Thursday, April 30, 2009

Missing The Point

I'm an unabashed fan of Mickey Kaus, but he really misses the point here regarding the new and un-improved Government Motors:

The union's ownership so does not seem a problem. It seems a virtue. Let the UAW, as new owner of GM, pay the price for the overgrown work rules of its locals. Let the UAW demand above-market raises from itself. Let the UAW try to raise money from new lenders after the previous round of lenders has been royally screwed (thanks, in part, to the UAW). And then let the UAW try to sell the cars that result.

But that's the problem. They won't have to sell the cars.

It's long been a joke that General Motors was really a healthcare and pension company that made cars as a sideline, but now GM is effectively a federal agency. Take as comparative examples what happens when the SEIU or NEA get together with politicians. Why, the SEIU or NEA gets what it wants--more money, the politicians get what they want--campaign donations and in-kind election aid, and the taxpayers get... the bill.

That's the problem with unionized government employees: the union and politicians collude, and pass the bill on to the taxpayer. As a near-monopoly, GM and the UAW got away with a similar kind of collusion up until the late 70's, when market competition brought the whole comfortable deal to a screeching halt--but there is effectively no competition when the government owns the business. Now, every GM employee is effectively a unionized Federal civil servant.

The new Federal GM is going to be an utter disaster. Every penny-ante politician and bureaucrat will have their fingers in car design, marketing, distribuition, you name it. It won't matter that they and the UAW won't be able to sell any of these crappy Homers--they can just go back to the Treasury for another bailout. And another, and another, and another.

The UAW owning GM as an independent company would probably serve everybody involved right, but that's not what we're looking at here. We're going to get the Government owning GM and running it for the benefit of the UAW, and that's got fiasco written all over it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Raising Sand

Michael Barone:

What do these states [California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada] have in common? First of all, high population growth through most of this decade, if not in the entire state than in major metropolitan areas—the Inland Empire and the Central Valley in California, the I-4 corridor in Florida, metro Phoenix in Arizona, metro Las Vegas in Nevada. This stimulated a demand for housing and rapidly rising house prices that rose to huge bubble dimensions, then crashed when the local economy began to falter (as gaming receipts did in Las Vegas in 2007, for example). Second, large numbers of Hispanic immigrants. Lending institutions had incentives under our laws to lend to minorities, and they had a ready market to offload those mortgages in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Third, local economies that became overdependent on construction and real estate, so that when the bubble burst there was not much to fall back on. I have seen estimates that something like one-quarter of the metro Phoenix economy was in construction and real estate.

All of this tells us that the foreclosure problem is more a local one than a national one. It was caused by the peculiarities of local economies and demographies which, combined with the effects of government regulation, had powerful effects here but very limited effects elsewhere.

The foreclosure problem elsewhere is the typical problem you encounter in a recession: when people get laid off, they have a harder time paying off their mortgages. There are policy arguments for some kind of amerliorative laws to staunch the pain.

But in the Sand States the problem is different. Housing prices in Phoenix, for example, roughly doubled between 2004 and 2007 and now are back to 2004 levels. Can we, or should we want to, pump them up to 2007 levels again? The answer to both questions, it seems to me, is no. So we will just have to deal with the problem created by the fact that these mortgages were commingled into mortgage-backed securities with those from other areas which are much less likely to result in foreclosures.

Not having access to the full report cited by Barone (I can't get the RealtyTrac page he links to to open for some reason), I think there's another factor here that he doesn't touch on, namely speculation in condominiums. I won't try to speak to California or Arizona, but anybody who's spent time in Florida or Las Vegas can tell you that both places are fairly sinking under the mass of new condominium construction from the past decade or so. Even backwaters like Panama City Beach are bulging with new thirty-storey concrete monstrosities, sold off a condo at a time, often sight-unseen, to absentee owners, few of which were interested even in renting the properties; they were in it for the flip.

When the flips went away in the real-estate crash, thousands and thousands of those condos went into foreclosure. No "recovery plan" is going to be able to wash out all that bad debt; you're talking about decades rather than years to resolve this disaster of speculative overbuilding.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Charter Communications Is A Pack Of Liars

Remember that run-in with my former ISP, Charter Communications, which was allegedly fixed by Charter's online watchdog, Eric Ketzer? I officially take back the part about Charter and me being "square." My email to Ketzer today follows:


It appears that Charter's infamous billing department is not paying any attention to you.

I just received a Charter nastygram in the mail, dated Sunday, April 19, informing me that Charter still believes I am "in possession of Charter-owned equipment," and proceeds to threaten me with legal action if it is not returned "immediately."

This is why people hate cable companies: your word is no good.

I will not be returning anything to Charter, because, as you are aware, and have previously agreed, I am not and never have been in possession of any Charter-owned equipment.

Here's something else I will not be doing: spending any time on email or the phone with Charter trying to fix your billing system.

Instead, I will be contacting the Smyrna franchise authority and let them know about how Charter is harassing me for items that have never been on my property, in my possession, or for all I know, in the same time zone with me. I'll also be raising every variety of hell available to me online and elsewhere.

Here's what else I will be doing, unless I receive word TOMORROW from the Smyrna, GA Charter office that they agree that I do not owe Charter a thing, and will IMMEDIATELY cease any phone calls, letters, or any other action to reclaim said nonexistent items.

Should any further unwarranted harassment from Charter occur, I will instead, as your nastygram notes, "reserve the right to pursue all available remedies including legal action."

I note for the record that while I do not owe Charter a dime, the refund check for the balance of my former subscription which was allegedly cut some 13 days ago has never arrived. I take this as an article of the good faith (or more accurately, the lack therof) with which Charter has been dealing with me, and will act accordingly.

Thanks for your continued attention in this matter.

--Will Collier

Recommended Reading

Ralph Peters:

Those on the left don't want justice. If they did, they'd be protesting the murderous torture prevalent in Iran, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and Russia. Instead, our leftists want us to show the leaders of those terror states more respect.

The left is out for revenge. It always is. Hatred of those who think differently is the left's unifying principle. Leftists don't need God, but they see devils everywhere.

When President-for-Life Hugo Chavez called President George W. Bush "el Diablo," our leftists agreed. Hatred of the last administration grew so irrational that any terrorist, no matter how monstrous, became no more than a victim of Bush-Cheney.

Now the left wants an Inquisition for heretics who failed to share its worldview. Men and women who, in their capacity as public servants, wrestled with difficult legal issues in the course of our battle with terrorists are now to be tried and shamed because the left disagreed with their legal opinions and actions. No matter that most Americans wouldn't view the methods of our interrogators as torture when applied to hardened terrorists (despite the media's ceaseless effort to convince us otherwise). No matter that foreign leaders championed by the left use vastly more brutal techniques.

No matter that interrogators differ on the utility of "harsh" methods or that the information gleaned indisputably saved American lives. No matter that our system of government functioned as it was designed to.

The left just didn't like the results the system produced. Law has nothing to do with this cry for vengeance. This is purely about political differences. During the Bush administration, leftists warned repeatedly that actions they didn't like put our country on a "slippery slope." Well, once we initiate show trials of government officials who did their best to protect us, we'll have skipped the slippery slope and leapt to the bottom.

Read the whole thing.

Shakeup at the AJC

Down near the bottom of this Creative Loafing article on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's latest shakeup, you'll find this quite-interesting tidbit about the AJC's editorial board:

Finally, ears perked up last week when Wallace announced that Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Cynthia Tucker would move to Washington, D.C., to write about national politics from an Atlanta-centric perspective.

What Wallace didn’t announce is that AJC executives have quietly taken direct control of the paper’s editorial board, bumping Tucker, columnist Jay Bookman and staff editorial writer Maureen Downey, who’s been shifted to an education beat. The board, which is responsible for the paper’s institutional voice, now consists of Wallace; publisher Doug Franklin; James Mallory, a senior VP; and Andre Jackson, Tucker’s replacement as editorial page editor, whose column has yet to appear.

One obvious conclusion to be drawn is that Wallace, who’s publicly acknowledged reader complaints that the editorial page is too liberal, aims to swing the pendulum in the other direction.

The article goes on to quote Lyle Harris, a former AJC editorial board member (and needless to say, not the board's token conservative) verbally wringing his hands over such a change with the classic paternalist comment, "Just giving people what they want isn’t doing them any favors."

One can't help but chuckle at that one; it's always a delight to see spoiled brats losing their toys. Harris and Tucker and their cronies contributed mightily to the AJC's downfall by continually insulting and alienating the vast majority of the paper's potential readership. The only shame here is that it took losing $1 million a week for the paper's publishers to realize it was time to kick the old, self-indulgent board to the curb.

H/T: Jay at Wiz Of Odds.

UPDATE: The NY Times noticed the shakeup on Monday, and is not amused. That's all the validation you need that the AJC's leadership could finally be growing a clue.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cyber-Terrorism In California

This story, covered here by blogger Bruce Perans but only glancingly by Big Media, should be getting a lot more attention:

Just after midnight on Thursday, April 9, unidentified attackers climbed down four manholes serving the Northern California city of Morgan Hill and cut eight fiber cables in what appears to have been an organized attack on the electronic infrastructure of an American city. Its implications, though startling, have gone almost un-reported.

That attack demonstrated a severe fault in American infrastructure: its centralization. The city of Morgan Hill and parts of three counties lost 911 service, cellular mobile telephone communications, land-line telephone, DSL internet and private networks, central station fire and burglar alarms, ATMs, credit card terminals, and monitoring of critical utilities. In addition, resources that should not have failed, like the local hospital's internal computer network, proved to be dependent on external resources, leaving the hospital with a "paper system" for the day.

In technical terms, the area was partitioned from the surrounding internet. What was the attackers goal? Nothing has been revealed. Robbery? With wires cut, silent alarms were useless. Manipulation of the stock market? Companies, brokerages, and investors in the very wealthy community were cut off. Mayhem, murder, terrorism? But nothing like that seems to have happened. Some theorize unhappy communications workers, given the apparent knowledge of the community's infrastructure necessary for this attack. Or did the attackers simply want to teach us a lesson?

Read the whole thing. H/T: Slashdot.

Haven't We Been Here Before?

David Ignatius:

Put yourself in the shoes of the people who were asked to interrogate al-Qaeda prisoners in 2002. One former officer told me he declined the job, not because he thought the program was wrong but because he knew it would blow up. "We all knew the political wind would change eventually," he recalled. Other officers who didn't make that cynical but correct calculation are now "broken and bewildered," says the former operative.

For a taste of what's ahead, recall the chilling effects of past CIA scandals. In 1995, then-Director John Deutch ordered a "scrub" of the agency's assets after revelations of past links to Guatemalan death squads. Officers were told they shouldn't jettison sources who had provided truly valuable intelligence. But the practical message, recalls one former division chief, was: "Don't deal with assets who could pose political risks." A similar signal is being sent now, he warns.

One veteran counterterrorism operative says that agents in the field are already being more careful about using the legal findings that authorize covert action. An example is the so-called "risk of capture" interview that takes place in the first hour after a terrorism suspect is grabbed. This used to be the key window of opportunity, in which the subject was questioned aggressively and his cellphone contacts and "pocket litter" were exploited quickly.

Now, field officers are more careful. They want guidance from headquarters. They need legal advice. I'm told that in the case of an al-Qaeda suspect seized in Iraq several weeks ago, the CIA didn't even try to interrogate him. The agency handed him over to the U.S. military.

Moral preening by politicians dried up our intelligence networks in the 1970's and again in the 1990's. We paid a terrible price in exchange for making a few people feel better about themselves. History, sadly, is in the process of repeating itself.

Hobbit Revolt

This is interesting: Warner Brothers is releasing the Peter Jackson "Lord Of The Rings" movies on Blu-Ray later this year, with the theatrical versions all together in one rather pricey package. You'd think fans would be exstatic, but Amazon's pre-order site has nearly 40 pages of negative reviews, almost all of them written by people upset that the Blu-Ray release is a repeat of the "double-dipping" marketing of the standard DVDs several years ago. In that case, each movie's DVD release was followed a few months later by a much more extensive (and in my opinion, significanly improved) expanded version with about an hour more footage per movie and a vast selection of supplimental material.

Having already paid twice for the much of the same footage, the movies' fans are none too happy about being expected to pay two more times for higher definition versions, and are demanding a unified Blu-Ray release instead of another double-dip. Given the Hollywood mentality of squeezing every drop of revenue out of a "franchise," I doubt the complainers are going to change WB's marketing plans, but it'll be interesting to see how (or if) the company responds to an online revolt.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Catching Up

Just a brief heads-up here, I've been out of town and decidedly off-line for the past few days, and this is going to be a busy week in the "real world." Posting is liable to be sparce as a result.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What He Said

Jonah Goldberg:

My real objection to this report is that its source material amounts to “everybody knows.” Everybody knows the right is full of whack-jobs, hatemongers, and killers, and if we don’t remain vigilant, bad things will happen.

Just look at the coverage of these tea parties. To watch CNN, you’d think these were beer-hall putsches, as if emulating the Boston Tea Party and demanding less government were straight out of Mein Kampf.


Sen. John Kerry belonged to an organization of vets that considered assassinating American politicians. (Kerry denied participating in those meetings.) Barack Obama was friends with, and a colleague of, a terrorist whose organization plotted to murder soldiers and their wives at a social at Fort Dix. A young Hillary Clinton sympathized with the Black Panthers, a paramilitary gang of racist murders and cop killers.

Bring that up and you’re a paranoid nutcase out of Dr. Strangelove.

But if you’re terrified of a bunch of citizens who throw tea in the water and demand lower taxes and less government spending, well, that’s just a sign of political seriousness.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

DHS = Dumb Half-assed Smears

Ralph Peters:

In this administration's published opinion, those who've served in our military are a menace to society and the state. And DHS's racist, bigoted implication is that the only danger comes from white, Christian vets (there's not a whisper about minority violence).

Thanks for bringing us together, Mr. President.

Racism is racism. The left-wing propaganda document published officially by your government under the title "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment" may be the shabbiest US Government publication of our time.

The report warns that "the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists . . . carrying out violent acts."

The document's evidence? None. It contains no hard data, no statistics. It's nothing but a racist, anti-military opinion column that might pass muster in The New York Times, but shouldn't be issued by our government.

The report adds that "rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans" who "possess combat skills." The point? Our hayseed, uneducated, unskilled, wacko vets aren't able to think for themselves and will be patsies for right-wing fanatics. Guess that's how things look from Harvard.

Then the report warns us that "a prominent civil-rights organization reported in 2006 that 'large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the armed forces.' "

Which civil-rights organization? The Rev. Jeremiah Wright's? Why not name it? Why accept this bigoted hearsay? Where's the proof? Where's the data?

I can answer that one for you, Mr. Peters. There is no data. The DHS went on exactly one data point, the eight-years-executed Tim McVeigh, whom the Left likes to hold up like kryptonite when it wants to end an argument. Forget the fact that if you'd held a raffle to determine who got to push the button to execute the lowlife, charged $5 a ticket, and limited the potential buyers to conservatives and vets, you could have paid off the national debt. Well, the pre-2009 national debt, anyway.

(Says a lot that McVeigh is complete anathema to actual conservatives, while Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn and Jane Fonda, two of them actual terrorists and all three actual traitors, are still embraced and considered model citizens by the Left. "They were young and enthusiastic. Can't we just Move On?" But I digress.)

The "prominent civil-rights organization" is Morris Dees's Southern Poverty Law Center, which has practiced neither law nor poverty for quite some time. Based out of Montgomery, Alabama, the SPLC is little more than an old-fashioned shakedown organization, specializing in churning out breathless, fact-free "reports" on the looming spectre of Nazi America just waiting around the corner--if we don't get your donation right now! Dees himself is notorious for living the (very) good life on the back of SPLC donations, and the outfit is so universally known as shady, most respectable liberal organizations treat it like the bad joke it is.

But Janet Napolitano and her horde of bureaucrats in search of funding apparently thinks its output was worth slandering half the country, and every military veteran, as potential terrorists. Pathetic.

UPDATE: Via the Blogfaddah:

“DHS rushed out their report before the Civil Rights division had a chance to look it over. Why the hurry? The only relevant, imminent event was the nation-wide Tea Party.”

What He Said

Greg Gutfeld:

So why is it the MSM finds it so easy to sneer at a group of protestors, when you've never seen them do the same with the bedraggled buffoons protesting environmental ills, animal testing or the WTO?

Well, first: the protests involve people they've never actually met. I mean, these are average folks – not professional sign carriers. Most of these people work for a living, and ration their marching for parades. Also, the media abhors these people because they question the ultimate goal of their Messiah. These protestors know wealth distribution when they see it, and they're calling it out - because the media cannot bring themselves to do it for them. After all, if they did, that would hurt Obama's feelings. And if you learned anything from high school – you never make fun of Mr. Popular.

Lastly, the media hates it when they can't control the story. These tea parties were out of their hands from day one–a movement that was hard to figure and impossible to spin. So, why not make fun of it? Why not make ball jokes?

H/T: Ed Driscoll.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Atlanta Tea Party Report

The main Atlanta event at the state capitol is still going on as I type this; when we left at around 8:30, the crowd was announced from the stage as 15,000 strong--50% higher than the most optimistic estimate beforehand--and still growing. We passed at least a couple of hundred new arrivals on our way back to the MARTA station.

If nothing else, the Atlanta rally, which was probably the largest and best-organized (in relative terms) in the country, easily gave lie to the notion that the Tea Party movement is anything close to an orchestrated affair. From the location (with most of the crowd squeezed into city streets vainly looking uphill towards the effectively-invisible main stage), to the panel trucks parked between most of the crowd and the stage, to the underpowered PA to the entirely haphazard list of speakers (very few of whom were what you'd call accomplished orators), this was not a polished affair.

I'm not saying that to be mean or overly-critical of the organizers, but it was very easy to tell that they'd never quite done this kind of thing before, and clearly, were not ready for the kind of numbers that actually turned out. I wasn't able to get a lot of elevation for pictures, so just a couple here to give you an idea of the ground-level view:

As you may be able to make out, this was a solidly bourgeois crowd; I'm quite sure that well north of 95% of them had never set foot at a protest rally before. As my wife noted early on, it was also easily the most polite big crowd either of us had ever seen. It seemed like almost everybody except us had brought a flag or a sign of some sort, and a lot of the signs were pretty good:

This one was my favorite. I wouldn't have guessed a month ago that Janet Napolitano would turn out to be the most disliked member of the Obama cabinet, but she certainly went a long way towards claiming that dubious title this week:

This being the home base of Neal Boortz, the Fair Tax troops were out in force:

Maybe surprisingly for a political rally, there were very few mentions of actual politicians, beyond a fair number of anti-Obama posters (report these people to DHS immediately!), but even for all that, it was pretty clear which national figure was this crowd's favorite:

It was also clear that there was precious little hometown pride in the television network physically closest to the event:

We stuck around long enough to hear local radio star Eric Von Haessler of the Regular Guys (full disclosure, Regular Guy producer Tim Andrews, whose politics are decidedly different from Von Haessler's, is an old friend) and then headed home. Like most everybody else, we've got real jobs to go to in the morning, and only so much time to spend on politics.

Putting aside the logisitcal confusion that reigned around much of the event (Von Haessler himself got stuck in the middle of the crowd, and posted a hilarious call for help via his iPhone), the fact that this many entirely normal people would turn out for a somewhat nebulously-defined political rally in the middle of a work week is more than a little remarkable. I can't tell where this thing is going, and I don't think there's anybody else who has much of a bead on it, either... but like they used to say way back where, something's happening here. This is bigger than the usual annual griping on Tax Day. It's got deeper roots than the standard partisan sniping from the out of power side.

Having seen it for myself, I'm thoroughly convinced that it's the beginning of... something. What exactly that something is, we'll find out over the next couple of years, but the thing we're now calling the Tea Party movement has picked up an almighty big head of steam in a very short period of time. Much as the Left and the Obamabots in the press would like to laugh it away, it's on the move, and it's not going to be stopping anytime soon.

Boy, Did I Call This One

Me, a couple of weeks ago:

If [CNN] show[s] up at all, I predict it will be to air a fear-mongering piece about these vicious right-wingers who want to take healthy organic juice away from The Children.

It wasn't in Atlanta (we're about to head down to the capitol right now), but in Chicago today, CNN's Susan Roesgen obnoxiously berated a Tea Party protester with Obama Administration talking points, then blathered,

I think you get the general tenor of this. It's anti-government, anti-CNN since this is highly promoted by the right-wing conservative network Fox.

Roesgen then signed off with, "this is not really family viewing," despite the fact that she'd just been haranguing a father with a baby in his arms.

Nice. No wonder the network has about as many viewers these days as your average 2AM infomercial.

Here's What The Tea Parties Are All About, Charlie Brown

Amusingly, and not surprisingly, the most virulent outrage against American citizens peacefully protesting against government spending has come from the faculty lounge. Led by Paul Krugman (who was ably dissected by Tom Maguire, who reads Krugman's columns so you don't have to), the academic Left is in full-throated apoplexy over the Tea Party movement. The common memes are ridicule (how dare these flyover-country rubes question The Savior?), fixation on former GOP politicians who are neither in office nor responsible for the Tea Party movement, specious and unsupported charges of "right-wing millionaires" funding the whole thing, and a shrill insistence that everyone--most especially the press--pay no attention.

This bit of windbaggery from journalism professor Marc Cooper in the LA Times today, is a prime example. Cooper doesn't bother to back up any of his accusations, most of them transparently lifted from leftie blogs, he just blathers about black helicopter conspiracy theorists and evil Republican "country clubbers." The fact that Cooper, ostentatiously identified as "director of Annenberg Digital News at the Annenberg School for Communication at USC," is associated with teaching journalism is exquisite icing on the cake of his nakedly partisan rant.

While Cooper isn't actually interested in the answer to his question, "[W]hat's the beef behind today's protests?" (he regurgitates Obama Administration talking points about how everyone but the Evil Rich should be signing hosannahs for their delivery from the scourge of Chimpy McBushitler), I'm still not above educating him.

They're about this:

... which in turn leads to this:

• If you’re a 50-year old-with a college degree, you will pay approximately $81,000 over your working life just to pay the interest on the debt in the Obama budget.
• If you’re a 40-year-old, you’ll pay $132,000.
• And if you’re a 20-year-old, just starting out after college, you will pay a whopping $114,000* just to service the interest on the debt created by the Obama budget.

Now, I'm positive that the faculty-lounge editorialists know this stuff already, but the fact that they're hell-bent on distracting attention away from the actual grievances of the Tea Partiers is more telling than any of the ridicule they're trying to dish out. Conspicuously, none of them are addressing the King Kong-sized gorilla in the middle of the room, namely Obama's massive increase in federal spending.

These guys are scared to death that the marks are on to the scam, and they're desperately trying to convince the rest of the electorate to not pay attention... because all it takes is a very quick look at the Obama spending numbers to realize that we're all going to be on the hook for them. Once that realization sets in, the electoral politics of the next few cycles will not look good for the faculty's preferred political party.

And this, of course cannot be allowed.

* I suspect that this is a typo in the linked post, and should be $214,000.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Squeaky Wheel

My rant about Charter Communications was very quickly picked up by Eric Ketzer, Charter's web troubleshooter. I'm guessing it's part of Eric's job to monitor the online world for customer service issues involving Charter, and he responded to my post in less than an hour. By the end of the day, the outstanding issues with my old Charter account were both settled; Charter agrees that I don't owe them a cable modem, and a check for the outstanding credit balance on my account is, per Eric, en route.

Eric and I will have to agree to disagree about download caps and metered billing, but I do appreciate his efforts to clear out the red tape on my account, and as far as I'm concerned, Charter and I are square.

AT&T, on the other hand, has not responded in any fashion to the follow-up rant about all my difficulties with their DSL service, and my outstanding issues with them are still active.

Blowed Up Real Good

This story is awesome:

Hundreds of ground squirrels have invaded Finch Arboretum and are turning the grounds into Swiss cheese.

Even worse, it’s breeding season.

Spokane Parks officials are mounting a counterattack with a commercially available weapon – the Rodenator Pro — that injects their burrows with propane and oxygen and sparks an explosion that shakes the ground and collapses their furrows.

It also turns the little critters into fertilizer.

Duopolies Suck: AT&T

To continue the story from the previous post, when I dumped Charter Cable, my only other option for internet service (since they've run all the independent providers out of business) was AT&T DSL.

I am not and never was a fan of the old BellSouth, which has to be the outfit that inspired Lily Tomlin's famous line, "We're the Phone Company. We don't care--we don't have to!" We actually owned BellSouth stock for years, but divested it in disgust (before the crash, I'm happy to say) when it became clear that the "New AT&T," formed when the old SouthWestern Bell bought BellSouth, bringing the two regional monopolies under the then-abandoned Death Star logo, was just another 20th Century dinosaur intent on milking its protected territories.

The one good thing that came out of the SBC-BellSouth merger was the requirement that BellSouth drop its mandate for DSL customers to also maintain a useless, vestigial and pricey landline. We cut that cord over five years ago, and I have even less interest in ponying up $30 a month for $10 (tops) worth of minimal phone service than I do in buying cable television. But thanks to the merger mandate, AT&T was now forced to sell "naked" DSL, and so I signed up.

Or rather, I tried to sign up, and at this point the old BellSouthasaurus reared its walnut-sized brain for the first (but nowhere near the last) time. Apparently the word has not trickled up to the suits down on Peachtree Street that there is, in fact, more than one brand of operating system and web browser out there, because the only way you can sign up for AT&T DSL online is via a Windows computer running Internet Explorer. Mac user? Linux user? Tough luck--no online sign-up for you. Got a problem with that? Tough. They're the Phone Company. They don't care--they don't have to.

So, being the stubborn type, I located (with some difficulty) the correct phone number to set up service. My sign-up call was without question the most pleasant part of this entire process; the rep was not only as nice as she could be, she promised me a rate five bucks lower per month than the website was offering, plus a total of $175 in cash back for switching over from cable. She also noted that I could knock off yet another five bucks a month by informing AT&T after my service was turned on that I was already an AT&T Wireless customer (the Death Star can thank their iPhone contract for that one).

So I was happy. I was happier still when the AT&T truck rolled on the day it was promised, and my service was hooked up. My happiness, I'm sorry to say, ended right about there.

It turns out that AT&T has very recently farmed out most of its internet services to Yahoo, to include email addresses, the provider support website, personal web hosting, and etc. As a part of this change, new users are required to set up a combined AT&T-Yahoo account in order to configure their DSL modem and get their service working.

You can see this coming, can't you? Right--the sign-up process is completely broken for Mac users. I thrashed with it for a couple of hours, including trying to use the "installation CD" that AT&T mailed to me. The alleged installation program crashed halfway through setting up the account. Phone reps insisted that I had to have (wait for it) Internet Explorer working to set up an account, and to get my email turned on. Another hour on the phone was required just to get the main username set and the account activated.

After that, it took two more half-hour calls to get the Mac Mail clients on our computers configured for the new-and-not-improved AT&T/Yahoo mail accounts. In a bit of corporate customer no-service that drove me particularly up the wall, if you go to AT&T's support website and click on the most visible "Setup for Mac Mail" link, you're directed to instructions for setting up Mail version 1.0, which is a good five years out of date. There are still no instructions for setting up the current version, Mail 3.5. Fine work there, boys. We'll be sure and let Steve Jobs know how well you support Mac users when that iPhone deal is up for renewal.

Bear in mind here, I'm an engineer. I configure computers all the time. I shudder at the thought of a "civilian" trying to get all this manamana done over the phone.

But finally, my service was working and emails were both sending and receiving. I made the requested call to AT&T to get the "bundling" discount, and was promised that same was a done deal, and thank you for choosing AT&T.

You knew this wasn't going to be over, didn't you?

Then I checked my prospective first bill a week or so later. The base rate was five bucks higher than I'd been promised during sign-up, and there was no sign of the bundling discount). I called AT&T billing, and was told that there was no such $5-cheaper plan for dry line customers, and that I was essentially SOL, no matter what I'd been promised by the sign-up rep. I was none too happy with this obvious bait-and-switch, and got escalated up to a supervisor, who apologized profusely and promised to personally put in a $5 a month credit on my bill for the first six months. This was not an ideal solution, but after an hour on the phone, I aquiesced.

The bill arrived yesterday. No discounts to speak of; no $5 credit for the bait-and-switch base rate, no bundling discount, no mention of the cash back. I did apparently get credit for $125 worth of the latter, but the remaining $50 has vanished into the BellSouthasaurus's collective maw. I've left a message with the original billing supervisor, but sur-prise, sur-prise, no call back in the last four hours.

There's one more Death Star SNAFU to report here before this extended rant is through. If you've tried to click on links to my old "Will's World" proto-blog over the past few weeks, you've received a big 404, site missing. That's because Charter wiped out the old site (which they were perfectly justified in doing) when I canceled their service. No big deal, I have a backup, which I'd planned to upload to AT&T's personal web space.

Problem is, the AT&T personal web space is yet another victim of the Death Star's outsourcing to Yahoo. If you're an AT&T customer, I dare you to try and set up your web space with FTP access. You can't do it. It fails to set up an FTP account because your "" username isn't FTP-friendly, and demands that you pick a different user name. Problem is, nobody at AT&T has bothered to fix the web tool to permit you to do that. I spent two incredibly frustrating hours on the phone being transferred hither and yon (including twice to India), only to be told over and over again that nobody can fix this, and you have the wrong office, and is there anything else I can do for you?

Yes, AT&T, there is. You can get your flipping act together. You can realize that one size of XP-And-Internet-Explorer does not fit all. You can honor the rates you promise to potential customers. You can fix your own systems to work like they're supposed to work. You can return phone calls, and not cut customers off because the problem isn't covered by your "support" scripts.

In other words, you can at least act like you care. Even though, as we all know, you don't. Because you don't have to.


Duopolies Suck: Charter Communications

When DirecTV's DSL internet service went belly-up a little over five years ago, I switched my service over to my local cable monopoly, Charter Communications. At the time, Charter had just dropped their $10 surcharge for internet users who didn't also buy cable TV service, and this made their broadband offering appealing enough to try out (it will be a cold and lonely day in Hell before I ever pay for cable TV again).

True to monopoly form, Charter reinstated the no-cable-TV surcharge a few months later, and has proceeded since then to basically double their fees for broadband service. I didn't drop them like a bad habit mostly because it was always possible to call their "retainment" department, threaten to quit, and get my previous rate reinstated for another year. The rep infallably would warn at this point that the "promotional" rate would expire and I wouldn't be "eligible" for it again; my response was always, "That'll be Charter's problem, not mine," and every year, they'd back down and give me the old rate again.

This is nothing new in the internet (or for that matter, television or satellite radio) game. It seems most companies really have two rates, one for the people who can use Google, and another for suckers who don't know to ask for a rate that's actually competitive. What this says about the company in question's attitude towards their customers is not good; it belies a fundamental disrespect.

That disrespect on Charter's part was amplified early this year, when the company arbitrarily announced it would be enforcing limits on how much broadband internet users could download in a given month. Funny, isn't it, how all the companies who have suddenly decided that "unlimited" internet isn't really "unlimited" are also very interested in selling expensive cable television "service" to the same customer base. Gosh, it's almost like they're worried that people will download what they want to watch on TV instead of paying a big fee every month for cable, isn't it?

This was the last straw as far as I was concerned, and I called to cancel my service for real. The rep tried to talk me out of it, reading canned talking points about how the download caps wouldn't affect me, but I'd had quite enough of my 'net service being metered back in the bad old days of AOL. The rep signed off by reminding me to return my modem to my local office; I reminded him that I'd never used a rented modem, I'd bought my own from day one. He assured me he'd make that notation on my account, and that Charter would promptly refund me the balance of my last payment.

Flash forward six weeks, to last night, when I got an automated nastygram phone call from Charter informing me that since I hadn't returned "their" equipment, I'd be billed for the modem that I never rented in the first place, and if I continued in my recalcitrance, sicced with a collection agency.

So I called up Charter's billing number, and was eventually connected to a young lady with a tenuous grasp of the English language. After wading through page after page of her scripts, I was finally able to communicate the fact that I could not return Charter's equipment, since I had never possessed it in the first place. This resulted in a ten-minute hold, after which the English-challenged rep scolded me for having started my service with Charter so long ago that she'd a hard time pulling up the records; but she did finally agree that I do not owe Charter a cable modem.

Let me note for the record here that every single bill I ever received from Charter contained the note, "Customer-owned modem" in the rundown of charges. Funny how they never managed to communicate that to the collections department, isn't it?

Then I asked why I hadn't seen my refund. She asked me how much of a refund I wanted, at which point I fairly flew off the handle. "Do you not keep records on accounts? Look it up!" She finally agreed that I was due a nominal refund, and said that I would receive a credit on my account. She was surprised (I have no idea why) when I replied that a credit on a closed account really wouldn't do me much good. Finally she mumbled something about mailing a check, and having wasted half an hour of a perfectly good evening, I hung up and reached for the Crown Royal.

I know I shouldn't be surprised by any of this. Cable companies in general treat their customers with open contempt as a rule, and there's most likely a good reason why Charter in particular has a terrible reputation for what Clark Howard calls "customer no-service." That reputation, I'm sure, also goes a long way towards explaining why Charter is currently in bankruptcy.

Speaking for myself, they've seen their last dime of my money. Charter, you suck.

So where did my service get switched to after I booted Charter? Ah, therein lies another tale...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Credit Where It's Overdue

I should have posted this at least a week ago, but thanks to Dennis Robbins of for whipping up the new banner art at the top of the page. Much appreciated, and my apologies for not putting up a credit much sooner.

Och, Zombies!

Woody Harrelson was arrested last week, after an altercation at La Guardia in which he later claimed he thought he was being attacked by a zombie.

Harrelson's claim was widely ridiculed, at least until this photograph of his assailant, later revealed to be record producer and just-convicted murderer Phil Spector, was published:

"Shut Up," They Explained

That biting Daniel Hannan speech which was YouTubed all over creation had quite an impact on UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Hannan writes on his blog,

According to Craig Murray, our former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, the PM was so angry that he asked whether the rules of the European Parliament could be changed to prevent such speeches being made again.

Lovely. Can't have any of that actual criticism, especially not where the marks can hear it. Hannan says he's also been targeted in a smear campaign run by, among others, employees of the government-funded BBC.

Over to you, Andrew Klavan...

Moral Hazards In Taxation

In today's WSJ, Ari Fleisher touches on an issue that's been growing ever since the 1980's, when "taking people completely off the tax rolls" became a mantra of 'compassion.' Unfortunately, so many people have been excused from paying any taxes at all, they're very nearly a voting majority today:

According to the CBO, those who made less than $44,300 in 2001 -- 60% of the country -- paid a paltry 3.3% of all income taxes. By 2005, almost all of them were excused from paying any income tax. They paid less than 1% of the income tax burden. Their share shrank even when taking into account the payroll tax. In 2001, the bottom 60% paid 16.3% of all taxes; by 2005 their share was down to 14.3%. All the while, this large group of voters made 25.8% of the nation's income.

When you make almost 26% of the income and you pay only 0.6% of the income tax, that's a good deal, courtesy of those who do pay income taxes. For the bottom 40%, the redistribution deal is even better. In 2001, these 43 million Americans, who earn less than $30,500, made 13.5% of the nation's income but paid no income tax. Instead, they received checks from their taxpaying neighbors worth $16.3 billion. By 2005, those checks totaled $33.3 billion.

Today, Mr. Obama and many congressional Democrats want the "wealthy" to pay even more so there is more money for them to redistribute. The president says he wants the wealthy to pay their "fair share." Who can argue with that? But he never defines what that means. Is it fair for 10% to pay 70% of the income tax? Does he believe they should pay 75%, or 95%, or does fairness mean they should pay it all? It's clever politics to speak like that, but it is risky policy.

Mr. Obama is adding to this trend with his "Make Work Pay" tax cut that means almost 50% of the country will no longer pay any income taxes, up from a little over 40% today. A certain amount of income redistribution in a capitalistic society is healthy, but this goes too far. The economic and moral problem is that when 50% of the country gets benefits without paying for them and an increasingly smaller number of taxpayers foot the bill, the spinning triangle will no longer be able to support itself.

Fleisher's solution, eliminating all deductions and secondary taxes (i.e., FICA, Medicare and the Estate Tax) in favor of a uniform progressive tax structure--he doesn't offer up any suggested rates or bracket levels--is at least an interesting starting point, but whether you like those particular ideas or not, he hits on a point that no politician has been willing to touch: taxes have been so angled up to the higher earners that we're facing a looming moral hazard in taxation. When 50.1 percent of the electorate can vote themselves the spoils of the other 49.9 percent's income at no cost to themselves, you've got a recipe for economic and social disaster.

Friday, April 10, 2009

PJTV's Citizen Reporter Corps

I'm in. Are you?

Deja Vu

While chuckling over this bit of idiocy linked by the Blogfaddah, I kept wondering to myself, "Where have I read this before?" Something in the vein of "there's been an election, and you lost, so shut up," but I couldn't put my finger on it.

Then it hit me; the rant was straight out of a 26-year-old comic book, Dave Sim's Cerebus, in which the titular character, a misanthropic would-be world conquerer, mused in his journal,

Why don´t they just do what they´re told? They wanted someone to make decisions, so they have an election, okay? Okay. It´s like five guys out in the woods. And three of them say "so-and-so will be leader". Okay? Okay. Now you´ve settled it. When so-and-so says "As leader, I think we should go this way" you don´t stop and argue. That´s why you made him leader. Cerebus thinks that after you vote, you should shut up and do as you´re told or go to jail. Period. Otherwise nothing gets done.

I'm reasonably sure Sim intended that bit as a parody of the fascist mentality. The clown who wrote the hysterical column linked above, not so much.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Modest Proposal

From The Hill:

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for hearings on the mounting piracy threat as the fate of an American cargo-ship captain remained in limbo Thursday.

"These acts of piracy off of Somalia’s coastline may seem surreal, but they’re all too real and a thorough policy debate is long overdue," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in a statement.

Let me help you a little with this one, Lurch. Instead of spending several days and untold numbers of taxpayer dollars windbagging about how pirates are bad, why not just release the following statement:

"Dear Pirates: You're lawless scum, and we're going to kill you. Sincerely, the United States Navy."

You're welcome.

Better Than A Pallet Of Cheezy Poofs

From the Daily Telegraph (UK):

Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, were given a signed photo of Saddam Hussein by US marines after the former Iraqi leader was shown their movie in prison.


Stone, 37, said both he and Parker, 39, were most proud of the signed Saddam photo, given to them by the US Army's 4th Infantry Division.

He said: "We're very proud of our signed Saddam picture and what it means. Its one of our biggest highlights.

"I have it on pretty good information from the marines on detail in Iraq that they showed Saddam the movie.

"Over and over again – which is a pretty funny thought.

"That's really adding insult to injury."

It really couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Challenging Stage

Despite being a confirmed Mac guy, I've thus far resisted the call of the iPhone (not so much for the wife; she and Green and Melissa were all simultaneously touchscreening away when we visited last summer. I felt rather left-out). No shiny, always-connected Jobsian inducement has been able to break my steadfast reserve of, er, cheapness.

That is, until about ten minutes ago, when I found out you can get Galaga on the iPhone.


Words Of Wisdom

My wife, showing her innate good sense, is not particularly political, but boy does she have a knack for succinctly making a point.

Yesterday, the radio was talking about The One's speech in Turkey when she said, "I'm all for being nice to people, but he'd better have a backup plan."

I just sat there with my jaw hanging down. It would have taken me a thousand words to make that point.

Another notable comment came during the John Stewart/Jim Cramer dustup a little while back: "Has he forgotten that he's a comedian?"

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Get Over It

Clearly, fellow Eagle Glenn Frey was right when he noted, "Nobody can suck the joy out of a room quicker than Don Henley." From Jim Geraghty:

Chuck DeVore, a Republican candidate for Senate in 2010, wanted to have some fun, putting up a parody of Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer" entitled "After the Hope of November Is Gone", poking fun at President Obama.

Obama overload, Obama overreach

We feel it everywhere, trillions in the breach

Empty bank, empty street

Dollar goes down alone

Pelosi's in the House so now we must all atone

Silly stuff, right? Well, it appears Don Henley filed a copyright claim.

You'd think that after 15 years of cash from reunion tours, Henley would be able to afford a lawyer who could explain the fair use for parody exception in copyright law.

Or not.

Get over it, Don, before we sic Mojo Nixon on you again.

Global Warmening Update

Tuesday, April 7, 2009, Atlanta, Georgia, 11:20AM.

It is snowing.

Who invited Al Gore to town today, and why weren't the rest of us warned?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Recommended Reading

I'm not much of a Michael Kinsley fan, but when he's right, he's right:

Two recent articles in Slate argued that newspapers (1) actually play a fairly unimportant role in our democracy and (2) are in this pickle because of financial shenanigans, not inexorable forces of technology. But let's say these are both wrong: that technology is on the verge of removing some traditionally vital organs of the body politic. What should we do?

How about nothing? Capitalism is a "perennial gale of creative destruction" (Joseph Schumpeter). Industries come and go. A newspaper industry that was a ward of the state or of high-minded foundations would be sadly compromised. And for what?

You may love the morning ritual of the paper and coffee, as I do, but do you seriously think that this deserves a subsidy? Sorry, but people who have grown up around computers find reading the news on paper just as annoying as you find reading it on a screen. (All that ink on your hands and clothes.) If your concern is grander -- that if we don't save traditional newspapers we will lose information vital to democracy -- you are saying that people should get this information whether or not they want it. That's an unattractive argument: shoving information down people's throats in the name of democracy.

Read the whole thing.

They're Just Figuring This Out?

Hopey-changitude is, to the shock of some, not all it was cracked up to be. Michael Tomasky in The Guardian:

the idea has taken root, in America and to a considerable extent elsewhere, that the rest of the world should be so grateful to be dealing with Obama and not Bush that they'll at least come to the table and see reason.

But as the North Korea episode shows, not everyone is so reasonable. To the men of Pyongyang, Obama is just another imperialistic swine. In fact, if they're dialecticians worth their salt, then they surely think of Obama as all the more dangerous than Bush for the precise reason that he gives imperialism a friendlier face. North Korea, like any state, has national interests, carved out by decades of history (fear of unification) or centuries (fear of China). The fact that it's a genocidal and secretive police state only exacerbates matters. The bottom line is, the North Koreans are going to do what they think they need to do. Having obviously never read their Carlyle, they couldn't care less who the American president is.

Neither could the Iranians, and neither, probably, could the Syrians. Obama wants certain things out of both of them - the former to give up its nuclear ambitions and move toward a more open society, the latter to come to some kind of terms with Israel and to reach a permanent accommodation on Hezbollah and the Lebanese question. But are they going to wake up one day and say to themselves: by golly, this Obama fellow is the most popular president in maybe all of history, we'd better do what he says? Not likely.

Neither are the Pakistanis and the Indians. Nor are Likud and Hamas. And we learned last week that adoration has its limits even among the closest of friends. Europe is not helping out much militarily on Afghanistan. This isn't because Obama wasn't persuasive enough. It's because nations have interests as they perceive them, and they will act to protect those interests (and because democratic societies have public opinion, which is strongly against such assistance across Europe).

To quote a noted American philosopher, "Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise!"

New Kid In Town

After a considerable delay, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has finally introduced its new token conservative columnist, Kyle Wingfield, late of the Wall Street Journal's European edition.

While it's disappointing that the AJC couldn't bring itself to hire from outside the security blanket of the Big Media fraternity, that lack of vision shouldn't be a reflection on Wingfield or his work. I wish him nothing but the best, plus my sympathies. Anybody who'll be expected to read every column by Cynthia Tucker and Jay Bookman deserves all the help he can get.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Weekend Update

Sorry for the lack of posting since Wednesday. Thursday was insane, and I've spent most of today doing taxes. No time to post anything of substance today, but I would be remiss if I didn't note two things:

1. I am opposed to using explosives in the pursuit vandalism as a matter of principle.

2. That said, if anybody were to happen to use explosives in the pursuit of vandalism, I can think of few more appropriate uses than blowing Lenin's ass off:

No promises, but I do expect to have some new stuff up over the weekend. I do, however, reserve the right to push it off until Monday, so you've been warned and all that...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


From The Onion: Obama Depressed, Distant Since 'Battlestar Galactica' Finale.

Check it out, it's better than the finale itself.

H/T: Lein.

What Is The Tea Party Manifesto?

Lefties have assiduously tried to paint the Tea Party movement as an "astroturf" campaign orchestrated behind the scenes by the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (notably in the retracted bogus Playboy story about the Koch Foundation; despite the retraction that one is considered received wisdom in the Left blogosphere). This push has played at least some part in the major media's dogged insistence on ignoring Tea Party events, but the problem with that theory is that the movement to date has been almost entirely inchoate, and far too disorganized to be the product of any kind of plan. Look at the local and blog reporting from the earliest wave of Tea Parties, you'll find no coherent message other than "this sucks!" While true, that isn't enough to get you anywhere in the political process.

The other day I heard Neal Boortz asking a Tea Party enthusiast caller what she wanted to accomplish out of the events. Paraphrasing, she replied along the lines of "show them how angry we are" and "make a statement." Boortz replied that he didn't see the point, and he was correct in doing so. "Expressing anger" is not a coherent platform, it's just venting. As Boortz noted, no congresscritter is going to pay any attention to a box full of tea bags on his doorstep; it's just empty symbolism.

If the Tea Party movement is going to amount to anything more than people who wouldn't normally go to a protest protesting, it's going to have to come up with a consistent set of concrete (and realistic) goals, and clearly express those goals to the press and to the rest of the public.

A Tea Party Manifesto should have no more than ten items, and each one should be a clear, achievable goal. No fair putting in platitudes like "fix the financial system," that's too much like hopey-changitude, the point here is to be practical and specific. Some suggestions:

1. A moratorium on bailouts, whether for Wall Street bankers, General Motors, or the irresponsible guy down the street who "bought" too much house. "Failures must be allowed to fail."

2. Repeal of all "Stimulus" spending for the years 2011 and beyond.

3. Repeal of all "Stimulus" pet projects in 2009-2010 with no stimulative effect.

4. Defeat of the Obama 2010 budget, with a new budget set at 2008 levels plus inflation. We've already spent too much money that we don't have.

5. Defeat of any politician who voted for the February "Stimulus" bill.

6. Complete selloff and shutdown of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and an immediate ban on campaign contributions from both, as well as any other firm in Federal receivership.

That's a start. Feel free to add your own.