Friday, June 18, 2010

Barack Obama, the Jamarcus Russell of Presidents

Have you seen the Russell kid from LSU? He can throw the ball 80 yards effortlessly! He threw the ball 70 yards across his body! He threw the ball through the uprights from a seated position from the opposite 40 yard line! This guy has a cannon - no, a missile launcher for an arm! I mean, just look at this!

Such was the ethereal praise for LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell previous to the 2007 NFL draft. The vaunted Mel Kiper of ESPN proclaimed Russell to be "Elway-like." Kiper's crown prince, Todd McShay, described himself as "in awe" of Russell's workouts. However, largely absent from this vast chorus of praise was any discussion of several traits pertinent to successful quarterbacking in the NFL- leadership, knowledge of the game, understanding of defenses, coachability, work ethic, making sound decisions, and throwing accuracy. Bowled over by the singular power of JaMarcus Russell's arm, the Oakland Raiders drafted him number one.

Russell was not impressed with the initial contract offers by the Raiders, so he began missing essential training activities for the team, an absolute disaster for quarterbacks who need to learn the offense and develop a rapport with receivers. The Raiders rewarded him with a $68 million dollar contract, $31.5M of which was guaranteed (a record at the time for rookies). Russell's reluctance did not end there. He consistently slacked off in practice, even when he was named starter in his third season, only to be benched in favor of journeyman Bruce Gradkowski. Despite absolutely no signs of leadership, work ethic, or ability whatsoever to play professional football, commentators still held out hope, still in awe of his powerful arm. By this offseason, previous to what would have been his fourth pro season, JaMarcus had become (in the words of NBC Sports) "incredibly overweight" and was cut by the Raiders, making him the shortest-tenured player taken #1 overall. All of his alleged talent notwithstanding, he finished his time with the Raiders as the statistically worst QB of the decade, fat, universally ridiculed, and thus far, unable to find a job.

Our current President should be so lucky.

The unmitigated praise from countless media outlets began with Newsweek's gushing cover story of Barack Obama subsequent to his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. He transcends right and left! He's post-racial! Even after he secured the Democratic nomination, the praise did not moderate. He'll end politics as usual! He'll turn our enemies into allies! MSNBC host Chris Matthews infamously admitted that when Obama speaks he gets "a tingle up [his] leg." Perhaps the greatest praise came from Obama himself in his victory speech on election night, declaring, "We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth."

Absent from the tsunami of plaudits was any sort of track record, any proffering of evidence that he possessed these transcendent traits or had any significant impact in achieving these lofty goals. For all of the attention his remarks about the non-existence of red or blue states, he was ranked the most liberal senator in his cameo appearance in that chamber, and voted with his party 97% of the time. We were to trust his "judgment," but we were only offered his opposition to the war in Iraq, previous to his being in the Senate, as an example. As the campaign unfolded, we saw more of his judgment in the company of his controversial associates and mentors, including Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Van Jones, etc. He had no executive experience, unless one counts his leadership of the Harvard Law Review, or as his staff likes to point out, his smooth and successful presidential campaign. Those viewing with clear eyes saw a candidate who was exciting and compelling, but ultimately lacking in what it takes to be a successful president: leadership, skill to gain concessions from opponents, a sense of what the country needs and wants, and the ability to reassure the nation in troubled times.

Fast-forward a year and a half with most recovering from the initial Kool-aid dosing, we have more than ample evidence of the total failure of Obama and his policies. His first major legislative victory, the so-called stimulus package, succeeded only to prop up public sector and trade unions, part of the Democrat base. The administration repeatedly told us that the package would keep unemployment under 8%; it is now at 10%, with the long-term unemployed comprising half that number. Stimulus payments have been rife with fraud and waste, going to non-existent legislative districts and projects that already had funding. Obama's healthcare overhaul has frightened businesses from hiring to avoid huge future health costs. Despite Democrat allegations of reducing health costs while greatly expanding coverage, insurance premiums have skyrocketed and companies are already planning to either pay the fine for not providing coverage or keeping employees under 30 hours a week to render them ineligible.

On the foreign policy front, where the American president has the most direct power, Obama has weakened relationships with allies, ingratiated to questionable foreign leaders, and emboldened enemies. He snubbed then-PM Gordon Brown of the UK, wanting only a photo op with the Queen, who he gave an iPod filled with speeches he gave. Notwithstanding his attempts to woo western hemisphere dictators Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez, they now mock him after some small initial praise. In perhaps this administration's gravest foreign policy error, Obama sided with President Manuel Zelaya, who had been legally removed for attempting to exceed term limits imposed by the constitution of Honduras. And while the President caused much hyperventilation within the American press with his famed Cairo speech, we have not gained any ground in Middle East diplomatic efforts, best exemplified by our continued failure to even partially impede Iran's nuclear ambitions. As Iranians rallied by the tens of thousands in the street protesting rigged elections last year, the Commander-in-Chief expressed his "deep disappointment" with the Iranian government but did nothing of substance to promote democratic reform.

In the final analysis, Barack Obama really has one true skill: the ability to give a great speech.

It's a skill that continues to turn the heads of the media, sycophantic Democrat loyalists, and people who just aren't paying any attention. Aided by his ubiquitous teleprompter, Barack Obama's speeches how the power to stir up a frenzy and dazzle the sympathetic with his intellect - they made voters believe that he could not only remedy the damage inflicted by the preceding administration, but elevate America to Where We Should Truly Be. His speaking is like JaMarcus Russell's ability to throw the football really, really far: it blinds onlookers to the fact that neither of them has the judgment, skills, ability, aptitude, work ethic, or experience to do their jobs well. If America is fortunate, Obama's duration in the Oval Office will exceed Russell's with the Raiders by just a year.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Unicorns and Mammograms

On spending, politicians tend to be like shopaholic wives coming home from the mall: the rationale for absurd and damaging expenditures is couched in the language of fiscal discipline. On the retail level, it comes out as, "Yes, these jeans cost $250, but they're normally $400!" On the national level, it's "Sure it cost a trillion dollars but it will save or create 4 million jobs" and "Well, it costs at least a trillion dollars, but insurance premiums will go down an average of $2500!" A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet; a flaming bag of dog dung by any other name will still stink.

The recently-passed health regulation bill is of the same comedic but painful logic. We are led to believe that we must spend money to save money, a line of thinking we should be so lucky to try out on our own creditors. Leaving aside the countless damaging provisions enumerated in the bill, including putting more of our well-being in the hands of the people who run Amtrak and the post office, one question needs to be asked: is the bill cynical enough to work?

The plans for "funding" the bill are what should draw the most raised eyebrows. First are the raising of various taxes on "the rich" and people with lavish insurance plans. Second are the cuts to Medicare, meaning "the elimination of $100B of waste and fraud" and slashing reimbursements to doctors. Third is the coercion of individuals and companies to purchase government-approved insurance policies.

To analyze each of these means of funding which will allegedly reduce our national deficit/expand coverage/reduce private insurance premiums, let's use a test called "What's More Likely?" originally used by Scott Adams in The Dilbert Principle.

What's more likely...that the unions and the better-off will humbly accept being taxed, grateful to contribute to the health care of others? Or that they will pressure members of Congress to create carve-outs for them and find new ways to hide their money?

What's more likely...that the government too stupid to avoid being swindled for trillions over the years will suddenly become a competent, well-audited machine? Or will the new watershed of cash enrich the people behind "Viagra for dead chicks" so much that they will name their yachts after Barney Frank?

What's more likely...that the Congress which every year lacks the courage to reduce Medicare reimbursement rates will do so dramatically in an election year? Or that Senators will begin to pretend to not speak English when pressed about the issue?

What's more likely...that companies and individuals will continue to shell out tens of thousands on insurance policies that they don't have to have? Or will they pay the relatively small fine and spend the rest of the money on flat screens and Snuggies?

Where the most cynicism is needed in this bill is the assumption that people and companies will obey the mandate over paying the fine. President Obama promises a reduction in premiums due to increased number of customers paying in. But how would rates not go up taking on riskier patients? The CBO, which has proven to be cheerily optimistic in its calculations over the decades, have stated that even with ObamaCare that family premiums will go up 13% by 2016, which obviously isn't the same as being reduced by $2500 annually. Clearly, this bill isn't sufficiently cynical to account for the realities of the market and individuals responding to the new conditions it creates.

Or is the opposite true - that the bill is ultra-cynical and counting on these issues to severely damage the insurance industry, sending premiums through the roof? We'll call this the Limbaugh Corollary; Rush Limbaugh asserts that ObamaCare is one of many mechanisms used by the Democrat Party to destroy the economy and American way of life so they can implement socialism. While the Limbaugh Corollary is pure conjecture, the consistent actions of the president and congressional leadership skew very much in favor of government intervention and control. The theory is unreasonable, but we don't have much evidence that leading Democrats are at all reasonable.

The health regulation bill is a disappointment to liberals who want single-payer or at least a public option, an outrage to conservatives, and an abomination to a majority of Americans. Simple, common sense analysis of this intrusive and excessive volume of legislation reveals it to be destructive, freedom-limiting, invasive, ineffective, wildly expensive, and a discredit to all who support it.

For a great critical analysis of the bill, check out this article from Jon Kraushar of Fox News:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2009 Didn't Entirely Suck, I Guess

2009, as you may recall, sucked. The economy sucked, we had our 21st consecutive year of having a total moron in the White House (who beat out another moron), the Beatles were even more prevalent with the release of their edition of Rock Band, the Lakers and Yankees both won championships, and it's still legal to show Nancy Pelosi and John McCain on television. It also marked the first year of my working life where I actually made less money than the year before, even before I got laid off. Other stuff that sucked: I had to work at that job for ten months out of the year, Kris Allen won American Idol, and Facebook invented 70,000 more inane games to fill my news feed.

But I'm not going to dwell on that stuff. I had two awesome highlights last year, and I want to share them with you.

Getting Laid Off

In September 2003 I moved to Seattle metro from Austin, leaving behind tons of friends, nearby family, and an easy job to go live in the basement of a clown. To support myself while I went to school, I applied to approximately 70,000 jobs. Not CEO positions, but stupid jobs, and couldn't get a call back, not even from Blockbuster (though they do need a store manager now at a location near me...) In December I finally got my one and only interview with a floral distributor. A middle aged woman named Barbara hired me because I apparently fit her agenda of filling her office with cute college guys. I should have known that this whole scenario was doomed when the GM nearly choked when I asked for a whole dollar an hour more than he wanted to pay. Or maybe I should have just left when the owner wanted to fire me because I was "getting in the way." But because of a combination of apathy, loyalty, laziness, my bad resume, and depression, I stuck around for six years.

Among the many highlights of my tenure there:
1) Hearing very high-decibel and very personal shouting matches between the GM and owner, who were later married, in the office next door
2) Being called "the help" by our owner
3) Taking the owner's fetid dog to its salon appointments
4) Providing tech support to coworkers who don't realize that the computer doesn't work when it is off
5) Having accounting debates with customers whose accounting consists of throwing all of their receipts in a drawer
6) Realizing that my position in the company is actually despised by management
7) Being promised bonuses that never materialized
8) Having the Christmas bonus canceled, the company Christmas party canceled, then the pot luck to replace the party which would have cost the company nothing canceled, only to discover the company spent thousands of dollars on a dinner for select employees (five years of quality work apparently not qualifying for that honor)
9) Constantly being told by my supervisor that everyone not in sales costs the company money and is a burden, even though I was in charge of collections and did a good job at it
10) Hearing our loony owner ask a fellow childless female employee if her pets gave her Mother's Day cards
11) Being instructed by our GM to order 4 pirate costumes for his mother-in-law's memorial service
12) Earning half the salary of a tubby, pointy-haired woman with no discernible job description
13) Hearing the phrase "floral emergency" dozens of times
14) Having to wake up every day before bars closed
15) Dropping off a vehicle for a couple of managers on a dangerous stretch of highway (their tire had blown out), waiting for the tow truck that nobody had called, and being disregarded later

So for those of you who think, "Maybe getting laid off was a blessing in disguise," you're wrong. It's a blessing naked and doing jumping jacks in front of me.

The Mogwai

After two years of aborted sleep, entire wardrobes being covered in baby barf, feces covering an entire room, voluminous bodily fluids covering your home, and the joys of taking a child out in public, as well as a guaranteed 8 months of unrelenting spousal unpleasantness, we just had to have another kid, right? But you can live through all of that stuff when you get to have this:

Jason was born on June 27th in his grandparents' bathtub. Thus far, he's the best-behaved baby I've ever encountered in my life, a sweet kid who tries to engage the people around him. He's my favorite person on the earth right now. Getting drooled and spit up on is a small price to pay to have that much love in your life.