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People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Movie Review

I wanted to take a moment to mention a movie that Paula and I watched on DVD last night. "Slumdog Millionaire." I enjoyed it immensely. Whether it was good enough to earn the Oscar, I'll leave to others, but it's a good three stars on my four-star-o-meter easily.

I bring it up for a specific reason. I feel the need to point out one aspect of the flick that no one else - to my knowledge - has touched on.

It relates to Capitalism.

Or at least capital.

Yes, it's a love story. And a great one.

But there is a subtext that I found truly fascinating.

The story is about a young boy who was born into abject poverty in the slums of Bombay, India, in a seething hellhole of wanton nothingness and filth the likes of which no one in this country has ever seen or experienced. Over time, he and his brother, through a bit of good luck and a larger bit of "street-smarts," are able to make their way out of that teeming cesspool of inhumanity by scamming tourists at the Taj Mahal, pickpocketing, thievery, and assorted other less-than honorable "occupations." Eventually the protagonist makes his way onto the TV show, "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire," and the plot comes together from there (I'll not reveal it beyond what I've written).

But there is something that I found intriguing. The young man is able to make his way out of poverty and into a comfortable life, in part, because Bombay itself was rapidly bursting out of impoverishment. It's telling that the largest city in India even changed its name (to Mumbai*) over time, signifying its transformation. We watch as wretched villages of mud and corrugated metal turn into gleeming high-rise apartments and office buildings, a city that metamorphosed from being an open sewer to a bustling global commercial hub (traffic jams and all).

I couldn't help but think about all the problems America's cities are experiencing right now. About how some of them are turning into cesspools themselves. I think particularly of Detroit. And about how America's city leaders are all increasingly turning to the federal government for help.

Why is it happening?

Mostly because millions of jobs and hundreds of billions in wealth have, in recent decades, fled overseas. To places like Mumbai. And, whether you like it or not, it's easier and more remunerative to do business there than here.

Such the contrast. While America moves inexorably toward socializing every aspect of our lives (and wondering why it isn't working as we do it), and with its industrial base (along with its financial base?) crumbling, a large segment of the population of Mumbai is, for the first time in its centuries-long existence, enjoying prosperity. Because capital has found a home there.

Say what you will about cheap labor and poor working conditions. Capital is fleeing the U.S. and is thriving in places like Mumbai. And its not an accident. In either case.

So. I recommend that you get a copy of "Slumdog Millionaire" and watch it. Pay close attention to the love story. It's inspiring.

But watch those shantytowns get bulldozed and gated communities spring up too. To me, that's even more inspiring.

Perhaps someday, here in the good old USA ...

- - -

* You might wonder why the name change. The word "Bombay" was considered by many Indians to be a British term (mongrelized from a Poruguese term). And all Indians still hate the British. So, in an effort to assert and promote its complete independence from the days of the British Raj, the name was changed to Mumbai.

They Need a Slap Upside The Head

In August of 1866 in Stafford, England a murderer, one William Collier, previously sentenced to death for murdering another man, was dutifully hanged. And, because the rope broke and he crashed to the ground in the first attempt, he was dragged atop the scaffold and hanged again. The second effort proved successful. His neck snapped and Collier died a quick - well, sorta - death.

One wonders what thoughts went through the man's mind in that brief period between execution, reprieve, and execution.

Whatever they were, my guess is, his meditations didn't include questioning the intent of the executioner. That, it would seem to a rational person, was pretty clear.

So what's up with the heads of America's coal companies? There's the noose, the scaffold, the expressed intent, the walk up the scaffold steps, the drop, the shock. The question: "What's Obama doing to us?"

What?
Obama's mining approach leaves industry wondering
By Tim Huber, AP Business Writer

Charleston, W.Va. (AP) -- No one's particularly pleased with the Obama administration's early approach to regulating the U.S. coal industry.

The industry and big coal producing states are worried about stricter reviews of Appalachian surface mining permits by the Environmental Protection Agency that have contributed to a lengthy backlog and efforts to eliminate a pro-mining rule adopted by the Bush administration. That's atop broader concerns about efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and talk of regulating carbon dioxide - the chief greenhouse gas - as air pollution.

If anything, the industry is more leery of the new administration than ever, National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich said.

"We are encouraged by what we see is continuing support for clean coal technologies, particularly carbon capture and storage, which underscores the importance of coal for the nation and the importance of technology to address global warming," he said. "However, we remain very concerned about the actions of regulatory agencies."

Chiefly, big coal is bothered by the EPA. [link]
No shit.

Big coal is "bothered" that the Obama administration, having vowed to destroy it on the scaffold of "environmental protection," appears to be trying to destroy the coal industry through the implementation of onerous EPA regulations. Leaving the industry ... "wondering."

Bothered? As in "Darn, that fall from the gallows hurt. Can we be a little more empathetic the second time around?"

Wondering? As in "I wonder if the executioner will change his mind in the next few seconds"?

Me? I'd be getting up off the ground, dusting myself off, and running like hell. Or fighting to save my life.

But no.

"I am perplexed as to what the administration's intentions are."

Said the coal executive as Obama slipped the noose around his neck the second time.

Boucher To Be Point Man on Job Killing Bill

You folks in the coal counties will need to decide if Rick Boucher should ever set foot in Scott, Tazewell, Dickenson, Lee, Wise, or Russell Counties ever again. His cheerleading for a bill that has the intended purpose of shutting down the coal industry is that shameful.

He's not just supporting it. He's out in the forefront arguing on its behalf.

The awful truth, found in "Democrats may make trouble for climate bill":
Virginia Rep. Rick Boucher, a key negotiator for moderate Democrats on the Energy and Commerce panel, acknowledged that he and other members of the committee have a lot of work to do in educating their colleagues outside the committee about the bill they’ve produced.

“Once it’s reported from the committee, we have a broader consultation to conduct with members of the House who have not been directly involved in the process and shaping the bill to this point,” Boucher said. “It will take at least a month.”
"We have a broader consultation to ..."

That "we" is rather telling. Boucher now considers himself to be in league with the likes of Henry Waxman, Ed Markey, and their ilk. Sworn enemies of the coal industry if there ever was one.

So he's made his bed. Now Boucher will have to lie in it. It's up to you to decide what to do with him from here on out.

Will Boucher's Climate Bill Die Of Its Own Weight?

Here's an interesting perspective from the business columnist at the Washington Post:
Climate-Change Bill Hits Some of the Right Notes but Botches the Refrain
By Steven Pearlstein

[T]here are probably not more than a few hundred people who really understand what's in this legislation, how it would work and what its impact is likely to be. As it moves through the legislative process, it's worthy of closer attention.

The other thing to say about it is that it is a badly flawed piece of public policy. It is so broad in its reach and complex in its details that it would be difficult to implement even in Sweden, let alone in a diverse and contentious country like the United States. It would create dozens of new government agencies with broad powers to set standards, dole out rebates and tax subsidies, and pick winning and losing technologies, even as it relies on newly created markets with newly created regulators to set prices and allocate resources. Its elaborate allocation of pollution allowances and offsets reads like a parody of industrial policy authored by the editorial page writers of the Wall Street Journal. The opportunities for waste, fraud and regulatory screwup look enormous. [link]
Here's the weird thing. This guy favors a carbon tax that would have the intended effect of stifling growth. Not mentioned is why, of course (hint: the planet's temperature that was supposed to be rising but isn't, darn it). (Can't be mentioning the why any more, now that the planet is, ahem, cooling).

But his point is well taken. Boucher's bill is an awful miscarriage. One that needs to go away. Now.

Food For Thought

The Wall Street Journal on Obama's ever-changing idea of what cap-and-trade ought to be:
Pollution Politics and the Climate-Bill Giveaway
By David Wessel

President Barack Obama was emphatic during his campaign and after his election: The best way to fight climate change is to cap carbon emissions and auction off tradable permits to emit carbon.

"If you're giving away carbon permits for free, then basically you're not really pricing the thing and it doesn't work -- or people can game the system in so many ways that it's not creating the incentive structures that we're looking for," he told the Business Roundtable in March.

This past week, Rep. Henry Waxman's House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a climate-change bill that gives away 85% of the emission permits until 2026. President Obama applauded, calling the bill "a historic leap."

Huh? [link]
So Obama changed his tune in a matter of days. Pardon me while I feign shock.

Does This Even Make Sense?

In response to a question from C-SPAN interviewer Steve Scully, who asked, "You know the numbers, $1.7 trillion debt, a national deficit of $11 trillion. At what point do we run out of money?"
Well, we are out of money now. [True!] We are operating in deep deficits, not caused by any decisions we've made on health care so far [True, but how did health care pop in here?]. This is a consequence of the crisis that we've seen [Yes] and in fact our failure to make some good decisions on health care over the last several decades [Say what?] .

So we've got a short-term problem, which is we had to spend a lot of money to salvage our financial system, we had to deal with the auto companies, a huge recession which drains tax revenue at the same time it's putting more pressure on governments to provide unemployment insurance [Unemployment insurance?] or make sure that food stamps are available for people who have been laid off [How much of today's "short-term problem" involves food stamps?].

So we have a short-term problem and we also have a long-term problem. The short-term problem is dwarfed by the long-term problem [True!]. And the long-term problem is Medicaid and Medicare [That's it? Our $11 trillion long-term problem is Medicare and Medicaid? Isn't something being left out?]. If we don't reduce long-term health care inflation substantially, we can't get control of the deficit [Government's involvement in the health care delivery system - Medicare and Medicaid - are spinning out of control, that's obvious, and yet Obama wants to place the rest of the health care industry under government control too, spinning them out of control as well; is this a sane person?].

So, one option is just to do nothing [Another would be to get out of the Medicare and Medicaid business, but this guy hasn't the intellectual capacity to grasp the parameters]. We say, well, it's too expensive for us to make some short-term investments in health care. We can't afford it. ["Well, we are out of money now."] We've got this big deficit. [And a massive national debt] Let's just keep the health care system that we've got now.

Along that trajectory, we will see health care cost as an overall share of our federal spending grow and grow and grow and grow until essentially it consumes everything... [Obama's plan is to grow it even more rapidly, into areas beyond Medicare and Medicaid] [link]
This is, coming from the leader of the free world, frighteningly illogical, meandering, disjointed, and warped.

"Well, we are out of money now" would have answered the question in full. The rest is a pitiful attempt at twisting the answer to fit some agenda. But it makes no sense.

I don't get the feeling this guy is on top of things. He's trying. But it just ain't there.

Quote of the Day

From Mark Steyn:
I love American cars. I have a Chevy truck, Chevy SUV, the whole Steyn fleet. But I will never buy another Chevy until it is restored to private ownership. When GM sneezes, America catches a cold. When GM is put on government life-support, it's America — and the American idea — that's dying.
"What's So Wrong with Obama Motors?" National Review's "The Corner," May 23, 2009

Quote of the Day II

James Taranto:
In his speech yesterday, Obama declared that "the American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology." Importing hard-core Islamic supremacists into U.S. prisons is an insane policy. If Obama's proposing it is not an example of an official being driven by rigid ideology, then the phrase has no meaning.
"Prison Cell To Terror Cell," Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2009