Saturday, July 31, 2010

I met a guy named Joe Walsh...

...last night at the Lake County Fair. (No, not the rock star. He must have been at a different county fair.) The Joe Walsh I met is running for Congress and seemed genuinely disappointed when I told him that I didn't live in his district. I asked him who he was running against and whether he was a Republican or a Democrat. "Tea Party Republican" was the enthusiastic reply as he shook my hand. I didn't feel like telling him that we were on opposite ends of the political spectrum; he seemed like a nice man and had his family with him so I just wished him good luck.

After doing a little research, I found out that Walsh is the underdog in his bid to unseat the incumbent, Democrat Melissa Bean. Interestingly, unlike his two opponents -- Bill Scheuer of the Green Party is the other -- Walsh didn't even live in the 8th District until just a few months ago. It turns out that he'd been renting a house with his second wife in Winnetka after having been evicted from his foreclosed condo in Evanston in 2009. (Walsh had lived in Evanston since at least 1996 when he ran for the 9th District congressional seat and for the state House in 1998.)

Financial problems? Divorce? Foreclosure? Okay, so the guy's had a few setbacks. Who hasn't? (I think it goes a long way to explaining the whole tea party phenomenon. When the economy comes back -- as it always does -- these people will fade back into the woodwork.)

That's not all, though. Apparently, Walsh is also being sued by a former campaign manager who said he owed him $20,000 for services. And in May, his most recent campaign manager and a field director stepped down, saying "We're basically just done. Everyone is walking. We've just had it."

Again, Walsh impressed me as a nice enough guy and I wish him well. But I couldn't help thinking that someday we'll all look back on these days and say, "Remember the tea party? Those were crazy times, weren't they?"

Oh, and P. S., Joe Walsh, the rock star, wants Joe Walsh, the candidate, to stop playing his music at campaign events.

I hit the Daily Double... No, not at the race track. I made it to Paradise Pup in Des Plaines for lunch and Calumet Fisheries (above) at 95th and the Calumet River bridge for dinner.

The former was featured on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," while the latter made a cameo appearance in the 1980 film, "The Blues Brothers."

Some vanity plates...

...I have seen recently: ME BUBBE, FO SHO, HAPICAR, CAL U BAK, and my personal favority, TOO DI 4, on a huge white Rolls Royce.

I went to the Lake County Fair...

...last night, and the GUESS YOUR AGE guy guessed high!

Don't you hate the way Ivory soap...

...breaks in half near the end?

Here's a discouraging...

...figure: only 37% of white Americans "think that Barack Obama has been a better president than George W. Bush." Really? 63% of white Americans are -- at best -- not sure that Bush was worse than Obama? What parallel universe do these people live in?

This dovetails with my (still) developing narrative that the United States, unlike some countries, is a motley collection of competing tribes, each fearful of the others. And white Christians, although the largest and most influential tribe, have absolutely no time for anyone who -- unlike George W. Bush, for example -- isn't working constantly to support their position at the top of the food chain.

I guess a friend of mine was right when he said, in a different context, "It's all about fear."

The songs of the... Two for one!

Friday, July 30, 2010

The two best quotes for the day...

...are from Andrew Sullivan's blog. The first is from "The Benefits Of The Slow Struggle":

If you backed Obama and want to see real change continue, now is not the time to give up because it's not as easy as you thought it would be. Now is the time to oppose the passionate intensity of his opponents with the reasoned conviction that elected him.

The second is from "The Dogma Of Henninger":

For a glimpse into why American conservatism really is intellectually dead, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is a pretty good start.

According to Rasmussen...

...Republican Pat Toomey leads Democrat Joe Sestak (above) in the senate race in Pennsylvania.

Word to the wise: don't count Sestak out; he's a winner.

Who should succeed President Obama... 2016? How about Representative Anthony Weiner, Democrat from New York?

For a different opinion, read Steve Kornacki's piece, "Let's not get too excited about Anthony Weiner."

The song of the... How old are you?

Hey deficit hawks...

...Steven Pearlstein writes in the Washington Post today (my emphasis):

This week, Princeton's Alan Blinder, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics and a onetime adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign, released a paper laying out in simple and compelling terms how the government saved the country from another Great Depression. Using a standard econometric model, they backed out everything the government did to tame the financial crisis and stimulate the economy -- the zero interest rates and extraordinary lending by the Fed, the bailouts of the banks and the auto companies, the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the tax cuts and the infrastructure payments and the money for the states. And what they concluded is that, without these actions, the economy would now be 8 percent smaller, with 8 million fewer jobs and a federal budget deficit this year of $2 trillion rather than $1.4 trillion.

What does it say about the NHL...

...that the Chicago Blackhawks lost money last year?

Every once in a while...

...some rich clown writes in the Wall Street Journal that he'd rather be "on the dole." And I always think to myself, really? Not me; I'd rather be rich. Wouldn't you?

Now Jim Webb, Democratic senator from Virginia, writes in the Journal about the "myth of white privilege." Myth? Really?

If you're a white male, born in the latter half of the twentieth century in America -- like me -- then you won the sperm lottery. Congratulations! You are among the luckiest and --yes -- privileged group in the history of the planet. Do you really think it would have been preferable to have been born a woman or a member of a minority group? As Jerry Seinfeld would say, really?

There are two kinds of people...

...who really bug me right now. (I know what you're thinking -- only two?) The first are the deficit hawks who want to extend the Bush tax cuts. And the second are the crybabies who blame the high unemployment rate on the "uncertainty" coming out of Washington -- as if weak demand and the deleveraging of the consumer had nothing to do with it.

Alan Blinder, co-director of Princeton's Center for Economic Policy Studies and a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, says:

...People don’t know what’ll happen with the tax code, though my guess is the answer is not very much. They’ve got a new health-care reform to digest, though it’s not that major a change for you if you’re not in the health industry. And now there’s a new financial reform to digest, but if you’re not in one of the financial industries, it’s not terribly relevant. These changes might impact you, but they’re not first-order compared to how much you can sell.

A friend of mine...

...who is an avid viewer of Fox News recently told me that illegal immigrants were responsible for the shocking increase in crime in places like Arizona. In an article in Time, "The 'Dangerous' Border: Actually One of America's Safest Places," Tim Padgett writes (my emphasis):

[Arizona's] overall crime rate dropped 12% last year; between 2004 and 2008 it plunged 23%. In the metro area of its largest city, Phoenix, violent crime — encompassing murder, rape, assault and robbery — fell by a third during the past decade and by 17% last year. The border city of Nogales, an area rife with illegal immigration and drug trafficking, hasn't logged a single murder in the past two years.

"There's a real disconnect between emotions and facts when it comes to the border," says El Paso city councilman Beto O'Rourke. "You've got a lot of politicians exploiting this fear that the Mexicans are coming over to kill us."

Here's an Ivy League name...

...for you: John Quincy Darbyshire.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Enough with the...

...berries! (I'll spare you "Blueberry Hill"; I never really cared for that one anyway.)

Here's a song in Spanish.

E.J. Dionne...


Does any other democracy have a powerful legislative branch as undemocratic as the U.S. Senate?

When our republic was created, the population ratio between the largest and smallest state was 13-to-1. Now, it's 68-to-1. Because of the abuse of the filibuster, 41 senators representing less than 11 percent of the nation's population can, in principle, block action supported by 59 senators representing more than 89 percent of our population. And you wonder why it's so hard to get anything done in Washington?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Yesterday, I wondered...

...about the percentage of small business owners that pay taxes in the top bracket. Steven Pearlstein writes today:

When all else fails, the last refuge for the anti-tax crowd is to claim that raising the top tax rate reduces employment because that is the rate paid by many small businesses -- which, according to Republican myth, create all new jobs. In fact, fewer than 3 percent of tax returns with business income fall into the top brackets.

The song of the...

Kelly Ayotte, the Republican candidate...

...for the Senate from New Hampshire who was recently endorsed by Sarah Palin, has opened up a big lead over her nearest rival:

A new PPP (D) survey of the New Hampshire Republican Senate primary finds Kelly Ayotte cruising in first with a huge lead over other would-be Republican nominees. The poll has Ayotte with 47%, rival Bill Binnie with 14%, and the other contenders mired in the single digits.

Ayotte's lead in this PPP poll is the largest she's had. A Magellan poll from late May gave Ayotte only a nine-point leader over Binnie, and a PPP poll from April put Ayotte's lead at 24 points.

What does this mean for the rest of us? Sarah Palin could conceivably win the New Hampshire primary in 2012.

Ruth Marcus...

...notes in a column about taxes:

At a breakfast with reporters the other day, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, one of the GOP's rising stars and a more-likely-than-not 2012 presidential candidate, was asked what his reaction would be if the president's debt commission were to recommend a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

"Not good," Pawlenty said. "I don't think the argument can be credibly made that the United States of America is undertaxed compared to our competitors." Actually, the United States is on the low end in terms of the overall tax burden -- 28 percent of the gross domestic product in 2007, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, compared to an average of 36 percent in the 30 OECD countries. Only South Korea, Mexico and Turkey were lower.

Jeb Bush told a reporter...

...yesterday that "I'm not running for president." If true, that could remove the biggest obstacle to Obama's reelection in 2012.

Congressman Paul Ryan,...

...Republican of Wisconsin, is getting a lot of attention these days, not least for his plan to balance the federal budget, A Roadmap for America's Future.

But as far as I can tell, Ryan is nothing more than a fast-talking, oily con artist who wants to dismantle America's safety net -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He also wants to lower taxes on the rich, raise taxes on everyone else and keep defense spending at its current levels. While one wag has called his plan "A Roadmap for America's Dickensian Future," I fear that Ryan's America would look more like a Latin American banana republic (and not the retail outlet) with a tiny upper class living in walled communities (with bodyguards) and everyone else in poverty.

The rest of the GOP is understandably keeping its distance from Ryan's radioactive plan, although I'm sure most of them agree with it in private. And if the Republicans take back the House in November, look for Ryan's plan to get a lot more backing.

Shouldn't the goal be to balance the federal budget while retaining some safety net for the weakest among us? Isn't that how they do it in every other developed country on the planet?

I knew that Texas...

...had the highest percentage of residents without health insurance, but an article in today's Times, "Texas Battles Health Law Even as It Follows It," really puts it in perspective:

There are more uninsured residents of Texas — 6.1 million and counting — than there are people in 33 states.
___ in four Texans is uninsured, the highest ratio in the country.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The song of the...

In the debate over whether...

...or not to extend the Bush tax cuts, one of the Republican talking points seems to be that a very high number of those affected will be small business owners. (I've heard anywhere from 50 to 75 percent.) All hail the small business owner.

But the way these talking heads say it -- and say it fast -- almost leaves you with the impression that between 50 and 75 percent of all small business owners will be affected. But that's not what they're saying. Because the percentage of small business owners that actually makes over $250,000 a year -- the highest bracket -- is probably in the very low single digits.

And that's a big difference.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bruce Bartlett...

...worked on the staffs of Congressmen Ron Paul and Jack Kemp and Senator Roger Jepsen. He was senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House and deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department during the first Bush administration.

In an interview with the Economist, Bartlett says:

Federal taxes as a share of GDP are at their lowest level in two or more generations—14.9% versus a postwar average of 18.2%. There is not one iota of evidence that the economy is suffering from excessive taxation and no evidence that the sorts of tax cuts favored by Republicans—mainly tax cuts for the wealthy—would do any good given the nature of the economy’s problems. Tax cuts don’t help those with no incomes because they are unemployed, businesses running at a loss, or investors with a large stock of capital losses. In my view, the Republican obsession with taxes is based on pure dogma, not analysis.

That's only a sample. The rest of the interview is worth reading.

Kevin, you'll like the... of the day.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Attention readers...

...Boring Old White Guy will be traveling to the Granite State for the next few days to do a little on-the-ground research for the 2012 primaries.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

According to Reuters,...

...a federal judge has ruled that cheerleading is not a varsity sport:

Competitive cheerleading is too "underdeveloped" to qualify as a full-fledged sport for women under federal gender equality rules, and the university which proposed it discriminated against women, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled.

In the 95-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill said Quinnipiac University, located in Connecticut, had discriminated against women when it sought to eliminate the school's varsity volleyball team and create a competitive cheerleading squad in its stead.

At the risk of sounding like one of those nutty Republicans (who seem to be always counting the number of pages in a bill), did we really need a 95-page ruling to tell us that the people who cheer from the sidelines for the football team -- you know, the ones who are actually playing in the game -- are not the real athletes in the stadium?

What about me, sitting up in the stands eating a hot dog and watching it all? Don't I deserve a varsity letter too?

The Minnesota Loon,... Michele Bachmann is becoming known, has now started a Tea Party Caucus in the U. S. House of Representatives. (As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "This isn't going to end well.")

The Caucus has already attracted 28 Republicans, including such party luminaries as Mike Pence of Indiana (who couldn't quite bring himself to tell Chris Matthews on "Hardball" that he subscribed to that newfangled theory going around nowadays -- I think it's called "evolution"), Joe "I'm sorry, BP" Barton of Texas, Phil Gingrey of Georgia (who famously apologized to Rush Limbaugh after having the gall to suggest that the radio personality might not be the leader of the GOP), Steve King of Iowa (who's still not convinced that the president was born in Hawaii), Joe "You lie!" Wilson of South Carolina, and Pete Sessions of Texas (who couldn't for the life of him tell David Gregory of Meet the Press Sunday where -- anywhere -- he'd cut federal spending, despite promising to balance the budget if the Republicans took over Congress in November).

Forgetting this collection of, ahem, personalities for a moment, ask yourself this question: can you imagine being a member of anything that had Michele Bachmann as its leader?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A headline on Bloomberg...

...reads "U. S. Stocks Drop, Treasuries Climb as Bernanke Calls Outlook 'Uncertain.' "

Isn't the outlook always "uncertain?"

The song of the...

Now that health care...

...and financial regulatory reform have been passed, President Obama is expected to turn his attention to three other issues he campaigned on: energy, education and immigration reform.

In a piece today, "Immigrants -- Good or Bad?," John Stossel writes (my emphasis):

I sat down with Heather MacDonald of the conservative Manhattan Institute, author of "The Immigration Solution," and Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, author of "Let Them In." I respect them both. But they radically disagree on immigration policy.

"The case for open borders is a case for letting the law of supply and demand, the free market, determine the level of immigration," Riley said. "Right now, that determination is being made by politicians and public policy makers. ... And like all exercises in Soviet-style central planning, it's been a complete disaster. We have thriving markets in document fraud ... and 12 million-plus illegal aliens. ... (W)e would do better to move to a system that allowed the free market to determine the level of immigration. And that's the case for open borders." Riley proposes a guest-worker program. "That is the way to reduce illegal immigration."

Riley proposes a guest-worker program. Why is that? Any time an editor of the Wall Street Journal supports something, you have to ask yourself, what's his motivation?

With a guest-worker program, corporations would get access to cheap labor that couldn't vote or influence public policy in any way. They would probably find it harder to organize into unions and therefore be more susceptible to unsafe working conditions. And since they wouldn't be on a path to citizenship, guest workers wouldn't be eligible for Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Hmmm. George Bush was a big supporter of immigration. I think I now know why.

You gotta love...

...the Brits. A panel investigating the events leading to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is led by a guy named Sir John Chilcot. He's heard from a variety of witnesses, including Sir Richard Dearlove, the former leader of MI6, and a Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, who led MI5, from 2002 to 2007.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The song of the...

Ominous signs for the GOP's...

...prospects in 2012 from Gallup:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is the best known and most positively rated of five possible contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Her 76% favorable rating among Republicans is higher than those for Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Bobby Jindal.

Palin is the best known of the five to all Americans, but with a decidedly mixed image: 44% rate her favorably and 47% unfavorably.

The New Yorker cartoon...

...of the day.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Last week I mentioned...

...the Roman Polanski decision and the latest on the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. Leave it to Maureen Dowd to connect the dots:

If Roman Polanski were a priest, he’d still be working here.

The song of the... Check out the orchestra behind these guys!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My tea leaves indicate...

...that Elizabeth Warren will not be named to head up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And that will be a missed opportunity.

The voice of Speed Racer,...

...Peter Fernandez, died at age 83. His was also the voice of Speed's rival, Racer X.

What the heck, let's make the theme of that show our song of the day.

There's an article in the Times today...

...about the artist, Christo, and his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude. (People that go by only one name make up one of my many, many pet peeves.) You have to admit, these two look the part.

For the record, Christo was born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and his wife Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

David Cameron, er,...

...Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), recently said to that the “fear-driven conservative movement . . . will ultimately die out and cost the party dearly unless leaders resist the ‘demagoguery’ and ‘misinformation’ of its figureheads.”

Jonathan Martin of Politico...

...runs through the list of likely Republican presidential nominees in 2012: Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and maybe Haley Barbour and/or Mitch Daniels. (Curiously, no mention of John Thune.)

Absent some unusual event, however, none of these hopefuls could beat Obama (and the GOP establishment knows it). So who could? The Republicans' best shot may be Jeb Bush (above). Don't be surprised if you see his name mentioned more and more.

Some judge named Chet Traylor... challenging incumbent Senator David Vitter in the Republican primary in Louisiana. My question is, how often do you suppose people get that name wrong?

"Did you say Chet Taylor?"

"No, no. Traylor. With an 'R.' "

"I got the 'R' -- T-A-Y-L-O-R -- Taylor."

"No, it's Traylor -- with two 'R's."

"You said one."

"Never mind."

Time for another apology...

...from Joe Barton?

BP Faces Scrutiny in Lockerbie Case

The oil giant BP faced a new furor on Thursday as it confirmed that it had lobbied the British government to conclude a prisoner-transfer agreement that the Libyan government wanted to secure the release of the only person ever convicted for the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing over Scotland, which killed 270 people, 189 of them Americans.

BP’s statement on Thursday repeated earlier acknowledgments that it had promoted the transfer agreement to protect a $900 million offshore oil-and-gas exploration deal off Libya’s Mediterranean coast. The British justice minister at the time, Jack Straw, admitted after Mr. Megrahi was repatriated and freed that the BP deal was a consideration in the review of his case.

This article in the Times... requires no comment -- only a little added emphasis.

Vatican Revises Abuse Process, but Causes Stir

The Vatican issued revisions to its internal laws on Thursday making it easier to discipline sex-abuser priests, but caused confusion by also stating that ordaining women as priests was as grave an offense as pedophilia.

[Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] said, “The Catholic Church through its long and constant teaching holds that ordination has been, from the beginning, reserved to men, a fact which cannot be changed despite changing times.”

For more than two decades, polls have shown that large majorities of American Catholics favor allowing women to be ordained as priests, despite the lack of support for it among church leaders. The latest poll of American Catholics by The New York Times and CBS News, released in May, showed that 59 percent favored ordaining women, while 33 percent were opposed.

The song of the... Personally, I could do without all that over-enthusiastic fist pumping by the keyboardist (as if he hadn't already played this song a thousand times). I also don't recall ever seeing a lead singer chewing gum before. And as for the drummer's outfit, well...I'll let you decide. But I like the music.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Discouraged by the tone...

...of the Republican Party in the last few years? That's understandable; the GOP has turned into the Crazy Party. Take the Republican primary for governor in Alabama yesterday. The establishment-backed candidate (and loser), Bradley Byrne, had to reassure the voters at one point that he was sufficiently nuts:

An outside group named the True Republican PAC also ran advertisements questioning whether Mr. Byrne believed the entire Bible is literally true (he says he does) and whether he opposes teaching creationism in public schools (he says he supports it).

(I said Alabama, remember?)

Well, take heart; all is not lost. Just yesterday, a Republican from South Carolina (yes, South Carolina), Representative Bob Inglis, was interviewed on "Hardball." Although Inglis (above) was also defeated in a primary recently, his is the voice of reason in the wilderness that is the modern-day Republican Party. (I couldn't help thinking, why isn't this guy a Democrat?)

For example, Inglis thinks that people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are doing the country a disservice by spreading fear and misinformation. He even admitted that there were no "death panels" in the health care bill. (No wonder he lost his primary!) Inglis, instead, believes that:

We need to be talking credible solutions and not about fear. We need not to be scaring people with misinformation. We need to be talking about credible ideas. That's what conservatives are supposed to be doing.

But don't take my word for it; come in off the ledge and watch the video for yourself. It will restore your faith in America.

Oh, and P. S., Inglis is just the sort of David Cameron-like figure that I expect will emerge after the 2012 election to lead the GOP back into the mainstream.

The next time you hear someone say...

..."common sense conservative," think: lacking in expertise.

Bill and Hillary Clinton...

...are looking at a new house in Bedford, New York. The listing agent is named Mady Wengrover.

The song of the... was first recorded by the Chords in 1954 and later covered by the Crew-Cuts, but I like this version from the movie, "Cry-Baby," with Johnny Depp.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This just in from Bloomberg...

..."U.S. Stock Bears Outnumber Bulls for First Time Since April ’09":

The level of bullish sentiment about the U.S. stock market fell below the level of bearishness for the first time since April 2009, according to a survey of newsletter writers.

What happened in March of '09? The market bottomed.

Hey Republicans...

...which is it: extend the Bush tax cuts, or attack the deficit? You can't have it both ways.

The case against paywalls...

...(continued): This morning I noticed a piece about Sarah Palin by Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post. I wanted to read it but the Post has a paywall. Not to worry, I told myself, as it will be reprinted elsewhere if it's any good. Sure enough, I found it later in the Atlantic.

Scott Brown's cooperation...

...on FinReg (and other legislation) may be foreshadowing an end to the Republicans' "Party of No" strategy. Why? Because after the concessions Brown received for his constituents on FinReg, other Republican donors are bound to start asking their representatives in Congress, "Where's mine?"

According to an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, "Finance Bill Close to Passage in Senate":

Cognizant that Democrats needed some Republican support to push the bill into law, the White House agreed to multiple changes in recent months.

To win [Scott] Brown's support, Democrats limited the bill's impact on asset-management and mutual-fund companies, such as Massachusetts-based State Street Corp. and Fidelity Investments, specifically a provision that curbs institutions' ability to make financial bets with their own money. They also scrapped a levy on large banks and hedge funds designed to pay for potential costs incurred by the bill—reopening the bill after it was technically closed to tinkering when Mr. Brown made a stink.

So in other words, by negotiating with the majority party, by participating in the legislative process (like Congress used to do back in the day), Senator Brown was able to help craft the bill and get carve-outs for his constituents. Imagine that!

So how long will it be before other Republican donors start telling their Senators and Representatives to stop all this silly "Party of No" business and get in there and fight for us? Certainly not until after the midterms in November. But if the GOP doesn't take back at least the House, look for Republican donors to start putting pressure on their representatives in Washington.

Happy Bastille Day!

The song of the day was in the movie "Saving Private Ryan."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010 has a regular feature...

...called "Answer This," in which some public figure is asked a bunch of lame questions. Today's subject is Greta Van Susteran, the host of Fox News's "On the Record."

The question that I would have asked Ms. Van Susteran is, are you really a member of a religion that was founded in 1953 by a science fiction writer? Really?

Critics of President Obama...

...are now charging him with being "anti-business" for his efforts to curb the worst abuses of the health insurers, Wall Street, and BP. What will they think of next?

The failings of the health care industry are well-documented and don't need to be gone over again. Besides, health care reform is a settled issue.

As for financial regulatory reform, no less than former Goldman CEO (and Treasury Secretary) Henry Paulson approves of the current bill before Congress:

“We would have loved to have something like this for Lehman Brothers. There’s no doubt about it,” Mr. Paulson declared.

[Paulson] said that he believed that if the government had had the authority to take over Lehman and A.I.G., it would have stopped the panic endangering other firms.

But Mr. Paulson said that even more than the resolution authority, he saw the legislation’s creation of a systemic risk council as perhaps the most important aspect of the bill and crucial to preventing the next crisis. The council would give the various parts of government insight into what was going on elsewhere and the power to shut firms down or change practices that might put the system at risk.

And as for BP, well, is there anyone -- outside of Texas -- who doesn't think BP should pay for the damages it has incurred in the Gulf? Isn't that a no-brainer?

In each of these cases, the industries mentioned acted irresponsibly and need to be more tightly regulated. It's the government's role to protect the public. So what's the problem?

I think it was Claude Pepper...

...who first said, "At my age, I don't even buy green bananas." At age 84 -- when most people are buying 90 day Treasury bills, if anything -- Hugh Hefner is making a bid for the rest of Playboy Enterprises that he doesn't already own:

Analysts were left guessing about Mr. Hefner’s motives. Was he making a deft power play for an undervalued asset? Was he trying to wrest the company he founded more than a half-century ago from a new management regime that he thought was steering his legacy astray?

“It’s almost a surreal development,” said David Bank, a media analyst with RBC Capital Markets. “The simplest explanation is that the company is worth a lot more than it’s trading for, and that Hef can see that; we can’t.”

When does Mr. Hefner expect his investment to pay off, in a year? Two years? Ten years? Shouldn't every trade at his age be a scalp?

The song of the...

The "Science Times" section...

...of the New York Times today is practically bursting with articles that touch on some of my favorite themes. (All emphasis mine.)

"A Scientist Takes On Gravity" highlights one of the main differences between science and religion, i. e., while the eternal "truths" of religion are immutable, science is never settled. It's forever subject to new information:

It’s hard to imagine a more fundamental and ubiquitous aspect of life on the Earth than gravity, from the moment you first took a step and fell on your diapered bottom to the slow terminal sagging of flesh and dreams.

But what if it’s all an illusion, a sort of cosmic frill, or a side effect of something else going on at deeper levels of reality?

So says Erik Verlinde, 48, a respected string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, whose contention that gravity is indeed an illusion has caused a continuing ruckus among physicists, or at least among those who profess to understand it. Reversing the logic of 300 years of science, he argued in a recent paper, titled “On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton,” that gravity is a consequence of the venerable laws of thermodynamics, which describe the behavior of heat and gases.

“For me gravity doesn’t exist,” said Dr. Verlinde, who was recently in the United States to explain himself. Not that he can’t fall down, but Dr. Verlinde is among a number of physicists who say that science has been looking at gravity the wrong way and that there is something more basic, from which gravity “emerges,” the way stock markets emerge from the collective behavior of individual investors or that elasticity emerges from the mechanics of atoms.

The second piece is titled, "Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds," which makes the case for nature over nurture:

For years, mental health professionals were trained to see children as mere products of their environment who were intrinsically good until influenced otherwise; where there is chronic bad behavior, there must be a bad parent behind it.

But while I do not mean to let bad parents off the hook — sadly, there are all too many of them, from malignant to merely apathetic — the fact remains that perfectly decent parents can produce toxic children.

When I say “toxic,” I don’t mean psychopathic — those children who blossom into petty criminals, killers and everything in between. Much has been written about psychopaths in the scientific literature, including their frequent histories of childhood abuse, their early penchant for violating rules and their cruelty toward peers and animals. There are even some interesting studies suggesting that such antisocial behavior can be modified with parental coaching.

We marvel at the resilient child who survives the most toxic parents and home environment and goes on to a life of success. Yet the converse — the notion that some children might be the bad seeds of more or less decent parents — is hard to take.

It goes against the grain not just because it seems like such a grim and pessimistic judgment, but because it violates a prevailing social belief that people have a nearly limitless potential for change and self-improvement. After all, we are the culture of Baby Einstein, the video product that promised — and spectacularly failed — to make geniuses of all our infants.

Not everyone is going to turn out to be brilliant — any more than everyone will turn out nice and loving. And that is not necessarily because of parental failure or an impoverished environment. It is because everyday character traits, like all human behavior, have hard-wired and genetic components that cannot be molded entirely by the best environment, let alone the best psychotherapists.

“The central pitch of any child psychiatrist now is that the illness is often in the child and that the family responses may aggravate the scene but not wholly create it,” said my colleague Dr. Theodore Shapiro, a child psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The era of ‘there are no bad children, only bad parents’ is gone.”

I recall one patient who told me that she had given up trying to have a relationship with her 24-year-old daughter, whose relentless criticism she could no longer bear. “I still love and miss her,” she said sadly. “But I really don’t like her.”

For better or worse, parents have limited power to influence their children. That is why they should not be so fast to take all the blame — or credit — for everything that their children become.

Lastly, there's "Q. Did You Ever Smoke Pot? A. It’s Complicated" about parental honesty:

“That comes up all the time when I’m counseling parents,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the adolescent substance abuse program at Children’s Hospital Boston. “They say, ‘Well, what should I tell her — or not?’ ”The research on this point is limited. But there is evidence to suggest that when parents provide more information and better modeling early on, their children’s risk of substance abuse goes down. And a 2009 study by the Hazelden addiction treatment center in Minnesota found evidence that many teenagers believed that parental honesty about alcohol use was a positive influence.

This is not to mention the more important benefit that comes from being honest, that of maintaining credibility, not just with your kids, but in all your relationships.

There are two stories in the Times today...

...about the sexual abuse of children. Am I crazy, or do these both belong in the "Up is Down, Black is White" file? (All emphasis mine.)

The first is "Abuse Took Years to Ignite Belgian Clergy Inquiry":

The first resignation of a European bishop for abusing a child relative came unexpectedly on April 23. At 73, the Bruges bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, Belgium’s longest-serving prelate, tersely announced his retirement and acknowledged molesting “a boy in my close entourage.”

The Vatican accepted the bishop’s resignation as the scandal erupted in April but said nothing about the case until the Belgian police raided church properties in late June, an act that Pope Benedict XVI called “deplorable.”

Bishop Vangheluwe, who retreated to a Trappist monastery, remains under investigation by the Belgian authorities in perhaps another child sexual abuse case and accusations that he concealed such complaints lodged against others.

The second piece is titled, "Swiss Reject U.S. Request to Extradite Polanski":

Roman Polanski’s repeated claims that there was misconduct at his trial for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 ran into a brick wall in American courts. But they were enough apparently to convince Swiss authorities that he should walk free.

Switzerland announced Monday that it would not extradite Mr. Polanski, a famous film director, to the United States in part because of fresh doubts over the conduct of the judge in his original trial.

“He’s a free man,” the Swiss justice minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, said at a news conference on Monday.

Mr. Polanski fled the United States in 1978 after he had pleaded guilty to one count of having unlawful sex with a minor and spent 42 days in psychiatric evaluation in Chino State Prison.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The song of the...

I just watched Woody Allen's...

..."The Purple Rose of Cairo" again. It's really clever. I especially like the scene when Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) visits the bordello -- priceless! Check it out sometime.