Sunday, February 23, 2014

Concerned Yet?

I missed last week due to "technical issues".  After downloading what I was assured was clean software, I soon discovered that not to be the case.  My laptop started behaving most strangely, with the appearance of new programs on my desktop that I had no recollection of installing.

Apparently, the "safe" program was the carrier for a virus/malware/key logger bundle of joy.  Kind of like a stork from hell.  I'm still not quite set back to rights.  I've managed to cordon off the infected programs and (hopefully) protect my system from further encroachment and infection temporarily, until I am able to have my laptop seen to by a shop capable of thoroughly cleansing it.

<sigh>  I do wish people would find something better to do with their time than invent ways to try to take the property of someone else who has earned it.  "Pimps and ho's" notwithstanding, that is the real "world's oldest profession".

Well, then.  What to rant about today?  There's plenty of material to work with.  There's the controversy surrounding last week's figure skating results in the Olympic Games,  New Jersey Democrats are still attempting to use "Bridgegate" to exorcise Gov. Chris Christie and perhaps lessen his influence in the state and reduce the chances he could succeed in any future presidential run, the political class is all a-flutter pontificating about the infighting among Republicans and it's impact on the chances of their regaining control of the Senate and, of course, we've got the on-going examples of extra-constitutional activities by the Obama administration.

Let's take the simplist and easiest first.  Early on during the Games, there was an accusation that the U.S. and Russian ice skating judges were working together to "fix" the results.  This past week, the accusations gained new and greater voice with the surprise victory of the Russian skater over what was widely perceived to be a near-perfect performance by the South Korean skater.  Not being an expert in the intricacies of international figure skating judging criteria, I'll defer to the opinion of a former Olympic competitor who opined that the Russian skater and her coach followed a very deliberate strategy dictated by the rules changes that resulted from the judging controversy of a previous Olympics.  Their strategy focused on meeting the strict letter of the rules' requirements.  In skating, there are certain mandatory maneuvers and skills that have to be met precisely.  The Russian skater met these requirements with superlative skill, even though her performance wasn't perhaps as artistically polished as those of her competitors.  With the greater weight being given to the required elements (I assume in an effort to lessen the subjectivity of the judges impacting the outcome) this was a winning strategy.  In spite of the sour grapes, there is no "there" there.

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey........Democrat partisans are still worrying at Gov. Christie like a mongrel dog worries an old bone.  Claiming they haven't gotten the "whole story" from the Governor and his staff, they are busily holding endless hearings and demanding documents, emails, phone records, etc.  One has to wonder what we would have learned if this kind of energy had been expended on the follow-up to Fast & Furious, Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservative and religious groups, improper alterations of federal law given to politically favored entities concerning the implementation of and their obligations under Obamacare, etc.

The infighting among the Republicans?  It's a debate that is long overdue.  The Republican party needs to have this fight.  The party needs to decide once and for all what it's governing philosophy is going to be.  It needs to decide if it's going to return to it's roots and work to promote smaller government, greater individual freedom, greater self-reliance and less dependence; or if it's going to continue along the most recent path of trying to "out Democrat" the Democrats.  If they choose the former course, they stand a good chance of regaining not only political relevance but possibly coming to future dominance.  If they choose the latter, they will go the way of the Whigs and clear the way for a new political party to arise from the rubble of their failed appeasement policies.  Unfortunately, any new Constitutionally-based political party wouldn't take hold for a number of years, leaving us under the rule of an increasingly lawless Progressive regime.

And that brings us to the continuing actions of our President, Barack Hussein Obama.  You will recall that he promised during his State of the Union Address that he had decided to take unilateral Executive Action when- and wherever he decided he could to implement his agenda, should Congress balk at it's implementation.  In addition to his proclamation that the minimum wage for certain federal contract workers would rise incrementally to $10.10/hr, there are several more (perhaps as many as 15 or 20) Executive Orders planned for release in the near future.  Congress remains largely silent on the usurpation of it's authority to make and amend law.

As troubling those issues are, they pale in comparison to the latest proposition by elements of the Obama administration, specifically the FCC, to abrogate the constitutionally protected right to free speech and a free and independent press.

It was revealed this week that the FCC was contemplating a program whereby it would install "monitors" in the newsrooms of media outlets across the country to investigate their policies on what gets reported and how, with a view toward determining bias in the news, and recommending procedures to promote "balance".  This is incredible.  An arm of the federal government actually proposing that it assume oversight of the national news media.  This would be no different than the old Soviet propaganda operation of Pravda.  Can you imagine any way such a program would NOT end up as a State news agency?  I can't.  If such a program were ever implemented, you could say goodbye to the 1st Amendment as written.  Apologists for the administration say it would never come to the federal government exercising censorship.  Really?  This, from the people who told Americans "Obamacare will reduce premiums by $2500 per year" and "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period."?

What do they think the result would be of installing government-appointed "minders" to supervisory roles within news agencies?  Especially when the agency doing the monitoring holds the power to literally shut down any television or radio media outlet via the power of licensing?  How many news outlets are going to be willing to risk reporting any information that might reflect poorly on the current majority political party and/or Oval Office occupant?

Obama once famously said that he thinks the Constitution is flawed because of the way the Bill of Rights was written; as a Bill of "negative rights" saying what the government can't do, as opposed to a list of actions the government can and should do.  He's right.  The Bill of Rights is a charter of negative rights applied to the government.  Intentionally so.  The entire intent is to curtail government power over the people, entrusting to the citizen the rights and obligations of free men.  The 1st Amendment is perhaps the greatest freedom so codified in the principle document of our country.  The 2nd Amendment is intended largely to ensure the longevity of the 1st.  And together, they both serve to protect and preserve the rest of the Bill of Rights.  The hard-won liberties that are our birthright as American citizens.

Not surprisingly, the announcement of this proposed program has met with very little outcry outside of the more conservative outlets such as FoxNews and talk radio.  The reason is simple.  The mainstream media outlets and left-wing radio and newspaper don't think they're the targets of this program.  After all, they're in the same "club" as the Progressives who would end up running such a program.  They are all for it, believing it a way to finally rein in Fox and lessen the market dominance of conservative talk radio, something liberals and Progressives have been looking for since the elimination of the mis-named "Fairness Doctrine" that was rightly declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

For all those who favor the idea of Obama's government undertaking to monitor the way the news is presented and what stories are chosen to be reported, I ask this:  Would you be as vocal in your support if the President wasn't Barack Obama, but George W Bush?  How about Ronald Wilson Reagan?  If you were against any of the policies of George Bush, such as the Patriot Act, the Iraq War, Gitmo, etc. and you are silent in the face of the expansion of these self-same programs under the Obama administration, if you are silent on the potential use of drones to spy on citizens domestically, if you aren't marching on Washington protesting the wholesale data mining of your phone/email/internet search records, if you are either silent or in favor of the increase in Presidential usurpation of Congressional legislative authority,  you are either intellectually dishonest, corrupt, a useful idiot, or all three.

If you're not concerned with the drift of this country by now, you're just not paying attention.


This is from  [excerpt]  "As Accuracy in Media reported on February 7, this is but one of several threats to free speech in our nation, and could lead to the revival of a new version of the Fairness Doctrine. And we weren’t the only ones, or the first to attempt to call attention to this outrageous attempt by the Obama administration to try to intimidate newsrooms into compliance with their ideas of what should be reported and how. We already know which of their scandals they want to convince us are phony scandals—such as the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups and Benghazi—and which news sources they believe need re-education, or banning, which would include the Fox News Channel and most of talk radio. They appear to be tossing out a big net to attempt to regulate what those sources put out."

The CIN (Critical Information Needs) program survey was/is a partnership between the FCC and left-wing journalism schools to develop guidelines for deciding what constitutes "critical information" that Americans "need" for the purpose of conducting their everyday lives and how it should be reported to them.  It says nothing about reporting the news of the day as it actually occurred.  In short, the ultimate result would be that government will be the one to decide what you need to know and how it should be presented (spun).  An additional possible result is the use of such data gathered by the survey (ostensibly to gather data on "barriers to entry by minorities to ownership of media outlets") to create a basis for federal intervention mandating race-based ownership quotas when it comes to issuing broadcast licenses.  The FCC proposal also takes aim at print news outlets, something that is completely outside it's legal authority yet, like much else happening under this administration, not illegal unless Congress decides to formally take notice and prosecute.

Read the full story here:

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The End of an Era

Twenty-two years ago, America's late-night audience bid farewell to a titan of the genre, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson:

On Thursday, his most able replacement of the last 22 years, Tonight Show host Jay Leno bid us all an emotional farewell:

Like many of you, I had great doubts about Leno's ability to fill the shoes of the Great One.  I was a casual fan and while I thought he was a huge talent, I questioned how good a fit he would be for the format of a show like the Tonight Show.  I saw Leno as simply a stand-up talent.  Boy, did I get that one wrong.  Over the last two decades he's been on the air, Jay Leno more than proved himself equal to the task of assuming the mantle of "The King of Late Night".

While he would surely demur, Leno is the best there is at what he does and his incarnation of the Tonight Show has held the top spot in the Nielson ratings for years, with his finale drawing a huge audience of more than 14.6 million!

Leno wasn't better than Carson.  His was a slightly different brand of humor.  He held up a mirror to us and made us laugh at what he saw (man on the street), he pointed out the humor in everyday mistakes (headlines) and brought us insights into the lives and (sometimes mis-) fortunes of celebrities.  Carson was more skit-based; his humor was as observational as Leno's, delivered in a different way and they each had great interaction with their "co-hosts".

Jay Leno will be missed every bit as much as Johnny Carson was.  Jay Leno won America's late-night audience over by being true.  He didn't pander to the popular whims of the day, he didn't play to the current political winds.  He had his personal opinions, but he never let them interfere with an interview or color his treatment of any of his guests.  He was, and remains, a true class act.

I don't know if Jimmy Fallon will succeed as the new host, whether the Tonight Show will continue to dominate it's time slot, or if this signals a true ending of one of the last remnants of the Golden Age of television.

Time will tell.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

If You Like Your Plan.......

The Article V Convention of the States can't come soon enough.  If there was any lingering sentiment that Barack Obama had any real interest in governing the country in accordance with his Oath of Office, it was pretty well erased in his latest State of the Union speech.

Curiously, the major media outlets all took up the narrative of reduced expectations promoted by the administration's spokespeople prior to the event, talking about how "low key" the President's remarks were, how "modest the agenda" was that he laid out.  Did they watch or listen to the same speech as the rest of us?  Being one of a shrinking percentage of Americans still in the labor force, I was working and didn't watch the speech on television, but I did hear most of it.  And what I heard was extremely troubling, from the viewpoint of the impact his remarks and his intended agenda could have on traditional American civil liberties, Constitutional rights, and individual freedoms.

He spoke about "climate change" being one of the greatest threats we face and declaring that it is "fact", despite evidence that no actual global warming has occurred over the past 17 years and the statements of several scientists, many of whom were involved in the initial studies, that the evidence for the claims of man-made climate change is sketchy at best, or non-existent and the admission that every climate change model has proven unable to predict accurately future climate data (in fact, many models fail to "predict" climate data even when the actual data is fed into the models after the fact!).  Nevertheless, he announced his intention to press forward with his initiatives to curb so-called "greenhouse gas" emissions, largely through the regulatory arm of the EPA, along with Executive Orders, where necessary.

He also made "income inequality" one of the cornerstones of his presentation.  Saying that it is the job of the government to "reverse the tides" of spreading inequality he said that he was offering "concrete proposals" aimed at helping the middle class and increasing employment opportunities (he's said the same every year) and announcing that he "won't stand still.... So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”  Translation: if Congress won't go along with his programs, he'll use so-called Executive Orders to bypass Congress and the legislative process.

One sign of his willingness (eagerness?) to begin the process of "going around Congress" to enact his agenda items was his declaration that he was unilaterally raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10/hr.  Now, I doubt that very many of these contractors actually earn the federal minimum wage, so the real world impact of this declaration is said by pundits to be minimal.  Perhaps.  It's most likely the intent of this policy announcement was to pressure other groups to go along with the program and raise their minimum wages, as well as to pressure Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to the same amount.  Something that is still (for now) solely within the province of Congress' powers.  The largest effect of a new law increasing the federal minimum wage is that many, of not most, union contracts contain a clause tying the union pay scale to the federal minimum, requiring that any rise in the federal minimum be matched by a rise in the union scale.  (The ripple effect of this increase in the costs of production would quickly result in an increase in the cost of living that would more than wipe out the increase in the earnings of those such a policy is supposedly aimed at helping, leaving them worse off that they were before.)

He made reference to several other program initiatives, including one truly disturbing item: the "MyRA".  The so-called MyRA is a proposal that would add yet another governmental layer to your retirement savings plans, calling for government to intervene in your investment choices in the name of protecting you from the risks of the market (incidentally, it also "protects" you from the ability to earn rates of return capable of outpacing the rate of inflation and generating any real wealth).  The MyRA is the brain child of one Theresa Ghilarducci, formerly a professor of economics at Notre Dame and currently with the New School for Social Research in New York City, a far left think tank and indoctrination center [my words] of Progressive ideology.

Her proposal, which she pitched to Congress in hearings as far back as 2001 & 2002 was for the government to partially nationalize the 401k, IRA, Roth, and other tax advantaged retirement accounts now held by private individuals.  Saying that Americans were both saving too little and in the wrong ways, that they were too unsophisticated to deal effectively with the vagaries of the market, leading to a future where millions will find themselves without adequate resources in retirement, she proposed the creation of a federal retirement savings program.  Participation in such a program would be mandatory, with a required contribution of 5% of gross wages (to start) and a choice of investment options out of the control of the participant, those options having been chosen by government-appointed "financial experts" and limited largely to various forms of U.S. government debt (T-bills, government bonds, etc.) and other "safe" investments.  In return, the government would guarantee a rate of return, to be determined at a later date, as circumstances dictate.  Also included in the Ghilarducci plan was the provision for those who earned too little to be able to save for their own retirement.  They would receive "subsidies" and "tax credits" that would be automatically deposited into their accounts.

Does any of this sound familiar?  It should.  It's largely the same plan as the already insolvent Social Security system, which started out as a similarly guaranteed savings vehicle, only to see the real money deposits received from the working people through government-mandated employer withholding quickly subsumed into the government's general revenue fund in exchange for Treasury Notes.

Government is always on the lookout for additional money to spend (usually buying votes and influence) and has long had it's avaricious eye on the trillions of dollars "on the sidelines" in these retirement accounts.  By some accounts, there's between $18T and $28T in these accounts, enough to pay off the national debt (not that anyone's even proposing such a radical use of such monies) OR to fund liberal Progressive social experimentation for decades (after all, other countries are becoming more and more reluctant to buy our debt, that's why Ben Bernanke is leaving the Fed with a balance sheet of over $4T).

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the entire spectacle was exhibited by the members of Congress, themselves.  Was I the only one struck by the enthusiastic response of half the Congress to each and every proclamation by this President of his intent to usurp their power and Constitutional authority?  Even among Republicans, there were a bare handful who dared speak up about the abuse of the Constitutional process and separation of powers and the disregard for any limits on Executive authority.

The use of Executive Orders is intended solely as an aid to the President in administering the laws as passed by the Legislative branch.  They are not, and were never intended to be, a way for the Executive branch to exert de facto legislative authority, either by writing law into existence or by unilaterally altering existing law.  Yet, that's exactly what this President has done and has pledged to continue to do, should Congress balk at the implementation of his agenda.

The President's supporters say that these actions are both Constitutional and necessary to combat the growing threats and crises facing our nation economically.  That it's government's obligation to step in and "do something" and this administration needs to use all the tools at it's disposal in the defense of the poor and the middle class and that fears of growing federal power and government intrusion into our lives is groundless fear mongering by the opposition.  If you have a retirement system in place and have managed to accumulate a nest egg, you needn't worry.  If you like your current retirement plan............