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Patriot’s Quill makes an interesting observation:

Ridiculing conservatives’ obsession with gauging the Obama presidency based upon the performance of the DOW Jones index, Nate Silver notes that the market is now above where it was when Obama took office.

Well, two can play that game, of course. So here’s another one for you. How much money would you have today if you’d placed $1000.00 in the DOW when Obama recommended buying stocks, on March 3 of this year?

The answer: $1112.99

Following Obama’s advice you’d have made a 11% return on your investment in just over two weeks. Not bad. I think we’ve found Jim Cramer’s replacement should the Mad Money guru decide to call it a day.

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As anyone who has spent any substantial amount of time on the Virginia side of the DC metro area can attest, getting around the city can be a royal pain in the ass.  If you live in DC proper, you can get to most places using the metro system alone.  In fact, considering the ways people drive in DC, taking a car often seems like a death wish.  If you live on the other side of the river, you can generally get by without a car as long as you spend most of your time in the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor.  If you need to go to Shirlington, Tyson’s Corner, or anything on 66, things become difficult.  If you have a car, driving to and from work will almost guaranteed lead you to spend a considerable amount of time sitting in traffic.  And as everyone in the area knows, getting to Dulles Airport can be quite frustrating.

The primary source for the considerable congestion is Virginia politics.  Funding for transportation for the state is controlled by the Virginia Legislature, which is still dominated by representatives hailing from areas south of Northern Virginia (the Virginia side of the DC metro area).  These politicians from “real Virginia” continue to withhold money for transportation projects in Northern Virginia for decades, even though Northern Virginians provide substantially more tax revenue per capita than the rest of the state.  The result is stagnant road and rail maintenance and construction in Northern Virginia, which has seen an absolute population explosion in the last decade or so.  The result is unbearable congestion.

The other problem with expanding the DC metro system is that it exists in a peculiar legal space. The Washington Metro Authority was created with a “compact,” between the states of Virginia and Maryland and the Federal Government.  It is not a state law, but at the same time not a treaty, because it is between the federal government and U.S. states, not foreign sovereign nations.  This construction means that it is difficult to raise adequate funding, because Virginia, Maryland, and Congress have agreed to provide funds for the system.  This has led to chronic arguing and bickering between the three entities, because running a subway system is expensive, and they all believe that the other two entities are not pulling their weight.

The good news is that the fabled “silver line,” which has been in incubation for years, if not decades, has just begun construction.  The line extends from the orange line, which ends in Vienna, and will make it possible to take the metro rail from Dulles all the way to the capitol (estimated ride time: 55 minutes).  The project had been in dire straights as recently as last year, but federal regulators recently approved funding to begin the project, which is expected to clock in at a staggering $5.2 billion for the entire project.  The project won’t be finished until 2013 (let’s hope), but the fact that construction has started is encouraging news.  A map of the project:

dullesextension

Tyson’s corner is expected to receive 4 stations on the line as well, which is critically important for the region.  Tyson’s has 120,000 jobs but only 17,000 residents (according to the Washington Post).  Commuter traffic to and from Tyson’s has reached horrific proportions, so if the silver line can do anything to alleviate the burden, we will see a marked improvement in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians.  Residents and Visitors to the DC area will also benefit from the option of taking a metro rail from Dulles all the way to the center of the city.  A map of the Tyson’s Corner is below:

tysons-full-mapupdated_6-06

As a car-less citizen of Northen Virginia (who has to take the metro and transfer to a bus to get to work in Tyson’s every day), the news of the silver line becoming a reality makes me very happy.  Anything that reduces the dependency of cars in American should be considered a welcome development.

More information available at dullesmetro.com.

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I had the distinct pleasure of being at the gym at the same time as Rush Limbaugh’s keynote address at CPAC the other day.  I eagerly switched my mp3 player to FM mode so that I could listen to his speech.  I am not a fan of Rush Limbaugh, but I do respect him as a very intelligent person and an excellent communicator.  He was recently crowned the de facto leader by the media, which was quickly adopted as a talking point for the Obama Administration.  Unfortunately for Rush, his intelligence is outmatched by his own arrogance, and he seized the title in order to secure the keynote at CPAC.  The GOP acquiesced to this development, and we now have a situation where one of the two major American parties is led by a dogmatic daytime radio entertainer.  Whatever the role the Democrats played in this, it can only help Obama.

Listening to the speech, this passage struck me as odd:

Let me tell you who we conservatives are:  We love people.  When we look out over the United States of America, when we are anywhere, when we see a group of people, such as this or anywhere, we see Americans. We see human beings. We don’t see groups. We don’t see victims. We don’t see people we want to exploit. What we see — what we see is potential. We do not look out across the country and see the average American, the person that makes this country work. We do not see that person with contempt. We don’t think that person doesn’t have what it takes. We believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government.

We want every American to be the best he or she chooses to be. We recognize that we are all individuals. We love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life.  Liberty, Freedom.  And the pursuit of happiness. Those of you watching at home may wonder why this is being applauded. We conservatives think all three are under assault.

We don’t want to tell anybody how to live. That’s up to you. If you want to make the best of yourself, feel free. If you want to ruin your life, we’ll try to stop it — and make — but it’s a waste. We look over the country as it is today, we see so much waste, human potential that’s been destroyed by 50 years of a welfare state. By a failed war on poverty.

We love the people of this country. And we want this to be the greatest country it can be, but we do understand, as people created and endowed by our creator, we’re all individuals. We resist the effort to group us. We resist the effort to make us feel that we’re all the same, that we’re no different than anybody else. We’re all different. There are no two things or people in this world who are created in a way that they end up with equal outcomes. That’s up to them.

Rob Dreher had a great post about this earlier, noting how unconservative this notion of human nature is.  From Rush’s perspective, all human beings are fully capable and productive, and the only thing holding them back are the machinations of the modern American socialist state.  Every person, left to their own devices, would be able to maximize their wealth and happiness.  If only the evil, taxing government wouldn’t get in the way.

One of the greatest things about the United States is its respect and promotion of the individual.  But Rush and the rump of the GOP has taken this concept to an almost religious level.  The speech exposed one of the fundamental flaws that exist in the way many conservatives and libertarians perceive the world.  This vision of otherwise perfect individual humans (could God create anything less?) foiled by a wily and byzantine government just does not reflect reality.  The world is and will always be a lot messier and interconnected than Rush wants to accept.

People are not created equal.  Some people are afforded vastly more opportunities in life than others.  There are exceptional people who are able to succeed on merit alone (Rush included), but this is the exception, not the rule.  This country affords people almost limitless opportunities to do almost anything they want, but generation after generation, the vast majority of people  do pretty much what their parents did.

There is nothing fair about the universe we live in.  Sometimes people work hard all their lives, to the best of their ability, and tragedy still strikes.  Other people are born into the lap of luxury, and are able to live a carefree life utterly unconnected to their actual merits as a human.

Life can be messy and cruel.  This is why societies have developed governments that carve out a semblance of order, justice, and fairness in what is otherwise a chaotic world.  This is why the Western world developed (almost) full political equality for individuals.  We are all equal under the eyes of the law, even if in reality we are anything but.  There is nothing wrong with this.  But if you believe that humans are perfect on their own and rail against such systems, then you risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  Government reform is certainly needed in these times, but I fear that people who wish to reduce or eliminate it are following dogma, not reality.  Our systems, like humans, are fundamentally flawed, but they serve an important purpose.

On a related note, I found a lecture by David Simon (the creator of The Wire) yesterday.  His views are diametrically opposite to those of Rush.  He is an excellent example of what happens when an individual loses the inspiration of idealism and drowns in nihilistic cynicism.  That said, I find his view of reality to be much more convincing than Rush’s, even if it is so much more depressing.  Food for thought (and I’ll take this opportunity to plug The Wire.  It really is the best TV show ever made!  Omar comin’)

Second and third part here and here.

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There is an email that’s been bouncing around the net for a few days.  It’s been linked to a number of minor blogs here and here and here and here and here and here, and it came to my attention when a friend of mine posted it on his facebook profile.  The email is titled “I Want a Divorce!”

Dear American liberals, leftists, social progressives, socialists, Marxists, and Obama supporters..

We have stuck together since the late 1950’s, but the whole of this latest election process has made me realize that I want a divorce.  I know, we tolerated each other for many years for the sake of future generations, but, sadly, this relationship has run its course.  Our two ideological sides of America cannot, and will not ever agree on what is right, so let’s just end it on friendly terms.  We can smile, chalk it up to irreconcilable differences, and go our own way.

Now, ordinarily partisan hackery is not worth engaging.  What struck me about this letter is the complete tone-deafness for the political moment.  Obama won the presidential election by a slight margin, but his current approval ratings (63%) posit broad bipartisan support.  Avowed conservative Pat Robertson expressed being “remarkably pleased” with Obama since the election.  There are certainly malcontents who have been critical of the new administration, particularly with the messy stimulus bill.  But there is little evidence of a partisan culture war simmering beneath the surface.  2008 feels markedly different than 2004.

Here is a model separation agreement:

Our two groups can equitably divide up the country by landmass each taking a portion.  That will be the difficult part, but I am sure our two sides can come to a friendly agreement.  After that it should be relatively easy!  Our respective representatives can effortlessly divide other assets since both sides have such distinct and disparate tastes.

We don’t like redistributive taxes so you can keep them.  You are welcome to the liberal judges and the ACLU.  Since you hate guns and war, we’ll take our firearms, the cops, the NRA, and the military.  You can keep Oprah, Michael Moore, and Rosie O’Donnell (You are, however, responsible for finding a bio-diesel vehicle big enough to move all three of them) .

We’ll keep the capitalism, greedy corporations, pharmaceutical companies, Wal-Mart, and Wall Street.  You can have your beloved homeless, homeboys, hippies, and illegal aliens.  We’ll keep the hot Alaskan hockey moms, greedy CEO’s, and rednecks.  We’ll keep the Bibles and give you NBC and Hollywood.

This is where the letter goes into full-bore hyperpartisan mode.  All of the easy liberal targets are hit: ACLU, Michael Moore, environmentalists, the mainstream media, har har har.  What is striking are the conservative symbols that are celebrated.  Capitalism?  Greedy corporations?  Wall Street?  Do you really want to take them in as your own?  It boggles the mind that an ideological conservative could praise both Wall Street and root against TARP and the stimulus package.  Wall Street’s version of capitalism failed, and we are now forced to bail out their excesses.  You cannot hold up Wall Street executives as heroes and at the same try to punish them by not bailing them out.

You can make nice with Iran and Palestine and we’ll retain the right to invade and hammer places that threaten us.  You can have the peaceniks, and war protesters.  When our allies or our way of life are under assault, we’ll help provide them security.

Does anyone actually believe this?  Obama was the most hawkish Democratic Presidential candidate since Vietnam.  He just stepped up bombing raids in Pakistan and has ordered a considerable increase in troop levels in Afghanistan.

We’ll keep our Judeo-Christian values..  You are welcome to Islam, Scientology, Humanism, and Shirley McClain.  You can also have the U.N. But we will no longer be paying the bill.

We’ll keep the SUVs, pickup trucks, and oversized luxury cars.  You can take every Subaru station wagon you can find.

Are the author even paying attention?  Doesn’t anyone remember $4 a gallon gasoline?  It wasn’t that long ago at all, and chances are pretty high that prices will reach those levels again.  In the meantime an overemphasis on SUVs and pickups has caused the de facto bankruptcy of the Big Three.  Does anyone seriously think the U.S. can continue to afford this?

You can give everyone healthcare, if you can find any practicing doctors. We’ll continue to believe healthcare is a luxury and not a right.  We’ll keep The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the National Anthem.  I’m sure you’ll be happy to substitute Imagine, I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, Kum Ba Ya, or We Are the World.

1 million people declared bankruptcy after being financially ruined after a medical emergency.  In 2004.  Three-quarters of those people had full health insurance.  We can debate about specific expenses medical procedures that may not be worth subsidizing.  But even the most stubborn conservative has to agree that a system that cannot provide any health care (excluding emergency care) to over 47 million uninsured Americans and ruins the lives of millions of people who do have insurance, is badly in need of reform.  Maybe universal health care is unreasonable, and that can be debated on the merits.  But to dismiss any attempts at reform out of hand is laughable and irresponsible.

We’ll practice trickle down economics, and you can give trickle up poverty your best shot.  Since it often so offends you we’ll keep our history, our name, and our flag.

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average below 7,000 for the first time in a long time, the only trickle-down I feel is Reagan’s wet piss streaming down my face from the top of my head.

Would you agree to this?  If so please pass it along to other like minded liberal and conservative patriots, and if you do not agree, just hit delete. In the spirit of friendly parting, I’ll bet you ANWAR which one of us will need whose help in 15 years.

Sincerely, John J.  Wall
Law Student and an American

P.S.  Also, please take Barbara Streisand & Jane Fonda

Thanks Jim

From John Wall to Rush Limbaugh, the conservative movement is in sad shape.

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Amazing ad.  Kudos to Jeffrey Goldberg for finding this.

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Oh Gaza

gaza_peace_0619

An amusing dialogue from Jewcy (featured on Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog):

 

Q: Now that you’ve been to Gaza, what do you think of Hamas?

A: Hamas is fanatical Islamic movement sponsored by Iran that seeks Israel’s destruction.

Q: So Israel has a right to be concerned.

A: No, because Hamas is the national resistance movement of an oppressed people.

Q: And what do you think of us Israelis?

A: You are brave and determined.

Q: So you like us?

A: I suppose. Of course, you are the descendants of apes and pigs.

Q: Why did Israel invade?

A: It was provoked.

Q: And why did Hamas bombard Israel’s southern cities?

A: It was provoked.

Q: Couldn’t they have responded differently?

A: No, because the other side understands only force.

Q: What did Israel achieve?

A: All its goals.

Q: And what did Israel fail to do?

A: Finish the job.

 

 

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The Law versus Common Sense

The Economist has a very compelling article on the law as it is practiced today in the United States.  This country has always been a nation of laws (except for arguably the last 8 years) and in general, the system works fairly well:

The rule of law is a wonderful thing, as anyone who has visited countries ruled by the whims of the powerful can attest. But you can have too much of a wonderful thing. And America has far too much law, argues Mr Howard in a new book, “Life without Lawyers”. For nearly every problem, lawmakers and bureaucrats imagine that more detailed rules are the answer. But people need to exercise their common sense, too. Alas, the proliferation of rules is making that harder.

At a school in Florida, for example, a five-year-old girl decided to throw everyone’s books and pencils on the floor. Sent to the head teacher’s office, she continued to wreak havoc. Her teachers dared not restrain her physically. Instead, they summoned the police, who led her away in handcuffs, howling. The teachers acted as they did for fear of being sued. A teacher at a different school was sued for $20m for putting a hand on a rowdy child’s back to guide him out of the classroom. The school ended up settling for $90,000. Understandably, many schools ban teachers from touching pupils under any circumstances. In New York City, where more than 60 bureaucratic steps are required to suspend a pupil for more than five days, teachers are so frightened of violating pupils’ rights that they cannot keep order.

A correctly functioning legal system should (ideally, of course) provide provide justice to those who deserve it in criminal cases, and to compensate who have been unjustly injured by another party in civil ones.  Of course, any sufficiently complex system designed by humans that deals with lots of money will begin behaving in strange and unpredictable ways:

The direct costs of lawsuits are only one of the drawbacks of an over-legalistic society. Too many rules squeeze the joy out of life. Doctors who inflict dozens of unnecessary tests on patients to fend off lawsuits take less pride in their work. And although the legal system is supposed to be neutral, the scales are tilted in favour of whoever is in the wrong. Because the process is so expensive and juries are so unpredictable, blameless people often settle baseless claims to make them go away. The law is supposed to protect individuals from the state, but it often allows selfish individuals to harness the state’s power to settle private scores.

The Economist ends on a hopeful note, heaping praise on President Obama’s appointee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein.  Let’s hope that Mr. Sunstein can make some positive changes in the way that civil litigation is handled in this country.  In the meantime, the lawyers (and future lawyers like me) are going to keep raking in the money.

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