Archives for: August 2012

Friday Five: Worst Movies

So I’m feeling positive today. Nice late summer day in central Pennsylvania. Sal 11000 Beta has started kindergarten. The RNC, for all the criticism. gave me some hope for the Republican party and I’m eagerly looking forward to watching the Democrats look stupid next week.

So time to bash. The Friday Five’s been positive; let’s find five things to dump on this week. What are the five worst movies you’ve ever seen. They can be badly made. They can be so bad it’s funny. They can have desecrated a book you like. Or they can be political annoyances.

My Five?

Battlefield Earth: This is almost “so bad it’s good”. This came on HBO quite a bit when the cable company had mistakenly given me access and I was finishing my dissertation. It’s the Springtime for Hitler of movies: just so awful, in every respect, that you can’t look away.

Death Becomes Her: I’ll quote myself: I never thought I could despise a film with Isabella Rosselini in it, but there you go. Not even so bad it’s good. Just bad bad bad unwatchable.

Shining Through: It probably isn’t this bad, but I spent the entire movie laughing at the plot and at Melanie Griffith’s “german”. Read Mr. Cranky’s review.

Showgirls: “Oh, it can’t be that bad,” we said. “It’s got lots of naked women, so we can at least watch,” we said. “Jesus God, turn this crap off!,” we screamed. Girls Gone Wild has better writing.

Batman and Robin: I could have put lots of bad sequels here. But B&R was so bad, so miscalculated, so epically horrible it almost killed the Batman franchise. It took Christopher Nolan’s genius to bring it back.

I’ll throw out out a dishonorable mention, which is Jerry Maguire. I know a lot of people love it. I know people who would list it as their favorite film. And I can look a little more objectively and see some good parts. But I couldn’t and can’t stand it. And it’s made worse by people trying to convince me to like it. Maguire, more than anything else, made me more sympathetic to people who hate films I love. Star Wars haters must know a thousand times my pain.

Election 2012: I. Why We Should Vote For Mitt Romney

(This is the first of five posts I will put up over the next two weeks, exploring my thoughts on the Presidential election. Parts 1 and 2 will be reasons to vote for and against Mitt Romney; Parts 3 and 4 will be reasons to vote for and against Barack Obama. Part 5 will wrap up. Keep in mind, this is my thinking as we go through the conventions. It’s likely that things will change between now and Election Day. A few guidelines before we start.

1. I’m not a Republican anymore. I define myself as a conservative-libertarian but I’m not convinced those interests are served by the GOP in its present form. If I thought electing Ralph Nader would be best for this country, I’d endorse him.

2. I’m not going to endorse that idiot Ralph Nader. Just so we’re clear.

3. These posts are about the candidates themselves. “He’s not Obama” is not a reason to vote for Mitt Romney. “He’s not Mitt Romney” is not a reason to vote for Barack Obama. I’m sick of these “the other side can’t win” arguments. This is sort of a stream of consciousness as I think about both men.)

So Mitt Romney is now the official nominee. I will say, going in, he would not be my top choice or even in my top 50. But of the weak field we had this year, he was the best option. And I don’t think he’d be a disaster if elected.

So why should we vote for Mitt Romney? Well, here’s a few reasons off the top of my head:

Repealing Obamacare: There are parts of Obamacare that are not horrible. There are slivers that could form part of a much more sensible healthcare reform. But we don’t get those parts; we get the whole convoluted overwrought thing. And, despite the CBO’s optimism, I’m convinced that the whole thing will make the healthcare system far worse, far more expensive and far more unaccountable. If Obama is re-elected, Obamacare — or some version of it — is here to stay. Electing Mitt is our best chance to get rid of it.

Will Mitt Romney and the GOP repeal Obamcare? That’s the $716 billion question. Given current projections, doing so would inflate the near-term deficit. And, as I previously noted, there are parts of Obamacare that are popular. It will be very easy for the Democrats to demagogue throwing 25-year-olds off their parents’ insurance or restoring the ability of insurance companies to rescind coverage or deny coverage. The fact is that repealing Obamacare will throw millions out of insurance plans. Does the GOP have the stomach for that? Can they overcome an almost certain Democratic filibuster? There’s only one way to find out.

Romney the Chameleon: Mitt is not an ideologue. He may sounds like one this year, but his history reveals a man centered on one idea: getting elected. And the only thing he wants more than to be elected is to be re-elected. To that end, he’ll say what the GOP wants to hear. But, in the end, he’s going to try to find things that work, even if the contradicts GOP canon (we all saw how well Bush fulfilled his promises). As we’ve seen before, he has no problem misrepresenting his policies. He’ll have no problem cutting Medicare while demagoguing Medicare cuts or raises taxes while saying he’s cutting them. Maybe an unprincipled man is just what this country needs.

I’m not being sarcastic here; I’m being totally honest. Political principles can be very dangerous things, especially given the commitment of the GOP to some bad ideas (e.g., cutting taxes to fix the deficit; federal personhood; aggressive foreign policy). Someone who can placate the party base while pursuing doable practical policies can govern effectively. The question is going to be: How will Romney govern against how he has campaigned?

Mitt is at least vaguely familiar with the private sector: Let’s not confuse running Bain Capital with starting a small business. But Mitt has made tough decisions — shuttering unprofitable factories, for instance — that are critical to a functional economy. He at least listens.

I think Mitt also has a slightly better notion of what’s wrong with the economy — that we’re working out from under a huge pile of debt. Now he’s officially opposed the policies that could help, like Quantitative Easement. But if there is a candidate out there who understands that the government needs to quit trying to help and let things recover on their own, it’s Mitt.

Only Nixon Could Go To China: This will be a recurring theme in these posts. The basic idea is that only a Republican can advance liberal ideas and only a Democrat can advance conservative ideas. The catch phrase reflect the reality of Nixon making nice with communist China. Had a liberal President made peace with China, he would have been pilloried for it. But because Nixon was such a staunch anti-communist, his detente was possible.

We have seen this throughout the last twenty years. A Republican would never been able to get NAFTA or Welfare Reform passed or reined in government spending the way Bill Clinton did. A Democrat would have not been able to jack up spending and pass a zillion regulations the way Bush did. A Republican would not have been able to ramp up War on Terror excesses the way Obama has. They would have been pilloried by the opposition. Politicians do move in ways the other party opposes: Obama on gay marriage; Clinton on abortion; Bush on tax cuts. But there are a number of key issues where the opposition is simply too entrenched, the issues too easy to demagogue.

There are a number of issues where this country needs to move “left”: the War on Drugs, medical marijuana, imprisonment and civil liberties. Obama can not move to the left on those issues; indeed, he’s gone hard right on all of them. But Mitt can. If there is any President who might back off of the War on Drugs, it’s going to have to be a “severe” Republican. In fact, Republicans like Chris Christie have been leading the charge on overhauling our drug laws. Hell, Mitt might even be able to make some market-oriented moves on global warming — as Bush did — instead of Obama’s cap-and-trade absurdity.

The Abyss: One impression I’ve gotten over the last few days is that the GOP may be … may be … coming to their senses. Susanna Martinez, Nikki Haley, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie … there’s been a parade of people who are actually interested in governing. The tone has been negative … any campaign against an incumbent will be … but the venom of 2004 and 2008 seems very diminished.

I worry that if Romney fails to win, the GOP will react by thinking they erred in going with a “RINO moderate” and go with some rockhead ideologue like Santorum or Bachmann. It’s nice that these people are principled. But it’s impossible to govern that way when the country is half Democrat and very concentrated on the center right.

The Debt: Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan has put the debt issue front and center. There are some issues with Ryan’s plan: it doesn’t balance the budget for a long time and cuts taxes before we’ve gotten our debt under control. But electing Romney would be a clear sign that we will not put up with trillion dollar deficits.

—–

Anyway, discuss. But keep in mind this is about reasons to vote for Romney, not against Obama. I’ll put up that thread next week. What about Mitt Romney, specifically, excites you? What about Mitt Romney, specifically, makes you think he would be a good President? What about Mitt Romney, specifically, makes you think he can get the economy moving and balance the budget?

Painting A Life

Time to change gears. I got the US Open on my TV and am streaming the RNC convention, but I found something that brought a tear to my eye and re introduced me to my humanity. I am finding that as the years go by I find it harder and harder to write posts about our fallen military heroes, not only for the obvious reasons that when good men die we all are diminished to a degree, but the doubts of policy, of how on earth our protectors are protecting us half way around the world, I can’t rationalize it any more.

Meet Ken Pridgeon:

You can view Ken’s gallery here.

I wrote a post a few years back about this group of elderly folks who lived in Bangor Maine, their mission for whatever days left they have on this earth is to greet the troops coming back from Iraq. They greet every plane, every day, until they can’t anymore.

We need heroes to make us better people and God knows we can all do better.

RNC Open Thread

Been busy, but I’ll put this up as a discussion point for the Republican National Convention and update it as events warrant. I might even, if I can figure out how, sticky it until the convention is over.

I have not been able to watch much so far. I saw bits of Ann Romney’s speech, which was quite nice. I’ve said before that she is one of the more appealing parts of Team Romney. And I saw Chris Christie’s speech, which was very good, although said little about Romney. Overall, I’m slightly very minimally cautiously optimistic maybe. Not about Election 2012 but about the GOP. They seem to have realized how crazy things have gotten and to be moving toward a more sane governing position. It’s easy to miss when idiots like Donald Trump are still being allowed to roam free. But last night’s lineup of Haley, Ann Romney and Christie point the way to a much more reasonable future for the GOP.

I’m cooking up some big posts about the election. Hope to have the first one up soon. In the meantime, discuss amongst yourselves.

Update: I’ve been harsh on the GOP platform, by Yglesias highlights some good stuff.

Idiots

I am trying to think of an area in the public sector that is more tyrannical, more rigid, and more myopic then education. I guess when you operate under the charge of child safety and instruction, any boneheaded ridiculous rule can be justified, after all, when children are involved you can never be too careful. Part and parcel of draconian regulations is the attitude that because the stakes are so high that parents will roll over and except any limitation of their sovereignty. Here is the latest batshit insane degree:

“Any instrument that looks like a weapon”, see, right here they have proven themselves not fit to even supervise hamsters. Hands do not look like weapons, not guns, not knives, not chainsaws, they look like hands. I can just imagine a kindergarten teacher looking up from her desk and seeing a 5 year old reach up to pick his nose ,”Oh my God, he is going to blow his brains out”, so she Jackie Chan barrel rolls and springs into action, grabbing the errant hand and wrestling it to the ground.

And notice the weasily reply from the school board official, not ,”Yeah, we are pretty embarrassed by this whole affair, what were we thinking?”, nope, it is the usual tap dance of justifying anything dopey because it is after all for the children.

Our education system is so effed up, where do you start fixing it?

Modern Day Javerts

You know why I get irritated when people call Obama a Secret Communist Anti-Colonialist Crypto-Marxist Douchbag? Because if he actually were one, it would almost be preferable. At the very least, we wouldn’t have shit like this:

Richard Eggers doesn’t look like a mastermind of financial crime.

The former farm boy speaks deliberately, can’t remember the last time he got a speeding ticket, and favors suspenders, horn-rimmed glasses and plaid shirts. But the 68-year-old Vietnam veteran is still too risky for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, which fired him on July 12 from his $29,795-a-year job as a customer service representative.

Egger’s crime? Putting a cardboard cutout of a dime in a washing machine in Carlisle on Feb. 2, 1963.

Now before you start bank bashing … and I’ll bash some banks later on, let’s go into exactly why Wells Fargo fired him for having done a stupid stunt before men landed on the moon. It’s not because they are an evil company.

Big banks have been firing low-level employees like Eggers since the issuance of new federal banking employment guidelines in May 2011 and new mortgage employment guidelines in February.

The tougher standards are meant to weed out executives and mid-level bank employees guilty of transactional crimes, like identity fraud or mortgage fraud, but they are being applied across-the-board thanks to $1-million-a day fines for noncompliance.

Banks have fired thousands of workers nationally because of the rules, said Natasha Buchanan, an attorney with Higbee & Associates in Santa Ana, Calif., who has helped some of the banking workers regain their eligibility to be employed.

“Banks are afraid of the FDIC and the penalties they could face,” Buchanan said.

The regulatory rules forbid the employment of anyone convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, breach of trust or money laundering. Before the guidelines were changed, banks widely interpreted the rules to exclude minor traffic offenses and some other misdemeanor arrests.

New rules have eliminated exceptions for expunged crimes and certain minor offenses and expanded the categories of employees covered, Buchanan said.

Of course, the bank executives — you remember those guys? — the ones who turned the financial system into a cat’s cradle made out of uncooked spaghetti and then came to us with their hands out when it fell apart? Yeah, this not sweeping them up. In fact, Wells Fargo agreed to pay the Feds $175 million to make a high-level investigation go away.

There’s a waiver process for people who have mended their ways — like Eggers, who has not put a fake coin in a laundry machine recently. But the process takes time … unless you’re a high-powered executive. And the banks are prioritizing getting those waivers for … high-powered executives. The FDIC may issue a grand total of 74 waivers this year. They are not going to people like Eggers.

This is not communism. It’s not capitalism either. It’s the Corporate Welfare State, where profits are privatized, losses are socialized, risks are encouraged and the wealthy well-connected bosses are never harmed. When the hammer does come down, for appearance’s sake, it comes on low-level employees and borrowers, not the big bosses or even the medium ones. And both parties are supporting this, as much as the GOP likes to pretend they opposed TARP.

Now about those banks. This is yet one more data point for the case that the big banks have gotten too big and too powerful for the health of our nation and our economy. This is not a case where the free market has created a oligarchic banking system. This is a case where the government, by bailing out big banks and letting them use that money to buy up small banks, has encouraged this; has created this. I have made this argument before. But this is again in the news with Simon Johnson making the case that breaking up the big banks should be part of the GOP platform (if necessary, they can make room by dropping the planks on Shariah law and outlawing abortion without exception). Here is John Carney, quoting the TARP watchdog on the problem. I’ll quote Johnson:

The big opportunity for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and for conservatives more broadly is to choose this moment to pivot against big banks. Ryan is plugged into the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, which has been consistently opposed to megabanks and the subsidies they attract through being too-big-to-fail (talk to Representative Ron Paul).

Ryan can draw on the intellectual support of senior figures in the Republican Party — including former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, the presidential candidate who had the strong support of the Wall Street Journal editorial page for his approach to breaking up the megabanks. Senator Richard Shelby — ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee — is cagier, but seems inclined to be skeptical of the value of the largest banks as currently constituted. Two weeks ago, Senator David Vitter co-wrote a brilliant letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on the problems the banks pose.

In addition to politicians, the emerging consensus among heavyweight Republican intellectuals is that bigger banks should be forced to fund themselves with much more equity relative to debt — in other words, capital requirements should be significantly higher for any financial firm whose failure can cause broad damage. The argument is that too-big-to-fail is too- big-to-exist and the right way to pressure banks to break up is through capital requirements that increase along with a bank’s size.

A Romney-Ryan ticket has the opportunity to tap the Republican populist tradition (think Teddy Roosevelt). The megabanks — such as Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Citigroup Inc. — have become today’s government-sponsored enterprises. They receive large, opaque and dangerous subsidies, encouraging them to engage in excessive risk taking. The question is how best to remove those subsidies.

Removing the subsidies isn’t enough. The damage to our political, financial and legal systems is too extensive. I do like the requirement of higher capital requirements, which has some support. But I fear that if we don’t do something about this soon, we’re going to have a much worse situation on our hands.

Because firing people like Eggers isn’t working the problem.

(H/T to Maggie McNeill for the post title).

Miller Time

Late night TV is too late for me. I catch some clips from Kimell from time to time on the internet, I like him, but the rest are pretty much mouth pieces (like the rest of Hollywood) for the latest DNC talking points. Check out Miller last night on Leno:

I catch Miller’s radio show from time to time, his regulars are some of the funniest cats going. But look how easy Leno resorts to his liberal cliff notes, war on women/ dems are more compassionate/Obama cares about the little guy, what a pantload of nonsense.

I heard that once the RNC convention gets going, they will have a running debt clock posted in the background (what a great idea,btw) and sometime during this convention the magical $16 trillion mark will hit, a moment of silence and maybe a prayer for our very survival would be appropriate.

The Republicans could very easily turn this whole farcical mime right back at them. Considering that each of us now has an individual obligation of about $114,000 to cover this debt, this is their war on women. Ditto with the unemployment numbers, more war, consumer confidence at a record low, cost of living, stagnant wages, harder to make ends meet, all warfare.

And how about the children (I sound like a caring compassionate lefty bringing up the children) and their rosy future, putting $16 trillion on their backs, sounds like warfare directed right at them. A diminished America where the next generation will have it worse then we do, where the tax burden will be greater but the services provided are less, where everything will be more expensive but with less available, where even government will have an even greater reach into our lives and our decisions because we did not limit it’s growth when we had the chance.

Obama keeps telling us that this election will determine the direction we want our nation to take, he could not be more right.

The Fat Man On A Speed Bag

You can tell convention season is in the air. Those lucky enough to get a speaking gig are getting their warm ups on, lacing their running shoes, and getting in some easy sitters at the net, just for practice, talk about a lay up:

California is fair game, the epitome of mis management under the failed leadership of the dems, although according to Barron’s this week, Connecticut (followed by Illinois) is in far worse shape wrt to state finances, that should cheer up some of our regulars here.

I was looking at the speaking lineups for the RNC convention and it appeared (at least to me) that some notable heavy weights are conspicuously absent. But first, let’s talk about those fifth wheels that are cock blocking our reputation. Yes, it is good for their image to kiss the ring, but who cares about John Boehner or John McCain? Both good men, but really, yesterday’s newspapers which was all blood and gore.

But why is Ron Paul not speaking? Yes, the crazy uncle may go off his meds that day and start barking at the moon, and he is getting video time, but he still has many followers who wouldn’t share cab fair with Romney. No, the Paulbots won’t go Obama, but they might stay home, bring them in to the tent. Where is Herman Cain? I’m sure he could manage to say a few nice things about Romney, Cain delegates would appreciate the gesture. And where is Sarah? Come on guys, get that testosterone level jacked up. She has been a good loyal soldier, campaigned when asked, and went home when asked. 2008 was on McCain, Sarah is very good at whipping up the crowd, and most in the party still love her.

Incidentally, anybody else catch the story about the porn star look alike who will also by in Tampa this week? 40 seems a bit old to me for this line of work. And notice that no matter who Hollywood gets to imitate her, whether it is sitcoms, movies, or porn shoots, the imitation is never ever as good as the real deal looks wise?

I was rather proud of Reince Priebus when the other week he called Harry Reed a “dirty” liar, but today I noticed a YouTube video making the rounds on the right wing sites of him getting his ass handed to him by Chris Matthews, Chris Matthews? that little pussy, geeze Reince, if you can’t handle little Tinglee leg, what good are you?

The Latest From the China Model

Ahem:

A section of a multi-million dollar bridge in China that opened in November has collapsed, leaving three people dead and five injured, state media say.

Four lorries fell off the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin City, Heilongjiang province, when part of it collapsed, Xinhua news agency said.

Shoddy construction and over-loading have been blamed for the incident, it added.

This is the sixth major bridge collapse in China in a year. We can only hope the firms who built these bridges aren’t the same Chinese firms that have been contracted to build bridges here in America.

Why do I harp on this story? Because everyone from Tom Friedman to Barack Obama has been telling us how China is a model for the future, how they “get things done”, how they are building bridges and dams and solar panels and going to eclipse us. But, over and over again, we find that the Chinese economy is far weaker than we’re led to believe. Their amazing light rail system has had numerous accidents and is burning money. Their amazing infrastructure collapses under the weight of four trucks. Their solar panel industry is struggling despite numerous subsidies. An earthquake that would barely kill anyone in the United States slaughters 70,000 in China.

You know how many major bridges have collapsed in the United States over the last decade due to our outdate crumbling infrastructure? As far as I can tell it’s one — the I35W in 2007. That killed 13 people during rush hour and was replaced within a year (we’ve had other bridges collapse, but only after natural disasters or vehicle collisions).

Lee talked about this quite a bit on his old blog: how corrupt the Chinese system is; how focused it is on appearing to accomplish great things rather than actually accomplishing great things. And this is just the latest demonstration of how their centralized, top-down economy simply doesn’t work very well. P.J. O’Rourke famously described China’s economic revolution as like building a pyramid from the top down.

So the next time you hear someone talking enviously about China, tell them to get a clue. Central planning doesn’t work. Just ask all the people buried under crappy Chinese buildings and bridges.

Update: That’s not to say this US system is ideal. This Bloomberg article argues we are being seriously gouged.

One Giant Step

RIP:

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has died, his family said Saturday. He was 82.

“We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures,” Armstrong’s family said in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate WKRC.

Armstrong underwent heart surgery this month.

“While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves,” his family said.

Armstrong did not maintain as high a profile as many of the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo astronauts, preferring to spend his time teaching and raising his family. But I remember, on the 25th anniversary, his expressing disappointment with our lack of follow-through on Apollo.

Armstrong was much more than “spam in a can”. His quick thinking saved Gemini 8, he ejected from the “flying bedstead” practice lander moments before it crashed and his skilled piloting kept the Apollo 11 lander from smashing into a huge unforeseen rock that was in the flight path — a real-life lunar lander video game. We are extremely fortunate to have been blessed with such men. And I hope we will one day again have a space program worthy of their legacy.

Update: More from Phil Plait. He wonders if we should have a holiday for Armstrong. I wouldn’t go that far (and he would have opposed it). I think we have enough holidays already. But I do think July 20 should recognized, maybe as Astronaut Day or something. Landing on the moon is the greatest achievement in human history.