November 30, 2010
We Also Hear That The White House Commissary Will Be Switching to Hunt’s Ketchup
In a dramatic gesture towards fiscal discipline yesterday the President made a grand pronouncement that he would freeze the pay of federal workers for two years.
Well, not all federal workers, he would exempt the military.
Also, Congress and their staffers would not be included.
Nor would defense contractors
Or postal workers.
And people who work for judges.
But other than that, all federal workers would have their pay frozen.
Well, not “frozen” in the sense that they can’t make more than they are now through normal step increases, just that they won’t get any cost of living increases.
But other than that, their pay is completely frozen.
As long as you don’t include bonuses. They can still get those.
We think that’s it.
In all, the President's sweeping proposal means that some federal workers will miss out on a 0.9% pay increase this year.
Draconian? Maybe. But as the president said, "Reining in our deficits will take tough decisions and sacrifices made by us all.
How did federal employee unions react to the president's call for shared sacrifice by foregoing a tiny pay increase?
“This proposal is a superficial panic reaction.. just a public relations gesture... political scapegoating... unconscionable..."
We'll just put them in the "undecided" column for now.
So what will the savings add up to? According to the President’s OMB director, it could: “…save $2 billion over the remainder of this fiscal year, $28 billion in cumulative savings over the next five years, and more than $60 billion over the next 10 years.”
Wow! $60 billion sounds pretty impressive. But why stop there? We calculate that this difficult move will save in excess of $600 billion over the next 100 years and as much as $9 trillion by the year 3510. Think of all the earmarks $9 trillion could buy. (Train stations for everyone!)
If you want to learn more about the President’s pay freeze, the White House has prepared a handy fact sheet that starts off answering what must be the most important question on everyone’s mind:
“Because of the irresponsibility of the past decade, the President inherited a $1.3 trillion projected deficit upon taking office.”
But that’s just the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, the White House’s fact sheet starts to get into the real nitty gritty of the plan:
“Now, we need to turn our attention to addressing the massive deficits we inherited.”
It is not clear if the President inherited the pay freeze.
November 29, 2010
The Fourth What Now?
Having been stung by criticisms for appearing to coddle terrorists whether it was mirandizing the underwear bomber last year or trying embassy bomber Ahmed Ghailani in civilian courts with mixed results, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has decided to, as one private observer commented, “stop playing games.”
And so as part of its increased enforcement efforts, the DHS, through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is stepping up its efforts and adopting extra-legal means to go at the heart of the threats facing our nation:
Knockoff designer handbags.
Also, pirated copies of Ke$ha.
Their names have grown all too familiar with time, Sunglasses Mall, My Golf Wholesale, and the notorious Silk Scarf Shop. Now, when miscreants seeking to end our way of life and/or purchase a reproduction Gucci scarf at 90% off the retail price, they are greeted with this message:
File sharing sites such as Torrent-Finder and others were also accused of aiding and abetting the sharing of files and so were also targeted by a crack team of agents specially trained to sign pieces of papers authorizing the shut downs.
If you are like most Planet Moron readers, you’re probably thinking, “You know what, some knockoff Gucci scarves would go a long way towards polishing off my Christmas list.”
Also, “Being able to arbitrarily seize domain names and thus putting someone out of business based on nothing more than a warrant and without giving the owners a chance to answer the charges beforehand doesn’t seem to provide the government enough power. Is there any way we could grant the state more authority to put down these evildoers/file sharers?
You bet there is.
A bill called the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (COICA), would provide the Attorney General additional authority to shut down sites including those that merely provide links to pirating sites or actively advocate against copyright laws and intellectual property rights.
These are extremely important efforts if we’re ever going to get our arms around the sad fact that we now live in a world where powerful multinational corporations are forced to go through the time, trouble, and expense of proving their cases in court.
Besides, using the federal government to seize the properties of the accused and then force them to prove themselves innocent absent any means to do so is much more efficient because you’re cutting out all the middlemen, in this case, the judge and the jury, both of which have proven to be impediments to achieving quick justice. Really quick justice.
Or do you want the terrorists to win?
November 25, 2010
Weekend Pictorial, Thanksgiving Edition, 11-25-2010
'Tis Some Season
Nothing says "Hey, it's Thanksgiving morning!" quite like a large pile of cut Christmas trees. Us? We're still working on our Halloween candy.
On the drive up to visit family today listening to the "Martha Stewart Channel" (don't ask) on Sirius/XM we were instructed on the importance of properly preparing a festive "tablescape" for your Thanksgiving guests.
Here's the tablescape I prepared once I got to my in-laws:
What? Too showy?
The official UPS calendar dutifully notes all the important holidays including not only Thanksgiving, but also the equally notable, "Day after Thanksgiving," for those who can never seem to remember when it is.
Here's wishing all our readers a happy Day after Thanksgiving!
And don't forget, only twelve more shopping days until Eighteen Days Before Christmas!
November 24, 2010
Four Loko: Publicity Enemy #1
“Combining caffeine and alcohol is, indeed, crazy. It can be lethally crazy.”
"A toxic, dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol."
"Spreading like a plague across the country."
"A witch's brew."
"Blackout in a can."
You know what?
You had me at “lethally crazy.”
Regular readers know that I am more than a little familiar with the process of throwing down a few drinks now and again, or as I prefer to term it: “The alcoholic arts.”
So, when the latest prohibitionpalooza came along, I felt it was my responsibility, despite the many personal risks involved, to investigate the issue myself. While yesterday we explored the public policy discussion surrounding caffeinated alcoholic beverages, today we examine the product that is itself at the center of the controversy, “Four Loko.”
I had already heard that the makers of Four Loko were going to remove the toxic caffeine with which they had illegally “adulterated” their plagued concoction and so wanted to make sure I got some samples of the original witch’s brew before they disappeared from store shelves. Wasting no time, I visited my local 7-11 store in Arlington, VA this past Sunday to see if they had any left.
They had some left.
I went back to the refrigerated section where I came upon a twenty-something dude pulling out can after can, juggling the armful he had already accumulated.
Me: You know, they have cases of the stuff here.
Dude: Really? Where?
Me: Right down at the end of this aisle.
Dude: Excellent, thanks!
He bought two cases.
I feel like I am at least partially responsible for what I can only assume was his certain death.
I purchased three individual cans of the three flavors they had available, watermelon, lemonade, and fruit punch.
That was a bad sign right there.
Regardless, I settled in for the evening, determined to drink one of the oversized cans.
I chose watermelon since it struck me as potentially the most revolting. A watermelon flavored “malt liquor” beverage is about as appetizing sounding as beef flavored tequila.
I didn’t want to drink it straight out of the can since it is well understood that to fully appreciate an exquisitely refined spirit such as Four Loko, you need to engage all your senses including sight.
That raised the question as to what is the proper vessel for serving Four Loko. My first instinct was “the drain,” but that would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. I ended up choosing a stemless wine glass as its weeble-like shape made it the least likely to be knocked over should I be overcome with the expected caffeinated alcoholic insanity.
And so I carefully decanted the delicately flavored malt beverage into the glass.
Gaaggghh! What the hell kind of a color is that?
Sure, I had already been warned by the FDA that consuming Four Loko “may result in adverse behavioral outcomes” I just didn’t think gagging was going to be one of them.
Now, I should point out that I have something of a sweet tooth. I’ll drink the occasional frozen strawberry daquiri or “mud slide” or any of a number of alcoholic drinks designed for people who don’t really like alcohol so you’d think I’d have some tolerance for the stuff, but Four Loko has the kind of cloying, candied sweetness that would offend a honey bee.
No matter, this was for science, so I finished the can and awaited the psychosis to befall me. The result?
I felt like I had drunk a bunch of alcohol with a maple syrup chaser. No blackouts, no near-death experiences, no hypnotic states during which I contemplated the likelihood that our entire universe is just a single molecule in a giant’s fingernail. The only thing I contemplated was whether or not I should take a Zantac.
Having survived Sunday night, I decided to try the lemonade the next night.
Its appearance was improved over the Day-Glo watermelon and it tasted a lot like a Mike’s Lemonade.
That’s not a compliment.
I polished off the can inside of an hour and… pretty much felt like the night before.
I’m sure if I slammed down four 23.5-ounce cans I’d get really messed up. That will happen when you drink A LOT of alcohol, regardless of how awful it tastes.
White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, taking a break from losing the war on drugs, spoke in approval of the FDA’s actions against Four Loko (Would you rather talk tough to some Ohio State grads or Mexican drug lords?), remarking that:
"These products are designed, branded, and promoted to encourage binge drinking. These drinks are especially unhealthy and dangerous because they combine alcohol and caffeine ”
The only thing in a can of Four Loko that encourages binge drinking is alcohol.
When you’re twenty one years old you don’t need caffeine to binge drink. You need something to drink. I’m pretty sure the time I had to crawl around my dorm floor for 12 hours because I was incapable of standing up wasn’t because someone had spiked the triple-shot kamikazes I’d been drinking with No-Doz. But you know what? I learned an important lesson.
They don’t mop those dorm floors as often as you might think.
Also, something about responsibility.
My conclusion? Four Loko is an awful, vile drink, but hey, some people think Martinis are revolting. In other words:
I might not agree with what you drink, but I’ll defend to the death your right to choke down the crap.
But no, I never got around to drinking the fruit punch flavor. I switched to beer.
November 23, 2010
If You’re Not Allowed to be Loco For Four Loko, Can You Still be Coo Coo For Cocoa Puffs?
When it isn’t busy trying to convince you that chopped walnuts and Cheerios are drugs or attempting to suppress the expression of opinions that have not been pre-approved by the proper authorities, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) works diligently to ensure you are not subjected to foods that have been adulterated with ingredients not “generally recognized as safe” by which they mean “been generally recognized as safe for decades.”
Specifically, the FDA, responding to an outcry over the recent discovery that college students get drunk and do stupid things, is cracking down on caffeinated alcoholic beverages sending letters to, among other companies, the makers of the infamous “Four Loko:”
“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reviewed the regulatory status of the ingredients declared on the label of your product, "Four Loko" which contains caffeine that has been directly added to an alcoholic beverage and packaged in combined caffeine and alcohol form. As it is used in your product, caffeine is an unsafe food additive, and therefore your product is adulterated under section 402(a)(2)(C) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) [21 U.S.C. § 342(a)(2)(C)].”
This past Saturday I adulterated a bottle of whiskey with an unsafe Dunkin’ Donuts “Box O’Joe.” Imagine my horror at the realization that I have been adulterating alcohol with unsafe caffeine for decades!
As David Vladeck, director of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection warned, young drinkers, "may not realize how much alcohol they have consumed because caffeine can mask the sense of intoxication."
You know what else can mask the sense of intoxication?
Regardless, the situation is so dire that in addition to the FDA and FTC, the TTB got involved as well!
Okay, we had no idea what the TTB was either, but it is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and apparently they are so upset that their title doesn’t match their initials like the other cool agencies, they felt it important to pile on in a press release announcing that it had:
“…notified four companies that if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deems their caffeinated alcohol beverage products adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, we would consider them to be mislabeled under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, making it a violation for industry members to sell or ship the products in interstate or foreign commerce.”
In other words, if they are deemed to be in violation of the law, the TTB will consider them in violation of the law.
Good of them to clear that up for us.
In an apparent effort to better reach out to youth and appear hip and current, the FDA went so far as to set up a Flickr page dedicated to pictures of caffeinated alcoholic beverage containers.
Why? We have no idea. It’s like your grandfather going on about how he’s on Twitter and wants to friend you and OMG he can’t believe U cant C where he’s coming from and you know for a fact that whenever you talk about getting him set up for WiFi he doesn’t say anything because he thinks you have a speech impediment.
Clearly, this issue is too important not to address on a more personal level. That, plus I don’t much like being told that I can’t do something. You know how your mother used to ask you, “If Billy jumped off a bridge, would you jump off too?”
No, I wouldn’t.
But if Billy told me I wasn’t allowed to jump off the bridge…
Tomorrow, Four Loko, up close and personal.
November 22, 2010
There’s Lies, Damned Lies, And Carefully Researched Washington Post Articles.
The Washington Post dedicated a team of reporters to a yearlong investigation into the sources of guns used in the killings of police officers. The Post presumably focused on police officers as there were not enough data available for a more sympathetic demographic, say, nuns, or orphans, or small fuzzy bunnies, or small fuzzy orphan nun bunnies.
Unfortunately, once they compiled all the data, it turns out that not only were 100% of these heinous crimes traced back to the act of an individual and not the spontaneous act of the firearm itself, but also that the vast majority of firearms used by these criminals had been obtained illegally, as has long been the argument of activists who support the legal ownership of firearms.
However, just because the facts were insufficiently compelling didn’t mean the Post had to abandon its preferred narrative.
Here is the chart they prepared for the print edition of the Sunday paper:
You see, guns were not just “stolen” but also “taken” from friends (stolen), otherwise seized from officers (stolen), or secured through various other illegal means. What does breaking down all the guns that were obtained illegally into several subcategories while lumping those that were legally acquired into just one accomplish?
The Post gets to claim:
“Legal purchase was the leading source of weapons used to kill police officers.”
Now that's pretty impressive. Sure, you could technically claim that the leading source of weapons was “unknown,” since 170 guns couldn’t be tracked. You could also point out that a careful reading of the statistics reveals that police officers are at less peril from gun show sales than from the guns they have in their holsters when they go to harass gun shows, but that’s not what’s important.
What’s important is that you can use the Washington Post’s professional approach to statistical analysis in your own life.
Let’s say your girlfriend complains that you blow all your money drinking. Just prepare this handy chart for her:
"Food is the leading source of your personal expenditures."
Welcome William M. Briggs readers ("Statistician to the Stars!"). Please make yourselves at home, just keep in mind that I will be counting the silverware.
November 21, 2010
Weekend Pictorial, Caffeine Edition, 11-21-2010
Box O’Irish Joe
How do you turn a Dunkin’ Donuts “Box O’Joe” into a “Box O’Irish Joe? Drink a few cups out of it, replace the missing coffee with whiskey, khalua and some Bailey’s for color. Shake. Consider it a “tailgate in a box,” perfect for November college football games.
Of course, mixing alcohol and caffeine is a time-honored tradition with decades of history from rum and cokes, to Jack and cokes to Irish coffees with there being little question as to the relative safety of the practice.
However, put it in a colorful can, and it becomes a deadly liquid missile, in need of banning.
While I am not a big fan of “energy drinks” in general, or anything watermelon flavored that is not, in fact, a watermelon (with the possible exception of Jolly Ranchers), I also don’t like being told what I can’t drink and so scored three cans at a local 7-11. I consider this part of my naturally young-at-heart, rebellious nature. My wife just thinks I’m an immature jerk. (I see no reason why we can’t both be right.)
I’ll have a report on Four Loko this week. Assuming of course, I am not driven mad first. (I’m more concerned about the FD&C Red #40 than anything else.)
But Is It Dolphin Safe?
While we’re still on the subject of caffeine, I purchased a couple bags of coffee a friend’s child was selling for his school. It turned out it was “Equal Exchange” coffee. And organic. And fairly traded. (I always thought two consenting adults arriving at an agreed upon price absent coercion was a fair trade, but I guess I’m old school.)
It was also Co-op owned and “social certified by IMO” whatever social certified is and whatever IMO is.
It also supports small farmers who are themselves in Co-ops.
This was just from one bag. Call it, “The Insecure 13-Year-Old Girl” school of marketing. (And I’m in drama class, and I volunteer at the senior center, and got straight As, and have perfect attendance, and I'm kind to animals, and and…)
In fairness, it was really good coffee. Maybe they should try emphasizing that next time.
November 19, 2010
Failure is Not an Option! Well, Not Anymore…
Ford had been working diligently for years revamping its lineup, making cars people wanted to buy while judiciously taking on debt and building up cash reserves. While this may have suppressed to some extent short-term results, the company felt it was important to build for the future and be prepared financially for downturns.
Which is why it had to be punished.
Ford was not only damaging the other American car companies’ self-esteem, it was engaging in the worst kind of “moral safety,” an economic term that describes the phenomenon in which a party behaves differently if it believes it bears the consequences of its actions.
That’s not the kind of America we want to live in.
Fortunately, the financial crisis that hit the nation late in 2008 afforded the perfect opportunity for the federal government to remedy this unfortunate situation as years of building substandard automobiles, sustaining an excessive bureaucracy, and engaging in financial mismanagement, threatened to bring down General Motors.
Absent the government takeover, this would have created an opportunity for Ford to reap the rewards of its hard work and foresight, gaining market share, having its pick of GM's best and brightest, and obtaining other assets at attractive prices.
In other words there was the very real risk that capitalism could break out.
Instead, the federal government subverted decades of bankruptcy law, tossed out the claims of shareholders, wiped out debt, left union contracts and the vast majority of management intact, and gave the new company a sweetheart deal on future taxes.
As surprising as it may seem, when you take a bankrupt company with over $94 billion in debt, and replace it with a non-bankrupt company with $17 billion in debt, you can have a pretty successful IPO, particularly when Ford, in its foolish prudence, still has to manage with over $134 billion in debt.
Hopefully we all learned a valuable lesson from this.
It’s better to have connections than conviction.
November 18, 2010
They Also Want Taco Bell To Warn Patrons That They Do Not Sell Hamburgers
Some members of the New York City Council are very concerned that people going to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) with names such as “Bridge to Life,” “Sisters of Life,” and “Life Center,” might not be the best places for pro-choice supporters looking to get an abortion, and so are pushing for a law that would require these organizations to explicitly state in all their advertisements that they do not, in fact, provide abortions.
Of course, Planned Parenthood does provide abortions as can obviously be determined from its name, and so would be under no similar kind of full-disclosure requirements. As supporters pointed out at a hearing on the proposal, it would be silly to assume that an organization called Planned Parenthood would be primarily concerned with parenthood.
For example, one woman who was 28 weeks pregnant testified that she was looking for financial aid to purchase a car seat and so went to Planned Parenthood where she was obligingly advised that they could help her secure a medical waiver to get an abortion.
Hey, now that’s some innovative problem-solving but in no way proves that Planned Parenthood is obsessed with abortions.
However, for those of you who are expectant parents and are thinking of visiting a Planned Parenthood location to ask a few questions, we’ve put together a helpful FAQ for some of the likely responses you might receive:
Q: I have swelling in my feet. Is that normal?
A: Medically, abortions can be performed at any time as safely or more safely than birth.
Q: Is it okay to have a glass of wine while I’m pregnant?
A: Abortions are very common. In fact, more than 1 out of 3 women in the U.S. have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old.
Q: I typically run five miles, three times a week. Is that safe for my baby?
A: There is more than one kind of in-clinic abortion procedure. The most common is called aspiration.
Q: If I have trouble breastfeeding, is it okay if I feed my baby formula instead?
A: An aspiration procedure takes about 5 to 10 minutes. But more time may be needed to prepare your cervix.
Q: How can I tell if I’m going into labor.
A: Abortions are available at many Planned Parenthood health centers, clinics, and the offices of private health care providers.
As you can see, the people at Planned Parenthood have a broad array of information they can provide pregnant women, which is why it is so important that we protect people from organizations that do not provide abortions.
If fact, we believe the list should be expanded beyond just crisis pregnancy centers and demand that other organizations that do not provide abortions be required to advertise that fact so as to avoid any obvious confusion including:
- The Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
- The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.
- Christian Coalition of America.
- The Long John Silvers on Route 9 just north of 195 in New Jersey.
- The Smithsonian Institution.
- Pipe Fitters Local 533.
- The Kiwanis Club.
Only by forcing organizations to be honest and upfront about the fact that they do not perform abortions can we be certain that a vulnerable young woman won’t innocently wander into a Lowe’s and rather than having her pregnancy terminated, walk out with roofing materials instead.
Downside: Unexpectedly Awkward Thanksgiving.
Upside: New roof!
November 17, 2010
Desperate Times Call For... Measures
It is broadly agreed that we are facing a fiscal crisis unlike anything before, with trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see and no plausible way to stem the tide of red ink.
But tough times call for true visionaries to step forward and shake the status quo from its complacency, to be willing to champion the kind of bold steps that, however unpalatable, must be taken if we are to survive as a nation.
Fortunately, former New Mexico Senator Pete V. Domenici and former OMB director under President Clinton, Alice Rivlin, are up to the task, unveiling today what they call:
“A bold, comprehensive plan to dramatically reduce America's deficits and debt and strengthen our economy, enabling the nation to reclaim its future.”
And how do they plan to accomplish this?
Tax sugary sodas.
Did we say “bold?” We meant “crazy bold!” A tax on sugary sodas is absolutely essential if the federal government is going to fight our obesity epidemic, partly brought on by federal government subsidies for the sugar industry.
And it doesn’t end there. They also call for a freeze on discretionary domestic spending for four years at levels last seen in… well, 2011.
Hey, that one’s really going to sting.
You might point out that freezing spending at levels we haven’t actually attained yet and that are already highly elevated might not be the most aggressive deficit reduction approach.
Hey, that’s what the soda tax is for, Einstein.
Their bold deficit reduction plan also includes a "payroll tax holiday" for 2011 that would be paid for by boldly increasing the deficit by $800 billion.
Additionally, the plan would "dramatically simplify the tax system," by which they mean, "dramatically increase taxes."
Overall, the plan shares many elements with “an aggressive plan” presented last week by the co-chairs of President Obama’s deficit reduction committee in that it trimmed spending here and nip and tucked the tax code there, resulting in it being praised for its “seriousness,” “potential to reframe the debate over taxes and spending,” having “changed the rules of the game,” and being "a breakthrough."
We suppose that given the day and age, a proposal to maybe not increase spending by quite so much in the future, however timid, truly should be considered an unprecedented breakthrough.
Also, it has no chance of passing.
You know what has even less of a chance of passing?