30 April, 2010

Illinois Senate Race Watch: Kirk up by 8 (Rasmussen)

Rasmussen polling now has Mark Kirk up by 8 points over Alexi Giannoulias. Giannoulias' connections with his family's (now failed) Broadway Bank are hurting him significantly, and the Democratic candidate has so far not been able to so much as make a dent in Kirk's armor. Most ominously, Giannoulias backing among solid Democrats has remained virtually unchanged so far this year, while his support among independents is eroding rapidly.

Still, I'll have to give my usual caveat: This is a Rasmussen poll, which means it likely leans Republican. My personal belief is that the actual race is closer than this, since there are still a fair percentage of people out there who know nothing about either candidate and have probably not really made up their minds.

However, if this lead holds in this range or better into the summer, then don't be surprised if there is serious talk of replacing Alexi Giannoulias on the ticket. The Democrats still want very much to retain this seat, and may be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.

Also, Rasmussen has Republican candidate Bill Brady up by 7 points over Democrat Pat Quinn. Frankly, no surprise here. Privately, a lot of Democrats I know think Pat Quinn is Dead Man Walking, and what support I'm seeing for him has been soft at best. My gut feeling is that Bill Brady's lead will actually widen over the summer, rather than narrow.

28 April, 2010

Gordon Brown Sinks Labour

Over in the UK, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown has now insured that his party will go down in flames in a few weeks.

More from the Daily Telegraph: Gordon Brown's Gillian Duffy 'bigot' gaffe may cost Labour

Gordon Brown = Naff Git.

Not even David Cameron's lackluster performance in the debates can save Labour now. The next UK Prime Minister will be either David Cameron (Conservative) or possibly Nick Clegg (Liberal-Democrats). Although if the Lib-Dems pull it off, I must say I would have much preferred Paddy Ashdown to have been the leader rather than Mr. Clegg. I've always liked Mr. Ashdown.

20 April, 2010

The Story of Stuff - The Critique

You know the drill. "I'm going to be in so much trouble when my in-laws discover this blog."

16 April, 2010

Those Initial Unemployment Claims

More evidence we are in a jobless recovery, from Chartmaster Geoff at Uncommon Misconceptions:
For the past 5 1/2 months, the initial unemployment claims data have not really changed. Here’s what I mean:
The data are oscillating about a slowly increasing value, indicating that, if anything, unemployment claims are increasing.

Hat Tip: Ace of Spades Blog

Rep. Ron Kind, Citizens United, and Free Speech

Congressman Ron Kind (D, WI-3), in a recent townhall meeting, commented on the recent US Supreme Court Decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. As you would expect, he's not a fan of the ruling. However, he appears to be resigned to the notion that it will now be difficult to reverse. Why, you may ask?

His words:
Thanks to that pesky First Amendment, we probably won’t be able to overturn that decision.
Big Journalism: Elected Officials, ‘That Pesky First Amendment’ and All That Jazz

Ah, yes. That pesky First Amendment. The one that opens with the words "Congress Shall Make No Law..." If only we could get rid of it, things would be so much better. We could tell people what to think, what they should read and listen to, we could prohibit people from protesting, heck we could even ban books and movies if we didn't approve of their message (as the current Administration did, in fact, argue before the Supreme Court -- saying that the Election Finance laws gave the government the power to ban the publication of books that violated McCain-Feingold's provisions).

Sorry, but I find this attitude appalling. It smacks of a mindset that says "Freedom for me, but not for thee." The First Amendment was written not to protect popular speech or speech that those in authority want you to hear, but the unpopular ones as well. Look at the wording of the Amendment itself:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

There should be no question that Free Speech was violated in this instance because, simply, Congress did in fact make a law "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press". That there has been a century or more of accumulated jurisprudence differentiating rights of the individual versus the rights of a collection of individuals (i.e., Corporations) should make absolutely no difference in this case, because the argument stops at "Congress shall make no law...". This should be Constitution 101, the most basic and fundamental reading of the framer's intent.

Rep. Kind apparently doesn't agree, for I can think of no other reason why he should answer his constituents so. Rep. Kind is apparently of the school of thought that believes the Constitution does not mean exactly what it says, and that its interpretation is fluid and should change to suit whatever the current fancy is. Well, sorry if I don't agree with you here, Mr. Kind. So far as I am concerned, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission was a long overdue reversal of a trend towards creeping limitations on Free Speech -- whether it be speech by the individual or by a band of individuals, it should make no difference. What I believe Mr. Kind is really objecting to is the notion that there should be any freedom of expression granted to the opposition at all. It is the notion that people should be given the opportunity to make up their own minds, that they should be allowed to choose for themselves who they will or will not listen to, that Mr. Kind is in essence really objecting to.

I would also further argue that the First Amendment already specifically bans limitations on Free Speech by corporations, right there in the Amendment itself. Look at the wording: the Amendment specifically prohibits Congress from making laws "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press". "The Press" has always been a corporate entity, rarely the product of one person and one person only, since long before the Constitution was even written. Citizens United was, and still is, a modern version of "The Press" -- being a group that used movies rather than the printed page to express its views, which the courts have long held constituted a "press". Again, I see no getting around the first few words of the Amendment; Congress did in fact pass a law, and this law did in fact limit the press. End of argument.

15 April, 2010

Today's LOL!

Tea Party Barbie:

Hat Tip: Op-Toons Review

14 April, 2010

ALA Top Ten Challenged Book in 2009

C'mon. To Kill A Mockingbird still gets challenged? People are still getting their knickers tied over A Catcher in the Rye? What is this, 1972?

American Library Association: The Most Challenged Books of 2009

Huh. Some people want to ban the Twilight books. A mark in that series favor, if you ask me...

Go, Christie, Go!

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie responding to his critics. Can we clone him and run him for Governor of Illinois?

The children will be the ones to suffer from your education cuts. "The real question is, who's for the kids, and who's for their raises? This isn't about the kids. Let's dispense with that portion of the argument. Don't let them tell you that ever again while they are reaching into your pockets."

Your policies favor the rich. "We have the worst unemployment in the region and the highest taxes in America, and that's no coincidence."

Why not renew the 'millionaire's tax'? "The top 1% of taxpayers in New Jersey pay 40% of the income tax. In addition, we've got a situation where that tax applies to small businesses. I'm simply not going to put my foot on the back of the neck of small business while I want them to try to grow jobs by giving more revenue to New Jersey."

Budget cuts are unfair. "The special interests have already begun to scream their favorite word—which, coincidentally, is my 9-year-old son's favorite word when we are making him do something he knows is right but does not want to do—'unfair.' . . . One state retiree, 49 years old, paid, over the course of his entire career, a total of $124,000 towards his retirement pension and health benefits. What will we pay him? $3.3 million in pension payments over his life, and nearly $500,000 for health care benefits—a total of $3.8 million on a $120,000 investment. Is that fair?"

Hat Tip: Ace of Spades Blog

Political Violence in America

Two staffers of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindahl were assaulted last week while walking home from a Republican political fund raiser, sending both to the hospital. The attack appears to be politically motivated; some reports indicate that the two were targetted merely because they wore Sarah Palin pins.

The Hayride: The Brennan’s Beatdown: Piecing Together A Story
Big Government: Big Easy Beatdown... GOP Official and Boyfriend Savagely Beaten Leaving SRLC Dinner

This story has been flying under the radar nationally, with the MSM considering it mostly a Louisiana-local issue and hence not of their concern. But once again, you can't help but think that had these two individuals been Democrats who were beaten up for wearing Obama pins, you can bet it would have made national headlines within hours. However, the story is starting to go viral; lots of libertarian and conservative activists are now finding out about it, and they are getting hopping mad.

13 April, 2010

Review: Teen Titans - Deathtrap

Teen Titans: Deathtrap
By Sean McKeever & Marv Wolfman; art by Fernando Dagnino, Joe Bennett, Rick Leonardi, others; Cover by Andrew Robinson
(reprints Teen Titans Annual 2009, Titans #12 & #13, Teen Titans #70, and Vigilante #5)

If you are a fan of the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans era, you will hate this graphic novel. If you are a fan of the character of Jericho, you will curse the very existence of this graphic novel. If you are just a fan of the Teen Titans -- any version, any incarnation -- you will just want to sit down and cry. "Deathtrap" is, by far, the worst story in recent memory to bear the banner of the Teen Titans. It is a crying shame that a once great concept has come down, well, to THIS.

The plot is terrible. Basically, it can be summed up as "Former Titan Jericho goes on a killing spree". A bloody, cold blooded, completely irredeemable killing spree, with the Titans (both young and old) as the targets and many, many civilians slaughtered along the way in brutal, graphic ways. Honestly, this is just about the worst case of "character" assassination you'll ever encounter; anyone familiar with Jericho from the 1980s will find him almost unrecognizable here, and the way DC completely destroys his character is just staggering. I never even liked Joey to begin with, but even I thought the way he has been so completely demolished as a hero is just appalling.

The story is co-written by Marv Wolfman and Sean McKeever, but honestly, I think they did little more than flesh out a storyline already handed to them by editorial. The only good part I can think of comes at the very end, where Wolfman's new Vigilante character extracts a chilling (but appropriate) piece of vengeance. But those last two pages just cannot make up for the absolute dreck that precedes it.

Don't bother with this one. If you want a modern Titans fix, pick up Blackest Night: Titans instead. There is no good reason that I can think of to drop coin on this volume.

Rating: *

Anything To Slander the Tea Partiers

Big Journalism's take-down of that AP hit piece on the Tea Party.

Big Journalism: Anything To Slander the Tea Partiers: AP Invents Phantom White Man Who "Heard" Slur

12 April, 2010

The Onerous Compliance Cost of the Internal Revenue Code

Recession Not Over?

From that radical right-wing rag, the New York Times:

A committee of economists, charged with determining the official turning points in the nation’s business cycles, certifies the beginnings and ends of recessions. But this time, the committee members say, the evidence is not so easy to decipher.

The committee announced Monday that it cannot yet declare an end to the recession that began in December 2007.

NYT: Recession Arbiters, Wary of Certifying an Upturn

For what it's worth, CMI's latest chart seems to bolster the idea that we are in a shallow recession:

Source: Consumer Metrics Institute

Review: Star Wars Galaxies - The Ruins of Dantooine

Star Wars Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine
by Voronica Whitney-Robinson, with Haden Blackman
(286 pages, Paperback, Lucas Books/Del Rey, copyright 2004)

Wow. Even by the standards of a media tie-in novel, The Ruins of Dantooine is just bad. Really, terribly, excruciatingly bad.

The novel was written as a tie-in to the Star Wars Galaxies MMORPG, and unbelievably, it actually reads like the kind of task or quest an ordinary game player might find assigned to them in an online role-playing game. Basically, the plot of the novel is your ordinary player-character (in this case, a young woman named Dusque Mistflier) undergoes a quest to recover a McGuffin (in this case, a holocron with the names of Rebel Alliance agents), and along the way must solve a number of puzzles as well as periodically shooting it out with the random non-player characters standing in her way. Aided in her quest is a mysterious individual named Finn, who is not only the heavy-handedly portrayed love interest but whose ultimate sympathies are so thinly disguised that its really incredible that no one can’t see through them. The novel even has occasional guest appearances by popular Star Wars characters, whose sole purpose to the story seems to be to point Dusque in the right direction for the next level, as well as to establish her Mary-Sue bonafides as even Luke and Han can’t seem to take their eyes off of her.

Yes, the book is that bad. The dialogue is terrible, the plotting is even worse, and the characters are so shallow their depth can be measured in pixels. Where some media tie-ins are at least partially saved by a certain level of humor or good-natured fun, The Ruins of Dantooine can’t even claim that low threshold. Instead, it commits the ultimate sin for a piece of derivative, media-driven fiction: it is boring, with uninspired characters, mired in an unengaging plot, and burdened with bland dialogue and hackneyed writing.

The ending of the book makes it clear that more stories based on the Star Wars Galaxies backdrop in general -- as well as Dusque and Finn in particular -- were planned. If this first outing was any indication of where they would have gone with it, it is probably a good thing that the series was scrapped after the first book. Really, even if you’re a huge Star Wars fan, skip this book and pretend it doesn’t exist; you are not going to miss anything, except perhaps the time you wasted reading such a vacuous and empty book.

Rating: *

11 April, 2010

The Shadow of Katyn - David Satter (NRO)

In the wake of the tragic death of the President of Poland, a reminder about Katyn.

NRO: The Shadow of Katyn - David Satter

09 April, 2010

Another Poll Puts Kirk Ahead

This time, its Rasmussen. They place the race at Kirk 41%, Giannoulias at 37%, with 8% supporting another candidate (there are others out there?!?!!), and 13% undecided.

Space Battleship Yamato movie posters

Two movie posters for the upcoming Space Battleship Yamato (aka Star Blazers) live-action movie have now been released:

An official movie trailer is expected soon, probably before summer.

08 April, 2010

Kirk Leads Giannoulias by 4 Points

According to Public Policy Polling, which is generally a Democratic polling organization, Mark Kirk has opened a four-point lead over Alexi Giannoulias in the race for the Illinois US Senate seat currently occupied by Roland Burris. This is the first major poll in a couple of months to show Kirk ahead, although several polls more biased towards Republican candidates have already been showing Kirk with a small to medium lead.

But its still very early. With the election still seven months away, there's no telling how the landscape might change. Frankly, I expect the polls to seesaw between the two until well into the summer. Most likely, we won't be getting a clear idea as to who is really ahead until late August or early September. But with more problems with his family's bank on the horizon, to say nothing of the upcoming trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (which has many Democrats privately worried), there's a good chance that Giannoulias might even start tanking in the polls. If that happens, look perhaps for some back-door maneuvering begin to have him step down as the candidate and be replaced with someone presumably less politically tainted. At the moment I think its unlikely, but the possibility is there. The Democrats do not want to lose President Barrack Obama's former Senate seat to a Republican.

06 April, 2010

VAT on the Horizon?

According to Reuters, White House adviser Paul Volcker acknowledged on Tuesday that a Value Added Tax (or, VAT; basically, a national sales tax) may be in the works for the US in order to pay off the deficit.

"If at the end of the day we need to raise taxes, we should raise taxes.", Volcker is quoted as saying.

So, in other words, "We've gone on a huge shopping spree on your dime, so get ready to pay for it."

I guarantee you, the idea of a VAT is toxic. This will be a huge fight if the administration proposes it.

Net Neutrality Struck Down

The entire debate about the FCC's decision to impose Net Neutrality on the Internet has become so convoluted that I am reminded of Charles Dickens description from Bleak House of the infamous lawsuit Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, to wit:

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises.
-- Charles Dickens, Bleak House, Chapter One

Not even Internet Free Speech advocates can decide if Net Neutrality is an over reach of government power, nor what effect it might have on free speech -- and often use the exact same arguments against one another to justify their positions.

Well, for the moment, the argument about government overreach has won, but not in the way it had been expected; A Federal Appeals Court has ruled that the FCC cannot impose Net Neutrality restrictions... for the simple reason that it has failed to prove that there is any law on the books that says it has that authority. In other words, the courts have ruled that the FCC was attempting to impose regulation on something for which no law has ever been passed giving it permission to do so.

We'll see how long that lasts. But for the moment, its back to square one for Net Neutrality advocates.

Should America Bid Farewell to Exceptional Freedom?

You know, not everything that comes out of Europe has been great. Communism and Fascism are good examples. So are Sarte and Amy Winehouse. And don't even get me started on the EuroVision Song Contest. There's a good reason why a large number of our ancestors emigrated from Europe, and that was to escape lunacies such as these.

Which is one reason why I find our gradual shift towards the powerful, centralized, statist, European-style welfare state so troubling.

Real Clear Politics: Should America Bid Farewell to Exceptional Freedom?, by Rep. Paul Ryan

David Cameron for Prime Minister

Well, I remember in 2008, when lots of people from outside the US -- especially Britain -- started trying to tell Americans how they should vote in the presidential election, as if they knew or even understood the issues in our country.

Time to return the favor.

To all my British friends:

End Blair/Brown Rule!
Vote Conservative!
Throw the Bums Out!!!!

NRO: The Future of the Special Relationship, by Nile Gardner