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October 2011

The real third rail in American politics

The conventional wisdom still holds that "Social Security is the third rail in American politics." The metaphor refers, of course, to the third rail of electric-powered trains, and touching that rail will most likely be fatal.

Like most conventional wisdom, though, it is clearly wrong. For example, if some politician discussed making social security voluntary, it is difficult to see how such a concept would be fatal—especially if articulated to younger voters. What would be fatal is the notion of taking social security away from those already receiving and relying on it, and I've never heard anyone suggest that.

The real third rail is a concept that would be popular with the majority of our citizens, but under current PC diktat would nonetheless be fatal. This real third rail is quite simple: Imposing qualifications for voting.

I'm not talking about any sort of literacy test or a poll tax. Rather, I suggest that one need to be a taxpayer and/or not be on welfare to be allowed to vote. The specific terms involved can be debated, but most would agree that those who are not paying into the system should have no say in what it pays out.

Charity is a wonderful thing, but it is only in our perverse social welfare state that it can be dictated (at least partially) by the recipient. It's bad enough that politicians (mostly Democrats) have perfected the art of giving gifts to public employees' unions, so they will continue to vote Democratic, and pay for the re-election campaigns. As taxpayers, these workers are entitled to having a say, even if they are obviously gaming the system. That problem must be dealt with separately.

Of course, imposing qualifications for voting, and doing many other things that could possibly fix our broken system will probably never happen. And, by the way, this includes the foolish "Return to the Constitution" nonsense that we hear all the time.

If you read Article I Section 8, you will see that Congress can do whatever it wants: "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."

The Feds have grabbed power right from the beginning, and as mass communications improved, they have grabbed it all the more.

I am not optimistic about turning around our nation's decline, but two things would be essential: Term limits and requirements for voting. Good luck having either of these come true.

Chinese drywall issues explained to a consumer activist

The following is taken from my e-mail correspondence with a well-known consumer activist. Given her legal background, the most difficult concept for her is that conventional litigation will be of no use in this matter.


1.     There is no American manufacturer of tainted and corrosive drywall. Sadly, much time was wasted by Florida homeowner Brenda Brincku in her misguided litigation crusade against National Gypsum.

National took samples of EVERY piece of drywall in her house, and ran chamber tests on them (costing about $800 per sample) and there are probably 150-200 sheets of drywall in her home. As it turned out, there were no elevated sulfide levels on any of them. I was shown all the samples by Craig Weisbruch, VP of National, and was given a free rein tour of their Florida manufacturing facility.

Extensive forensic analysis has indicated that the Brincku's corrosion problems derive from sulfur-contaminated ground water by their home—and this is not uncommon in Florida.

Essentially all copycat litigation against National has been thrown out of court.


2.     As discussed, there is no possibility of any legal remedy, since—as you said—the true defendant is the Chinese government. In fact, the Chinese were unwilling to even cooperate with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, and a fight actually broke out in China when a CPSC official tried to grab a sample of tainted board that he saw in a Chinese factory.

Moreover, even the most basic questions went unanswered. The most obvious of which is this: What changed in their manufacturing process between 2005 and 2009? By 2009, board coming from the previously worst factory in China had significantly lower sulfide emissions. The Chinese refused to answer even this.


3.     As to a cover-up, one does exist, but not for the obvious reasons alone. Now, I'm speaking as a sort of DC insider...

There have been many defective and dangerous products coming from China. This—all by itself—is a serious indictment of the "Close all domestic manufacturing industry so we can eliminate pollution" policy in place for the last 20 years. In fact, pollution has been imported from China, and jobs have been exported.

The failure of agencies like CPSC to act on Chinese drywall and several other matters puts to the lie the notion that our Federal government is protecting us. This epic failure is only underscored by the sensational recent failures of the FDA.

It may be difficult to cover up when FDA approved drugs like Avandia must be taken off the market, but it's easy enough for those still sympathetic to the notion of an all-powerful federal government to downplay Chinese drywall. Besides, in this case, we have the wrong victim group: Middle-class white people.


4.     The only solution is for the lenders to be forced to extend the mortgages of these people—wrapping into them the cost of remediating their homes. After all, this is the least that the banks can do after having been propped up again and again by the Feds.

Wi-Fi can be green

That notion, among other items, is covered in my latest HND piece. While running Ethernet cable in a home or small business is not such a big deal, doing the same thing in the Caribbean—where all the walls are reinforced concrete—presents some real challenges.

Consider the excessively long cable runs, as well as the disfiguring of historical properties.

For those who like a bit of stream of consciousness, we discuss Joni Mitchell, Gutenberg, early PCs, and the first James Bond movie. I think it all works...

Read the complete article.

Let's think outside the box

Actually, the HND piece associated with this posting termed it "Thinking WAY outside the box," and I believe you'll agree. Scott M. Tyson is a physicist, futurist, problem solver, and just an all-around fascinating character.

When he starts talking about harnessing the power of gravity, and the notion that mass is not a property of matter, my ears perked up. He also got me re-interested in the famous Double Slit experiment, explained here by Dr. Quantum.

Tyson covers all the bases in his new book The Unobservable Universe: A Paradox-Free Framework for Understanding the Universe.

Read the complete article.

The public versus the people (A re-blog)

   AS I write this there are “popular” demonstrations going on in the Wall Street section of NYC.  There are similar actions in other cities.  The demonstrators are against “corporations,” and in favor of people (and/or “the people”). 
From what I can gather from the few news reports that I have seen---suspect because they are from the Mass Media---these people have no real “program.”  They are simply angry with, or jealous of, those who have done well, namely the rich.  Of course, they also may simply also be stupid and/or evil. 


Vin nails it.  Here's the link to the complete article.

Fun with clueless journos--1

Michelle Singletary has done pretty well, with her unique brand as a black female financial columnist. Her talent is picking interesting topics to write about. The problem lies in the execution.

Invariably, somewhere in the piece will be either a glaring omission, or a huge factual error.

Here's a recent example, from her column entitled "Rage, rage against the financial sector fuels protest."

You'd think that a financial writer might use a few words to explain the government's culpability in creating the ongoing crisis—starting with absurd mortgage policies that strong-armed banks to make ridiculously bad loans. Then, her sympathies with the Wall Street protesters would have at least been put into a better context.

Moreover, these sympathies are in stark contrast to her usual posture of "work hard, save, and don't abuse credit," inasmuch as most of the protesters seem to be little more than aimless bums.

However, the real point of the piece is that great things can happen from small civil protests.

Throughout history, great change has evolved from small civil protests.

It took a Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man, to inspire the Montgomery bus boycott that eventually resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation was unconstitutional.

Now, she's rewriting history, or worse, ignoring it completely. More's the pity that she is ignoring Black history. The Supreme Court decision she refers to is, of course, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Rosa Parks' actions took place in 1955.

Thus, the principal contribution of Parks, and many other protesters, was to force the local authorities to finally obey the law. Although the buses in Montgomery were desegregated in 1956, it would not be until the mid-1960s that de jure segregation was mostly eliminated. De facto segregation will probably exist forever.

Parks continued to be honored throughout her life, and perhaps this clouded her judgment. It is difficult to understand why she served as a member of the Board of Advocates of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for many years. After all, "legal" abortion has killed many more Blacks than all the lynchings ever performed, and has done untold damage to the Black family structure.

All things considered, being alive is preferable to remaining seated on a bus, don't you think?

Let's hear it for offshore oil

My latest HND piece shines the spotlight on offshore oil drilling, and contrasts it with recent "venture socialism" green energy debacles. It's hard to imagine a failure more epic than Solyndra, but given this clueless administration, there could be more.

In the meantime, real people need real energy, so—to quote a famous phrase from the 60s—"You're either part of the solution, or you're part of the problem." If the Feds intend to stay in the energy business, they're going to have to do WAY better. One tack might be to grant loans to companies that are actually worthwhile, rather than those that are merely politically connected.

We also take a look at a Triumph Drilling, a leader in the offshore space.

Read the complete article.

Dream House

This pic was heavily panned by the critics, and it definitely has its flaws. Still, the movie has its moments, and is at least worthy of a shot when it comes to video.

Much has been made about control of the project being taken away from the director Jim Sheridan and assumed by the studio, but judging from some of his previous work, that move was probably warranted.

Read my complete review.

A different kind of vibrator

This week's HND piece examines the physical therapy and training method called "Whole Body Vibration." I take you through the history, which includes Swedish fitness pioneer Dr. Gustav Zander, and full-on health nut Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, brother of the corn flakes magnate.

Yeah, I'd call someone a "nut," who thought sex was bad for you, and bragged that he and his wife had not partaken in 40 years.

Proponents of WBV, as it is usually abbreviated, make some extravagant claims, but so far the clinical data does not quite match up with them.

Read the complete article.