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1/17/2011
HIGH DRAMA, LOW COMEDY IN ILLINOIS TAX FOLLIES
CATEGORY: PJ Media, Politics

My latest is up at PJ Media where I give an account of the passage of the massive tax increase that was rammed through the Illinois legislature last week.

A sample:

The fact is, we treat these politicians and the whole process as if it were a religion. This breeds humorlessness among the citizenry, which leads to a decidedly unfunny political climate where we are forced to take goofballs like Joe Biden and Sarah Palin seriously. What passes for humor from both sides is the kind of ill-tempered, mean-spirited, pulling-the-wings-off-flies jocosity you grow out of when you hit puberty.

That’s why before I go to bed at night, I hit my knees and thank God I live in Illinois.

You people who live in good government states like Minnesota and Vermont really don’t know what you’re missing. You might have the occasional stray dog who wanders off the straight and narrow, dipping their greedy paws into the public purse, or perhaps being a little too generous to their friends and political supporters. Politics, like any human endeavor, has more than its share of charlatans, grave robbers, and amoral amoebas who were born with a prison number tattooed across their forehead. No matter how squeaky clean you try and make your local governments, these types always seem to make an appearance now and again just to remind us all of the moral frailty of our species.

But really, how entertaining is that kind of government? Once you start taking politicians too seriously, they start taking themselves too seriously and then you’re in trouble. A politician who takes himself too seriously actually believes they can solve the problems of the world by spending just a little bit more money that isn’t theirs. They start to believe their own campaign rhetoric about how wonderful they are and before you know it, your state is up to its eyeballs in debt.

Illinois has the most fascinating, the most colorful, the most entertaining politicians in the land, which makes following the goings on in Springfield akin to watching a combination Demolition Derby and cockroach race. Of course, we still get politicians who spend the state into penury, but at least we’re disabused of the notion that any high ideals or uplifting principles are at work. It is a rotten-to-the-core, cynical, sybaritic exercise in politics for fun and profit and it was on full display last week. A lame duck session of the Illinois legislature passed a gargantuan tax increase on individuals and businesses, while borrowing another $4 billion to seed the gold-plated retirements of unionized state workers.

I am going to start calling Illinois Governor Pat Quinn “Four-County Quinn.” In the November election, Quinn managed to win just 4 out of 102 Illinois counties. Of course, he won Cook County, the most populous county in the state, by more than 500,000 votes. This proved too much a handicap for his Republican opponent Bill Brady to overcome.

It should be obvious by now that Illinois politics will never be reformed, which is why it is so much better to see the goings on in Springfield as comedy rather than bemoan the lack of good government. Life’s too short to grant these crooks and charlatans the benefit of taking them seriously. If you do, you’ll only end up miserable like all Illinois political reformers who continue to be disappointed that their efforts don’t yield more positive results. Trying to stop a tidal wave of corruption with a spoon is not logical - but it makes the reformers fair game for humor too. King Canute had better luck stopping the tide from coming in than reformers have in trying to stem the corruption in Illinois politics.

What happens next with Illinois’ fiscal crisis? Sit back, pop some popcorn and prepare to be amazed and entertained.

By: Rick Moran at 9:56 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

12/31/2010
NEWS HEADLINES WE’LL SEE IN 2011
CATEGORY: PJ Media, Politics

Here’s my latest at Pajamas Media. It’s a frolic about some headlines that we may see in 2011.

As I point out, it’s easy to predict this kind of stuff because the chances are excellent that many news headlines from 2011 will look a lot like news headlines from 2010.

A sample:

I have absolutely no doubt that over the next year, there will probably be several headlines involving a Democrat saying something bat guano crazy about economics. It’s not that Democrats know next to nothing about how the economy works. It’s that they are absolutely, stone cold clueless about the subject. Comparative lit majors didn’t need to take Econ 101 to graduate, so the subject is even less familiar than Mandarin Chinese to most liberals. You get the impression that liberals believe that unless government controls it, nothing exists, and that this control extends to every thin dime you earn by the sweat of your brow. It’s not your money, it’s government’s — and government has the power to tell you how much of it you can keep, rather than you telling government how much they can take.

Anyone who seriously believes that unemployment benefits are “the biggest boost we can give the economy” will no doubt make similar horrifically inept gaffes in the coming year about the nature of a free market and how things really work. Try these on for size, the generic “Democrat” substituting for the name. Just fill in the blanks later:

“Democrat accuses GOP of trying to shorten recession on the backs of the unemployed”

“Democrat says 90% employment ‘acceptable’”

“Democrat says eliminating 200,000 jobs in coal industry will grow the economy”

Not to be outdone, I am also certain that some prominent Republican somewhere will literally get caught with his pants down in some kind of sex scandal. There’s a 50-50 chance that it will be a gay liaison and that the tawdry details will spill out on blogs first, to be reluctantly followed by the Washington Post and New York Times, who hate it when blogs scoop them on these kind of scandals but agonize over contributing to the sleaze.

What is it about Republican lawmakers and sex? I can understand the attraction. After all, I’m sort of a Republican and I like sex a lot. Straying from my Zsu-Zsu has never seriously crossed my mind, however. Certainly, as H.L. Mencken said, “Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a movable body.” But many Republicans seem to heed Mae West’s advice: “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”

By: Rick Moran at 8:29 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

12/7/2010
QATAR: THE WRONG DESTINATION FOR WORLD CUP 2022

My latest is up at PJ Media and its about the awarding of the World Cup hosting nation to Qatar - a socially backward autocracy.

A sample:

There are the usual issues that you find in any Arab country with virulent anti-Semitism, polygamy, and an attitude toward women that fits right in with the emirate’s 14th century mode of governance. There is no elected legislature. The people are subjects, beholden to the capricious whims of a potentate with three wives and 24 children. There is a “Municipal Council” where some members are elected, but the reality is that all power is in the hands of the amir, a nice enough fellow who is apparently considered a “progressive” in the Arab world but is still an autocrat.

What really beggars belief is that FIFA failed to take into account two crucial factors in their decision: the climate and Qatar as a tourist destination for Westerners.

As for the latter, just what is there to do in Qatar? This is from the official tourist site:

Tourists can explore the natural environment of Qatar by taking an exciting desert safari, relaxing at the many beaches and pools or just enjoying their favourite sport, be it bowling alleys, tennis, snookers, billiards, golf courses, or ice skating rinks. There is something for everyone in this wonderful place.

All kidding aside, this was a horrible choice by FIFA, the world governing body of soccer and one of the most corrupt international organizations on the planet:

Why sacrifice whatever high ideals are connected with the World Cup — and there are precious few that haven’t been sullied by FIFA — by holding the tournament in a socially backward autocracy that winks at terrorists and terror financing while allowing nauseatingly hateful bigotry directed against Jews?

No doubt the British football hooligans are salivating at the thought of starting poolside fights or breaking up a bowling alley or two. There are good restaurants but alas, no drinking allowed except in exclusive hotels and clubs.

In fact, Qatar would do well to vastly expand the number of venues allowed to serve alcohol, or come 2022, soccer fans will be rioting because they won’t be able to get a beer or three. It’s going to be like tailgating at a football game where brats are outlawed. Americans wouldn’t sit still for that, and I doubt the boisterous Euro-football fanatics will be satisfied with citrus juice or iced tea.

It’s the money. Qatar has promised to spend $100 billion on infrastructure improvements - enough to whet the appetite of the dozens of giant corporations who have a very close relationship with FIFA. And in a country where the amir and his family control everything, awarding them the opportunity to host the biggest sports event in the world no doubt gets FIFA on the royal family’s good side.

By: Rick Moran at 12:09 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

12/2/2010
WIKILEAKS: THE INTERNET AGE JUMPS THE SHARK

My latest piece is up at Pajamas Media and in it, I ask the question: is too much openness and transparency a good thing?

As sample:

I would imagine most of those reading this article treasure the idea that the internet is one of the last bastions of almost total freedom on earth — a place where anything and everything goes, where the sublimely beautiful rubs elbows with the most profoundly depraved, and where radiance and raunch can occupy the same space, at the same time, thus defying the physical laws of the universe.

It is the the last outpost in the Wild West complete with gunslingers, banditos, highwaymen, and the occasional offended aboriginal. All of this freedom and openness comes at a huge cost, however: we, the meek and mild-mannered townsfolk, have yet to get around to appointing a sheriff in a white hat to protect us from the likes of Mr. Assange and his merry band of nihilistic knaves .

At the moment, the bad guys seem mostly interested in knocking off the rich ranchers and cattle barons who can afford to hire armies to protect them. Tweaking the tail of the lion by dumping diplomatic cables on to the internet or publishing the cell phone numbers of politicians and bureaucrats is serious mischief-making but doesn’t threaten our privacy or well being directly.

What about 10 years from now? Can the concept of “openness” and “transparency” be taken too far? Suppose an Assange-like messiah arises who declares that personal assets, bank accounts, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, tax returns and other very personal information have no business being hidden from view; that privacy itself is an authoritarian construct; and that everybody should know everything about everyone else. Only then can we all be truly “equal.”

By: Rick Moran at 10:55 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

11/22/2010
POLITICIZED SCIENCE VS. ANTI-SCIENCE REPUBLICANS

My latest is up at Pajamas Media, and it’s about global warming and the battle between neanderthal Republicans and the Marxian dolts who want to politicize the science of global warming to achieve massive wealth redistribution.

What’s a rationalist to do?

The fact is, Republicans are terrified of their base, which seems to have abandoned reason and embraced a fanatical anti-scientific viewpoint on climate change. Rather than attempt to carefully weigh and balance arguments, there is a rush to posit conspiracy theories about the motives of climate change advocates. Unfortunately, this attitude has been fed by statements like the one from Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III, that climate treaties are beards for wealth redistribution.

This is hardly a secret, nor is it anything new or conspiratorial. The Kyoto accord made wealth transfers to developing countries the centerpiece of the treaty. And the IPCC’s motives in this regard dovetail nicely with those of the developing world and their NGO advocates who stand to receive a nice sized slice of any developmental funds that result from this massive redistribution of wealth.

But just because the motives of many climate change advocates are questionable, even evil, does that mean the entire global warming proposition is a fraud? There are still those hundreds of scientists and their dogged, 30 years of research and experimentation into the question of whether man-made industrial activity is having an effect on climate. They and their findings are not going away no matter how many “conspiracies” are uncovered or how many UN flacks reveal the true nature of their efforts.

You can’t fault the scientists if their research and conclusions have been hijacked by politicians greedy for loot and power, and far left activists who wish industrialized society and its capitalistic excesses would simply disappear. The problem won’t go away because many conservatives seek to hide in their cocoons and echo chambers, assuring themselves that global warming is a myth and nothing need be done about it.

This is a symptom of movement conservatism’s larger problem of rejecting authority and expertise as the product of elitist thinking. Science is especially vulnerable to their skepticism because it is so easily misunderstood. If it is beyond the ken of “ordinary” people to understand, then it is suspect. Any appeals to “authority” are dismissed automatically as an attempt to use “credentialism” to put one over on the people, or claim competency where none exists.

Right on cue, my loving fans - who never bother to read what I write - skewer me in the comments for rejecting their version of reality - i.e., no evidence, no warming, no nothin’. Is it any wonder that the scientific community has abandoned the Republican party? Nuance and subtlety escapes the notice of these ideologically obsessed freaks. If it ain’t black, or it ain’t white, it ain’t real.

In matters where lay people are not capable of properly weighing scientific argument, an appeal to authority is not “elitist,” it is necessary. In the case of the global warming, skepticism is warranted, not denial. How much are humans responsible for rising temps? Does it matter? A larger human imprint on climate buttresses the Marxist’s position; a smaller one, the skeptics. The evidence is mixed and at times, contradictory. All the more reason to slow down, as Bjorn Lomberg so wisely suggests.

Breaking the momentum of the alarmists will be a real chore. They have most large corporations on board their gravy train now and, coupled with the greedy eye that developing countries are casting toward the trillions of dollars to be transferred from industrial democracies to the kleptocrats in Africa and elsewhere, it will be very difficult to address the problem of global warming in any rational or realistic manner.

It certainly won’t be addressed as long as the anti-science conservatives and anti-capitalist, one worlders continue to use and abuse science to achieve their own political ends.

By: Rick Moran at 7:52 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)

11/6/2010
OLBERMANN’S RAW DEAL

My latest is up at Pajamas Media and I address the Keith Olbermann suspension from the point of view of MSNBC’s hypocrisy:

This makes the NBC News policy against “journalists” giving money to their favorite candidates inexplicable. Who are they kidding? According to Politico, NBC isn’t alone in this exercise in serio-comic absurdity:

NBC has a rule against employees contributing to political campaigns, and a wide range of news organizations prohibit political contributions — considering it a breach of journalistic independence to contribute to the candidates they cover.

How can you “breach” something that exists only in the minds of arrogant popinjays who think that journalism is a “calling”? One assumes the humanity of reporters — normally — and therefore they cannot be immune from the biases shared by everyone else. Editors, whose job description includes removing as much bias as possible from a story, generally share the point of view of their reporters and are either too lazy or too blinded to their own prejudices to recognize bias when it pops up in someone else’s work. In the end, journalists are about as “independent” as Eastern Europe was during the Cold War. You don’t have to scratch very far below the surface to reveal the nauseating hypocrisy that is contributing to the end of journalism as we know it.

Olbermann’s punishment does not fit the crime. He violated company policy — a policy rooted in fantasy and outmoded notions of journalists as ink-stained cavaliers of fairness and justice. It may be elevating to believe in “independence,” but it isn’t practical.

And this is just cause to kick Olbermann off the air? And why now? William Kristol wonders if NBC’s parent company, General Electric. isn’t trying to curry favor with the new GOP majority in the House. More likely, as Bryan Preston points out, since Olbermann’s ratings have been tanking, his prickly presence in the newsroom has caused enormous friction with both on-air and behind-the-camera staff. MSNBC President Phil Griffin may have taken the opportunity afforded by Olbermann’s transgression to send the Kos-darling packing, ridding himself of this meddlesome high priest of hyperbole.

By: Rick Moran at 11:21 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

11/3/2010
NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER, NO COMPROMISE: THE NEW GOP?

My latest is up at PJ Media where I wonder about the 80 or so new GOP congressmen and whether they will posture with the “no compromise” crowd or work together to make a difference in getting the economy back on track.

A sample:

About a third of the GOP caucus that is sworn in on January 3, 2011, will never have served in Congress previously. If they organize and stay together, they could affect everything from the battle to repeal health care reform to who becomes speaker of the House. Almost all of them are as conservative as any group of first-termers who have ever been elected. The question being asked by both tea party folk and the GOP establishment is: how wedded to “principle” are the newcomers?

Similar questions were being asked by Democrats in 1974 when the Watergate class of liberal congressmen upended the Democratic establishment and forever after skewed the party to the far left. There were 72 new congressmen in that class (the Democrats gained 49 seats) and they quickly organized themselves into a powerful caucus that changed the committee and seniority system, thus altering the way the Congress did business. Their example may be followed by this new group of freshly minted conservative House members who come to Washington as a result of the GOP tidal wave.

Not all of them have bubbled up from the tea party movement, but most are in sync with its goals: fiscal responsibility and a return to some semblance of prudent government. But what does that mean? We are in a nightmarish economy with slow growth, continuing job losses, and the specter of inflation in the background due to the irresponsible policies of the Federal Reserve. We are also faced with depressing budget deficits and a truly frightening national debt.

Is there no role for government at all in fixing this mess? If there is, the Republicans are not going to be able to accomplish much on their own. They will need to work with the Democrats and the president in order to get something done about the economy and the budget. Spending and tax cuts will have to be negotiated to have any chance of being signed by the president and put into effect. Otherwise, the GOP will simply be posturing, and nothing at all will be accomplished.

By: Rick Moran at 1:16 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

10/21/2010
THE NFL JUMPS THE SHARK
CATEGORY: PJ Media, Sports

I am a huge NFL fan, an even bigger Bears fan, and a connoisseur of hard nosed football. You can’t help that living in the Chicago area most of your life. Bears’ defenses have generally been outstanding — hard hitting, intimidating groups who pride themselves on dealing out punishment to opposing skill players.

But this most recent effort by the NFL to wussify the game is really an exercise in control. I wrote about the subject of helmet-to-helmet hits for PJ Media:

Say goodbye to pro football as we knew it. In its continuing assault on what makes the pro game the most watched weekly sporting event in TV history, the NFL powers that be have decreed that hitting an opponent too hard will result in “serious consequences” — presumably, game suspensions and hefty fines.

The league has already taken much of the spontaneity and joy out of the game by banning just about any celebratory action following a touchdown — or even a good play. They have crimped the individuality of such larger than life personalities as Chad Ochocinco by banning his wildly original antics following his scoring a touchdown. Group celebrations were banned following the 1984 season, when the Washington Redskins’ “Fun Bunch” electrified the crowd with their demonstration of unity and joy in the end zone.

[...]

It’s not as if there weren’t already rules against players who “launch” themselves head first at opponents, seeking to injure rather than attempting only to “hurt” a player and cause a fumble. If the distinction seems lost in the translation, it is simply part of the NFL culture. Trying to hurt someone is fine. Everybody in the league plays hurt at some point, or at several points, during the year. But an effort to actually injure a player — jeopardizing his health and/or career — is against the rules. It’s a fine line that is really a question of intent rather than technique. And I have yet to see a ref whose off-field employment is as a circus soothsayer or Gypsy palm reader.

The subjective evaluation by a referee on the scene of the play has generally been to protect the receiver on these hits anyway. Now the refs knows that the league will be looking over their shoulders when they judge the legality of these collisions which almost certainly means that there will be little room for error by the defensive player when lining up a receiver for a blow. The quarterbacks are already cocooned by the league, as it is illegal to make helmet-to-helmet contact with the signal caller at any time for any reason. The question can be asked is if the league is headed in that direction when it comes to protecting any of their high-value, high-profile players be they quarterbacks, receivers, running backs, or kick returners.

Listening to some of the big hitters in the game over the last day or two makes you realize the potentially devastating impact this new emphasis on rules will have. It may even lead to worse injuries if defensive players try to avoid a collision. The first team that loses a game for being penalized as a result of this new interpretation of the rules will have a very good case that the NFL is willing to sacrifice the integrity of the game in order to look good to the public.

By: Rick Moran at 7:48 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

10/18/2010
THE ONLY VICTIMS IN THE FORECLOSURE MESS WILL BE TAXPAYERS

I took a stab at analyzing the latest economic meltdown for PJ Media; the foreclosure scandal and its many moving parts.

A sample:

In this respect, the two competing narratives involving the foreclosure mess may both be successful in demonizing pet targets like big banks or ACORN. But as far as reflecting the reality of the problem, both narratives come up considerably short.

On the left, it’s heartless, greedy banks foreclosing illegally on tearful, innocent homeowners, throwing children and grammas out in the street for no reason hardly at all. On the right, it’s sinister forces manipulating the system in order to allow deadbeat homeowners to remain in houses as a result of nothing more serious than a paperwork snafu, despite the fact that they should long ago have been foreclosed upon and evicted.

Compassion versus personal responsibility. Class warfare versus the politics of resentment. As political narratives, both succeed in playing to the emotions and preconceived notions of their respective partisans. But as commentaries on what is actually happening, they are wildly off base.

By any measure, we are facing an extremely serious crisis that not only affects foreclosures, but mortgage securities, the financial viability of banks that are still “too big to fail,” and, most importantly, the rule of law in America. Silly, pretentious attempts to gain political points in this crisis will only make it more difficult to act when the crunch comes.

Is a crunch coming? The uncertainty alone is already affecting the housing market, bank stocks, the credit markets, and the economy in general. And until a way can be found out of this mortgage quicksand, it is likely that those trends will continue, threatening to throw the economy back into recession and perhaps even initiating another financial meltdown similar to the one we experienced in September of 2008.

I have come to the conclusion - or let’s say I agree with a notion advanced by other conservatives - that the real path to the economic collapse we’ve been experiencing began when the financial services industry moved outside it’s traditional role of funding start ups and supplying a haven for money, and into a Las Vegas style, wild west format where nothing is out of bounds and “caveat emptor” are words to live by.

We can trace this curve back to the day that Wall Street’s big banks were granted permission to operate as consumer banks. Glass-Steagall may have been cumbersome, but it acted as a firewall against the manipulation of the financial system so many of these huge banks participated in.

Mortgage bonds, for instance:

This is where things get positively evil. The investment banks didn’t mind buying up loans they knew were bad, because they considered themselves to be in the moving business rather than the storage business. They weren’t going to hold on to the loans: they were just going to package them up and sell them on to some buy-side sucker.

In fact, the banks had an incentive to buy loans they knew were bad. Because when the loans proved to be bad, the banks could go back to the originator and get a discount on the amount of money they were paying for the pool. And the less money they paid for the pool, the more profit they could make when they turned it into mortgage bonds and sold it off to investors.

Now here’s the scandal: the investors were never informed of the results of Clayton’s test. The investment banks were perfectly happy to ask for a discount on the loans when they found out how badly-underwritten the loan pool was. But they didn’t pass that discount on to investors, who were kept in the dark about that fact.

I talked to one underwriting bank — not Citi — which claimed that investors were told that the due diligence had been done: on page 48 of the prospectus, there’s language about how the underwriter had done an “underwriting guideline review”, although there’s nothing specifically about hiring a company to re-underwrite a large chunk of the loans in the pool, and report back on whether they met the originator’s standards.

In any case, it’s clear that the banks had price-sensitive information on the quality of the loan pool which they failed to pass on to investors in that pool.

Note that this potential financial Armageddon is mostly unrelated to the foreclosure crisis but the exposure of the big banks and mortgage bond holders to massive lawsuits by investors is very real and could precipitate another meltdown - if the foreclosure crisis doesn’t cause one first.

I would say to my conservative brethren who pooh-pooh the idea of financial reform that the thought of many dozens of Bernie Madoffs out there getting away with fraud while having the potential to cause another crisis should alter your perception. This isn’t capitalism. It is an abuse of the system and cries out for regulation to fix it.

By: Rick Moran at 8:15 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

9/17/2010
TEA PARTY DEFINES LOSING AS WINNING

What’s not to love about a headline like that if you’re a conservative?

Judging by the more than 100 comments that have been spewed onto the Pajamas Media site in just a few hours in response to my latest article, my guess is that I have become as popular as Christine O’Donnell at an AVN Awards Show.

Already a legend, I am become myth, the destroyer of America, the bane of tea party patriots, a traitor, a heretical gadfly that either, 1) nobody ever reads; or 2) will be solely responsible if Mouse Brain loses in Delaware.

A sample:

Jeri Thompson is telling us that Christine O’Donnell is like Sarah Palin and just needs GOP “establishment” support to win in November. She will need considerably more than that, including one of those neuralizers from Men in Black to flash the entire population of Delaware and make them forget some of the loonier things O’Donnell has said about sex, about Vince Foster, and about her own financial history about which she has lied and lied again.

O’Donnell may in fact win. By November, the Democrats might be in such bad odor with the public that a pie-eyed prostitute, much less a prevaricating lightweight, could get elected in opposition to a Democrat. But chances are O’Donnell will be slaughtered and the likelihood of a GOP takeover of the Senate — already a long shot — will go down the tubes.

Yes, but the tea party people stuck it to the establishment. They woke up the elites. They put the fear of God into McConnell. They made Boehner wet his pants.

They sent a message!

Is it a good thing that the GOP establishment got pwned? Or that a bucket of cold water was tossed on the sleeping elites? Or that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner lost control of their bodily functions and now know the real meaning of electoral fear? Sure it is. But how that relates to winning, governing, and stopping the far left schemes of Obama and the Democrats is sort of murky.

By: Rick Moran at 9:44 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)