Gibson Canned

Zach Galifanikis, I adore you.  Not only are you funny (usually), you have principles.

Liam Neeson is set to replace Mel Gibson for a supporting role in The Hangover 2.  The reason: Galifanikis put his foot down.  He, along with a few key players at Warner Bros. were livid that he had been hired, understandably, stemming from Gibson’s blatantly racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic rants.

So, justice is served, and the powers that be in Hollywood have come to their senses.

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Shout Out for George

This will come as no shock to any of you, but I wasn’t a happy camper for the majority of the Bush administration.  I disagreed with pretty much every policy position that he took, save for the invasion of Afghanistan and the bailout of the banks.

But, to his credit, he’s conducted himself with class since he left office.  Obama took the reins, and we’ve heard nothing from Bush since.  I think that’s pretty decent of him, unlike say Dick Cheney, who whenever he’s not off having another heart attack is giving a pretty scathing interview on Fox bashing the President.In retrospect, I realized that it’s not that I ever disliked Bush personally, he seems like a nice man, now that he has no power.

Bush just gave a speech in Chicago today.  His biggest regret? He wasn’t able to privatize social security. I think he genuinely believes this is a truly desirable thing, and that it would have been good for the country.  But for those of you that are on the cusp of retirement, let me ask you this: do you think it would have been a good idea if you had put your savings into private accounts and purchased mutual funds during his administration, only to watch their value decline by 60% during the depths of the financial crisis?  There’s nothing social about it, nor secure.

So, yeah, I do think he’s a nice man.  But nice isn’t the same as good.  Nor effective.

Follow the Money

We’ve been hearing a lot about political spending this election cycle, and rightfully so.  My schtick is that most of the spending this cycle is in soft money, meaning that it’s largely undisclosed and largely unlimited.  And it’s happening with both Democrats and Republicans.  Here are the following figures for the largest contributors this election cycle, at least thus far:

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: $87.5 million
U.S. Chamber of Commerce: $75 million
American Crossroads (read: Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie): $65 million
Service Employees International Union: $44 million
National Education Association: $40 million

AFSCME, SEIU and the NEA are all giving to Democratic candidates.  The Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads are giving to Republican candidates.  It’s pretty evenly matched with the Democrats having a marginal advantage over Republicans ($171.5 million-D/$140 million-R).  This advantage is rendered meaningless by the fact that Democrats operate in media markets (around cities, the northeast) that are historically more expensive than out in rural areas , where ad buys are far, far cheaper and are more predominantly Republican.  So, it’s not far from the mark to say that they’re about dead even.

But, do some math, and you’ll find that for the top five donor bodies alone give $311.5 million in unregulated, unlimited, undisclosed cash for political purposes.  This is nuts.  This is too much money to not be subject, at a bare, bare minimum, to disclosure to the American public.

What I found disappointing about the media in this is that there was bias on both the right and the left.  The Wall Street Journal (the link above) pretty much led with the line that the unions are the biggest single contributors to political spending.  The New York Times coverage today focused on one $7 million contribution to Rove’s organization and the top donors to the Chamber of Commerce.  And while all of these various facts, taken independently of one another are technically true, they’re misleading.  The WSJ didn’t put into context that the figures added up to be roughly equal.  And the NYT paints a picture where corporations have all the power.

And this ‘bias,’ frankly is nicer way of saying that you’re being misled.  If you’re a regular reader of this, it should be clear that I’m a Democrat with leftist tendencies, but I like to think that I demonstrate enough of a willingness to defy convention from time to time to hit a pitch out to right field.  Meaning, I try and be as accurate and honest as I possibly can be, regardless of ideology.  And this is one such area where both parties are screwing the American public, and both blocs of voters are being led around like sheep.  At great expense to our political process.  And to us.

Our political system has, for all intents and purposes, been sold to the highest bidder at an auction where you and I have no hope of ever being able to enter a winning bid.  To argue that any one private citizen* is able to make this kind of an impact, is utterly, absolutely delusional.

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*Other than the esteemed Karl Rove or billionaires.  This is not hyperbole.

Journalist Fired for Expressing Opinion

Juan Williams, an NPR correspondent appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show Monday where he made the following statement:

‘I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.’

And for this he was fired from NPR.

There has been, at least during since the period that I’ve been paying attention to things, a troubling tendency for people to get ‘offended.’  It seems like it’s happening more and more.  And it’s not limited to any one group on the political spectrum.  It’s everywhere.  I don’t know why.  I think being ‘offended’ imbues people with a misplaced sense of moral superiority.  If someone is ‘offended,’ they’re better able to present themselves as somehow being more sensitive, somewhat more intelligent, and overall a better person than the person who is allegedly giving ‘offense.’

The kind folks at NPR said that he was fired not only for the statement, but also for the fact that NPR correspondents shouldn’t engage in speculation or analysis.  This is ridiculous.  First off, if you don’t speculate (within reason) or analyze, you’re not doing you’re job as a journalist.  And to say that he shouldn’t be sharing his opinion in order to preserve his neutrality and objectivity, then NPR had better get to firing a lot of other correspondents, because they’re out there on the circuit as well, opining, pontificating, holding forth and bloviating as to what they think the state of the world is.  Williams, unfortunately for him, was singled out because what he said offended the politically correct sensibilities of the management at NPR.

I don’t agree with what Williams said.  Frankly, if terrorists want to blow up another plane, they’re not going to use a guy that’s dressed in traditional Pakistani/Persian/Arab/take your pick garb.  That guy is subjected, I would imagine, to a much higher degree of security than I am, as a white American, whether we admit it or not.  He’s not the one that I’m worried about.  The ones that hijack planes are dressed just like any other American.

But, even though I don’t agree with Williams, I don’t think he should have lost his  job.  How juvenile of a nation have we become, that when we hear something we don’t like, we childishly kick them out of the sandbox?  That, more than anything he said, is genuinely offensive.

Corporations and Campaign Finance: Bad Business

I’m lifting this, pretty much verbatim from a radio piece I heard from Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former Labor Secretary.  I couldn’t find anything on the Internet relating it, so I’m just going to credit him, and regurgitate it for you, as I can’t find a link.

So, with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, corporations are now free to give almost unlimited sums of money for elections.  And most of that is not going to be disclosed, meaning, you can’t go to the Federal Electoral Commission, and see what everyone is giving.  You could make the argument that, well, it’s their money, maybe it should be private.  They don’t have to tell.  Why should they?

But think about it.  Should it be private?  Even if you do, consider it from a business perspective.  Say you’re the CEO of Microsoft.  Wouldn’t you be slightly interested in knowing what the CEO of Apple gave in the last year to various political candidates?  I sure would.  I’d love to know exactly what was given, so I could give accordingly, to hedge bets, maybe fund the same candidate so they didn’t feel beholden exclusively to Microsoft, and basically, to counterbalance whatever influence Apple may be buying, sometimes at the expense of Microsoft.

So assume that you don’t know what Apple was giving.  The other option is that you just fund every candidate in sight to the maximum.  That’s more expensive.  Not to mention wasteful, as you’re going to be funding a lot of candidates that you don’t need to.  Right?  Bad for business.

Sometimes I appeal to people based off of ideals like patriotism or altruism.  Frankly, I do that when I sincerely believe in the cause, truly and deeply, and have no other arguments to offer, other than it’s the right thing to do.  But I always appeal to their self interest first, as that’s usually the most effective and fastest way to convince.

I would hope that big business would see this the same way.  Because when big business sees something to its advantage in this country, it usually happens, and pretty damned fast.

Toyota Issues Recall of 1.5 million Vehicles, Yet Again

For decades, Toyota was known for consistently putting out reasonably priced cars that never broke.  Unfortunately for them, that has changed.  Toyota recalled 1.5 million vehicles 599,000 of which are in the US, for problems with, what else, the brakes.  At least this signifies a change in the culture at Toyota after they were dragging their heels on recalling other vehicles earlier in the year after problems with ‘sudden acceleration’ (read: the car won’t stop) killed several people.  That makes 10 million vehicles Toyota has had to recall over the past year, which kind of obliterates their previous sterling reputation.

According to this article, of the 21 major recalls by global automakers this year thus far, only four (less than a fifth) have come from Detroit.  The rest are from either European or, mostly Japanese automakers.  In years past, this ratio would have been exactly reversed, with the Japanese having just a few, and the Big Three claiming the rest.  This is a huge step in the right direction.  So, while Detroit still has an uphill slog to reclaim market share and retire debt, they’ve taken care of the product end of the business.  I’m now of the opinion that US automakers have surpassed their Japanese counterparts in terms of quality for new products.  It’s in the numbers.  And, you can’t argue with numbers.

UK Outlines Drastic Budget Cuts

The British government yesterday unveiled their budget plan for the next fiscal year which featured deep budget cuts.  Nothing was spared the chopping block.  The average government department cut averaged 20%.  Currently, there’s a debate as to whether or not this budgetary practice is sufficient to turn an economy around and restore growth.  When governments have done this before in the past on such a scale, sometimes it has worked, and sometimes it hasn’t.  I’ve not entirely made up my mind.  It does, without doubt, make it easier and cheaper for governments to borrow money, but if your aim to to eliminate a deficit, that doesn’t really matter.  But I do think that part of it has the net effect of just enhancing peoples’ expectations that economic growth will occur, making it a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of phenomenon.

Good luck Britain.  We’ll be following your example in a few years, but, being Americans, we won’t do it until the last possible minute.  You know how we procrastinate.  At least you should.  Remember WWII?  It took us long enough, but we eventually got into the war.  Well, it’s kind of like that.  We don’t really do anything until we’re absolutely forced to.  See you on the other side later.