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Archive for March, 2009

This video is epic:

So what’s up with British politics?  Is this sort of open rebuke par for the course, or is this dude just exceptionally bold?  Is it just me, or would our system benefit greatly from this sort of no-holds barred, face to face smackdown on occasion?  It seems that the bulk of our bickering occurs indirectly, via the media, usually through passive aggressive, veiled insults, often disguised as compliments.  As such, I found the speech in this video to be deeply satisfying.  Also check out this guy’s blog at www.hannan.co.uk.

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Like many bloggers, radio hosts and pundits (at least of the Fox News variety), I found myself completely confounded by Barrack Obama’s press conference last night.  Here are some questions I’ve been pondering:

1) Is a time coming when everyone (liberals included) will become utterly fatigued from seeing Barrack Obama on television?  It seems that every time I turn on the news or get on the internet I’m greeted with Barrack Obama, whether he’s giving his picks for the NCAA basketball tournament, chatting with Jay Leno, appearing on 60 minutes, or giving another nationally televised pep talk for his budget.  Is he immune to the law of diminishing returns?  Or will everyone soon start to tune him out?

2) What does Barrack Obama mean when he says:

At the end of the day, the best way to bring our deficit down in the long run is not with a budget that continues the very same policies that have led us to a narrow prosperity and massive debt. It’s with a budget that leads to broad economic growth by moving from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest.

Where, and when, exactly, does this saving come in to the picture?  Obama repeatedly blames Bush for raising the federal deficit to unacceptable levels, but tells us that we’ll experience “broad economic growth” if we spend more than ever before, multiplying the deficit by a factor of 8 or 9 by Obama’s own projections.  He tells us that we’re somehow going to save money by bringing down healthcare costs.  Again, this is highly confusing- how exactly does the government save money by spending unprecedented amounts of money on healthcare?  His budget does not show these supposed savings ever bringing down our national debt, only dramatically increasing it.  So are we just supposed to trust him that, sometime in the future, well after his budget has taken our national debt to unfathomable depths, that savings are magically going to appear?  Or, is the idea that, upon seizing more control of the health care system, the government will be able to eventually set price controls on healthcare?  Or does he mean more of a moral savings, like our consciences will be saved from the guilt of a private health care system?  If that’s what he means I wish he’d say it, because telling us we’re going to save money by spending a bunch of it is confusing at best, and duplicitous at worst.

3) Is it just me, or is the media finally starting to turn on Obama?  I was pleasantly surprised last night that the questions were pointed and critical.  One of the most direct questions was about the AIG bonuses:

…when you and Secretary Geithner first learned about this 10 days, two weeks ago, you didn’t go public immediately with that outrage. You waited a few days. And then you went public after you realized Secretary Geithner really had no legal avenue to stop it…But on AIG, why did you wait — why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the attorney general’s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, “Look, we’re outraged.” Why did it take so long?

This question was satisfying to me  (needless to say, Obama’s answer was not) and it was really not unique from the other questions in terms of tone.  If the mainstream media is beginning to take a more critical stance towards Obama, I wonder what’s driving it.  Is it possible that, sensing that Obama’s first month is going poorly and that more disappointment might be around the corner, reporters are smelling fresh meat?  Perhaps they are sensing that the ship has some holes, and they want to be the first ones on the scene?  Or perhaps they want to avoid being the last man standing in a suddenly unpopular corner?  Or, did they all finally decide to do their jobs?  Or this all in my imagination, and the treatment last night was no different than what Obama is normally accustomed to?

4) The arrangement of the teleprompter was interesting- mostly off-screen.  Was this a direct response to Rush Limbaugh and others who incessantly point out his reliance on the device?  And, along those lines, is anyone else a bit unnerved by his drastic drop in communication skills when the teleprompter no longer tells him what to say?  Or is the drop off really not that severe, and more a figment of my conservative imagination?

5) One thing Obama said last night that I really appreciated was as follows:

I think that the last 64 days has been dominated by me trying to figure out how we’re going to fix the economy, and that affects black, brown and white.

And, you know, obviously, at the inauguration, I think that there was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination in this country, but that lasted about a day.

And — and, you know, right now, the American people are judging me exactly the way I should be judged. And that is: Are we taking the steps to improve liquidity in the financial markets, create jobs, get businesses to re-open, keep America safe? And that’s what I’ve been spending my time thinking about.

I was braced, given the question that Obama was responding to, for him to use his race to further leverage a moral case for supporting him, or to remind us all of how racist we still are, or how great we suddenly are for electing a black president.  I was pleasantly surprised that he chose to take race out of the equation.  I agree with him completely here: watching an African American man get inaugerated to our country’s presidency brought a lot of pride to Americans, myself included.  But now that he’s taken office and begun the job we elected him to, he needs to be judged as the 44th president, not the first black president.  He seems to get that, and I’m very thankful for that.  Is it too early to trust that Obama is committed to leaving his race out of the discussion completely for the next four years?

Thoughts?

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What a sad couple of weeks it has been here at Criticism As Inspiration.  I offer a sincere apology to all readers who visited our blog numerous times in the past couple of weeks, each time disappointed with our lack of posts.  But here’s a conversation starter…

Mirek Topolánek is currently serving as the prime minister of the Czech Republic (though he was ousted with a no confidence vote today…) as well as the president of the European Union.  Granted he is more right-of-center, he is very much against President Obama’s economic recovery plan.  I have not voiced much regarding this legislation, primarily because I don’t know much about it.  I desired change for American politics, but hiking up the national deficit is all too familiar.

What’s this?  The commie is upset about government spending and his beloved President Obama?  Yes, I am upset about the current state of the economy all over the world.  This is the perfect time to enact Plan “C”

WORKINGMEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!

Of course I am being facetious.  I suspect that the market system has flaws, though I am convinced that neither Wall Street nor the big banks are solely to blame for our economic recession.  If you look at the chart below you will see that household (personal) debt in the United States has officially reached and surpassed our GDP:

debt2

I am not one for staring at charts (I’m more of a map kind of guy), but it’s rather easy to observe that our household debt has certainly been climbing over the past 25 years.  You can see it passing our GDP in 2007 and over the past two years it is continuing to climb.  What does that mean?  Who cares about our household debt in relationship to GDP?  What is most striking about this chart is that household debt has reached this level before.  Think 1929:

household

If you look at this chart you can see that last time American household debt was near 100% of our GDP was in 1929, followed by a rapid depression (which is called the Great Depression).  This gives us an interesting insight into a possible cause of the current recession.  Columbia Business School professor David Beim worded it well:

The problem is us.  The problem is not the banks, greedy though they may be, overpaid though they may be.  The problem is us…  We’ve been living very high on the hog.  Our living standard has been rising dramatically in the last 25 years.  And we have been borrowing much of the money to make that prosperity happen.

This is old news (I heard it on NPR almost a month ago), but bearing it in mind, perhaps we Americans ought to reorient the way that we see life (especially success, wealth, meaning, and fulfillment).  I’ve seen families living what would be considered “poverty-stricken” lives (according to information brought to light in this insightful post) while driving Escalades.  We’ve put ourselves in debt up to our ears (and climbing), and perhaps more borrowing ought not be our next step.  Maybe we ought to drive the cheaper, more fuel-efficient car.  Maybe we ought to eat out less and cook at home more.  Maybe we ought not purchase that big screen nor update our DVD library to Blu-Ray.  Maybe we ought not give Hollywood another record-breaking year.  I’m not sure where to draw the line, but smalls steps in the right direction would be a good start.

If we don’t choose change the way we live we will most certainly be forced to.

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UPDATE: Senator Arlen Specter has made a decision to not support the bill… which will likely doom it to failure.  Specter fails in many respects as a true conservative, but kudos to him on this decision.

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The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA, H.R. 800), coming before congress this session is the most absurd bill I have heard of in a while.  My dislike of unions is not hidden (posts here, here, and video here) and this brings up a perfect reason.  The law is designed to make it possible for a union to be formed by workers openly signing forms – “card check” – versus using a secret ballot.  At what point in American history have we ever assumed that forcing people to make their vote known publicly is “freer” than secret ballot?  If that is the case, what’s the deal with the secrecy in our local and national elections.  Clearly, the desire is to be make people nervous about their vote so the unions can bully them into voting for the union.

Don’t agree?  How about what has been said openly by the unions to potential swing-vote Senator Arlen Specter?  From the Washington Times:

…labor leaders promised Sen. Arlen Specter that they will switch union members from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party to help him win a tough 2010 primary election, The Washington Times has learned.

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President William M. George said he pledged Mr. Specter “all kinds of help from the union” in a series of meetings to woo the Republican senator’s support for the bill, which would ease rules favoring secret-ballot elections to unionize workplaces.

“We are pushing to give him help in the primary, including changing Democrats to Republicans for the primary,” Mr. George told The Times. “It’s hard to do because of other races in the state … but we’ll do it for ‘card check.’ “

How exactly do you go about making your members change their registration status again?  Not only do they try to bully people into voting a union shop into existence, but then they promise openly to bully people into voting for candidates they want.

The AFL-CIO’s argument for this law, here.  Heritage Foundation’s argument against, here.

mramirezcardcheck

MARK ADDS: With the Obama administration, there seems to be no getting around news about unions lately.  See this article about how the Davis-Beacon provision is being incorporated into stimulus money for projects… so many projects are forced to pay prevailing union wage.  An example in the article talks of workers caulking the windows of low-income housing in L.A. to weatherize them.  County Officials typically pay $15/hr for that work, but stimulus rules will require them to pay $30/hr… so half as many houses will be serviced.  Great news… unions win at the expense of others, as usual.

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Every fall during college football championship games, and every spring during college basketball “madness” a discussion comes up about how much money colleges make from these sports, and how there is no doubt that this is business not athletics.  Some numbers for you: CBS paid $6 billion to the NCAA for the tv rights to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament through 2103 – The University of Texas grossed $60 million from their 2005 National Championship football squad – This year the North Carolina Tarheels basketball team is valued at $25.9 million.  These are big numbers for big programs… not the definitive for everyone.  Many schools must shut programs down because of lack of money (or many times because Title IX requirements make it unfeasible to fund all sports offered).  There’s an interesting discussion at the NY Times blog about paying student-athletes and whether it would be good or bad, or whatever.  The argument that college athletes should at least have the opportunity to seek endorsements seems pretty compelling to me.  Arguing that this is amateur athletics and paying of athletes should not occur is ignoring the amounts of money previously referenced… at least here the athletes doing the “work” can try to be entrepreneurs as well.

I’m not suggesting that student-athletes have it tough.  They are pampered, sheltered, and basically given every possible advantage over a normal student while at college.  Though their life is not tough it does come with heavy responsibility and scrutiny that the average student doesn’t have to bare.  But still every year their is scandal over boosters giving money under-the-table to athletes, buying cars or homes for the parents to get the kids to come to the school of choice.  These “donors” obviously see college athletics as the business it is, rather than an amateur amusement… plus their legal donations are tax-deductible (see T. Boone Pickens $165 million donation to OSU athletics).  This article, that started my thoughts going on this post, talks about college basketball coaches that hire the fathers of athletes into positions on the coaching staff in order to secure the services of their sons – though the coaches claim it is a coincidence that the person perfect for the job just happens to be a parent of a star player.

All this is not to say there is something wrong with college athletics (though that argument can be made), but rather to say that the bull-parade about amatuerism and athletics could really be ended since everyone knows what’s what.  Food for thought for the weekend – as usual, love to hear the thoughts of the CAI readers.

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End The War On Drugs?

drugsfinalLast weeks issue of The Economist had a series on the global drug war and the cost/benefits of ending the prohibition of drugs.  Their conclusion, and one that they have held since 1988, is that “the least bad policy is to legalize drugs”.  Take a look at the article and see what you think… also be sure to read the related articles they link to on the right.

I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

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I have made an observation in my life that I wish to share with you. Somewhere in the last 2 television seasons 30 Rock has become much funnier than The Office. There it is. Drink it in and prepare your rebuttal.

theofficeI was a latecomer to the U.S. version of The Office (which is ironic since I worked at the studio that produced it and had access to it before it was even on the air) mostly because I felt devoted to the British version and didn’t want to sully the memory of that great show with what must be the inferior American version. However, beginning in the 2nd season of The Office I found myself watching it with my roommates and became hooked. I realized that Greg Daniels, the exec. producer, had cleverly created an entirely different world then the British version, and wasn’t in fact copying it down the line (though they certainly did in the pilot). Michael Scott wasn’t impersonating David Brent, they were different characters… and it was hilarious. Who wouldn’t love “Michael Scarn”, or Pam and Jim’s flirtation, or lines like:

You cheated on me?  When I specifically asked you not to?

30rockAnd then, right about the time I was falling for The Office, along came a show by Tina Fey called 30 Rock, which I had previously known and read as “The Untitled Tina Fey Project” – a very funny script, but also one that had been pushed back to a later development cycle, and which was also getting a little less publicity than it’s drama doppelganger “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip“.  I watched from time to time and thought it had funny moments, in between the million barbs aimed at republicans, but it didn’t have my undivided attention.

Well the tables have turned.  30 Rock is the funniest show on television right now.  Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon would eat Michael Scott and Jim Halpert up and spit them out if they crossed paths.  Lemon’s sarcastic self-loathing and Donaghy’s self-righteous narcissism are a duo that can’t be beat.  Maybe once Fey realized that a democrat was going to be in office she toned down the bashing of conservatives, or maybe the writers have just gotten into a rhythm… like Seinfeld after a few seasons.  Whatever the case, every time I see a teaser for 30 Rock all I can think is – “I want to go to there.”

What do you think?  Take our poll.

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