This was a big improvement over his tenure at OMB, where Daniels and President Bush turned a $236 billion surplus into a $400 billion deficit. Oh, well.)

With Daniels and Rubio, Republicans would get an establishment candidate at the top of the ticket balanced by a tea partier at the bottom. It could put two states that President Obama carried in 2008 -- Indiana and Florida -- into play for the GOP. Also, Daniels, a Midwesterner, could appeal to independent voters in the key swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Does the Indiana governor have any negatives? Of course. As I mentioned before, Daniels isn't against raising taxes if necessary; that could be a non-starter with the Club for Growth crowd. Also, Daniels was arrested for possession of marijuana in college and hasn't backed down from his recent statement that the GOP may have to call for "a truce on the so-called social issues." That could be tough to swallow for the base. In addition, Daniels is short, bald (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and charisma-challenged.

But Daniels is real, and a grown-up to boot, in a Republican Party full of what Bill Maher has called, "religious lunatics, flat-earthers and Civil War reenactors." He could be a good dark horse compromise in 2012.

There's a headline in the business section...

...of my New York Times print edition this morning, "Oil's Future Defies Easy Calculation."

As opposed to all other commodities?

Last night, I heard for the first time...

"...As you get older, your friends become your family and your family become your friends."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More bad news...

...for Haley Barbour. Steve Mangold, a childhood friend of the former governor's, remembers growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, a little differently:

Built in the mid-1950s with federal assistance, the Yazoo City hospital was, at the insistence of the local White Citizens Council, a whites-only facility, Mangold says. As a child, he had the nighttime assignment of answering the back door at his parents' home, where they had their medical practice (whites came to the front door, blacks to the back). He would often see black residents with grievous injuries requiring emergency care -- but they had nowhere to go.

"There was no hospital in town where blacks could go. They would have to go to Jackson 40 or 50 miles away, and many died on the way," he says, adding that this state of affairs lasted for years.

I never knew eyewear...

...could be so interesting.

Budget expert Stan Collender...

...calls out the current crop of Republicans:

There is now no doubt that all of the GOP talk during the campaign about reducing the deficit was nothing more than a ploy to get elected and that Republicans have no plans to do anything but make the federal government's red ink larger than it already is and would otherwise be.

Read the rest of the piece here.

The S&P 500 futures pit...

...on the old trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

(Who's that bald guy in the black jacket with the green piping?)

According to a sidebar...

...in the Times this morning, "Snapshots of the Economy" (my emphasis):

Both the cost of health care and the share of people without health insurance continue to rise. Average premiums for families have doubled in the last decade, while more than a quarter of the working-age population was uninsured some time during 2010.

And the Republicans in Congress want to repeal the Affordable Care Act?

Riddle of the day:

How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one, so long as the light bulb wants to change.

Alfred Kahn, best known for...

...deregulating the airline industry, died on Monday at age 93.

(Looks a little like Uncle Leo from "Seinfeld," doesn't he? I almost wonder if when summoned to the Oval Office to meet with President Carter he burst in, extended his arms and bellowed, "Jimmy -- HELLO!")

While the Reagan administration is generally credited with deregulation, the movement actually began during Jimmy Carter's short reign:

Mr. Kahn, drawing on considerable gifts of persuasion and media insight, led the struggle for enactment of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, the first total dismantling of a federal regulatory regime since the 1930s.

In fact, Kahn published The Economics of Regulation way back in 1970 -- eleven years before Reagan took office.

(It was also Carter, not Reagan, who appointed Paul Volcker, the slayer of the inflation dragon. But that's the subject of another post.)

Before deregulation, the airlines were tightly controlled by the Civil Aeronautics Board, which approved routes and set fares that guaranteed airlines a 12 percent return on flights that were 55 percent full. The changes Mr. Kahn orchestrated resulted in increased competition, lower fares and the rise of low-cost carriers like JetBlue and Southwest. But they also created severe financial problems for the industry, leading to bankruptcies and mergers.

“I have to concede that the competition that deregulation brought certainly was terribly, terribly hard on the airlines and their unions, who had heretofore enjoyed the benefits of protection from competition under regulation,” Mr. Kahn said decades later.

He added that he accepted “some responsibility” for the industry’s financial problems but said that it had eventually recovered, despite sharply rising oil prices and terrorist-related security costs.

My question is, was airline deregulation a good thing or a bad thing?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs...

...writes today:

Since Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, America’s budget system has been geared to supporting the accumulation of vast wealth at the top of the income distribution. Amazingly, the richest 1% of American households now has a higher net worth than the bottom 90%. The annual income of the richest 12,000 households is greater than that of the poorest 24 million households.

My brother told me recently...

...that M&A activity would be brisk in 2011. Jia Lynn Yang (above), of the Washington Post, agrees:

Conditions are ripe for a comeback in mergers and acquisitions because U.S. companies are holding a record nearly $2 trillion in cash. They have been hesitant to use these massive piles of funds to hire as they wait to see whether the economic recovery picks up more speed. Instead, this year they've been making safer bets: buying back stocks to help boost their share prices and spending money on modestly sized mergers.

More support (I think)...

...for my suspicion that Nature trumps Nurture (my emphasis):

[Science journalist Gary] Taubes proceeds to stand the received wisdom about diet and exercise on its head in a particularly intriguing and readable synthesis.

We’ve got the whole thing backward, he argues. The overweight are not lazy hogs who eat too much and exercise too little. The thin are not virtuous and disciplined. Rather, all of us are fulfilling a fixed biological mandate, just as growing children are. Our bodies have a nonnegotiable agenda, and our behavior evolves to make that agenda happen, he writes: “Eating in moderation and being physically active (literally, having the energy to exercise) are not evidence of moral rectitude. Rather, they’re the metabolic benefits of a body that’s programmed to remain lean.”

In other words, you don’t haul your body off that couch and out to the gym; your body hauls you.

Meanwhile, “those who get fat do so because of the way their fat happens to be regulated,” Mr. Taubes writes. “A conspicuous consequence of this regulation is to cause the eating behavior (gluttony) and the physical inactivity (sloth) that we so readily assume are the actual causes.”
 
Read the rest of the article here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jim O'Neill, head of Goldman Sachs...

...Asset Management, predicts that 2011 will be the "year of the USA."

O'Neill expects the stock market to rally 20% next year as GDP increases by 3.4% in 2011 and 3.8% in 2012.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A couple unrelated tidbits...

...from today's New York Times op-ed page:

* In 1909 there were 26 reported football-related deaths.

(And you thought modern-day football was rough.) And,

* The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas...

...and God bless us, every one!

I knew that American wages had stagnated...

...in the last decade (I need look no further than my own paychecks), but I didn't know this (my emphasis):

Low salaries — and higher prices — are a core complaint of German workers who are increasingly demanding wage increases after a decade in which their real earnings dropped by 4.5 percent when adjusted for inflation, according to a recent report by the International Labor Organization. Exports have grown robustly in part because workers agreed years ago to reduced wages and reduced hours to make Germany more competitive.

I guess I can't blame that on George Bush.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The song of the...

...day.

I made a (very) small donation...

...to Wikipedia today. I use it a lot, and Ezra Klein convinced me:

...it's easy to just assume Wikipedia is around and will stay around and will keep becoming better and more useful, but its continued health does require a revenue stream, and I'm pretty sure that most of its users are paying a lot less than its actually worth to them. So if you can spare it, you might think ofthrowing them a couple bucks. They've got enough users that if everyone gave a dollar, the project would be secure basically forever.

From the front page...

...of the Times, "Pilgrims Drawn to Wisconsin to Pray with the Virgin Mary":

CHAMPION, Wis. — In France, the shrine at Lourdes is surrounded by hundreds of hotels and has received as many as 45,000 pilgrims in a single day. Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico, draws millions of fervent worshipers a year.

Now, a little chapel among the dairy farms here, called Our Lady of Good Help, has joined that august company in terms of religious status, if not global fame. This month, it became one of only about a dozen sites worldwide, and the first in the United States, where apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been officially validated by the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1859, the year after Mary is said to have appeared in Lourdes, a Belgian immigrant here named Adele Brise said she was visited three times by Mary, who hovered between two trees in a bright light, clothed in dazzling white with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars above her flowing blond locks. As instructed, Ms. Brise devoted her life to teaching Catholic beliefs to children.

On Dec. 8, after a two-year investigation by theologians who found no evidence of fraud or heresy and a long history of shrine-related conversions, cures and other signs of divine intervention, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay declared “with moral certainty” that Ms. Brise did indeed have encounters “of a supernatural character” that are “worthy of belief.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The most wonderful...

...Christmas song of all...

Jonah Goldberg...

...narrows the 2012 Republican presidential field to five:

That leaves us with a top tier of five front-runners: Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels. Romney is the organizational front-runner; Daniels is the first pick of wonks and DC eggheads; Palin probably has the most devoted following among actual voters; Gingrich will dominate the debates, and Pawlenty (vying with Daniels) is the least disliked.

That makes me think the race is between Romney and Palin, but I just can't see either one of them winning the nomination.

Romney is clearly the establishment candidate and probably the front-runner. He has the resume, the ability to raise money and looks like he was sent from central casting. It's also his turn.

And yet ... Romney has so many debilitating negatives it's hard to know where to begin.

First of all, there's the authenticity problem. As Chuck Todd once said, who is Mitt Romney?

Second, Romney is a Mormon in a party dominated by Evangelicals; that's going to be a tough sell.

Third, Romney's single biggest achievement as governor of Massachusetts was health care reform; the new Republican House majority's first order of business is to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Personally, I think he should have turned reform into a virtue, but, hey, no one asked me. Besides, it's too late now; he's already disowned it -- sort of -- kinda.)

Finally, Romney has trouble getting people to vote for him, and that's a problem in his line of work. In 2008 he just couldn't generate any enthusiasm for his candidacy. It's hard to picture anyone outside of his immediate family getting excited about Mitt Romney.

As for Palin, well, like most people, I just can't imagine the GOP committing suicide.

But if there's one thing I feel confident about it's that Marco Rubio (above), the new tea party senator from Florida, will be on everyone's short list for running mate.

Not only could Rubio bring balance to a ticket headed by an establishment candidate, but as the son of Cuban exiles (and fluent in Spanish), he could also appeal to the growing (and elusive for Republicans) Hispanic community. Rubio is from what may be the most important swing state in 2012 and could allow the GOP to focus more on states like Ohio. What's more, Rubio identifies as both a Catholic and an Evangelical. That checks a lot of boxes.

But remember, it's the top of the ticket that wins races, and no one in the current crop is going to beat Obama.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

David Brooks laments...

...the decline of Christmas:

It used to be the cineplexes were like half-empty synagogues on Christmas. Now you can barely get a ticket. When Christians start eating Chinese for Christmas dinner, the end of civilization will really be at hand.

Another Times editorial...

...that deserves to be reprinted in its entirety:

An Unpaid Debt

Anyone who was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, remembers how the ash, paper and dust of the collapsing towers blew across Lower Manhattan. For days afterward, there was that peculiar smell — of burned paper and chemicals and death. That was the air that filled the lungs of tens of thousands of firefighters, police officers, nurses, paramedics, soldiers and civilian volunteers who toiled for months to uncover the dead.

More than nine years later, many of those first responders are dead. Many are sick. Some are dying. Thousands need care for illnesses contracted through their heroism at ground zero. America owes them help, and Congress is poised to give it to them, if die-hard Republican objectors get out of the way of the majority.

The 9/11 health and compensation bill provides health screenings, treatment and follow-up monitoring for ailing first responders who meet strict eligibility rules. It requires New York to pay 10 percent of the costs.

The bill passed the House in September but ran into a filibuster threat in the Senate from Republicans, ostensibly over the cost. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma called it a waste of money and complained that Democrats were rushing it to a vote. “This bill hasn’t even been through a committee,” he said on Fox News, somehow forgetting that the proper committee held a hearing on the bill on June 29. (Mr. Coburn is a member. He didn’t attend.)

Senate Democrats, led by Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York, have trimmed the costs to $6.2 billion from $7.4 billion. It is fully paid for with such measures as excise fees on certain foreign companies that have federal government contracts and higher visa fees on companies that hire many foreign workers.

Supporters say they have the votes to bypass a Republican filibuster on Wednesday. The House would then have to pass the amended bill. The risk is that senators like Mr. Coburn will delay a vote until the clock runs out.

We will leave it to the Republicans to work out the riddle of the gap between their professed honor for American heroes and their shabby disdain for those who risked their health and lives at ground zero. Mr. Coburn, at least, should allow a vote. President Obama should stop letting Jon Stewart carry the ball, step in and insist that Congress pass the bill. Congress should delay its Christmas break, if needed, to get this done.

Haley Barbour is in trouble...

...for saying, in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard (all emphasis mine):

“You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

The New York Times remembers the Citizens Councils a little differently:

The councils, of course, arose in the South for a single and sinister purpose: to fight federal attempts at integration and to maintain the supremacy of white leaders in cities and states. Mississippi’s council, formed in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, was one of the most powerful political forces in the state, and later raised funds for the defense of the murderer of Medgar Evers. The council chapter in Yazoo City, so fondly remembered by Mr. Barbour, published the names of N.A.A.C.P. leaders who dared to demand the town’s schools be integrated in 1955. Those on the list systematically lost their jobs and their livelihoods, boycotted by white citizens.

The Weekly Standard article continues:

Barbour doesn’t have much to say about growing up in the midst of the civil rights revolution. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” he said.

This is why I think every white person in America should read Isabel Wilkerson's new book, The Warmth of Other Suns, about the Great Migration of blacks from the South to the North. If you thought, like me, that conditions for blacks in the South were bad, guess what? They were even worse.

Here's just one excerpt:

For all its upheaval, the Civil War had left most blacks in the South no better off economically than they had been before. Sharecropping, slavery's replacement, kept them in debt and still bound to whatever plantation they worked. But one thing had changed. The federal government had taken over the affairs of the South, during a period known as Reconstruction, and the newly freed men were able to exercise rights previously denied them. They could vote, marry, or go to school if there were one nearby, and the more ambitious among them could enroll in black colleges set up by northern philanthropists, open businesses, and run for office under the protection of northern troops. In short order, some managed to become physicians, legislators, undertakers, insurance men. They assumed that the question of black citizens' rights had been settled for good and that all that confronted them was merely building on these new opportunities.

But, by the mid-1870s, when the North withdrew its oversight in the face of southern hostility, whites in the South began to resurrect the caste system founded under slavery. Nursing the wounds of defeat and seeking a scapegoat, much like Germany in the years leading up to Nazism, they began to undo the opportunities accorded freed slaves during Reconstruction and to redefine the language of white supremacy. They would create a caste system based not on pedigree and title, as in Europe, but solely on race, and which, by law, disallowed any movement of the lowest caste into the mainstream.

The fight over this new caste system made it to the U. S. Supreme Court. Homer A. Plessy, a colored Louisianan, protested a new state law forbidding any railroad passenger from entering "a compartment to which by race he does not belong." On June 7, 1894, Plessy bought a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad, took an empty seat in the white-only car, and was arrested when he refused to move. In 1896, in the seminal case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court sided with the South and ruled, in an eight-to-one vote, that "equal but separate" accommodations were constitutional. That ruling would stand for the next sixty years.

Now, with a new century approaching, blacks in the South, accustomed to the liberties established after the war, were hurled back in time, as if the preceding three decades, limited though they may have been, had never happened. One by one, each license or freedom accorded them was stripped away. The world got smaller, narrower, more confined with each new court ruling and ordinance.

Not unlike European Jews who watched the world close in on them slowly, perhaps barely perceptibly, at the start of Nazism, colored people in the South would first react in denial and disbelief to the rising hysteria, then, helpless to stop it, attempt a belated resistance, not knowing and not able to imagine how far the supremacists would go. The outcomes for both groups were widely divergent, one suffering unspeakable loss and genocide, the other enduring nearly a century of apartheid, pogroms, and mob executions. But the hatreds and fears that fed both assaults were not dissimilar and relied on arousing the passions of the indifferent to mount so complete an attack.

The South began acting in outright defiance of the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, which granted the right to due process and equal protection to anyone born in the United States, and it ignored the Fifteenth Amendment of 1880, which guaranteed all men the right to vote.

Politicians began riding these anti-black sentiments all the way to governors' mansions throughout the South and to seats in the U. S. Senate.

"If it is necessary, every Negro in the state will be lynched," James K. Vardaman, the white supremacy candidate in the 1903 Mississippi governor's race, declared. He saw no reason for blacks to go to school. "The only effect of Negro education," he said, "is to spoil a good field hand and make an insolent cook."

Mississippi voted Vardaman into the governor's office and later sent him to the U. S. Senate.

All the while, newspapers were giving black violence top billing, the most breathless outrage reserved for any rumor of black male indiscretion toward a white woman, all but guaranteeing a lynching. Sheriff's deputies mysteriously found themselves unable to prevent the abduction of a black suspect from a jailhouse cell. Newspapers alerted readers to the time and place of an upcoming lynching. In spectacles that often went on for hours, black men and women were routinely tortured and mutilated, then hanged or burned alive, all before festive crowds of as many as several thousand white citizens, children in tow, hoisted on their fathers' shoulders to get a better view.

Fifteen thousand men, women, and children gathered to watch eighteen-year-old Jesse Washington as he was burned alive in Waco, Texas, in May 1916. The crowd chanted, "Burn, burn, burn!" as Washington was lowered into the flames. One father holding his son on his shoulders wanted to make sure his toddler saw it.

"My son can't learn too young," the father said.

Across the South, someone was hanged or burned alive every four days from 1889 to 1929, according to the book The Tragedy of Lynching, for such alleged crimes as "stealing hogs, horse-stealing, poisoning mules, jumping labor contract, suspected of killing cattle, boastful remarks" or "trying to act like a white person." Sixty-six were killed after being accused of "insult to a white person." One was killed for stealing seventy-five cents.

Like the cotton growing in the field, violence had become so much a part of the landscape that "perhaps most of the southern black population had witnessed a lynching in their own communities or knew people who had," wrote the historian Herbert Shapiro. "All blacks lived with the reality that no black individual was completely safe from lynching."

The first thing I saw this morning...

...on my home page, Bloomberg, was the article, "No Congress Since 1960s Makes Most Laws for Americans as 111th":

For the first time since President Theodore Roosevelt began the quest for a national health-care system more than 100 years ago, the Democrat-led House and Senate took the biggest step toward achieving that goal by giving 32 million Americans access to insurance. Congress rewrote the rules for Wall Street in the most comprehensive way since the Great Depression. It spent more than $1.67 trillion to revive an economy on the verge of a depression, including tax cuts for most Americans, jobs for more than 3 million, construction of roads and bridges and investment in alternative energy; ended an almost two-decade ban against openly gay men and women serving in the military, and is poised today to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

And I thought, wow, that's a lot.

And then I thought, gosh, the Republicans could have had a hand in writing all of that legislation if they hadn't adopted that whole "Party of No" schtick.

The second thing I saw this morning was the lead headline in my print edition of the New York Times, "Senate Set to Give Obama a Victory on Arms Control."

And I thought, why did the Republicans take what should have been a bipartisan vote -- that no one in the country would have even noticed -- and turn it into a legislative "victory" for the president?

Which brings me to my final thought for the morning. (Yeah, right.) Even though the "Party of No" strategy worked politically for the GOP in the short-term -- by retaking the House and gaining seats in the Senate -- was it really worth it in the long run to stand idly by while so much was accomplished? Was it in the best interest of the country? If Republicans really care so much about policy and its impact on Americans, shouldn't they at least participate in its shaping?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Winter Solstice!

Twofer!

Larry David writes in the New York Times:

THERE is a God! It passed! The Bush tax cuts have been extended two years for the upper bracketeers, of which I am a proud member, thank you very much. I’m the last person in the world I’d want to be beside, but I am beside myself! This is a life changer, I tell you. A life changer!

Monday, December 20, 2010

According to Gallup...

...52 percent of Republicans believe "God created humans in present form within the last 10,000 years." 

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Michele Bachmann...

...was the top fundraiser among House candidates in 2010, bringing in more than $13 million.

Andrew Sullivan writes...

...that President Obama gets stuff done:

The results after two years: universal health insurance, the rescue of Detroit, the avoidance of a Second Great Depression, big gains in private sector growth and productivity, three stimulus packages (if you count QE2), big public investments in transport and green infrastructure, the near-complete isolation of Iran, the very public exposure of Israeli intransigence and extremism, a reset with Russia (plus a new START), big drops in illegal immigration and major gains in enforcement, a South Korea free trade pact, the end of torture, and a debt commission that has put fiscal reform squarely back on the national agenda. Oh, and of yesterday, the signature civil rights achievement of ending the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers.

Kenneth Cuccinelli, the attorney general...

...of Virginia, is much in the news these days. (If you haven't heard of him yet, you will soon -- he's an up-and-comer in the Republican Party.)

Among other things, Cuccinelli filed the lawsuit that led to a federal judge's recent ruling that requiring Americans to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional.

So who is this Ken Cuccinelli guy, anyway?

Well, for starters, he's pro-life, anti-immigrant, pro-gun, anti-tax, anti-sex education and homophobic.

Oh, and one more thing: it took Cuccinelli until March 15 of this year to concede that President Obama was born in the United States.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I've been a big critic of Mark Kirk's...

...in the past, so it's only right to give him credit when he's earned it. And yesterday, the veteran and junior senator from Illinois joined seven other Republicans in voting to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Can somebody help me out here?

I saw a license plate yesterday that said ABCDEF H.

I realize that the "G" was conspicuously missing. So what message was the driver trying to convey?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Andrew Sullivan...

...slams Fox News (again):

Those who work for Fox News are not working for a journalistic enterprise. They are working for the communications department of a political party.

As Ronald Reagan...

...once said to Jimmy Carter, "There you go again."

In his column today, "Bigger is Easier," David Brooks makes a reference to the non-existent bond vigilantes (my emphasis):

Obama’s challenge in the State of the Union address is to give voice to the inchoate longing for change, and to chart a political path through the Washington minefield so that voters and bond markets have the sense that the country is at least beginning to grapple with its problems.

The yield on the Treasury's ten-year note closed yesterday at 3.47%. That's not only historically low, but also down from a year ago.

When I read stories...

...like, "U. S. Will Widen War on Militants Inside Pakistan," I can't help thinking about the invasion of Cambodia in 1970:

The Obama administration plans to further step up attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in the tribal areas of Pakistan, to address one of the fundamental weaknesses uncovered in its year-end review of its Afghanistan war strategy.

Administration officials said the increased attacks across the Afghan border would help offset the Pakistani government’s continued refusal to move against the Qaeda leadership and their extremist allies, especially the Haqqani network. From havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, those groups have carried out deadly assaults against American troops and have plotted attacks against the West, officials say.

In announcing on Thursday that the 97,000 American troops now in Afghanistan have made some fragile gains in the past year, President Obama said Pakistan was “increasingly coming to realize that the Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who have been given safe havens pose a threat to Pakistan as well as the United States.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ray Madoff (no relation to Bernie)...

...suggests we give up on the estate tax altogether:

There is no reason inherited wealth should not be taxed the same as wages, lottery winnings and all other forms of income.

Ross Douthat...

...on Mitt Romney (his emphasis):

I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins. In the last couple years, Romney has taken high-profile positions that I agree with (opposing the G.M. bailout), high-profile positions that I disagree with (opposing the START Treaty), and high-profile positions on issues I’m uncertain about (the current tax deal). But because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.

The cartoon of the day:

I've heard Tom Friedman...

...call for a $1.00 gas tax many times. I understand his reasoning and the idea is not without merit.

But in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, just 21 percent of Americans would support a 15 cent increase in the gasoline tax.

Bob Feller died yesterday...

...at age 92 (my emphasis):

Feller made his first major league start on Aug. 23, 1936, two months shy of turning 18. He never pitched in the minors, and when the Indians decided to use him in a relief role on July 19, 1936, he was the youngest player ever to pitch in a major league game. Many wondered if the kid - who would later credit his arm strength to milking cows, picking corn, and baling hay - was in over his head.

Hardly.

Using a fastball later dubbed "the Van Meter heater," Feller struck out 15 - two shy of the major league record in his first game, beating the St. Louis Browns 4-1 - a star was born. [Three weeks later], Feller established the AL record by striking out 17 Philadelphia Athletics.

This all took place in the summer before his senior year of high school.
 
Imagine the conversation at Van Meter High School the following fall:
 
"Hey, how was your summer, Bif?"
 
"Great. I was a lifeguard down at the pool. I met a ton of girls!" 
 
"My summer stunk. I worked at my dad's hardware store."
 
"How 'bout you, Bob?"
 
"I played Major League baseball for the Cleveland Indians. I had a pretty good game against the A's."
 
"All right everyone, open your books to page 3..."
 
Baseball was only a part of Feller's remarkable story.

Stirred by Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Feller enlisted in the Navy the following day - the first major league player to do so. He served as a gun captain on the USS Alabama, earning several battle commendations and medals.

When he returned from military duty in 1946, Feller arguably had his finest season, going 26-15 with a 2.18 ERA and pitching 36 complete games and 10 shutouts. For comparison's sake, the Indians entire pitching staff had 10 complete games and four shutouts last season.