Monthly Archives: March 2009

Why Michelle Malkin Should Never Be Listened To

From her site:

The soul-fixer-in-chief is here to dry your tears

By Michelle Malkin  •  March 31, 2009 12:44 AM

Reuters is running a story on the Obama administration’s new federally subsidized counseling services/referrals for those suffering from depression related to the economy. As usual, the government’s prescription for pain is…more government. The economic psychology guide was developed with help from the Departments of Labor, HUD, Treasury, and GSA.

Let's unpack this, shall we?

1.  "Reuters is running a story on the Obama administration's new federally subsidized counseling services/referrals…."

Here's the Reuter's story that Malkin links to.

Is there anything in the story which suggest the counselling services/referrals are "new"?  Nope.  And why not?  Because Malkin, to put it charitably, made it up.

In fact, the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Administration has been around for quite some time.  And they have been making referrals and providing consumer information for quite some time as well, long before Obama came along.

And is this referral service "federally subsidized"?  Well, yes, I suppose.  The website, like all government (.gov) websites, is paid through taxpayer dollars.  Presumably the research and information done on this site was done with public dollars as well.

But again, this is nothing new.  This government agency is only doing what it is supposed to be doing pursuant to the rules and regulations…. not to mention executive orders signed by people like George W. Bush.

2.  "As usual, the government’s prescription for pain is…more government."

Uh, no.  Again, Malkin is pulling this out of her ass.  The SAMHA government website to which she links actually says something else:

Even with these coping techniques, however, sometimes these problems can seem overwhelming and you may need additional help to get through "rough patches." Fortunately, there are many people and services that can provide help. These include your:

  • Healthcare provider
  • Spiritual leader
  • School counselor
  • Community health clinic

So the prescription for pain includes private institutions, including religious ones, as well as a variety of public and private mental health centers.

******

While Malkin and Matt Drudge snicker and snark at the suggestion that tough economic times lead to emotional and mental difficulties, we all know otherwise.

Losing one's job is no joking matter and it does lead to suicide, murders, and other issues.  It's no laughing matter.  And certainly not a matter to be lied about in order to score cheap political points.

Why Many People Can’t Take Congress Seriously

Exhibit A.

This is Representative John Shimkus, Republican from Illinois.  He serves on the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, a body which considers, among other things, global warming and climate change.

Below is a clip of Representative Shimkus speaking on March 25 in the Energy and Environment Subcommittee.  He is expressing his view that global warming is not happening because….. wait for it… the Bible says so. 

That's right.  God had declared in the Bible that He would not destroy the Earth again in a flood, therefore there was no threat of worldwide flood from global warming.

Look, I'm not knocking God or the Bible.  But I do think we run into serious trouble when biblical interpretation dictates environmental policy…. or any policy coming out of Washington, for that matter.

Shimkus also believe, contra scientific evidence, that limiting CO2 in the atmosphere is a bad thing because plant life thrives on CO2.  Therefore, he says, capping Co2 emissions will kill plants.  Nice theory, but not true.

Shimkus, by the way, was aware of the Mark Foley scandal (where House Representative Mark Foley was making advances to teenage male congressional pages) years before the story broke.  He knew of it, but didn't inform anyone of it.

UPDATE:  On Republican Senator James Inhofe gets the runner-up award, for saying today on the Senate floor that global warming can't exist because his home state of Oklahoma just got a snowstorm.

I loved how he prefaced his remarks about "not getting into the science".  Yeah.

Oliver Twisted

Big Hollywood's S.T. Karnick:

The latest PBS adaptation  of Charles Dickens’s classic novel Oliver Twist demonstrates the urgent need for reform of the taxpayer-supported broadcasting service–or an end to taxpayer funding for it.

Among PBS's crimes, according to Karnick?  Casting a black woman as Nancy:

Clearly the producers are imposing an ideal of a colorblind society on a story where it adds nothing, is unnecessary, and is quite a distraction for those who know the original novel. The character, however, is as complex and benevolent as in the original story, which is all to the good.

Yes, clearly that was their intention.

About That Alien Invasion

That strange light and boom that appeared over North Carolina (including one observation in High Point), Virginia, and Maryland?  The one that I blogged about yesterday?

It was the Russkies, not aliens:

The mysterious boom and flash of light seen over parts of Virginia Sunday night was not a meteor, but actually exploding space junk from the second stage of a Russian Soyuz rocket falling back to Earth, according to an official with the U.S. Naval Observatory.

"I'm pretty convinced that what these folks saw was the second stage of the Soyuz rocket that launched the crew up to the space station," said Jeff Chester of the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.

NC Nursing Home Shooting And Other Mass Killings

Somehow, this possible motive doesn't make the killings any less senseless.

Speaking of senseless killing, I'm not looking forward to next month.

On April 19, 1993, following a 51-day standoff, federal agents raided the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. A fire, later determined to have been set by the Davidians, destroyed the compound and killed 57 of its residents.

On April 19, 1995, a bomb inside a rental truck exploded at the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 people in what was then the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.  The killer turned out to be 27-year-old Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh’s ex-Army buddy, Terry Nichols, was also charged in the crime.

Columbine_shooters_486594711 On April 20, 1999, two armed highschool seniors, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, walked through Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. In the end, 12 students, one teacher and the two murderers were dead.

And on April 16, 2007, a 23-year-old South Korean student killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.

The first three are all connected.  McVeigh picked the April 19 date as a symbolic protest against what had happened at Waco two years earlier.  And Kelbold and Harris picked April 20 (the first school day after the 19th) to conduct the Columbine massacre — although they had no political angle, it was their hope and desire to "outdo" McVeigh.

It doesn't appear that Sueng-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, picked his date in relation to any of the prior outrages.

Still, with next April 20 being the tenth anniversary of Columbine, who knows what some unhinged elements of our society might do.  In England, they've already thwarted one attempt to do a school bombing on April 20.

There's obviously been a lot of public programs designed to prevent another such occurence.  And that's a good thing.

But still…. if I were a high school student, I would seriously consider staying home on April 20.

Unsportmanlike Tweeting?

This Twitter phenomenon is getting out-of-hand and just plain silly:

The National Basketball Association has fined Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban $25,000 for unsportsmanlike Twittering for his online comment about referees, The Dallas Morning News reports.

After Friday's game with the Nuggets, Cuban used the interactive site to question why a technical foul wasn't called on a Nugget player for taunting.

What, pray tell, is "sportsmanlike Twittering"?  In fact, is Twitter a sport at all?

President Bartlet, Toby Ziegler, and Josh Lymon To Go To Capital Hill Tomorrow

Yes, they are fictional, but they're still doing good work:

If there was ever any doubt that fictional President Jed Bartlet's administration was pro-labor, the answer is now clear.

Actors Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, and Richard Schiff — all of the fictional NBC presidential drama "The West Wing — will appear at an event in Congress on Tuesday seeking to bolster support for the Employee Free Choice Act ("card check").

Sheen (President Jed Bartlet), Whitford (Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman), and Schiff (Communications Director Toby Ziegler) will meet with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and other lawmakers in meetings on the Hill.

The event is being coordinated by organized labor groups, including American Rights at Work, AFL-CIO, and Change to Win.

Redoubt

The Anchorage Daily has a nice photo set of the volcanic eruptions last week of Mt. Redoubt.

562-HomerRedoubt.standalone.prod_affiliate.7 

288-SatelliteAsia.standalone.prod_affiliate.7 

The volcano's continued eruptions have resulted in a whole new round of criticism of Governor Bobby Jindal:

Thanks to "something called volcano monitoring," to use the denigrating language of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, passenger jets did not fly into ash clouds when Alaska's Mount Redoubt erupted earlier this week.

Volcanic ash creates conditions akin to flying into a sand blaster. A KLM flight lost power in all four engines after it flew into the cloud created by a 1989 eruption of Redoubt.

The plane dropped by more than two vertical miles before its crew could restart the engines and land in Anchorage. No wonder Alaska Airlines canceled 19 in-state flights…. after Redoubt sent an ash plume 60,000 feet into the sky.

The eruptions of Redoubt carry a lesson that Jindal did not learn back when he was a Rhodes Scholar: Don't sneer at science.

MySpace Is Now Half The Size Of Facebook

Poor Rupert Murdoch:

MySpace had 124 million monthly unique visitors last month, a decline of 2%, according to the marketing research company comScore. Facebook, by contrast, racked up 276 million unique visitors, an increase of 16.6%.

Michael Arrington, co-editor of the influential industry blog TechCrunch, posted: "What was a bad situation in November 2008 is starting to turn outright ugly – Facebook is now well over twice the size of MySpace … It was less than a year ago that MySpace and Facebook were the same size."

That's because MySpace has evolved into the Nickelodeon of social interaction websites.

The Alien Invasion Began Last Night

There were strange lights and "booms" from the sky last night, observed from North Carolina to Maryland:

Robert in Sunbury, NC: At 9:38 PM, I watched a meteor cross over Sunbury, NC. It was traveling from the West towards the East. My wife and our friend also saw this event. Very exciting!!!

Diana in Virginia Beach: At around 9:45 pm I was driving, almost to my house and saw the bright streak of light. It lit up the whole area. I thought it was just lightening because it branched out in the sky like lightening. Then I arrived at home, put some stuff in the house and went back out to help my roommate who was bringing stuff into the house too and that's when we both heard the explosion, but honestly, the noise was heard about 15 minutes after I saw the streak. In fact I had just finished telling my roommate that I saw some strange lightening when we heard the explosion. We thought it was fireworks or something. But the noise occurred at least 10-15 minutes after the light. Weird!

Viewer in Corolla, NC: From Corolla about 300 ft from the beach. Light seen shortly after 9:30 PM tonight. Looked like debris, the kind seen on 4th of July. Felt nothing, heard nothing, just saw the bright lite which seemed to explode in the end and disappear.

Sandi in Virginia Beach: I am commenting on the flash seen in the sky, my husband and I heard a big bang and our house shook and both our computers went crazy… all these ads and pop ups showed up and started loading web sites on it's own! One of the computers shut down. i live in virginia Beach in the Great neck area!

No one’s sure what caused last evening’s flashes in the sky.

The National Weather Service said today it has seen no evidence of any naturally occurring phenomenon to explain reports of a bright flash of light in eastern Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.

“Nothing meteorological that we can see,“ said a spokesman at the service’s regional office in Wakefield.

Reports of a bright light and in some places, an explosion-like sound, poured into law-enforcement offices across eastern Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina last night.

Mteorologist Sonia Mark at the National Weather Service’s Wakefield station said last night the phone was “ringing off the hook.“  Suffolk police were looking into “reports of great balls of fire landing on the ground.“

Mark said efforts are under way to determine the source of the disturbance.

All of the reports dealt with incidents that occurred about 9:45 p.m.

One motorist who saw the lights while driving east of the Staples Mill Road exit of Interstate 64 described it as similar to “what falls away from big fireworks” but “much bigger” and “from much higher up.“

Several calls came to Richmond International Airport, but tower personnel did not see anything unusual related to aircraft, airport spokesman Troy Bell said.

“It was very, very bright and lasted less than a second,“ said Richmond resident Jay McNamara, who was returning home with his wife on River Road when they saw an object in the southeastern sky. “It was smaller than the moon and a white or yellow color."

But It Works So Well For Jack Bauer

Right wingnuts must be unhappy to read this:

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.
The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.
In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Funnier/disturbinger still is the revelation that Zubaida, who Bush touted as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations," wasn't even a member of al Qaeda.

My Antipode

If I were to dig a hole straight down to the center of the Earth, I would come out in the Indian Ocean, several thousand miles west of Perth, Australia.

Anitpode
Good to know….

Bachmann, Again

Matt Yglesias says all that needs to be said, but the bottom line is this: Sen. Michele Bachmann does not see the difference between China making a recommendation about what currency to use as the reserve currency, and the institution of a sinister One World currency, outlawing the dollar.

It was a mistake she made two days ago, when she read about China hoping to switch to a different reserve currency.  You would have thought that someone on her staff, or perhaps someone in the Republican leadership, would have taken her aside and explained to her that she's showing her ignorance.

Making The Classics Better

To be released on April 8:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead.

And you have to love the book jacket, too:

B747_pride_and_prejudice_and_zombies

Today’s Favorite Lede Paragraph Of A News Story

AP:

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Police in Connecticut say a woman attempting to reconcile with her husband handcuffed herself to him as he slept and then bit him on his torso and arms.

Yeah.  Um.  Yeah.  For some strange reason, her attempt at reconciliation didn't work.

Ok, ok.  Here's the 911 call…

I Salute The Texas School Board

Dallas News:

AUSTIN – In a decision watched by science educators across the nation, the State Board of Education on Thursday narrowly turned aside a last-ditch effort by social conservatives to require that "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution be taught in science classes in Texas.

Board members deadlocked 7-7 on a motion to restore a longtime curriculum rule that "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories – notably Charles Darwin's theory of evolution – be covered in science classes and textbooks for those subjects.

The tie vote upheld a preliminary decision by the board in January to delete the strengths-and-weaknesses rule in the new curriculum standards for science classes that will be in force for the next decade. That decision, if finalized in a last vote today, changes 20 years of Texas education policy.

Because the standards spell out what must be covered in textbooks, science educators and publishers have been monitoring the Texas debate closely. As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas influences what is sold in other states.

The science standards adopted by the board also will figure into questions used on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Voting for the requirement were the seven Republican board members aligned with social conservative groups. Against the proposal were three other Republicans and four Democrats. Critics of evolution managed to add a few small caveats to the curriculum, but none as sweeping as the strengths-and-weaknesses rule.

It's a tad disconcerting that the vote was so close, but a victory for education is a victory for education.

Utah High School Drama Department Puts On SMUT!!!

Think of the children!  How can we allow our public high schools to put on such raunchy musicals like…… Brigadoon?

Actual letter to the editor:

Dear Editor,

We saw the high school play “Brigadoon” on Saturday.

It was impressive to see all the effort that goes into such a production – it was evident that there was a lot of hard work, from costuming and creating props to memorizing lines and rehearsing music.

With all that effort, it was a great disappointment to discover that the play was not worth seeing. Although there were many fine actors and great music, there was lewd content in this “family entertainment” that prevents us from bringing our children to see it, or from recommending it to others. With out suggestive movements, let alone songs, it could have been so much cleaner and more appropriate. We were saddened that such attitudes and actions would be encouraged among our youth in this way.

Ben and Julie Flake

Indeed.

Below is an excerpt from an old high school production of "Brigadoon" starring a then-unknown Kelly Clarkson.

I've blurred it so that you won't be offended, but it's still probably NSFW.

The Republican Alternative “Budget”

Today was the big day where Republicans were going to come out with the alternative budget proposal, because Obama was all like "Oh, yeah?  You got some better ideas??  Let's see them!" and the Republicans were all like "Okay, We will!"

So the only problem with their budget, released this afternoon to much ballyhoo and hype, is that it isn't a budget.  There is an appalling lack of things that make it resemble a budget — not just things like deficit projections, income projections, etc. – but also things like, uh, numbers.

That's right… it's a "budget" with almost no numbers.  I'm no economist, but one would expect a budget to have lots of those.  Shit, even Bush famously said, when he revealed the first budget of his presidency, "It's clearly a budget.  It's got a lot of numbers in it."

So what does the GOP alternative have?  Well, it's 12 pages of generalities, mostly criticizing the Obama budget (things we've heard), and giving bland statements about what the GOP would do better.

They will "undo" the stimulus bill, they say.  I don't know how you do that.  The stimulus has passed and the money is out the door and on the way to states.  But, whatever.  They will under it.

Oh, and they call it a "stimulus" bill — in air quotes.  I guess they don't want to acknowledge that it will stimulate the economy.

What does it offer?  Oh, here's a surprise.  Tax cuts.  Tax cuts.  Mostly for the wealthy.

Predictable.

But best of all, you get helpful graphics like this, explaining the Republican budget considerations for health care.

Repubchart 

That's either a really bad flowchart, or the beginnings of a molecule.

Anyway, it's a bit devoid of specifics.  Kinda like this.

But it ain't no budget.

I Love Michelle Bachman

This is why.  She presses Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on the Constitiutional authority for the Treasury to give out TARP money, apparently not understanding that Congress, of which she is a member, passed a bill which provided not only the TARP money, but the authority of the Treasury to dole it out.

In an interview with after the hearing, Bachmann said, “My intent to the line of questioning is legitimate because I have a number of constituents that ask me ‘Can they do this?’”

Geithner is understandably confused at the stupidness of the question.  It's kind of like asking "Where in the Constitution does it say we have to sit on chairs?" 

Still Geithner answered the question, saying "the laws of the land, of course", which is technically correct.  Article I, Section I grants Congress the right to legislate, and the TARP funds were legislated to give authority to the Treasury.  Article I, Section 8 would have been a good answer, too.

Bachmann also asked if the United States was giving up the dollar. “I’m wondering would you categorically renounce the United States moving away from the dollar and going to a global currency as suggested this morning by China and also by Russia, Mr. Secretary?”

Of course, China and Russia were not advocating a "global currency".  They were merely suggesting that the international community use something other than the dollar as its reserve currency.

Very Risky Business

In the Washington Monthly, Senator Byron L. Dorgan — I'll only include snippets:

Last spring, when the stock market took its hair-raising ride, in one corner of Wall Street there was more than the usual anxiety. In fact, there was stockbrokers-looking-for-upper-floor-windows kind of fright. In April, clients of the giant Bankers Trust New York Inc.–including Procter & Gamble–took multimillion dollar losses on a kind of trading most Americans had never even heard of, called "derivatives." A rumor went around the Street: Maybe something truly sinister was brewing. Maybe this was a … derivatives collapse.

***

More trouble comes from exotic new derivatives called "swaps." Say Company A has borrowed money at a floating interest rate but is worried that rates might rise. It wants to lock in the rates at the lower level. So it calls a derivatives dealer–often a major bank–to find another company, call it B, which is willing to bet that the floating rates will be more favorable than the set rate. A swap results: Company A will pay a fixed rate of interest to Company B, which will pay a floating market rate to Company A. The risk to Company A is that rates will fall but A will be obligated to pay the higher, fixed rate. The risk to Company B is that B will end up paying higher rates than the fixed rate it receives from A. If you had trouble following that, then you are starting to get the idea. And all of this can be done without anyone even knowing, since such transactions can be done "off book"–effectively concealing them from stockholders and employees. Procter & Gamble bought a floating rate deal like this from Bankers Trust, losing a reported $157 million in the process.

***

But the truly scary thing is how losses like these could spread through the entire banking system. Suppose X, our film company, had entered into a swap with a New York bank. That bank in turn might then enter an offsetting contract with another bank which in turn might continue to pass along that risk on and on and on, perhaps using exchange-traded futures. So now a default by X could create a domino effect: X could not pay its bank, and its bank therefore couldn't make the payments on its offsetting contract, and so on until the chain of losses enters the exchange, where the originally esoteric bet can hurt real businesses. This is not mere fantasy.

***

All that stands between the public and a financial disaster of this sort is the guardians of the banking system in Washington. Regrettably, they are outgunned by the derivatives dealers in several ways. For one, there are fewer examiners than dealers, and many examiners are young and inexperienced. Worse, exotic derivatives–the stuff the big boys are doing–just don't fit within the existing scheme of federal finance regulation. It's a little like asking traffic cops to stop the nation's computer crime.

You get the idea.

But here's the thing: this was written in 1994.

And he proposed a solution back then, too:

The threat is not from foreign competition, or Government deficits or regulation. It is from Wall Street, and a new form of sophisticated financial bingo called derivatives. Even Fortune magazine–hardly a carping business critic–is warning that derivatives could swamp our economy in a sea of red ink.

Fortune estimates the new derivatives game at some $16 trillion, which is more than twice our Nation's total economic output. A single default, the magazine said, could ignite a chain reaction that runs rampant through the financial markets. `Inevitably, that would put deposit insurance funds, and the taxpayers behind it, at risk.'

That is a risk that Congress must not permit. Already the taxpayers of this country are footing the bill for the $500 billion bailout of the savings and loan industry. A gang of financial high-fliers tried to get rich quick on junk bonds and inflated real estate loans, and the taxpayers had to clean up the mess. Congress learned a lesson, or should have, at least.

That is why I am introducing today a bill to protect the taxpayers of this country from a replay of the savings and loan fiasco. Specifically, my bill would prevent banks and other institutions with Federal insurance from playing roulette in the derivatives market. If an institution has deposits insured by the Federal Government, it should not be involved in trading risky derivatives for its own account. Such proprietary trading involves a degree of risk that is totally out of step with safe and sound banking practices. It will not occur if my bill is enacted.

Perhaps we should have listened to him.

Conservative Punditry “WTF?” Statement Of The Day

National Review's Mark Krikorian — who, believe it or not, is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies — drops in this little gem at the Corner:

During slavery and Jim Crow, a number of blacks moved abroad, to Europe or Africa or the USSR, but again, these movements never gained much traction….

Actually, I think very few slaves got the opportunity to move abroad — like, about zero.  Because there were, you know, slaves.

And Liberia?  Yeah, that was an African colony formed by ex-slaves, with the encouragement of whites, although typically free blacks didn't elect on their own voliation to emigrate there; rather, the one-way ticket to Liberia was offered to them in exchange for freedom from the bonds of slavery.

But there really really wasn't a significant number of black who moved to Europe during slavery or Jim Crow.  There just wasn't.

Pictured below: A black family contemplates their upcoming move to Paris, hoping to trade their forty acres and a mule for frequent flyer miles

Antebellum 

UPDATE:  National Review's Mark Krikorian responds in the comments below, providing cites.

From what I gather, Krikorian's assertion that there was black emigration during slavery and Jim Crow eras rests upon the fact that some blacks, after serving in Europe during WWI, decided to stay there, mainly in Paris.  The actual number of black emigres amounted to "several hundred", out of over 200,000 black Americans who served in the Army (according to Krikorian's sources).

Oh, and then there was a handful of prominent black artists — like James Baldwin and Josephine Baker – who found havens in various European cities.

Still, to suggest that these rare examples represent a "movement" that "never gained traction" certainly overstates the factual truth.  Rank-and-file African-Americans — those without benefit of military service or fame — certainly were not in a financial position to move abroad during the eras of Jim Crow and slavery.  Especially slavery.

The AIG Exec Resignation

By now, if you're atturned to this sort of thing, you have read the resignation of AIG executive Jake DeSantos which was printed in the New York Times.  I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's a snippet:

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:
I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.
….
I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. ….
….
My guess is that in October, when you learned of these retention contracts, you realized that the employees of the financial products unit needed some incentive to stay and that the contracts, being both ethical and useful, should be left to stand. That’s probably why A.I.G. management assured us on three occasions during that month that the company would “live up to its commitment” to honor the contract guarantees.
….
You’ve now asked the current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. to repay these earnings. As you can imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of serious thought and heated discussion about how we should respond to this breach of trust.
As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.
Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you.

….

So what am I to do? There’s no easy answer. I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust. Some might argue that members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn’t disagree.

That is why I have decided to donate 100 percent of the effective after-tax proceeds of my retention payment directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering from the global downturn. This is not a tax-deduction gimmick; I simply believe that I at least deserve to dictate how my earnings are spent, and do not want to see them disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.’s or the federal government’s budget. Our earnings have caused such a distraction for so many from the more pressing issues our country faces, and I would like to see my share of it benefit those truly in need.

On March 16 I received a payment from A.I.G. amounting to $742,006.40, after taxes. In light of the uncertainty over the ultimate taxation and legal status of this payment, the actual amount I donate may be less — in fact, it may end up being far less if the recent House bill raising the tax on the retention payments to 90 percent stands. Once all the money is donated, you will immediately receive a list of all recipients.

The right wing blogosphere is all afluster about the letter.  It represents a voice that we haven't heard in this public outrage about the AIG bonuses — the voice of an actual AIG executive.  And the right wing feels sympathy for this man.

So do I.  He was not in AIG's Financial Products division.  He had nothing to do with AIG's catastrophic and bone-headed financial manueverings.  I do not think him a villian or one of those greedy Wall Street S.O.B.s.  To be vilified nation-wide and in the halls of Congress?  It must suck for him.

But my sympathy can extend only so far.  After all, while he may not have been in the AIG-FP Division, he certainly benefitted from it.  Furthermore, there are people who are facing much harder times than him.  After all, if he can afford to give his $750,000 bonus to charities, he's not really one of the people in this country who is experiencing severe pain by the economic downturn.

Before They Were Famous…

Michael Emerson (Ben from Lost) did an educational film for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1992.  He comes in at the -12:00 mark.

 

That was for you, Emily. And for me…

Evangeline Lilly (Kate from Lost) did a phone sex ad:

Brad Pitt did a Pringles commercial:

Paul Rudd did a French Nintendo commercial:

A barely-recognizable Ben Affleck did a Burger King commercial:

So did Sarah Michelle Geller:

Family Circus Phoning It In

Over at the Comics Curmudgeon, a reader noticed that Bil Keane, artist of Family Circus is recycling old Family Circus cartoons.  At the left is a Family Circus from 1970 or 1971; on the right is the one printed in last Friday's newspapers:

Famcircselfcopy 

Aside from the color, the placement of the caption, and the name change of the teacher, the only difference is that Billy's shoe is tied.  Oh, and the teacher no longer has the be-donk-a-donk that she had in the early 70's. 

“Nice Little Country You Have Here; Be A Shame If Something Happened To It”

Wall Street Journal:

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his colleagues worked the phones to try to line up support on Wall Street for the plan announced Monday. They told executives they don't favor using the tax code to retroactively penalize specific individuals who had received bonuses, according to people familiar with the calls. They asked officials to sign on "in pencil, not ink," and to "validate" or "express support" for the plan, these people say.

Some bankers say they turned the conversations into complaints about the antibonus crusade consuming Capitol Hill. Some have begun "slow-walking" the information previously sought by Treasury for stress-testing financial institutions, three bankers say, and considered seeking capital from hedge funds and private-equity funds so they could return federal bailout money, thereby escaping federal restrictions.(…)

Bankers were shell-shocked, especially when Congress moved to heavily tax bonuses. When administration officials began calling them to talk about the next phase of the bailout, the bankers turned the tables. They used the calls to lobby against the antibonus legislation, Wall Street executives say. Several big firms called Treasury and White House officials to urge a more reasonable approach, both sides say. The banks' message: If you want our help to get credit flowing again to consumers and businesses, stop the rush to penalize our bonuses.

Wow.  They want bailouts, no strings attached, and if they receive criticism, they threated to destroy the economy.

That's economic terrorism

Don’t Get Fooled By Freecreditreport.com

Econ4U:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a warning about deceptive websites that claim to offer free credit reports. These sites actually end up charging their customers for credit monitoring subscriptions, and they don’t even offer anything you can’t already get for free.

As the FTC says, “Despite the musical claims of some TV commercials, the only authorized source to get your free annual credit report under federal law is AnnualCreditReport.com.”

Federal law requires each of the big three credit bureaus to give you a free credit report every year. That means you can get three credit reports annually, all without paying a dime.

Many financial advisers recommend that you check your credit report once a year to make sure that the information is correct and to protect your identify.  Because you have three free reports, however, you can check your credit report every four months and have peace of mind year-round.

Here’s a video from the FTC explaining the difference between AnnualCreditReport.com and all the imitators. The difference? Their service is actually free.  “FreeCreditReport.com’s” annoying jinglers are hoping you forget to cancel your “free” account so they can hit you with the associated fees.  Those commercials don’t come free you know.

How Now Dow Jones

The Dow is up over 400 points right now.  If it stays that way, it will be the 15th largest gain in history (point-wise, not percentage-wise).

I guess that means Wall Street likes Geitner's plan… but I'm not sure that's a good thing or a bad thing, seeing as how Wall Street got us in this mess in the first place, and made a mint by doing so.

UPDATE (3:41 pm):  It's now up 434.72.

UPDATE (4:00 pm):  Dow closed up just shy of 500 points (497.48), making it the 5th largest point gain in history, and, at 6.84%, the 20th largest percentage gain in history.

Tea Parties And “Going Galt”

Outside the Beltway's Alex Knapp:

I’ve been following the growing “Tea Party” and “Going Galt” movements with no small amount of amusement, in part because there is really just too much sweet, delicious irony surrounding both of these groups of people (who, I might add, are largely the same people). Here’s a few observations:

  • The “Tea Parties”, of course, started springing up in response to Obama’s stimulus package, a package whose largest fiscal component is a tax cut that will largely benefit the people in the income brackets who make up the Tea Party movement. That I find funny.
  • The folks in the blogosphere largely cheerleading the Tea Parties are the same folks in the blogosphere who cheerleaded the war in Iraq. So apparently, government intervention to the tune of $650 Billion is okay to spend when it comes to an unnecessary war that in no way advances American interests, but not okay when it comes to building bridges, cutting taxes, helping state governments meet budget shortfalls, or making sure that Americans don’t get covered in lava. Gotcha.
  • Some of the biggest proponents of the “Going Galt” bandwagon in the blogosphere and at Pajamas Media are Glenn Reynolds and his wife, both of whom have jobs (Professor of Law at a public university; forensic psychiatrist) that are dependent on public, taxpayer-funded institutions.

Let’s call the “tea party” and “going Galt” nonsense what it is: unprincipled partisan hackery. If these were truly principled protests, they’d have been around all through the Bush and Republican-controlled Congress years, too.

Yup.

And Knapp gets bonus points with me for pointing out that the Ayn Rand Institute is a non-profit corporation.

Schilling Retires

His blog is down — probably from the deluge of hits — but he announced today that he is leaving baseball, at the age of 42, with "zero regrets".  He was out all last season with a shoulder injury, and his best days are behind him, so it's not a major blow to the Red Sox. 

But still, he was the man for a while, and will always be remembered for this:

OpYlfaLv  

PPIP aka “The Geitner Plan”

Get used to that acronym.

It's the shorthand term for the plan, unveiled today, about how to deal with the "toxic assets", which is at the core, the epicenter, the root, of all our current economic woes:

Here it is in a nutshell:

Under the new so-called "Public-Private Investment Program", taxpayer funds will be used to seed partnerships with private investors that will buy up toxic assets backed by mortgages and other loans.

The goal is to buy up at least $500 billion of existing assets and loans, such as subprime mortgages that are now in danger of default.

Treasury said the program could potentially expand to $1 trillion over time, but that the hope is that the program would not only help cleanse the balance sheets of many of the nation's largest banks, which continue to suffer billions of dollars in losses, but help get credit flowing again.

The government will run auctions between the banks selling the assets and the investors buying them, hoping to effectively create a market for these assets.

To kickstart things, the administration said it will commit $75 billion to $100 billion and would consider how the program is progressing before committing more money.

As a public service, I copy from Brad Delong's "Geitner Plan FAQ", which attempts to explain it in simple terms:

Q: What is the Geithner Plan?

A: The Geithner Plan is a trillion-dollar operation by which the U.S. acts as the world's largest hedge fund investor, committing its money to funds to buy up risky and distressed but probably fundamentally undervalued assets and, as patient capital, holding them either until maturity or until markets recover so that risk discounts are normal and it can sell them off–in either case at an immense profit.

Q: What if markets never recover, the assets are not fundamentally undervalued, and even when held to maturity the government doesn't make back its money?

A: Then we have worse things to worry about than government losses on TARP-program money–for we are then in a world in which the only things that have value are bottled water, sewing needles, and ammunition.

Q: Where does the trillion dollars come from?

A: $150 billion comes from the TARP in the form of equity, $820 billion from the FDIC in the form of debt, and $30 billion from the hedge fund and pension fund managers who will be hired to make the investments and run the program's operations.

Q: Why is the government making hedge and pension fund managers kick in $30 billion?

A: So that they have skin in the game, and so do not take excessive risks with the taxpayers' money because their own money is on the line as well.

Q: Why then should hedge and pension fund managers agree to run this?

A: Because they stand to make a fortune when markets recover or when the acquired toxic assets are held to maturity: they make the full equity returns on their $30 billion invested–which is leveraged up to $1 trillion with government money.

Q: Why isn't this just a massive giveaway to yet another set of financiers?

A: The private managers put in $30 billion and the government puts in $970 billion. If we were investing in a normal hedge fund, we would have to pay the managers 2% of the capital and 20% of the profits every year. In this case, the private managers' returns can be thought of as (a) a share of the portfolio's total return proportional to their 3% contribution, plus (b) a "management incentive fee" of (i) 0% of the capital value and (ii) between 0% (if the portfolio returns 3% per year) and 9% (if the portfolio returns 10% per year)–much less than hedge-fund managers typically charge. the Treasury is only paying 0% of the capital value and 17% of the profits every year.[1]

Q: Why do we think that the government will get value from its hiring these hedge and pension fund managers to operate this program?

A: They do get 17% of the equity return. 17% of the return on equity on a $1 trillion portfolio that is leveraged 5-1 is incentive.

Q: So the Treasury is doing this to make money?

A: No: making money is a sidelight. The Treasury is doing this to reduce unemployment.

Q: How does having the U.S. government invest $1 trillion in the world's largest hedge fund operations reduce unemployment?

A: At the moment, those businesses that ought to be expanding and hiring cannot profitably expand and hire because the terms on which they can finance expansion are so lousy. The terms on which they can finance expansion are so lazy because existing financial asset prices are so low. Existing financial asset prices are so low because risk and information discounts have soared. Risk and information discounts have collapsed because the supply of assets is high and the tolerance of financial intermediaries for holding assets that are risky or that might have information-revelation problems are low.

Q: So?

A: So if we are going to boost asset prices to levels at which those firms that ought to be expanding can get finance, we are going to have to shrink the supply of risky assets that our private-sector financial intermediaries have to hold. The government buys up $1 trillion of financial assets, and lo and behold the private sector has to hold $1 trillion less of risky and information-impacted assets. Their price goes up. Supply and demand.

Q: And firms that ought to be expanding can then get financing on good terms again, and so they hire, and unemployment drops?

A: No. Our guess is that we would need to take $4 trillion out of the market and off the supply that private financial intermediaries must hold in order to move financial asset prices to where they need to be in order to unfreeze credit markets, and make it profitable for those businesses that should be hiring and expanding to actually hire and expand.

Q: Oh.

A: But all is not lost. This is not all the administration is doing. This plan consumes $150 billion of second-tranche TARP money and leverages it to take $1 trillion in risky assets off the private sector's books. And the Federal Reserve is taking an additional $1 trillion of risky debt off the private sector's books and replacing it with cash through its program of quantitative easing. And there is the fiscal boost program. And there is a potential second-round stimulus in September. And there is still $200 billion more left in the TARP to be used in other ways.

Think of it this way: the Fed's and the Treasury's announcements in the past week are what we think will be half of what we need to do the job. And if it turns out that we are right, more programs and plans will be on the way.

Will it work?

One of the biggest difficulties in getting the program off the ground was how to price the soured assets. If the government paid too little, banks would take the hit. But if the government overpaid, then already-soaked taxpayers would feel the pinch.

One nagging concern, however, is whether the government's involvement will actually spur banks and private investor groups, such as hedge funds, pension plans and insurance companies to participate.

Administration officials indicated Sunday they had gotten support from private investors and banks who have been briefed about the program. But some analysts questioned whether the government's help would be enough to push investors and banks toward figuring out a price.

At the same time, there are fears that investors may be reluctant to participate in light of the fact that Congress has retroactively altered the terms of many of the government rescue programs so far.

Regulators indicated, however, that they had few other attractive alternatives.

Letting banks continue to hold these assets on their books, for example, would only drag out the crisis and could put the country in a position similar to what happened in Japan during that country's so-called Lost Decade in the 1990s.

But if the government bought all the bad assets on its own, taxpayers would take on all of the risk. By investing with private firms under the current plan, the expectation is that taxpayers would share the risk — as well as any potential returns.

So it may work, it may not.  DeLong thinks so.  But Paul Krugman (the Nobel Prize winning economist and a guy who is rarely wrong) writes this about the plan:

This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair….

[T]he real problem with this plan is that it won’t work. Yes, troubled assets may be somewhat undervalued. But the fact is that financial executives literally bet their banks on the belief that there was no housing bubble, and the related belief that unprecedented levels of household debt were no problem. They lost that bet. And no amount of financial hocus-pocus — for that is what the Geithner plan amounts to — will change that fact.

You might say, why not try the plan and see what happens? One answer is that time is wasting: every month that we fail to come to grips with the economic crisis another 600,000 jobs are lost.

He goes on to explain that the Geitner plan isn't really "new"; it's just an extension of the Paulson plan, which didn't work.  The problem with the Geitner plan, Krugman says, is that it assumes that the banks are solvent.  We don't know this, of course, because nobody knows the value of the "toxic assets" which the banks hold.

Krugman is of the opinion that the government should simply nationalize the banks because they are (for the most part) not solvent:

There’s a time-honored procedure for dealing with the aftermath of widespread financial failure. It goes like this: the government secures confidence in the system by guaranteeing many (though not necessarily all) bank debts. At the same time, it takes temporary control of truly insolvent banks, in order to clean up their books.

That’s what Sweden did in the early 1990s. It’s also what we ourselves did after the savings and loan debacle of the Reagan years. And there’s no reason we can’t do the same thing now.

Where do I come down on this?  I'm not sure I even understand it entirely.  But clearly, the Obama Administration is doing something just short of nationalization of the banks. 

There may be political reasons for this.  With the Geitner plan, no congressional approval is needed.  For nationalization of the banks, Congress will have to approve.  And they won't unless it can be shown to them that all other options are exhausted. 

Kevin Drum argues that if nationalization is the last resort, and Treasury wants to show it tried everything else first, the Geithner plan may eventually put Congress in a position where it has no other credible choice.

Like it or not, there's only one way to get this support: show that (a) one or more of the big banks really is insolvent and (b) every other option for rescuing them has been exhausted. Geithner's plan does both. If it works — well and good. But if it fails — if nobody is willing to participate, or if the auction demonstrates that the market price for toxic assets really is accurate — then banks will be forced to mark their assets to those prices. Plug in those marks to Geithner's stress tests and it's likely to prove to everyone's satisfaction that some of our big banks really are insolvent. At that point, even skeptics will be forced to accept nationalization as the only remaining alternative.

Politically, I don't see any other way forward. Bank nationalization will be complex, costly, and contentious. To work, it will almost certainly have to include a broad guarantee of all bank system obligations, something the public won't be happy about. Congressional support won't be easy to come by. Geithner's plan will either work or else it will pave the road for that support. It might not be pretty, but that makes it a plan worth trying.

So the PPIP might be a good move politically.  But it might, as Krugman warns, simply delay the only solution, which is nationalization of the banks.  And the more we delay, the more our economy tanks and jobs get lost.

UPDATE:  I'm not one for using the Dow as a barometer for the wisdom (or lack thereof) of Washington goings-on, but the fact that the market is up 312 points (as of noon today) is encouraging.

Dow20090323   

The Natives Are NOT Happy

Readers comments at the local Winston-Salem newspaper:

  • Deflated I too am a devoted Wake fan but was so embarrassed last night. In fact, I need to go pull my 'Proud to be a Deacon' sign from my yard!! and maybe burn it? These kids are very talented and started their season GREAT. But lack of an outside shooter and bad coaching didn't sustain them. What a shame. But let's keep rolling and supportive. And don't count out our football team! Football hasn't even started yet! Sure, we lost a lot of key defensive players but there are more that will step up hopefully. See you in the stands! GO DEACS!
  • I'll admit – it got to a point I couldn't watch the game. All I could do was check back periodically to check the score – and that game was a heartbreak, and our guys just didn't look like they wanted it as bad. But could you all possibly crucify Gaudio any worse??? Yeah, he's a good guy – he's also a good coach. Nothing beats the "Monday morning quarterbacking" that's been a constant against Dino and our players since our 16-game win streak came to an end. Besides, how many of you were considered for the job before Dino was chosen to take Skip's place??
  • Dino desperately trying to get the team to listen with 1 minute left said it all. That was a sad scene and it looked like a first year rec league guy trying to pull the Bad News Bears together. After zero game plan adherence against Maryland, they decided to "free-style" again. Dino's a really nice guy, but he can't handle these kids. Skip used to bring in Mike Drum and sit Strickland to deal with discipline. That didn't work either, but Dino just doesn't enforce ANYTHING. The sad fact is that we haven't actually played with discipline since Odom left. I've had the same take all year in my comments around the web, but I actually thought our talent could carry us a bit. The ironic thing is that these teams this decade are the antithesis of the University. Wake is a grind and demands utter discipline from every student; our basketball teams lately make a mockery of that reputation. I am a seriously devoted Wake fan, but I finally have to admit that I don't like this team.
  • Just a complete embarrassment tonight for Wake fans and the ACC. The turnover saga continued as it appears a lack of coaching that should have made the statement that Aminu and Johnson are NOT dribbling guards!!!. I'm married to a UNC grad which always delivers to me more hope of a winning team. But hey, we even beat them in the early season. WHAT HAPPENED?
  • This is what happens when a group of good players with coaching play a group of great players without coaching. Dino seems like a good guy who is in over his head. VCU has a fine young head coach who gets everyting possible out of his players and would be a great fit. His teams have never been an embarassment like last night. Time to turn the page.

Palin Rejects 31% Of Federal Stimulus Money

First Mark Sandford, Governor of South Carolina.  He rejected stimulus money.

Now Sarah Palin.  She's rejecting 31% of the federal stimulus money.

What do these two have in common?  They both have their eye on a 2012 presidential run.  They want to be able to get up before the crowds and say, "I said 'thanks but no thanks' when they offered my state federal stimulus money."

What is most alarming is what she is taking money for, and what she is refusing money for?

She is accepting $642 million in federal stimulus money for highways, water and sewers, medicare, and…. uh…. a boat (that's one boat) costing $116 million.

What is she REFUSING money for?  She's rejecting $288 million, most of it for education-related stimulus ($177 million) including special education, technology, "fiscal stabilization" money, emergency food assistance and school lunch programs, immunizations, infant learning and additional funding for schools with a high proportion of poor students.

Nice, Sarah.  Way to keep 'em stupid.

A lot of her constituents, and many in the Alaska legislature are none too happy.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sarah Gronert?

Sarah_gronert 22 year old Sarah Gronert is a professional tennis player. 

Sarah was born with male and female genitalia. She retired from tennis at 19 because of her condition, and the locker room jeers that came with it.  She then had gender reassignment surgery, having the "male" removed, and is now medically certified as a woman.  Then she rejoined the tennis circuit.

She is facing criticism from coaches and peers who claim she should be ineligible to play on the women's tour. A coach of an opponent said, “There is no girl who can hit serves like that, not even Venus Williams.”  Many have said that she "serves like a man".

Right now, she's ranked No. 619, but she's climbing. In six months, most expect her to be in the top 50.

What do you think?  Should she be able to play on the women's circuit?  Does she have an unfair advantage because she is, at least on some level (arguably), a man?

More on Sarah here.

Obama on Leno

Driving into work today, I was listening to the BBC.  The topic of discussion was Obama's appearance last night on Leno.  One commentator was opining that it was beneath the dignity of the presidency for the American president to appear on a "chat show".  Jeez.  The Brits can be such snoots sometimes.

I think it was wise of Obama to go on.  There is a populist wave running through America, and people actually like that their President can be a regular guy.  Not so much "the guy you want to have a beer with", but a guy who is serious, responsible, and knows the import of his job, while still being personable and agreeable.

That's how Obama came off last night.  Sure, it was a softball interview.  But it was a way for him to speak about the nation's problems without the media filter.  He was upbeat, funny and optimistic when he needed to be, and serious and throughful when he needed to be. 

Sadly, Leno focussed on the AIG bonuses far too much for me.  (In fact, I think everyone is focussing on the AIG bonuses far too much for me.  In the big picture, financially, they are nothing.)

Slight gaffe when he compared his bowling skills to the "Special Olympics".  The right wing is trumpeting the faux pas by saying "Obama insults the disabled", which, of course, he wasn't (he was denigrating his own bowling skills).  No doubt Rush will have something to say, and irony alarms will sound throughout the country; it was Rush who literally did insult the disabled when he said that Michael J. Fox was exaggerating his tremors in order to get sympathy.

But all in all, a good show.

Top Ten Reasons Why I Don’t Follow NCAA Basketball

College-basketball (10)  It's just a bunch of pituitary cases throwing a rubber ball around.

(9)  The last 4 minutes of any game is all that matters.  The rest is all hype and foreplay.

(8)  It's a game that's more fun to play than to watch.

(7)  The single-minded obsessiveness of its fans, what with office pools, etc.  I mean, you would think it was something important, like, say, the Oscars.

(6)  The deification of coaches — who, incidentally, look like they all buy their clothes from Sears.

(5)  The cinderella team coming from nowhere, beating the big favorites in early rounds, like in Hoosiers?  They don't make it to the finals.  Ever.  They get their asses kicked in the quarterfinals.

(4)  I can't prove this (yet), but the refs just make it up as they go along.  I mean, seriously.  Offensive foul, or illegal block by a defending player?  The refs don't know!  It happened so fast!  They're just guessing.

(3)  The language.  "Brackets" are what you use to attach bookshelves to walls.  "Seeds" are what you put in your garden to make vegetables grow.  'Nuff said.

(2)  For every moron who gets a scholarship to play basketball at an esteemed university, someone else is denied scholarship money, or even denied acceptance to that school.

and the #1 reason why I don't follow the NCAA……

(1)  The whole concept dumbs down America.  I mean, you would think that one of these "college" players would stop mid-game — mid-dribble – and say, "Wait a second.  UCLA is playing in the Eastern Conference, and Connecticut College is playing in the Western Conference?  That's whack."

********

Okay.  I know I've ruffled feathers.  Have at me….

Orgasmic Birth

I'm no expert on women's sexuality and biology, but this strikes me as highly implausible:

Amber Hartnell did not intend to have an orgasmic birth – it just happened. "Trying to have an orgasmic birth defeats the object," she says, "I just got into this ecstatic state where I had these peaks of orgasm. There were these rolling waves coming through me where I was laughing and crying. I didn't feel like I was having contractions. They were more like rushes. I did not actually experience pain, I experienced intense sensations."

My favorite quote:

Whether you believe in orgasmic birth or not, labour is not so unlike sex, says Christine Grabowska, senior lecturer in midwifery at Thames Valley University.

And eating is not so unlike vomiting, I suppose.  But the experience of them could not be more divergent.

I guess you could put me in the "skeptic" camp on the issue of orgasmic birth.  More to the point, I think there are probably better and less combersome ways to achieve climax.

******

OTHER BIRTH-RELATED NEWS: 

NASHVILLE – Legislation that would require death certificates be issued for abortions performed in Tennessee has likely failed this session.

The measure sponsored by Rep. Stacey Campfield, a Knoxville Republican, was withdrawn from consideration in the House Health Care Facilities Subcommittee on Wednesday. The companion bill has stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee since last month.

Currently, each induced termination of pregnancy in Tennessee must be reported to the office of vital records.

Also withdrawn from consideration in the subcommittee was a bill requiring stillborn deaths to be placed in vital records and legislation that would define "inception of human life" to mean "the moment of conception."

Source.

AND THIS:  More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than in any other year in American history [NYT].

40% of the births were to unwed mothers, with the greatest rise among white women.  And don't think we're talking about unwed teens.  That number, while not as low as 2005 (the record low), is still near its lowest point.

Money Problem Solved

I hope this gets talked about more:

Absent supplementals, the United States currently runs a defense budget of just over half a trillion dollars, a number which does not include defense-related spending in other departments. By the kindest calculations, this means that the U.S. spends roughly four to six times as much on defense as our closest competitor. By less kind calculations, we spend about 10 times as much as any other country in the world, accounting for somewhere around 50 percent of aggregate world defense spending. Although the absolute numbers have changed since the early 1990s, the ratios have not. The U.S. has simply dominated world defense spending since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in spite of the fact that most of the other top defense spenders (France, U.K., Japan) are close U.S. allies.

If an analyst had proposed, during the Reagan administration, that the U.S. outspend the Soviet Union by a factor of 5-10, he or she would have been laughed out of government by Republicans and Democrats alike. Today, however, debate over the defense budget almost never results from the question "How much do we need to spend?", or even "Should we spend more or less?", but rather "How much more should we spend?" And this is simply insane, given the massive advantage that the United States enjoys over any potential competitor, and the security gains that the United States has accumulated since the end of the Cold War.

While there are advocates for higher defense spending, almost no one thinks that the U.S. defense budget approaches optimality; even hawks can find half a dozen or so expensive projects that need to be canceled.