Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Food For Serious Thought On 'Inequality', Part 1

Good stuff from Heritage:

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama placed economic inequality center stage.  He framed this issue in terms of fairness or justice to the poor.  If our goal is to help people escape poverty, though, we need to ask some more urgent and personal questions.

A debate about the "gap" between rich and poor isn't a debate directly about people—it's about, well, a gap.  Focusing on the gap between individuals distracts us from focusing on poor individuals themselves.  Rather than pretending that economic inequality is the main problem, we need to do better at both targeting real injustice and helping all citizens move up the economic ladder.

As I argue in the current issue of National Affairs, reframing this debate will require questioning some basic assumptions about poverty, equality, and justice.  For example, it means challenging the common notion that "inequality per se is inherently unjust, and therefore that the gap between rich and poor is as well.  That perceived injustice in turn spurs support for redistributionist policies that are intended to make levels of prosperity more equal across society."

Inequality as such is not evidence of injustice.  It's too simplistic to reduce the concept of justice to mere equality without asking "equal in terms of what?"

America's founders knew that, while human beings are equal in some key respects, they're not equal in every respect.  Every human life, by virtue of being human, is equal in dignity and worth.  Thus, when it comes to our standing before God and the law, and the value of individual lives, justice demands equal treatment of all.

In most other contexts, however, justice calls for treating different people differently.  "The natural rights and duties of man belong equally to all," wrote James Wilson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an original justice of the Supreme Court.  But Wilson noted, "When we say, that all men are equal, we mean not to apply this equality to their virtues,             their talents, their dispositions, or their acquirements.  In all these respects, there is … great inequality among men."

Since all of us possess equal dignity and an equal claim to life, every person should have access to at least the basic resources required to sustain life in his society.  Responsibility for establishing a baseline of dignity lies with a variety of social institutions—including families, churches and businesses as well as government.  Above this threshold, a just government also has an obligation to protect people's freedom to exercise their differing abilities and faculties, and also to protect the property they accumulate as a result — even if these holdings vary widely.

A simple but overlooked principle sums this up: Where people are equal, it is just to treat them the same; where they are different, it is unjust to treat them the same.

The attempt to provide material equality to all citizens through government redistribution doesn't heed this principle.  The redistributionist ethic in question actually risks doing injustice by failing to take account of key differences among individuals and depriving them of the rewards of their successes.

In part 2 of this post, I'll show why the redistributionist approach also wrongly assumes that the key problem is the economic gap itself—that is, that unequal wealth as such causes hardship for the poor.

To help the poor we should focus on them directly, targeting not the gap that lies between them and the rich but the true causes of their poverty and the effective paths to their flourishing.

So much of the political discourse right now relies on refusing to accept the premise pushed out by the liberal establishment and political class.  We must absolutely stand firm and refuse to let issue after issue be defined purely on the terms of liberals, instead returning boldly and confidently to the principles set out by the Founders of this great nation.  Ultimately, that's the key to restoring America to the most free and prosperous nation in history.

Stay tuned for the second part...I suspect it will be equally as thoughtful and engaging.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Global Warming Cooling Is Going To Get Us!

At what point can we safely relegate global warming nutcases to the looney bin of history?  As more and more 'real scientists' come out against the idea that humanity is causing the plant to heat up -- an idea largely irrelevant because the planet is no longer heating up -- it becomes a bigger and bigger waste of time and resources to deal with.  A recent study was released showing that not only has there not been any global warming for the last 15 years, but that now we're in danger of global cooling!  Really?  A complete and total 180 turnaround in what humanity is doing to the planet?  How do these people have any credibility anymore?  Oddly enough, the global cooling thing was a big crisis back in the 1970s...funny how the cycles of warming and cooling are eerily reminiscent of normal, typical, planetary cycles, don't you think?  To put a point on the waste occurring due to these erroneous policies, nothing could make the case more than the fact that so-called green energy companies continue to fail and go bankrupt.

After taking untold amounts of taxpayer dollars, of course.

But that's not the worst of it.  The EPA -- run by Obama's people, in conjunction with Obama himself -- is still bludgeoning the American economy with asinine policies in the name of global warming.  They're declaring themselves to have control of all water everywhere using the Clean Water Act.  This would allow the government to control everywhere there was standing water, including the puddles in your front yard.  They're declaring themselves to have control over the air via the CO2 in it while ignoring vast amounts of empirical data and common sense.  By claiming these things, the EPA is starting to enact policies supposedly aimed at saving the planet (from the non-existent threat of global warming that is now global cooling), but the dirty little secret is that they are simply trying to solidify control over you, me, and every other American.  And regardless of whether or not they succeed in gaining this control, they're doing vast amounts of damage to America along the way.

They're shutting down coal power plants (remember, coal provides over half of all the electricity throughout America), preventing hundreds of thousands of potential jobs in land-based oil drilling as well as off-shore.  Not only is this harming the economy in terms of job prevention, but it all adds up to lower supply which means higher costs for everyone at the pump, as well as continued increase in dependence on foreign sources of energy.  Bad news all around.  Plus, the EPA has been caught ignoring concerns and evidence that their policies are detrimentally affecting America.

Global warming is a hoax.  It has been proven so over the last couple of years, both based on the empirical evidence and on the fact that many of the scientists pushing it as a political policy have been caught lying, modifying data, and ignoring data as necessary in order to prop up their claims.  The swing back to global cooling should be the final nail in the coffin that humanity has little impact on the climate of this planet.  The fact that these environmentalist wackos are doing damage to the economy and real people's lives in the name of this hoax is unconscionable, and should no longer be tolerated.  These people and their ideas need to be rejected, and we need to get back to the business of safe, plentiful, inexpensive energy sources right here at home (of which there are virtually unlimited amounts), more good paying jobs in the energy industry, and an outright rejection of radical Leftist liberal policies and policy-makers like Obama and his EPA.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How To Defeat The American Military

It's simple:

On Thursday, the Pentagon will begin detailing its plans to cut $500 billion from the military's budget over the next decade. The reason, insists President Barack Obama, is that "since 9/11, our defense budget grew at an extraordinary pace." That's true in top-line numbers—but it's anything but true when examined strategically.

Between budget cuts, cost overruns, overweight bureaucracy, ever-growing red tape, and changing requirements, the arsenal of democracy has become a bureaucratic nightmare. In spite of itself, our military cannot build new programs anymore. Old programs might win wars, but with much higher human and financial costs.

After 9/11, defense budgets grew because they had to. The U.S. military's budget, size and force structure had been too deeply cut in the 1990s, after the anticipated post-Soviet "peace dividend" failed to materialize. So the Pentagon began quickly and inefficiently dumping dollars into the military to fund the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This made budgets grow steadily, but the money did little to increase cutting-edge capabilities for the future. Our war-related investments came at the expense of tomorrow's military capabilities. As a new American Enterprise Institute study concludes, the military over the past decade didn't modernize but rather embraced the equivalent of buying new apps for its old, clunky cellphone.

From 2000-2010, the Air Force spent $38 billion on 220 fighters—as compared to $68 billion for 2,063 fighters from 1981-1990. Air Force leaders wanted 750 F-22s to replace their F-15s, but successive administrations cut that number—to 648, then 438, 339, 270 and finally 187—before President Obama terminated production. That wasn't a coherent acquisition strategy but budget-driven politics, plain and simple.

The Navy fared little better than the Air Force in terms of true modernization over the past decade. Sure, there are three Navy programs touted as "new"—the Virginia-class attack submarine, the DDG-51 destroyer and the F/A-18 Hornet. Problem is, those programs are already the Pentagon's "Plan B."

The Virginia-class sub was designed as a cheaper alternative to the truly dominant Seawolf-class attack submarine (and the Navy has bought less than half of the Virginia class, with the majority of funding still to come). The DDG-51 destroyer was a fall-back alternative to the now-canceled DDG-1000. And the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornets are only stopgap purchases until the Navy can put the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter on its carrier decks. Thus the Navy's recent spending has gone to programs that are increasingly out of date and ill-prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The Marine Corps and Army fared better on modernization over the last decade. Though the Marine Corps saw its Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle canceled under President Obama, it successfully completed most of its ambitious amphibious docking platform.

The Army, meanwhile, completed several programs over the past decade, buying older platforms like the Abrams tank and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, as well as the newer Stryker and even the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicles. The problem is that all these vehicles are effective in land-based operations but would probably sit out during any conflict in the Western Pacific. And few of them have so-called next-generation capabilities—meaning brand-new platforms and technologies, not simply upgrades to existing tools. Almost every truly next-generation Army program has been canceled.

The common denominator among the services since 2001 is that their investment choices were geared toward lower-end conflict. Weapons systems designed for high-end future warfare suffered as a result (notwithstanding the evolving capabilities of drones over the past decade).

Compounding the problem is the reality that the services seem to be getting worse at acquiring high-tech systems and have used upgraded legacy programs as temporary band-aids. While it's often important to get weapons out the door during a war, the unmistakable reality is that the momentum for innovative research and development seems nonexistent across the U.S. military.

What the Obama Pentagon will lay out this week is the final nail in the coffin of our national contract with our all-volunteer military—that if they fight, they'll have the very best to win. It marks the beginning of the end of America's unquestioned international military dominance. Our soldiers will increasingly go into combat with aged equipment, lacking assurance that they'll prevail against any enemy.

So how do you defeat the American military?  From the inside, by electing people like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and letting them implement their preferred policies.  I've actually had this post ready to go for a couple of days, so now we can add the formal plan details:

The result is a slashed and burned military that woefully lacks the forces it needs to meet America's security challenges on a global scale.

On the ground, in the sea, and in the air, American forces will shrink drastically — the Army will shrink by 72,000 people, the active Marine Corps will be reduced by 20,000, the Air Force will see six tactical fighter squadrons de-established while an additional training fighter squadron will be eliminated, the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter procurement will be slowed, and the Navy will retire seven cruisers and two amphibious ships at an early juncture while delaying the procurements of new ships. To put these cuts in context, we are returning to ground forces levels we had under President Bill Clinton when the Army strained and scrambled to execute smaller missions like Kosovo and Bosnia–let alone significant ground force operations.

The worst news of all is that it's not going to get better:

Unfortunately, these cuts are just the beginning. Under the Budget Control Act that Congress passed last summer, the military will face automatic budget cuts amounting to as much as $600 billion in addition to those that Panetta laid out yesterday. As Spring explains, the only way to avoid these automatic cuts is for the Budget Control Act to be amended or repealed — a measure that President Obama has said he would veto.

So, once again we find ourselves in a situation where as long as the Democrats are in charge, America is weakened.  Once again, what's good for America isn't good for the Democrat party.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

SOTU: Commentary On The Socialist-In-Chief's Speech

So, we've looked at how the Socialist-In-Chief both copied last year's speech and contradicted himself, but now let's talk about the substance that was there.  Personally, I like this from Patriot Post:
To sum up the SOTU: "I went ... I know ... My ... My ... I took office ... I'm president ... I will work ... I intend ... I will oppose ... I want to speak ... I took office ... I refused ... told me ... My message ... Send me ... I'll sign ... I set ... I signed ... I will go ... I will not stand ... It's not fair ... I'm announcing ... I promise you ... I also hear ... I want ... Join me ... My administration ... I want to cut ... I call on ... I spoke ... let me put ... I believe ... my administration ... I took office ... I will sign ... I'm directing ... my administration ... I'm requiring ... I will not walk away ... I will not walk away ... I will not cede ... I will ... I'm directing ... I'm proud ... Send me ... I will sign ... I'm sending ... I've approved ... my presidency ... I've ordered ... I guess ... I'm confident ... I will not back down ... I will not back down ... I will not go back ... I will not go back ... I'm asking ... fair play ... So do I ... I told ... I'm prepared ... fair share ... my fair share ... I get tax breaks I don't need ... I recognize ... I bet ... I've talked ... Send me a bill ... I will sign ... I ask the Senate ... I've asked ... I'm a Democrat ... I believe ... my education reform ... I will keep taking ... I can do ... I have no doubt ... I will take ... I'm president ... I intend ... I have proposed ... I have already ... I'm proposing ... brings me ... my proudest ... I sat ... I look at ... I'm reminded." --BO
As amusing as that summary is, there is some good analysis there, too:
There was not ONE SINGLE free-market economic remedy mentioned in Obama's entire teleprompted rhetoric last night -- every "solution" was government engineering by way of intervention, regulation or redistribution. Obama ended his recitation asserting, "We should all want a smarter more effective government." Indeed, on this we should all agree, and to that end, work tirelessly to defeat Obama and his socialist regime.
A longer article is forthcoming, and I'll post the best bits when it's out.  For now, here is a roundup of other pundits, and it's all good stuff:
"If you want a good distillation of this president's wrongheaded view of the United States of America, look no further than this rhetorical bit from the end of tonight's State of the Union address: 'No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other's backs.' Unity is central to American identity, but not the way Obama envisions it. E pluribus unum is not Latin for, 'Hey, bro, let's invest in some infrastructure together.' The notion that this nation is one big team that acts collectively toward shared goals set by the state would be completely foreign to the men who founded it. But that is Obama's concept of America." --columnist Andrew Cline

"Has Barack Obama learned nothing in three years? Last night, during his State of the Union address, he promised 'a blueprint for an economy.' But economies are crushed by blueprints. An economy is really nothing more than people participating in an unfathomably complex spontaneous network of exchanges aimed at improving their material circumstances. It can't even be diagrammed, much less planned. And any attempt at it will come to grief. Politicians like Obama believe they are the best judges of how we should conduct our lives. Of course a word like 'blueprint' would occur to the president. He, like most who want his job, aspires to be the architect of a new society. But we who love our lives and our freedom say: No, thanks. We need no social architect. We need liberty under law. That's it." --columnist John Stossel

"If you wonder why unemployment is so high in the U.S., check out the brain-dead economics in the SOTU address. People with high incomes pay lower taxes because an optimal tax policy taxes consumption not income. While our code is not optimal, it tilts in that direction. I doubt that Warren Buffett understands that the 'Buffett Rule' is economically illiterate, and marks him for all of history, after posterity forgets his billions, as an ignorant rube who pushed the U.S. toward inefficient tax policy. I doubt that President Obama understands that the academic community that previously embraced him will have a hard time maintaining the fiction that he is a significant intellectual when he decides to jettison decades of academic literature in favor of a populist Hail Mary pass that is indefensible." --American Enterprise Institute's Kevin Hassett

"By many measures, Barack Obama has left the State of the Union in tatters, but the liberal media, led by the highly rated Big Three network (ABC, CBS, NBC) news shows, have attempted to cover up those holes in the Union by mostly ignoring the Obama administration's greatest failings. From record numbers of people on food stamps, to the administration's support of failed energy companies while rejecting an oil pipeline that would result in thousands of jobs, the Big Three networks haven't told their viewers the full story of Obama's pathetic track record." --Media Research Center's Geoffrey Dickens

Erick Erickson at RedState puts the finest point on it that I have seen:
There need not be 7000 words, the length of the President’s speech, to break it down for you.

John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Barack Obama’s State of the Union is all about letting you know that government is going to do everything for you and when it can’t keep its promises, it will take from the successful and give to you.
And that encapsulates it, really.  It was, first and foremost, a campaign speech to his own base.  After all, analysis shows it was a speech geared toward the 8th grade reading level.

SOTU: The Socialist-In-Chief Contradicts Himself

Next up we have a host of examples of where the Socialist-In-Chief directly contradicts himself:

Heritage, part 1
“America is back,” proclaimed the President, who had just boasted of his ignominious troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq. “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

But wait. Wasn’t it President Obama who came into office touting a more “humble” American foreign policy, who prided himself on “leading from behind in the Middle East,” and who has been taken to the cleaners by Russian arms-control negotiators? What’s more, President Obama, who once publicly doubted America’s claims to exceptionalism, declared in his speech tonight that America “remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs—and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way.”

In keeping with the surreal quality of these claims, the President also boasted that his proposed draconian cuts in U.S. military spending “ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget.” What the President’s proposal does, of course, is undermine the finest military in the world rather than maintain it.
Heritage, part 2
Claim: “It’s not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.”

Fact: Obama has targeted manufacturers with punitive tax hikes.

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, it is, on average, 20 percent more expensive to do business in the United States than it is abroad. The reasons: “our policies on taxes, energy, tort, and trade.” American policies cause that imbalance, not subsidies by other countries.

And while Obama touted manufacturing on numerous occasions during his speech, he has backed policies that would deal body blows to American manufacturing. His incessant refrain to raise taxes on high-income individuals by allowing the Bush tax rates to expire would also ensnare more than 70 percent of manufacturers, according to NAM. “President Obama’s call for tax increases on small businesses, individuals and investors is a poison pill for our economy,” noted NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons.

Claim: “[M]y administration has put more boots on the border than ever before.”

Fact: The vast majority of that increase was proposed and implemented before Obama took office.

Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in 2004, which called for adding at least 2,000 border patrol agents per year. President Bush followed up by sending another 6,000 agents to the border. When that mandate was fulfilled, there were 20,119 active border patrol agents. As of last summer, there were 20,700.

Claim: “We’re also making it easier for American businesses to sell products all over the world.  Two years ago, I set a goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years.  With the bipartisan trade agreements we signed into law, we’re on track to meet that goal ahead of schedule.”

Fact: Obama chose to delay seeking congressional approval of those agreements for more than two years.

Congress waited for the president to send the free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. He “call[ed] on Congress to pass them without delay,” but it was his administration that was delaying consideration of the measures while it worked to shore up political support and tie stimulus-like spending programs to the agreements.

Claim: “American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.”

Fact: No thanks to Obama.

The president made a similar claim while informing Americans that he would forego the economic windfalls of the Keystone XL pipeline. He did not mention, of course, that the vast majority of that production has occurred on private lands.

On federal land, over which the president has control, oil and gas production is down by 40% under Obama. He has actively pursued policies that limit oil and gas exploration on federal land. There were fewer onshore leases in 2010 than in any year since 1984. The Obama administration held only a single offshore lease sale in 2011.

Claim: “[W]e don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”

Fact: Obama just rejected both.

The president killed TransCanada’s application for the Keystone XL pipeline due, he claimed, to insufficient information on its environmental impact. But Obama’s own State Department had already concluded that the pipeline posed “limited adverse environmental impacts during both construction and operation.”

The Keystone XL pipeline would have been an economic windfall, and an environmentally sound project. So the president is correct that we don’t have to choose between a strong economy and environmental stewardship. He seems intent on choosing neither.

Claim: “I ask the Senate to pass a simple rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.”

Fact: The president has already demonstrated his complete lack of respect for the separation of powers.

After making his four illegal recess appointments to federal office, the president now wants to impose a timeline on the Senate’s advice and consent duties. And while it’s heartening that he will at least pay lip service to those duties, Obama’s insistence that he will pursue his agenda “with or without this Congress” suggests he is ready and willing to yet again spurn the Constitution he is sworn to uphold.

Claim: “Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?  Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else – like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans?  Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.”

Fact: Entitlements drive our national debt, not discretionary spending or tax rates.

This false dichotomy underscores one of the largest omissions of the State of the Union speech. It is not tax cuts that threaten the “investments” the president describes; it is entitlement spending, especially Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. In less than 10 years, as Heritage’s Patrick Louis Knudsen noted last night, total entitlement spending will cost almost as much as the entire federal budget today, crowding out other programs (such as national defense).

Reforming entitlements would eliminate the need for either cuts to Obama’s favorite federal programs or ruinous tax hikes. But the president neglected to discuss entitlement reform in the State of the Union.

As I've said before, you know it's a bad speech when even the AP doesn't swallow it:

OBAMA: "We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that's never been more promising."

THE FACTS: This is at least Obama's third run at stripping subsidies from the oil industry. Back when fellow Democrats formed the House and Senate majorities, he sought $36.5 billion in tax increases on oil and gas companies over the next decade, but Congress largely ignored the request. He called again to end such tax breaks in last year's State of the Union speech. And he's now doing it again, despite facing a wall of opposition from Republicans who want to spur domestic oil and gas production and oppose tax increases generally.
OBAMA: "Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that's built to last - an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values."

THE FACTS: Economists do see manufacturing growth as a necessary component of any U.S. recovery. U.S. manufacturing output climbed 0.9 percent in December, the biggest gain since December 2010. Yet Obama's apparent vision of a nation once again propelled by manufacturing - a vision shared by many Republicans - may already have slipped into the past.

Over generations, the economy has become ever more driven by services; not since 1975 has the U.S. had a surplus in merchandise trade, which covers trade in goods, including manufactured and farm goods. About 90 percent of American workers are employed in the service sector, a profound shift in the nature of the workforce over many decades.

The overall trade deficit through the first 11 months of 2011 ran at an annual rate of nearly $600 billion, up almost 12 percent from the year before.
OBAMA: "Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households."

THE FACTS: It's true that a minority of millionaires pay a lower tax rate than some lower-income people. On average, though, wealthy people pay taxes at a much higher rate than middle-income taxpayers.

Obama's claim comes from a Congressional Research Service report that compared federal taxes paid by people making less than $100,000 with those paid by people making more than $1 million. About 10 percent of families with incomes under $100,000 paid more than 26.5 percent in federal income, payroll and corporate taxes. And about a quarter of millionaire taxpayers paid a rate lower than that.
Only a Leftist liberal like Barack Obama can both copy and contradict himself so extraordinarily in the same speech as you've just seen.  But, as the saying goes, facts are stubborn things:

SOTU: The Socialist-In-Chief Copies Himself

Barack Obama offered the annual State of the Union speech Tuesday night (the official transcript can be found here).  I wasn't able to watch it myself, but from what I've read about it...it sucked.  It was boring and recycled.  And that brings us to the first highlight of the Socialist-In-Chief's speech: it was the same speech as last year, and parts of it were used even further back than that.  Observe:

Can there be any better indicator that Barack Obama has no legitimate ideas to actually improve the economy, enable a strong national defense, and build a better America?

On the bright side, if it's the same speech as last year, at least then he doesn't need the teleprompter quite so much.

(Uh, well, actually, he does.  Never mind that last part...)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Speaking Of Fiscal Leadership

Say what you want about him, Mitt Romney puts his money where his mouth is:

Romney charitable contributions Tax year    Taxable income          Charitable donations Donations as % of income
2010           $21.7 million                 $2.98 million                13.73%
2011 (est)   $20.9 million                $4 million                     19.14%

And how about Barack Obama, the guy who is constantly nagging the rest of us to dig a little deeper, share the burden of sacrifice, and spread the wealth around?

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife Michelle gave $10,772 of the $1.2 million they earned from 2000 through 2004 to charities, or less than 1 percent, according to tax returns for those years released today by his campaign.

That's not much sharing of the sacrifice, nor spreading of the wealth, Mr. President!  Of course, we can see plainly from both his actions and his words that Obama only means sharing of other people's sacrifice, and spreading of other people's wealth around.  Not his.  It's the liberal reality: two sets of rules, one for them and one for everyone else.  Do as I say, not as I do...and don't point out that I'm demanding you do as I say but not as I do, either.

But the Obama's are doing better than VP Joe Biden, who gave just $369 per year to charity over the course of the past decade or so.  Nice.

Another bit of economic news that speaks to spreading (other people's) wealth around:
So far, during the presidency of Barack Obama, the price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped 83 percent, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 
During the same period, the price of ground beef has gone up 24 percent and price of bacon has gone up 22 percent.
Whole wheat bread prices from January 2009 to December 2011 increased about five percent (5.02 percent) from $1.97 to $2.07.
Ice cream prices, for a half-gallon, were $4.44 in January 2009 and $5.25 in December 2011, an increase of 19.1 percent.

Hm, it's a good thing that none of these products are important to daily living for most Americans.  Oh, wait...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

1,000 Days

Of responsible fiscal leadership...

...or something.

More Visuals

Technically, these are humorous...but when the chuckle is immediately followed by a deepened sense of foreboding and wistfulness, I'm not sure how much humor can really be found.  Still, they're worth posting, if nothing else but to prove a point.

Yes, the Obama family did, in fact, go to Disney World recently; they did, in fact, close down Main Street there; they did, in fact, do all this while continuing to claim that Americans need to participate in common sacrifice for the greater good...and claiming to help businesses across the nation.  No irony here, folks.

Yes, Barack Obama did, in fact, sing to his guests at a recent White House party...while continuing to claim that Americans need to participate in common sacrifice for the greater good, and claiming to protect ears all across the nation.

No explanation needed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Useful Information In Graph Form

My better half sent me a forward yesterday that made me laugh, so I had to post a few pictures from it.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2012

A More Complete Semi-Victory...?

Now that the political dust has settled a bit, it appears that the victory over SOPA/PIPA might have been just a bit more complete than a simple delay.

According to Cnet, House Rep. Lamar Smith—aka the most vocal proponent of the proposedSOPA legislation—just announced that the House will put the bill on hold. The move follows tuesdays SOPA blackout protest and the Senate's decision to postpone their vote on the corresponding PIPA bill.

Rep. Smith issued an official statement, saying that he has "heard from the critics" and that it's "clear that we need to revisit the approach" with regard to SOPA.

In response to tuesday's online blackout in protest of the proposed SOPA and PIPA bills floating around congress, Senate leader Harry Reid has opted to postpone the vote on the bill, believing there's a way to first find compromise between all parties.

Here's a bit more info on the Senate side that's a little more enlightening:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will postpone a cloture vote on a controversial bill to crack down on foreign websites that use pirated content. His move comes after a public campaign by websites concerned the bill would expose them to lawsuits turned once bipartisan support for the measure to strong opposition in both parties.

"In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday's vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act," Reid said in a statement. …

The vote was put off despite Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy's continued efforts to cut a deal on an amendment that addressed critics' concerns. Reid did not say when the bill may come up again.

Hot Air comments:

That's about as clear a retreat as one will see.  It's an admission that PIPA and its companion House bill SOPA have become so toxic that they can't be amended into acceptability. In order to proceed on a bill to act in protection of copyright and intellectual property, Congress will have to start from scratch, with a process that doesn't give the federal government plenary powers to seize internet traffic without the proper run of due process.

Reid could try to keep PIPA off the agenda for a few weeks and try again later, with some amendments, but as it gets close to the election, the worse the stink will be.

Again, this issue is more than likely to come up again at some point.  The good news is that there is plenty of active opposition to fight it when necessary.

iPhone Vs. Android

In case you were wondering where things really stand between the iPhone and Android, this should clear things up:

The Nielsen Company has released their latest set of numbers and things are looking great for Android once again. According to the figures as of Q42011 46.3 percent of all smartphone owners surveyed were making use of Android while Apple was close behind with 30 percent. 
Feature phones were the biggest losers here though, 46 percent of US mobile consumers chose using a smartphone over a feature phone with 60 percent of those who bought a new device in the past three months -- going with a smartphone vs. a feature phone at the time of purchase.

This little Android thing has actually become king of the smartphone universe in just a couple of years.  How 'bout them apples, hm?

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Okay, just had to post this real quick.

You know the SOPA/PIPA bills that are causing so much controversy in Congress right now?  It's been driven by the RIAA and the MPAA and the Senators and Congressmen who have taken big money in donations from them (a former Senator runs one of them, by the way), and purely to protect their own interests.  Well, opponents said that it would not only cause damage to the U.S.'s claim to Internet control, but that it could also easily lead to government censorship with little or no evidence, just because they feel like taking out a website.  For any reason, including political gamesmanship.

Well, guess what?  They just confirmed opponents' predictions: the Feds took out MegaUpload, accusing them of some $500 million in piracy revenues.

Before we get to the response, it should be noted that MegaUpload is likely the holding ground for a pretty large amount of pirated music, movies, software, and so on.  Anytime you offer free online storage, that's going to happen.  But, MegaUpload has removed any confirmed pirated intellectual property that has been brought to its attention, they aren't searchable (meaning, you can just go there, search for your favorite movie title, and download it illegally - you have to have the exact link in order to access anything on the site), and the point of the site is to offer free online storage.  I've used it myself any number of times when downloading new fun stuff for my phone.  It's a perfectly legitimate site, and in my humble opinion, they've taken as many cautions as necessary to prevent outright piracy.

But now they're toast.  If you go to their site, it's a smoking hole at the moment.

Now for the really interesting part.  Remember Anonymous?  You know, that hacker group that went on a tear a few months ago, took down Sony for several days, and crashed the CIA's website?  Well, let's just say they weren't pleased by the Feds' actions, so they crashed the RIAA's website.

And the MPAA's website.

And Universal Music Group's website.

And the U.S. Copyright Office's website.

And the BMI record label website.

And the French copyright authority's website.

And the Department of Justice's website.

And the FBI's website.

I suspect they're not done yet.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not endorsing illegal file sharing, piracy, or hacking.  However, I do think the last couple of days have demonstrated beyond doubt that once again Congress really doesn't have a clue what it's doing, nor who it's dealing with.  If it's cyberwar they want, it's cyberwar they'll get.

The Power Of The People

Yesterday was a good opening salvo:

Wednesday's online protests against two online antipiracy billscurrently before Congress are being hailed as a success after sites such as BoingBoing, Reddit and Wikipedia temporarily shut down to oppose the Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA) Acts. As a result, more than 162 million people saw the protest message on Wikipedia, 18 senators have backed away from the proposed legislation, and 4.5 million people signed a petition against the acts.

The New York Times called Wednesday's online activism, that also included messages of protest from Craigslist, Google and Mozilla, "a political coming of age for the tech industry." ...

Now that the lights are back on at Wikipedia, BoingBoing is publishing, and Reddit users are once again commenting on cute puppy pictures here's a look at the fallout from Wednesday's protests and where the debate goes from here.

-4.5 million people signed Google's anti-SOPA/PIPA petition, according to the Los Angeles Times

-25 Senators now oppose PIPA (the Senate version of SOPA), according toOpenCongress

-Twitter saw more than 2.4 million SOPA-related tweets between midnight and 4 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday

-Two SOPA co-sponsors and several others dropped support for the House bill

-More than 8 million people used Wikipedia's search tool to look up their elected representatives' contact information

-News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch accused "the blogosphere" of "terrorizing many senators and congressmen who previously committed" to SOPA and PIPA.

-Conservative publication The National Review called on Congress to dump SOPA

An alternate bill has been introduced in the House, too, supposedly one that takes a much more reasoned approach to balancing the need to crack down on genuine privacy while still preventing the kind of abuse that government censorship will inevitably produce.

As is depressingly normal with Congress, however, the fight is only beginning.  The first actual vote is on January 24th, so feel free to continue hammering away at your representatives to get them to oppose these terrible bills.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


A number of prominent websites are trying to push the SOPA/PIPA laws into the non-political and non-geek consciousness.  Big players like Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, Mozilla, Gizmodo, and many, many others are either shutting down their sites or are in some noticeable way drawing attention to the issue today, and encouraging users to contact Congress in opposition to the bills.  With the profligate use of the Internet on a daily basis by millions of Americans, it looks like this effort is having some strong effect:

SOPA Outrage Is Breaking the Senate's Websites

It looks like many of you really don't like thisSOPA thing! And best of all, you're actually doingsomething about it: US Senate contact pages are being hammered so hard, they're crashing.

Mark Begich (D - AK)? His site's down completely. Barbara Boxer (D - CA)? Her is loading like it's hosted on a Palm Pilot. And yes, Patrick Leahy (D - VT), you who co-sponsored PIPA—your site is all the way down. Dead. Gone.

This might make it harder for the SOPA opposition to voice its dissent, but it also sends a message louder than any one email. But don't stop trying—keep the hammers hammering.

Due to this public outrage, several Senators have withdrawn their support, and some Reps have pulled back in the House, as well.  Let's be clear - this isn't a Republican or Democrat issue!  This Internet censorship bill has support from both sides of the aisle in Congress (even some normally reliable conservatives).  It also has public opposition from voters and citizens of all political affiliations.  The bottom line is that the American public is united in opposition to the whole of Congress, and that's an exceedingly rare thing.  The key is to direct this opposition into action, so pick up the phone and send an email.

No, I mean it: literally, you should pick up the phone and call your elected representatives RIGHT NOW.  If you don't have the numbers, go to Wikipedia and plug in your zip code and they'll give you not only the phone numbers of your reps, but also what you should say.  If the lines are busy, keep trying.  While you're trying, send an email (you can find your Senators' contact pages here, and your Representative's contact page here).

Call and email...if you can't get through, keep trying until you do.  The busier the phones are, the more likely it is that these destructive bills will be killed.  I believe that RedState is keeping tabs on who bails (and who doesn't) throughout the day, so if you want to know which side your own reps are on, check them out here.

Keep it up!

For more background info on  SOPA/PIPA, check out my previous posts:


Today's the day...

What Is SOPA?

If you hadn't heard of SOPA before, you probably have by now: Some of the internet's most influential sites—Reddit and Wikipedia among them—are going dark to protest the much-maligned anti-piracy bill. But other than being a very bad thing, what is SOPA? And what will it mean for you if it passes?

SOPA is an anti-piracy bill working its way through Congress...

House Judiciary Committee Chair and Texas Republican Lamar Smith, along with 12 co-sponsors, introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act on October 26th of last year. Debate on H.R. 3261, as it's formally known, has consisted of one hearing on November 16th and a "mark-up period" on December 15th, which was designed to make the bill more agreeable to both parties. Its counterpart in the Senate is the Protect IP Act (S. 968). Also known by it's cuter-but-still-deadly name: PIPA. There will likely be a vote on PIPA next Wednesday; SOPA discussions had been placed on hold but will resume in February of this year.

...that would grant content creators extraordinary power over the internet...

The beating heart of SOPA is the ability of intellectual property owners (read: movie studios and record labels) to effectively pull the plug on foreign sites against whom they have a copyright claim. If Warner Bros., for example, says that a site in Italy is torrenting a copy of The Dark Knight, the studio could demand that Google remove that site from its search results, that PayPal no longer accept payments to or from that site, that ad services pull all ads and finances from it, and—most dangerously—that the site's ISP prevent people from even going there.

...which would go almost comedically unchecked...

Perhaps the most galling thing about SOPA in its original construction is that it let IP owners take these actions without a single court appearance or judicial sign-off. All it required was a single letter claiming a "good faith belief" that the target site has infringed on its content. Once Google or PayPal or whoever received the quarantine notice, they would have five days to either abide or to challenge the claim in court. Rights holders still have the power to request that kind of blockade, but in the most recent version of the bill the five day window has softened, and companies now would need the court's permission.
The language in SOPA implies that it's aimed squarely at foreign offenders; that's why it focuses on cutting off sources of funding and traffic (generally US-based) rather than directly attacking a targeted site (which is outside of US legal jurisdiction) directly. But that's just part of it.

...to the point of potentially creating an "Internet Blacklist"...

Here's the other thing: Payment processors or content providers like Visa or YouTube don't even need a letter shut off a site's resources. The bill's "vigilante" provision gives broad immunity to any provider who proactively shutters sites it considers to be infringers. Which means the MPAA just needs to publicize one list of infringing sites to get those sites blacklisted from the internet.
Potential for abuse is rampant. As Public Knowledge points out, Google could easily take it upon itself to delist every viral video site on the internet with a "good faith belief" that they're hosting copyrighted material. Leaving YouTube as the only major video portal. Comcast (an ISP) owns NBC (a content provider). Think they might have an interest in shuttering some rival domains? Under SOPA, they can do it without even asking for permission.

...while exacting a huge cost from nearly every site you use daily...

SOPA also includes an "anti-circumvention" clause, which holds that telling people how to work around SOPA is nearly as bad as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. And if Google, Twitter, Wordpress, Facebook, etc. let it stand? They face a government "enjoinment." They could and would be shut down.
The resources it would take to self-police are monumental for established companies, and unattainable for start-ups. SOPA would censor every online social outlet you have, and prevent new ones from emerging.

...and potentially disappearing your entire digital life...

The party line on SOPA is that it only affects seedy off-shore torrent sites. That's false. As the big legal brains at Bricoleur point out, the potential collateral damage is huge. And it's you. Because while Facebook and Twitter have the financial wherewithal to stave off anti-circumvention shut down notices, the smaller sites you use to store your photos, your videos, and your thoughts may not. If the government decides any part of that site infringes on copyright and proves it in court? Poof. Your digital life is gone, and you can't get it back.

...while still managing to be both unnecessary and ineffective...

What's saddest about SOPA is that it's pointless on two fronts. In the US, the MPAA, and RIAA already have the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to request that infringing material be taken down. We've all seen enough "video removed" messages to know that it works just fine.
As for the foreign operators, you might as well be throwing darts at a tse-tse fly. The poster child of overseas torrenting, Pirate Bay, has made it perfectly clear that they're not frightened in the least. And why should they be? Its proprietors have successfully evaded any technological attempt to shut them down so far. Its advertising partners aren't US-based, so they can't be choked out. But more important than Pirate Bay itself is the idea of Pirate Bay, and the hundreds or thousands of sites like it, as populous and resilient as mushrooms in a marsh. Forget the question of should SOPA succeed. It's incredibly unlikely that it could. At least at its stated goals.

...but stands a shockingly good chance of passing...

SOPA is, objectively, an unfeasible trainwreck of a bill, one that willfully misunderstands the nature of the internet and portends huge financial and cultural losses. The White House has come out strongly against it. As have hundreds of venture capitalists and dozens of the men and women who helped build the internet in the first place. In spite of all this, it remains popular in the House of Representatives.
That mark-up period on December 15th, the one that was supposed to transform the bill into something more manageable? Useless. Twenty sanity-fueled amendments were flat-out rejected. And while the bill's most controversial provision—mandatory DNS filtering—was thankfully taken off the table recently, in practice internet providers would almost certainly still use DNS as a tool to shut an accused site down.

...unless we do something about it.

The momentum behind the anti-SOPA movement has been slow to build, but we're finally at a saturation point. Wikipedia, BoingBoing, WordPress, TwitPic: they'll all be dark on January 18th. An anti-SOPA rally has been planned for tomorrow afternoon in New York. The list of companies supporting SOPA is long but shrinking, thanks in no small part to the emails and phone calls they've received in the last few months.
So keep calling. Keep emailing. Most of all, keep making it known that the internet was built on the same principles of freedom that this country was. It should be afforded to the same rights.