Saturday, February 28, 2009

Housing Mess: Mortgages, Homeowners, and Renters -- Plus a Rant and Financial Apocalypse Soundtrack!

There's a great little bit in the hilarious 2005 movie "Thank You For Smoking" where the Aaron Eckhart and Katie Holmes characters talk about how people do all kinds of stupid, possibly evil things "for the mortgage" -- as in, to pay it. A third character then jokes that the world might be a better place if more people rented. It's a fun bit from a fun movie, but these days the whole idea cuts a whole lot more deeply. I'm a renter, see!

We've all been talking a lot about the mortgage mess. Plenty of people are unhappy about it. Responsible homeowners -- who comprise the vast majority of mortgage holders -- are perfectly justifiable in being angry at the entire government plan to help out the delinquent ones. The Santelli rant and its sequel did touch a raw nerve. Moral hazard is everywhere. A few nights ago, comedian Jay Leno had a great bit in his monologue in which he talked about a friend of his who lived within his means and bought a house he could afford . . . "What an IDIOT!" Leno said, to great applause and laughter. Oh, it was funny, but it was the kind of funny that covers up the wince of truth.

Here's a bit more acerbic humor, courtesy of the Tennessee GOP, which has just made this bumper sticker:

Maybe they should also print a version that says "Honk if I'm paying your mortgage." (Great use of the Obama "O" too.) Anyway, the basic sentiment is the same: some people are ending up paying other people's mortgages.

OK, so responsible homeowners are irate, as they should be. 92% of homeowners are paying mortgages on time, versus 8% that are the rotten apple in the barrel. But hey! Not everybody in this country has a mortgage. LOTS of people -- myself included, with most of my friends -- are renters. What about these people? As taxpaying renters, we're going to be paying for delinquent homeowners' mortgages too. HONESTLY, THAT JUST TICKS ME OFF.

There's all this pious-sounding drivel coming from the government about "keeping people in their homes." Oh, yeah, you mean the homes they shouldn't have gotten in the first place? The homes they couldn't afford or the homes they foolishly bought on a financial gamble? (Is it time to flip off all the house-flippers?) Now some people can't pay their obligations, but we've all got to do something to keep them in those now-toxic houses? You can call me cold and cruel and heartless and mean and everything else, but I'm ranting. And I don't think this is a partisan political rant, either.

Here's a slice of reality from my universe. I rent an apartment. If I fall behind in my payments, guess what? I GET EVICTED FROM MY APARTMENT. Pure and simple, short and sweet, no whining, no arguing, no crying to the government, no sob stories about whatever -- I GET KICKED OUT OF MY PLACE IF I DON'T PAY THE RENT. End of story. Dude, who's going to help me pay my rent if I'm supposed to help people pay their stinky mortgages? (And don't tell me that the coming $13-a-week "tax cut" is going to do diddly squat for renting on the East Coast. It's a drop in the bucket.) So for all the wailing from those who have been reckless and now want rescue: CRY ME A RIVER. And cry another for all the other renters who are losing jobs, having their hours cut at work, seeing the price of everything (including rents) skyrocket, and fighting the good fight on their own.

And do you think there's no pain for people renting? no pain for people paying their mortgages on time? We're ALL economically pressed. Everybody I know is feeling the pinch. Nobody's helping us -- I pay my rent on my miserable nerd-income, and I do it all by myself every month with no assistance from anybody (the American Dream! and I actually wasn't being sarcastic). All my buddies and I are counting pennies and severely cutting back on expenses. But we're making our payments on time (and also paying our bills and maybe even managing to stash away a penny here and there). I feel as though all this doesn't even MATTER. It's that moral hazard again. Besides, now things are so bad everywhere that I might never have the chance to buy a house even if I wanted one later on (which I kind of don't) because houses will be artificially overpriced. Hello?

Don't even get me started on the loopy idea that everybody should own a house. This is a patently ludicrous idea, and for a really long time it was bolstered by the equally ludicrous idea that house values would always increase because they'd been increasing for a long time. NO, not everybody should own a house, and that's that.

Anyway, check out Megan McArdle's recent piece on the homeowner/renter divide.

Also, there's a new website called AngryRenter.Com -- no bonus points for guessing its nature and purpose. Here's their video:

End of rant. If you're in a peppery mood, you can check out Atlanta Tax Protest's own rant: "I got your mortgage support right here!"

I'm going to go listen to Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head" now as the new and 22nd track to the ongoing Financial Apocalypse Soundtrack. Better than actually banging my head against the wall! "I'm not a loser and I ain't no weeper"! Just an angry, self-reliant taxpaying renter.

Nerd Notes: One Student's Perspective on Politics in the British GCSE Exams

Interesting indeed. Apparently there are still glimmers of hope left, after all! The edu-crats haven't completely succeeded.

Blurb from the 16-year-old's letter (my emphasis in boldface):
As a current GCSE student, I can identify with this “politicisation”. It seems to me as if the GCSE curricula, above all for science, no longer focus on understanding the subject. The core biology science curriculum now calls for very little knowledge of the biology that we had studied in the years preceding GCSE, but seems to be a governmental attempt to raise awareness of current social issues. For example, section A of the core biology exam concentrates on contraception, drugs, alcohol, smoking, obesity, anorexia and the MMR vaccines, whilst section B tackles broader issues such as global warming, GM crops, creationism vs Darwinism and alternative energy sources.

. . . However, one of the key problems with sitting exams about topics of this nature is that the exam board are required to write mark schemes clearly detailing the answers that they want within a rigid framework. This leaves no room for debate on the part of the student, meaning that instead of producing insightful, perceptive and interesting answers, pupils tend towards putting down what they think the mark scheme is most likely to have as an acceptable response. For example, in a question about embryo screening, the advantage of screening embryos in accordance to the mark scheme was to reduce health care costs for the parents. I found it a little disconcerting, if not positively concerning, to discover that my answer that it would improve the quality of life for the child, did not feature. Is it right to present these issues to pupils in such a way that they are blinkered into one channel of thought? Is it not more productive to allow pupils to debate current affairs in such a way that they are able to access all viewpoints and form their own opinions? Arguably, the government is now more concerned with indoctrination than discussion.

Satire Alert: "Dow Soars on NYU White House Takeover"

Iowahawk combines two recent news items (the silly NYU "revolution" and the current economic mess) into a glorious fresh satire.


NEW YORK - Major stock indexes posted broad gains on heavy trading early Tuesday on news that a rogue group of student protesters from New York University had taken over the White House and barricaded themselves in the Oval Office. The Dow posted a 1100 point (17%) gain in the first hour of trading, wiping out nearly all of its loss since January 20 and almost 35% of losses since November 4.

"Finally, we're seeing encouraging signs of sanity in Washington," said UBS market analyst Jane Cohen.

The market rally lifted issues across the board, with 87% of stocks showing gains. Market leaders included Apple ($116.05, +32%), Amalgamated Pachouli & Incense ($23.15, +53%), Keffiya Mart ($17.66, +49%), and ($41.10, +72%). The short list of losers included student loan guarantor Sallie Mae ($1.78, -78%) and General Deodorant ($0.83, -96%).

Go read the whole thing.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nerd News + Book Review: Alan Michael Collinge's "The Student Loan Scam"

Are student loans for college costs creating, as author Collinge says, "the most oppressive debt in US history"? The Wall Street Journal has a book review. Collinge seems a bit overblown, even though school debt is indeed a big problem for many people.

I recently posted about the toxic debt that many students accrue.

College tuition is, for the most part, completely out of control -- and government meddling's only making it worse.

*MM looks at her undergrad debt. It's not TOO bad, but MM cringes anyway. It's still D-E-B-T.*

Best Visual Commentary on Obama's Address to Congress

I didn't really bother commenting on the address other than suggest a drinking game, but this little Venn diagram is just pretty darn funny:

On a related note, the Gawker (hardly a clubhouse for evil conservatives/libertarians appalled at government) takes a swipe at Nancy Pelosi during the address.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Disney's "Robin Hood," Global Edition -- Or, "Oo De Lally" in 13 Languages

Here is some delightful cartoon therapy!

Nerd Notes: a Princeton Lecture on the Origins of Our Financial Mess

A free Princeton lecture for you, gentle reader. Enjoy. It's about an hour long and, it's available at AcademicEarth (a nerd's paradise -- an excellent site for lectures on all kinds of topics). This lecture by economist Alan Blinder was given in November 2008.

The 10th Amendment, State Sovereignty, and Stimulus Skeptics

Something seems to be going on. A few days ago, I posted about Governor Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana rejecting some federal stimulus money. Now here is a headline about Governor Phil Bredesen (D) of Tennessee considering a rejection of some stimulus funds also. Both governors cite concerns that taking money now will end up creating consequences down the road. Breseden is concerned that taking the money will mean having to raise taxes on businesses in the future. He doesn't seem to think that raising taxes on businesses is such a good idea in a time of economic trouble. Hmmm!!!! Ya think?

Anyway, I had wondered out loud in the other post: What DOES happen when states actually refuse federal stimulus money? Will the big government-cheerleaders in DC flip out and try to insist? There's such a thing as "states' rights," after all.

Now here is a report that 11 states have passed resolutions asserting their 10th Amendment rights. There are various ways to interpret this, but the very fact that the states felt the need to re-assert their rights is interesting. Do they -- like your humble blog hostess -- think that the federal government is getting too big, that its ongoing expansion (and power creep) could become intolerable?

The 11 states are both red and blue: Arizona, California, Georgia, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. On top of this, you can add the skeptical governors of Louisiana (a Republican) and Tennessee (a Democrat). Add the handful of other governors who have expressed reservations about stimulus money. (UPDATE: Tennessee has a 10th Amendment resolution on the way, dated February 18.)

Somehow I don't think this is quite what Obama had in mind in all his starry-eyed HOPECHANGE speeches about unity and bipartisanship and such.

Basically, all this seems to be, fundamentally, declaring that states are perfectly within their rights to reject stimulus money if they so choose. "Thanks but no thanks." Frankly, part of me thinks this is a thrilling prospect because the stimulus plan was horrible to begin with, and if states have more sense than DC and therefore refuse to take part, then fine -- let the states try to handle themselves.

Meanwhile, the state/federal divide is starting to look alive in a way that it hasn't been in my memory. It's oddly ironic, really. Obama's been so busy trying to wrap himself in the memory of Abraham Lincoln -- and hey! the whole state/federal issue was rather relevant back then too. At least this time around, it's people talking and throwing Chicago Tea Parties and passing resolutions in state legislatures. It's all very polite, really.

Still, is it time for everybody to go re-read the 10th Amendment? Maybe! Oh, what exactly is the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution? Here you go for your convenience:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
At its heart is that novel idea of -- *gasp* can it be? -- limiting the central government.

Wow, I guess that stimulus bill is really stimulating after all -- as in, it's stimulating practically everything EXCEPT the economy.

UPDATE: The Indiana general assembly has apparently introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 0037, which in part says this:
"A CONCURRENT RESOLUTION urging the honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States, in Congress assembled, and the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives of each State's legislature of the United States of America to cease and desist, effective immediately, any and all mandates that are beyond the scope of their constitutionally delegated power."
Is this for real? Seems so. I traced it all the way back through the general assembly website. What's going on in Indiana? The resolution then goes on to quote Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton. Niiiiiice.

China: the Tea Bubble Bursts

Here's something interesting about China's tea bubble -- not to be confused with bubble tea (which is Taiwanese in origin).

As for me, all my tea is from Taiwan, thanks. Taiwanese tea is awesome -- and you should expect it from a country that's actually shaped like a tea leaf. *wink* Yes, I'm a blatant chauvinist, and I won't apologize. For the record, sometimes I get a bit from Japan or India. I never get tea from China. Why? You never know what's in it -- like you never know what's in any other food product from China, that's why.

Nerd Fun + Life Imitates Satire: "Pride and Predator" the Movie

Oh, yes, gentle reader! According to Variety (in a link given to me by -- who else -- the Cinema-Mad Sibling), a studio has committed to making movie combining Jane Austen and hellish monster aliens from outer space.

Guess what they're calling this flick. "Pride and Predator." No, really! Here's a blurb:

Will Clark is set to direct "Pride and Predator," which veers from the traditional period costume drama when an alien crash lands and begins to butcher the mannered protags, who suddenly have more than marriage and inheritance to worry about.

Shooting will begin in London later this year. John exec produces, and his Rocket partners Steve Hamilton Shaw and David Furnish are producing.

. . . "It felt like a fresh and funny way to blow apart the done-to-death Jane Austen genre by literally dropping this alien into the middle of a costume drama, where he stalks and slashes to horrific effect," Furnish said.

Weren't we just laughing about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies not too long ago?

PS: If you want some Austen fun but with no zombies or monsters, try Pride and Prejudice and Facebook.

Cartoon Commentary: Dilbert on Bailouts

Hilarious -- and hilariously true (and shamelessly filched from the Insta-Prof). Click to enlarge.

Nerd Notes: Clever Boys and Clever Girls

Is the song title true in real life? Is it really the case that "Clever Girls Like Clever Boys Much More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls"? Hmmm.

Of course, things do depend greatly on the individual clever girl and clever boy in question. I hate generalizations.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Satire Alert: the Gettysburg Address + Obama's Address to Congress


Oooh, oooh, the broadcast is starting. Hey, here's a drinking game: every time Obama says "crisis," take a swig! He's already said it twice and he JUST GOT STARTED.

UPDATE: You can try a non-alcoholic game. Or not. Check out Steven "Vodkapundit" Green's unabashed drunkblogging of the speech. His drinking game rules: "Drink on 'hope,' or 'change,' or 'invest,' or 'stimulus.' If President Obama uses the word 'malaise,' then finish your drink, pour another, and call your broker. Tell him to put everything into ammo and bottled water."

The Cinema-Mad Sibling Recommends: "Hang In There, Jack!"

From the Sib comes this link to Jack in the Box's latest humorous ad campaign: "Hang In There, Jack!" Scroll all the way to the bottom to see the start of the story.

It's all funny and all, but my favorite Jack ad campaign is still the Meaty Cheesy Boys boy-band parody. Oh, the memories.

I miss Jack in the Box. That fast food chain just isn't up here on the East Coast. But oh, during college -- how the Sib and I and our friends would shamelessly indulge at all hours of day or -- usually -- night. (Hey, Sib -- Jumbo Jacks and Ultimate Cheeseburgers at 2 AM during exam week!)

At one point, the Jack obsession took a funny twist with the Sib getting antenna balls for his car . . . antenna balls that were painted to look just like Jack's head. Alas, this created its own problem. I can still hear in my memory the indignant tones of the Sibling when he made a nasty discovery: "PEOPLE KEEP STEALING MY JACK HEADS!" He must have bought half a dozen antenna balls before he finally gave up.

Credit Crisis -- Visually Explained

Nerd Notes: Weird School Mascots

Hmmmm, interesting!

Nerd News: the Great NYU Cafeteria Revolution is Over; the Cafeteria is Liberated!

I thought this entire episode was just uproariously funny. There's nothing quite like a bunch of student poseurs making fools of themselves in public. Lame wannabe student radicals are beyond parody.

In a nutshell: some students at NYU barricaded themselves into a school cafeteria and started issuing demands for everything from scholarships for Palestinians to the right to use the bathroom. No, really! I can't make this stuff up if I tried.

How silly was this entire enterprise in delusional, whining self-involvement? Check out this New York Post piece, whose writer can't contain her contempt.

Anyway, this little college student conniption fit is now officially over. I like this headline by the New York Daily News: "'Revolution' at New York University ends with cafeteria liberated, arrests of students." FREE THE CAFETERIA! Check out this bit of it:

Many of the other NYU students who watched the revolt fizzle said they still don't know what the rebels wanted.

"They're requesting so many different things," said Ryan Jacobson, a 19-year-old freshman. "None of it actually seems doable."

Senior NYU Vice President Lynne Brown said that whatever it was, the protesters didn't get it.

NYU did not "bend" to student demands, and the malcontents were banned from all NYU buildings until their expulsion hearings, Brown said.

Excuse me while I laugh. MWAHAHAHAHA! I should also give some kudos to young Mr. Jacobson for displaying even a hint of common sense.

Greg Gutfeld links to a video of the end of the "protest," and he has this to say: "This footage should be mandatory viewing for every young person in America. If the person watching sympathizes with these students, then you know she or she is beyond hope."

Go take a look if you like! (Language warning.) Good grief, what a bunch of idiots.

UPDATE: Gawker's coverage is darn entertaining, though some of it comes with a language warning. Try the following:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fun Video of the Day: Movie Spoilers, Oscar Edition

Hilarious!  And a welcome break from all the economic news too.

Santelli, the Scrappy Sequel: It's a Smackdown

First there was the original Santelli rant.  Then there was the response by White House press secretary Gibbs, a response I thought was sneering, condescending, and altogether unworthy.  Was it because Santelli had the nerve to talk back?  Maybe the White House had gotten so used to universal media adulation that any discordant peep is most unwelcome.

Of course, if Gibbs or anybody else expected a pugnacious fellow like Santelli to let Gibbs get away with it, they were sadly mistaken. 

Rick "Chicago Tea Party" Santelli's lost none of his verve, and indeed he seems more peppery than ever.  His response is too good and amusing to pass up:

OK, after the fireworks and theatrics are over, everybody calm down and try to work the problem.  

Jindal on Fiscal Policy and Stimulus Bill

Jindalmania!  Well, I already had a touch of it to begin with.

Demotivator Commentary: Bailouts -- Hell on Wheels!

I'm sorry.  I just can't resist.  The increasing groundswell of frustration over government bailouts of all types (such as bad mortgages, as per the now-famous Santelli rant)  has inspired my wicked sense of humor.

Also, did you need a refresher on what "moral hazard" is?  See here, but basically it means "encouraging bad behavior in the future." 

This demotivator commentary is dedicated to everybody in DC from Obama on down who has a hand in Bailout-a-palooza.  And to my Sibling, who loves him some cheesy 1980s TV series about cars.  And more cars.

Just them good ol' boys . . . Wouldn't change if they could.
(Ain't THAT just the truth?)

Mad Minerva's Monday Monetary Madness Musical!

Like that alliteration, DID YOU?  Yes, I'd been waiting all weekend long so I could say that.  Now, without any further ado, I give you a vidiotic montage of songs for our daily dose of GLOBALFINANCIALAPOCALYPSEWE'REALLGOINGTODIEOMG.

First of all, an oldie but goodie and more appropriate than ever, "Gimme Some Money" by Spinal Tap:

Next, here is a fine contribution by a gentle reader, who wrote and sang this with some friends of his:

Follow that with a rollicking bit of folksy fun known as "I'm Changing My Name to Fannie Mae":

Finally, here is an amusing hip-hoppy, faux rap tune entitled "I Want My Bailout Money." It's a catchy tune:

Want more?  Go get some TARP! 

Got something to contribute?  Let me known in Comments below!

Nerd Journal: Tired and Grumpy on a Snowy Monday Morning

It ain't pretty, folks.

Film Culture Commentary: If Geeks Ran the Oscars

Now these would be awards worth watching!  The Oscars as they actually exist are just plain BORING.

No, gentle reader, in addition to traditional award categories like "Best Actor" and "Best Director," the Geek Oscars would have fabulous new categories like "Best Scene of Crap Getting Blown Up" and "Best Attempt to Earn the Fanboys' Wrath."  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Film Culture Commentary: Oscars Shmoscars -- Watch This Funny Vader Video Instead

I love movies.  I absolutely do.  You know it too.  But however much I love movies, I hate the Oscars.  Still, a morbid curiosity prompted me to flip channels to the Oscar broadcast -- where my eyeballs exploded almost immediately when they had the misfortune of seeing Hugh Jackman in the stupidest opening song-and-dance number imaginable, accompanied by dancers in silvery leotards.  MY EYES!  MY EYES!  I clicked away as fast as I could.  In total, I spent maybe about ten seconds on the Oscar show, and it was ten seconds FAR TOO MANY.

Plenty of people have slammed the Oscars, so I won't bother.  I will, though, point you to Nikki Finke's scathing preview and her even more scathing live-blogging of the bloated, self-important, celebrity-filled, egotistical-pietistic debacle.

No, gentle reader, I have something much better for you on Oscar night.  I give you this amusing video instead.  Enjoy poking fun at this year's Oscar nominees!

Adorable Animal Art

Take a look at these darling statues!  

Come on, who doesn't love the "Make Way For Ducklings" sculpture group?  In fact, who doesn't love Make Way For Ducklings?

The HopeChange Chronicles: Clinton to Beijing: "Hey, Human Rights Aren't A Priority."

Secretary of State Clinton's wrapping up her Asian tour.  So!  In the new era of HopeChange, did anything interesting happen?

Well, sure: she told Beijing that human rights in China aren't a priority.  Human rights groups such as Amnesty International are aghast, as they should be.  Here's a quotation:
"The United States is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human rights issues," said T. Kumar, the organization's advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific. "But by commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future U.S. initiatives to protect those rights in China."

The same news piece quotes Clinton herself:
"Now, that doesn't mean that questions of Taiwan, Tibet, human rights, the whole range of challenges that we often engage on with the Chinese, are not part of the agenda. But we pretty much know what they are going to say.

We have to continue to press them but our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises. We have to have a dialog that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those."

What kind of rubbish is THAT?  "We pretty much know what they are going to say"???   We know what China's going to say about human rights and freedom issues, so we therefore don't push them?  So human rights" can't interfere" with other issues?  Hey, who cares about actual political prisoners rotting in Chinese prisons, Beijing's iron fist in Tibet, and its saber rattling toward democratic Taiwan when we have to worry about global warming?  Priorities, man.



UPDATE 1:  More here.  (Xie-xie, La Parisienne!)

No, Thanks: Louisiana Governor Jindal Refuses (Some) Stimulus Money

A risky move?  Maybe.  But I kinda LIKE it.  After the recent and endless drumbeat of ever-increasing spending from DC, I'm exhausted -- and relieved to hear even one person say that this orgy of spending isn't such a great idea (plus it has strings attached, plus it could spawn all kinds of unintended consequences).

Then again, I've found Jindal a fascinating figure for a long time.  (Watch for him to give the Republican response to Obama's big Congress speech on Tuesday.)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Friday that he will decline stimulus money specifically targeted at expanding state unemployment insurance coverage, becoming the first state executive to officially refuse any part of the federal government’s payout to states.

In a statement, Jindal . . . expressed concern that expanding unemployment insurance coverage would lead to increased unemployment insurance taxes later on.

“The federal money in this bill will run out in less than three years for this benefit and our businesses would then be stuck paying the bill,” Jindal said. “We must be careful and thoughtful as we examine all the strings attached to the funding in this package. We cannot grow government in an unsustainable way.”

Jindal is one of a small group of Republican governors, which includes South Carolina’s Mark Sanford and Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, who have said they might refuse some or all of the stimulus money targeted to their states.

Well, here's an interesting idea.  What DOES happen when states actually refuse federal stimulus money?  Will the "big government-cheerleaders in DC flip out and try to insist?  There's such a thing as "states' rights," after all.

Anyway, Jindal has a point about the future.

PS:  Just you wait and see.  Pretty soon, Jindal's opponents will be screaming something totally reductive and misleading like "Jindal hates poor people."  It's only a matter of time.  Or, even more predictable, someone will play the race card against him. 

UPDATE:  More here when Jindal went on "Meet the Press."  Here's a bit of the transcript:
MR. GREGORY:  You have a budget shortfall in Louisiana of $2 billion.  Now, under the stimulus plan by the Obama administration, you would get a cut of that.  You'd get $4 billion in federal stimulus.  But this is what you said on Monday about the stimulus plan:  "We're going to have to review each program, each new dollar to make sure that we understand what are the conditions, what are the strings and see whether it's beneficial for Louisiana to use those dollars." And just Friday you made good on that pledge not necessarily to take the federal money, saying that you would reject almost $100 million in federal unemployment assistance.  Why would you turn this money down?

GOV. JINDAL:  Well, let's be clear.  The best thing that Washington could do to help Louisiana and all of our states with our budgets is to get this economy moving again.  I think we just have a fundamental disagreement here. I don't think the best way to do that is for the government to tax and borrow more money.  I think the best thing they could've done, for example, was to cut taxes on things like capital gains, the lower tax brackets, to get the private sector spending again.  I think they had a provision the net operating losses to help small businesses.  Unfortunately, they slimmed that down.  They could've done some things on a real energy policy.  If all they do is borrow federal money and give it to the states, all we're really doing is delaying the inevitable.  We're eventually going to have to make these hard choices anyway.  In Louisiana we made midyear reductions, $241 million.  We're going to have to do more with less.  What would be more helpful from Washington is less unnecessary spending.  How does $300 million for federal cars, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, how is spending like that going to help our economy?  How's that stimulus?

Film Culture Commentary: Why Does Hollywood Turn Good Books Into Bad Movies?

This is a debate that could go on forever, but here's a recent look.

Seriously, though, books and movies are two very different media for telling stories, and you can't really transpose one directly into the other.

Of course, sometimes the movie ends up being better than the book that spawned it. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Satire Alert: Norway Returns to Pillage-Based Economy

The satirists at the Onion strike yet again -- and hilariously. So how bad is the economic mess in Europe? Take a look at Norway!

"We will take all the pillage we can; I will make my home out of big-screen TVs."

Financial Apocalypse Soundtrack, Song 21: Triumph

The latest track is inspired by Rick Santelli, increasing taxpayer unhappiness, and the various grass-roots taxpayer protests against the government's utterly monstrous orgy of spending otherwise known as bailouts and stimulus bills.  Plus "savior-based economics," pffffft!

The loyal opposition is finding its voice, as well it should.

I give you . . . "Fight the Good Fight" by Triumph. 

CNBC's Rick Santelli and Taxpayer Rage: "...see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages"

Check out CNBC's Rick Santelli's passionately indignant rant from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.  Watch the whole thing; it has a real sting at the end.  Here is the link to the video.

A couple quotations:

"The government is promoting bad behavior!"

"How about we ALL stop paying our mortgages?"

It's outrage over the idea of having to pay your neighbor's mortgage, especially if the neighbor's been a fool to get that mortgage in the first place.  (Among other things.)  Preach it, Rick.

I ought to thank Santelli for ranting so I don't have to.

UPDATE 1:  Check out this angry piece in the Denver Post too (via Dr. Helen):  

"So why are we rewarding failure and abolishing consequences? . . . The more irresponsibly you behave, the more the government works for you."  

Plus this:
Obama has told us the American dream must be saved. So far, his remedy entails government rewarding bad behavior, encouraging dependency, subsidizing failure and penalizing success and prosperity.

UPDATE 2: Santelli interviewed about his outburst.  Blurb: 
And I’m not saying we should forget people who need help. But at the end of the day, Americans are strong and they’re charitable. I think what they have a problem with is that it’s force-fed via the government.

UPDATE 3:  More here.  Check out the reader email quoted in the middle of the story.   Santelli, I dare say, did not so much create a raw nerve as much as he touched one that was already festering.

UPDATE 4:  How do we know that Santelli's hit a sensitive target?  The (increasingly catty and thin-skinned) White House spokesman attacked him by name.  Note to press secretary Gibbs and his puppeteers: What are you people smoking (besides a trillion dollars worth of worthless American greenbacks)?  PLENTY of people have been criticizing the Spend-a-palooza Government Orgy Bill, but you single Santelli out?  You're making him a martyr and a populist hero -- plus by default legitimizing him.  Besides, it's completely stupid for the White House to attack journalists and public people by name.  First it was Rush Limbaugh and now Rick Santelli?  You're making your own side look like a prickly elitist bunch of free-speech hypocrites.  HOPECHANGE!  

Friday Fun Video: the Movie Trailer for "Ping Pong Playa"

From blogfriend and fellow Asian American (and legal eagleBruce Chang comes this hilarious recommendation.  Here's the trailer:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fashion Fun with the Economic Meltdown: the Stock Market T-Shirt

Roller coaster.

Get this as a T-shirt!
(Assuming that you still have any petty cash, that is!
And a free market!)

Movie Preview: "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen"

All this economic/stimulus/government insanity is depressing and maddening. I think we could all use some cheering up. How about a preview of the summer movie season and a gigantic alien robot smackdown of screeching metal and deafening explosions? YEAH! It's the sequel to 2007's "Transformers: the Movie" (my review here). This summer's "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen" opens June 24.

Thanks, Michael Bay! Yes, you're awesome, all right.

Here's the official movie website for the Cinema-Mad Sibling and all the rest of you robot-o-philes.

Recession in Taiwan: the Battered Tech-Based Export Economy

The frozen economy needs CTRL + ALT + DEL.

Tired of stimulus-a-palooza here, I look back at the "Old Country" and see an even worse picture there. The numbers are bad as reported by the Economist. Here are some of them:
Which economy has been hit hardest by the global slump? In its back pages and on its website The Economist tracks 55 countries each week. Based on industrial production, Taiwan has suffered much the biggest shock. Output fell by 32% in the 12 months to December; in the fourth quarter it plunged at an annual rate of 62%.

...Taiwan is one of the world’s most export-dependent economies, making many high-tech gadgets for Western consumers, so it has been battered by the slump in global demand. Exports plunged by a record 44% in the year to January. The slide in exports has been exacerbated by a drying up of trade credit. This partly explains why imports also fell by 57% over the period.

...The island’s electronics industry is enduring its worst-ever slump. Cheng Cheng-mount, a Taipei-based economist with Citibank, points out that Taiwan’s mainstay exports, such as flat-screen monitors and semiconductors, were in oversupply even before the global financial crisis. Now, he estimates, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, is running at around 35% of capacity.

Falling exports have, in turn, squeezed domestic spending. Unemployment rose to a six-year high of 5% in December, and the true picture may be far bleaker. Taiwanese companies tend to wait until after the lunar new year holiday before swinging the axe. Average wages have also fallen by 5% in real terms over the past year. Many companies are ordering employees to take unpaid leave. The volume of retail sales slumped by 11% in the year to December.

Even before the financial crisis, household spending had seen the weakest growth rate among the East Asian tigers.

You know that Taiwan is heavily dependent on import-export, particularly in electronics. You'll remember that the Taiwanese government recently had to bail out computer chip manufacturers.

How bad is the downturn? Backing up the Economist, the Taiwanese government says that this is the worst slump since it started keeping quarterly records in 1961.

Add also a record fall in the Taiwanese GDP; the numbers were released just today. The latest prediction: the Taiwanese economy will shrink by 3% this year. Previous hopes had been for a 2% growth this year. Not gonna happen. And it's time to use the R-word: a recession is defined as 2 consecutive quarters of contraction.

Oh, and one more thing: the Taiwan dollar has hit a five-year low against the US dollar. The exchange is $1 US = $34.62 Taiwan. (This is actually not the most that I've seen. When I was in Taiwan right after the bubble popped, the ratio was something like $1 US = $36 Taiwan.) Then again, the Taiwan dollar could very likely drop some more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

MM in the Kitchen, Stimulus Bill Edition -- The Audacity of Pork!

Well, Obama signed the much-maligned (and much-unread) stimulus bill today.

I'm thinking, MAN, that's a LOT of pork. What to do, what to do? Oh, I know! I give you . . . PORK RECIPES.

Bite me.

Now I often have a DVD playing while I cook. If you're in the mood, try one of this porcine productions:
  • "Babe" (1995) -- That'll do, pig!
  • "Charlotte's Web"(1973 cartoon or 2006 live action)
  • any of the "Shrek" flicks -- look for the Three Little Pigs
  • "The Lion King" (1994) for Pumbaa the warthog.
UPDATE 1: OK, this made me laugh. Some anti-pork protestors roasted a pig in front of the Capitol Denver today. Creative and delicious dissent, I must say!

UPDATE 2: Can I get some government money so I *don't* get pork?

Satire Alert: Stimulus Bill Will Give $160 Billion to Roiling Mass of Snakes

The satirists and parodists of the Onion strike again with this bit of fake radio news:

Well, why the heck not? Every other special interest wants to grab a piece of the pork-tastic stimulus bill passed by our illustrious Congress. In fact, how about you grab a piece for yourself? I want a government handout so I can play Mario Kart Wii all day instead of doing any real work. Besides, engaging in real work only means that I get my paycheck taxed to death. MEH.

Oh, and here's a thought: a huge part of the stimulus bill goes to government agencies, bureaucrats, and such, so maybe the Onion IS right after all and the cash is going straight into the Indiana Jones-like snake pit called Big Government.

Nerd Notes: 2 College Instructors Rant -- Students Unprepared for University

Two instructors deliver some home truths about the states of affairs on campus here and here. The accounting professor of 30 years' experience has some especially harsh things to say. Read the whole thing.

Well, in too many cases, I have to agree. I've run into many very good undergrads, but I've also been shocked and appalled by others. In fact, undergrads who are ready (both mentally and emotionally) for real college-level work have become the exception, not the rule. (Of course, this begs the question of "what is real college-level work" and whether standards are dropping like the stock market there too, but that's another can of worms.)

You'll recall that the flip side to unpreparedness is a weird and insidious demand for therapeutic self-esteem (remember this?).


Monday, February 16, 2009

Nerd Notes: Happy Presidents Day -- Plus the American Presidents in Song!

First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen --
and first in the line of American presidents.

"Washington Crossing the Delaware" (1851)
by Emanuel Leutze
Metropolitan Museum, New York

From the White House Historical Association comes this delightful musical video that's perfect for today. Happy Presidents Day, citizens, and turn up your speakers! Hail to the Chiefs. 44 presidents over 200 years in the world's oldest modern democracy. Not bad!

You know, I keep trying to memorize all the presidents in order by name, but I keep messing it up somewhere around McKinley and Taft and people like that. You?

Cartoon Commentary: Braveheart Versus Creeping Socialism

From the inimitable Chris Muir at Day By Day cartoons comes this visual riff on politics and statism -- plus a jab at Twitter and complacency. Do click to enlarge (and then go refresh yourself with a bit of The Reagan).

Warrior - poets bloggers.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Reagan-Obama Debate on the Nature of Government

Via Roger Kimball comes this piquant and all-too-relevant collection of quotations by the late, great Gipper and the current president, shaped into a debate.

One of the most best lines from The Reagan about the ultimate choice: ". . . whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them for ourselves."

Euro Notes and Your Voltaire Moment: the Geert Wilders Debacle in the UK

First of all,  Dutch politician Geert Wilders seems (to me, anyway) to be an inflammatory, crude, extremist far-right wingnut.  He's made a name for himself by being, among other things, the creator of the controversial short film Fitna (you can see it online -- MM thinks one should at least see the thing before commenting on its content.  *cough* David Miliband! *cough*)  

Wilders also wants to ban the Koran in the Netherlands -- a position that gives the rank whiff of hypocrisy to the entire "free speech" argument when he exercises it.  I do NOT endorse him, and I think his approach to Dutch problems with multiculturalism makes that tough situation even tougher because of his alienating belligerence.  The man is, frankly, a gadfly, and he's not the spotlessly shining hero and martyr of liberty that he seems to think he is.  In fact, he's kind of a CREEP.


He was invited to the UK by several British politicians to screen his film in Parliament, but then the Home Office decided to ban Wilders from entering the country.  He flew to the UK anyway and was turned back at the airport.  The resulting firestorm has been intense.  Supporters and opponents of the Wilders ban have all been shrieking about free speech, so the result is complete cacophony.

As I'm looking at this debacle, I'm thinking that the actual problem is not Wilders per se, regardless of how personally obnoxious or controversial he is.  He is a catalyst and a lightning rod for a bigger problem.  He has metaphorically kicked over the tree that is the UK -- and let everyone see the inner rot at the core.  The same nation that provided sanctuary for Salman Rushdie twenty years ago and stood up to Iran now cannot bear to let in Geert Wilders (and is apparently cowed by its own restive, unassmiliated, and radicalized minority populations).  The entire situation is really about the current state and mindset of the UK government.  Philip Johnston wrote about this a few days ago, for instance, as another editorialist called the moment "a disastrously missed opportunity." See too this very interesting bit from a British left-leaner.  Another editorial opines, not inaccurately, that the Wilders ban only helps extremists on both sides.

A note about the "lightning rod" sorts of people like Wilders.  There is a clear distinction between "defending the right of people to speak" and "defending the content of what they say."  If anything, freedom of speech is the freedom to say things that people don't want to hear, hence the famous quote attributed to Voltaire.  But this brings us to an unhappy situation.  What about people who don't see the distinction between right and content?  Look, plenty of committed defenders of a free society and I can, do, and will defend the right of people to speak even if their words are offensive .  That doesn't mean that we have to defend the substance of what they say (or how they say, either).  Here's a pithy Aussie editorial on just this idea.

What happens when other people don't make that distinction?  What happens when unhappy offended people look at free speech defenders and consider them the same as the speakers?  "Hey, look, So-and-So says that Wilders has the right to speak.  Therefore s/he must support the things that he says.  S/he also wants to (insert stupid Wilders policy idea here), etc. etc."  OH, BOTHER.  This complicates an already complicated situation in a world where overheated emotional people oversimplify at the drop of a hat.  Anyway, I thought I'd just throw this idea out there since everyone's shouting about free speech . . . so we can try to clarify and get back to the critically important debate about the right of free expression.

I'll also express the (almost certainly futile) wish that folks will engage in speech exchange with some good old-fashioned courtesy and civility even when the argument is heated.

We need more debate, not less.

PS: If the Home Office doesn't like Wilders, then why make a martyr out of him and therefore give him a much bigger platform and far more international media attention than if he had simply screened his film to a few MPs and then gone home?  Now you also have the spectacle of the Dutch government (that is prosecuting Wilders at home) more or less speaking up in his defense by criticizing the UK's decision?  Meanwhile, commentators are busy pointing out the massive cognitive dissonance that had the UK opening its doors to all sorts of unsavoury radicalizing characters, thus creating "Londonistan," while slamming those doors in the face of a European parliamentarian.  All this makes the UK government look even more feckless and lame than it already does.  Oh, and it got a letter from the International Free Press Society condemning it for abandoning Britain's own traditions of free speech.  Well done, Jacqui Smith, et al.

PSS: I made it this far through a serious post, but no farther.  My inner sarcasm has woken up, and it demands to know if Geert Wilders has the same hairdresser as Amy Winehouse.

MM in the Kitchen: Cap'n Crunch French Toast

This utterly decadent breakfast recipe is in honor of Foxtrot.  Dig in!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Nerd Journal: Joss Whedon Is Back!

The god of my TV entertainment idolatry, Joss Whedon, is back on TV with the premiere of his new show, "Dollhouse" tonight. The Cine-Sib and I have been Whedon fans through "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Angel," "Firefly," "Serenity," and "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," so we're really delighted to see a Whedon show on the air again at long last. (Plus, the Sibling is pretty excited to see Eliza Dushku back on TV too! *snicker*)

So in his honor -- and in honor to all who are fans of The Whedon -- I give you this:

Keep the faith.

Nerd News: Fiscal Irresponsibility at Dartmouth?

Powerline has the link to the accusation and the university's response.

Surprised, am I?  Not at all.  And so the abyss between Admini-zilla and the teacher/student population grows apace.

Friday Fun Video: Online Dating with Brandon Walker

Valentine's Day is tomorrow, so here is an appropriately themed video post for all you lovebirds and singletons.

Remember Brandon Walker, whom we last saw eating Chinese food on Christmas?  Last year he made a fun musical video about a nice Jewish boy looking for a nice Jewish girl, along with poking fun at stereotypes from matzo balls to Matisyahu.


Political Humor of the Day: Write Yourself into the Stimulus Bill!

Here's your Personal Stimulus Generator!  You can get up to $350 billion in your own earmarked personal pork project, so go hog wild!  This little piggy went to Congress!


I played with the Personal Stimulus Generator, and this is my piece of the stimulus bill's plunder.  See it embedded amid all the other pork in Title II Subtitle A?  Hey, can we ALL get pork?  YES, WE CAN!  

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

salaries and expenses

For an additional amount for `Salaries and Expenses', $350,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2011: Provided, That funds shall be available to establish the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program, as authorized by Public Law 110-385, for the development and implementation of statewide initiatives to identify and track the availability and adoption of broadband services within each State, and to develop and maintain a nationwide broadband inventory map, as authorized by section 6001 of division B of this Act.

wireless and broadband deployment grant programs

(including transfer of funds to Mad Minerva for the Mad Minerva Personal Economic Stimulus Program)

For necessary and unnecessary expenses related to the Wireless and Broadband Deployment Grant Programs established by section 6002 of division B of this Act, $2,825,000,000, of which $1,000,000,000 shall be for Wireless Deployment Grants and $1,825,000,000 shall be for Broadband Deployment Grants: Provided, That an additional $250,000,000 shall be paid directly to Mad Minerva in the form of subsidized loans that do not require repayment. Provided Further, That the funds be used by Mad Minerva to play Wii all day and drink cherry limeades or for whatever.  Provided Even Further, That Mad Minerva will receive free Colbert Report tickets for life. Provided Even Further Still, That Mad Minerva shall be treated as a cabinet-level appointment for the purpose of income tax reporting, and therefore no taxes shall be paid on any of the aformentioned benefits. And one more thing: Chuck Schumer is hereby expelled from Congress, effective immediately upon enactment.

digital-to-analog converter box program

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, and in addition to amounts otherwise provided in any other Act, for costs associated with the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Program, $650,000,000, to be available until September 30, 2009: Provided, That these funds shall be available for coupons and related activities, including but not limited to education, consumer support and outreach, as deemed appropriate and necessary to ensure a timely conversion of analog to digital television.


A Stimulus Bill Alternative: Give Us Our Income Taxes Back

Tax season is here, and that fact has made me even more hostile.  (Do you know that not too long ago I actually had a dream in which I was furiously yelling, "I'm a FISCAL CONSERVATIVE!!!" though of course nobody was listening.  I don't think you need to be a psycho-therapist to figure out what's going on here.)

Anyway, I'm getting ready for my annual tax-rant, but for now, check this out:

I like her idea: eliminate the payroll tax for a year.  It'll never happen, of course, but I like it!

Oh, and for the record: if/whenever I get a tax rebate, I don't feel ANY gratitude whatsoever to Uncle Sam for giving it to me.  Why?  BECAUSE IT WAS MY OWN MONEY TO START WITH, DANG IT.  It's as if I had 100 precious M&Ms (and I love M&Ms), and I under coercion had to give 25 of them (unwillingly) to the M&M Taxman.  I'm already angry because I had to give up my M&Ms -- and angrier still because I know the M&M Taxman is not going to appreciate them and will probably end up squandering most of them.  Then later, he gives me 1 or 2 M&Ms back.  I'm supposed to be grateful that he gave me what was mine to begin with?  Oh, please.  

And also for the record?  You can bet your sweet hot cinnamon buns that I think I can spend MY OWN MONEY better than those miserable clowns in DC can.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Political Humor of the Day: Jon Stewart on the Stimulus Bill

Well, the comedians are finally starting to take their potshots at the White House, and they should. That's what comedians DO -- poke fun at people in power, regardless of who they are. Besides, we've all had years of Bush jokes. How about some fresh, relevant material? Besides, the first 3 (shambolic, might I add) weeks of the Obama Administration have given us all plenty of things to poke fun AT.

As usual, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central leads the pack. Take it away, Jon! Oh, and note the snarky little label given to the stimulus bill in the frame of the video. Hilarious -- not to mention, too true.

Disgustingly Cute Photo of the Day: A Sleepy Dormouse

For Dreamy the dormouse, life actually is a bed of roses. Take a look for yourself.

Satire Alert: Scientists Discover Largest Number

Iowahawk strikes again -- and brilliantly. Here is a piece of it, but do go read the whole thing.

PALO ALTO, CA - An international mathematics research team announced today that they had discovered a new integer that surpasses any previously known value "by a totally mindblowing sh*tload." Project director Yujin Xiao of Stanford University said the theoretical number, dubbed a "stimulus," could lead to breakthroughs in fields as diverse as astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and Chicago asphalt contracting.

"Unlike previous large numbers like the Googleplex or the Bazillionty, the Stimulus has no static numerical definition," said Xiao. "It keeps growing and growing, compounding factorially, eating up all zeros in its path. It moves freely across Cartesian dimensions and has the power to make any other number irrational."

. . . "The exciting news is that with more powerful computers and drugs, we believe we are on the verge of discovering an even larger number, which we refer to as a 'stimulusconferencebill,'" said Xiao. "Speaker Pelosi has already promised us the funding."

Now I'm not sure if Iowahawk did this on purpose, but the word "xiao" in Mandarin Chinese means "little" or "small." Yes, really!

UPDATE: Wheat and Weeds has the Disney/pop culture joke to go with this: "To Infinity and Beyond!" Yep.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Satire Alert: Cunning Government Plan Revealed: Stimulus Bill to Lay Foundation for New Clean Power Plants

My new, stimulus-inspired satire is now online. Enjoy!

(And, YES, I am fully cognizant of the word choice about how the bill got through Congress.)

Financial Apocalypse Soundtrack, Song 20: the Friendly Indians

Don't bother sending me nasty emails about the political correctness (or not) of the band's name. They picked it, not me.

Anyway, in the wake of the unbelievable Congressional hullabaloo over the enormity that is the stimulus bill, I give you a new track for the apocalypse mix. Here is "I Know You Know" by the Friendly Indians. It's a little ditty, really, used as the theme song for the delightful TV show "Psych." Here are some of the lyrics:

In between the lines there's a lot of obscurity.
I'm not inclined to resign to maturity.
If it's all right, then you're all wrong.

. . . I know you know that I'm not telling the truth.

Oh, too true. Plus it's such a cheerfully bouncy tune!

After the Senate, a Stimulus Bill Linkapalooza + Humorous Chaser

Well, the pork-tastic stimulus bill, with a big assist from the President, made it through the feckless Senate, and the blogging Anchoress is on fire in response! Check out her link-filled post on that and related subjects.

As for me, my head hurts. There was the bailout boondoggle and TARP. Then TARP 2 the Sequel: Revenge of the Tax-Sucking Wastrel Zombies. Then more bailout-mania. Now there's this stimulus bill. Plus Tim Geithner's muddled "plan" for doing something or other. I think I better redouble my efforts to stash pennies in my mattress and stockpile rice in my super-secret underground concrete bunker. Do I have to start buying gold and ammo or what? I'm kidding about the bunker! Uh, sort of. Going on! (And why is the font all wonky on this post?)

I'm going to say this too: this stimulus package is a big huge mess and a bad gamble. Yes, yes, the economy needs a shot in the arm. But this bill is packed full of stuff that has nothing to do with a timely, targeted, temporary approach (and that has more to do with loopy socialistic dreams of social revamp on a vast scale under an ever-increasing government). I really do think that Obama made a serious error in outsourcing the writing of this bill to the Pelosi-Reid school of House clowns. (Hey, Jack Cafferty and I agree on something!) The result is a bad bill, and no matter how much political commentators/pundits/partisans want to pile blame on the balking Congressional Republicans for refusing to support this Hydra-like monstrosity, the real problem is the fact that it is a bad bill, a fact that sensible Blue Dog Democrats know.

Meanwhile, plenty of disgusted and furious taxpaying American voters can't
believe what we're hearing and seeing. Oh, and we didn't need another reminder of why this Congress has the lowest approval rating in Congressional history. (Is it possible to have negative numbers, I wonder?)

Anyway, here's a bit of humor to go with it, via Dr. Boli: the satirical headline, "Defying Sluggish Economy, Existential Despair Up 285%"! Hey, fuel the despair with a nice pessimistic poster from Despair.Com, eh? Meanwhile, I'm working on a new satire.

UPDATE: Camille Paglia has a neat bit of wordsmithing about all this:

Money by the barrelful, by the truckload. Mountains of money, heaped like gassy pyramids in the national dump. Scrounging packs of politicos, snapping, snarling and sending green bills flying sky-high as they root through the tangled mass with ragged claws. The stale hot air filled with cries of rage, the gnashing of teeth and dark prophecies of doom.

Yes, this grotesque scene, like a claustrophobic circle in Dante's "Inferno," was what the U.S. government has looked like for the past two weeks as it fights on over Barack Obama's stimulus package -- a mammoth, chaotic grab bag of treasures, toys and gimcracks. Could popular opinion of our feckless Congress sink any lower? You betcha!

. . . President Obama was ill-served by his advisors (shall we thump that checkered piñata, Rahm Emanuel?), who evidently did not help him to produce a strong, focused, coherent bill that he could have explained and defended to the nation before it was set upon by partisan wolves. To defer to the House of Representatives and let the bill be thrown together by cacophonous mob rule made the president seem passive and behind the curve.

. . . Surely common sense would dictate that when Congress is doling out fat dollops of taxpayers' money, due time should be delegated for sober consideration and debate. The administration's coercive rush toward instant action, accompanied by apocalyptic pronouncements of imminent catastrophe, has put its own credibility on the line.