The Ugliest Car Ever: The New, New York Taxi

The most common vehicle on the road in the city of New York is the iconic yellow cab.  Regulated by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, the taxicab fleet is currently a diversified hodgepodge of Ford Crown Victorias (the most common), Ford Escapes (my personal favorite), along with other hybrids and minivans.  Well, the city, in an effort to standardize the fleet, has selected a new minivan prototype from Nissan.

And I, for one, think it’s jarringly ugly.  The link to the article contains a graphic that represents the evolution of the yellow cab over the past century.  And the future iteration of the yellow cab is, by far, the most shockingly tasteless in what is ironically the cultural capital of the United States.  Had I a choice, I would have picked the Ford Escape.  It’s roomy without taking up too much space on the road, it gets good mileage, it handles very well in city driving, and it’s from an American company.  The Ford Escape also has the added advantage of not being an eyesore, something of which the Nissan model cannot boast.

But, unfortunately for me, I wasn’t consulted, and so what the city is slated to get is probably is the ugliest car manufactured for American roadways since the Pontiac Aztek was introduced by General Motors prior to its self-inflicted implosion earlier in the decade.  I’m going to be curious to see if this ever hits the road, or if the city wakes up, comes to its senses, and forces the Taxi and Limousine Commission back to the drawing board.  I certainly hope so.  I suppose it’s things like this that give us the pejorative term ‘government work.’

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Michigan Driving the Recovery

To many (myself included) this economic recovery seems to be painfully slow.  I’ll probably think that it’s completely over when I land a full time gig with benefits.  But, in my home state of Michigan, the jobs news coming out of that state is, for the first time in a long time, the best in the nation.

Michigan’s added 30,000 manufacturing jobs this year alone, and quarterly reports from the Big Three underscore the success of the federal government’s bailout packages extended to the automotive sector under both the Bush and the Obama administrations.  Michigan’s unemployment, which topped out at a whopping 14.5% in December of 2009 and was the highest in the nation for a long, long time, has now dropped to 10.3% (now fifth in the nation), and the employment rate is rising at twice the national average.  Meaning, Michigan is creating jobs at a rate 200% greater than the rest of the country.

Clearly, one state alone is not going to be enough to give Americans the feeling that prosperity has returned, which, for most of us, it has not.  But the jobs data coming out of Michigan could serve as the canary in the coal mine, meaning that it’s a precursor of our economic trajectory over the next two years.  I, for one, think that we’re going to see more robust job growth take place over the next two years, and I think much of it has to do with the centrist policies espoused by the Obama administration.  There’s also always the ‘reset’ that always appears after an economic implosion that’s a feature of the naturally recurring capitalistic economic cycle, and that’s also underpinning the recovery.  So while it’s premature to pop the cork on a magnum of Champagne, I’d pop it in the refrigerator for that day when that prosperity becomes apparent for us.

Rx Shortages Plaguing US Hospitals

A troubling new trend is emerging in the medical establishment of which most of us are completely unaware: a growing shortage of mainstay pharmaceutical products in the United States.  Oncology, anesthetic and antibiotic medications are prime examples of what the FDA says is an increasing dearth of commonly prescribed medicines that health care providers rely on to treat routine health problems.

Most of the medications are older products on which the patent has expired, meaning that they’re no longer as profitable to make, and in many cases, they’re relatively more difficult to manufacture than other kinds of medications.  So, basically, in many of the cases, there’s just not the incentive to make them, leaving only a few global manufacturers in place to fill the demand.  A demand, which they are increasingly failing to fill.

Pharmaceutical industry spokesmen have posited that the real culprit is FDA, in ensuring that Americans receive safe and pure medicines, have recently begun new enforcement actions to enhance overall standards.  Their position is basically that intrusive government meddling has hobbled manufacturing, thus leading to shortages.  The FDA denies that enforcement hasn’t changed in the recent past, and that the real culprit is a limited number of suppliers experiencing manufacturing problems on items which don’t make the companies as much profit as their blockbuster drugs, thus putting them on the back burner.

I don’t know what to make of it.  The truth probably lies somewhere between the two sides.  And clearly, we need a government watchdog to ensure that the pharmaceutical products patients require are readily available, regardless of how much profit they may earn for the drug companies.  I like capitalism, I really do.  But there are times that we must recognize markets fail, and take the appropriate steps to remedy that.  This time is just one such example.  If these companies feel they’re entitled to make tens of billions of dollars in the American marketplace on their wildly popular drugs, they should be compelled to make readily available, even at a diminished profit, those medicines that this country needs to stay healthy.  Because really, a country is only as healthy as its citizenry.  You can’t say the same for big business.  In the years leading up to the economic collapse, the financial sector was wildly profitable.  And we all know what that did to the country.

Tweeting the OBL Raid

Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual on Twitter), a Pakistani IT consultant based in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the same town in which Osama bin Laden was living, inadvertently ended up liveblogging the raid in which bin Laden was killed.  Athar, who had moved to the town, a relatively wealthy enclave of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, in order to bolster their own personal security in what is an often chaotic and violent country.  Instead, they found themselves within viewing distance of what was probably the most important military operation we’ve seen in some time.

At first Athar was unaware of what to make of the arrival of the helicopters, and it was only in retrospect that he learned that he head basically kept the world abreast, in real time, of the unfolding of the commando raid to neutralize the notorious terrorist.  I’m not sure if the old adage of ‘Being in the right place at the right time’ applies to this scenario, but Athar was certainly well situated to report on the events as they unfolded.

Finally, Justice

And it was long, long overdue.  It took the President two and a half years to accomplish what Bush failed to do in seven.  As Mike Huckabee noted, it’s odd to celebrate a death, and we should temper that celebration with the knowledge that even though bin Laden is dead, and justice, to a certain extent, has been done, that young men and women will continue to die under our banner in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a result of the actions of Osama bin Laden.

We also have to deal with the fact that in, at least in certain circles of Muslim extremism, we just created a martyr.  The orders were to kill, not to capture, and rightfully so.  There was no doubt as to his guilt, as he loudly and frequently advertised his hand in murdering thousands of Americans, making a trial completely and totally unnecessary.

Another aspect to ponder is this: now that we’ve neutralized bin Laden, what are we doing in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Will this, if anything, force a more rapid draw-down of forces in both theaters?  I would certainly hope so, particularly where our ‘ally’ Pakistan is needed to close the deal, as they’ve demonstrated themselves to be playing both sides of the game.  Bin Laden was in a compound built in 2005, in a rather posh suburb of  Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, just 40 miles out.  That Pakistani intelligence was unaware of bin Laden’s location, at best, stretches the boundaries of believability.

So, we got the bastard, a man responsible for the murder not only of nearly 3,000 Americans, but thousands of other people across the globe in attacks bin Laden and his underlings planned and directed.  And the fight to make the world a place where democracy and tolerance will continue for the foreseeable future.  I, for one, applaud President Obama for finally accomplishing the mission.  This time, the deal’s closed, unlike the other time I recall the slogan being bandied about.

Highlights from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

I’ve heard people say that Washington and politics is for ugly people what Hollywood and the movie business is for pretty people.  And I think there’s a degree of truth in that.  If the comparison is apt, then last night was the equivalent of the Oscars at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an annual schmoozefest and laughathon of media figures, celebrities and political figures.

The ceremonies were presided over by Seth Myers, head writer for Saturday Night Live, and none other than the President and Mrs. Obama were in attendance.  Some of the highlights include:

*  The President said that he was going to play his birth video, after furnishing his birth certificate this week.  A shot from the Disney class ‘The Lion King’ was projected, showing the young lion cub Simba being annointed.  The President then went on to state: ‘I want to make this clear to the Fox News table: That was a joke.’

*  The President on ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’: ‘You, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership.  And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meat Loaf. You fired Gary Busey. These are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir.’

*  The President on his birth certificate: ‘I know he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like: Did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?’

I like the fact that we have a President, who, though he seems overly serious at times, even, one might say, downright professorial, he can crack a joke, at his own expense, and, more entertainingly, the expense of his opponents.  Well played Mr. President.