Wotka World Wide

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Things keep looking worse and worse for Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Now, even the Washington Post is weighing in that at the very least he should be stripped of his chairmanship, after it was revealed that he helped an oil company (the horror!) secure a tax break in exchange for a $1 million donation to Rangel's eponymous school of public service at City College of New York . Revoking his chairmanship would seem logical to some people, but obviously not to the Democratic leadership. However, I say it is never too early to get started on 2010, and if the Democrats want to keep a corrupt tax cheat (who unbelievably writes the very tax laws he himself cannot follow) as one of their leading voices, I am all for it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A look at the bankruptcy ratings of debt for various governments, both nations and U.S. states. Apparently the state of California is more of a risk than the nation of Slovakia, which is shocking. Of course, the federal government will just bail out California when they can't pay the bills, which doesn't fix the problem of over-taxing and over-spending as a quick way to fiscal instability. The U.K. is in some trouble right now as well, as they could be facing a situation similar to Iceland with all their over-extended banks. The government there just had to bail out the Royal Bank of Scotland, to the tune of $31 billion. And that is the second largest UK bank after HSBC. What happens when a major government defaults? Or they become such a credit risk that they cannot get any more large loans? Next year will be interesting, to say the least.
An interesting look at transforming higher education, from the Washington Monthly. They examine the reasons for the escalating costs of college, in comparison to some new teaching techniques that have produced impressive cost-savings as well as positive results for students. From reading the article, it appears to me that the biggest problem is the U.S. News rankings, which cause colleges to chase fake indicators of excellence to improve their ranking at the expense of the students they are supposed to be serving. The same thing happened at my alma mater, when they dropped ten spots for refusing to release some personal data about donors. Perhaps a measurement of actual student success, both in college and after, would be much more worthwhile? But then, that would make too much sense.
Black Friday really is black for some people, after shoppers apparently trampled a Wal-mart worker to death at a New York store during the rush at opening. More: "He was bum-rushed by 200 people," co-worker Jimmy Overby, 43, told the Daily News. "They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too. ... I literally had to fight people off my back." This is why America is on the decline.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Remembering hearing about those super lasers that would vaporize ground targets from an airborne platform? Well, it seems they have recently perfected this technology, or at least made it somewhat workable. Glad to see those highly classified defense advance research budgets are producing something.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Update from Minnesota: "In a blow to Democrat Al Franken, a state board ruled Wednesday that absentee ballots that were rejected by poll workers won't be included in Minnesota's Senate recount." There is hope for Senator Coleman yet.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dave Barry on the election results...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Here is a run-down of Obama's supposed picks so far for various Administration officials. The Geithner for treasury pick seems pretty good. It marks a continuation of the Bush economic response, which might not make Democratrs all that happy. But Eric Holder for AG is a joke. Check out a little of his career history here; it ain't pretty, especially as regards the Mark Rich pardon. He is also a big Drug War supporter, helping Bill Clinton say he was tough on drugs as a deputy AG. My favorite is former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who was last heard in the news when he resigned from the presidency of Harvard in 2006 after making comments at a conference giving his reasons why there were so many more men than women in engineering and high-end science positions (among other controversies). However, Summers is a free trade and globalization supporter, which is surprising given Obama's rhetoric during the election, but also somewhat reassuring. Hillary for secretary of state is an interesting idea, if only to see the interplay between her and Obama after a contentious primary. And serious lefties have to be concerned that Obama apparently intends to keep Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense (a move I like). Daschle for HHS makes me feel sick!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Is bankruptcy the best way to bail out the Big Three automakers? David Nicklaus considers the situation:

Chrysler probably isn't viable as a stand-alone company. GM and Ford need to slim down their product offerings, and close plants, until they're only making vehicles that stand a chance of being profitable. They need to bring their labor costs, which average $72 an hour, closer to the Honda or Toyota level of about $45.
Scientists in Indonesia have rediscovered a Furby-like species previously thought extinct, the pygmy tarsier. Wild.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Well, now that the election is over, the New York Times can officially go back to allowing the other side's opinions into print. First off, they allowed Mitt Romney to present his very sensible argument as to why the Detroit automakers should be allowed to fail. Then you have an editorial arguing that Congress should pass the Colombian Free Trade Agreement ASAP. Funny how this paper works. But of course, prior to the election, they wouldn't even allow John McCain an opportunity to rebut claims made by Barack Obama in a misleading op-ed piece about Iraq. Anyone still wondering why they are hemorrhaging subscribers and cutting staff?
European support for Kyoto on the wane? The Germans and Italians have agreed "that measures to cut greenhouse gases shouldn't weigh on the economy", according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Wonder if this will impact the thinking of our government in the US? Considering the Republican candidate was the one recently proposing a cap and trade carbon restriction system, and Obama has indicated support for such a system, it looks like our leaders are determined to take us down this road, even as the European are realizing the futility of such measures. When you consider that the EU nations passed Kyoto, but have been totally unable to actually meet any of the agreed upon cuts, while the US rejected signing on, and our emissions have decreased over the same period, it would be fair to ask why our leaders are so intent on following this course. It just goes to show that the appearance of action is far more important to those in Washington than what will actually solve the problem.
Harry Markowitz, the father of portfolio theory, on the financial crisis. He thinks valuation is the key, but how can you value something properly if the government keeps changing the standards of measurement and enforcement, the tax rates, and who gets bailed out? Still, his thoughts are definitely worth considering.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Has the press lost all objectivity when covering President-elect Obama? Howard Kurtz thinks so, and takes a look at some of their recent "coverage". A disturbing trend, I think.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A law professor fires back at song-swapping lawsuits. More power to him. Is there a place to donate to help out? I would give money to a cause like that. These ridiculous RIAA lawsuits threaten the livelihoods of many Americans. Just having a teenager download a song illegally on the home computer can result in a suit seeking thousands from the parents. This has happened many times. Of course, Congress is not helping matters, which makes sense I guess since the RIAA donates heavily to them. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act needs to be modified or simply struck down, but it would be better if our legislators would solve the problem, rather than creating more headaches for every American. Generations listened and recorded off their radios with no problem, but suddenly CD sales drop and record companies have the right to legally bully anyone into paying out thousands to help cover their mismanagement, all because they got Congress to specially write a law allowing them to do so? What a joke.
The Germans, at least, are doing some major thinking on how to fix the problems with the financial market. They propose a "global risk map". More:

The map would show all major international institutions and financial products, including credit insurance and asset-backed securities.

Similarly, the group has suggested setting up a cross-border credit register of major loans to provide greater transparency to businesses and governments seeking to evaluate risk.

Credit agencies, which have been criticised for dishing out spurious ratings in the pursuit of profit and failing to spot the build-up of risk, should be subject to a central supervisory body that would report annually on their work the report said.

Furthermore the fee structure of credit agencies must be reformed to incentivise the issue of a correct rating, for example by making agencies buy into the tranches of debt that they rate.

The group also proposed realigning management compensation schemes to motivate long-term performance.

These suggestions sound like a good place to start, although it was government machinations of the sub-prime market that triggered the collapse, so perhaps changing credit standards would go along with the above ideas.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Spam falls 70% after fake company McColo gets blocked from the internet. The company is based in San Jose, but has mob ties in eastern Europe. We need more of this stuff to happen!
Now global cooling? Second year in a row of falling temperatures...
Estate-tax hypocrisy from Warren Buffett:
Among his other observations, Buffett has correctly noted the dangers to a democracy of inherited wealth as well as the moral obligation of those who have done particularly well in American society to give back to that society. ... These concerns have led Buffett to support retention of the federal estate tax and to express dismay that his federal income tax bracket is lower than his secretary’s.

All of this leaves me perplexed by the way Buffett is contributing the bulk of his assets to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett has received excellent legal advice to guarantee that his contributions will not generate federal tax. This provokes the question: Why?

Buffett could give his fortune to the Gates Foundation in a manner which generates federal tax. This would leave less for the foundation but more for the federal fisc. Indeed, Bill Gates, like Warren Buffett, advocates retaining the federal estate tax. He too could leave his assets to his foundation in a fashion which would share part of those assets with Uncle Sam

It seems strange for prominent and outspoken advocates of the federal estate tax to dispose of their assets in a manner meticulously designed to avoid the federal estate tax. ... The same skilled lawyers who arranged for Buffett’s fortune to go the Gates Foundation tax-free could instead arrange for Buffett’s assets to go to this foundation on a taxable basis. The resulting payment to the federal Treasury would demonstrate that the sage of Omaha is willing to put his money where he says his heart is.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

An in-depth look at Barack Obama's links to low-income housing developers in Chicago, from the Boston Globe. Among the big names are Tony Rezko and Valerie Jarrett, both guilty of running some of the worst subsidized housing operations in the country. They collected millions in government funds while the properties they managed rapidly fell into uninhabitable slums awaiting a wrecking ball. And many of these developments were in Obama's state Senate district. Of course, Rezko is awaiting sentencing on bribery and corruption charges, while Jarrett has just been named one of Obama's senior advisers in the next Administration.
"... some people in Chicago's poorest neighborhoods are torn between a natural inclination to support Obama and a concern about his relationships with the developers they hold responsible for Chicago's affordable housing failures. Some housing advocates worry that Obama has not learned from those failures.

"I'm not against Barack Obama," said Willie J.R. Fleming, an organizer with the Coalition to Protect Public Housing and a former public housing resident. "What I am against is some of the people around him."

Jamie Kalven, a longtime Chicago housing activist, put it this way: "I hope there is not much predictive value in his history and in his involvement with that community."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Preparation for the recount of ballots in Minnesota Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken is ongoing, as the ballots must all be verified as legal and counted by hand by election workers, while being observed by representatives and lawyers from both campaigns. Some counties have rented out sports arenas because so much room is required for the process. Sounds like a complete nightmare, with a high potential for fraud. I wouldn't be surprised if a recount produces a vastly different total for each candidate.
America Throws Long from Peggy Noonan, at the WSJ:

It is obvious that Mr. Obama's people have learned from the experiences of Bill Clinton and will continue to try not to begin with a gays-in-the-military, my-wife-is-revolutionizing-health-care series of errors that will self-brand them as to the left of the mainstream. They do not want to do anything that will leave the middle-right saying "Uh-oh" and begin to push away. The great question, however, is: Do Mr. Obama and his people fully understand what will make the middle-right say "Uh-oh"? His small joke at Nancy Reagan's expense the other day was the sort of joke they make in the leftosphere. The rightosphere has its jokes too. But America doesn't live in the leftosphere or the rightosphere.
And she leaves us with these thoughts:
Everything in America, from businesses to families to political parties, is always rising or falling, because America is dynamic, not static, and change is the only constant. There is joy to be had in being out of power. You don't have to defend stupid decisions anymore. You get to criticize with complete abandon. This is the pleasurable side of what the donkey knows, which is that it's easier to knock over the barn than build it.
So did you hear about Joe Biden's RAVE Act? They are going to classify "bottled water" and "glow sticks" as "drug paraphernalia". And people complain that the Republicans are the ones always destroying our civil rights... More on this ridiculous piece of legislation from Glenn Reynolds, along with some more commentary about the failure of the drug war.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Hope and Change:
President-elect Barack Obama is barring lobbyists from participating in the transition that will help install his administration. He will still leave room on his team for the rich and powerful.

Top fundraisers and other well-connected supporters will serve in an advisory capacity before the Democrat takes office on Jan. 20.

Five of the 12 members of Obama's transition advisory board raised at least $50,000 for his presidential campaign, and eight contributed the maximum individual donation of $4,600. Other transition team members include a partner in a lobbying firm and two executives of financial companies whose employees were among his biggest donors.

``If an Obama administration is going to sell influence, these are the ones who have bought it,'' said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group that favors stronger campaign-finance and lobbying laws.

Via Bloomberg. Read the whole thing for the details. Apparently all this hysteria about lobbyists was just a smokescreen. Funny though, that Obama's transition chief, John Podesta, announced new rules supposedly banning lobbyists from influencing the transition effort, but at least one former lobbyist, and multiple donors /bundlers from big Wall Street firms like Citigroup, are making up part of the transition board. Sounds like they are saying one thing while doing another. Hopefully they won't get a free pass on this type of stuff, like they did during the campaign.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ever hear about that nuclear weapon lost over Greenland in 1968?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mini nuclear plants that can power 20,000 homes and cost $25 million? And there is no risk of meltdown or leakage? Sounds like a great idea. I want one.
A dour look at the cult of Obama, and its implications for the future of America. From Peter Hitchens. Here's hoping his viewpoint isn't totally accurate.
Six good reasons to not bail out the auto industry. At the top of my list:
Union contracts that impose astronomical health and pension costs, make innovation harder, reduce production flexibility, and fail to ensure quality. American workers can produce quality cars and do so at numerous foreign owned plants. Most of those plants, however, are not organized. A Democrat-sponsored bailout is certain to preserve the current union contract.
Until Detroit gets out from under the influence of big labor and their burdensome and unbelievably expensive contracts, things will never change. No way a Democratic-backed bailout is going to diminish union power. The problem will just get more expensive. Via Instapundit.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A look at the foreign policy challenges awaiting the Obama Administration, from the Washington Post:

In the Middle East last year, Bush began what is known as the Annapolis process, which seeks to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to agree on the parameters of a peace accord. Rice has taken on the task of shepherding the effort, making almost monthly trips to the region to try to persuade the two sides to reach an agreement. Any progress that has been made has remained secret; both sides say the talks have been productive and far-reaching.

But the White House this week formally gave up any hope of achieving a peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians before Bush leaves office. Analysts have criticized the Annapolis process for not finding a way to accommodate the interests of Hamas, which has been labeled a terrorist group by the State Department but which controls the Gaza Strip with nearly half of the Palestinian population. Rice has also been faulted for investing so much in the effort, to the detriment of other issues, that her clout has been diminished.

Obama has not indicated that he will offer any fresh thinking on how to deal with Hamas; at one point during the campaign, he accepted the resignation of an outside adviser who met with Hamas officials as part of his job for an international mediation group. But, during a visit to Israel in July, Obama said he would not wait "until a few years into my term or my second term" to seek a peace deal. This suggests that he may appoint a high-level Middle East peace envoy, freeing his secretary of state to concentrate on other issues.

Good to see Obama recognizes that some good things have been done under Bush's foreign policy that need continuing. The only funny thing is their claim that Clinton left Bush a better situation in North Korea than Bush will leave for Obama, which is laughable when you consider that Clinton gave nuclear technology to North Korea in exchange for a peace deal, and then had them spurn inspections and announce that they had developed nuclear weapons. Bush's team is at least talking to them and the situation hasn't gotten any worse.

A good look at how the Obama campaign used Karl Rove's church outreach strategy from 2004 to win a majority of the religious vote in the recent election. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. However, the article fails to address the ethical issue of preaching politics from pulpit. Interesting that Barack Obama was the one talking about his deep faith in Jesus Christ during the election, while John McCain was insisting that his religious views were private. And yet Sarah Palin was the one characterized as a Christian fanatic, despite Obama having the outrageous preacher. It is almost implied that most Democrats inherently know any profession of faith from a Democrat is just them saying what is necessary to get elected. But when a Republican says it, they probably mean it, which of course means they are religious zealots.
A look at the challenges facing China, as they announce a $586 billion spending package to stimulate the economy. Their biggest problem is a global recession, which is already hurting their exporting industries. And that looks to get worse before it gets better. Where China's government gets the money is a question left unanswered.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Putin seeking to return as President for life? Things looking grim in Russia...
Hard to believe what you can find on ESPN.com these days. From the latest TMQ:

Rich People: Stop Giving to Harvard! Recently TMQ proposed that since Harvard, Yale and Stanford are amply endowed -- $37 billion for Harvard, $23 billion for Yale and $17 billion for Stanford -- the rich cease giving to these schools, and instead donate to money-strapped institutions where the gifts will have more meaning. Update: In the past month alone, billionaire Hansjörg Wyss donated $125 million to Harvard, while Business Wire founder Lorry Lokey gave $75 million to Stanford. Wyss' gift to Harvard exceeds the entire academic endowments of Xavier, Pace, Wittenberg, Ursinus, Alfred, Millsaps and other colleges that serve mainly average people, not the mainly elites served by Harvard. Lokey's gift to Stanford exceeds the entire academic endowments of Juniata, Linfield, Sacred Heart, Hastings, Capital University, Ripon, Lenoir-Rhyne and other colleges that likewise serve those of average means rather than from privileged backgrounds. (Look up any college's endowment here; the numbers are for fiscal 2007. Harvard and a few other schools have already announced higher fiscal 2008 figures.)

TMQ's contention is that many gifts by the rich to max-status schools are not true gifts -- that is, given selflessly. Rather, they are intended to flatter the giver's ego, by associating his or her name with status. Think how much more good $125 million or $75 million would do -- how many lives would be changed in favorable ways -- at the nonelite schools mentioned in this item, or at a hundred more like them. Plus a donor who gave a large sum to an under-endowed school for average people would become a local hero and be loved by the school's community forever. Give $125 million to Harvard and you're just another filthy-rich guy with a big ego taking your place in a line of filthy-rich types with big egos.

The United States of Audacity. Before everyone gets too excited (too late), it would be wise to remember that our enemies will still hate us. They don't just hate George Bush, they hate our policies, our freedoms, our economic might, and our shining example to the rest of the world. Bin Laden will still hate us, even with a President Obama. Read the whole thing. Via Instapundit.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama Claus. Here is a nice list of the many things Obama has promised, that he has said in just the last few days.
  • "give a tax break to 95 percent of Americans who work every day and get taxes taken out of their paycheck every week";
  • "eliminate income taxes on Social Security for seniors making under $50,000";
  • "give homeowners and working parents additional tax breaks";
  • not increase taxes on anyone if they "make under $250,000; you will not see your taxes increase by a single dime –- not your income taxes, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains tax";
  • "end those breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas";
  • "give tax breaks to companies that invest right here in the United States";
  • "eliminate capital gains taxes for small businesses and start-up companies that are the engine of job creation in this country";
  • "create two million new jobs by rebuilding our crumbling roads, and bridges, and schools -- by laying broadband lines to reach every corner of the country";
  • "invest $15 billion a year in renewable sources of energy to create five million new energy jobs over the next decade";
  • "reopen old factories, old plants, to build solar panels, and wind turbines";
  • build "a new electricity grid";
  • "build the fuel efficient cars of tomorrow";
  • "eliminate the oil we import from the Middle East in 10 years";
  • "lower premiums" for those who already have health insurance;
  • "if you don't have health insurance, you'll be able to get the same kind of health insurance that members of Congress give themselves";
  • "end discrimination by insurance companies to the sick and those who need care the most";
  • "invest in early childhood education";
  • "recruit an army of new teachers";
  • "pay our teachers higher salaries, give them more support. But ... also demand higher standards and more accountability";
  • "make a deal with every young person who's here and every young person in America: If you are willing to commit yourself to national service, whether it's serving in our military or in the Peace Corps, working in a veterans home or a homeless shelter, then we will guarantee that you can afford to go to college no ifs ands or buts";
  • "stop spending $10 billion a month in Iraq whole the Iraqis have a huge surplus";
  • "end this war in Iraq";
  • "finish the fight and snuff out al Qaeda and bin Laden";
  • "increase our ground troops and our investments in the finest fighting force in the world";
  • "invest in 21st century technologies so that our men and women have the best training and equipment when they deploy into combat and the care and benefits they have earned when they come home";
  • "No more homeless veterans"; and
  • "no more fighting for disability payments."
Wow, that is quite a list. Where will we get the money for all this again? Besides slashing the military budget...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

US stocks rose today, capping the biggest weekly gains since 1974. Things are finally looking up.