Saturday, December 27, 2008

EARTHQUAKE

Last night, just after midnight, a sudden boom rattled the house. We had no idea what it was, maybe a sonic boom caused by an aircraft returning to the military base northwest of here? The rumble lasted about ten seconds and seemed to be coming from that direction.

Turns out it was an earthquake about 15 miles from here measuring 3.3 on the Richter scale. Apparently there are a number of minor fault lines in this area, and people who have lived here a long time knew immediately what it was.

Our local newspaper was on the scene:

Quake shakes Lancaster County
By ANNE KOENIG, Staff Writer

Robert Kreider, of Ridge Road, Mount Joy Township, was in the bathtub when, "I felt it in my butt," he related. "It vibrated."


I suspect his buddies will remember that quote for a good while.

Krieder is planning to spend all of New Year's Eve in the tub hoping for aftershocks.

Monday, December 15, 2008

JURY DUTY

I registered for Selective Services in 1987 but the decades went by and I never got the call for jury duty. In Orlando, Marci got one summons after another, she would postpone her service, postpone it again, then finally go for the day, and come home saying she didn't get placed on a jury. I've been working freelance ever since we married, so I wasn't nearly as busy as she was, so I've always hoped that my name would get picked out of the hat and I'd get the nod.

It never happened until 2006, after we'd moved to LA, the world's largest court system. My first summons was to report if needed to the Malibu court. By this time, I wasn't working at all, so my fingers were crossed that I would get to sit in judgment of Robert Downey Jr, but I called in every day, and never did they need me. My name came up again in 2007, this time for Santa Monica, but again, I didn't have to appear. In 2008, third time was a charm and I got the nod to appear on the Thursday before Veterans' Day in November in Van Nuys.

I took a book and settled in for a long day in the Jury Selection room. There were about 80 of us and it was less than half an hour later when I was part of the first 40 to head next door to the criminal courtroom of Justice Steele. We all were assigned a number and mine was 4 which ensured that I began the selection process by sitting in the juror box. First, the judge had us introduce ourselves and say what we do for a living, or what we study in school, what our spouses do, how many children we have, what they do, etc. We had to disclose if we were familiar with any of the principles in the case, and if we had any prejudices which would preclude us from rendering an impartial verdict. Only jurors 1-24 spoke during this part, while 25-40 sat idly.

Then, the prosecuting attorney, Bollinger had a chance to ask the twelve of us some questions of his own devising. Next, the defense attorney, Halpern, asked us questions. The two attorneys then met with the judge in sidebar and when they came back, they took turns saying thanks but no thanks to whomever they wanted off the jury for whatever reason, which they need not state. Gone was the physician, gone was the pastor, gone was the lady whose brother was accused of murdering his wife. In all, ten jurors were dismissed. Finally, both attorneys were pleased with the composition of the jury and numbers 23 and 24 were seated as alternates. By this time, it was 1PM and we were dismissed for the day. We reappeared on Friday, but were immediately sent home for the weekend. On Monday, the judge read his instructions to the jury and we heard opening statements. Then we were done until Wednesday.

The defendant's name was Catherine, a 19-year-old Hispanic-Seminole blend from North Hollywood. She was being charged on two counts - simple battery and disturbing the peace. We had no way to know if this was her first brush with the law or merely the latest. The defense seated four witnesses. The first two were police officers and the latter two were dog owners who were at the park across the street from the incident. The basic timeline was this: one of the dog owners called the cops to report an act of vandalism after hearing a car window get broken by an unknown source. Officers Esturban and Tomlinson drove by in their patrol car and saw the defendant's younger brother, Danny, walking his dog on the sidewalk. The officers recognized the 18-year-old Danny because he is a thug with whom they've dealt with before. They decide to have a talk with Danny, and because he's rotten to the core, they handcuffed him first for their own safety.

Up to this point, Danny was perfectly compliant. Concurrent to this scene, Catherine and her friend, who have walked ahead of Danny, were alerted to the fact that Catherine's brother was being "arrested." Catherine is a big girl, and she came storming down the sidewalk shouting "What the fuck? You can't even walk down the street?" Tomlinson was acting as the contact officer, cuffing Danny, while Esturban served as the support officer, establishing a perimeter. With Catherine approaching in a belligerent and aggressive manner, Esturban held up his arm and ordered her to stop. She bitch slapped his hand away and barged past him, thus the battery charge. At this point, Esturban got Catherine against a tree and began to subdue and handcuff her. This treatment of his sister totally set off Danny, who immediately starts kicking and spitting on the officers. Tomlinson leads Danny over to the squad car and Danny uses his legs to push off against the car and take Tomlinson and himself to the ground.

At this point, Tomlinson activated a recording mechanism that he carries on his person and the next eight minutes comprise a recording that was played in the courtroom. Backup arrived almost instantly and soon there were at least a dozen cops and two helicopters on scene. On the tape, you don't hear any police brutality, only calming directives such as "Calm down! Stop resisting!" You hear Catherine only a few times in the background saying "I'm okay, Danny!" and such, in an effort to calm her brother. Danny, on the other hand, is out of control, kicking, screaming, spitting, and at one point even tells Tomlinson point blank that "You're a dead man." There's little doubt in my mind that Danny is already serving time, compliments of some previous jury.

The defense offered a gaggle of eyewitnesses before calling upon the defendant herself, all in effort to hint towards police brutality in hopes for enough of a sentiment for jury nullification that they can hope for at least a hung jury if not reasonable doubt. The story was pretty much the same, other than the cops were provoking the Latinos on the street for sport, needlessly harassing Danny and pushing around Catherine once they could legitimately claim in their police report that the situation had escalated. There was one witness who actually stated that the police told him to get off the street unless he wanted to get arrested. We pretty much disregarded that guy's testimony during deliberation, but he did provide the funniest moment of the trial.

The guy was scared to death to be in a courtroom because he most likely is not even in the country legally, and only appeared because he was subpoenaed by the defense. He brought his little daughter with him, who sat in the front row while he gave his testimony through an interpreter. When he was asked what the defendant had been shouting while she approached the scene, he replied "She was saying very bad things." The lawyer said "Can you give us your recollection of exactly what the defendant was saying?" The interpreter said "Da da da da da" and the witness said "Da da da da da" and the interpreter said "She was using some very bad language." Again, the lawyer asked for his specific recollection, again the "da da da, da da da" and the interpreter says "Do you want me to say the things?" Confirmation from the lawyer and another round of "da da da" and the interpreter says "It was bad things." At this point the lawyer asked for a sidebar, and everyone disappeared into the back hall for half a minute and when they came back, the judge had the baliff escort the little girl out of the room and out of earshot. The question was once again posed to the witness and in perfect English, without the aid of the interpreter, he says "She shouted 'what the fuck are you doing to my brother, you mutherfuckers!" Everybody busted up, including the judge.

There was another funny moment during the prosecution's closing argument. When Catherine had bitch slapped Esturban, she had called him Esturbitch. Bollinger had managed to use Esturban and Esturbitch each in their proper place until closing, when he referred to him as Officer Esturbitch. Again, the judge led the chorus of guffaws.

It was Tuesday, the week after Veterans' Day, when the jury was finally led to the deliberation room. The first order of business was to choose a foreman, and that was easy since I was the only person to volunteer. My pal Steve Whitaker sent out an email years ago to his fantasy baseball friends, directing us to be the foreman if we ever get the chance to serve on a jury. I might never get the chance again, so I was eager to volunteer. I thought it was going to be a slam dunk conviction, but once you get in that room, you realize that 12 random people have a way of hearing the same information 12 different ways. There were reasonable people who didn't have much to say other than 'guilty' but there were more than one unreasonable people who either wanted to stick it to the cops or who weren't even sure an offense was committed.

We only had 40 minutes or so on Tuesday before we were released, and I spent that night strategizing and forming mini-monologues for the next day, since I was assigned with the task of getting these random people to all agree in the end. I led off Wednesday morning by stipulating that we are all different and we have been thrown together at random to render judgment on an individual based solely on facts that were presented in the courtroom. I recommended that we in turn present our interpretation of the case to our fellow jurors, including our own prejudices and perceptions of the facts and how we would vote on each count. I went first and spoke for a long time, since I fielded everyone's questions and explained my position on everything and anything to do with the case.

My position was that disturbing the peace was a slam dunk guilty because everything was fine until the defendant started yelling at the cops and then all hell broke loose. So far as the battery went, Esturban says there was contact, Catherine says there was no contact, so they cancel out, because I don't inherently believe a man in uniform more so than anyone else. There were two ladies in the dog park, one of which had a good view of the initial approach of Catherine to Esturban. I didn't have in my notes exactly what this lady saw, but I considered her reliable, so I put the request in to have her testimony read back to us. Meanwhile, we argued on about this and that as the day wore on.

At some point, it occurred to me that everybody thought the defendant was guilty of something but we differed as to exactly what. I asked the group to raise their hand if they would like to see the defendant charged with one of the counts, regardless of which one. All 12 hands went up. Okay, now raise your hand if you think it should be disturbing the peace; 6 hands went up, leaving 6 voting for battery. We discussed each count and came to the general conclusion that even though both counts were classified as misdemeanors, battery sounded like the more serious offense. So, with the understanding that if we can't agree on a unanimous verdict, then the defendant is convicted of nothing and sent home, raise your hand if you would agree to convict her with disturbing the peace if the alternative was a hung jury. Eleven hands went up with the sole holdout adamant that the girl be convicted of battery to send a message that it is simply unacceptable to barge past the law.

When the same question was posed in reverse, ten jurors were okay with convicting of battery and not the other, but the two holdouts were not yet fully convinced that there was enough contact to legitimize the battery charge. At that point, the god in the machine, aka the court reporter, appeared to read back testimony from the dog lady. The testimony couldn't have been more clear: she heard commotion, she stood on a table, she saw the officer put his arm out and she saw the defendant slap away the arm and push past him. The court reporter left the room and the holdouts were convinced: guilty of simple battery. With that conviction settled, we revisited the disturbing the peace charge and came to a relatively quick decision that since Esturban himself said on the stand that Catherine's foul language, including her Esturbitch remark, had no effect on him and did not in itself escalate the situation, then we decided we could absolve her of the guilt that really lay with her brother in turning a routine stop into a full out police action.

Within five minutes of the court reporter leaving the room, the discussion was concluded, the paperwork completed, and I put a call in to the baliff to let him know we had reached a verdict. The principle players were gathered in the courtroom and I handed the verdict to the judge, who looked it over and handed it to the clerk to read. Unlike the movies, where the verdict is read in a manner to heighten suspense, the actual paperwork goes something like: The jury renders a decision of guilty (filled in blank) and then goes on into the legalese and minutiae. By the time the entire paper is recited, the defendant is already weeping and the mother is shooting death stares at the jury foreman.

So, in the end, the defendant got what she deserved for displaying thuggish behavior and I got a tremendous feeling of satisfaction not only for performing my civic duty in this ancient practice of trial by jury, but for serving as the foreman and using my negotiating skills to bring a room full of disparate personalities together for a just decision. Many people put a lot of energy into trying to avoid jury duty. I'm telling you, if you ever get the chance to sit on a jury, try not only to get on, but volunteer to be the foreman. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

BUSH

I have gone cold turkey off all political news since Election Night, but I got an email pointing me to Jay Nordlinger's account of his hour recently with President Bush. The maddening thing about Bush has been that he is not a poor communicator per se but is a poor communicator qua President. I still believe that history will be kinder to him than the press and contemporary historians have been, but also that history will chronicle the erosion of America's moral superiority and Bush's futile fight against it.

"You know, I don’t follow these opinion polls. But I will tell you, people want to come to America. I will tell you, America is respected. Our values are cherished — because they’re not our values; they’re universal values.”

What should be watched “over these coming decades is the prevalence of moral relativism, which is manifested during my presidency, saying, ‘Bush is imposing his values.’ [He fairly shouts this.] Well, if you believe these are Bush’s values or American values, then you don’t believe in the universality of certain values. And so I firmly believe that our respect is strong in the world. I’d rather be respected than liked. And we are respected, and our values are cherished, and the lines are long to come to America.”

A word about popularity: You can be popular, but “at what price”? “You can get short-term popularity in the Middle East if you want, by blaming all problems on Israel. That’ll make you popular. You can be popular in certain salons of Europe if you say, ‘Okay, we’ll join the International Criminal Court.’ I could have been popular if I’d said, ‘Oh, Kyoto is the way to deal with the environmental problem.’ That would have made me liked. It would have made me wrong, however. And, ultimately, you earn people’s respect by articulating a set of principles and standing by them.

“You know, popularity comes and goes. It just does. It comes and goes for an individual or a nation [sing it, brother]. But principles are enduring.”

Nordlinger's recap is worth reading it its entirety.

On Harriet Miers:

“I think it was important to nominate, not only a person who’d be a great judge, but someone who was not a part of the judicial-nominee club. She went to SMU Law School. I recognize it’s not Harvard or Yale — those are great law schools — but you can also have great lawyers come from” other places. (It helps to have gone to Harvard and Yale, as Bush did — in the opposite order — if you want to talk this way.)

More on SCOTUS:

I mean, I think of Miguel Estrada, unbelievably brilliant, and it’s a fabulous American story . . .”

Me: “That’s why he had to be stopped.”

“Yes. Oh, absolutely. But I look at it from his perspective, not theirs. And his perspective is, I want to serve, I want to be in a position to exercise my intellect, I want to help my adopted country . . . And yet he just got hung out there. It was very discouraging, I’m sure, to him and to others who watched the process.”

On communication during war:

“When the president speaks during a time of war, I’ve found there to be four broad constituencies:

1. The people -- that this war is necessary in the interests of our national security.

2. The enemy -- that we will pursue them, find them, and justice will prevail.

3. The Iraqis -- that we are there as long as necessary, or they'll run to the nearest militia for protection.

4. The military -- that we will honor their service and sacrifice by winning the war.

I just sent this email to the author.

Thanks Jay for your Dec 10 Impromptus. I have gone cold turkey off all political news -- TV, radio, and print -- since Election Night. But I saw the link to your piece in yesterday's NRO Digest and knew you would be a reliable lift. You present Bush as the man I thought he was, the man so many of us thought he was before he disappeared, and you remind us why we voted for him, twice, and why we were right to do so, twice. Some future wartime President will have pictures of George W. Bush on his wall.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 05, 2008

WHY ISN'T MARVEL SMITH ON IR?

If you understand Ed's answer, please explain it to me.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

Certainly you've heard of the show. If you've never watched it, then shame on you. It's easily the funniest series in television history. Okay, maybe Seinfeld is first, but it was appreciated in a way that Arrested Development was not during its time. I remember always reading during its run that people need to discover Arrested Development before it gets canceled. I forced myself to watch it one time, during season three, and was blown away by how clever it was. It managed to run for three years and 53 episodes before the axe fell. The G4 network shows reruns in chunks and by now I've seen most every episode, though I've had to piece together the timeline in hindsight. One of my favorite gags is the name of Scott Baio's character: Bob Loblaw, Attorney at Law. Say his name out loud to get the joke. If you have not yet discovered Hulu, then take some time to acquaint yourself with the site and revisit Arrested Development or discover it for the first time.
Today's Times reports that since the launch of NBC and Fox's online TV service Hulu, the show has consistently been one of the top three most-watched shows up there. I guess all the people who couldn't be bothered to watch while it was on the air are just getting around to it now.
Yesterday was my first day without cable since 1979. I was looking for ways to save some money and realized that most anything worth watching is available on the internet or Netflix. I ordered the Netflix Player by Roku so I will be able to stream movies to my TV.
The box streams movies from Netflix -- it doesn’t download them. Choosing content to watch is done on your computer, using the familiar Netflix interface. Anything that’s available for instant viewing can be added to the player’s queue -- in fact, the box checks your DVD queue and adds any available content to the Roku player automatically.
We're going to live without cable until we are in position to buy an HDTV set. The Netflix Player cost me $120 but between that and the DVDs, there will be no shortage of archived programming to watch. We get the news from the intenet, with CNN offering free footage, and I can even enjoy football via ESPN GameCast. We are currently watching the first season of Mad Men from Netflix, and maybe next we'll finally dive into the entire 24 run, which we've never seen. Going cableless for maybe six months is my biggest personal challenge since fasting for three days back in 1990 with Stamper. That changed my life for the better so maybe this will too. Why just tonight, we enjoyed family game night.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

SCOTTISH E LOOKALIKE TRAUMATIZES MASON

Last night, we had a family viewing of TITANIC to coincide with a non-fiction book report Mason just completed. The film is rated PG-13 but mostly for a smattering of bad language and a flattering view of nice boobies. The kids won't watch anything with blood in it, so I assured them that despite the hundreds of deaths, they were all of the bloodless variety to the best of my recollection, having seen the film over ten years ago.

Well, the kids chattered throughout the film as they do, and when the Captain turned in for the night and handed the reins to Murdock, Mason declared that Murdock was Uncle E:



So, we had fun for the next hour, proclaiming things like "Uncle E looks worried." and "There's no room in the lifeboat for Uncle E." Ultimately, Murdock is using his gun for crowd control as he loads the last lifeboat. He attempts to stave off a panic by shooting a guy or two, and then decides to hasten his own imminent demise by putting a bullet through his own temple. The Uncle E jokes stopped.

Mason wasn't really traumatized and Cadence managed to look away when she figured out what was coming. Murdock's final gesture was to salute as if to conclude his service, so now I can do silly things to crack Mason up like saluting and then hitting myself on the head with a Nerf ball. He can't wait to tell everyone that he watched a PG-13 movie, so rather than being traumatized by the suicide of the Uncle E clone, he plans to use it as a conversation starter. His other favorite scene is when all the fancy dishes crashed on the floor as the boat was sinking. After THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE a few nights ago, Mason realized that he had never seen a movie before in which the main character dies. Now he's got a streak going with two straight.
ZYDECO SWEET POTATO CRAB CHOWDER

I made this for guests last weekend and it was a big hit. My local sausage vendor at the farmer's market came up huge with the turkey andouille.

Ingredients:
2 pieces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 ounces andouille, ground or chopped (approximately two 4-inch links of andouille)
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon minced jalapeño, seeded
1 15-ounce can cream-style sweet corn
2 15-ounce cans low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 cups, drained and diced Princella cut sweet potatoes in light syrup
1 cup whole milk8 ounces cooked Louisiana lump crabmeat
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley, in all

Directions:
Cook the bacon in a large stockpot over medium heat until it begins to crisp. Remove bacon. Add the andouille to the bacon drippings. Sauté for about 3 minutes or until the andouille is crispy.
Remove 2 tablespoons of the andouille and set aside for garnish. Add the bacon along with the red bell pepper, shallots, celery, and jalapeño. Sauté for about 5 minutes or until fragrant and vegetables are tender.
Add the cream corn, chicken broth, Creole seasoning, and black pepper. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Next add in the sweet potatoes, stir to incorporate and let simmer 5 minutes, then add the milk and all but 2 tablespoons of the crabmeat, let simmer another 5 minutes or until mixture is heated through.
Stir in 1 tablespoon of parsley. Adjust seasoning if necessary. In a small bowl toss the remaining parsley, crab, and andouille together and use as garnish.
Ladle into bread bowl, individuals bowls, or a soup tureen. Garnish with the reserved andouille/crab mixture. Allow guests to use hot sauce as desired.

Monday, December 01, 2008

PLAX BEING PLAX

I was glad when the Steelers got rid of Plaxico because of his attitude, personality, and off-field problems. The Giants won a Super Bowl with him, but the Steelers won a Super Bowl without him, the year after his release.

The Steelers have always been good about avoiding or dismissing people like him. People in the media this morning are calling the latest incident a "first-time offense" but those who followed his career with the Steelers know this is not his first run-in with the law. Every Friday night he is a police report waiting to happen.

Plax is not too bright. I remember one game where he caught a ball across the middle, fell to the turf without being touched, jumped up and spiked the ball to make a statement, the way sulking WRs do when you finally throw them the damn ball, which in this case was a fumble of a live ball and should have but didn't teach him a lesson.

His buddies are apparently not much smarter. Antonio Pierce, his partner in crime, when asked how Plax was recovering from his injury, replied,
“I went to school for four years at the University of Arizona, but I didn’t get a doctorate, so I don't have that answer."

. . .because, for any other of his friends who may be reading, you get a doctorate to become a doctor to be able to know how your wounded friend is recovering.

Mayor Bloomberg has been emphatic that persons carrying unlicensed concealed weapons in New York will do 3-1/2 years in the slammer, no exceptions. I guess we'll just see about that.

UPDATE: Plax reportedly laughed and joked with a teammate on the phone last night. Today not so funny. Mayor Bloomberg:

Bloomberg said anything short of at least the 3 ½-year minimum for felony gun possession would be "a sham, a mockery of the law."

"I think it would be an outrage if we didn't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, particularly people who live in the public domain ... If we didn't prosecute to the fullest extent, then I don't know who on earth you would."

"It's pretty hard to argue the guy didn't have a gun that it wasn't loaded. You've got bullet holes in and out to show it."


When the mayor tells the D.A. (and all the papers) that you must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and your "not guilty" plea includes a bullet hole in the leg and any number of witnesses and co-conspirators eager not to pay for their own complicity, my guess is that Michael Vick is more likely to wear an NFL uniform next season than Plax. And I'm okay with that.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

PRAYERS FOR OUR JUNTO BROTHER

I have not had to deal with a situation with a parent like Tom and John and going through now so I don't know what feelings are involved. And I don't really know what to say to someone who is suffering in that way other than that I am praying for your family and am sorry that you guys are hurting.
TURKEY WILD RICE PUMPKIN SOUP

This is my favorite soup, easy to make and a good use of leftover turkey.

2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup sliced celery
4 cups chicken or turkey broth
1 can (16 oz) solid pack pumpkin
2 cups (10 oz) cubed cooked turkey
2 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup half and half
1 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Cook and stir butter, onions and celery in Dutch oven over medium heat until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth and pumpkin. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in turkey, rice, half and half, salt and cinnamon. Heat to serving temperature; do not boil. Makes 8 servings.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

THE WATER MILL

Introducing the best home appliance since the microwave:
The system draws in moist, outside air through an air filter. The moist air passes over a cooling element, condensing the moist air into water droplets. This water is then collected, passed through a specialized carbon filter and is then exposed to an ultraviolet sterilizer, eliminating bacteria.
It makes you wonder why it took so long to invent such an obvious device. Every day, we see pure H2O dripping from air conditioning units installed in cars. Why not grab some air, drop its temp to the dew point and drink that sweet nectar that results?
The WaterMill can be connected directly to your sink, an existing bottled water system, your refrigerator, or a custom dispenser.
Water is a precious resource and the earth is not making any more of it. Although it is being constantly recycled, there is a percentage of persons on earth, mostly in Africa, who do not have adequate access to potable water. Those of us without such concerns expect the water to always be there but in reality, there are so many people on earth that we are consuming fresh water at a rate higher than it can be recycled. Most of the water in fact goes towards agricultural needs, irrigating the fields that grow the world's food. A lot of what is left is utilized in industry and what is left comes out of our taps. People worry about peak oil but peak water is also on the horizon.
Our air contains 4,000 cubic miles of water. If it were a lake it would be roughly the size of the Great Lakes combined - which is the world's largest body of fresh water - and would be constantly refilled.

Water vapor is constantly replenished by Earth's natural cycle, so extracting water from the air can continue indefinitely without impacting local ecosystems.
It sounds like somebody found a new source of water. Why wait for nature to fill the aquifer if we can snatch it from the atmosphere whenever we get thirsty? Of course, the thingy won't work if the atmospheric humidity is below 40%, so it's no panacea for subsaharan Africa, but once it becomes affordable (currently $1500), I can imagine these devices becoming common suburban must-haves.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

HAPPY THANKFGIVING

General Thanksgiving

By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America

A PROCLAMATION

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanksfor His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

HOW OBAMA GOT ELECTED

A must see. . .




And further, check this out.
BEN F. QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to get leisure."

I will be taking next week off for the rare relaxing week at home.

You all are welcome to my house as we carve the roast beast -- on Thursday for ourselves and on Saturday for extended family.

I have a cold and couldn't sleep so I came in early, at 5:45 a.m. What is notable about that is how many Amish I passed on the roads at 5am and that I have had a productive day and it's not even close to lunchtime yet. There are other Ben F. quotes that apply.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

PRAGMATIC OR NOT?

I heard a Republican Congressman say that he believed that President-Elect Barack Obama was "Cautious in Temperament but Liberal in Philosophy." This has caused some to mistake his caution with pragmatism. Pragmatism is a practical approach to problems and affairs. Certainly, a President like Clinton during his last 6 years, or Bush in his last 2 were forced to be pragmatic in order to get anything done. However, pragmatic is not what Obama is I don't think. Rather, cautious is in fact a good descriptor. If you look at his approach during the 700 Billion dollar bail-out plans, he took a cautious wait and see attitude, not wanting to get caught up with something that was risky and could make him look weak or naive about the financial crisis. I wonder if he will do something similar when he is in office. He may likely work behind the scenes to get certain legislation passed that is risky and not put his stamp on much of anything except what he knows will gain wide acceptance or could possibly stealthily move the government toward socialism. I think he wants to appear to "Govern from the center" so as not to repeat the Clinton era mistakes and cause a massive backlash. I do agree that he ultimately wants to create a long-lasting type of socialism and a "new deal" in the vein of FDR. I think he will work to pass a lot of "Feel-good" legislation in the first 100 days of his administration in order to cast the illusion of doing something. Who can be against building new bridges, roads, and such? But that is a no-lose type of bargain to show how he is "Creating jobs." I wouldn't even put it past him to resurrect the Civilian Conservation Corp. But again, he will be cautious on legislation that has the possiblity of back-firing on him. Health Care reform will be a Ted Kennedy-Hillary Clinton driven series of legislation that Obama will be largely silent on and then sign into law. I also wonder if some of the more controversoral legislation like Immigration reform will have a McCain-XXDemocrat label to get it past without filabuster and with political cover for Obama as well. Obama is not one to go lightly. Rather he is one to go cautiously but then with a Huge Wall of pressure and a ground swell of support once all the pieces are in play. The conservatives and Republicans had better get their act together or they will continue to be out organized and out finessed on most all issues.

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I love the line in this old newsreel: "Some worry the CCC is a New Deal Fascist Army, Some worry about the burden it has on the Federal Treasury..."

The more things change...

Friday, November 14, 2008

WHAT WOULD FRANKLIN SAY?

Let us not forget the wise words of our founder. In these troubled times, we could use a bit of Franklin's wisdom:

"When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the Republic."

and:

"I am for doing good to the poor but I differ in opinion about the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is, not making them easy in poverty, but leading them or driving them out of it."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

NOT GOOD

This is well said:
When we wonder why our leaders, journalists, and deep thinkers so often have a silly view of the world, the content of their education is high on the list of explanations. As Jay says, this may well be one of the basic failings of American civilization; Tocqueville was at pains to note that Americans prefer "big theories" to the hard work of learning the facts about the world at large. Tops among these "big theories" is the twofold delusion that peace is the normal condition of mankind, and that men are everywhere the same, and basically good. So long as these follies dominate our "debate," there's little hope of getting the policies right.

Obama is a man of sweeping ideas that are not based in reality as it is. For example, he is apparently adamant about closing Guantanamo and moving those fundamentally good prisoners into the US court system or back to their fundamentally good countries so that we will enjoy universal goodwill. To him it is symbolic, important, high-minded and necessary. To me it is ignorant, dangerous, naive and stupid. From a national security perspective we are in trouble I think if most Americans are thinking like him. Bush thought like me and his approval is 28 percent or whatever it is, so I am not hopeful. I can only hope I am wrong because if I am right people blow up.

It would be fine if the people of the world were as charitable in their thinking about us as we are in our thinking about them - to the extent that we think of them at all. But they are not. The fact is they are not. I am constantly telling clients to craft their strategies based on facts and not on emotion. Emotion is no match for facts when it comes to policy making if the policies are meant to be implemented in the real world. (Not all are.) This is the major challenge of an Obama presidency. "Change we need" is not policy. Soaring rhetoric is not policy. And external conditions do not permit him to not make policy the way he was able to not address a lot of things during his campaign.

Back in the age when American schoolchildren learned to read (and so much else) from reading the Bible, we shared as a culture the understanding that humans are essentially self-centered and prideful, that the manifestations of those qualities are generally not honorable, that we war within ourselves to restrain our base impulses, and that policies should be crafted with the reality of human nature and the proper restraint of those impulses in mind. In our postmodern world such talk is silly. We have drifted a great distance in a relatively short time, and in all likelihood there is no going back, and it is what it is. There is no point in pining for the past, the task is to deal with the present as it is, the facts on the ground. I don't know what it all means except that a resurgent conservative majority is no sure thing and that the proper education of my children is my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

EAT LOCAL FAD ALREADY DEBUNKED BY REASON

Simplistic thinking continues on the global warming front.
My wife and I make it a habit to shop at our town's weekly farmers market for fresh fruits and vegetables.

But for some activists, eating local foods is no longer just a pleasure—it is a moral obligation. Why? Because locally produced foods are supposed to be better for the planet than foods shipped thousands of miles across oceans and continents.

In the United States, a 2007 analysis found that transporting food from producers to retailers accounted for only 4 percent of greenhouse emissions related to food. According to a 2000 study, agriculture was responsible for 7.7 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. In that study, food transport accounted for 14 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture, which means that food transport is responsible for about 1 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Local food production does not always produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the 2005 DEFRA study found that British tomato growers emit 2.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of tomatoes grown compared to 0.6 tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of Spanish tomatoes. The difference is British tomatoes are produced in heated greenhouses. Another study found that cold storage of British apples produced more carbon dioxide than shipping New Zealand apples by sea to London.
FORGIVEN, FORGOTTEN?

Excellent work today by Victor Davis Hanson, worthy of reading in its entirety.
Unless Obama really is the Messiah, human nature won’t change much just because we elected someone who we want to think might be divine. So give Obama, the man, not the god, a chance to earn, rather than merely assert, his respect. Quit the smug moralizing that we have somehow proved to the world and ourselves that we are now finally worthy and deserving of adulation — as if wisdom and morality were always only an easy punch of the ballot away.

It would be nice if now we could evaluate our post-racial president on merit. But if we could do that, our elusive, unaccomplished president-elect would not be president-elect. Racial preference was the very essence of his candidacy. A white candidate with his credentials would have been laughed off the stage. We seem to have bypassed the conversation on race that He promised us in his Address in Philadelphia, effecting the solution of a man of color in the highest office without discussing in the process whether his election means that the politics of victimization are no longer valid--or ever were.
A JOKE

I haven't golfed in over a year, and the fact that I can relate to this joke is why.
Recently I was invited by a business associate to play in a golf tournament.

My initial reaction was, nah, I don't have the time.

He said, "Come on, it's for blind and handicapped kids."

Then I realized, heck, I could win this thing!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BUY LOW

I am no expert but I expect the economy to get worse, quite a bit worse, before it gets better, not because of Obama but because the usual indicators seem to be pointing that way. I came across this wise commentary today, however, that reminds us that the stock market is not the same as the economy.

The stock market discounts future economic events. Right now it is discounting economic decline that will not take place for months. Financial stocks have been declining for over 16 months, and the U.S. market as a whole for 13 months. Yet, if you believe the Government's economic statistics, the economy was growing through June.

Many stocks could fall further over the next several months or years in our opinion. Financial stocks will be among them. However, some stocks are so cheap that they deserve to be bought, even though we expect further global macro economic problems. In such an environment, many assets become priced too cheaply, and the wise who have husbanded their liquidity, will have the capital to buy greatly undervalued assets.

That is good common-sense advice, spoken plainly.

Because I am investing much of my disposable income in my children's education, I do not have liquidity to buy undervalued stocks, but hopefully you fellows do.
THE PRICE OF LIBERTY

Archive.org has some great old videos, many of which were put out by the government and some private funding by the "National Education Foundation." This film below is one in which I could find no fault. Why isn't it being taught today? Perhaps we should re-film it and send it free to schools. I wonder how many would actually use it? Notice that they never mention "God" as the foundation of our society, but the "Building blocks" metaphor he uses that is displayed on his desk has as it's foundation "Fundamental Belief in God" on the bottom, followed by "US Constitution." It was just assumed by the "WW2" generation that "Of course belief in God is the foundation." Today, we can't even get a majority and many on the Supreme court to agree that the US Constitution should be the foundation, much less God. If it isn't, then what is? Unfortunately, it looks like we went through 75 years of Cold War struggle against the Red Menace only to have them freely elected here in 2008. Again gentleman, the price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance.

CAUTION: INCULCATION IN PROGRESS

Awaiting our out-of-town guest at the A-East baggage claim at the Philadelphia airport on Saturday, we were treated to dozens of stupid poems which all sounded strangely alike, courtesy of The Dream Flag Project.



My wife got pretty torqued about it. It was a disturbing example of what grade school education has become in the USA.
The Project exposes the children to the poetry of Langston Hughes. In itself there is nothing wrong with that I suppose.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly
But then telling the kids what to dream about seems to defeat the purpose.
I should be fair. There were a few good poems that we cheered, that came from honest kids:
"I dream of lots of candy and Mario Super Party 8."
"I dream of playing football with my dad when he comes home from work."
"I dream that when I am big I will race a motersikel and win big troffees."
Those are normal dreams for kids. Kids don't dream of world peace and a world without guns and abundant natural habitats for polar bears unless someone tells them to.
So I am not a fan of The Dream Flag Project. And where the Dream Flag Project is, The Dreamy Fag Project cannot be far behind. Your tax dollars at work.



Unjustly privileged girl regurgitates same blather as oppressed girl in equitable harmony.
We pulled our kids out of public school when we saw that the warm liberal bath begins in the very earliest grades, even in a conservative community like ours. At our kids' school they study the who/when/why/how of war without glorifying nor disparaging it. War is a fact. They make Viking helmets and build catapults and make swords and breastplates and fight with toy light sabers at recess. The culminating event of third grade was the Barbarian Invasion, fourth grade vs. third grade, with launching of missiles, simulated slaughter and general mayhem. They study the historical context of war and learn to think for themselves and I like it much better that way. Call me old fashioned.

Monday, November 10, 2008

NOW YOU GOVERN

Sir Saunders and I rode 17 miles today and it was plenty of time to talk the post election issues. He’s been on Facebook a lot lately catching up with old friends. Too many are Obama supporters. He asked a number of them to give him 5 reasons to vote for Obama without using Bush in the negative. The one guy who answered referenced Bush in 2 of the 5 points anyway.

My own experience at work is as follows:

One person likes Obama because he’s biracial and thus understands both cultures without inhabiting either one, therefore he is peacemaker. Another person thinks that Obama's biography and manner will repair our unilaterlist image in the world. The third person decided to vote against every incumbent. All three voters are voting based on perception. A change that they personally want wrapped up in this nebulous change candidate.

Barrak Obama won the election mostly because he wasn’t Bush. McCain gained 47% of the vote because he wasn’t Obama. Voters know what they don’t want. Somebody has to win the thing, but the catch to winning a negative election is that you have to somehow govern with a positive.

Remember when Bush had approval numbers near 90%? He was against the terrorists. Once he was for something, namely beating the tar out of terrorists, his numbers fell. Clinton too became even more popular with Democrats after Lewinsky because impeachment put him against the Republicans. When he earlier tried a positive like national health care his numbers went in the opposite direction.

Obama is unusual because he’s more of a blank slate than any candidate we’ve elected in the big media age. His supporters all have dreams and hopes of change but those hopes vary. And as he makes decisions, some of those supporters are going to see the opposite of what they want. Any tax plan that he supports will have trouble finding a happy majority if he really plans on spending the money he promised to spend.

But probably the most dangerous pitfall for Obama is foreign policy. Obama ran as the guy who thought the war was a mistake, but not someone who promised to end it immediately, at least in the general election. He even admitted on O’Reilly that the surge was successful beyond anyone’s dreams. He has supporters who think that he will win the war and supporters who are warming up the transport planes to get the troops back home on January 21.

And while his supporters will give him some slack early on, he is sure to face a crisis of some sort and his reaction can easily fracture his base. For instance, if we have another terrorist attack on our soil the country will want action. But regardless of the attack, 25% of Democrats (12% or so of the overall populace) hardly ever support action where America’s interests are at stake. Free Haiti, yes. Free Bosnia, yes. Free Iran, No! It’s little forgotten now because Afghanistan has become a reason to leave Iraq, but there were many on the Left who objected to invading Afghanistan and were calling it a quagmire 30 days in. Remember how instead of fighting them we were supposed to look inward to discover why they would do such a thing?

Obama cannot win re-election without mollifying that 25%. How can he do that without backing down in the face of a challenge? Clinton’s trick was to give a very serious speech where he waved his finger and said he would never rest until they were brought to justice and then he’d go to eat a big lunch and play golf. I don’t know if that works anymore since 9-11, especially if the attack is domestic.

You have to be right on the big question of the day to be successful and the big question is Islamic terrorism, because as much as our safety is at stake so is our economy. It’s not enough to fund wind and solar research that might be ready in a generation. You have to fight bad guys and too much of his base will abandon him if he does so.

It seems like the key for Republicans is to give Obama his due when he is right for the betterment of the country and oppose his ideas when he is wrong and articulate why he is wrong. Doing so effectively can get the public behind conservative ideas and force Obama to act outside of his best political interests. But Republicans should never never never attack the man personally, because doing so will only hide his shortcomings behind a wall of support based on opposition to Republicans. By not attacking Obama, Democrats will have a hard time finding enemies and will no doubt turn on their own people who aren’t delivering fast enough on whatever they want.

Let’s face it, they’re an anti-Bush coalition so unless we give them something to unite behind, one faction or another is likely to erupt and the whole thing could disintegrate mostly on its own.

I hated the Bush Education plan, the Medicare plan, and the Department of Homeland Security idea, but as his critics on the Left got louder I tended to defend Bush as a decent man who was trying his best in tough circumstances. But if the Left had spent more time applauding Bush and his added spending, I would have been more likely to jump ship sooner. I realize looking back that besides the war, I was defending Bush simply because we were theoretically on the same team.

A good tactic going forward is to point out how Pelosi/Reid are manipulating Obama because the poor guy is surrounded by radicals. By pointing out how the agenda is coming from Congress and it isn’t the agenda he ran on, conservatives can make the 2010 case that Obama is either over matched even among friends or he is becoming the spender he promised not to be.

By always focusing it back on the action points and not personalities, Obama for the first time in his life will have to stand up for something and he won't be able to fudge or to hide from it. When he is no longer the mirror of our dreams whatever he has left will be less than what he started with. Our opportunity is before us.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

OPEC PRODUCTION CUT

With the election on our minds I neglected to post anything on the production cut by OPEC. Just like the housing market crashed so it was inevitable that the oil market would follow suit. Not good news if you're funding terrorism with the money, thinks Iran.

Anyway, I came across the most thoughtful piece explaining the politics behind the production cut. What we learn is that the Saudis aren't playing along with the Persians.
The Saudis have been concerned for several years now about Iran's growing strategic influence and designs for regional hegemony in the Gulf and in a number of Arab countries, primarily Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The sharp decline in oil prices has provided the Saudis with an opportunity to inflict pain on Iran and constrain its political ambitions for regional hegemony by keeping oil production high and oil prices down. In practical terms, the Saudi's subtle weapon against Iran is at least as potent as the U.N. and U.S. sanctions combined. An economically weaker Iran translates into an Iran that is weaker both politically and strategically, and hence less of a threat to the Gulf region.

There is one other reason which has recently emerged as a source of conflict between Shi'ite Iran and a number of Sunni countries in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia but also Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Gulf countries. These countries have been concerned about Iranian efforts to engage in large-scale proselytizing of Sunnis into Shi'ism, which is perceived by the majority of the Sunnis, particularly the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, as a false religion whose practitioners are apostates.


A recent study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has suggested that in order for Iran to balance its budget, the price of crude oil must not fall below $95 a barrel. The equivalent figure for Saudi Arabia is $50 per barrel and for the United Arab Emirates and Qatar even lower.

The price of oil is determined by the twin factors of economics and psychology. Economic factors are shaped by supply and demand and when demand plummets the prices quickly follow suit. But oil prices are also sensitive to psychological factors, such as perceived threats to the sources or routes of oil supply. In the latter case, Iran may seek to generate a crisis that would bring oil speculators back in droves and cause oil prices to spike. In this regard, Iran could put into action one of the following options in an attempt to both divert national discontent outward and make an economic gain at the same time:

First, Iran could escalate the conflict in Iraq to a degree that would deny the market a supply of 1.5-2.0 million b/d of much needed Basra light crude.

Second, Iran's Revolutionary Guards could sabotage an oil tanker in the Gulf of Hormuz on some flimsy argument that the tanker has violated Iran's territorial waters. Such act would raise the political tensions to high levels and greatly increase insurance premium to suffocating levels or discourage oil tankers from transporting Gulf oil.

Third, Iran could instigate a conflict between Hizbullah and Israel that could plunge the Middle East into a new round of a military conflict that might also involve Syria (Iran's strategic ally in the area). Armed conflicts in the Middle East quickly translate into higher oil prices, with or without global recession.
It looks like Obama may have his hands full soon.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Exit poll: Black voters Back California Marriage Ban

In a recent article from AP,
California's black and Latino voters, who turned out in droves for Barack Obama, provided key support for a state ban on same-sex marriage. Christian, married and older voters also helped give the measure the winning edge, according to exit polls for The Associated Press.
Hmmmmmm...interesting. I thought all the Lefty Obama Supporters were supposed to be the "Open Minded Elite." I guess the Hollywood types now protesting didn't get the message. I suppose for Democrats we can have emancipation for some but not for all? According to the San Fran Chronicle, "California's black and Latino voters, who turned out in droves for Barack Obama, provided key support for a state ban on same-sex marriage." Yet, whose being protested? The poor ole Mormons who are exercising their first amendment right of Free Speech. This makes me REALLY wish we would have nominated Mitt Romney. In the words of Edward G. Robinson, "Where's your god now Moses, yeah, see, yeah..."

Freedom of Speech is not an issue that is denied to anyone regardless of IRS Status. If the protestors want to focus on Not-for-Profit organizations that are using their influence toward a political means then look no further than ACORN, who illegally used their tax-free status to blatantly advocate for Obama and register illegal voters including "Micky Mouse" here in Florida. My politics are Libertarian and that includes freedom for all. But I also believe people have the right to voice their opinion and vote their conscious. I don't agree with what the protesters are doing there, but they have a right to be heard. They don't have a right to become Religious Bigots, unless we're now advocating for persecution of Religious Minorities since Obama has won. If he were a real leader for the "people" as he says', he would show some leadership on this issue now. But he's too busy grooming himself. We'll see if Democracy really matters to the Democrats or merely far-left Demagoguery.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

POST-ELECTION

Jonah Goldberg is always good. Today he ruminates on whether it's a good thing that so many know-nothings determine our election outcomes. (Hint: not a good thing.) Count on Democratic efforts to expand the voting power of the lazy, uninformed, illusory and formerly illegal. They'll say "it's good for democracy" but what they mean is it's good for their party's chances of staying in power.

Some things I will do now that I'm not wasting so much time informing my one vote:

Finish my coursework that was due in May and has been granted multiple extensions by a gracious advisor.

Put up that shelf that has been sitting there for over a year.

Wash more dishes. Iron more clothes. Do some of the cooking.

Read in our reading room. We have a nice little library in our house that I never use.

Purge and print photos from an electronic archive of thousands of photos going back several years. Put the photos in books with minimal artistry and selective commentary.

Exercise. In general I need to do more things that do not involve staring at a screen and pounding a keyboard.

Watch football games. (There is no keyboard.)

I have three years to get some things done before I get all wrapped up in the 2012 election. I started yesterday and am making progress.
THE FILM VERSION TO GO ALONG WITH TOM'S EXCELLENT POST BELOW

GEORGE BAILEY WOULD HAVE FIRED FREDDIE AND FANNIE

But this writer misses the distinction between the two.
It would be nice to think that if George Bailey had been around in September, the United States government could have saved itself $700 billion, Iceland could have averted near bankruptcy, and the rest of the world could have avoided another trillion dollars in bailouts and the prospect of a deep and long recession.

Here we go. . .
In the film the Building & Loan faces what is now called a “liquidity crisis” — the association could not possibly cover its obligations with available cash, let alone guarantee any loans. The townspeople rush in demanding their life savings. “You’re thinking of this place all wrong,” George tells the crowd. “As if I had the money back in a safe. The money’s not here.”

As the movie clearly states, depositors were supposed to sign a paper and get their money in 90 days. They are holding shares not a savings accounts. This is a crucial distinction that must have been lost on the writer.
You think you are just depositing your money here, he suggests, but actually we’re all helping one another. And if some homeowners can’t meet their payments, “what are you going to do,” George asks, “foreclose on them?”

“We’ve got to stick together,” George says, or the truly evil banker Henry Potter will gain control of everything. “We’ve got to have faith in each other.”

Left out of the passage is the reason for George's speech. Potter will buy their shares for a fraction of the cost in cash and then he'll own the town. George convinces them that it's in their best interest to keep the building and loan out of Potter's hands. The proper analogy would be the government as Potter.
And, at least for a while, the pitch works. George’s view of the savings and loan as a form of social welfare institution was learned at the feet of his father, who built that savings and loan, telling him, “It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace. And we’re helping him get those things.”

The movie states more than once that George's father was not a great businessman, in fact, he's called a chump because they were building and selling houses for a lot less than they could have. But the Bailey's understood two important things about economics. First, they could get their customers from Potter's slums by making it cheaper for them. The first Condo I ever bought had a mortgage of less than $400 a month while an equivalent rental was going for $575. Second, if the houses were worth more than the sales price, the investors had a built-in equity in case of default. He was a horrible businessman that Bailey, except that his ledger proved he had a tremendous amount of assets over his debt.
The Baileys could almost be early incarnations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — government-created companies established to help make that same dream possible among American citizens. Beginning in the mid-1990s they were steadily pressured by politicians and the public to guarantee loans to ever more risky borrowers in the name of this very ideal.

This is an awkward comparison. You cannot equate Fannie with the Bailey Building & Loan, because Fannie lacks the community component. There is no social pressure to be responsible to Fannie. Fannie is like Potter except that the initial interface has a smile.

And to say they were pressured by politicians is not the right characterization. The government said that they would back the loans and take away Fannie's risk. I don't think any company would have felt pressured in that situation. They were co-conspirators and nothing less. Fannie is Enron without the indictments.
What really helped that project along, though, was the discovery on Wall Street that such risky loans could be bundled with others like some multipack at Costco and resold as highly rated securities. It is as if George had found a way to go into business with Potter, answering his scornful challenge “Are you running a business or a charity ward?” with “Both!”

It becomes a charity ward once you loan money to people who can't pay on houses that aren't worth it. Freddie did. George didn't.

The Bailey's had a found a market of people wanting out of Potter's slums, but it wouldn't have worked except that Peter Bailey knew how to build houses more economically. And they were building houses not just loaning mnoney. Had Freddie and Fannie discovered a way to build houses more cheaply this awkward analogy would have at least a little steam. The government was running a charity ward and Fannie was administrating it.
So debased had judgment become, and so unpredictable were the consequences, that the safest thing to do was absolutely nothing. Liquidity turned solid; credit froze. And this reflected a collapse not just of business activity but also of trust, or, to use George’s word, of faith.

The consequences are easily predictable in hindsight because it is easy to see where common economic sense was disregarded for the greater "social good." The meltdown was the result of intentions over substance. The biggest lesson to take from the meltdown is that we just elected a President who will be pressured again and again to find the greater social good over common sense and fiscal responsibility. It will always be easier for him to side with intentions and our economy will suffer from it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

REAGAN FROM 1976

We fought, we dreamed, and the dream is still with us.

Sure there is a disappointment in what happened, but the cause, the cause goes on. . .

LEAVE IT TO THE ONION!
OBAMA WIN CAUSES OBSESSIVE SUPPORTERS TO REALIZE HOW EMPTY THEIR LIVES ARE


Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are
Proposition 1A

What it does: Authorizes $9.95 billion in bonds to build an electric train to get people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just over 2 1/2 hours.

Propositions Precincts reporting: ~100.0%
  • 1A: High-speed rail Yes 52.1% No 47.9%
  • 2: Farm animals Yes 63.1% No 36.9%
  • 3: Children’s hospitals Yes 54.8% No 45.2%
  • 4: Abortion notification Yes 48.0% No 52.0%
  • 5: Drug offenses Yes 40.1% No 59.9%
  • 6: Criminal justice Yes 30.8% No 69.2%
  • 7: Renewable energy Yes 35.2% No 64.8%
  • 8: Gay marriage ban Yes 52.5% No 47.5%
  • 9: Victims’ rights Yes 53.5% No 46.5%
  • 10: Alternative fuels Yes 40.3% No 59.7%
  • 11: Redistricting Yes 50.6% No 49.4%
  • 12: Loans for veterans Yes 63.5% No 36.5%

Back story: This is the governor's and the Legislature's baby, years in the making. They pulled similar measures off ballots in 2004 and 2006 because the stars didn't align for a win. An earlier version (Proposition 1) also got pulled from the 2008 ballot, this time for a revise (that's why it's now designated 1A). Lawmakers were arguing about, among other things, whether the train would run through Altamont Pass (the site of a deadly 1969 Rolling Stones concert) or Pacheco Pass (site of the hokey but fun tourist stop Casa de Fruta). They went with Pacheco.

Dude: I don't think people really understand that voting for all these bond measures will result in a tax increase. I always vote against tax increases, so I voted no on this. Sure, high speed rail is the future of transportation, but we can't afford the future just yet. Come back in better times. It passed nonetheless.

Proposition 2

What it does: Bars use of pens and cages that don't give farm animals room to turn around, stretch, stand or lie down.

Back story: This is all about chickens. The language on veal calves and sows tugs on voters' heartstrings, but it's moot; California produces virtually no commercial pork or veal. Chief opponents -- egg producers -- argue that without tight cages, their chickens will eat each other and their own droppings. No matter what, the caged chickens are doomed: After a short life laying eggs, they are too spent even for the soup pot.

Dude: I don't own a farm, so who am I to legislate how the farmers treat the chickens before the slaughter? Although it sounds utopian in theory to let chickens stretch, I didn't wish to put any undo burdens on farmers who might in turn need to raise the price of eggs, only to lose business to farmers from Mexico who get by with cramped chickens and lower prices. No matter, people would feel heartless voting against this so it passed easily.

Proposition 3

What it does: Authorizes the sale of $980 million in bonds to upgrade and expand children's hospitals in California.

Back story: With interest, the measure would cost about $2 billion over 30 years. Backers are (no surprise) the state's children's hospitals. California voters authorized $750 million in bonds for this cause in 2004; just under half of those bonds have yet to be sold. But how can voters say no to sick kids?

Dude: Who loves children's hospitals more than the Seegers? All the same, I am a reliable no vote on bond measures and this is no different. The hospital builders can't spend the money fast enough and can always rely on another bond measure passing because who is heartless enough to deny the sick kids? It passed as expected and we will no doubt see another prop like it in four years.

Proposition 4

What it does: Amends the state Constitution to require a physician to notify a minor patient's parent or other adult family member 48 hours before performing an abortion.

Back story: Déjà vu. Californians defeated parental consent or notification for abortion measures in 2005 and 2006, but had last year off. (There is no limit on how often failed ballot measures may be resubmitted to voters.) Proposition 4 adds the "other adult family member" alternative to answer critics of earlier propositions. It also would require a girl who chooses that alternative to allege parental abuse. The Legislature passed a parental consent law in 1987, but it never took effect. The state Supreme Court upheld it in 1996, but on rehearing -- after court membership changed -- struck it down. Which is why Proposition 4 is a constitutional amendment.

Dude: I'm always on the opposite side of every issue, so I voted yes on this even though it ultimately failed. I don't think doctors should be in the business of operating on minors without parental consent. Could you imagine discovering that your preteen just had all of her teeth pulled or donated a kidney and this is the first you're hearing about it? Abortions are a political hot button, but I side with the parents on this issue. Minors fall under parental jurisdiction until age 18 so it's my opinion that doctors shouldn't go around doctoring on them without parental consent.

Proposition 5

What it does: Mandates probation with treatment instead of jail or prison for many drug crimes and diminishes sentences and shortens parole for many nonviolent property crimes when drugs are involved.

Back story: This measure pits two well-known liberals against each other -- activist and actor Martin Sheen and billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Sheen, whose son Charlie had high-profile drug problems in the 1990s, leads the opposition because, he has said, "successful rehabilitation requires accountability." Soros and former Soros executive Jacob Goldfied are Proposition 5's top financial backers. If voters pass Proposition 5 and Proposition 6, they would simultaneously loosen and stiffen penalties for drug offenses.

Dude: I remain winless by voting yes on this proposition only to see it fail, which surprises me. California is such a "progressive" state and this prop wanted to quit sending drug addicts to prison. Sure, it will cost money to counsel the perps and some of them are going to do bad things and go to prison anyways, but there is a ton of savings in clearing the prisons of cokeheads whose only crime is their penchant for narcotics. I'm not fervently against the decriminalization of drugs but I know that law enforcement will always fight against it because of the thousands of jobs created by the war on drugs.

Proposition 6

What it does: Commits close to 1% of the state's annual general fund budget for anti-crime programs. The state Legislative Analyst's Office estimates costs of $500 million for additional prison space.

Back story: This is the Son of Three Strikes and Jessica's Law. It's sponsored in part by Mike Reynolds, author of the 1994 Three Strikes Initiative, and state Sen. George Runner (R- Lancaster), whose anti-sex-offender Proposition 83 -- Jessica's Law -- won 71% of the vote in 2006. The top donor is Henry T. Nicholas III, who gave $1 million (see Proposition 9).

Dude: Blah blah blah, costs half a billion dollars. That's a no and the first time the electorate agrees with me.

Proposition 7

What it does: Increases the clean-generation requirement on investor-owned utilities and extends them to municipal companies, like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Back story: The primary backer (with a donation of $3 million) is Peter Sperling, son of University of Phoenix founder, cat-cloner and octogenarian liberal proposition-meister John Sperling (who in 2000 gave California Proposition 36, mandating treatment instead of prison for drug convictions, a failed initiative to soften three strikes, and several others besides). Caveat for green voters: This measure is intended to advance green power and improve the environment but is opposed by a host of high-profile environmental groups, who say it will undermine many green-power efforts.

Dude: My default position on all props is no unless I find good reason to vote yes. I gave this a cursory look over breasfast and figured it would make my utility bill increase, so I voted against it. The electorate agrees.

Proposition 8

What it does: Outlaws same-sex marriage by adding the following words to the state Constitution: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Back story: More déjà vu. Californians expressly outlawed same-sex marriage in a voter initiative in 2000. But that was mere law, which the state Supreme Court struck down earlier this year in a case that found that the right to marry is fundamental -- the state can't deny marriage to a couple based on their sex. Proposition 8 opponents tried (but failed) to get the court to also strike the measure from the ballot on the argument that voters cannot strip citizens of their state constitutional rights. If the initiative passes, they will be back.

Dude: This was the most controversial initiative on the ballot. The yes vote won the day which pleases homophobes for reasons I don't quite understand. I always vote with two prime directives in mind: keep taxes low and give power to the people. I am not a religious person so I have no strong feelings either way about homosexual unions, but if it is important to them that they are allowed to marry just as heteros may, then I say power to the people. I won't vote to legalize discrimination, but my no vote was overruled.

Proposition 9

What it does: Amends the state Constitution to give enforceable rights to the families of crime victims.

Back story: This is the centerpiece of a law-and-order campaign by billionaire businessman and engineer Henry T. Nicholas III and is called "Marsy's Law" in memory of his murdered sister. It qualified for the ballot on June 6 -- the day after indictments were unsealed against Nicholas for a variety of drug charges and for allegedly violating securities laws. Nicholas gave $4.8 million to the campaign but distanced himself after the charges against him were reported. Among other things, Proposition 9 would limit the number of chances for parole for many convicted criminals.

Dude: Remember when the Goldmans got to tell OJ what they thought of him at the sentencing? There are laws on the books that allow victims and their kin to face the accused in the courtroom and to be present at parole hearings. This proposition amends the rules a bit in favor of victims' rights. It seemed to me like additional bureaucracy, so I voted nay, but the ayes took it.

Proposition 10

What it does: Authorizes the sale of $5 billion in bonds ($9.8 billion when interest is included) to provide rebates to buyers of natural gas and other alternative fuel vehicles.

Back story: Uncle T. Boone Pickens wants you: The Texas oilman is underwriting Proposition 10, which will likely drum up buyers for cars that run on natural gas. His company, Clean Energy Fuels Corp., produces and markets ... natural gas.

Dude: Ten billion bucks so Pickens can line his pockets. No thanks. The general populace saw through this ruse and agreed.

Proposition 11

What it does: Strips the Legislature of its power to draw the lines of Assembly and Senate districts (every 10 years, after new census figures come out) and turns the job over to a 14-member citizens' commission.

Back story: Do Californians care that most of the time district boundaries are drawn to consolidate incumbent power? If they do, why did they reject reform in 2005 and eight times before that? In a political sop to Nancy Pelosi, this measure leaves out congressional districts -- a fact that has alienated some Republicans. Minority advocates are alienated because there is no guarantee that anyone on the commission will speak for their constituents.

Dude: I knew this would pass but I voted against it anyways. We elect politicians to do this sort of thing, and even if it is not a perfect system, why build on to it another layer of bureaucracy, which in turn will need an oversight committee, which will of course be accused of being biased, bringing lawsuit after lawsuit. Why not just let the politicians take care of it and leave it at that?

Proposition 12

What it does: Authorizes a bond to extend a state program allowing veterans access to low-interest mortgages.

Back story: The 27th time's a charm: Voters have already approved bonds for Cal-Vet mortgages 26 times since the program was established for World War I veterans in 1921. Opposition is hard to come by -- the "con" ballot argument was written by Gary B. Wesley, a Mountain View lawyer who for many years has taken for himself the task of writing against measures when no one else will. The current Cal-Vet program only covers veterans who served before 1977.

Dude: I voted yes as did most everyone. It's the GI Bill, which has been nothing but good for our country and rewards soldiers for facing gunfire so I don't have to. Besides, it's self-funded by the interest on the loans. If only all government worked this well.