Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Add this to the long list that already includes:
A multi-jurisdictional corruption investigation;
A vicious beating of a Lantigua critic by one of the Mayor's allies in the city's, um, 'nightclub community';
Allegations that the Mayor and his girlfriend have been bilking poor Lawrence residents of federal heating assistance; and
A claim by the Mayor that unknown person(s) tried to run him down in the street, subsequently deemed by the Lawrence police to be a false report.
But other than all of that, the Globe's editors insisted recently, Lantigua is doing a bang-up job - ably assisted by his friend and political patron, Governor Patrick.
Maybe next the Globe's excellent (truly) investigative team can look into their own paper's schizophrenia when it comes to Willy Lantigua.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
The Globe is pretty sure the union bosses just packed it in and went home, tails between their legs. Under the headline "Senate limits bargaining rights to save on health costs," reporter Michael Levenson describes a resounding taxpayer victory:
The Massachusetts Senate voted last night to curb the collective bargaining rights of police officers, teachers and other municipal employees, making it likely the overwhelming Democratic state will limit union power in an effort to ease budget woes...
The voice vote, with barely any debate, came a month after House lawmakers approved similar legislation in hope of saving cities and towns $100 million in the next budget year. Governor Deval Patrick has indicated he is eager to sign the bill once the two branches hash out their differences.
While the measures backed by the House, Senate, and governor vary, all three would allow mayors and other local officials to move local workers into the state’s health insurance plan or to design their own plans that similarly trim costs paid by municipal employers. Each plan would leave a window to discuss those changes with workers, but would ultimately let local officials alter their plans, regardless of whether workers oppose it.
|Wisconsin union protesters|
“We have lost collective bargaining rights on both sides of this proposal,’’ said Raymond McGrath, a lobbyist for the International Brotherhood of Police and the National Association of Government Employees. “I hope the Senate version is what is [ultimately] accepted, although the Senate version is not what we would like, either.’’"Not what we would like," but oh well. Does that sound like the union bosses we have come to know and love?
|Massachusetts union protester|
I think the truth of the matter is buried in this paragraph from the middle of Levenson's article:
This spring, unions fought hard to block the changes in the House, running radio ads, threatening to oust lawmakers, and organizing protests at the State House. They warned that the state was moving in the direction of Ohio, Wisconsin, and other Republican-led states that have sharply cut collective bargaining rights of public workers. But once Senate leaders indicated they would go along with the House, union leaders softened their tone, saying they wanted to tweak, not kill, the bill.Once the Senate plan came out, the unions went eerily silent. So: which is more likely? That Robert Haynes, Ed Kelly and the rest were suddenly overcome with a sense of civic duty and shared sacrifice? Or that they managed to bake something(s) in to the Senate alternative plan that will render it effectively useless to achieve real reform of public sector benefits?
I know what I think.
Reading the Globe's fawning coverage of Governor Patrick's testimony in the Sal DiMasi trial, I get the same queasy, vicariously embarrassed feeling I used to get back in high school, watching the nerdy kid with a crush try in vain to impress a pretty girl. [Okay, fine. I get the same queasy vicariously embarrassed feeling other kids used to get watching me try to impress the pretty girl. Whatever. The point is the feeling.] You want to tell the poor kid to stop. She may throw you a smile, but she isn't going to prom with you no matter how many times you notice her haircut or whisper her an answer in biology class.
Here's the straight news article, on the front page:
Inside the courtroom, the governor seemed collected as he answered questions from prosecutors and defense lawyers. He put on reading glasses to see evidentiary documents, holding the glasses by the tip of their frames
By the tips of their frames, he held them! How much more "collected" could a mere mortal be?
And here is the separate analysis of Patrick's performance (titled "Keeping his cool...")
But the governor, a polished campaigner and veteran of the Justice Department, appeared calm, almost pensive, as he spoke for nearly two hours about his involvement in approving a software contract at the center of the corruption case.
Finally, the wet smooch from columnist Adrian Walker, whose headline ("Governor's star turn") did not bother even to try to conceal the writer's ardor:
Governor Deval Patrick was a picture of calm yesterday as he took the witness stand against his sometime political ally and friend, Salvatore DiMasi.
So calm! So cool and collected! So polished! So...
For the Governor's people there was but one task this week: to limit the political damage to their guy from serving as the star witness in a corruption trial arising from a deal that he personally signed off on in the tumultuous early days of his administration.
With so dedicated and focused an assist from our paper of record, they really had nothing to worry about.
Friday, May 27, 2011
An attorney himself, Governor Patrick probably did not need those instructions, but he followed them so rigorously that following his testimony today in the Sal DiMasi corruption trial (which prosecutors pre-billed as "compelling") the most interesting tid-bit from initial reports is:
"I told them if we could do it within the rules, then go ahead," Patrick said he told his staff about the contract after DiMasi's repeated queries."[I]f we could do it within the rules..." What does that mean? Who knows. What does anything that comes out of Deval Patrick's mouth mean? He crafts virtually every public utterance for maximum susceptibility to multiple interpretations. Which rules? He didn't say. Did his staff check into whether the $15 million line item DiMasi was pushing in fact fit "within the rules"? It seems not, but again - who knows.
In the end, what Governor Patrick told the jury today boils down to: 'Yes, Sal DiMasi lobbied him and his staff for a $15 million item in a bond bill.' We knew that. 'Yes, he signed off on the item.' We knew that. Yawn.
Oh, and there was this: "[Patrick] later said he would have at least asked the State Ethics Commission about the propriety of the deal had he known DiMasi was allegedly receiving money from Cognos." Really? Had Governor Patrick known DiMasi was being paid off by a state contractor to secure a $15 million contract he would have had to ask "about the propriety of the deal"?? Fascinating.
Much more interesting than today's decidedly un-compelling testimony was what Governor Patrick had to say around the time, in 2007, when he signed off on the Cognos earmark. This from a "flashback" article run by the State House News Service yesterday:
Patrick included $15 million for "performance management software" in his version of the bill, prosecutors say, because DiMasi had pressed top staffers to do so, and they acquiesced because of what they described as the time-sensitive nature of moving ahead with the bond.
Senior administration officials, including those responsible for authorizing contracts with Cognos, have testified in the trial they wouldn't have included the performance management project in the bond bill - a project they said was unnecessary and overpriced - if it weren't for DiMasi's urging...
But when Patrick filed the bond bill on March 14, 2007, he held a press conference with DiMasi and Travaglini and told reporters the bill included only "items that require the urgent response of this government and that cannot be addressed because of a lack of borrowing authorization."It would be a fair reading of Patrick's carefully-chosen words, in retrospect, to conclude that back in March 2007 he deliberately downplayed the DiMasi-favored spending, which suggests that he knew something was not quite kosher about it. But that's just speculation.
"And so today we are filing a 1.47 billion-dollar capital bond bill seeking authorization to address only these immediate capital needs," he said, emphasizing the word "only." "It does not include any new capital initiatives, uh, of our administration, or any projects that could begin next calendar year without significant adverse consequences."
Patrick also alluded to "projects needed to ensure government efficiency and accountability," but he didn't elaborate.
What we know for sure, based on testimony by multiple Administration officials, is that the Patrick Administration was well aware of the fact that the DiMasi item was "unnecessary and overpriced." Overpriced by as much as double, in fact. They signed off on it anyhow, allowing one to conclude that the "rules" Governor Patrick mentioned today weren't budgetary ones.
As I wrote a couple of weeks back, if nothing else the DiMasi trial is providing useful insight into how our government - including the Patrick Administration - spends taxpayer money.
Last week, the left-wing blogs were abuzz with renewed criticism of Ed Pinto’s data on subprime and Alt-A lending. Mike Konczal and Paul Krugman triumphantly displayed a graph from a February 2011 paper by David Min of the Center for American Progress that they claimed as proof that Pinto’s numbers—which I relied on in my dissent from the majority report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission—were fraudulent. The graph is copied below.The Problems With Precaution: A Principle Without Principle - Jonathan Alder [The American]
Honestly, it’s hard to believe anyone gives these characters the time of day, let alone reads their work. The Min graph is grossly deficient in almost every way possible, and the fact that it would be cited by both Konczal and Krugman confirms their utter ignorance of this subject... Read the Rest
It’s better to be safe than sorry. We all accept this as a commonsense maxim. But can it also guide public policy? Advocates of the precautionary principle think so, and argue that formalizing a more “precautionary” approach to public health and environmental protection will better safeguard human well-being and the world around us. If only it were that easy.An Honest Obama Campaign - Victor Davis Hansen [National Review Online]
Simply put, the precautionary principle is not a sound basis for public policy. At the broadest level of generality, the principle is unobjectionable, but it provides no meaningful guidance to pressing policy questions. In a public policy context, “better safe than sorry” is a fairly vacuous instruction. Taken literally, the precautionary principle is either wholly arbitrary or incoherent. In its stronger formulations, the principle actually has the potential to do harm... Read the Rest
Given what we know now, I think Obama’s summer-2008 campaign speeches should have sounded something like this:
The Economy: “Make no mistake about it — we must have critical new investment and government priming to free us from the Bush recession. Therefore, if America is willing to embrace such Keynesian spending, I will promise to keep our unemployment rate below 10 percent, while my team borrows no more than an additional $5 trillion for new shovel-ready stimulus. I envision our national debt rising to no more than $16 trillion over my tenure. I also promise to take over any corporation that explores bankruptcy as a way to default on what it owes its union members and pensioners, who will always have a higher claim than any creditors or Wall Street speculators. I have already talked of spreading the wealth; but as president I promise to extend food stamps to more Americans than at any time in history"...Read the Rest.
Don't Underestimate Republicans in 2012 - Ramesh Ponnuru [Bloomberg]
The 2012 presidential race has barely begun, but it is already time to retire one of its cliches: the much-repeated claim that "the Republican field is weak." Liberals say it with a smirk, because they think it will guarantee President Barack Obama’s re-election. Conservatives say it while begging someone else to enter the race and rescue them.What Obama Did to Israel - Charles Krauthammer [Washington Post]
Maybe Congressman Paul Ryan. Or Governor Chris Christie. Or Senator Marco Rubio. Or some other shiny new face. Governor Mitch Daniels’s decision not to run is sure to make this clamor louder.
But the Republican field isn’t weak. The three people most likely to win the Republican nomination -- Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman, according to Intrade.com -- have all been governors. Two of them were governors of states that Obama carried in 2008. By contrast, the top three candidates for the Democratic nomination last time around (Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards) had a combined zero days of executive experience. This time, even some long-shot Republican candidates have stronger resumes than that: Libertarian gadfly Gary Johnson, for example, was a two-term governor of New Mexico...Read the Rest
Every Arab-Israeli negotiation contains a fundamental asymmetry: Israel gives up land, which is tangible; the Arabs make promises, which are ephemeral. The long-standing American solution has been to nonetheless urge Israel to take risks for peace while America balances things by giving assurances of U.S. support for Israel’s security and diplomatic needs.Economists Gently Suggest American Manufacturing Maybe Start Again With Something Simple Like A Ball - [Onion]
It’s on the basis of such solemn assurances that Israel undertook, for example, the Gaza withdrawal. In order to mitigate this risk, President George W. Bush gave a written commitment that America supported Israel absorbing major settlement blocs in any peace agreement, opposed any return to the 1967 lines and stood firm against the so-called Palestinian right of return to Israel... Read the Rest
WASHINGTON—After conducting an in-depth analysis of the nation's industrial output and long-term economic future, leading economists delicately suggested this week that maybe American manufacturers might want to think about abandoning their current products and start over with something nice and simple, such as a ball.Claiming that the nation's standing within the increasingly competitive global marketplace was perhaps not what it once was, the economists gently encouraged American producers to "wipe the slate clean" and rebuild their confidence by starting fresh with a plain, basic ball... Read the RestThe Die is Cast - Jonah Goldberg [National Review Online]
Alea iacta est. That’s what Julius Caesar proclaimed as he crossed the Rubicon River in 49 B.C. It means, “The die is cast.” By crossing the Rubicon with his army — against Roman law — Caesar guaranteed a head-on conflict with the overconfident Roman ruler Pompey. Outnumbered, Caesar was presented with the choice: win or die.Rich Irony - Christopher Caldwell [Weekly Standard]
The recent special election in the 26th congressional district of New York was a political Rubicon. The Democrat, Kathy Hochul, ran against the Republican budget, specifically Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to save Medicare by turning it into a voucher program starting 10 years from now (excluding all current beneficiaries)... Read the Rest
A mystery lies at the heart of America’s budget politics. In the weeks since debate began on raising the debt limit, President Obama has faulted Republican budget plans as a way of giving favors to “millionaires and billionaires” at the expense of the poor and aged, just as he did during last winter’s quarrel over retaining the Bush tax cuts. He does this because it places the public firmly on his side. In a time of sharp divisions on almost all policy questions, tax hikes on the rich are about the only tool of fiscal policy that the public professes to like... Read the Rest5 Ways Obama Could Lose in 2012 - Marc Ambinder [The Atlantic]
Democrats are more confident about President Obama's chances for reelection than at any point since the economy bottomed out in the summer of 2009. Arguments used to batter him, like his inability to make a decision on a tough issue, have been neutralized by the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden.An Anti-Israel President - Bret Stephens [Wall Street Journal]
None of Obama's potential opponents have made any particularly bold moves, save Tim Pawlenty's promise to wean Iowa off of ethanol subsidies. Mitt Romney fell on the grenade representing his support for an individual mandate in Massachusetts early in the campaign, alienating the conservative intelligentsia in the process.
And though Republicans forced the president to cut spending, they're not reaping any political benefit, thanks to a stiletto-knife-to-Medicare budget that all but four GOP House members signed on to as their own... Read the Rest
Say what you will about President Obama's approach to Israel—or of his relationship with American Jews—he sure has mastered the concept of chutzpah.And, the funniest thing I saw this week...
On Thursday at the State Department, the president gave his big speech on the Middle East, in which he invoked the claims of friendship to tell Israelis "the truth," which to his mind was that "the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace." On Friday in the Oval Office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his version of the truth, which was that the 1967 border proposed by Mr. Obama as a basis for negotiating the outlines of a Palestinian state was a nonstarter... Read the Rest
Predator Drone TR425 Takes The Stand
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
There might just be something to that argument. The State House News's account of today's proceedings at the federal courthouse could double as an indictment of the system that Sal's attorneys want the jury to believe victimized their client. And a convincing indictment it is, reaching from the House to the Senate to the Governor's office. Excerpts [my bolding and brackets]:
In the Patrick administration's haste to pass a borrowing bill in 2007, shortly after Gov. Deval Patrick took office, officials agreed to include a $15 million software contract favored by former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, even though Patrick's staff had previously sought to bar non-emergency special projects, a former Patrick aide testified Tuesday.Phew. Sal was the only one "getting a piece," as they say, and so he is properly the one in the dock. But his corruption had plenty of enablers, passive and active. One hopes most or even all of these folks were unknowing enablers, but even if they were the narrative above lays bare a system that too easily lends itself to the variety of abuse of power allegedly exploited by DiMasi to line his own pockets.
David Simas, who was Patrick's deputy chief of staff in 2007, said the administration had urged lawmakers to move quickly on what officials called an "immediate needs" bond bill to prevent the state from losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds and from forcing major state projects to grind to a halt...
Simas said that as the Patrick administration sought to convince Massachusetts lawmakers to move the emergency bond bill early in 2007, the administration received word that DiMasi had hoped to include a $15 million project for performance management software, an application intended to help state agencies and the Legislature track data in various programs.
Despite attempts to limit specific projects, Simas said the administration relented - in part on the recommendation of then assistant secretary of administration and finance Jay Gonzalez [who is now secretary] - and included the project, as well as a similar $4.9 million data project for the attorney general's office sought by Senate President Robert Travaglini.
When DiMasi's chief of staff Maryann Calia was informed that the performance management project would be included in the Patrick administration's bond bill, Simas testified that she was "appreciative" and said she would ensure that the proposal would bypass the traditional legislative process for most borrowing bills. Rather than sending the bond bill through the bonding committee, Simas said, Calia promised that she would ensure the bill would go directly to the House Ways and Means Committee.
"This is an important step in ensuring very quick action," Simas said, reading from a March 2007 email he sent to Patrick's chief of staff at the time, Joan Wallace Benjamin...
The bill included $15 million "[f]or a new statewide performance management system to enable all state agencies and departments to manage their performance by leveraging the vast amount of data that resides in numerous agency applications; provided, that this performance management system shall provide a single platform for reporting, analysis, scorecards, dashboards, event management." That language, according to several prosecution witnesses, was supplied by officials working on behalf of Cognos.
The bond bill emerged in the House on March 21, the same day Travaglini resigned his post as Senate president and passed the Senate mantle to Sen. Therese Murray. The House passed the bill that day unanimously, after members cast aside a series of Republican amendments offered by Minority Leader Bradley Jones on party line votes. Among the rejected amendments was a Jones amendment that would require bond bills to be vetted by the bonding committee.
During floor debate that day, Jones said that if not for the Republican Party, the Legislature would not debate anything. Rep. David Flynn, the House's bonding committee chair, responded that he had recommended bypassing his own committee because of the bond bill's "emergency nature."
Just prior to the House's consideration of the bill, DiMasi had been in the chamber to preside while Travaglini delivered an unusual farewell address to the House. When Travaglini departed, Rep. Thomas Petrolati, then the speaker pro tem, informed members that the bond bill would be taken up immediately.
The next day, on Murray's first full day as president, the Senate took up the bond bill as the first order of business after setting a special election date to fill Travaglini's seat. Richard Tisei, the Senate minority leader at the time, immediately questioned why no public hearing had been held on the bill. Murray pointed to the House, which she said had bypassed the bonding committee and sent the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired at the time by Rep. [now Speaker] Robert DeLeo...
The governor signed the bill on March 23, just two days after it was first considered by the House. The bill authorized the administration to spend $15 million on a contract for performance management software. In August 2007, the administration awarded that contract to Cognos Corp.
The longer this trial goes on, the more I hope its lessons will penetrate and our voters will finally wake up to the consequences of their continued support for some of the bold names above.
this "editorial" that ran in Saturday's Globe? I have tried three different approaches now - incredulity, sarcasm, parody - and each time have ended up using words that are not appropriate for a family blog. Look, I get it. Two Globe columnists - first Yvonne Abraham, then Adrian Walker - devoted their columns recently to illuminating and candid looks at the spiraling disaster that is Mayor Willy Lantigua. Both studiously avoiding mentioning the pivotal role Governor Patrick played in bringing Lantigua to power, or Patrick's refusal to appoint a much-needed financial control board for Lawrence, or even the Governor's curious refusal, even in light of the parody of urban corruption that the Lantigua Administration has become, to criticize his former protege. But still - all the attention to Lantigua has exposed the Govenor's rear end, and the Globe is itself arguably at least partly responsible. Clearly the editors felt they needed to do something to cover that buttock.
But they couldn't do better than this?
So far, the suspicions surrounding Lantigua haven’t hindered his efforts to steer Lawrence toward fiscal stability. That accomplishment, however, comes with considerable help from a fiscal overseer appointed by Governor Deval Patrick who ensures that up to $35 million in loan guarantees from the state won’t go down the drain.This is like hiring a kid to paint a peeling house, and then ignoring the fact that he's broken all the windows, set fire to the roof and is treating the neighbors to a daily full frontal, because he's done a passably good job on the trim.
The Most Important Meal of the Day
Speaking of Adrian Walker, his column today was about the breakfast meeting in 2007 where Sal DiMasi allegedly put the squeeze on the Governor to support his self-interested bid to award an egregiously over-priced state software contract to Cognos. Here's Walker:
At the Patrick-DiMasi breakfast described by prosecutors, the politicians exchanged wish lists. Patrick’s fondest desire was a life-sciences bill, a big appropriation with long-term implications; one of DiMasi’s wishes was approval of a contract to Cognos — a comparatively minor issue, but one apparently dear to the speaker, or so the government alleges.
"Now, no one is suggesting any impropriety on the part of the Patrick administration." Certainly not! In fact, like Mr. Walker many commentators are going out of their way to preemptively absolve the Governor and his administration of any and all blame for the mess that is about to see a former Speaker off to prison.Now, no one is suggesting any impropriety on the part of the Patrick administration. Still, some members of his team may be called to testify. Even the governor himself may take the stand.
|Feel the Love|
And then, to return to the 2007 Patrick/DiMasi breakfast, we are now given to understand that DiMasi sought to trade his support for Patrick's highest legislative priorities, all for the Patrick Administration's acquiescence to the Cognos deal. And the famously political Governor never thought, apparently, to question the Speaker's motivation for that lopsided trade.
So yes, Walker is correct. "[N]o one is suggesting any impropriety on the part of the Patrick administration."
But, golly, shouldn't somebody be?
What's in a name?
A couple of weeks ago David Bernstein had an excellent piece in the Phoenix sussing out the increasing signs that Boston's Mayafalife, Tom Menino, is likely to run for yet another term in office when his current term expires. Since then the Bostonist and the Herald have both picked up on the theme.
I have long since given up trying to understand the appeal of Tom Menino. Strolling through Boston last week, however, an argument for reelection occurred to me that just might clinch for Menino the lifetime sinecure that he seems to desire: Boston cannot afford a different Mayor. The cost of replacing all of the ego signage that bears Menino's name would bankrupt the city. Boston would be better off requiring all future occupants of the office to legally change their names to Thomas M. Menino.
I've started snapping photos with my iPhone of each ego sign sighting. Once you start noticing them, you cannot stop. They are everywhere. At some point I'll stop and publish my compilation. Anyone inclined to help in the collection is encouraged to email photos to email@example.com.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Establishment Blues – Walter Russell Mead [The American Interest]
I don’t want to make this a habit, and I suspect he doesn’t either, but Paul Krugman and I are once again in (very) partial agreement. We both think the American elite has intellectually and morally lost its way, and we agree that the problems our country faces today have more to do with elite breakdown than popular stupidity. We locate the blame somewhat differently within that elite; Krugman splits the blame between George W. Bush and the economic policy makers of the Clinton/Obama administrations. I think the rot goes deeper and has spread out more widely. But the United States today — in both parties, in the corporate and business worlds, in academia and among the intelligentsia, in religion and in many other fields — does not have the strong and thoughtful leadership that we need… Read the Rest
The union fight is just beginning – John E. Sununu [Boston Globe]
THERE IS something quintessentially American about a showdown — two adversaries standing on principle, face to face. It brings to mind simple, iconic images: Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” Burt Lancaster in “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” inmates vs. guards in “The Longest Yard.”
Lured in by the promise of a decisive conclusion, we quickly choose sides — another American trait — and focus on the contest itself. But whether a confrontation plays out amid the tumbleweeds or in a legislative chamber, focusing on just the fight can distract us from the underlying issues at stake… Read the Rest
Rate Of Uninformed Conversations About Navy SEALs Skyrockets [The Onion]
WASHINGTON—The frequency and detail of uninformed conversations about the required strength, agility, and killing abilities of the Navy SEALs has increased exponentially since the SEAL-led operation to kill Osama bin Laden, Pentagon officials told reporters Monday. “Since last week, the number of people who have incorrectly stated that all SEAL members must do 300 pull-ups in a minute, earn advanced calculus degrees from MIT, and be able to hold their breath underwater for an hour, has been extraordinarily high,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell, adding that the comment, “I heard you need to be able shoot a quarter from a mile away after running for four hours straight,” has been idiotically uttered in more than 65 percent of discussions related to the military operation. “Just to set the record straight: Navy SEALs are allowed to talk to their families. Ninety percent of them do not die during training. And members of SEAL Team Six did not have to fight and kill a tiger shark in order to be admitted.” Morrell added that current enlistment numbers couldn’t possibly account for the number of Americans claiming they have an uncle in the Navy SEALs.
Bullying can’t be legislated away – Jennifer Braceras [Boston Herald/Red Mom-Blue State]
By now most of us can recite the Phoebe Prince story by heart: A 15-year-old immigrant girl hangs herself after being subjected to relentless bullying by “mean girls” at South Hadley High School.
It’s a heartbreaking tale that has left many wondering what can be done to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.
Unfortunately, however, rather than view the Prince tragedy through the lens of personal responsibility, we reflexively seek government intervention and legal action… Read the Rest
Medicare’s Chief Actuary: Don’t Trust the Medicare Trustees – Peter Suderman [Reason]
Last week, Medicare’s Trustees released their annual report on the health entitlement’s finances. The news wasn’t good: Unfunded liabilities have grown since last year, and the program’s hospital trust fund, estimated last year to expire in 2029, is now expected to expire in 2024.
Yet if anything the report was far too optimistic in its assessment… Read the Rest
Fight to the Debt – Yuval Levin [Weekly Standard]
Normally in Washington, the agenda for spring and summer is set by the president’s budget and the priorities of congressional leaders. But this year will be different. House Republicans have proposed an ambitious platform, in the form of the budget produced by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan and passed by the full House last month. But the Democrats who control the Senate and the White House, and who therefore effectively run things, have no discernible policy agenda. What substance there was in the president’s 2012 budget was emptied out by a bizarre speech he delivered last month, setting out completely different goals from those of his initial proposal but offering no specific means to achieve them. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have been unable to agree on any budget outline at all… Read the Rest
The Two Words Obama Didn’t Mention – Will Dobson [Washington Post]
President Obama’s much-anticipated speech on the Arab Spring didn’t disappoint. Once again, his words were powerful and well delivered. Unlike many of his public addresses, it wasn’t simply that it sounded good. The strength was more in the substance than the power of the oratory (although the turns of phrases were there, too).
We will look back on today’s speech as Obama’s self-determination speech, and not simply because he repeated the word five times. It is that fundamental value — the right of any people to choose their own leaders and form of government — that Obama placed front and center today. According to the president, it was a hunger for self-determination that brought millions out into the streets, whether the revolutions have succeeded, stalled or are ongoing… Read the Rest
The News in Obama’s Speech – Charles Krauthammer [Washington Post]
Herewith President Obama’s Middle East speech , annotated:
“It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.”
With this Barack Obama openly, unreservedly and without a trace of irony or self-reflection adopts the Bush Doctrine, which made the spread of democracy the key U.S. objective in the Middle East… Read the Rest
Entitlement Sense – Mark Steyn [National Review / Steyn Online]
I like to think that upon arrival in this great republic I assimilated pretty quickly. Within four or five months, I was saying “zee” and driving on the right more often than not. But it took me longer to get the hang of the word “entitlement.” You don’t hear it in political discussions in most of the rest of the West, even in Canada. There’s talk of “social programs” and “benefits” and “welfare,” but not of “entitlements.” I knew the term only in its psychological use — “sense of entitlement” — in discussions of narcissistic personality disorder and whatnot.
Once I’d been apprised of its political definition, I liked it even less. “Entitlements” are unrepublican: They are contemptuous of the most basic principle of responsible government — that a parliament cannot bind its successor. Which is what entitlements do, to catastrophic effect. Recently, in the London Telegraph, Liam Halligan bemoaned the way commentators focus on America’s $14 trillion of debt — i.e., the “debt ceiling” debt — without factoring in the entitlement liabilities of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That makes America’s real debt some $75 trillion, or five times GDP. Our own Kevin D. Williamson puts the FDR/LBJ entitlement liabilities a little north of $100 trillion. Once you add in state and municipal debt, you need to add a zero to that reassuringly familiar $14 trillion hole. The real hole goes ten times deeper: $140 trillion — or about twice as much as America’s total “worth.”… Read the Rest
A Deeply Troubling Policy Shift on Israel – Editorial [New York Post]
President Obama's Middle East speech yesterday revealed an astonishing reversal of worldview -- but, sad to say, presented a deeply troubling policy shift on Israel.
Worldview first: Most of the president's stirring salute to the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests might well have been delivered by George W. Bush.
It was Bush, after all, who in 2003 affirmed America's commitment to a "democratic revolution" in the region -- and decried "60 years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East . . . for the sake of stability.".. Read the Rest
…and The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week (end of the world edition)
Thursday, May 19, 2011
What is it about our Governor Patrick that makes President Obama pull the "sucking a lemon" face?
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
In the couple weeks since the union boss blow-up on Beacon hill, I've been increasingly bothered by the silence from Robert Haynes and his cronies. With the Senate supposedly crafting their version of reform legislation (behind closed doors, of course), should the unions not have been out in force, wearing those color-coordinated t-shirts, chanting one of those call and response chants that everybody loves so much? (What do we want? _____!! When do we want it? NOW!!)
|Why is this man smiling? [Union boss Haynes]|
It turns out that the super-secret Senate reform plan that Senate President Terry Murray has been hinting at for the last week or so is - are you ready for it? - to re-arrange a few deck chairs and call it a day. The plan (which, like the House, the Senate is putting in its budget) won't be out until later today, but the Globe was given a peek. Their headline says it all: "Senate plan gives more to unions." There should be an "a lot" in there.
Here are the low-lights:
The Senate proposal, like the House one that preceded it, would give local governments 30 days to reach an agreement with their unions on significant health plan changes. In the case of a deadlock, the House plan allows mayors and town managers to set copayments and deductibles unilaterally.
But the Senate plan creates a new way to resolve such disputes, empowering the governor. If the sides do not agree, the dispute would go to a three-member review panel: with one union representative, one management representative, and a crucial tie-breaking vote appointed by the governor’s budget chief.
If the panel determines that the changes proposed by management at least match the health benefits given to state workers, the review panel would be required to approve them. If not, the panel would have discretion to consider union alternatives or to give more of the savings from insurance plan changes back to workers.Benefit packages are immensely complex things, varying widely in their particulars from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. That being the case, the determination of whether "changes proposed by management at least match the benefits given to state workers" will be a wholly subjective one. With the panel consisting of a union appointee and a gubernatorial appointee able together to form a majority, these decisions will come down in entirely predictable patterns depending on who sits in the corner office. That this little wrinkle might create additional incentives for the unions to pour even greater amounts of money and manpower into our future gubernatorial campaigns likely occurred to one or two of the Democrats who drafted this thing.
Regardless of what the panel decides, the Senate measure allows as much as one third of the cost savings from health changes to go back to municipal workers, whereas the House plan gives workers between 10 percent and 20 percent of that savings, but only in the first year.
In the unlikely event that any city or town manages to run this union-controlled gauntlet and successfully enact changes to save some money, a large chunk of the savings will immediately be snatched away to be distributed by the union bosses.
Make no mistake: as President Murray and her team huddled for the past couple of weeks crafting this mess, they weren't really trying to come up with a plan that will work for cash-strapped cities and towns. They were devising clever ways to dress up a slight variation on the status quo in the artificial trappings of "reform."
The result of this subterfuge will be that the majority of cities and towns will still be unable to make meaningful changes to their employee benefits packages. Costs will continue to spiral out of control, eventually leading to more local service cuts and then layoffs of town and city workers - the ones for whom Haynes & co. claim to be fighting. The union bosses don't really care about those workers or their benefits, you know. What they care about - the only thing they care about - is maintaining their own leverage and relevance. The House plan would have stripped much of that away from them; the Senate plan cements it in place.
It's like we're all in a life raft - the Senate Democrats, the union bosses and we unlucky taxpayers. The union bosses have already hoarded all of the provisions, and our raft is leaking from three holes. We're slowly sinking into shark-infested waters. The Senate just partially patched one hole, slowing the leak marginally, and now wants us to thank them for improving the situation. Meanwhile, the union bosses are putting on cleats and preparing to have a dance party. And there's nothing we can do about it. A cleat-wearing dance party is in their contract.
And what of all the sound a fury of a few weeks back, when House Democrats unexpectedly defied the union bosses by voting for a real reform bill? What of the ominous talk of "labor votes" and the purple-faced threats of electoral retribution? Here's a guess. The Senate will pass this farce of a non-reform plan. The House-Senate budget conference committee will endorse something a lot closer to the Senate blueprint than the House plan. Most of those House members will cast their votes for the union-endorsed "compromise." And all will be forgiven.
No reform, no foul.
Meanwhile, state legislatures across the country whose members are serious about tackling the looming pension and benefits crisis will take real steps to rationally rein in exorbitant benefits, thereby getting their budgets in control while preserving for public employees a level of benefits that will still far surpass what most workers in the private sector receive. Eventually, one way or another, after things here get a whole lot worse, our own legislature will get on the bandwagon. At the rear.
We were foolish to expect anything different.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Or... maybe it's about the huge hole blown in Beacon Hill's cesspool by the ongoing Sal DiMasi trial, through which vast quantities of political sludge and slag are flowing into the street for all to see and smell?
"I don’t think corruption is a partisan issue. It’s very bipartisan ... despite what the senator says," opined former Democratic State Committee Chair Phil Johnston. And he's right! In most places and times, political corruption is very much a bipartisan phenomenon. It tends to arise along with the disproportionate aggregation of power in a single, insular faction. It just so happens that in this time and place, total political power is concentrated in the Democrats. That was Senator Brown's point. Johnston should be thanked for helping to illustrate it.
Johnston's successor, John Walsh, was even more dismissive. "Scott Brown wants to talk about anything other than what he’s doing in Washington,” Walsh said. “Anything to change the topic." Cute, but with the DiMasi trial popping Beacon Hill's zits all over the front pages day after day, it isn't we Republicans who are desperate to change the subject just now.
The Democrats' ineptitude is understandable; it has been a while since the most popular politician in Massachusetts was a Republican. You'd probably have to go back to Bill Weld. But come on. This is one of those times when the better part of wisdom and valor would be for the Democrats to agree with their adversary. As much as they wish people would quit saying it, Sal DiMasi is the third House Speaker in a row to find himself on the wrong side of an indictment. No other state can match that streak. None comes close. It's ridiculous.
By refusing to acknowledge that big, fat elephant sitting in the corner of their living room, the Democrats only compound their difficulties. Most people, even those who couldn't care a whit for politics, instinctively understand and accept that old truism about the corrupting influence of power. When Senator Brown observes that the parade of scandal marching endlessly through our state government is at least partially a result of one party control, non-partisan listeners hear and process the observation as simple common sense. By denying it - or, worse, by refusing even to acknowledge the point - the Beacon Hill Democrats are basically refusing to clean the mess that they bear sole responsibility for making. The elephant isn't just sitting there, he's pooping all over the carpet. And Walsh, Johnston and the rest are saying, "what? I don't smell anything."
Senator Brown could not have timed his broadside better, nor scripted a more clueless response from his opponents.
The point was underscored and highlighted in testimony at the DiMasi trial today by former Representative Robert Coughlin. As reported by the State House News Service,
Former Rep. Robert Coughlin told a jury Tuesday that he filed an amendment for a $4.5 million software program in April 2006 after he received a request to file it from Daniel Toscano, then the general counsel to Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. “He said there’s going to be an amendment for education technology, would you be willing to be the sponsor of it?” Coughlin recalled. Coughlin said at the time he was unaware of what education data warehouse was, never debated it and never had any involvement in passing the amendment. Asked by prosecutor Anthony Fuller why he filed the amendment, Coughlin said, “The speaker’s office asked. It was an honor to do it,” he said. Asked why he considered it an honor, Coughlin said, “I was in my second term in the legislature.”That's what one might call a pregnant paragraph. Earnest Coughlin's simple, sad admission lays bare the reality of the internal politics and power that inform just about everything that happens behind those famous closed doors on Beacon Hill. Coughlin didn't ask whether the amendment made sense. He didn't question the price tag. He didn't request details. All he knew - all he cared to know - was that "the speaker's office asked." Coughlin wasn't just willing, he was "honored" to do the Speaker's bidding. After all, he was just a second term rep, and the Speaker was noticing him! Goosebumps. Jazz hands.
This gets us back to the whole 'three Speakers in a row' thing. The Beacon Hill Ds would have voters believe that each top dog indictment arose from individual failings, errors in judgement by isolated human beings. Aberrations. This couldn't be further from the truth.
In a House chamber where one party vastly outnumbers the other, the Speaker is not just the highest ranking member. He is the embodiment of the aforementioned corrupting aggregation of power. Such is his authority - over legislation, over committee assignments, over office space - that the Speaker is able to point at individual members like Coughlin and say "jump," and not only will the members jump without question, they'll feel honored to do so.
The indictment of a Speaker of the House is meaningful well beyond the individual level; it is an indictment of the entire power structure that elevated him to the top. And now it has happened in Massachusetts three times in a row. Ri-di-cu-lous.
Senator Brown and the rest of the Commonwealth's Republicans should hammer this point again and again. If the Democrats want to keep dodging it, so much the better for next November.
Monday, May 16, 2011
|Backdrop to Friday's event|
As Walker notes in his column, "[a]fter serving four governors," Secretary Kelley "was bumped from the job by Governor Deval Patrick and left without a public ceremony." And that was okay by Secretary Kelley. It isn't too surprising to learn that a man who has been through what Kelley has been through wasn't much perturbed by a petty political sleight. Others, however, did not like the notion of a man like Kelley ending more than four decades of service without proper acknowledgement.
After a year plus of non-stop campaigning and the emotional wallop of defeat, it would have been entirely understandable and appropriate for Charlie Baker (and his family) to take an extended break from public life. Instead, recognizing that a genuine American hero was about to pass, unheralded, into the sunset, Charlie made a couple of calls - first to Kelley himself, and then to some of the people who helped him raise huge dollars for the race last year. 'Hey,' he must have said, 'do you want to roll right into another massive fundraising effort, this time without any compensation except for the pleasure of honoring a great man and serving a really, really good cause?'
The results of that effort were plain to see Friday evening, and will be felt by dozens of families who otherwise would have to add further struggle to unfathomable heartache in order to afford college tuition. It's an awesome thing.
Charlie and the good people who helped him (Melissa Lucas, Mindy D'Arbeloff, Sean Powers, Dean Serpa, Lee Bobo, Lauren Peters, Ashley Stolba, Matt Kilfoyle - sorry to anyone(s) I've missed) did not seek any credit for their hard work. If he reads this, Charlie might even be annoyed with me for writing it. But people who did not have the privilege of attending the event Friday night ought to know what he and his team did, and why.
It is somewhat ironic to think that if Charlie had been elected Governor, Friday's event would not have happened - first because Secretary Kelley would still be serving, and second because Charlie would be putting his apparently inexhaustible energies into governing. The MSLF would today have $300,000 fewer dollars with which to help the families of the Commonwealth's fallen. Life is fill of unexpected silver linings.
In any event, for those of us who spent so much time and energy in the ultimately failed effort to elect Charlie Baker Governor, Friday evening reinforced again exactly why we remain so proud of having made the effort.
At the time, Governor Patrick - whose strong support of Lantigua in 2009 was essential to Willy's victory in a very tight race - was asked if he still "has confidence in the Mayor." The Governor's response was typically Devalian: "I know what I’ve read, but we’ve been contacted by no authorities."
A week later, a vocal critic of the Mayor was viciously beaten by a brawny Lantigua associate, who called his victim a "snitch."
Now it turns out the Mayor and his live-in girlfriend are the targets of yet another criminal investigation, this one into allegations that the pair - whose combined income is around $145,000 - have been illegally collecting federal home heating aid intended for the city's many poverty-stricken residents.
All of this has the Commonwealth's liberal intelligentsia understandably in a dither. The Globe's Yvonne Abraham was first, lamenting Lantigua's rapid fall from grace in a mournful column centered on the Mayor's bizarre claim that someone had tried to run him down on the street, and that his own police department had "framed him" before accusing him, basically, of filing a false police report.
Today is is Abraham's Globe colleague Adrian Walker's turn. Under the title, "Heating up more trouble," Walker recaps Lantigua's troubles,
Lantigua’s utterly disastrous administration has been terrible news for one of the state’s most-troubled cities, right from the start. A charismatic state representative when he was elected mayor, he initially refused to resign from his legislative seat, claiming he could serve in both offices at once. He was eventually forced to give up his spot on Beacon Hill.Walker then turns to the current heating assistance scandlet, noting that it relates back to a controversy over the Mayor's true home address that first arose during his 2008 run for the state legislature,
Then came the probes: Both the FBI and the Essex district attorney’s office have been looking into his affairs. They are especially interested in his relationships with companies that are regulated by the city, like towing companies and nightclubs.
Then, of course, there was the recent story about a Lantigua critic, Antonio Arevalo, who was beaten by a bouncer who referred to him as a snitch. The bouncer admitted to beating Arevalo but denied it was prompted by Lantigua. Lantigua has also been accused of filing a false police report, stemming from his claim that a car tried to run him over.
But back to the issue of Lantigua’s address. When he ran for the Legislature in 2008, opponent Marcos Devers insisted that Lantigua no longer lived in the district. Lantigua ducked questions about where he lived for years, before revealing last month that he lived with [his girlfriend] Ortega. There’s something deeply unsettling with a mayor whose address is in question.
The ill-gotten fuel assistance came through a program managed by the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, an antipoverty agency that has at times feuded with Lantigua. State officials immediately began taking steps to recoup the money, which Ortega has been receiving for a year or two.
As the state's first Latino Mayor, Lantigua was supposed to represent hope for the future, not be a throwback embodiment of old school urban corruption. So it is understandable that some of the Globe's leftmost columnists are feeling let down. One can practically see Walker's eyes water as he typed,
Part of the shame of all of this is that Lantigua — the state’s first Latino mayor — possesses the raw political skills and charisma to begin to turn Lawrence around. While a tad vainglorious, he is a person who could be an inspiration to a city that needs it.Right. Except for the corruption, the Sopranos plot-lines and the whiff of literal insanity he gives off, Lantigua would be a great Mayor. Just what Lawrence needs. This is what cult of personality politics gets us.
For all their lamentation, neither Walker nor Abraham saw fit to note that Mayor Willy did not become the disaster that he is all on his own. He had a lot of help from Governor Patrick.
So far as I have seen, in fact, no member of the press has bothered to ask the obvious follow-up to the question the Governor dodged three weeks ago. After the imaginary run-down, the "snitch" beating and now this federal heating assistance thing, does Governor Patrick still have confidence in the Mayor he to helped put in office?
Hello? Is this thing on?
Friday, May 13, 2011
Why Kill Bin Laden? – Rich Lowry [National Review Online]
We captured what the Obama administration says is an intelligence trove that would fill “a small college library” at Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound.
But we may have destroyed the most important intelligence source of all, namely bin Laden himself. If the cache of captured information is as potentially important to dismantling al-Qaeda as advertised, certainly a living and breathing — and singing — bin Laden would have been the greatest intelligence threat imaginable to his own murderous organization… Read the Rest
On Medicare, reverting to a well-worn strategy – Editors [Washington Post]
[Editorial Note: No, not the Washington Times. The Washington Post’s editors published this. Seriously.]
DEMOCRATS MAY BE feeling smug about their campaign against the House Republican budget plan, and as a matter of politics, they’re no doubt right. If the goal is to deal with the long-term fiscal challenge, though, the Democrats’ political success is apt only to prolong the gridlock and make the eventual solution that much more painful.
Democrats have effectively scared seniors as a political tactic for many years. Republicans turned the tables in 2010, using the Medicare scare tactic against Democrats. Now Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has given President Obama and his party a chance to reclaim the low ground, and they haven’t hesitated… Read the Rest
The Missing Fifth – David Brooks [New York Times]
In 1910, Henry Van Dyke wrote a book called “The Spirit of America,” which opened with this sentence: “The Spirit of America is best known in Europe by one of its qualities — energy.”
This has always been true. Americans have always been known for their manic dynamism. Some condemned this ambition as a grubby scrambling after money. Others saw it in loftier terms. But energy has always been the country’s saving feature… Read the Rest
.Hispanics Not Fooled By Obama’s Immigration Feint – Jonathan S. Tobin [Commentary]
President Obama’s trip to Texas, where he will give a speech on the need for immigration reform in El Paso, has been crafted for maximum political advantage. The point is to remind Hispanics that the president supports their goal of providing a path to legality and citizenship for illegals and Republicans do not. If the president proposes another go at immigration reform and is turned down by Congress, part of which is now controlled by the GOP, that should ensure maximum loyalty for Obama’s reelection bid on the part of most Hispanics.
In theory, it ought to work. Many in the Republican caucus in Congress are hostile to anything that smacks of “amnesty” for illegals and most Hispanics deeply resent GOP-backed legislation aimed at enforcing existing immigration laws in places like Arizona… Read the Rest
Wet Work – Cliff May [National Review Online]
Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes. His deputy, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, sleeps between clean sheets, eats three square meals a day, and receives the same quality of medical care as U.S. military officers. Yet for many people, not least the president of the United States, what happened to OBL — shot dead by Navy SEALs — represents justice and victory, while what happened to KSM — waterboarded under conditions designed to ensure no lasting physical harm — was unjust and outrageous. Is there any logic to this?… Read the Rest
Welcome to the Newt Show – John Podhoretz [New York Post]
Newt Gingrich is a very intelligent man, if he says so himself.
I first encountered the newly de clared presidential candidate in 1985, as he was breaking out as an insurgent Republican in the House.
What I remember most about the interview in his office (which, he proudly noted, had no desk -- with the unfortunate consequence that there were ungodly piles of paper all over the floor and coffee table) was that Gingrich kept telling me he was an educator, a historian, that he had a PhD… Read the Rest
The Tragedy of Sarah Palin – Joshua Green [The Atlantic]
It’s hard to escape Sarah Palin. On Facebook and Twitter, cable news and reality television, she is a constant object of dispute, the target or instigator of some distressingly large proportion of the political discourse. If she runs for president—well, brace yourself! But there is one place where a kind of collective resolve has been able to push her aside, make her a less suffocating presence than almost everywhere else: Alaska.
During a week spent traveling there recently, I learned that Palin occupies a place in the minds of most Alaskans roughly like that of an ex-spouse from a stormy marriage: she’s a distant bad memory, and questions about her seem vaguely unwelcome. Visitors to Juneau, the capital and a haven for cruise-ship tourism, are hard-pressed to find signs of the state’s most famous citizen—no “Mama Grizzly” memorabilia or T-shirts bearing her spunky slogans. Although the town was buzzing with politics because the legislature was in session, talk of Palin mainly revolved around a rumored Democratic poll showing her to be less popular in Alaska right now than Barack Obama. The only tangible evidence I saw was her official portrait in the capitol and a small sign in the window of a seedy-looking gift shop advertising “Sarah Palin toilet paper.” Alaska has moved on… Read the Rest
Remembering the First Blow Against al Qaeda – Karl Rove [Wall Street Journal]
It was a fitting end: The brutal terrorist who aspired to create an Islamic caliphate that stretched from the Straits of Malacca to Gibraltar was found hiding in a walled compound, isolated and reduced to communicating in fitful spurts by courier. It was the identity of a courier—patiently traced by intelligence professionals for four years—that eventually brought Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden's doorstep.
The founder of al Qaeda received what he had been promised. "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done," President George W. Bush said on Sept. 20, 2001. A decade later his successor, having made a wise and politically gutsy decision to put the U.S. military on the ground to confront bin Laden face to face, was able to announce that justice had indeed been done… Read the Rest
Boeing and the Union Berlin Wall – Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore [Wall Street Journal]
The Obama administration's National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint last month against Boeing to block production of the company's 787 Dreamliner at a new assembly plant in South Carolina—a "right to-work" state with a law against compulsory union membership. If the NLRB has its way, Dreamliner assembly will return to Washington, a union-shop state, along with more than 1,000 jobs.
The NLRB's action, which Boeing will challenge at a hearing next month, is a big deal. It's the first time a federal agency has intervened to tell an American company where it can and cannot operate a plant within the U.S. It lays the foundation of a regulatory wall with one express purpose: to prevent the direct competition of right-to-work states with union-shop states. Why, as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley recently asked on these pages, should Washington have any more right to these jobs than South Carolina?… Read the Rest
Abandoned on the Border – Larry Dever [Washington Post]
THIS week President Obama toured the Southwest, in part to promote what he claims are federal advances in border security. But he has said little about the lawsuits by his administration and the American Civil Liberties Union against Arizona’s immigration law, passed just over a year ago but still unenforced, thanks to a federal injunction.
The law requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for a crime if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is in this country illegally; it also allows them to cite illegal immigrants for failing to carry documents required under federal law, whether they’ve committed a crime or not… Read the Rest
… and finally, the Funniest Thing I Saw This Week (cold comfort edition):