Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: March 6, 2009


GOP Tech: Clueless Losers

Today, the GOP released a request for proposal for a new web site.  This is the RFP (PDF).  I have read it all the way through.  It’s quite a document.  It’s an especially interesting read for someone like me, who responds to RFPs for web development for a living. I say “interesting” because it’s a masterpiece of confusion and idiocy.

<sarcasm>

I assume it was written by someone who has heard of this new thing called “com-poo-tors”, and who doesn’t actually have one, but has been told that they’ll be very big in the future.

Let’s take a little closer look at this document, shall we?

Integrate outside products through common API’s, widgets, or iframes (examples: Kimbia fundraising, Voter Vault, Widgetbox, Ning).

As far as I know, there is no common API for those applications.  Each has it’s own API, I’m sure.  They may be accessible through a common technology, i.e., any ODBC compliant data/programming model like PHP or .NET will probably be able to access them in some way.  But there’s not going to be anything common about it.  I also love the use of the term “widgets”.  Because every tech person knows what a “widget” is.  It’s such a specific term.

But the best part is asking for the use of the IFRAME tag.  I guess that’s OK.  As long as you won’t be wanting to use the XHTML Strict doctype, or anything.  Or you’ve never heard of the OBJECT tag.

Flash interfaces can often make mundane tasks exciting, and having Flash developers who understand user behavior will make the site more user-friendly.

Well, that’s a perfectly uncontroversial statement.  If there’s one thing that everybdy in the web-based tech community agrees on, it’s how wonderful Flash is.  because it makes things, you know, move.  And it’s so easy to optimize for search engines!

An ideal client will have a CMS that is already built out and ready to plug into the system, so the only programming time will be building the outward facing presence.

“No limitations on design”?  Oh.  OK.  There’ll be no limitations on cost, then.Because, as everyone knows, every CMS system uses the exact database schema that the RNC uses, so there will need to be no data import, or customized programming to access the RNC’s content data.  All you have to do is install the CMS, and, like magic, the only work you’ll have to do is set up a really nice theme. And how convenient that Flash will require no custom ActionScript programming to integrate into the CMS.

The really helpful thing about the RFP is that there are no indications of what database backend the RNC uses, no information about the database size or schema, no indication of the server technology they’d like to use, or, actually, any technical details at all.  But, when you throw all that stuff in, the RFP gets so, you know, long, and boring.

But long and boring is one thing this document is not.  In fact, it’s only two pages long.  Once you start throwing that sort of stuff in, you end up with a hideous and stuffy nightmare of an RFP like this.

But, one thing the RNC does want:  They want to know what it’ll cost them.

All costs of the project will be delivered with proposal.

Well, it’s a good thing the RFP is so chock full of the kinds of detailed information that will allow a contractor to make accurate time/cost estimates.  But, I kid.  In actuality, the RNC has made costing this proposal childishly simple, with the addition of this:

No limitations on design; the RNC will be in on the entire process and will ensure everything is to our exact specifications.

“No limitations on design”?  Oh.  OK.  There’ll be no limitations on cost, then.  Your web site will cost $.  Or, whatever amount causes you to stop saying, “I’m done fiddling with it now.”  It’s up to you.

I’ll be billing every two weeks, thanks.

</sarcasm>

Surely this is all some sort of elaborate joke.  Perhaps on Monday the RNC will tell us that they were just having us on.  Then, once we’ve all had a good laugh, they’ll release the real RFP.

Because whatever this document is, it’s not an RFP.  At best, this is some sort of marketing-related  statement of intent.  It’s nothing more than a series of barely-related bullet points that say:

  • We want a cool web site.
  • We want neat external applications to run on it.
  • Flash is fun.
  • We want it to be easy to use, ’cause we ain’t got us much of that compooter learnin’.
  • Make it pretty.

This the new, high-tech-savvy GOP?  This is the kind of in-depth attention to leveraging technology that the refurbished, Michel Steele RNC has planned?

This is a travesty.  And it’s sad.  Especially since the opening paragraph states:

This RFP and the ambitious goals behind it result from the help of the RNC Tech Summit and the 7,000 grassroots volunteers who participated both online and in-person.

Wow.  That must have been an über-effective tech summit.


Barney Frank And “Rules”

Barney Frank has gotten very full of himself. So full, in fact, that his memory isn’t working as well as it probably should:

House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is pressing state and federal authorities to seek criminal and civil penalties on financial actors that helped cause the current crisis.

“Rules don’t work if people have no fear of them,” Frank said at a press conference Thursday.

He announced a hearing March 20 with Attorney General Eric Holder, bank regulators and the Securities and Exchange Commission as witnesses to discover what their plans are to prosecute irresponsible and in some cases criminal behaviors.

I wonder if he’d include this guy:

A September report from the Business & Media Institute suggests one possible target for investigation: a senior member of the House Banking Committee. This congressman is “a recipient of more than $40,000 in campaign donations from Fannie since 1989″ and “was once romantically involved with a Fannie Mae executive.” The same congressman “was and remains a stalwart defender of Fannie Mae.”

In case you’re not up to speed, that “senior member”  mentioned is House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

~McQ


There are jobs and then there are ‘jobs’

Some specifics about the record job losses:

Hiring last month in goods-producing industries fell by 276,000. Within this group, manufacturing firms cut 168,000 jobs bringing the total since the recession began to 1.3 million.

Construction employment was down 104,000 last month. The unemployment rate in that sector is now 21.4%, almost double where it was this time last year.

Service-sector employment tumbled 375,000. Business and professional services companies shed 180,000 jobs, the fourth-straight six-figure loss, and financial-sector payrolls were down 44,000.

Retail trade cut almost 40,000 jobs, while leisure and hospitality businesses shed 33,000 as households curtail nonessential spending.

Temporary employment, a leading indicator of future job prospects, fell by almost 80,000.

So there, in a nutshell, is the status of the productive sector of the economy – the sector that produces wealth, jobs and growth. The sector that should be the focus of any recovery plans and stimulus money.

Instead, what is the President talking about in Ohio, as he panders in the buckle of the rust belt (via email transcript)?

Today I’m pleased to announce that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice are making available $2 billion in justice assistance grants from the recovery act. (Applause.) That’s funding that will help communities throughout America keep their neighborhoods safer, with more cops, more prosecutors, more probation officers, more radios and equipment, more help for crime victims, and more crime prevention programs for youth.

 Cities and states can apply for these funds right away, and as soon as those applications are received, the Justice Department will start getting the money out the door within 15 days. In Savannah, Georgia, the police department would use this funding to hire more crime and intelligence analysts and put more cops on the beat protecting our schools. In Long Beach, California, it will be able to help fund 17,000 hours of overtime for law enforcement officials who are needed in high-crime areas.

West Haven, Connecticut, will be able to restore crime prevention programs that were cut even though they improved the quality of life in the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. And the state of Iowa will be able to rehire drug enforcement officers and restart drug prevention programs that have been critical in fighting the crime and violence that plagues too many cities and too many towns.

So the list goes on and on. From Maine to San Francisco, from Colorado to New Jersey, these grants will put Americans to work doing the work necessary to keep America safe. They’ll be directed only towards worthy programs that have been carefully planned and proven to work. And Vice President Biden and I will be holding every state and community accountable for the tax dollars they spend.

More cops, more prosecutors, more parole officers.

Private sector jobs? Nada.

Now I understand we need all of those people he talks about. But they won’t help one bit in creating new wealth, new jobs or new opportunities for both, will they? They’re a number Obama can point too when he tries to sell is jobs “saved or created” nonsense in a few years. But as far as a stimulus to the economy – huh uh. What they are, however, are precisely what is expected from a big government liberal – government jobs.

As the WSJ further informs us after giving us the bad news about the productive sector of the economy above, “the government added 9,000 jobs.”

‘Nuff said.

~McQ


The High Cost Of Uneforceable Moral Preening

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has no real power of enforcement. It is one of those bodies that the “one world” crowd managed to get formed and funded in hope of creating the penultimate judicial body that can adjudicate criminal complaints against political and military leaders anywhere in the world. It depends on voluntary compliance with its indictments and voluntary submission to its rule. As you might imagine, that’s not as forthcoming as its planners thought it might be – especially among the nations most in need of straightening up. Such as Sudan:
International Criminal Courtblockquote>Thousands of people protested in Khartoum on Friday after preachers condemned an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudan’s president on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

It was the third day of demonstrations after the Hague-based court announced it was indicting President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.

While everyone agrees that what is happening in Darfur is a crime against humanity, it is a crime that the world has allowed to continue for almost 20 years. So one has to wonder, other than a bit of moral preening by the ICC, what utility issuing an arrest warrant for the head of state of Sudan might have. Will it actually facilitate his arrest and end the problem in Darfur? Will it improve the conditions and security for those in danger in Darfur? After all, if it is the conditions and the plight of those in Darfur that the ICC is using as the basis of its criminal complaint, wouldn’t you hope that such a move would improve that situation rather than worsen it?

Sudanese President al-Bashir

Sudanese President al-Bashir

As it turns out, it does “none of the above”.  The issuance of the arrest warrant by the ICC has instead caused all the aid agencies working to save the refugees to be thrown out of the region on suspicion they’re passing evidence of  crimes on to the ICC.

Of the 76 NGOs in Darfur with which the U.N. is working, the 13 that have been expelled account for half the aid that is distributed in the region, said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Their departure would leave 1.1 million people without food, 1.5 million without medical care and more than one million without drinking water, she told the briefing.

“It will be very, very challenging for both the remaining humanitarian organizations and for the government of Sudan to fill this gap,” she said.

Of course the argument might be “we should confront evil where ever we find it” and I don’t disagree. But issuing a toothless arrest warrant that only agitates the person named to the point that over a million people are placed in peril doesn’t exactly live up to the word “confront” in my book. It is a moral “feel good” activity which may spur an immoral reaction beyond anyone’s control. And that seems to be the case here.

It is one thing to issue the sort of warrant the ICC has issued and then take the action necessary to serve and enforce it. But in the absence of that, what is the utility of issuing such a warrant without such an enforcement mechanism, especially given the range of possible negative reactions and outcomes? Whatever happens now to those million people at risk in Darfur, as a result of the ejection of the aid agencies so key to their survival, rests squarely in the lap of the ICC. I’m not arguing that al-Bashir isn’t a murdering criminal or that the world shouldn’t do what is necessary to stop his crimes against the people in Darfur. But what shouldn’t be done is hand him a reason to further endanger those people by issuing unenforceable warrants that make the rest of the world feel morally superior but actually worsens the threat against those who can’t defend themselves.

~McQ


The Dishonesty Inherent In The Administration’s Economic Claims

David Brooks, 3 days after a semi-courageous, “what-the-heck-is-going-on” column, received calls from the senior staff at the White House and quietly got back in line:

In the first place, they do not see themselves as a group of liberal crusaders. They see themselves as pragmatists who inherited a government and an economy that have been thrown out of whack. They’re not engaged in an ideological project to overturn the Reagan Revolution, a fight that was over long ago. They’re trying to restore balance: nurture an economy so that productivity gains are shared by the middle class and correct the irresponsible habits that developed during the Bush era.

The budget, they continue, isn’t some grand transformation of America. It raises taxes on energy and offsets them with tax cuts for the middle class. It raises taxes on the rich to a level slightly above where they were in the Clinton years and then uses the money as a down payment on health care reform. That’s what the budget does. It’s not the Russian Revolution.

How moderately wonderful, right? They’ve now dazzled Brooks again. They’re not “liberal crusaders”, they’re moderate pragmatists who want to lend stability to the economy.

Brooks then goes through a litany of things “Republicans should like”. He finishes up by claiming he still thinks they’re trying to do too much too fast, and that may lead to problems “down the road”, but all in all, he’s impressed by their sincerity, commitment to what is best for America and the fact that all of this is not going to cost anywhere near what all the critics claim.

On their face, the arguments are nonsense. This is the biggest planned expansion of government in a century. Estimates are the federal government will be hiring between 100,000 and 250,000 new employees to oversee its new programs and spend the trillions of dollars being borrowed through debt instruments right now.

Unlike the rather facile and easy to impress Brooks, Charles Krauthammer takes a look at the spin and deconstructs it rather handily.

At the very center of our economic near-depression is a credit bubble, a housing collapse and a systemic failure of the entire banking system. One can come up with a host of causes: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pushed by Washington (and greed) into improvident loans, corrupted bond-ratings agencies, insufficient regulation of new and exotic debt instruments, the easy money policy of Alan Greenspan’s Fed, irresponsible bankers pushing (and then unloading in packaged loan instruments) highly dubious mortgages, greedy house-flippers, deceitful homebuyers.

The list is long. But the list of causes of the collapse of the financial system does not include the absence of universal health care, let alone of computerized medical records. Nor the absence of an industry-killing cap-and-trade carbon levy. Nor the lack of college graduates. Indeed, one could perversely make the case that, if anything, the proliferation of overeducated, Gucci-wearing, smart-ass MBAs inventing ever more sophisticated and opaque mathematical models and debt instruments helped get us into this credit catastrophe in the first place.

And yet with our financial house on fire, Obama makes clear both in his speech and his budget that the essence of his presidency will be the transformation of health care, education and energy. Four months after winning the election, six weeks after his swearing in, Obama has yet to unveil a plan to deal with the banking crisis.

As Krauthammer points out, none of the costly things that Obama pledged to focus on have anything to do with the down economy. They all do, however, include the  the probability of causing even more damage if enacted.

And since they’ve been in office, Obama or his surrogates (mostly in the guise of Timothy “tax cheat” Geithner”) have talked down the stock market, the auto industry, the oil and gas industry, the health care industry, energy, banks, financial and the defense industry. They still don’t seem to realize what impact their words have on markets, or if they do, then one has to assume they’re doing this on purpose. I tend toward the side of ignorance, but at some point, after it has been pointed out to them over and over again, you have to abandon that belief and head toward the other conclusion. Their words, quite literally, are wrecking the economy.

Markets can’t stand instability and insecurity. When leaders talk about what’s wrong with this industry or that industry and what they intend on doing to punish or change how that industry does business, investors get very nervous. As you might imagine, they’re extremely nervous right now, as reflected by the Dow. They know that there is a government assault coming, in some form or fashion, on the industries I’ve mentioned. So they’re going to get out of the position they now hold in them and they’re going to refrain from investing in them until they’re clear what that assault will entail. And I don’t use the word “assault” lightly.

Health care, defense, oil and gas, pharma, auto, energy, housing, banking, finance etc. are all under a form of assault by the new administration. Health care will change and expand dramatically under government auspices, oil and gas will lose tax breaks, cap-and-trade will bury the auto industry and shoot energy prices through the roof – affecting transportion and manufacturing. Cram-downs affect the housing, banking and financial sectors. Who wants to invest in any of that when a judge can reward irresponsible home owners with a write down of their principle? Meanwhile responsible home seekers will see the interest rate go up by about 2 points to cover the losses. That’ll spur homebuying, won’t it?

Like Dale pointed out about the Red Kangaroo, you can see this coming from a mile off. And “useful idiots” like David Brooks climb back on the bandwagon and resume cheering the parade to economic ruin.

~McQ

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