Saturday, August 01, 2009

 

Open Thread

After a trip out west last weekend, I neglected to do a thread. Mea culpa! What have folks been up to?

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Friday, July 31, 2009

 

Car-pocalypse Now

News reports tell us the government's "cash for clunkers" program, also known as the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), has already burned through the $1 billion allocated for it.

(On a side note, this means the CARS program is officially over. From the CARS website: "Program runs through Nov 1, 2009 or when the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first.")

What a surprise that people would take $3,500 or $4,500 if you offer it to them. All they have to do is make the huge sacrifice of going out and buying a new car. Oh the horrors of "new car smell"! Of course, the biggest sacrifice is the frequent visits to the mechanic and the gas station.

Sarcasm aside, the American people naturally did what the program intended. But as we have seen with too many recent government attempts to plan our economy, you CANNOT plan an economy.

The money quote on this subject comes from car salesman Rob Bojaryn (in an article on wcbstv.com):
"If they can't administer a program like this, I'd be a little concerned about my health insurance."
Good question indeed.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

 

Stopping the White House Dine & Dash

Yes, big business has not covered itself with glory over the last several years.

Yes, it's unfair that the banks managed to screw up multiple times -- and still got bailed out to the tune of $700 billion in taxpayer money.

Yes, the U.S. automakers have been messing up for decades; they shouldn't have had one more cent in bailout money.

Yes, AIG insurance giant should have been left to rot rather than getting billions on the taxpayer dime.

But, does the White House really think that the best way to hold some of these corporate miscreants -- or, at least, their pseudo partners-in-crime -- "accountable", is, according to Politico.com, by charging them for lunch!?!?!?!? So it would appear:

Four of the most powerful business leaders in America arrived at the White House one day last month for lunch with President Barack Obama, sitting down in his private dining room just steps from the Oval Office.

But even for powerful CEOs, there’s no such thing as a free lunch: White House staffers collected credit card numbers for each executive and carefully billed them for the cost of the meal with the president.

The White House defended the unusual move as a way to avoid conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration didn’t charge presidential guests for meals, one former official said, and at least one etiquette expert found the whole thing unseemly – suggesting it was a serious breach of protocol.

Ya think?

Have the Democrats gone completely bonkers in their drive to embarrass the wealthy? Conceptually, I have no real problem with wanting to "stick it to the high muckity-mucks" -- and not leave the taxpayer with the bill. But, billing businessmen and women a couple hundred bucks for lunch is silly. The president is going to eat lunch anyway. The cost differential to the White House (i.e., the taxpayer) of preparing lunch for two, four, or eight people is marginal at best. Divided by the couple of hundred million taxpayers, this is an infinitesimal amount! Ya want to save the taxpayers some money? Don't bail out businesses to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars!!!!

The only thing charging the CEOS for lunch does is make the White House -- and by extent, the American people -- look cheap.

And conflict of interest?

“From time to time, White House guests are asked to reimburse for their meals, the reasons include ensuring there is no conflict or appearance of a conflict,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “That is consistent with our tough ethics rules and we will continue the practice when appropriate.”

Oh, stop it! What's more impressive for anyone -- whether you actually had lunch at the White House, or whether you did or did not pay for it? The CEOs have already gained a "benefit" just by showing up at the White House! After that, it's hardly sticking it to them by telling them that they have to "pay." Oh, memo to White House: Most CEOs can write that meal off as a business expense on their taxes anyway, so the American people are left stuck with the bill anyway. Absolutely nothing saved!!!

Gotta wonder how far this policy extends. Did anyone check to see if Thursday's "beer summit" between the president, Prof. Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. James Crowley was switched to BYOB at the last minute?

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Monday, July 27, 2009

 

Yo, Teach This!

Despite (or perhaps because of) President Obama's rare White House Press Room visit Friday, the racial flap involving Prof. Henry "Skip" Gates and Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley continued to roll along through the weekend.

Monday saw the release of the original 911 call from a Gates neighbor and the police tapes of Sgt. Crowley calling into the police headquarters. Two interesting facts came from this release -- upon which both sides can claim some support to their view of events: First, 911 caller Lucia Whalen did not describe the race of the "two gentlemen" that she saw trying to gain entry into Gates' house. That fact undermines Gates -- and his supporters' -- claim that the incident was one of racial profiling from the very start. Secondly, Whalen noted twice that the two men had "suitcases" on the porch and that they might live in the house. That's a fact one would hope would be in Crowley's head once he approached the house. It doesn't necessarily excuse any language or actions Gates may have exhibited, but at least the police should have known that the entire issue was unclear from the beginning.

Why is this information important? Because it sort of undermines the president's notion that the Gates-Crowley encounter can become some "teachable moment" for the entire country. While not as bad as declaring that the Cambridge police "acted stupidly," the "teachable moment" language is no less fraught with certain assumptions that President Obama might not wish to be associated with.

From Gates' (and his supporters' point of view), the "teachable moment" is that America needs to "learn" that black men and other minorities suffer from racial profiling. But as the 911 tape shows, the lessons that might end up being learned could be much more complex -- and have absolutely nothing to do with racial profiling. It seems quite clear that the caller went out of her way not to describe the men at the door in a racial manner. Indeed, the 911 dispatcher finally had to drag out of her that one of them "looked Latino." (And, another point: It was learned that Lucia Whalen herself was, broadly speaking, "not white" -- of Portuguese background, in fact -- also undermining the claim that she was another white racist).

From the perspective of the cops (and their supporters), the "teachable moment" is that they have tough jobs to do and they require the cooperation of good citizens to do those jobs. A university professor seemingly going nuts in a verbally abusive manner doesn't make that job easier. That Crowley asked for more cops to show up actually gives some credence to his belief that Gates was becoming a problem. If he had been a garden-variety stereotypical "racist cop," Crowley likely could have subdued Gates by himself without too much trouble -- and a certain amount of force. Instead, he ended up bringing colleagues who would assess Gates's behavior in similar ways that Crowley saw it.

So, is it really a "teachable moment" if different parts of the country continue to "learn" very different lessons?

But ultimately, the real problem is that the phrase "teachable moment" speaks to a certain elitist mindset that is all-too-common across the political spectrum. The supposition is that the public is little more than elementary school students who are too dumb to understand big issues. Conservatives often seek "teachable moments" to explain aspects of their agenda to the public. Democrats do the same -- either, like this, with race, or on something else that speaks to their message.

Perhaps if the partisans on all sides stopped treating the public like children, maybe they -- the partisans -- might learn something themselves. After all, so far, the person who has most had to absorb the impact of a "teachable moment" is actually the president of the United States. Though he never used the words "I'm sorry," the truth is he had to do a major mea culpa after his performance in last week's press conference.

Consider that your teachable moment, Mr. President: Maybe you should just preside over big policy issues instead of weighing in on local police matters.

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