A more frequent publishing of Rich Galen's take on politics, culture and general modern annoyances. This is in addition to MULLINGS which is published Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays at

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cash-for-Clunkers, R.I.P.

  • The Cash-for-Clunkers program started on Saturday and ended last night at midnight.

  • Why? Too successful.

  • According to Congressional sources the program - which paid people who drive old, gas guzzling vehicles between $3,500 and $4,500 to turn that beast in and get, in return, a bright, shiny, new, leather-smelling, gas-saving, car - has used up about $850 million of the $1 billion which had been budgeted.

  • According to, the program was "set to end on Nov. 1, or whenever its $1 billion budget has been depleted."

  • That would be today.

  • Close followers of MULLINGS may have detected, by reading between the lines, and picking up on the very subtle (hidden, really) clues that I, myself, may possibly have availed myself of this very program.

  • Of course I did. I wrote about it. On Saturday I traded in the Mullmobile - a 1999 Land Rover Discovery - for a 2009 Ford Focus (now dubbed the Mullford).

  • For those of you who may have missed that particular bit of Pulitzer prose you can catch up by clicking HERE.

  • The program officially began on July 1, but the rules and regulations were not finalized (they ended up being 135-pages long) until late last week so Saturday was effectively the first day you (or, more to the point, I) could walk into a showroom and take advantage of it.

  • What happened was, dealers figured out that there would be some point at which the switch would be thrown, so they began making deals shortly after the program started with the understanding that those sales could be officially consummated at some point in July.

  • Thus, it is the backlog of cars turned in for the Barack Bucks which have just about depleted the fund, not just the last five days of sales.

  • According to the AP, the geniuses at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which administers the program raised "concerns that with about 23,000 dealers taking part in the program, auto dealers may already have surpassed the 250,000 vehicle sales funded by the $1 billion program."

  • The House and Senate are scheduled to go into their well-deserved and long-overdue August recess this afternoon, so, unless they stay in over the weekend to fix this, any more money for this program will have to wait until the Members return, tanned, rested, and ready to spend more money sometime after Labor Day.

    New Topic

  • Barack Obama and Joe Biden hosted a pretend garden party for Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. and Cambridge police Sgt. James "James" Crowley. You know the story. Gates tried to break into his own house, lost his temper when the cops were called, and got himself arrested for acting out like a spoiled teenager.

  • Obama, knowing nothing of the facts in the case, said that the police had acted "stupidly."

  • After heads more reasonable than Obama's thought things over, they had Obama call Crowley who, apparently, invited himself over to the WH for a beer. Obama couldn't just invite the White guy, so he invited Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. too, and yesterday was the day.

  • The reality is, this story has run its course. Unless someone sues someone - or one of the participants gets a book deal out of it - it's done.

  • What will not go away, however, is the memory of how quickly Obama's "us versus them" mindset kicked into high gear when he thought a Black man had been put upon by a White cop.

  • It is an important insight into how Obama sees the nation and, in turn, how he sees the United States' role in the world.

    Last Topic

  • Speaking of how he sees the world, Barack Obama & family are heading off to Martha's Vineyard for their summer vacation renting a farm which goes for between $20,000 and $35,000 per week.

  • You know that swell idea of the Obama Administration to tax high-end health insurance plans? How about let's slap a luxury tax on anyone who spends more than the price of a hotel in Pompano Beach, Florida per week for their summer vacation.

  • "Us versus them" apparently only counts when the "us" isn't the Obamas.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the C-f-C suspension, the garden party and the Martha's Vineyard deal. Also a Mullfoto which made me broadly smile and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Health Care Delayed

  • The bloom is off the Obama rose. After getting just about everything he wanted out of the Democrat-controlled Congress for the first six months of his Presidency, it doesn't look like Barack Obama is going to get the health care overhaul he was seeking prior to the August recess.

  • The other day I spoke with Mark Z. Barabak, who is officially listed as "a roving political writer for the Los Angeles Times" by the Los Angeles Times about the whole health care deal.

  • I said that when it comes to the Cash-for-Clunkers deal, no one has to buy a new car. When it comes to fixing a bridge, no bridge has to be fixed. When it comes to bailing out AIG and GM and Chrysler, and Bank of America, and the rest of the wall street crooks for 17 gillion dollars, none of them has to be bailed out.

  • But when it comes to health insurance … that's personal.

  • People who are in their 20's and early 30's consider themselves to be - as the military folks like to say - bulletproof and invisible. I suspect they are a significant portion of the "uninsured." They don't think they are likely to get sick, and they drive their cars with such skill and dexterity that an accident is not in their line of sight.

  • From their mid-30's onward, anyone with children worries about their kids getting sick or, worse yet, injured and they want to be certain that should that, God forbid, happen that they can get their child the care he or she needs.

  • When we get into our 40's and 50's, the aches and pains run the risk of becoming heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes and we start worry a great deal about really big medical bills for things which, previously, had only been an issue for our parents.

  • I remember watching an HBO documentary a hundred years ago about a family of small time crooks who robbed convenience stores and sold (and used) drugs. Every time they were busted, which was just about every time they tried to boost a boom box from a drug store in Queens, they were hauled into court and were represented by a lawyer paid for by the taxpayers of the City of New York.

  • I thought then, and I think now, that if we can provide a lawyer for really stupid and ignorant petty criminals, we should be able to provide a doctor for sick children.

  • The problem for Obama, as I explained to Mark Barabas, is no one understands what in the world his plan is. If he has a plan. No one knows what is in the House bill and there isn't a Senate bill well developed enough for serious consideration.

  • A century or so ago, someone wrote that the financial system of Great Britain was so complex that only two people understood it: The Chancellor of the Exchequer and a minor clerk in the Bank of England … and they didn't agree.

  • That's where we are with America's health care system.

  • The current system isn't working. Anyone who has to pay for their own insurance will attest to that. As the economy continues to struggle, more and more companies are having to choose between payroll and health insurance. That means more Americans are falling into the uninsured category and they don't like it.

  • We've heard for decades that it was the health insurance for auto workers, especially retired auto workers, which was dragging U.S. car manufacturers into bankruptcy. Maybe so. Health insurance appears to be dragging the entire country into bankruptcy. Especially as those of us who belong to that pesky "baby boomer" generation continue to age.

  • In fact, Cici Connelly, reporting in the Washington Post wrote:
    Polls show that senior citizens are more skeptical about health-care reform than any other age group.

  • We've got some really smart people in the United States. Really smart people who are not ideologues and who can figure out a system which works for almost all of us.

  • No system will work for everyone. As we've discussed here before, perfection is a religious, not a political, concept.

  • The Congress should bring as many experts as they can find to Washington and ask them come up with a system which works best for most people.

  • They won't, more's the pity. We are in a period of political gotcha where seeking partisan advantage is much more important than solving serious problems.

  • Health care will be delayed beyond the President's deadline. But we can't delay it forever.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the Washington Post piece and a Bloomberg analysis. A Mullfoto of a vehicle in Old Town which, I think, should qualify for the Cash-for-Clunkers program and a Catchy Caption of the Day showing at least a bit of progress in Iraq.

  • Sunday, July 26, 2009

    MullMobile, R.I.P.

  • I knew the "Cash-for-Clunkers" program was starting this past weekend, so I took the MullMobile, which is the poster child for clunkers, to be put gently to sleep. Regular Mullsters might remember that I wrote a - to use a word applied to me the other day by the Washington Post's Mary Ann Akers - "snarky" MULLINGS about the Clunker program, which is formerly known as the Car Allowance Rebate System last month (Obama Motors has a Deal for You).

  • But, as hypocrisy has never been a particular problem for me, I went to see if I could spend a little of Mr. Obama's money.

  • The MullMobile is a 1999 Land Rover Discovery. Land Rover had been a British firm. When I bought mine it had been purchased by BMW. Then Ford bought Land Rover. Finally they sold it to the Indian car company, Tata.

  • My Discovery has been through some tough times, none of which were the result of my having taken it on safari. In fact, when I picked it up the salesman was trying to show me how to put it in low gear, and how to take it up and down river banks, and how to scoop lions up in the front brush guard.

  • I said to the guy - this is true - "When you're talking to a 50-something man from Brooklyn, 'off-road' means … the driveway."

  • Even at that, over a decade, scratches turn in to dings; dings turn into dents; dents turn into rust spots, and rust spots turn into holes.

  • On Thursday last week, I cut a corner a little too closely, clipped a street sign with my right outside mirror and the glass broke away from the housing. The cellophane tape I used to keep the mirror in place worked pretty well, but I knew that, with the broken mirror, the camel's back had been broken.

  • On Saturday morning, I went to to get a sense of what the MullMobile might be worth in a trade. $2,175 - but there was no box to enter the fact that the right outside mirror was being held together with Scotch Tape and all the engine warning lights are on all the time, so I suspected a real trade-in situation might well have resulted in my paying the dealer to take it off my hands.

  • The way the Cash-for-Clunkers program works is, you are selling your old car for between $3,500 and $4,500. Period. Any dealer and/or manufacturing incentives are on top of the C-f-C money.

  • You have to buy (or lease) a new car - domestic or import - which gets higher gas mileage than your clunker. As the MullMobile was getting about 12 MPG, buying anything short of a Hummer or a Carnival Cruise Ship was going to meet that test.

  • For reasons I'm not clear on today, I got it into my head that I wanted a Kia, a theory to which the Mullings Director of Standards & Practices was very opposed. I went down to the Kia dealer on Route 1 in Alexandria which is also the Volvo dealer.

  • The young man who met me in the showroom didn't know much about Kias and nothing at all about the C-f-C program. I said I was looking for a little more enthusiasm (if not actual knowledge), left, and went to the Ford dealership about three miles from Mullings Central.

  • I looked at a Fusion, but that was a little too basic. Then I found a gray Ford Focus with just enough bells and whistles to make me read the owner's manual. What with the Ford incentives and the Barack Bucks my out-of-pocket was about $15 k which I put on my Amex card to get the points and I drove home in a car that looks like every rental you've ever had.

  • So, I unloaded my clunker and got probably four times what it was worth. I got a new car to help the economy. And, I bought it from Ford which is not, as of this writing, a car company owned by the Federal government.

  • Farewell, MullMobile. Hello … MullFord?

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to the government's official Cash-for-Clunkers website; Mullfotos of the old and the new; and a NASA Catchy Caption of the Day which is breath taking.

  • Thursday, July 23, 2009

    Bad Days in Obamaville

  • President Obama is not on a roll. In fact, he's in a slump. Let's review the past few days.

  • Five polls taken over the past week show that Obama's numbers are succumbing to gravity. A Fox Opinion Dynamics poll released yesterday had the President's approval rating at 54%.

  • Ok, you say, that's Fox. What about the REAL polls?

  • Let's go down the list: Gallup (55), USA Today (55), Associated Press (55), Rasmussen (51). None of these polls is more than a week old.

  • According to the Fox poll, among independents only "54% approve of the job Obama is doing, (down from 66% last month) and 36% disapprove" which is ten percentage points higher than a month ago.

  • Just to rub salt into this polling wound, according to Gallup, George W. Bush had an average approval rating of 56% at this same point in his Presidency.

  • What else? Oh, that business about the Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., being arrested. Here's the Wall Street Journal's summary of what happened:
    Last week, Mr. Gates found himself locked out of his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instead of calling a locksmith, he and his chauffeur proceeded to break into the house.

    When a neighbor noticed the two men forcing their way through the front door, she called the police. According to the police report, when the officers arrived Mr. Gates became belligerent, "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior," and was arrested for disorderly conduct.

  • When Obama was asked about the incident at his Wednesday night presser the WSJ wrote that he
    scored the local police for "acting stupidly for arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."

    The President also went on to see in the incident echoes of "a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately."

  • Talk about acting stupidly. How about playing the race card and dissing a cop doing his job in the process? Obama isn't a community organizer anymore. He's President of the United States. And the cop in question is widely known as a decent guy who teaches the courses to rookies about the dangers of racial profiling.

  • By the way, Gates wasn't arrested for breaking into his own house, he was arrested for "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior."

  • Here's a good lesson whether you're Black, White, Green, or Blue: Don't get into a loud argument with a person who is in possession of a badge and/or a gun.

  • Don't believe me? The next time you are trying to get through the security check point at an airport, try getting into a shouting match with one of those TSA geniuses and see how quickly they smile, nod, and happily escort you to your plane.

  • Wait! There's more about Obama's bad week.

  • He introduced his nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin. According to the Washington Post she is "a smart, accomplished person, a caring and skilled physician and a real go-getter."

  • Unfortunately, she is also about 40 pounds overweight. One of the most significant health problems facing the United States is obesity which is defined by the American Heart Association as being "30 pounds of more over ideal body weight."

  • I am willing to accept the notion that the Surgeon General can be the poster-woman for a national effort to lose weight. That would be swell. But, if we accept that theory, then Obama should appoint:
    - a junkie as Drug Czar,

    - a person whose license has been suspended as Secretary of Transportation,

    - a deserter as Secretary of Defense,

    - a slum lord heading HUD and,

    - Bernie Madoff as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

  • I was going to add "tax cheats in the U.S. Treasury" but Obama has already done that.

  • FINALLY, yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) announced he would not be bringing Obama's health reform bill to the Senate floor before the August recess, meaning it will not be voted on in the Senate until at least September.

  • So, while Obama was schvitzing in a high school gym in Ohio on his Sell the Health Care Tour, Harry Reid was being honest about what he could and couldn't get done.

  • All in all not one of Obama's better weeks in the White House.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to all of the stories above plus a Mullster-provided Mullfoto of her husband's license plate and a Catch Caption of the Day.

  • Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    The Catch-22 Raptor

  • The United States Senate, yesterday did something rational which, for the Senate, is so irrational that I had to stop and think about whether what they did made any sense.

  • The issue was whether to authorize the funding of seven additional F-22 Raptor fighter jets at a cost of twenty-seven jillion dollars each.

  • Seriously, according to the LA Times the Senate vote was to strip $1.75 billion out of the Defense Authorization bill which, according to my calculator puts the cost of each plane at $250 million.

  • And that's not counting tax, title, dealer prep and undercoating.

  • The F-22 was first imagined in 1980 as an air-superiority fighter which would be able to beat anything the Soviet Air Force could put up against it. Follow me here. It was designed to defeat the Soviet Air Force. The Soviet Air Force ceased to exist in about 1989. The F-22 remained in development even after the enemy it was designed for had collapsed.

  • In fact, the F-22 didn't become operational until December 2005. Less than four years ago.

  • According to the Air Force's official website, the aircraft is:
    A combination of sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons provides first-kill opportunity against threats. The F-22A possesses a sophisticated sensor suite allowing the pilot to track, identify, shoot and kill air-to-air threats before being detected. Significant advances in cockpit design and sensor fusion improve the pilot's situational awareness.

  • Unfortunately, none of those capabilities are useful against people who strap C-4 to their chests and walk into a market and blow themselves up.

  • Put another way, the F-22 has not been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan because it is too sophisticated for modern warfare.

  • That, my friends, is a classic Catch-22.

  • Catch-22 was book written by Joseph Heller, published in 1961. According to Wikipedia, he received an advance of $750 and was five years late in delivering the manuscript.

  • Here's an example of a Catch-22:
    A World War II pilot is afraid to fly and so he decides to have himself pronounced mentally unfit. But, knowing he could have himself grounded for being mentally unfit to fly proved he was mentally fit to fly and so he was returned to flight status.

  • Catch-22.

  • The Air Force took so long to design, develop, build and deploy its fighter that not only did it run out of enemies, but a newer fighter, the F-35, is now being produced which, according to its prime contractor, Lockeed Martin "will be the most formidable strike fighter ever fielded."

  • Lockheed says "Deliveries to the armed services are scheduled to begin in 2010 and continue well beyond 2030."

  • One of the things the Air Force did to share the cost of development was to invite 10 other countries into the deal. Unlike the F-22 - which outlived the enemy it was designed to defeat; the F-35 is inviting its potential enemies to participate in producing the plane they can potentially use to fight each other.

  • That's a Catch-35.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to all the aspects of the F-22, the F-35 and Joseph Heller. Also another in the long history of license plate Mullfotos and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Sunday, July 19, 2009

    Hillary Needs a New Deal

  • We'll probably never know what the terms of the deal were between Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton which caused her to fold up like a cheap suitcase at the Democratic National Convention last year.

  • Obviously, she wanted - and got - the post of Secretary of State. But, it appears the Clintons weren't nearly the savvy negotiators they might have thought they were.

  • Inquiring minds would like to know whether the Clintonistas were smart enough to insist that along with the title "Secretary of State" would come the reality that she would be the senior foreign affairs personality in the Obama Administration.

  • President Obama has moved an extraordinary amount of power into the White House. There, assistants to the President can be hired without that pesky "advise and consent" business which allows the Senate vote on the suitability of nominees for many senior administration posts.

  • Second, because the Senate didn't judge them in the first place, under the highly developed concept of "executive privilege," it is nearly impossible for the Congress - House or Senate, Republican or Democrat - to demand, even under subpoena - that an assistant to the President come to the Hill and testify.

  • The most recent example of this concentration of power was the decision to move a senior advisor to Secretary Clinton on Iran, Dennis Ross, out of the State Department and onto the National Security Council which operates out of the White House complex.

  • According to the NY Times:
    The White House has exercised a tight grip on critical foreign policy issues, particularly Iran.

    A few weeks ago … Mr. Obama telephoned Mrs. Clinton to inform her he was moving the State Department's top Iran adviser, Dennis Ross, to a job in the White House.

  • Mrs. Clinton broke her elbow recently and was on the Disabled List for about a month. Now that she is back on the active roster, it is unclear whether the President wants to use her in the day-to-day lineup.

  • Back in May, Mrs. Clinton announced that "The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua, [Nicaragua] and you can only imagine what that's for." The presumption was the Iranians were planning a beachhead in the Americas by setting up shop in Managua.

  • There was no such plan. According to the Washington Post's Al Kamen:
    Turns out, as this paper reported Monday, that no one in Nicaragua has been able to find any super-embassy, and they've been looking hard. "We don't have an Iranian mega-embassy," a Nicaraguan official told The Post. "We have an ambassador in a rented house with his wife."

  • Oops! Sort of reminded me of that fiction Mrs. Clinton claimed during the primary season that she and Chelsea had been under fire when they went to visit U.S. troops in Bosnia.
    "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

  • Unfortunately, there was video footage and contemporaneous coverage of Sen. Clinton being greeted by children with flowers upon her arrival. The only reason her head was down was to give a little girl a thank-you hug.

  • Ok. Overstatement happens. I, myself, am guilty of having claimed that I went to Iraq for six months. Yeah. Right.

  • Secretary Clinton made a foray into India this weekend to meet with Indian officials on their commitment to fight what used to be called "global warming" but which is now called "climate change" because so many places on the globe are not warmer than they used to be.

  • According to the Washington Post, a photo op went awry when the Indian Minister of Putting Crap into the Atmosphere,
    "declared that India would not commit to a deal that would require it to meet targets to reduce emissions… 'India's position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets,' he said."

  • After what should have been rehearsed happy-talk, Clinton visited a "green" building which, according to the WashPost is the "headquarters of the hotel division of Indian tobacco giant ITC Ltd."

  • Maybe it's because I'm looking for trouble here, but who in the U.S. Embassy in India, in the State Department in Washington, or in the White House Office of Stopping India from Putting Crap into the Atmosphere thought it was a good idea to make the case for global health by having Clinton visit a subsidiary of a major … tobacco company?

  • Hillary is being set up to look silly. She should renegotiate her deal.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the coverage of the non-existent embassy in Nicaragua, the false ambush in Bosnia, and the non-agreement with the Indians. Also a Mullfoto apropos the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Thursday, July 16, 2009

    A Moment of Greatness

  • You probably know by now that this weekend we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of flight of Apollo 11 - the mission during which, as far as we know, humans first stepped foot on any piece of real estate traveling through the universe which was not called "Earth."

  • Apollo 11 took flight toward the moon only over eight years after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin astonished the world by becoming the first human in space orbiting the Earth for 108 minutes in April, 1961.

  • Had it not been for the competition with what was then known as the Soviet Union, I doubt America would have had the will, or committed the resources for the Apollo program.

  • But there was the competition and we did commit the resources and on July 16, 1969 Apollo 11 lifted off (the term "blast off" was banned by NASA) en route the moon.

  • I remember 1969 because I'm old enough to remember it. I suspect many of you are old enough to remember it, as well.

  • During this weekend, 40 years ago, I was a Junior Officer Candidate in the Ohio National Guard. A course which, I regret to this day, I did not complete.

  • One of the reasons was the lunar landing of Apollo 11. You may remember that the actual moment when Neil Armstrong was to open the hatch and step onto the surface of the moon was maddingly delayed.

  • It got to the point that the officers overseeing us decided we needed our rest and ordered us to bed.

  • I remember saying that this moment was going to come only once in the history of the planet and tonight was the night and if I had to miss it because they wanted me to go to bed then I quit.

  • We got to stay up and watch, but my days in the Officer Candidate Program of the Ohio National Guard were numbered from that night onward.

  • For those of you too young to remember 1969, I might as well be writing about 1637. It's all history. For the rest of us, 1969 was some year.

  • Here are the major events, month-by-month, of 1969. If 1969 is like1637 for you, you will not understand many of the references, or recognize some of the names. Google wasn't invented yet (that wouldn't happen until 1997). It is now, so you can search for the terms, names, and events which interest you:
  • In January, Richard Nixon was sworn in as 37th President succeeding Lyndon Johnson.

  • In February, Yasser Arafat was elected President of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

  • In March, Golda Meir became the first female prime minister of Israel.

  • In April, The Harvard University Administration Building was seized members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

  • In May, John Lennon and Yoko Ono conducted their Bed-In at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Quebec.

  • In June, the Weatherman seized control of the SDS National Offices in Chicago.

  • In July, Edward M. Kennedy drove off a bridge on his way home from a party on Chappaquiddick Island. Mary Jo Kopechne, died in the incident.

  • In August, members of a cult led by Charles Manson murdered Sharon Tate and her friends. Also, the Woodstock Music Festival was held in upstate New York.

  • In September, the first Automatic Teller Machine in the United States was installed in Rockville Centre, New York.

  • In October, Wal-Mart incorporated as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

  • In November, Sesame Street premiered on the National Educational Television (NET) network. Also, The first ARPANET link was established (the precursor of the Internet).

  • In December, the Boeing 747 jumbo jet made its maiden cross-country flight.

  • That was some year, but nothing made the world stop in its tracks like the flight of Apollo 11.

  • We need another cause like the program to put a human on the moon. We need something we can all root for; something which will allow us to rise above ourselves and seek, neither profit nor dominance, but greatness.

  • For those of you who are too young to remember 1969; it's your turn: Bring us a moment of greatness.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to the bio of Neil Armstrong; another in the series of Mullfotos of our cat and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    $1.5 Trillion Gives Me Heartburn

  • House Democrats have unveiled their new healthcare plan on which the Congressional Budget Office puts a price tag of $1.5 trillion.

  • For $1.5 trillion every American should get his or her own concierge doctor.

  • This is another one of the 1.5 trillion page bills which only lobbyists and insurance company lawyers will read from cover-to-cover. But the major dailies had some of the high points in their Wednesday editions. Actually the bill is only 1,018 pages long so some summer interns will read it, too.

  • USA Today's AP story has this:
    The federal government would be responsible for ensuring that every person, regardless of income or the state of their health, has access to an affordable insurance plan. Individuals and employers would have new obligations to get coverage, or face hefty penalties.

  • Ok. Sounds good. Until you learn that "medical providers, employers and the wealthiest picking up most of the tab."

  • Doctor's aren't doing all that well right now. It's not at all clear to me how "medical providers" are going to help pick up much of that $1.5 trillion, but that's not the really scary part.

  • It is easy to say the top wage earners are going to subsidized this, but a tax increase is a tax increase and a lot of Democrats running for re-election next year may not be as eager as Nancy Pelosi to go home and explain why they have returned to the liberal economic theory that success must be punished.

  • And, don't send me a nasty-gram on that liberal business. The AP called it a "liberal-leaning plan" and the LA Times called it "the most liberal of several competing" plans.

  • According to the LA Times, "Employers would be given an option to provide coverage or pay the government a fee based on 8% of their payroll."

  • Why is that scary? Because if you were the CFO of a major company and you had the option of ditching your current health insurance plan for your employees - including all the overhead attached to managing that plan - you might well say, "Eight percent? And I'm out of the health insurance business? How quickly can I sign up?

  • And, just like that, the private health insurance of millions of employees is gone. And, just like that, millions of employees are covered by a government-run insurance program.

  • Sooner or later insurance companies will lose the mass they need to be insurance companies and get out of the general health plan biz altogether. When that happens where to we turn? The only place left: The Federal Government.

  • Oh. Look at this! I actually knew what I was talking about, even though I didn't know I knew. Deep in the AP piece is this:
    Insurers say that combination would drive many of them out of business since the public plan would be able to offer lower premiums to virtually all Americans.

  • Small businesses - those with annual payrolls of under $250,000 - are exempt from the requirement to provide health insurance or pay the 8% fee. But they will have a hard time keeping employees if they don't offer health insurance, so they will ultimately get sucked into the system as well.

  • But, before you go out and start trying to get healthy by eating better and exercising more, consider this from the LA Times:
    Foreshadowing the expected legislative battles ahead, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who has been working on a more moderate version, said, "I don't think it's going to go anywhere in the Senate."

  • Whew! I feel better already.

    New Topic

  • Facebook friends and Twitter followers got this earlier this afternoon. It has to do my trip to Dallas and my making a fool out of myself … again.

  • Why do I feel like I'm going through life playing both roles in a Laurel & Hardy movie?

  • Anyway, the link is on the Secret Decoder Ring page which you can get to by clicking on the link in the next bullet.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the USA Today/AP story and the LA Times piece and to that Dallas story which may make you laugh. Also a Mullfoto taken from high atop the Reunion Tower in Dallas at sunset and a Catchy Caption of the day.

  • Sunday, July 12, 2009

    Someone HAS to be the Grownup

  • Those shipments of paper bags to the House and Senate Office Buildings over the weekend are to treat the hyperventilating of Members and staff over the news that the CIA did some spying about which it did not tell the Congress .

  • The New York Times front pager yesterday started thus:
    The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency's director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday.

  • I have now idea - nor, by the way, do most Members of the House and Senate - what that "secret counterterrorism program" did or didn't do, whether it worked or didn't work, whether it was legal or illegal.

  • Here's what I do know. This upping the ante between the Congress - especially the U.S. House - and the CIA has got to stop.

  • Read the last clause of that opening graf from the NY Times piece again. I'll help you: "… two people with direct knowledge of the matter said …"

  • This is why the CIA is so eager to run up to the Hill every hour or so to report on how many bathroom flushes there have been at Langley this week.

  • Because no sooner does the CIA keep members of the Intelligence Committees informed of important activities than "two people with direct knowledge of the matter" race out of the room in the Capitol and grab their cell phones to call a newspaper like reporters in a 1930's black and white courtroom drama after a witness has spilled the beans racing to the payphones in the courthouse hallway shouting for "rewrite!"

  • The CIA is largely a group of analysts who do things like look at the prescriptions of foreign heads of state and deduce the medical conditions for which they are being treated.

  • Some member of a spy agency, stationed in a foreign land, has to convince the person who cleans the foreign leader's bathroom to write down what's on the labels in the medicine cabinet so the analysts have something to analyze.

  • Not exactly Burn Notice, but there you are.

  • The Times reported that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA not to report whatever this particular surveillance activity was to its Congressional overseers.

  • How can the Veep do that? If the CIA leadership agreed with the Vice President then they were just following the policies as directed by what is called "the National Command Authority."

  • Even if someone at the CIA disagreed with the policy, he or she had all the cover anyone could ever ask for: "We had to assume the Vice President was acting at the direction, and with the consent and knowledge, of the President."

  • Not that many people in Washington will pick up a phone and, having reached the President, will say: "This is what the Vice President has instructed us to do. Does that comport with your policy?"

  • You do that, your last name better be the same as the President's and you'd better have the title: First Lady.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi will use this latest report as evidence that she was correct in her assertion that the CIA lied to her about waterboarding in spite of the fact that this activity had nothing whatever to do with waterboarding. Pelosi has been scrambling for a hand-hold in this CIA thing and she now has been handed a scaffold.

  • If the CIA lied about this surveillance program, doesn't it stand to reason it would lie about the waterboarding thing? No. It doesn't but this is not a college debating society, this is the Congress versus the nation's spy agency.

  • The problem is, the nuances of this fight will be lost on our enemies. The Taliban is killing Afghans and Americans in Afghanistan. Iran is looking for any cracks in the dam of Western opposition to its nuclear program. North Korea is … North Korea.

  • One or all will see this as further evidence that America's leaders are more focused on scoring cheap domestic political points than protecting the nation from outside attacks. I don't believe that to be true, but that's what it would look like to me if I were sitting in a hut somewhere in Southwest Asia looking for talking points to buck up a sleeper cell in the American Midwest.

  • This has got to stop. Someone has to be the grownup. Pelosi has to find out who the "two people with direct knowledge of the matter" are and have them arrested. The CIA has to obey the law and brief the Congress as required.

  • If Pelosi can't or won't and the CIA can't or won't, then it falls to the President.

  • We all know where this buck stops.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the NY Times piece and to Burn Notice. Also a really stupid Mullfoto and a scary Catchy Caption of the Day.

  • Thursday, July 9, 2009

    Hardworking Public Servants

  • Oh, my. It makes my arms tired. With all the trouble on this planet - some made by us, most by others - you would think that our leaders on Capitol Hill would be working on those difficult and potentially deadly problems or, at a minimum, acting like adults.

  • Nah.

  • Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill) announced he won't be running for re-election having remembered that maybe he and his people perhaps had sort of offered to raise money for former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Not that he did anything wrong, mind you, but according to the Washington Post Burris has raised a total of $20,000 toward a 2010 race which is at least two orders of magnitude short of where he should be.

  • No money? No race. Say bye-bye, Roland.

  • This isn't just a Democratic deal. Last month Republican Senator John Ensign (R-Nev) admitted to having an affair with a female campaign aide. Now it has been reported that his parents gave the woman, her husband and their kids gifts totaling $96,000 "out of concern for the well-being of longtime family friends during a difficult time."

  • John Ensign is not some 22-year-old who had a bad night. He is a 51 year old United States Senator whose mommy and daddy are still trying to buy him out of trouble.

  • Ensign isn't up for re-election until 2012 so this whole thing might have blown over by then, but you don't have to be James Carville or Karl Rove to assume it might be a campaign issue if he does run for re-election.

  • We've got one Governor who quit - Sarah Palin of Alaska - for no good reason. And another Governor who won't quit - Mark Sanford of South Carolina - in spite of having all the reasons the world.

  • Even sitting Members of Congress - in the House and Senate - who have no weirdness in their backgrounds are doing strange things.

  • The Washington Post's Dana Milbank covered a hearing held by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) into the horrors being visited upon the people of the United State by those who sell … bottled water.

  • Michigan, you might have heard, has an unemployment rate of about 107.62 percent. Michigan has changed its state flower to the Tumbleweed. Yet, this genius spent your tax dollars to hold a hearing into bottled water.

  • To make his point, Stupi - Stupak had the regular ration of bottled water removed and replaced with pitchers of water from the city water supply. No one would drink it.

  • In fact, the hearing was deemed so important that not a single voting member of the Democratic side of the aisle even showed up.

  • Talk about a new version of Watergate …

  • But that wasn't the biggest waste of time by a member of the House or Senate yesterday. This was.

  • I got a series of e-mails from the office of a United States Senator asking if I might be available for a phone call and, if so, what would be the best number. Even The Lad was contacted in California to see if he had a number for me.

  • What could it be? What manner of national security advice might the Senator be seeking? Was it a matter of high-level political nuance?

  • Nope. This United States Senator tracked me down to tell me in his own voice that I was incorrect last week when I wrote:
    Members of Congress get a tax break on their housing, have health care completely paid for by you and me, and have a pretty good retirement system although the other benefits are so good you can't get them to retire much before their 113th birthday, on average.

  • Members of Congress pay the same premiums as any other Federal employee for their health care which, not counting the active military, is the best deal in America.

  • As long as he had bothered me during the middle of three hours of NCIS reruns, I pointed out to him that if corporate CEOs spent as much of their stockholders' money on their personal care and feeding as members of the House and Senate spend taxpayers' money on staff catering to their every need and whim the corporate CEOs would go to jail and rightfully so.

  • Just for fun, I looked up the Congressional Calendar for 2009. You can read a summary of their backbreaking schedule on the Secret Decoder Ring.

  • Remember when I wrote that we should start a new political party? I'm right about that.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the Burris story, the Ensign story and the Watergate story. Also that summary of the Congressional schedule for the year, a Mullfoto showing the honesty of the gas stations in Old Town and a Catchy Caption of the Day which is BETTER than beach volleyball.

  • Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    Meanwhile, in Iran ...

  • Look. I understand the enormous outpouring of grief for Michael Jackson. Just as I understood the reaction to the death of Princess Di.

  • I lied. I don't understand either one.

  • In fact, I asked a group of people yesterday afternoon if they could explain to me the public's fascination with deeply flawed people who die prematurely. I got blank stares so, to lighten the mood, I said, "I have the 'deeply flawed' piece down cold, but I think I blew right past the 'premature dying' thing."

  • Hearty laughter all around. On second thought, it might have been nervous chuckles all around because everyone left right after that.

  • While every network except USA (which, in a delicious irony of counter-programming ran Law & Order: SVU episodes all day) covered the Michael Jackson memorial service, other things were going on in the world. One of the things going on was a luncheon at the offices of the Center for Strategic & International Studies featuring the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen.

  • Adm. Mullen had just returned from Russia where he had accompanied President Barack Obama on his summit in Russia for what was supposed to have been yet another outpouring of national gratitude like a nation full of 13-year-old-girls at a Beatles concert in 1964 for Barack Obama having deigned to spend time with them.

  • However, the New York Times of all journals, headed its coverage of the trip: "For Jaded Russians, Obama's Star Power Does Not Translate"

  • Reporters Clifford J. Levy And Ellen Barry, wrote:
    Crowds did not clamor for a glimpse of him. Headlines offered only glancing or flippant notice of his activities. Television programming was uninterrupted [so] devotees of the Russian Judge Judy had nothing to fear. Even many students and alumni of the Western-oriented business school where Mr. Obama gave the graduation address on Tuesday seemed merely respectful, but hardly enthralled.

  • What? How great is this? My quandary of "where will I go when I leave the United States" is over. I can pack up all my cares and woes and move to Novocheboksarsk where men's eyes apparently don't roll back in their heads and women don't swoon at the mere mention of the name of Barack.

  • Whew. I can cross that off my to-do list for tomorrow.

  • It seems that the intergalactic love affair with Barack Obama may be cooling elsewhere, as well. A new poll by Quinnipiac University shows that Obama's approval rating has dropped from 62% in May to 49% in this poll.

  • Oh. This poll was taken in Ohio which, as you know, is the Novocheboksarsk of middle America.

  • On his handling of the economy, Obama's approval has dropped from 57 percent in May to only 46 percent now. That means that the "It's all Bush's fault" defense is losing credibility.

  • The most troubling numbers in this poll for Obama aren't how Republicans see Obama (19% approve, 75% disapprove) or how Democrats see Obama (85% approve, 11% disapprove).

  • The problem for Obama is those pesky independents among whom he trails in approval 38% approval to 48% disapproval.

  • As a reminder, as George W. Bush was leaving the White House in January the Washington Post/ABC News poll put his approval rating at 33%. In Ohio, among Independents, Obama is approaching Bush numbers.

  • Back to Admiral Mullen who really had important things to say about Iran. Not the least of which was his statement that his biggest worry is Iran getting a nuclear weapon which Mullen said "would lead to a de-stabilizing nuclear arms race in the region."

  • What can we do? He said that "all options are on the table." He paused, and then added, "including the military option."

  • A reporter from the Wall Street Journal picked up on that verbal underlining as I had and asked Admiral Mullen about it.

  • Mullen tried to blur the point, but he didn't back away from it. He said the time frame for Iran successfully developing a nuke was between one and three years. "The clock is ticking," he said. "The time window is closing."

  • Yikes!

  • I wonder how many Delta Frequent Flier miles it takes to get to Novocheboksarsk?

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the NY Times piece and that Ohio poll. Also a brief look at Novocheboksarsk. The Mullfoto is from Whole Foods and the Catchy Caption is from hunger.

  • Sunday, July 5, 2009

    America ... The Beautiful

  • The Sarah Saga isn't going anywhere and can wait for another day. Today, I want to tell you a story about an Independence Day from more than a decade ago.

  • If you've every watched PBS on July 4th, you know that for many years your local affiliate has broadcast the "Capitol Fourth" program which is the concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol building followed by the fireworks which are beyond the Washington Monument on the far end of the Smithsonian Mall.

  • Our first Fourth of July in Washington, DC was in 1978. The woman who would become the Mullings Director of Standards & Practices and I took our son, then a little over two-years-old, to the steps of the Jefferson Memorial where we met some friends to watch the fireworks.

  • In the manner of all way off-the-chart-smart 27-month olds, Reed watched the fireworks and pronounced them "boom lights."

  • Twenty years later we watched them again. But, this time we were on the Speaker's Balcony of the Capitol, a guest of Speaker Newt Gingrich. We could look down and watch the wonderful concert and feel the waves of joy from the thousands of people on the lawn between the stage the Capitol steps.

  • When the orchestra struck up the 1812 Overture, we could look up and watch the fireworks rising into the sky with Washington Monument silhouetted before them.

  • In those days I was the executive director of GOPAC. A few days after the remarkable experience of Independence Day, I either got a call from, or made a call to, the Washington Bureau Chief of NBC News - Tim Russert.

  • In the course of our discussion I mentioned the fact that my wife and I had been guests of the Speaker at the Capitol. And I mentioned that in even in 1998, there were precious few countries on the planet where the son of a Jewish upholsterer from Brooklyn could be on the balcony of one of the most important buildings in the country celebrating the Nation's birthday.

  • Tim was silent for a time and said he wanted to read me something. It turned out that he had been selected to be the man-of-the-year for the Buffalo, New York American Legion.

  • Russert was not a foolish man. He knew he had been named "man-of-the-year" so they could have a dinner which people in Buffalo would pay money to attend thus raising money for the Buffalo American Legion at which his dad - Big Russ - spent a good deal of time, so he happily accepted the honor.

  • He read to me his acceptance speech which was a recitation of Big Russ' biography. He had been a gunner on a B-17 in World War II. Been shot down. Been pulled from a burning plane by a Polish guy from Chicago. Had come home and gotten a job "humping potatoes at the Safeway" and then got the job of a lifetime.

  • Big Russ signed on with the Sanitation Department of the City of Buffalo, New York.

  • By this time, we had been reduced to two 50-something adult men sobbing with each other on a telephone call.

  • It wasn't because we were depressed about how hard our ascents from blue collar backgrounds had been.

  • We were sobbing - this Jewish son of an upholsterer and the Irish son of a sanitation worker - because in America it just doesn't matter from whence you came. It only matters how hard you have worked to get where you are.

  • On Saturday night, as I was watching the 2009 edition of "A Capitol Fourth" on my HD television, I waited for the boom lights; thought about that conversation with Tim; then raised a glass to his memory and to honor our country.

  • Thank you, America.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the PBS page "A Capitol Fourth," to Tim Russert's biography and to this week's baseball column. Also a Mullfoto from Nationals Park on the Fourth of July and a Catchy Caption of the Day.