Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Charlie Coverup Happens (?)

From WCBS in New York:

New York Congressman Charles Rangel has reportedly cut a deal to admit to ethical wrongdoing and avoid a potentially humiliating public trial.

Harlem friends of Rangel tell CBS 2 they have been told that the details could be unveiled when the House Ethics Committee meets Thursday afternoon.

Don't mean to say I told you so, but...

UPDATE: Or not. This is all as clear as mud to me, but the Ethics Committee has released its public report. Negotiations are allegedly "ongoing."

How Corrupt Charlie Pays His Lawyers

From Timothy Carney in the Washington Examiner:

Two of the three firms providing legal counsel to Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., in his pending ethics cases are lobbying firms. In fact, one firm, Oldaker, Belair & Wittie, conducts much of Rangel's political fundraising, while operating four different lobby shops.

But who's ultimately paying Rangel's legal bills? Mostly corporate and union political action committees along with individual lobbyists. Over the past six months, PACs and lobbyists have accounted for a majority of the money Rangel's campaign has raised this year, not counting transfers from Rangel's other fundraising operations (more on them below).

In turn, Rangel funnels his campaign cash into his legal defense. In 2009, three-fourths of Rangel's $2.16 million in campaign spending went to legal fees. The House Ethics Committee allows campaign funds for legal fees that are not "primarily personal in nature, such as a matrimonial action, or could result in a direct personal benefit for the Member." Otherwise, legal fees are a legitimate use of campaign cash because "the protection of a Member's presumption of innocence in such actions is a valid political purpose," the guidelines state.

That means any politically savvy donor who cut a check in 2010 to Rangel's reelection knew the donation was, in part, a contribution to Rangel's legal defense -- indeed, in the first two quarters of 2010, Rangel's campaign spent $655,232, with $230,749 (35 percent) going to legal fees. Zuckerman Spaeder LLP got biggest haul of Rangel cash -- $182,000. The firm had lobbying clients including one top drugmaker until last year, when the K Street legal shop de-registered as lobbyist.

Pathetic, but not surprising.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Get Ready For The Charlie Coverup

From the AP:

New York Democrat Charles Rangel made a last-minute effort Tuesday to settle his ethics case and prevent a House trial that could embarrass him and damage the Democratic Party.

The talks between Rangel's lawyer and the House ethics committee's nonpartisan attorneys were confirmed by ethics Chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. Lofgren said she is not involved in the talks, and added that the committee's lawmakers have always accepted the professional staff's recommendations in previous plea bargains.

Rangel, a 40-year House veteran who is 80 years old, would have to admit to multiple, substantial ethics violations for any plea bargain to be accepted. Earlier negotiations broke down when Rangel would only admit to some allegations — not enough to satisfy the committee lawyers, according to people familiar with those talks who were not authorized to be quoted by name.

If the talks are not successful, trial proceedings for the Harlem congressman would begin Thursday with a reading of alleged ethics violations that are still confidential.

Now, tell me if you can: why exactly should Charlie Rangel get to choose whether or not evidence of his dirty deeds get to remain confidential? Would you get that choice if you'd been indicted for (oh, I don't know) tax fraud and then copped a plea? Hell, no--all the evidence against you would be a matter of public record. Why should Rangel get to hide his own sins just to prevent embarrassment--or to limit the damage to the Democratic Party in the midterms?

Personally, I hope old Corrupt Charlie fights to his last nickel here--and after four decades of handing out favors, he has a whole hell of a lot of nickels. I remember how much damage Rangel's predecessor, old Dirty Dan Rostenkowski did in 1994, and it'd be a shame if yet another corrupt Ways And Means Chairman got off with a wrist-slap--and a coverup.

They're Called 'Government Motors' For A Reason

From CNN:

General Motors announced the final price of its Chevrolet Volt electric car Tuesday afternoon, but it's the lease rate that will probably be most interesting to consumers.

The purchase price for a Volt will start at $41,000. The vehicle qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit, for an effective price of about $33,500.

So that's bad enough. Taxpayers already have to foot the bill for $7,500 per sale on these turkeys. That's $75 million of your money if somehow GM were to manage to sell all of them the first year. Fat chance, but it gets worse:

Pricing for the Volt isn't a terribly critical business decision for GM, [auto analyst] Toprak said, since the car is expected to lose money, anyway, during its initial run. It's really an image-making "halo car" for GM.

Yeah, that makes perfect sense for a company that's billions in the red and effectively bankrupt--bet heavy on a money-losing car!

You do know who picks up the tab these days when GM loses money, don't you? Go look in the mirror if you're not sure. But it'll make the small number of decidedly-on-the-wealthy-side greenies who buy these glorified golf carts feel oh so much better, and that's priceless.


If you're stupid enough to buy GM stock in the fall IPO, I heartily suggest that you dump it before November 2.

UPDATE: "Yes," you say, "but Will, they obviously want to lease these cars, not sell them."

M'kay, let's do the math. They're advertising $350 a month for 36 months, plus $2,500 due at signing. That adds up to $15,100 per car. At that rate, GM loses $18,400 per vehicle off the subsidized sale price. Assume they manage to lease 90% of the 10,000 initial run...

... and GM--meaning you--loses $165.6 MILLION on the first year of the Volt.

They ain't called Government Motors for nothing.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recommended Reading

Neal Gaibler in the Boston Globe:

The difference between 1.0 and 2.0 is that 2.0 are not all Protestant, white males sprung full-blown from the Establishment as 1.0’s fathers and their fathers’ fathers were. Like Obama himself, they are by and large onetime middle-class overachievers who made their way into the Ivy League and then catapulted to the top levels of class and power by being . . . well, the best and the brightest. But in elitism as in religion, no one is more devout than a convert, and these people, again like Obama, all having been blessed by the Ivy League, also embrace Ivy League arrogance and condescension. On this, the Republican critics are right: The administration exudes a sense of superiority.

So what difference does it make if our policy-makers think they are above criticism? As Halberstam shows in “The Best and the Brightest,’’ people who are concerned not with the fundamental rightness of something but with its execution, because the rightness is assumed; people who see what they want to see rather than what is; people who see things in terms of preconceptions rather than of human conduct; people who are incapable of admitting error; people who lack skepticism and the capacity to grow beyond their certainties are the sorts of people who are likely to get us in trouble — whether it is an ever-lengthening war in Afghanistan or ever-deepening economic distress here at home. After all, we’ve been there once before.

David Brooks will not be amused.

Read the whole thing. H/T: Blogfaddah.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Find Your Lack Of Cash Disturbing

From the New York Post, clear evidence that the recession has spread to the Empire:

There was no telling whether he needed to use the force to make bank employees comply, cops said, but at one point, the Vader invader kneeled as if speaking to the Emperor and aimed his gun.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Abandon In Place

The following is something of a tradition for me; it's a column I wrote many years ago, on the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. I'm rather sorry to say that I see no particular need to revise its conclusions today--although I should admit that I'm starting to doubt whether I'll ever write the book referenced at the beginning.

Every writer--at least every one I've ever met or heard of--has a "trunk." It's where they store work that didn't make the cut, or isn't ready yet, or just had to be left alone for one reason or another. For some it is a literal trunk, a footlocker full of scribbled pages and typed sheets. In my case, it's a computer folder named (wait for it) "THE TRUNK." Here's a peek inside, at the first page of a book I'll write one of these years:

On the Atlantic coast of Florida stands an artifact that looks like a giant's table. It towers over the sand and scrub grass, a massive construct of stained concrete and rusted steel. It sits mutely, in a field of debris, left behind by its makers, all but forgotten by history.

Three men died here, by fire. Three more were hurled from this stone table and very nearly perished on a dangerous mission turned frantic by human mistakes. Eighteen were carried from here on a pillar of flame to land on another world and claim it for all humanity.

It is Pad 34, at the John F. Kennedy Space Flight Center. There is no plaque to mark the significance of the spot, no memorial to the fallen, no record of the great feats that were accomplished from this place. All that remains is the giant's table, its epitaph marked in stencil with a cold bureaucratic notation.

The legs of the table bear a single phrase: ABANDON IN PLACE.

The book that will have that title is years in my future, but its melodramatic foreword will serve for today, the thirtieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. As we look back across three decades at that epochal achievement, it's worthwhile to remember not just what was accomplished, but also at what's been lost since then.

Neal Armstrong had hardly taken his one small step thirty Julys ago when the Apollo program was abruptly truncated. Ten landings were planned, but by the time two billion 1970 dollars had been ripped away from NASA's annual budget, only six would be accomplished (unlucky Apollo 13 would have made it seven). In a panic, NASA scrambled for a new mission, a further reason to exist as a major-league agency.

Casting around madly for a stepping stone to future manned explorations, the agency settled on the Space Shuttle, billing it as a reusable vehicle that would take off and land as easily as an airliner--no more throwing away great chunks of a spacecraft along the way. Pie-in-the-sky proposals assured congressional planners that a Shuttle would dramatically lower the costs of space flight, down to $1000 a pound or less to Earth orbit (the reality was closer to $10,000 a pound in 1988).

As Shuttle development ramped up (only to be cut back itself as budgets were lowered again and again during the 1970's, causing design compromises that eventually led to, among other things, the 1986 Challenger explosion), the "old-fashioned" Saturn rockets, the most powerful machines ever built by man, the chariots that that had taken humanity to another world, were literally left to rot.

The last of the great Saturn V boosters ever flown was used to lift the Skylab space station into orbit in 1973. Three more of the 363-foot-tall Saturns were already built, needing only fuel, payload, and direction to fly... but the decision was made that they were more useful as relics than as rockets. The last of America's Saturn V's were carted off to NASA museums, and there they still lie in pieces today, at Houston, Huntsville, and Cape Canaveral. **

Think about that for a moment. Three... Saturn... V... rockets. Finished. Built. Paid for. Wasted.

These were not just carefully crafted towers of aluminum and steel. These were national treasures--the only machines in the world that could carry a space station to orbit in one launch (it will take dozens of Space Shuttle missions to finish the interminable construction of the current station). A second, completed Skylab was also mothballed--it too sits dismantled, in the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, a waste of untold millions.

These were the only rockets ever built capable of taking a significant payload to the moon. It's been said accurately, many times, if we wanted to go back today, we couldn't. The Soviets tried, frantically and unsuccessfully to duplicate the Saturn V; their highly secret, rarely spoken of N-1, a monster rocket with an incredible cluster of 30 engines, never flew successfully. A final desperate attempt to beat Apollo 11 to the moon ended in a catastrophic launch pad explosion on July 3 of 1969--the marks left behind by that explosion are still visible in satellite photos today.

The Saturn V could do that job, reliably, and they were thrown away, like so much waste paper (speaking of which, legend has it that NASA actually discarded the blueprints during the 1970's). Many of the highly trained people who designed and built the Saturn V's were also thrown overboard and out of work. Some found other jobs--my grandfather, who had worked on every American rocket since the original Jupiter I, which launched the first U.S. satellite into orbit, went on to build and test the Shuttles--but thousands of others were pushed out, never again to use their talents in the pursuit of space flight.

There have been triumphs since then, to be sure. For all their faults and compromises, the Shuttles are dependable and versatile. They will serve us well for decades to come (they will have to, because no follow-on manned vehicle is even on the drawing boards). The roster of unmanned space probes is an astonishing record of achievement in exploration: Mariner, Viking, Explorer, Voyager, Galileo, Cassini, Pathfinder, more to follow.

But there could have been so much more. Thirty years ago, humanity briefly left its cradle to step out into the unknown. What a pity, what a shame on us all that we promptly jumped back into that cradle, and threw away our hard-won traveling shoes.


Postscript: I've been advised since writing this column that somebody has already published a 'coffee table' book of NASA facility photographs titled Abandon In Place. I feel kind of like Snoopy in an old Peanuts cartoon--"All of the good titles have been taken."

** 2009 Postscript: the Saturn V still on display in Huntsville was actually a test vehicle that was never intended for flight. Still, two of them left to rot was two too many.

What She Said

Jennifer Rubin:

I confess I am always baffled when pundits and voters say they like Obama but not his policies. What has been ingratiating about him? He’s thin-skinned, prickly, and robotic. He’s unduly nasty to political opponents. He doesn’t seem to like us (especially ordinary Americans who have taken to the streets and town halls), so why should we like him?

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

David Brooks has a broken-clock moment today:

This progressive era is being promulgated without much popular support. It’s being led by a large class of educated professionals, who have been trained to do technocratic analysis, who believe that more analysis and rule-writing is the solution to social breakdowns, and who have constructed ever-expanding networks of offices, schools and contracts.

Already this effort is generating a fierce, almost culture-war-style backlash. It is generating a backlash among people who do not have faith in Washington, who do not have faith that trained experts have superior abilities to organize society, who do not believe national rules can successfully contend with the intricacies of local contexts and cultures.

This progressive era amounts to a high-stakes test. If the country remains safe and the health care and financial reforms work, then we will have witnessed a life-altering event. We’ll have received powerful evidence that central regulations can successfully organize fast-moving information-age societies.

If the reforms fail — if they kick off devastating unintended consequences or saddle the country with a maze of sclerotic regulations — then the popular backlash will be ferocious. Large sectors of the population will feel as if they were subjected to a doomed experiment they did not consent to. They will feel as if their country has been hijacked by a self-serving professional class mostly interested in providing for themselves.

What Brooks can't quite bring himself to say is that a substantial majority already endorses those last two sentences.

And the people in that majority are correct.

Break Out The Popcorn

It looks like Andrew Breitbart has the JournoList archive.

Daily Caller also has at least a goodly chunk; Jonathan Strong has a piece up today regarding Leftie damage control of Jeremiah Wright from 2008. Many of the reprinted emails are very nasty reading.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rationing For Thee, But Not For Me

In case you were still wondering why Obama granted a recess appointment to rationing aficionado Donald Berwick, placing Berwick in charge of Medicare, Medicaid, and the first creeping tendrils of Obamacare, wonder no more. There's no way either Berwick would have survived a confirmation hearing given the gap between his fondness for government limitations of medical care and his own cozy healthcare arrangements.

From Byron York:

Last year, [Berwick] said, "The decision is not whether or not we will ration care -- the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open." Of the [British National Health Service], Berwick says simply, "I love it," adding that it is "one of the great human health care endeavors on earth."

As it turns out, Berwick himself does not have to deal with the anxieties created by limited access to care and the extent of coverage. In a special benefit conferred on him by the board of directors of the Institute for Health Care Improvement, a nonprofit health care charitable organization he created and which he served as chief executive officer, Berwick and his wife will have health coverage "from retirement until death."

The provision is deep inside a 2009 audit report on the nonprofit's finances.

Emphasis above is mine.

As always, when the government makes the rules, they apply to everybody... except members of the government. For the peons, rationing and scarcity, but the apparatchiks always keep their dachas--and their fully-funded medical care.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Totalitarianism By The Bay

From the San Fran Chronicle:

Sell a guinea pig, go to jail.

That's the law under consideration by San Francisco's Commission of Animal Control and Welfare. If the commission approves the ordinance at its meeting tonight, San Francisco could soon have what is believed to be the country's first ban on the sale of all pets except fish.

That includes dogs, cats, hamsters, mice, rats, chinchillas, guinea pigs, birds, snakes, lizards and nearly every other critter, or, as the commission calls them, companion animals.

I'd quote the Blogfaddah's line about tar and feathers here, but you know what? The Frisco voters keep voting in lunatics like this, so as far as I'm concerned, they can live with the results.

This Would Be Cool


REVIEWniverse has exclusively learned from an anonymous source that Mike Judge is currently outlining 30 new episodes of his iconic animated comedy Beavis and Butt-Head for its native network.

The source conceded that plans for actual broadcast are not yet cemented, or even a given, but confirmed that the King of the Hill/Office Space/Idiocracy maestro is definitely in the midst of writing new B and B material with the hopes of a full-throttle return.

Even better news for fans is that, should this come to pass, Judge plans on retaining the show's original ghetto-tech aesthetic, right down to the faded color palatte. The source also reveals that the Extract director intends on keeping B and B's format identical to its original sketch-videos-sketch incarnation, but with more contemporary music clips for the cartoon slacker-duo to skewer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

News Flash

Fareed Zakaria, in the WaPo:

Most of the business leaders I spoke to had voted for Barack Obama. They still admire him. Those who had met him thought he was unusually smart. But all think he is, at his core, anti-business. When I asked for specifics, they pointed to the fact that Obama has no business executives in his Cabinet, that he rarely consults with CEOs (except for photo ops), that he has almost no private-sector experience, that he's made clear he thinks government and nonprofit work are superior to the private sector.

To which the benighted non-members of the "educated class" can but respond, "Well, duh. It took you this long to figure that out?"

Perhaps it's time for Zakaria to add "Master of the Obvious" to his extensive Q.V.

UPDATE: Per Lloyd Grove, light also begins to dawn in, of all places, Aspen, including, of all people, MechaStreisand.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Jonah Goldberg, in USA Today, on Weigelgate:

[J]ust what is the conservative beat?

Well, according to many of the nation's leading editors, it's that shadowy, often-sinister world where carbon based-life forms of a generally humanoid appearance say and do things relating to, and supportive of, conservative causes and the Republican Party. These strange creatures have been observed using complex tools, caring and nurturing their young and even participating in complex social rituals. Most worship an unseen sky god that traces its roots back to the ancient Middle East. Even more astounding, these creatures are having a noticeable impact on American politics.

And that is why many of our leading journalistic enterprises have found it worthwhile to assign full-time reporters to the task of spelunking through the dark caves of conservatism to better understand these fascinating, if vaguely worrisome, beings.

It seems at times that if conservatives consider something big news, the editors at such places as the Times and the Post must first conduct an anthropological analysis: Why are these right-wing natives so upset?

It's difficult to exaggerate how bizarre this predicament is. In America, self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by 2 to 1. And yet many of our leading journalistic bastions have found themselves stuck in something akin to media monasteries with a Fort Apache complex.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Maybe Soccer Just Sucks

At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates addresses "Conservative Soccer-Hate" with a familiar trope:

[A]ll I'm coming up with is a kind of crude nationalism that resents having to compete in an international competition that we may not win.
If that were true, wouldn't there have been a huge outbreak of hockey-hate during the Vancouver Olympics? Instead, the Olympic hockey games (which even a Southerner like me--who still believes that "icing" is something you find on a birthday cake--found completely riveting) were a ratings smash, and nary a trace of "hockey sucks" rhetoric was in evidence, even after the U.S. lost.

Here's what I think:

Besides the fact that it's an incredibly boring sport, my guess is that most conservatives--like most Americans--hate soccer because they've been exposed to whiny, pretentious, pushy yuppie soccer parents and/or fans (most of whom also happen to be liberals). It also doesn't help soccer's popularity any when its adherents insist that anybody who doesn't love it is stupid, racist, backwards, imperialistic, etc., etc.

Note that this explaination can also apply to the question, "Why don't conservatives like Obama?"