30 March 2012

ESPN Self Censors The "Rise Up and Register" Campaign

NASCAR race car driver Blake Koch wanted to promote a campaign to educate fans on the importance of participating in U.S. elections.  Koch teamed up with the  “Rise Up and Register” campaign, but it seems that ESPN did rejected the ad supposedly due to the religious and partisan overtones.

See the cancelled ad for yourself:

Their mission statement notes “ Rise Up and Register firmly believes that increased electoral participation will yield tremendous benefit to our great nation at a time when our problems seem to mount daily.”

It is curious that ABC/Disney was so concerned about controversial overtones of the ad, as there were neither allusions to religion or Republicans.  The worst one could say about it is that it depicted an American flag.  Perhaps it would have been permitted if it showed the Obama Stars and Stripes.

Some believe that ESPN expunged the advertisement because of Blake Koch’s strongly expressed personal religious views.  Koch opined: “I didn’t think that my faith in Christ would have an impact on whether or not a sponsor could air a commercial or not.”  Maybe uber partisan progressives in programming thought that he might be related to the Koch Brothers.

The Lamestream Media has never had a problem pimping the “Rock the Vote” campaign, which was more than registering young people but RtV had the stated mission:

We use music, popular culture, new technologies and grassroots organizing to motivate and mobilize young people in our country to participate in every election, with the goal of seizing the power of the youth vote to create political and social change.

Viacom (the owner of MTV and CBS) has maintained a close relationship with Rock the Vote in its 22 year history, even though critics surmise that the RtV efforts are more than useless.  It is surprising that ABC/Disney would not want to burnish their civic image by encouraging American citizens to exercise their franchise, which many have died to defend.

One wonders what was the real rationale for not allowing Rise Up and Register’s advertisement of Koch’s car 41 campaign to be aired.  Are networks purporting to be prissy about allowing advertisements of controversial commercials?  Well, cigarette advertising is back on NASCAR on a limited basis.  And alcohol ads are allowed, albeit that Coors is an official NASCAR sponsor.  So does ESPN’s rejection of Rise Up and Register reflect the self-censorship for the values of Mad Men?  Could it be that the Mouse House spiked “Rise Up and Register” campaign ads as a back handed in kind contribution to the Oval Office incumbent, who would not benefit from motivated “bitter clingers to their God and their guns” which reflect NASCAR fans?

29 March 2012

The Consequences of Court-Side Cheerleading for Obamacare

As the Obamacare cases are now being deliberated by the Supreme Court of the United States, it is worth considering judicial ethics and proper public policy.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan refused to recuse herself from hearing the Obamacare cases, even though she was President Obama's first Solicitor General and her office formulated Obama Administration’s legal defense of the legislation. During her confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee, then Solicitor General Kagan swore that she abide by federal recusal standards (28 USC 455(b)(3)) which requires recusal when  a person has “served in governmental employment and in such capacity participated as counsel, adviser, or material witness concerning the proceeding or expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the particular case or controversy.”

Testimony during confirmation hearings suggested that Kagan was protected by an intellectual firewall which protected her from the case, as the DOJ anticipated Kagan's elevation to the High Court.  However, an e-mail exchange from  Kagan and Lawrence Tribe on the day the House passed Obamacare states  “I hear they have the votes, Larry!! Simply amazing,”.  Participants claim that this was not relevant hangs on the thin reed of the ambiguous title of the email “Re: fingers and toes crossed today!”

In February, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) observed:  “Justice Kagan’s involvement in the preparation of the government’s defense of the health-care law began at least as early as January 2010, four months before her nomination and two months before the bill became law. That she would not follow the same course in the health-care case is dubious. These facts require recusal.”  Even liberal leaning George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley urged Kagan to recuse herself from hearing the case, but he extended the call for recusal to also include Associate Justice Clarence Thomas because of  Justice Thomas's wife, who involvement with Tea Party inspired activism.   But Chief Justice Roberts opined that the Supreme Court is not bound by the same ethical standards as lower courts.

It is curious as to what cases Justice Kagan recuses herself.  During her first term on the Highest Court in the land, Justice Kagan recused herself from 21 of 39 cases.  This term, Kagan readily absolved herself from hearing the Arizona SB 1070 Immigration Case, yet she obviously observed no compunctions against hearing the Obamacare cases.  It would be enlightening to understand what are  Kagan’s personal parameters for recusal.  Are they knowledge of details of the controversy, taking a side on a matter or how politically important is her vote?  Considering her juridical  leanings as well as history serving as the Solicitor General for the Obama Administration, it would not be surprising if she is just a SCOTUS Proxy for Presidential progressivism.

During the oral arguments on Obamacare, Kagan’s questions could be construed as more like cheerleading for Obamacare than an elevated appellate examination of the law.

But conduct during Supreme Court oral arguments is not always indicative of the Justice’s final vote.  Justice Thomas usually says nothing, but from his 1991 confirmation hearings and twenty years of opinions reveal an adherence to natural law.

In Liberty and Tyranny, Mark Levin notes that many who served on the nation’s High Court would not be considered legal luminaries.  And as 1987 Borking of Robert Bork showed, there is more to confirmation than being an outstanding legal intellect.

Since the Supreme Court refused to consider the merits of Kagan recusing herself from the Obamacare, the only Constitutional remedy is impeachment. But impeachment by the U.S. Senate is about as rare as rocking horse’s manure.  There might have been a campaign in the late 1950s and the 1960s to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren, but the Senate has never conducted a trial of a Supreme Court Justice.  So it is inconceivable that trying to impeach Kagan for bad conduct would be successful.

What is warranted is taking Constitutional duties seriously.  First, there is the Advice and Consent of the Senate.  Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court was approved by Congress in the summer of 2010 by a 63-37 margin.  Granted, Democrats held 60 seats at the time, but this was going into a Teanami election cycle which was devastating to Democrats.   Republicans should have held then Socitor General Kagan’s feet to the fire, rather than demur questions that basically deferred to the party in power.  Moreover, Kagan’s nomination as well as other court nominations should have been a major campaign issue.   Secondly, the Executive Branch must exert its authority before enacting constitutionally questionable laws.  There is a famous instance that President George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold Act but he also issued a signing statement noting that he had serious constitutional concerns about limiting political advertising but that he would let the courts decide.  Thirdly, if the Supreme Court loses its authority as being an impartial admistrator of justice and more like a Judicial Super Legislature, we must learn to narrowly construe their rulings to corollary cases rather than as an expansive social vangard.

h/t: Eric Allie, Cagle Post

This Is What Democracy (Really) Looks Like

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.  Liberty is a well armed lamb contesting the vote.”      (attributed to) Ben Franklin

While attributions to Franklin may not quite be on the money since the term lunch did not enter into common parlance until the 1820s, the meat of this food for thought is still quite fulfilling.   It aptly captures the tyranny of the majority and class warfare epitomized by the ineptocracy currently in power.  To borrow a phrase from the unmasked Occupy Movement "This is what democracy looks like".

The coda of this faux Franklin phrase alludes to the Second Amendment, which protects Americans from tyranny.  It is important to recognize why the Second and the Fourth Amendments were included in the Bill of Rights.  The British tried to enforce burdensome laws on their British American colonies without any input by the citizenry.  When Americans balked at things like the Stamp Act and the Tea Act (1773), the powers that be doubled down on their policies by sending in massive force and forcing the colonists to quarter the Red Coats. Taxation without Representation is more than a slogan that DC Statehood activists have ironically re-appropriated.   The right to keep and bear arms was not about helping hunting but as natural rights which  are backstops against anarchy and organized tyranny to protect property rights.

26 March 2012

Obama’s Momentous “Hot Mike” Moment with Medvedev

Diplomacy is about uttering le mot juste in public and communicating frankly in private.

President Obama’s speech writing, protocol and foreign relations teams have not been “punching above their weight” in the awkward, empty words that are repeated to friendly small nations.  But sometimes the unscripted exchanges between international leaders can be much more meaningful.  After a 90 minute meeting between President Obama and the current Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (the puppet of incoming President Vladimir Putin), the leaders exchanged some small talk that was caught on a hot mike before the press availability.

During this sotto voce tête-à-tête, President Obama asked the Russians for space to deal with missile defense.  Medvedev indicated that he got the message about space.  Obama noted “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”  Intermediary Medvedev indicated that he would transmit this information to Vladimir [Putin].  Some small talk!

When pressed about the hot mike comments, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications Ben Rhodes opted to obfuscate. Rhodes stated on the record: “there is a lot of rhetoric around this issue — there always is — in both countries.” .  In unattributed comments, Obama Administration officials:

This is a political year in which the Russians just had an election, we’re about to have a presidential and congressional elections — this is not the kind of year in which we’re going to resolve incredibly complicated issue like this. So there’s an advantage to pulling back and letting the technical experts work on this as the president has been saying.

That being said, it does reveal a hubris from our elected Chief Executive and acknowledgment that he can do as his wants during a second term.

It seems unusual for the President of the United States to ask the powers that be of an international adversary for “space” until his re-election.  But then again, Barack Obama campaigned throughout the world for his election in 2008.  Who can forget the crowd of 200,000 Germans gathered in the Tiergarten in Berlin to hear the candidate of hope and change (and get free beer).   Then there was the photo op of Obama campaigning at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Mr. Obama asked for this space from the Russian Federation.  From the beginning of his term, the Obama Administration has been intent to push the “reset” button with the Kremlin.  Unfortunately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got the translation wrong and the gag gift actually said “Overcharge”.

Alas, these overtures have not yielded results in markedly improved foreign relations with Moscow, particularly evidenced in the Russian intransigence over tough sanctions over the Iranian atomic bomb efforts.

It might be worth remembering promises that candidate Barack Obama made about the military during the 2008 campaign.  Obama vowed to cut unproven missile defense systems, slowing the development of future combat systems , not weaponizing space, and striving to create a world without nuclear weapons.  Might Mr. Obama been speaking of something more concrete when he was sending a message through Medvedev.

When President Obama approved the 2012 Defense Authorization Act in January, he issued a signing statement (a device which he previously opposed under President George W. Bush) which objected to a provision aimed at protecting the US Standard Missile 3.  Section 1227 of the Defense Authorization prohibits spending any funds that would be used to give Russian officials access to sensitive missile-defense technology as part of a cooperation agreement without first sending Congress a report identifying the specific secrets, how they'd be used and steps to protect the data from compromise.  In the signing statement, President Obama indicated that he would treat this provision as being “non-binding”.

Many expected the November elections to be a referendum on domestic issues.  But Mr. Obama’s Hot Mike moment with Medvedev is a stirring reminder that constitutional considerations and clear eyed appraisals of Obama’s international affair must be part of the picture.

h/t: ABCNews
h/t: Claremont Institute

25 March 2012

Obama's West Wing Not "Punching Above Its Weight"

Recently,  I had a short  yet civil conversation with an acquaintance from the other side of the aisle.  When the topic of foreign policy arose, I noted the many mis-steps that the Obama Administration has make with the United Kingdom and how we needed to renew the “special relationship” with our principle ally.  My liberal interlocutor dismissed the many gift gaffes and insisted that the world holds President Obama in great esteem.

The Fox News Channel showed the following montage of ham handed handling of foreign dignitaries at the White House, but this evidence would be dismissed by Obamatons because it was a right wing news source.  However, here is the original Danish feature.

Universally well respected-- hardly.  The sarcasm emanating from this reporter about the repetition that all nations are “one of our strongest allies” and “punching above its weight” is palpable.

To bolster friendships with foreign nations, it is understandable to ingratiate your guest by emphasizing their importance.  But using the same tired phrase in the age of videotape and Facebook leaves the Obama West Wing open to mockery.

What is really vexing is the President’s rhetorical crutch for the boxing term “punch above its weight”.  Cynics would snort that Obama is inarticulate without the TOTUS (Teleprompter of the United States).   But Presidents have a speech writing staff to draft everything from State of the Union speeches to Presidential remarks in a classroom full of sixth graders.  These joint appearances by leaders are scripted, aside from any question period.  So it seems that the Obama West Wing Protocol personnel as well as the speech writing staff are not “punching below their weight”.  It also reflects poorly on guidance and foreign relations followup coming from Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

As he was  traveling on the Korean Peninsula, President Obama remarked that it was not clear “who was calling the shots in North Korea.”  Such an admission is quite curious considering that the United States just engaged in another round of food for NPRK promises to behave better, which quickly is reneged by Pyongyang.  Why would the US agree to this charade of propping up a regime  when we do not know who is really in charge?  If that is really the case, what was the diplomatic achievement worth.  Moreover, a wise ruler might have been cagey about answering about an unstable regime while virtually on the demilitarized zone with a shakey armistice and a pattern of unstable and provocative behavior by North Korea to prove their points.  The only thing that Mr. Obama missed out on was admitting that due to their nuclear arms, the NPRK “punches above its weight.”

22 March 2012

Driving Suspicions of Crony Capitalism Among Carmakers

The Chrysler Corporation has engaged in a new marketing campaign which catches the eye.  During their TV ads, there is a chyron on the upper right hand part of the screen which shows a logo with their new tag line “Driving America”.  This catchy slogan reinforces the nation’s third largest automotive manufacturer while diminishing the fact that the Obama auto bailout facilitated Fiat’s controlling interest in the  Chrysler Corporation.

What is really remarkable, however, is the insignia for the “Driving America” campaign.  It looks like a kissing cousin of the Obama 2008 Campaign logo.  Was this just coincidence or was it coerced?  This is the problem with crony capitalism.  When money starts streaming from to government to corporations, there is the uncomfortable question about political payback.  Moreover, it gives the government leverage on corporations to offer products that are political pet projects that are turkeys in the marketplace.

During the Super Bowl, Fiat Chrysler spent $14 million in television advertising.  That was normal for the automaker.  But what was truly unusual was the Clint Eastwood “Half Time in America” ad. This was a long two minute ad.  Considering that ads during the game cost $3.5 million per 30 second ad, this was a costly ad buy, albeit at lesser half time rates.  The ad touted Chrysler’s rebound with America’s improving economy.

The "Half Time in America" ad was strange for several reasons.  Why would a corporation would only allot a few seconds of this long ad buy to prominently placing its trademark or its products?  These bits of branding were at the end which could easily be excised if the video was repurposed.  To that end, there was controversy when the Chrysler ad was briefly pulled from the Internet the day after the game by a copywrite claim by NFL Properties.  When is it that the NFL protects their sponsors ads?  Moreover, the USA Today convened panel of SuperBowl ad viewers were told not to rate ads during half time because they did not count, but we were encouraged to give our ratings for “Half Time in America”.  This raises suspicions that it might have been polling for the Presidential campaign and that this long PSA might be repurposed to play in stadiums in the fall.

Another American automaker that enjoyed the Obama Administration’s largess in the Auto Bailouts of 2009 was General Motors.  The Obama Administration not only saved GM from the clutches of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Obama’s auto czar also cancelled long standing dealership contracts without due process of law, which had hints of political motivation. But President Obama even fired the old President of G.M., which was no where in the TARP legislative vehicle.  Famous automotive executive Bob Lutz was also forced out of GM as he voiced concerns that the industry was becoming over-regulated which would force him to design vehicles to please government regulators.  Moreover, Lutz dared to voice skepticism about global warming.

In return for the stash of cash and the ability to restructure, it seems like GM pushed their electric car, the Chevy Volt, in an aspirational sales strategy rather than respecting market forces.

The fact that G.M. had an electric vehicle was no surprise.  General Motors had long been participants in the public-private Partnership for New Generation Vehicles cooperative, which sought to bring diesel-electric vehicles that received 80 MPG to the market by 2003.  Additionally, it also produced the General Motors EV-1 to comply with California’s Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate. So from 1996-1999, G.M. leased around two thousand EV-1s mostly in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson.  But after several years G.M. concluded that electric cars were unprofitable, so they exited the market by cancelling the leases and crushed all of the vehicles. Green dreamers wondered “Who Killed the Electric Car?”.

Green dreams are the hallmark of the Obama Administration’s energy policy.   General Motors had showed off a Chevrolet Volt concept car at the International Automotive Show of 2007.  G.M. produced a production model in September 2008 which differed significantly from the concept car in aerodynamic design and twinning it with another production car to keep costs “down” The electric Chevy Volt costs $40,000 and can run for 40 miles just on electricity, whereas the Chevy Cruze costs $20,000 and gets mileage of about 40 mpg.

 After the hope for change coming from Washington, G.M. committed to large scale production of the Chevy Volt.  Those in charge of GM believed that they would sell 10,000 vehicles in Year One and 45,000 vehicles in Year Two.  Well, those sales forecasts might be what former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan would call irrational exuberance.  G.M. only sold 7,500 units the first year. These sales may have been assisted a commitment by General Electric (another beneficiary of government largess) to purchase up to 12,000 Volts for fleet vehicles.  But now G.M. is scaling back production of the Chevy Volt to reflect real not imaginary demand, as only 3% of car sales are hybrids despite the hefty $7,500 government rebate. G.M. stopped building Volts for five weeks in early March because it had a surplus of 6,300 cars in stock.  Inquiring minds want to know if G.M. now stands for Government Motors.

Maybe there is a concise political science description when governments tell corporations how to conduct their business. Any suggestions?

Just What the Doctor Ordered?

The Supreme Court will soon be devoting six hours of oral argument to consider constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare, Pub.L. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119). During the three days of High Court hearings, the Supreme Court will judicially scrutinize four aspects of Obamacare.

The Individual Mandate which compels citizens to engage in commerce to buy health care has generated the most interest in the political arena.  But the High Court will also consider if Obamacare used legislative language which would effectively overturn the entire statute if one part is found unconstitutional (lack of severability).  The Supreme Court will also examine if Congress can dictate to states how to spend Medicare money in expanding eligibility.  The matter whether or not Obamacare is a tax is an arcane but key issue, as invoking the Anti-Injunction Act from 1867 would delay recognizing standing for  judicially challenging Obamacare until 2015.

While the Supreme Court is expected to deliver an opinion by the end of the current turn in June, some members of Congress are not waiting for the decision from on high by what Mark Levin called “The Men in Black”.  Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN 4th) introduced the State Health Flexibility Act that would block grant Medicare and S-CHIP aid to the states.  ObamaCare will force states to spend up to $118 billion more and offer Medicaid to an additional 17 to 25 million people.  HR 4160 would give states an incentive for saving taxpayers money by giving states flexibility to determine eligibility, benefits and reimbursement rates.  The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the State Health Flexiblity Act would save $1.8 trillion compared to Obamacare.

The State Health Flexibility Act is legislation that should please Tea Party types.  HR 4160 currently has 20 co-sponsors, including Representative  Paul Broun, M.D.  (R-GA 10th), but it has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.  Considering that it is an election year and there is gridlock with the Senate, it would not be unlikely to become law in the 112th Congress, but it does lay a foundation for good governance in the future.

Representative Dr. Broun crafted the OPTION (Offering Patients True Individualized Options Now) Act (HR 4224) to remedy America’s health care challenges by repealing Obamacare and overhauling the system to deliver a patient centered health care system.  This 50 page bill would move Medicare into a flexible premium assistance program, facilitate buying health insurance over state lines.  The OPTION act would make health care expenses 100% deductible for everybody while allowing Health Savings Account (HSA) contributions to be increased to $10,000 per year.  It would also allow for Medicare HSAs so that seniors could choose plans which work for their needs and their estates keep unused contributions.  HR 4224 would make it easier for groups to create Associated Health Plans, thereby helping small businesses and others to leverage their collective power in getting better deals.  Finally, doctors would be given tax breaks for offering pro bono services to the indigent.

Dr. Broun’s OPTIONS Act is a marked contrast to the voluminous 2,700 page legislative behemoth known as Obamacare that dictates from the top down what is a qualified health plan which mandates that conscientious Christians must violate their beliefs to pay for services that they find abominations and actually current estimates are that the cost of health care are be nearly double the $937 million estimate makes calling it an “...Affordable Care Act” laughable.  Of course, considering Congressional gridlock during an election year, HR 4224 is unlikely to become law this year.  But good things may eventually come to those who wait.

Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) created quite a stir with a Facebook posting in 2009 in which she alleged that Obamacare had “Death Panels”. Progressives scoffed at the seeming “stupidity” of claiming death panels.  Yet it seems that Obamacare has a “feature” known as Independent Payment Advisory Boards which is intended to keep Medicare costs from spinning out of control.  IPAB is effectively a rationing board which determines what procedures will be authorized and for whom.  It is easy to see IPABs as Death Panels with a benign bureaucratic moniker.

The House passed HR 5, the Protecting Access to Healthcare (PATH) Act, by a 223-181 margin.  Seven Democrats crossed party lines to vote for HR 5, which contained an amendment to repeal IPABs.  It was speculated that more Democrats wanted to vote for HR 5 but they hesitated due to “poison pills” which established nationwide caps on tort claims to  $250,000 for punitive damages in medical lawsuits.  In an election year when Congressional Democrats will have a tough time due to redistricting, retirements and not sharing in fundraising with Obama 2012 Re-Election Campaign, they chaffed at alienating their generous tort lawyer supporters.  Some Republicans were nervous about language in the non binding findings to HR5 which suggested that the healthcare industry is part of interstate commerce, but this was stripped out at the last minute.  This repeal of IPAB is unlikely to even be considered by the Senate but will be a good issue for Republicans to run on to show seniors that the GOP cares about their constituents health care in their golden years.

Cynics may say that these legislative efforts are full of sound and fury yet signify nothing.  If the Supreme Court only rules on the Anti-Injunction Act, the unprecedented three days of oral arguments may not matter much as standing would not occur until 2015.  But given time for the American people to come to grips with their mortality, these legislative prescriptions may be just what the doctor ordered.

h/t: Caglecartoons.com
h/t: Michael Ramirez, Investors.com/cartoons

21 March 2012

Obama’s Vacation from Common Sense

Recently, it was reported that President Obama’s daughter Malia took a Spring break vacation to Oaxaca, Mexico.  Although the Lamestream Media dutifully ignored the news item, but the White House prevailed on the press to scrub the story.

Coverage of children in the White House can be somewhat tricky.  Whenever possible, all politicians want to project a positive family image, as it humanizes them and the photo ops create a warm fuzzy emotional connection with some voters.  But children are not all cute and cuddly as they grow up and this is compounded when living in the penumbra of the national spotlight.

When former President Clinton moved into the White House in 1993, his daughter Chelsea Clinton was thirteen years old.  Both Bill and Hillary Clinton asked the press to lay off of coverage so that Chelsea could have as normal of childhood as possible.  The Clintons sent her to an expensive Sidwell Friends private school, which the school and students gave the First Daughter all of the privacy that the First Family wanted.  The Lamestream Media also respected the Clinton’s request to keep the first daughter out of the spotlight, giving only non-critical coverage when she would appear in public.  This fawning aura a decade later gave Chelsea Clinton an opportunity to become a NBC regular correspondent, even though she had neither had a background in journalism nor any significant knowledge expertise.

The same sort of kid glove treatment was applied for Al Gore III, the child of former Vice President Al Gore, Jr., albeit the scion’s troubles (suspected drunk driving 2002, marijuana possession 2003, racing a Prius at 100 miles an hour along with possessing drugs 2007) occurred after Gore left office but during his apotheosis into a Global Warming Guru.

The Lamestream Media was not as kind to the daughters of President George W. Bush.  They generally kept themselves away from being public figures, yet the media “dutifully” reported personal peccadilloes, like fake ID cards and under-aged drinking while in college.  But if it was not for double standards then the Lamestream Media would have no standards at all.

Generally, the private lives of political families should be respected if they are ancillary to the political process.  As long as individuals are not stepping out into the spotlight on their own, like Meghan McCain’s media strip tease during the 2008 campaign until today, they should not receive celebrity scruity per se.  But that does not mean that the First Family is immune to criticism either.

What this spring break trip brings into question is Mr. Obama’s personal judgment as well as the public policy implications of the First Family’s actions.

Should any thirteen year old take a spring break trip to Mexico? This was a Sidwell Friends School trip that certainly was chaperoned along with  a group of other students. Most teenagers take spring break trips without their family when they are juniors or seniors in high school.  People need to discern for themselves if allowing this excursion was a prudent parenting choice.

Maybe the public would appreciate the decision for the Obama’s to send their thirteen year old daughter if there was a deeper meaning to the trip than sightseeing.  Some churches and schools engage in mission work during spring break by sending their youth the places like Appalachia or under-served urban enclaves.  Of course the Obama’s still have not found a church for the First Family Between the Beltways, so it was not a church mission.  Since Sidwell Friends is nominally a Quaker educational institution so possibly the Spring Fling might have had some mission motives.  But what remains from the scrubbed media accounts, Malia and her twelve Sidwell friends did sight seeing in Oaxaca

It is hard to claim that the first daughters have been trapped in the White House bubble, considering the Obama's sixteen vacations that they have taken during the first three years of the Obama Presidency, including South Africa and Spain.  This figure does not include weekend trips to Camp David or when the First Family tags along on official business to Britain, Brazil or India.   The Obamas are renowned for not giving gifts at Christmas but they make it up to their kids in other ways.   If one needs some solace from the remarkable sweet 16 First Family trips, at least it is only 1/5th of the number of times that President Obama has spent his day golfing.  As the days go by, it's the same as it ever was for this Administration.

Then there is the cost issue.  While the cost for the First Daughter’s Spring Break Mexican trip was de minus for a family in the top 1% income bracket, that is only a portion of the overall cost.  News reports indicate that 25 Secret Service agents were dispatched for this Mexican vacation.  At a time when the United States government is broke and due to poor economic circumstances, many Americans will have to take staycations, it is strange to think that taxpayers have to foot the security bill for a non-essential vacation to Mexico for the First Daughter.

Green eyeshades aside, was it prudent to send the First Daughter to Mexico on a school trip.  Presidents are not just people but they are heads of state.  Consequently, their families can be targeted by potential malfeasors, hence the Secret Service protection. Think of the film Air Force One (1997), where endangered family motives sway the Chief Executive’s decision making.  If one of Malia’s friends were abducted or harmed, it would create an unstable international incident.   But a villain was not necessary when making foreign trips in Earthquake areas.  While Malia was in Oaxaca, the area experienced a 7.6 trembler

It is nothing new for President Obama to minimize security concerns.  Mr. Obama insisted on keeping his Blackberry cell phone during his tenure in the White House, even though the hardware has a transceiver which contains the location of the device. To accommodate Obama’s urge to keep in touch with a Crackberry (sic.), the Chief Executive was probably issued an NSA approved top secret device that costs $3,500.  But the Obama Administration does not feel bound by the Presidential Records Act of 1978 and the Obama White House Counsel is refusing to release his Blackberry records regarding Solyndra.  In contrast, President George W. Bush stopped using e-mail when he became President in 2001 to avoid exposing his personal communications to calls for public examination and having personal stuff get out.

It is also worth contemplating if this First Daughter Spring Break trip was strictly legal.   The US State Department has issued travel advisories cautioning against non-essential trips to Mexico due to the increase of drug violence and potential abductions. In fact, the State Department specifically warned students to be careful during spring break trips South of the border to keep a low profile and avoid any displays of wealth.   But these advisories to the general public was for various areas, which did not include Oaxaca.  But the State Department’s policy of February 8th states:

 U.S. government personnel and their families are prohibited from personal travel to all areas described as ‘defer non-essential travel’ and when travel for official purposes is essential it is conducted with extensive security precautions.

It is a tough sell to say that the First Daughter’s itinerary was OK as it was not in a covered zone, even though the safe zone can end two blocks from the shore. Moreover, Oaxaca had been on the warning zone in the past.   Accepting that Malia’s trip was in an uncovered zone, was this Spring Break trip essential travel?  Republican Presidential candidate former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) told Glenn Beck’s radio audience:

If the administration is saying that it's not safe to have people down there, then just because you can send 25 Secret Service agents doesn't mean you should do it... And when the government is saying this is not safe, then you don't set the example by sending your kids down there.

Sending 25 Secret Service agents into this fluid security environment does not seem like a common sense public policy, particularly for First Family pleasure trips

Be that as it may, the First Daughter Spring Break vacation sparked an Orwellian element, as news stories about the trip started to be “voluntarily” pulled by news organizations at the request of the White House.  Christiana Schake, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Press Secretary issued a statement:

From the beginning of the administration, the White House has asked news outlets not to report on or photograph the Obama children when they are not with their parents and there is no vital news interest. We have reminded outlets of this request in order to protect the privacy and security of these girls.

When reminded of this “policy”, most “news” organizations recoiled and retracted their published stories, as retribution from an unset Oval Office was foreseeable. Ironically, the White House still had to make a statement about Malia’s safety after to Oaxaca earthquake, but that might be deemed as having a “vital news interest”.

It would be fine if the Obama’s were protective parents who trotted out their beautiful family as decorations at campaign rallies and attending semi-official Presidential ceremonies, like the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.  But President Obama has used the visage of his children as adorable optics in news pegs, but only so long as our Dear Leaders controls the message.

For instance, President Obama had a gaggle of Lamestream Media reporters covering  Mr. Obama walked his daughter Sasha to a 2009 Halloween Party  in Chicago. After Obama had gotten the desired optic captured, the reporters continued to follow him.  Obama lost his famous cool and barked “Back off” to a Polish photographer who was foolish enough to continue being a journalist rather than a stenographer for the powers that be.

Should a free press take diktats from the White House on what to cover? Should journalists with First Amendment protections and duties allow the public figure who is being covered determine what are appropriate inquires.  Should the Chief Executive determine what domestic Administration documents should be public per the Presidential Records Act? Is the Lamestream Media afraid of retribution for actually doing their job?

It is troubling that President Obama seems to think that rules do not apply to his affairs yet those around him are supposed to contort themselves to unwritten rules.  Rather than simply being concerned about yet another Obama pleasure trip, the public should be concerned that our President seems to be on vacation from common sense.

Celebrating the Vernal Equinox Along with J.S. Bach

How fitting that Johann Sebastian Bach was born on the first day of spring (at least on the old style calendar). J.S. Bach was born in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach (Thurgia) in 1685. Johann was the eighth child born into a very musical family.

While J.S. Bach was widely acclaimed as an accomplished organist during his lifetime, his reputation declined as the Baroque style of music became considered old fashioned with the advent of the classical period. However, there was a revival of J.S. Bach’s reputation in the early 19th Century, and Bach became acclaimed as the quintessential Baroque composer. Some compare Bach as the musical equivalent of the literary genius of Shakespeare or the mathematical teachings of Isaac Newton.

JS Bach was known his fervent Lutheran faith as expressed in his compositions. Much of his music became part of the Lutheran hymn book. Along with his acclaimed organ works, Bach wrote famed cantatas, chorals and sacred songs, including: St. John Passion, the St. Matthew Passion,  and a Christmas Oratorio.

Bach was also prolific in his parenthood. Bach fathered twenty children, four of which became famous as musicians. Despite assertions to the contrary, PDQ Bach is no relation, but a musical parody vehicle for musicologist Peter Schickele during a five decade career.

The musical genius of JS Bach had a two track revival in the late 20th Century. Orchestras committed to playing period piece reveled at playing the master of Baroque composition.  Moreover,  Wendy (ne Walter) Carlos transformed many rock listeners into unwitting Bach boosters with her groundbreaking Moog synthesizer Switch On Bach series in 1968.  The original Switched on Bach was the first classical album which sold more than 500,000 copies. 

 And then there was Virgil Fox’s Heavy Organ, where the flamboyant classically trained organist would play before hippies at the Fillmore East (in Greenwich Village, NYC) and the Fillmore West (San Franciso, CA).

In that spirit, let us celebrate J.S. Bach’s 327th birthday, with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull pipping the Bach prelude in C minor.

19 March 2012

Keeping Connected with Cheap Hotspots

Thirty years ago, it used to be a big deal when the average residential customer got a long distance call on a landline because toll charges were so expensive.  But then the breakup of Ma Bell stimulated competition.  Around that same time, only tycoons tended to have wireless phones, because the technology was primitive and monopolies kept costs high but predictable.  Now you just have to smile when someone rooted in “old school” telephone thinking worries about long distance charges or that it is a mobile phone call.

Just after the turn of the Millennium, cell phone companies began to fight for customers by offering various incentives,  from free long distance, lots of minutes, “rollover” minutes, free cell-to-cell calls etc. to reduce customer churn.  In order to discern the best plan, you needed a couple of number crunchers and a lawyer to understand all the permutations and variables. However, most customers are drawn like moths to a flame for the “new every two” model, which commits them again to the company for 24 months, but their contract terms may be changed as their old plan is no longer offered.

Cell companies looked to maximize their profits by shifting premiums to things like SMS (texting) and data plans.  Younger customers often text much more than they talk on their cell phones, so those footing the bill ought to have unlimited texting plans or else be faced with whopping charges.

The Apple I-Phone accelerated the telephonic demand for data services for customers’ smart phones.  As tablets like the I-Pad and other tablets are replacing laptops for many mobile computer users, consumers want to find ways to keep connected when they are not in an open Wi-Fi zone.  During the recent South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, there were “homeless hotspots” from a baker’s dozen streetpeople who offered Wi-Fi access in exchange for a suggested donating $2 per 15 minutes of access.

It is dubious if most mobile computing users will receive broadband from a vagabond in the near future. Aside from the debate sparked by this South By Soutwest stunt, it calls to mind WiFi security.  Mobile internet data users need to be mindful that available "free internet" off the street might expose their data to unscrupulous cyber Peeping Toms.

There is, however, a burgeoning demand for Wi-Fi access for mobile data users.  Major Cellular Carriers offer plans, which follow the American model of discounting the hardware in exchange for an expensive plan with a hefty early exit fee.  Smart phone users are required to buy a monthly data plan for their cell phones, and perhaps even pay extra for a Hotspot or too "officially" tether their devices.   Moreover, carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless have ended their unlimited plans.  Many companies either charge a premium for higher speed connections (LTE or 4G) which has limited, if any, prepaid options. And buying an I-Pad with a radio capable of receiving a 3G subscription will cost about hundred and thirty dollars more plus the monthly 4G subscription.  So savvy mobile computing customers are looking for alternatives.

Netzero (a United Online Company which also owns Juno) is trying to capitalize on the tides of change in telephony to quench demand to cut price mobile data services.  Originally, Sprint had planned to partner with Clearwire (which it owns a majority stake but NOT a controlling interest) in offering 4G service with a WiMax technology using Clearwire’s high speed data network.  In December 2011, Sprint decided to change its tack and sail along with other carriers on the LTE course, which continuing to contract with Clearwire for Wimax 4G.  So fear not Sprint Evo early adapters, your CDMA devices will still work through 2015.

Clearwire needed to evolve their business model with their largest customer shifting away from WiMax.  So it is no surprise that Clearwire’s high speed wireless network was contracted out to another cellular provider. Netzero chose to become a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) by partially filling that void in Clearwire’s network.

Netzero and Juno established a scheme of  10 hours of free dial up internet with some banner advertisements.  Presumably, Netzero hoped that customers would be enticed to pay a cut rate amount to get unlimited dial up and a less commercially kludgey web browser.  The plan has worked reasonably well as it has retained 750,000 customers and remains in the internet business to this day, unlike their competitors.

It seems that NetZero is employing a similar model for wireless high speed internet.  Consumers must pay either $50 for a USB dongle for a laptop or $100 for WiFi hot spot hardware that can accommodate up to eight devices.  But consumers can opt for a free 200 MB a month plan which would give about 10 hours of internet browsing, albeit with the Lightspeed (up to 1Mbps down / 384Kbps up)  The NetZero Broadband paid tiers are a basic plan at 500 MB a month for $9.95, a plus plan with 1 GB a month at $19.95, the pro plan with 2 GB of data for $34.95 and the platinum plan of 4 GB for $49.95.  With the paid tiers, customers can choose to conserve data with the Lightspeed or maximize their performance with Warpspeed (up to 10Mbps down / 1.5Mbps up).  Paying customers can change their speed via a 15 minute process on the NetZero website.

Some might scoff at the cost for seemingly stingy for stand alone mobile broadband data services in the price plan.  However, it is an apples-to-oranges comparison as unlike major carriers, NetZero has no contract requirement. The market leaders lock you in for a two year contract which may give you a larger basket of minutes (but not unlimited). But by the time you add in the cell phone taxes, you may look at paying 20% more.  This may not be the case with a pre-paid cellular data scenario, although NetZero customer service was unsure of this feature on their initial offering day.  Other prepaid cellular data services use the slower 3G speed.

Unless a customer is willing to pay an exorbitant amount and is willing to accept slower speeds, mobile broadband is not a total internet access option.  These NetZero plans are not something on which a cost conscious consumer would want to stream “Titanic”.  But the come on rate of “free” for the first 12 months is hard to beat.  Even the NetZero Basic is economically enticing, as it gives 20 hours of web browsing for a ten spot.

With prices so low, NetZero had to cover their costs somehow.  If you require technical support, it will cost you on per minute basis.  NetZero will not accept hardware returns for reasons of bad data coverage, so it is crucial to check to see if there is a signal where you live and where you intend to use the service.  WiMax 4G is a good speed for mobile data but it is not as effective inside buildings, so coverage may be weaker if you are not near a window. There are conflicting reports as to whether one can “top off” an account one month if you approach your data limit and then revert back to the teaser rate.  Considering NetZero’s business model, it is unlikely that you can go back to that promised land, as they surely lose money on each “free” customer.  If you do not want to have tier inflation, a NetZero free customer has to forgo using the service until your limit resets in the next month.

Last summer, between the East Coast Earthquake, a Communication Workers of America strike and customer service ineptitude (“Can you hear me now?"), my household lost high speed internet coverage for 28 days.  That was an eternity in the information age, so we had to find work arounds.  Fortunately, we had a hotspot associated with our cellular phones so we had back up internet coverage which was slower but adequate.  When you do not stream video, it is remarkable how little data was used–it was much more than our average amount but not even approaching data cap levels. So having an inexpensive WiMax backup might be a prudent solution for a technology inclined household.

Another avenue where having an unattached high speed mobile data device is for internet appliances.  Rather than listen to static filled AM radio, I now listen to my information programming on a Logitech Squeezebox which relies on receiving WiFi internet signals.  A mobile hot spot would such a data demand from an internet appliances.  I also acquired a tablet computer when HP bailed out of that market and sold their stock of HP Touchpads at fire sale prices.  It is a great media consumption device but it is also dependent on having an available WiFi signal.  At home, that is no problem but out in the world, unencumbered WiFi coverage can be spotty at best.  When I am out in the field, I may not have access to on-site internet coverage.  But by using something like a NetZero 4G with its complimentary 200 MB a month coverage, I could check my e-mail and surf the web for a half our every work day.

Considering all of the aforementioned caveats, is NetZero 4G service a good deal.? It depends.  If you live in the 80 metropolitan areas and have coverage it may be.  For heavy laptop usage where you are playing Wizard of Warcraft or watching streaming video, it may be too costly for the amount of data within the plan.

If you currently have a hotspot with your cell phone, it would be wise to analyze your data usage over the last several months and consider how your use your mobile internet devices.  Most likely one need some internet plan with a smartphone, but you could save money using an independent hot spot if you have modest mobile data needs for devices like a tablet.  An even more economic approach to get 3G coverage for basic internet is to buy a Kindle Keyboard 3G for  as little as $139 (or $189 without screensaver ads).  It may not be as flashy as the color Kindle Fire, but it does have complimentary internet for the life of the device, which is good for reading non-graphic based websites and checking your e-mail.

16 March 2012

More Celebutard Strip Tease from Meghan McCain

Meghan McCain has tried to milk her fifteen minutes of fame by courting controversy.  First, Ms. McCain took an up front role for her father, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), during his Maverick 2008 Presidential campaign.  Then Meghan allowed herself to be used as a youthful go to GOP dissenting voice for the media during much of the Obama Administration.  Eventually, Meghan landed a gig with MSNBC where she revealed herself, or at least her intellectual level.

Instead of being content to get a media gig as a legacy with the Lamestream Media, Meghan McCain is driven to the spotlight, much like a moth to a flame.  So Ms. McCain recently played Twenty Questions with Playboy.  If the mere act of consenting to an interview with Playboy did not burnish her burgeoning reputation of already being a big boob, consider a couple of her answers. 

David Hockman asked on behalf of Playboy’s “readers”  asked Meghan to imagine life if her father had won his quest for the Presidency.  Meghan answered honestly: You would have the craziest first daughter ever, who’d be making ridiculous headlines and hurting the administration every step of the way.”.  No wonder why the Lamestream Media lionized her as the youth spokesman for the GOP before she joined MessNBC (sic.).

Moreover, Meghan tried to gin up publicity by denying that she was a lesbian, even though no one suggested that she was.  Meghan confessed: 

I’m not a lesbian, if that’s what you’re asking. I’d be the first person to tell the world I was gay. I’m not private about anything. I think you should live how you should live. But I’m strictly dickly. I can’t help it. I love sex and I love men. [Emphasis added].

Very revealing.  But is it appropriate for a reputable reporter, a political pundit or even a kid who cares about her father’s reputation?

Unlike the progressive media campaign to rush Limbaugh off the airwaves for controversial subjects, there is no need to make Meghan a media martyr.  But what do you call a public figure who feels compelled to make headlines with catchy but stupid quips. After the Fluke Flap, let’s just call her a “Publicity Hound”.  Between Meghan McCain's  reporting debut, her titillating Twitter Tweets and her self indulgent game of Twenty Questions, news junkies can make appropriate judgments about the quality of journalism at MSNBC.

15 March 2012

Should We Be Cross?

The  European Union Court on Human Rights is considering two cases of British Christian women who were prohibited from wearing crosses while at work. The British government is arguing that since the women in question had the right to quit their job and move elsewhere that  it is not a violation of their human rights. 

L. Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams
R. Catholic Pope Benedict XVI          
Adding to this argument, Church of England Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams postulated that for many people wearing a cross is just “religious decoration” and not an essential part of Christianity.  While speaking at a church in Rome where Williams was meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, the Archbishop of Canterbury noted that the cross had been stripped of its meaning as part of the tendency to manufacture religion.

A couple of years ago, the French outlawed wearing the burka in public.  Although French Prime Minister Sarkozy had the gaul (sic) to claim that the burka was not welcomed in France, the law was carefully crafted so as not to mention women, veils, burkas or veils.  The public policy rationale was that malfeasors could obscure their identities by covering their faces.  The French courts ruled this law constitutional. 

In the British cases, individual identities are not obscured. The question is to whether people have the right to wear personal effects which may indicate their religious identity. If wearing the cross as jewelry has lost its religious meaning, then what is the public policy rationale for banning it?

 Despite British Prime Minister David Cameron’s strong skepticism on the benefits of multi-culturalism, his government has rejected a burka ban as it is “Un-British” even though polling indicates that  2/3rds of Britons support banning the burka.  Since there is dispute amongst Islamic scholars as to whether the niqab is required for the practice of the Muslim faith or merely cultural (and political) expressions, does that mean that it too could be banned?  

C.- NY Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan
Concerns over the free exercise of religion are not confined to Europe.  The Obama Administration is trying to dictate how Christians can practice their faith regarding the HHS Contraception Mandate for Obamacare.  When the Obama Administration made overtures to meet with the Catholic bishops to work out the wrinkles, it turns out that expanding the narrow interpretation of the very narrow religious exemption was off the table.  In fact,  New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan related that the top Obama Administration liaison advised the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to listen to “enlightened voices” of accommodation,  such as liberal Jesuit America Magazine or a what one wag calls a Magesterium of Nuns which have a vested interest in keeping Catholics hospitals.  So now the Executive Branch is effectively trying to tell the American Catholic Church what they should believe and teach to the faithful. 

Should the faithful be cross with banning wearing the cross? Should the public appreciate these efforts as a public railing against phony religiosity, or as freedom of religion from the public square?  Perhaps it is an example of creeping dhimmitude where political correctness excoriates Christianity but effectively is Sharia compliant.