TODAY’S LINKS—APRIL 18, 2012

As usual there are many items of interest in the news. Today may even be “Irony Day” as some stories appear to be bizarro versions of each other.

Remember when President Obama announced that prescription contraceptives for women must be covered under employee health insurance plans…and religious organizations were not exempt? A number of religious leaders protested with the Catholic Bishops possibly being the loudest.

Well now these same Bishops have their shorts in a bind because the GOP proposed budget provides for cuts for social safety net programs like food stamps.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/republican-budget-john-boehner_n_1434678.html

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) chastised Catholic bishops at a Wednesday news conference on Capitol Hill, saying they needed to look at the bigger picture after they complained that the GOP budget plan fails to meet “moral criteria.”

Of course the ruling on contraceptives also did not meet the Bishops’ “moral criteria”. Are these two stances inter-related? Does feeding the poor somehow equate to less demand for contraceptives? Inquiring minds want to know.

Most of you have heard about the GSA scandal. In that case the General Service Administration held a conference in Las Vegas in 2010 that cost taxpayers more than $800,000. Money was spent on suites instead of regular hotel rooms, expensive food and entertainment, Gosh, you’d think the GSA had hired Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco to organize the affair.

Congressional hearings have been held. The always magnanimous Mitt Romney, while blaming the Obama administration for the GSA boondoggle, is forgiving when it comes to the Secret Service scandal.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57415799-503544/romney-pins-gsa-scandal-on-obama-but-gives-him-a-pass-on-secret-service/

In the latter brouhaha Secret Service agents and other members of the security detail accompanying Obama to Columbia for an economic conference brought some professional women back to their headquarters hotel. Their profession was the world’s oldest.

The dustup began when one of the ladies insisted on higher payment for services rendered than she was being offered. Eventually the noise level was such that hotel security arrived and from there, the cat was out of the bag. ( There may be double entendres resident in that last statement. I report—you decide.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/19/world/americas/colombian-escort-speaks-about-secret-service-scandal.html

The SS agents may have been indiscreet. But with their eyes on the President surely they were aware of the eruption of the GSA scandal. Should they not be applauded rather than chastised for exhibiting fiscal restraint in light of otherwise out of control federal spending? Of course they utilized services not contemplated under  the General Services Administration.

I suppose this next tale holds an element of irony, too, in that it is the report of someone taking the President to task for his energy policy not being comprehensive enough while her own consists of three words “Drill, baby, drill.”

Yes the inestimable former half term governor of that frozen state to the north is on the loose again, tortured syntax in hand, to present us one of her periodic laugh riots of commentary on contemporary problems.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/sarah-palin-obama-energy-_n_1434103.html?ref=topbar

Obama pushed Congress Tuesday to give oil market regulators more power to limit speculation, but Palin said that is “just one leg of the stool” for reducing pain at the pump. She criticized the president for putting the brakes on the Keystone XL pipeline and said he needs to tap all domestic energy sources including “drill, baby, drill,” and “frack, baby, frack.” Palin blamed Obama for being “ignorant” about policies that could foster energy independence.

The facts are that domestic crude oil production has increased every year Obama has been in office; our biggest export is finished petroleum products; the Keystone Pipeline, according to its builder Transcanada, will probably have little effect in lowering gas prices, and even oil speculators themselves admit their actions drive up the price of crude beyond where a true free market would have it.

That looks like she who shall remain nameless has four legs of ignorance with which to build a complete chair, not a stool, out of her lack of comprehension of the factors behind gas prices.

We’ll deal with this next topic fast…or I should say FAST. That is the technology the Department of Homeland Insecurity is developing to detect criminals before they actually commit a crime. (“I KNEW you were going to run that red light!”)

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/homeland-securitys-pre-crime-screening-will-never-work/255971/

The U.S. Department of Homeland security is working on a project called FAST, the Future Attribute Screening Technology, which is some crazy straight-out-of-sci-fi pre-crime detection and prevention software which may  come to an airport security screening checkpoint near you someday soon. Yet again the threat of terrorism is being used to justify the introduction of super-creepy invasions of privacy, and lead us one step closer to a turn-key totalitarian state. This may sound alarmist, but in cases like this a little alarm is warranted. FAST will remotely monitor physiological and behavioral cues, like elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language, and analyze these cues algorithmically for statistical aberrance in an attempt to identify people with nefarious intentions. There are several major flaws with a program like this, any one of which should be enough to condemn attempts of this kind to the dustbin. Lets look at them in turn.

Recently I offered my own views on overreach by law enforcement, in the context of warning those who spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over Facebook privacy issues that the true danger comes from those we trust to protect us.

http://wp.me/pS6ry-hj

Matthew Yglesias reports on executive pay, a sore point with many of us who consider it an extreme example of the income disparity plaguing the nation.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/04/18/citi_shareholders_reject_big_payouts_for_executives.html

Shareholders generally have little practical sway in American business life, but Citi’s shareholders made headlines yesterday by failing to grant majority support to an executive compensation plan that would have showered CEO Vikram Pandit and his colleagues with money. It’s not exactly an unprecedented move. Last year was the first year that publicly traded firms were required to hold “say on pay” votes and 41 Russell 3000 firms’ managements ended up losing. But none of those companies were banks and none were nearly as large or high profile as Citi. But the banking giant now joins Hewlett-Packard and Stanley Black & Decker on the list of shame.

I think it remains to be seen exactly how big a deal these kind of votes will be in practice, but the fact that they’re being held at all is one of the underheralded impacts of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation overhaul. This is one of these good ideas that snuck in there despite not really being related to the core of the financial crisis that almost certainly never would have seen the light of day as a stand-alone.

Finally I offer this in recognition of the significance of this date.

Today is the 18th of April. On this date in 1775 Paul Revere began his famous ride, commemorated in Longfellow’s poem, where he warned the British to vamoose because there was a bunch of mama Grizzlies after them, armed to the teeth with AK-47’s and grenade launchers.

AW S**T! I just woke from a dream where I was channeling Sarah Palin.

As Emily Latella would say, “Never mind.”

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