Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bridge On The River Kwai

Watched on TCM last night. A movie has to be great to be as watchable 59 years later as it was the day it was released. Awesome.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Do Not Thank Me

This weekend is not dedicated to those serving our nation, or to those living who have done so in the past. This weekend is dedicated to remembering those who have lost their lives in the service of freedom. So please do not thank me for my service. Not this weekend. Do that in November. And do not wish me happy Memorial Day. Go to your nearest National Cemetery and place a flag on a hero's grave.

Well, That Says A Lot

Headlines today in the stock car racing venue are all about the racing abilities and chances of various drivers. Except one. One headline tells us that, "Danica reveals her favorite social media platform."  Got it.

Friday, May 27, 2016

He Said, She Said

Of the use of a private server Clinton says, “It was allowed…”  The Inspector General says, “She did not ask permission, and would not have received it if she had asked.”  Slight discrepancy there.

Clinton admits that she did it, “as did my predecessors.” The IG says that, “rules were clarified in 2009,” which is the year she entered office as Secretary of State. How could her predecessors have been operating under rules that did not exist until her first year in office?

I’ve always laughed at the defense of claiming that “other people did it too.”  If a bank robber stands in front of a judge and responds to the judge’s question regarding his defense that “other people have also robbed banks,”
I think the judge is going to reject his argument.

The line in the report that I found most illustrative of the incredible hubris of the woman is the part about a memo going out over Clinton’s signature warning State Department employees not to use non-government servers due to security issues, while she was using a private server and had been notified that it had been shut down at least twice due to hack attempts.

And we have not yet even started on contributions to the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Deeds, Not Words

Ian Welsh makes a powerful point today on the degree to which we should pay attention when politicians claim that they have “learned from mistakes” made earlier.

"Hillary Clinton is not credible in having learned from the Iraq fiasco, because she was also for Libya. She didn’t learn the practical lesson (destroying a regime is easy, not having the country become a failed state is hard); nor did she learn the ethical lesson (don’t attack countries who haven’t attacked you.)

Clinton is not credible, because her actions have not changed. She’d be for the next Iraq in a heart-beat and find reasons why it was justified. Her rhetoric against Russia and Putin might as well be from the Cold War and is a great threat to world peace (and survival.)"


To some degree people know this, as is reflected by the fact that more than 60% of those polled answered no when asked if she was honest and trustworthy, and yet well over half of Democratic voters are voting for her anyway, and an overwhelming majority will do so in the general election.

Thank the media, who report at great length on what Hillary Clinton is saying and never, ever compare it to what she has done in the recent past. The media today does not consider it to be it’s role to report facts, but rather to pass on what it has been told by the establishment to pass on. We still have freedom of the press, but they no longer use it.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Chaos Reigns

Last year NA$CAR announced that they were no longer going to enforce any kind of rule regarding lug nuts on wheels. No longer would an inspector be located in each pit assuring that each wheel on the car had all five lug nuts properly tightened, but that it would be left to the discretion of the team.

What they did not say was that this was a cost cutting move, eliminating 43 officials who are located in the pits. All pit rules are now enforced by television remote, and the camera cannot see the wheels, so they decided to hell with the lug nut rule.

The result should have been predictable. Cars were returning to the track after a pit stop with as few as three lug nuts on some wheels, and not all of them tight. Wheels were wobbling and vibrating; doing everything, in fact, except coming slap off the car. Nobody quite dared say anything, because criticizing NA$CAR gets you a fine of up to $50,000, and can get you suspended.

No penalty for losing a wheel and wrecking the field, but badmouth NA$CAR and

Anyway, along comes Tony Stewart who has missed the first part of the season due to a preseason injury and is sort of a modern day A.J. Foyt. (Foyt: “Hell, if we’re going to race taxicabs, we ought to get a bunch of damned taxicab drivers to drive them.”) Tony says that not using five lug nuts and tightening all five of them is dangerous (well, duh), and that NA$CAR was not only wrong to quit enforcing that rule, but was neglecting the safety of drivers when they did so.

NA$CAR responds with a $35,000 fine and says that “driver safety is our first priority,” and then contradicts the validity of both the fine and the claim by changing the policy and ruling that any car having one or more loose lug nuts on any wheel at the conclusion of the race will be penalized by the loss of a finishing position. Nobody points out that that means they can leave lug nuts loose on all pit stops except the last one, including Tony Stewart who is already out $35,000.

The lug nut issue became even more, pardon the pun, “nuts” in the All Star race last night when, after each pit stop and after all the cars had returned to the track, NA$CAR called all of the cars back into the pits and lined them up so that officials could visually inspect that they had five lug nuts on each wheel and that all lug nuts were touching the wheel. Matt Kenseth observed that it was much like the NFL interrupting a football game to check the players' shoe laces.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was overheard to comment that “This race reminds me of the first time that I tried to fly a remote controlled helicopter. I didn’t know what the hell was going on then, either.”  I feel you, Junior.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Silly Season Accelerates

This new overtime limit decreed by Obama has generated some of the most nonsensical discourse I’ve seen yet, including that by Obama himself, who seems to think that salaried people will have their hourly wage set at their present salary divided by 2080 (the number of hours in a year based on 40 hrs/wk) and be paid at that rate plus time and a half for overtime. Well, I hope that happens, but I have my doubts that many employees will be that fortunate.

A lot of formerly salaried people will now be punching time cards, too, and getting their pay docked when they take off early, and most of them are not going to like that very much at all.

But quite a few people will make more money and/or have more free time with their families, so sometimes when the president plays imperial dictator it’s not all bad. Well, unless you think the constitution matters, of course, but I seem to be in a voiceless minority on that issue.

The Washington Post opines that the new limit “will be devastating to our nation’s job growth and economy,” which seems a little bit hyperbolic to me. But then, it’s the Washington Post, so one has to make allowances.

They claim that “in the short term, businesses will boost the salaries for about 4.2 million workers.” Yeah, right. I’m trying to picture myself as an employer with a guy who’s making $28,000 per year and giving him a raise to $48,000 so that I don’t have to pay him overtime. Somehow, that concept refuses to gel in my mind.

They also say that employers will “lay off employees who work more than 40 hours,” which is so nonsensical that I don’t even know how to refute it, and will “push such employees to work overtime hours off the books,” which is illegal and really hard to do if you have laid them off.

They go on to say that their dire economic consequences “have already been proved true when it comes to raising the minimum wage,” except that no consequences whatever have been established from raising the minimum wage other than a few “veteran employees” who were already making $15/hr are complaining that it’s unfair that newcomers are making the same amount as they are. That’s not an economic consequence. In fact, a few people whining is not really a consequence at all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pot Calls Kettle Black

Paul Krugman has been writing about the boorishness of using personal attacks against the other side, such as Trump using "put down" language about women, and yesterday he accused Bernie Sanders of "petulant self-righteousness," and says of Bernie supporters that he "feels sorry for all the genuinely idealistic, well-meaning people who got caught up in this terrible mess."

I read this pedantic jackass so that you don't have to.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Vindication

All of last winter in discussions regarding the, then, upcoming El Nino I kept arguing that regardless of comparisons to the equatorial temperatures of 1997-98, we cannot really predict what El Nino will do this time around because we are not taking into account the extraordinarily warm waters in the North Pacific. I was not claiming that El Nino would be a bust, merely that we could not be sure that it would produce anything like previous weather patterns.

Of course it has produced weather patterns extremely at odds with typical El Nino years. The Pacific Northwest, which is normally left dryer than normal by El Nino, has been inundated and the Southwest has seen a continuation of drought, with rainfall not even reaching normal amounts, let alone the torrents predicted by El Nino addicts.

Now we hear from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that the cause of the disruption of usual El Nino patterns seems to have been caused by warmer than normal water temperatures in the North Atlantic and a resulting persistent high pressure ridge off the northern California coast.

I’m not going to say that, “I told you so.”  Except that I think I just did.

Hope For The Future Remains

My grandniece, who is just turning thirteen, does not do social media; says that it is a waste of time. "What can you say," she asks, "in 140 characters that is actually worth saying?"

Well, yes, but that "killer" was only 75 characters.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

ROTFLMAO

CBS News does this "On The Road" which I normally watch while I'm cleaning out the cat box or something. Boring. But the one Friday evening had me in stitches.

It's this guy changing the oil in his car. Then he's trying to braid his daughter's hair, and failing. She's pretty cute, and he's a dedicated father. He figures out how to do it and observes that, "Something as simple as sending your daughter out and her being proud of her hair, and you being proud of your work, it's a beautiful thing."

So he starts giving classes for other single dads on braiding their daughters' hair. The uniformed cop with the hairbrush in his gunbelt was the finishing touch.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Mudslinging Is Not a Campaign

The headline reads, “Democrats' Mixed Messages on Donald Trump,”  and the first paragraph of the article tells us that, “The GOP's winding path to unification around Donald Trump has had the collateral damage of muddling Democrats' message as they try to settle on a playbook to go after the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee.”  How pathetic is that?

Perhaps the main problem for the Democrats is that rather than “going after the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee” they should be advocating some principles and policies which they support for the benefit of the nation and its people. Mudslinging is not a valid leadership position.

Democrats should be, for the most part, ignoring Trump and telling voters what they will do to lead this nation forward. Pointing out the manner in which those positions and policies differ from those proposed by Trump is one thing, but running a campaign which consists of “going after” the opposition, "we don't have anything to offer, but Trump is this and that,"  is idiotic.

We Have Lost It

The President of The United States of America, the "exceptional nation,"  the "most powerful nation the world has ever known,"  is sending out a national directive on bathroom usage.

I know the issue is not as trivial as it sounds, but... Identity politics has come to this; national directives from the President about bathroom usage. God help us all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recipe of the Week

I invented this while watching a local cooking show, basing it on the presentation of something involving apricot preserves which was about as subtle as a hand grenade. Still, it started me thinking. I made it last night, and all I needed to revise was thickening with cornstarch.

Orange and Ginger Shrimp

¾ cup Orange Marmelade
1 Tbsp Ginger root, minced fine
1 Tbsp light Soy Sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tsp cornstarch
1 # shrimp, small, peeled and deveined
1 Tbsp Oil
Rice, prepared in advance

Season shrimp with just a touch each of salt and pepper, add garlic and set aside.

In a saucepan melt the marmelade with ginger, soy sauce and a pinch of salt. Simmer for 5-10 minutes then dissolve 2 tsp of cornstarch in cold water and add to the sauce to thicken it.

In a skillet over high heat, saute shrimp in light oil until they are nearly done but just a touch of gray is left. Add several tablespoons of sauce and continue cooking until shrimp is just done, but not overcooked.

Serve over rice topped with remaining sauce.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Paul Krugman Obfuscates

Paul Krugman had another of his don’t worry, be happy pieces cheerleading for the current government establishment a few days ago, in which he tries to assure us that we should be entirely comfortable with government debt in any amount. He has told us many times that the amount of debt is not a concern because government debt is never repaid, and in this piece he assures us that the interest we are paying on that debt is a miniscule amount not worthy of concern, being barely over one percent of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product. He gives us a nice graph and asks if we,
"See the crisis?" adding that, "Neither do I."  Right.
graph
He could also tell us how the interest payment is related to the whale count off the coast of Patagonia, which I’m sure would be even more comforting, and would be just about as meaningful as its relationship to the GDP. Economists like to relate everything to the GDP, because it turns big numbers into small numbers and makes everyone comfortable with things that should be scaring the shit out of them.

I am not one of those silly pundits that says that the federal budget is like your family budget (because I am well aware that the average family can’t print money), but comparing the government’s interest expense to the GDP really is like comparing your budget spending item to the amount of revenue that your employer generates. The amount that the federal government is able to spend is not constrained by the GDP, but by federal revenue, that is by the amount that it taxes the public.

If interest expense eats up too large an amount of the money that is being taken in by the government, then it has to either collect more taxes or it has to cut back on the spending it does for other things, and the rise and fall of the GDP has very little to do with that directly. Yes, a rising GDP will increase revenue, but not sufficiently to justify using the ratio of interest expense to GDP as a meaningful measuring stick.

Of real concern to us, then, should be the question of what percentage of the money taken in by our government is consumed in paying interest on the federal debt, and is therefor unavailable to be spent for other purposes such as a social safety net. Now, I don’t have a Nobel Prize like Dr. Krugman, but I can make graphs too.
graph
That’s a much different picture than the 1.2% number painted by Paul Krugman, isn’t it? And, on the face of it, it’s a bit more comforting one. Although it reflects that the debt is costing us a whole lot more than he wanted to admit with his “percent of GDP” chart, it also shows that while we were paying more than 35% of our income in 1996, our interest cost has dropped to a bit under 20% of revenue now. That would seem to confirm that the rising GDP validates Paul Krugman’s “don’t worry, be happy” position on government debt. Well, only if you're happy spending 20% of revenue on interest payment, of course.

Not really, though, because although revenue has increased the last few years, it is not that which has caused the ratio to drop so much as it has been a dramatic drop in interest rates, from an overall rate on the debt of 6.6% in 1996 to 2.2% today. Why did those interest rates go down? Because the government decreed that they go down. Interesting, right?

Can those rates go back up? Not only can they do so, they absolutely have to do so. Paul Krugman says in this little piece that “the market wants to lend us money for almost nothing,”  but the truth is there is no place else to lend money because no one else who is able to borrow money wants to do so.

Let’s add another line to the graph; what we would be paying as a percent of revenue if the interest rate had remained at 6.6% until now. Yikes.
graph
And this graph is the part that no one wants to talk about, and it’s why the stock market almost crashes when the Federal Reserve even hints that it is going to raise interest rates. Because when the federal government is coughing up 60% of its revenue to pay interest on the debt it is going to raise taxes, and that raise is going to hit businesses and the rich.

We live in interesting times, but the establishment does not want for us to know just how interesting these times really are.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Call of the Wild

Molly
Obviously never reached these ears.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Comedy Devolving Into Farce

An Army captain is suing President Obama because he says that Obama does not have the authority under the War Powers Act to be fighting a war against the Islamic State. He is, apparently serving in a military intelligence function somewhere in Kuwait.

Of course, using “military” and “intelligence” in the same sentence is something of an oxymoron, but that’s a different topic. As for a junior officer filing a lawsuit against the commander in chief; well, I suspect that dude is going to be a civilian a lot sooner than he presently thinks he is.

The president is not fighting the Islamic State under the authority of the War Powers Act, however. Like several presidents before him, he thinks it's unconstitutional because it interferes with the war-making power of the commander in chief. I think it’s unconstitutional because it delegates Congressional war-making power to the executive for sixty days.

But all of that is irrelevant because Obama is fighting the Islamic State under the authority of an act called the AUMF passed in 2001, the full name of which is Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists.

A whole host of politicians and military officials have told us that the AUMF authorizes the use of military force against "Al-Qaeda and associated forces" or "Al-Qaeda affiliated forces," but nothing even similar to those phrases occurs in the act. What the AUMF authorizes is the use of military force, “against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.”

Note that it does not authorize the use of military force against anyone launching any future attacks, let alone anyone merely planning such attacks, and it certainly does not authorize the use of military force where no attack is imminent.

Not to mention that it’s hard to claim that the Islamic State is an "Al-Qaeda affiliated force," when the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda are fighting against each other in Syria and, just to complete the farce, we are actually backing Al-Qaeda in that particular fight.

The enemy of my enemy is who’s on first?

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Clinton v. Trump

Looks like that’s the matchup in November, which I find profoundly depressing. The predictions all say Clinton will win, outpolling Trump by 54% to 41% which I think I find even more depressing. Maybe not, but Four years of Hillary Clinton?

Popular vote, however, does not mean a whole lot, because we have the electoral college. The real question is about states. Are there any red states which Trump will lose? Nobody seems to think so. Are there any blue states which he might win? It can’t really be ruled out; Florida comes to mind, and maybe a few others.

Sanders would have a much better run against Trump, but Democrats are much too smart to nominate someone like Sanders. No, it will be Clinton vs. Trump.

And it's not clear that Clinton is “the lesser of two evils.”

Monday, May 02, 2016

Traveling Cat

PetMD provides a nice “how to” article for transporting a cat to the vet. I hope that they have more experience at treating cats than they do transporting them.

First they say to invest in a carrier and then just leave it sitting in the living room with a few treats in it and you may,” they say, “find the kitty hanging out in it.” Right. You may also find unicorns hanging out in it. Even my cat, Molly, is not stupid enough to willingly walk into the carrier when it is in our house.

When the carrier is at the vet Well, that’s a different story. More on that later.

Anyway, they finish that little fantasy by saying that, “all you’ll have to do is keep an eye out for when the kitty is inside the crate and slam the door on your way by.”  I definitely am going to call the vet for an appointment, and when they ask when I’d like to come in tell them I don’t know and that it will depend on whenever Molly decides to hang out in her carrier.

They do not say what to do if the cat doesn’t want to get into, or be put into, the carrier. A cat not only has teeth and claws, it can splay its legs out and make itself much wider than any carrier door.

The way to get the cat in the carrier is really not all that hard; you have to catch the little bugger by surprise. Cats are fast, but even cats cannot react instantly. Have the cat in the living room and get the carrier out in the bedroom with the door open and ready. Now carry the cat into the bedroom, holding its head such that it can’t see the carrier until you are in the act of inserting it through the door. Next thing you know the cat is inside the carrier wondering what the hell just happened.

“Never open a crate with a cat inside,” they then tell us, “unless you are prepared for the cat to spring out of the crate and make a dash for freedom.”

Well, you can be prepared for that if you want to, but it isn’t going to happen. What is going to happen is that you are going to need a pry bar to get the terrified creature to come out of its “safe place” and allow the giant in the white coat to torture it. The mad dash is going to happen if the vet doesn’t have a good grip, and it is going to be the cat disappearing back into the safety of the carrier.

We have to take the carrier off the counter and hide it, because if Molly can see it she is making a determined effort to head for it, which complicates the vet’s ability to examine her. When it’s back on the counter there is a little thunderclap as she breaks the speed of sound getting back into it.

Molly is generally fairly quiet in transit, sort of muttering a protest from time to time. One time she was silent after we left the house until we reached the freeway and I was just about to merge with high speed traffic, at which point she emitted a major protest in the form of a piercing shriek. I almost had a terrible wreck.

Thank you Molly, I appreciated the thrill.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

United States of Hysteria

Target has published a policy that permits “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity." Sort of makes me want to go shop at Target, but more than a million people have had the opposite reaction, signing a petition to boycott Target.

One brilliant writer opines that this will cost Target business and devalue their stock price, and that the people in question are not acting out of hatred or discrimination against transgender people, but for “the safety of women and children,” and “the loss of dignity and privacy that women and children expect when they enter a bathroom.”

“Loss of dignity and privacy”  I might buy, although it’s quite a stretch. A woman who believes she’s a man, lives like a man, dresses like a man and dates women looking at me while I’m fully dressed? Sorry, the idea just does not freak me out. Watching me urinate? Well, I wouldn’t particularly like having a man who is a man watching me urinate, but we have a sort of code that prohibits doing that, so

And the “safety” concern? “The fears among those who oppose the policy,” the writer says, “stem from the potential problem of predators entering the women's bathroom.” And he thinks that “potential problem” is created by Target’s new policy and has not existed previously? It is a present problem, neither created nor exacerbated by Target’s new policy.

And safety is not really the writer’s concern anyway, because after a brief mention he drops the safety issue and goes on to discuss the so-called “privacy and dignity” issue at great length.

I have not used a women’s bathroom, but I am pretty sure that women do their thing inside a closed stall. Right? Anything that they do outside of that closed stall they will be doing fully clothed. Am I wrong?

The implication is that the “privacy and dignity” fear being expressed is not based on my conclusion being wrong, because this writer says, “If a woman gets out of her stall and sees a man washing his hands in the women's bathroom In the first place, since everyone is fully clothed at that point, while I can see that the event might be unsettling I fail to see why it would be traumatizing. More to the point, a transgender person is going to be dressed as a woman, so how is the person exiting the stall going to know that it is a man who is doing the hand washing?

This writer goes on to say that people are going to sell their Target stock, driving its value down, for the same reason that Chipotle's stock value dropped when people were repeatedly coming down with e-coli infections from eating its food; they felt that their safety was threatened.

Only in America would facing death from a deadly disease be considered comparable to being unexpectedly being confronted with a fully clothed person of the opposite gender.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Repairing the Unrepaired

In San Diego non-summer heat waves usually last only a few days, so by the time the air conditioner repairman comes gets there the weather has cooled, you are no longer using the air conditioner, and you don’t know whether the repair has been effective or not.

We had one of our brief warm spells in February and my unit (which is still under warranty) did not keep the house cool, so I called for service. The guy said it was low on refrigerant and added five pounds along with some "stop leak," which he said would fix it.

I did not use it again until April, at which point it did not cool the house properly, so I called for service again. The guy said that the unit was overcharged and removed five pounds of refrigerant, which he said would solve the problem. The weather dropped to a high of 68 degrees, so we’ll have to see, but one has wonder.

Let’s say you have a machine which is running lopsided. The repairman says, “Oh, it needs a frammis,” and puts a frammis on it. The next time you go to run the machine, it is running lopsided again and a different repairman says, “Oh, the problem is that frammis. That shouldn’t be there,” takes the frammis off and proclaims it fixed.

The next time you go to run the machine, how is it going to run? Lopsided is how it’s going to run. It is now in the same state that it was in before the frammis was added, and it was running lopsided at that point. Why is adding and then removing a frammis going to make it run any better?

Why is adding five pounds of refrigerant and then removing it going to make my air conditioner work any better? The service company has not explained that. To give credit where it is due, at least they have not charged me any money for not fixing my air conditioner.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Information Age

When is the last time you heard of anyone contracting Malaria in the United States? In 1947 the United States Health service was tasked with stamping out Malaria which is a disease carried by mosquitos and was, at the time, a major health problem all across the southern tier of states. They accomplished the task in two years.

Today we are wringing our hands and quaking in fear over Zika virus, a disease also borne by mosquitos, being told that eradicating it is a task beyond comprehension, and are unable to even get started due to Congressional paralysis.

I was reading a discussion over the weekend the gist of which is that the development of the Internet and related technology has not done much of benefit, and this would seem to be a case in point. We are living, we are told, in the “information age” but it appears that history is not part of that information. It is certain that we are not living in the “accomplishment age.”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hyperbole Exposed

Danica hype is significantly reduced this year, but whenever she is shown during a race the commentary has been that she is “learning” (after three full seasons!) and that she is “getting better all the time” and about what a great future she has. The facts so far this year would suggest otherwise.

At this point last season, after eight races on the same tracks, she had an average 17.6 finishing position. This year she has a 24.6 average, no less than seven positions worse than last year. She finished 24th in the standings last year, and ranks 25th so far this year.

Last year she finished on the lead lap in six of the eight races, this year she has done so only twice. Last year she wrecked in none of the first eight races but has wrecked twice this year. Crashing out of 25% of your races is not going to put you high in the standings.

Last year she finished a total of four laps off the lead lap, this year her total is almost twice that, finishing a total of seven laps behind the leaders.

She was inside the top ten twice last year, a 7th place finish and a 9th; this year she has no top tens, with a best finish of 16th at Martinsville. In six of the eight races she finished worse than she did last year. At Phoenix she finished better by position, but was on the lead lap last year and a lap down this year.

I’m not sure what part of all that constitutes “getting better all the time.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Consequences

To repeat my earlier disclaimer, I do not oppose a $15 minimum wage, but I do oppose pretending that it will be entirely free of any negative consequences.

Dean Baker has a discussion today of criticism of the Sanders plan for health care in which he cites an example of a “single mother with two children, earning $26,813 a year,” and how her health care costs would be affected. He then points out in his argument that Sanders is also proposing a $15 an hour minimum wage and that “if this single mother were working a full time job, she would see her pay increase by almost $3,200 a year, even if her pay was only at the new minimum.”

He then throws the real kicker into the argument about raising the minimum wage, saying, “it is likely that her pay would increase enough to leave her still well above the minimum,” which is a very good point indeed.

Picture an employer which has some jobs which are unskilled and pay minimum wage, and these workers are working alongside other workers who are skilled and are being paid above minimum wage. I assure you, this is by no means an uncommon scenario. Now assume that the workers are told that all of them are being paid the same amount because the unskilled workers have gotten a big raise, from $7.25/hr to $15.00/hr, while the skilled workers have gotten a very small raise, from $14.50/hr to $15.00/hr. That is most certainly not going to fly.

Proponents of the raise in minimum wage claim that employers can afford it because they will only have to raise prices a miniscule amount to cover the increase for the minimum wage workers, but reality is that employers will have to bump their entire pay scale upward consistent with the increase at the bottom of it, and that represents a major increase in payroll costs. History has, in fact, shown this to be the case when the minimum wage is increased by any amount.

Some employers will not be able to increase revenue sufficiently to cover the increase in costs and will be forced to reduce their work force. It may be only a few, and we can hope that such is the case, or it may be more than a few.

So is the minimum wage something we want to do? Sure, maybe it is, but let’s be sure we are informed as to the consequences.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Economists Are Idiots

The other day I commented that economists know as much about business as does the average house cat, and Dean Baker penned a piece on Wednesday in which he sets out to correct a mistake published by a Stanford Business School professor and proves that my statement was right on the mark.

To clarify my remark, a businessman does actual bookkeeping and manages a business, planning based on those numbers for the future course of his company and keeping track of whether or not his business is or is not making money. Sometimes he lies about the latter, of course, but even so he knows the facts even when he is not revealing them accurately. Economists, on the other hand, create “models” and formulas which explain why the overall economy does what it does. That largely consists of developing a mathematical formula from present conditions and claiming that it predicts what will happen in the future, much like predicting based on the El Nino of 1998 that San Diego would get 28” of rain this year and then trying to explain why we only got 6” of rain.

At any rate, Professor Joshua Rauh of Stanford Business School wrote that state and local pension funds are more seriously underfunded than claimed by the funds, because they are using a 7% rate of return on their investments rather than a more reasonable rate of return on risk free investments of 2.5% which currently prevails.

Dean Baker refutes the professor’s claim, saying that the numbers used by the funds “are not pulled out of the air,” but rather are “projections of investment returns based on actual experience and a range of standard economic projections.” That is to say history and numbers pulled out of the air by people like him. History is good because interest rates have not dropped recently. Oh, wait…

And Professor Rauh’s projections are no good because he is a business professor, while Baker’s projections are good because he’s an economist. You say tomato…

Then he gets to the real proof that economists should never be allowed to discuss business. He discusses how pension funds “typically average the value of their assets over the prior five years,” and points out that in 2013 that average “would have included 2009 and 2010 when the stock market was badly depressed.” He does not point out what part of Professor Rauh’s discussion involved 2013, nor does he say why that has anything to do with this discussion, because no reputable pension fund manager would put more than a very small portion of a fund into the volatility and high risk of the stock market.

As even further proof that Baker is badly out of his field of expertise, he acknowledges that the stock market is not a "risk free" investment which pension funds require by going on to say that as 2009/10 was replaced in those averaged years “with the much higher stock market values of 2014 and 2015, the funding status of these pensions will look considerably stronger.” Yes, it would look considerably stronger but, due to the risk that those stock values will dive back down to 2009/10 values, it would not be considerable stronger.

So, aside from the fact that pension funds are not materially invested in the stock market, something that Dean Baker should know if he does not, his little journey into fantasy land points out that economists are concerned with how things look, while businessmen are more concerned with how things are.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Aliens Have Landed

Paul Krugman and Dean Baker have both written pieces in the past few days regarding the need to increase inflation in order to “reduce the real interest rate” (emphasis mine). That “real interest rate,” in case you are not familiar with it, is the actual interest rate minus inflation. So, if the interest rate on your loan is 3.5% and inflation is running at 2% then the “real interest rate” on your loan is 1.5%.

There are so many things wrong with that that it’s hard to decide where to begin.

Let’s open with the fact that interest does not apply only to loans, it also applies to savings, so reducing interest is devastating to people who depend on income from their savings to augment their retirement income in their declining years. Inflation generally is devastating to people on fixed incomes, but economists don’t really care about that. They are perfectly willing to screw the senior population in the name of “growing the economy.”

There is also the working person who is setting aside money for future retirement and wants to see those savings grow. Reducing interest means they will be disappointed and will have to work longer or retire more frugally, and economists don’t really care about that either. No economist is willing to say outright that savings are bad for consumers, but they prate constantly that they are “bad for the cconomy,” so they are perfectly to screw the working class as well as seniors.

There is also the little fact that while I am having to pay more for practically everything I buy, my house payment is still the same because the bank thinks the “real interest rate” is the one printed in the loan documents. I have not had the temerity to go to a loan officer and demand that they reduce the interest rate by whatever the current inflation rate is, because I don’t want to get thrown out of the bank.

Notice I did not say that I’m paying more for food and energy, because those are not included in the calculation of inflation. They are excluded because they are “too volatile,” meaning that their prices change too rapidly. It’s interesting that computers can keep up with stock prices that change hundreds of times per second but cannot keep up with changes in the price of beef at Safeway.

At any rate, after that little side trip, inflation means that people pay more for the goods and services that they buy, but it does not mean that they pay lower interest rates. Not to mention that the Fed is breathlessly waiting for increased inflation so it can raise interest rates.

Part of the rationale is that businesses are more willing to borrow because they believe they will repay the loan with inflation-affected money that is "worth less." I’ve never met a businessman who subscribed to that little piece of insanity; the only ones who buy into it are economists, who know as much about business as the average house cat does. If nothing else, it depends on knowing not what inflation is now, but what it will be in the future when the loan is repaid, and no reasoning businessman is going to stake his future on that kind of uncertainty.

What planet did these economists come from anyway?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sanders Has A Plan

I know this is kind of wonkish, but I was greatly cheered today to hear that William K. Black has signed on as an economic advisor to the Bernie Sanders campaign. Black was a central figure in prosecuting corruption in the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s, including imprisoning the infamous Charles Keating and charging the “Keating five” that included John McCain (who got off thru the influence of his wealthy and politically powerful father-in-law).

He has been very outspoken about the failure to prosecute the financial crimes of the decade past, and of Congressional failure to reregulate the financial industry, but the media has rigorously ignored him. He is smart, highly articulate and indefatigably ethical.

Some have been critical of Sanders for not having a specific plan for “breaking up the big banks.”  Well, maybe or maybe not, but he certainly has an excellent one now.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Dishonesty Abounds

Establishment Democrats are wont to accuse Republicans of lying and of spouting gibberish, Paul Krugman leading the chorus but far from being a solo voice, but manage constantly to demonstrate that this is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Obama has now said that the worst mistake of his presidency was, “failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya.” The rightness of the decision to intervene in Libya is certainly arguable, but the point here is why he thinks that he should have been planning for the aftermath.

The announced purpose of the intervention, and the scope permitted by the United Nations resolution, was to prevent a massacre of the people of Benghazi, which was actually a fairly spurious claim in itself, and the administration claimed repeatedly that there was no intention of using that intervention as a pretext to overthrow the Ghadaffi regime. The UN resolution, in fact, specifically forbade any attempt at regime change. The US pretense did not, of course, hold up very long but still, the claim was made.

The intervention was made under the principle of “responsibility to protect,”  and that was the basis on which application was made to the United Nations for authorization to do the intervention. How do you plan for the aftermath of the overthrow of a government while at the same time not intending to overthrow a government?

So Obama is now saying that he made a mistake by not planning for what to do after having done what he never planned to do in the first place, sort of like saying that I made a mistake by not planning in advance what to do after I crashed my car, and almost as asinine as claiming that the reason for continuing our presence in Afghanistan is that “we are denying them space in which to plan their attacks.”

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, in response to an accusation that she supported a foreign policy that gave rise to ISIS, claimed that, “ISIS was primarily the result of the vacuum in Syria caused by Assad first and foremost. Aided and abetted by Iran and Russia.”

Either she thinks that is true, in which case she is grossly unqualified to be leader of anything larger than a dog pound, or she is lying, in which case she is very well qualified to be president because that's what presidents do most of the time.

ISIS was created in Iraq, and Iraq remains the center of its power to this day, not to mention that many of its senior leaders are Iraqis. Its first major victories were in Anbar province where, at one time, it presented an artillery threat to the Baghdad airport. Its growth was fueled by sectarian politics in Iraq and the Obama administration, with Clinton as Secretary of State, certainly supported the Iraqi government’s suppression of the Sunni people who provided the core of the Islamic State movement.

She will probably get away with it for the same reason that Obama gets away with his nonsensical foreign policy babble, which is that the vast majority of the American people couldn't find Iraq on a map and really don’t give a shit what happens outside the borders of this nation. They think that “supporting the troops”  means buying a magnet for your car.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Paul Krugman Is A Shill

Paul Krugman has now completely abandoned logic and honesty in his pursuit of supporting the oligarchy and shilling for a Clinton presidency. In a blog post today he asks, “were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?”  and answers his own question with a dishonest and a historically revisionist “no.”

“Predatory lending,”  he goes on to say, “was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on ‘shadow banks’ like Lehman Brothers that weren’t necessarily that big.”

Bank of America was a huge player in the predatory lending game. It was certainly not small at the time, and it definitely could not be considered a “non-Wall Street institution,”  so Krugman’s first defense of “big banks” is bullshit. Besides which, predatory lending was not the proximate cause of the crash, it only laid the groundwork.

The crash itself was caused by trading in financial instruments based on those faulty mortgages. It was that which took down Lehman Brothers, which was the fourth largest investment house in the United States at the time that it failed, so it’s pretty hard to agree with Krugman’s dishonest claim that it “wasn’t necessarily that big.”

Not to mention that it was the failure of Lehman which revealed that all of the other investment banks, including the three larger than Lehman, were as rotten and buried in bad investments as was Lehman and being "too big to fail"  had to be bailed out.

Krugman’s claim that “going on about big banks is pretty much all Mr. Sanders has done”  is utter bullshit, as his claim that an “absence of substance beyond the slogans seems to be true of his positions across the board.” Krugman is not ignorant of the truth regarding the campaign of Bernie Sanders, he is lying in an attempt to bolster Clinton’s presidential aspirations.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Making It Up

Dean Baker has a post today critical of the concept that economists praise the shipment of jobs overseas because it improved the lives of people in poor countries, and are at the same time pushing for welfare programs to improve the lives of people in this country who were impoverished by the loss of those jobs.

“Let's imagine,” he says, “that mainstream economics wasn't a make it up as you go along discipline,”  stating a position that I have held for several decades.

Economists have these mathematical formulas which they claim can foretell how the economy will perform, but I maintain that the claim is laughable since they developed those formulas by concocting the formulas to fit an aggregation of present facts.

Based on that process I could concoct a formula to determine who will win the Super Bowl based on scores in the first eight games of the season. That team would, of course, probably not even win their division.

Baker had a post yesterday which rather proves that economists are making it up as they go along, in which he claims that the failure to increase productivity is caused by low wages. WalMart, he points out, is hiring lots of workers such as greeters who do not do anything productive, and they do that because wages are low. If wages were higher, he claims, they would no longer hire these workers and productivity would improve.

He has, however, been claiming for years that raising the minimum wage would not cause employers to lay off any workers, so he sort of needs to make up his mind.

Monday, April 04, 2016

No, I Don't Oppose It

As a matter of fact, I think it's idiotic that they "phase it in" over a five year period. Who does that serve? If you are going to raise it, just raise it.

As with most laws passed by most legislatures, I think it is poorly implemented. For instance a waiter making $20,000 per year in tips must still be paid a salary of $31,200 per year; the same salary as a janitor or a lawn care worker, who rarely, if ever, is tipped at all.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Thinking Outside The Box

A minimum wage of $10.50, translating to $21,840 per year, is considered unacceptable. California feels the need to raise that to $15/hr, or $31,200 per year. Meanwhile, they have no apparent problem with seniors living on an average Social Security of $14,160 per year. So the Millennials cannot, or should not, be expected to live on $21,480 per year, while it's okay for seniors to live on 66% of that amount. Just a thought.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Small Cons and a Big Con

The Chargers knew that the chances of getting a stadium deal on its own merits was slim at best, nonexistent at worst. They claimed to need $350 million in revenue from the city, but in reality they needed $550 million given that the $300 NFL “contribution” included a $100 million grant and a $200 million loan.

The plan was to sell the deal in Mission Valley with new 2% hotel tax paying the cost so that they could convince the people of San Diego that it would require “no new taxes.”  After several months of peddling this plan somebody pointed out that a court had ruled that 2% hotel tax illegal. Ironically, they thought they could get away with diverting that tax to the stadium because the hotels weren't presently getting it anyway.

That is the first of two small cons. The hotel tax increase supposedly is “from 12.2% to 16.5%” and is merely a 30% increase. Except that the 2% tax is not currently being imposed and so the actual increase is a 60% one, from 10.5% to 16.5%.

The second small con is that in the current plan there is still no mention made as to how the $200 million loan from the NFL will be repaid.

The big con is that, knowing he could not possibly sell his stadium to the taxpayers, Spanos combines it with a convention center expansion which is much more well received by the public. The public will vote in favor of the convention center expansion so that ComicCon will not carry out its threat to move to Los Angeles, and will not mind that the price of that expansion is a football stadium that we don’t want.

Sort of ironic that we don’t mind if the Chargers move to LA, we just don’t want ComicCon to do so. Tells you something about San Diego.