Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bachelor Getaway

So I had a great surprise this weekend - my buddies flew me to D.C., and met me there for a 48-hour bachelor getaway. Some highlights:
  • Ali Baba's dog eating Craig's toothbrush.
  • "YOU DIDN'T LET MY DOG OUT OF IT'S F***ING CAGE!?!?!?" Sorry, Ali.
  • Dubya and I ambushing Ali Baba in the snow in his t-shirt... and getting tackled in a foot of powder.
  • Dubya sinking into depression as he won game after game Monday night... while watching his Fantasy Football playoff lead trickle away into ignominious defeat on MNF.
  • "It's afternoon, why aren't we drinking beer?"
  • Sucking at Wii MarioKart.
  • Alhambra, La Citta, Thurn and Taxis, Antike - all great games
  • Embarrassed New Englanders trying to talk about sex.
  • One astounding revelation.
  • "Hey Jon, what are you doing for dinner - I'm in Baltimore".
  • More snow in DC than in Western NY. Say what?!
  • M&M's, Pub Mix, corn chips, salsa, kosher franks, cheeseburgers, asparagus, beers, ice cream, peanuts, coffee.
  • The junkfood hangover on Tuesday. I barely ate all day long. OK, that's a lowlight.
Thanks, brothers!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Three Cheers

Three cheers to Arne Duncan for starting to cut the financial middleman out of the federal college loan business. Subsidizing higher education for needy students is an appopriate use of taxpayer money, in my opinion (drawing on research by Gonzalo Castex, among others), and I'll take the Sec. of Ed. at his word that the new way is more efficient and gives less welfare to bankers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Gore Effect

The Gore Effect is hitting Denmark with a vengeance. Odin is rolling his eyes as Freyr plays his jokes on the earnest scientists and unctuous politicos in Copenhagen. This is the funniest prank in Valhalla in the last several centuries!

Bonus silliness: The Danes have so much time on their hands that they have a government definition of "white Christmas".

Hat tip to Drudge.

Attn: Haters

To all those who see a 1 reception, 1 fumble game from an athlete with a bad reputation and come to the conclusion that he wasn't giving it effort, here's a spirited defense of Randy Moss from some serious football people:
Both Hoge and Cosell lauded Moss for blocking and running routes that freed up Wes Welker, who had 10 catches in the game.

“I saw a dozen big-time blocks by Randy. They ran the ball more in that game than they’ve run it all year,” Hoge said. “That guy had more blocks in the running game, and even for Wes Welker and those screens, than I’ve seen all year . . . so I’m watching this game, and I’m seeing a guy freeing up other guys, making blocks.
Contrast this with conspiracy-theory rantings of some commentators. What better way to make an athlete a selfish ball-hog than to lambaste him as a quitter every time he plays a supporting role in the game. Go Patriots, and go Randy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Selfish Obama or Selfish Norwegians?

Remember when the world scratched its collective head at the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama? He still had that new-president smell! Now with a hard decision about Afghanistan behind him, he's lost some of his 'Age of Aquarius' cachet with Europeans. And with the prize almost in his hands, another possible reason for the Nobel committee's choice is apparent:
Peace prize laureates traditionally submit to [events] including a dinner with the Norwegian Nobel committee, a press conference, a television interview, appearances at a children's event promoting peace and a music concert, as well as a visit to an exhibition in his honour at the Nobel peace centre.
They just wanted to get face time with Barack!

But Obama, on his busy presidential schedule, doesn't have time to pal around with Norwegians. So he cancelled most of the events except receiving the prize. Of course, he could have scored a lot of points with Americans by declining the prize. After all he is - or should be - too busy dealing with two wars, a major recession, and global carbon talks to spend time being congratulated for presumed future accomplishments.

Instead, Obama's trying to be all things to all people, but ends up pleasing no one. Americans aren't impressed that he got a Nobel Peace Prize (4 or 8 years from now might have been another story), and Norwegians are bummed that he doesn't think their prize is worth a three-day junket. And with the real-life decisions he has to make as president, he's attracting a crowd of 5,000 anti-war protesters to Oslo.

This isn't working out well for anyone.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mr. Bailout

WaPo has a great spread on how Neel Kashkari, executor of the $700 billion bank bailout, escaped Washington and saved his sanity and his marriage. It's personal, but it's also an instructive look at the interaction of politics and bureaucracy.

The Draw

The groups have been picked! The luck of the draw put France and Mexico in Group A with host South Africa, so there's no true Group of Death. Group G has three excellent teams, but the fourth is North Korea, who will be brutalized as Brazil, Portugal, and Cote d'Ivoire run up the score to win tiebreakers. That's not, IMHO, a real Group of Death, where all four teams deserve to advance.

Americans have a sweet opening match against England to look forward to. Nederlanders zijn blij over een echte gemakkelijke groupje, en Paraguay of Slovakia in de Rond van 16.

More analysis here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Guest Post: Immigration and the Gracchi

This post was written by C.L.D., a Global Review reader. While Global Review believes that immigration should be increased, we also believe that opposing views should be juxtaposed. I have added headings and formatting.

Slavery and the End of the Roman Republic
Today one in eight Americans receives food stamps; of these, around 40% have earned income. We enter a brave new world, one in which impossibly low wages force us to create institutional subsidies for the working poor. There are disturbing parallels between this and Rome’s grain dole, which was one of the major factors in ending Roman democracy.

After the Third Punic War, Rome entered a period of rapid economic change. This was rooted in their practice of taking slaves as spoils of war, a practice that rapidly intensified during the late Republic and into the Empire. (55,000 slaves were carried home at the end of that war; a century later, Julius Caesar in one day sold 53,000 slaves—the entire population of a Gallic district he conquered.)

By the middle of the second century BC, Rome was awash in cheap slaves, causing terrible dislocation for its freedmen. Commodity prices slumped and bankrupted small farmers; slaves displaced urban tradesmen. The aristocracy bought up bankrupted landholdings at discounted prices, consolidating them into ever-growing latifundia worked by ever-increasing armies of slaves. Masses of unemployed, hungry people flooded into the stews and hovels of Rome.

Starting in 133 BC, the populist Gracchi brothers initiated a program of land reform to reverse these changes. It was opposed and then violently suppressed. The only Gracchi reform that survived was the grain dole. It was probably the one reform in their package that should have been spiked, since it fuelled the wild political oscillations that killed the Republic.

The grain dole became the usual tool for buying plebian votes and the rallying cry for reactionary aristocrats. Marius used it to consolidate his last consulship, during which he knocked Rome’s civic institutions to the mat. (Crassus had his own take on the matter—being enormously wealthy, he just bought and distributed enough grain to feed all of Rome for three months.) But Julius Caesar brought the grain dole down to a whole new level, using it to pass the Leges Clodiae, which (among other unsavory changes) unleashed mob rule on Rome. Democracy in Rome was dead in the short space of 75 years.

American Stories
How does this relate to 21st century America? Substitute ‘high levels of immigration’ for slavery, and we’re standing where the Gracchi were in 133 BC.

Nobody knows how many slaves there were in late republican Rome. So we can’t look at the percentage of immigrant Americans—about 11% of the total population—to tell us how close we are to a tipping point. But we do know that we’re at historically high levels of immigration, unmatched—by a long shot—by any other period in our nation’s history. We also know that the percentage of uneducated immigrants is increasing at the same time as wages for unskilled labor are dropping.

I know too many people who have been unemployed for over a year in the current recession. A former paralegal friend is now homeless. Another friend, a small-town accountant, experienced a drop in business just as her husband was laid off from his trucking job last fall. He’s doing contract driving (irregular and without benefits) and they struggle along with a sharply reduced income and no health insurance. They are just one disaster away from bankruptcy.

These friends live out of state. But there are two local stories I’d like to share with you.

I have a friend who cleans houses. Her husband had a stable factory job. Both are very hard workers and honest as the day is long. They’ve never been rich but were always able to provide for themselves and their child.

Last fall he was laid off. For the past several months, he’s worked through a temporary agency for a large locally-owned company. Although this company is famous for its excellent employee benefits, he sees none of them.

Their COBRA coverage expires this week. Health insurance would cost $1200/month. But they now earn so little that they qualify for Medicaid. They have cut so close to the bone that they are now budgeting a paltry $30 for groceries for two adults and a child.

Here’s the second example, and it really infuriates me. I know a recent non-English-speaking immigrant who works in an area restaurant. Last summer I was floored to learn that her boss takes half of his employees’ tips. She didn’t know this was illegal, but even with that knowledge, what can she do? She needs the job to survive.

Qui Bono?
So who benefits from these American tragedies? Business owners, of course—in the first case because the government subsidizes labor costs through Medicaid and food stamps, and in the second because the owner knows his immigrant employees are helpless.

In fact, I contend that the primary beneficiaries of massive unskilled immigration into America are the wealthy—those who hire others at less-than-survival wages and rely on government to make up the difference. The primary losers are our unskilled laborers. And the middle class subsidizes this transfer of wealth from poor to rich.

My friends share a deep resistance to taking government aid and shame that they are forced into it. But inevitably they will lose that—they will have to, to survive. We all understand how the grain dole corrupted politics from the top. But it’s equally true that the grain dole corrupted from the bottom, by robbing poor Romans of their sense of civic responsibility. Since democracy rests on the premise of ‘commonwealth’, such a theft is fatal.

The grain dole was a sop in the place of real labor reform. Food stamps and other benefits are sops in lieu of immigration reform.

Further Reading C.L.D. is an artist and active citizen in Rochester.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

History Repeats Itself

At the end of the third century, the impotent Roman Emperor Honorius was holed up in his court at Ravenna as the Gothic army of Alaric pillaged Italy. An aide breathlessly informed Honorius that Rome had fallen. According to popular gossip afterwards, the emperor was distraught at hearing this until he was informed that it was the great city of Rome that had fallen, not, as he had presumed, his favorite chicken, Rome. (Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Ch. XXXI)

Sixteen hundred years later, courtesy of NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" and the Globe & Mail.
Some 1,700 luminaries, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were in the middle of dinner Tuesday night when smart phones throughout the room began to buzz with the news: “Lady Thatcher has passed away.”

Dinner chatter abruptly veered to expressions of shock and reminiscences of Margaret Thatcher, the 84-year-old former British prime minister, as news of her apparent passing spread like wildfire...

Turns out it was Transport Minister John Baird's beloved 16-year-old cat who had ceased to be.
There must have been another repetition somewhere in between, because this latest occurrence was definitely farce.