Wednesday, December 31, 2008

No Ceasefire?

Yesterday from the Bush Administration, re Gaza,
Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe said of Gaza (Bush couldn’t comment, he was busy clearing brush), “We don’t just want a ceasefire for the sake of a ceasefire..."

Even from an administration that started a war of choice against a nation that was no threat to us and that had done no harm to us, a war that has cost the lives of tens of thousands and made millions homeless, that is an incredibly stupid statement.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Out of Town

Out of town and using an unfamiliar keyboard, but...

Just about every one of the blogs on my reading list is all agog about the news that teens who take a pledge not to have sex before marriage do so at the same rate as those who don't take the pledge. I have no opinion on that subject. (Teens and pledges. I have many opinions on sex.)

We are visiting friends in NC, and Mo is a Philadelphia Eagles fan so he and I were both happy yesterday. Four times over, actually, as not only did our teams win and move on to the playoffs, but both teams won big and both teams rather humiliated teams that we particularly enjoy seeing humiliated. How sweet it is.

North Carolina, by the way, has one whole hell of a lot of trees.

Update: Tuesday evening
No pictures of the trees. Two reasons. a) We didn't bring a camera, digital or otherwise. b) The trees are mostly leafless and uninteresting. There are a lot of them, but they are much more interesting in summer and even more interesting, way more, in fall.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Greetings

new ownerTo all who have been with me this past year, please accept my very best wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a Happy and prosperous New Year.

I will be away visiting family, so I will be online but blogging will be light until after the first of the year. The things that will be "On My Mind" will be more fun than politics. Do bear in mind the house above will have a new occupant in less than a month.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oaths of Office

Every time I click a link and read a post at Daily Kos I remember why I took that site off my daily reading list long ago. A poster there the other day insists that Obama should fire Fitzgerald and rehire him, pursuant to his (Obama’s) oath of office.

The “fire and rehire” bit is based on the tradition that all Attorneys General tender their resignation when a new president enters office, and that Obama should accept the resignation and then reappoint him. First, that is not “fire and rehire,” because he would not have done the firing. Second, if he wants to keep Fitzgerald, he can merely not accept the resignation.

Then he quotes Article II, Section 3 of the constitution and claims that it requires Obama to prosecute people in the Bush Administration who have committed acts which are against the laws of this nation. I’ll underline the part that he claims is grounds for that requirement.
…he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

That requires a particular type of conduct of the current president, and of the people answering to that president. It does not say that the current president shall examine all of the acts of man that occurred before he took office and take action for wrongdoing that occurred before his responsibility to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” went into effect.

I do believe that the actions of the Bush Administration should be investigated; and that if any actions by any member of that group are found which were in violation of our laws then criminal prosecution should be rigorously pursued. That investigation should include everyone, up to and including Dick Cheney and George Bush.

I think it would be a very real shame if Obama does not do this, and it would be to some degree a breach of his promise to those who elected him, but I do not think that such a failure would be a violation of his oath of office. That claim is just plain silliness.

Chargers Update

Headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune today,

"Confident Chargers focused on postseason."

Now that is exactly how you blow the big game before you even go on the field. That is how you lose games you are expected to win.

But, when you read the article, it turns out there is nothing there that justifies the headline. The writer, Kevin Acee, writes that the players are feeling confident. At the beginning of the article he makes some allusion to "It might all be for naught," but it is unclear what that is in reference to. There is not one quote from a player or coach speaking about postseason. The quotations are players saying that now that the team has won three games in a row, the last one over a quality opponent at Tampa, the team feels more confident.

The article is, in actuality, gibberish. You can read it here and see what you make of it, see if you think the headline is pertinent.

To me the players sound appropriately confident and ready to go out and win the last game of the season. They sound like a team that has just won three games in a row, the last one against a quality opponent and on the road. They sound like a team that just might be winners.

Monday, December 22, 2008


From three games behind with three to play, the Chargers now find themselves facing Denver next Sunday to decide the division title. Yesterday, at least, they earned it. They played with an intensity that has been missing all season and, even when trailing by three points, there was no doubt that they were going to win. Wow.

With the exception of the defensive secondary, which could not find its collective ass if you gave it a mirror on a stick, the Chargers were awesome. As to Eric Weddle, “Hey, Eric. That guy running toward the goal line… You’re supposed to follow him. He might be a pass receiver.”

They won on the road while Denver lost at home. They will be playing after a three game win streak, while Denver will be following two losses. They are all pretty much healthy while Denver is crippled by injuries. The game is at Qualcomm Stadium, the Chargers’ house.

Oh oh, trouble. The Chargers have a bad habit of reading all of the stuff that is written about them, and then expecting the next opponent to swoon at the mere sight of them upon entering the field of play. They are especially prone to doing that when the game has national coverage.

This game was originally scheduled for the 8:00pm game but a few weeks ago, when the Chargers were looking like schmucks, it was rescheduled to afternoon and a “better” game put in it’s place. Within minutes of Buffalo beating Denver that was reversed, so the Bolts will be on NBC at 8:00pm Eastern time.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Staking a claim

Molly napping"You thought you were going to mail this sweater somewhere? I don't think
  so. This is my nap spot."
      (Click image for larger view.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

On Picking Warren

I am trying to maintain a positive attitude about our next president in the face of his pick of Rick Warren to be part of his historic inauguration, but I just simply cannot consider it with anything other than serious disappointment and misgiving.

John Harwood on Countdown claims that because we like so many of the things that Obama is doing that we must therefor accept without complaint everything that he does. We should not complain about his pick of Rick Warren because he is getting the troops out of Iraq, cutting taxes on the middle class, etc.

While actions do exist within a pattern of the whole, I do not agree with Harwood. To me each action must stand on its own merits as well as being seen within the context of the pattern.

"We must learn to disagree,” Obama says, “without being disagreeable.” And he then picks a person to give the invocation who compares gay marriage to incest and pedophilia; who compares abortion to the Holocaust. Rick Warren disagrees in the most disagreeable terms imaginable.

“We must have a policy of including everyone,” Obama says. Rick Warren preaches exclusion of an entire class in the most disagreeable terms that one can think of and Obama, in the name of inclusiveness, gives him a world platform.

But perhaps this should not surprise us. Barack Obama says he supports equality for gays and lesbians, but he has told us that he would exclude them from the equality of marriage based on his own personal religious definition of that word. He does not care how you or I define it, or how they define it, or how any other church defines it; he would base that exclusion on his definition. He has repeatedly dodged the question of how he intends to deal with the issue of gays serving in our military.

There is an old saying that goes, “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.” Perhaps, with this action, we just learned something about Barack Obama that we did not really want to know.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Torture Debate Again

Unbelievably, we are having the “torture debate” yet again. We simply cannot seem to put this filthy mess to rest, and the media keeps dredging up filthy pieces of garbage who continue to advocate heinous behavior in the name of “keeping America safe.”

Watch yesterday’s Hardball segment. The filth that is spewed by Smerconish is offset by rather profound wisdom from Christopher Hitchens.
Hitchens tells of England in World War 2, when London was being bombed into rubble every night by the Germans and when British interrogators were fired and court martialed if “you so much as raised a hand.” He goes on the say that the expectation was that some of the Germans would come over to the British side.

Smerconish says no limits, “Bring out the blowtorch. They have made it plain that they are not going to play by the rules, so why should we?”

Well, because we are not animals.

Treatment of others is not about who they are, it’s about who we are. I do not threat other people kindly and well because they are good people, I do so because I am a good person. If I deviate from that treatment then I am no longer a good person. The same goes for nations. We are a nation that has laws. If we permit the violation of those laws it does not matter why we did so, we no longer are a nation that has laws.

All of the arguments about whether or not torture works, the arguments about what will happen to our soldiers if we torture captives, about whether or not we are making the enemy fight harder or fight to the death, are irrelevant. All of them are entirely valid, but we do not need them. One argument, and one argument alone is sufficient; we do not torture because we are who we are.

Michael Smerconish is an evil piece of filth. He makes himself so with this discussion. I have disagreed with Christopher Hitchens many more times than I have agreed with him, but during this segment I wanted to jump through the screen and shake his hand as he advocated that evil in defense of freedom is not acceptable.

Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote on this in 2005 in the LA Times. Read the column. He starts with our nation’s beginning, when the British were torturing and hanging captured revolutionaries, and our fighters did not respond in kind. British captives were treated in a humane manner throughout the entire Revolutionary War.
The fact that the patriots refused to abandon these principles, even in the dark times when the war seemed lost, when the enemy controlled our cities and our ragged army was barefoot and starving, credits the character of Washington and the founding fathers and puts to shame the conduct of America's present leadership.

That character of our nation was preserved through the death of millions in many wars, large and small, foreign and domestic. It survived Pearl Harbor. It survived famine, pestilence and financial ruin. It was not the events of 9/11 that brought it down, it was the heinous leadership that this nation suffered following that day that brought it down.

That we can even have this argument, let alone that the argument persists, reveals that we are not the nation we once were.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Anybody got ark plans?

floor beforeThe movement of the rain almost due north, and our house is right about where the little "+" is. It has been pouring since 4AM or so, adding to the almost 1.4" we got yesterday Monday.

Staying home to admire my floors today is a good plan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why did we pick that?

Once in a while for the past few years I have been idly asking myself why we would pick such a dark color grout for our tile floors, not really thinking all that much about it, but…
floor beforeWell, the short answer is: we didn’t.

The slightly longer answer is: this is what happens when you live in a climate where winter is about three hours long, and summer is so mild that you never run your air conditioning. Your windows are open all the time and lots of dirt blows in.

I had the people in from Stanley Steemer to do the bedroom carpets today, and the young man waxed very enthusiastic about their tile cleaning service. He was very persistent without being at all pushy, very cheerful about the whole thing, and kept telling me how happy I would be if I would let him clean my tile floors. He really conveyed an enthusiasm, a sense that he saw an opportunity to do something that would make a person’s life better, and I finally succumbed.
floor afterWell, I think I’m glad I did. I’m staying home tomorrow and just sitting around looking at my floors.

1800 Pennsylvania Ave.

I’m surprised David Schuster actually gets the address of the White House right; but then he receives some help on that from MSNBC, since it is the name of his show.

And yes, I got the address wrong. Kudos to David Schuster.

Yesterday he was blathering on about the insult to our president when an Iraqi newsman threw shoes at him, as if our news media has never insulted that office or its occupant at all, and reported a related incident where crowds threw rocks at our passing troops. He repeated that maybe that was going to become a new trend, where Iraqis threw rocks at our troops.

Juan Cole at Informed Comment, whose blog seems to be well-named in this case at least, got it right. Iraqis threw shoes at our troops.

Schuster is as determined as the RNC to make something out of Obama’s connection to the present Illinois governor. He keeps droning on about how the media would not continue to harp on this if Obama would simply admit that he spoke to Blagojevich and divulge what he said, and then the press could move on to more important things.

Actually, the press can move on to more important things.

It makes perfectly good sense for Obama to decide not to release anything until he has everything, which is precisely what he said from the very start is what he intended to do. If he released a partial list of “who shot John” David Schuster would be on him like white on rice demanding, “Why did you leave this conversation out?”

Having accumulated the information, Obama is holding it at the request of the prosecutor and Schuster thinks he should not do that. Of course, if he released it Schuster would explode in righteous indignation over Obama having jeopardized the investigation.

Schuster also said at one point a few days ago that there is no problem with someone simply going to the press and telling them what went on in the Grand Jury room, that the prosecutor could not tell them not to do that. He should tell that to the people who are presently in jail for going to the press and telling them what went on in the Grand Jury room which is, in fact, illegal.

I was at home and not wearing shoes as I watched, so…

As a side note, Cole reports in that same post that, "Iraqis are deeply suspicious that the US military will not honor its obligations under the Status of Forces Agreement." General Odierno may have contributed to that when he actually said that we would not do so, stating that we would almost certainly maintain troops in their cities past the July 2009 deadline despite the agreement. When asked about the agreement, he repeated that decisions would be made by American military commanders based upon "conditions on the ground."

Barack Obama has so far not commented on Odierno's statement.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

At Kansas City

The Chargers lead the league in allowing opposing tight ends to catch passes. Tony Gonzales, tight end for the Chiefs, leads the league among tight ends in catching passes. Want to hear my prediction? Guess what; even I don't want to hear my prediction, and I'm the one making it. Chargers, oddly, are favored by 5+.

The Chargers have to win today to... No, forget the playoffs. We have to win three games in a row to finish without a losing record. Even that feat will not have us finishing with a winning record.

Update: Monday morning
Everyone is excited that the team came from behind to win, but no one stops to ponder that the team spent the great majority of the game trailing a team that has only won twice this season. I think the excitement may be a bit misplaced.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Nation in Fear

Last fall Paulson went to Congress with this tale of impending doom that had the people in the room leaving, literally, ashen faced in fear. A bill had to be passed within days, he said, or our nation would face a financial crisis that would make 1929 look like a proverbial walk in the park. Most of Congress, including the Democratic leadership, bought his story in its entirety and made preparations to pass the bill that Paulson presented to them and told them was the only possible solution.

To their credit, a few members of that body asked questions and even had the temerity to offer alternative solutions. Paulson treated them like naughty children and told them their solutions would not work. The maverick members managed to get some conditions imposed on the largess that Paulson was insisting upon and the bill, hugely unpopular with American citizenry, passed.

Then it turned out that everything Paulson had been saying was wrong. Things went bad, but not in the manner and not to the depth that Paulson predicted, and not for the reasons that he had given. The money was not spent the way he insisted was essential, in fact it got spent the way that the maverick members of Congress had suggested and which Paulson had told them would not work. Whether Paulson was pulling a huge con game, or whether he simply didn’t have the faintest idea what he was talking about, whether he has been the stupidest or the most dishonest Treasury Secretary in recent history, may never be known. In all honesty, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is this.

Congress, with a gun held to its head, passed a bad bill which has harmed rather than helped this nation. They blindly reacted to fear. We’ve been here before, and it led us to a disasterous war in Iraq.

First it was mushroom clouds. Then it was financial meltdown 1929 style. Now it is millions of jobs and a sacrosanct industry disappearing overnight. The mushroom clouds turned out to be false fear. The financial meltdown turned out to be a false fear. We have yet to find out about the millions of jobs disappearing in the aftermath of an auto industry meltdown.

Congress failed to pass this bill, but for the wrong reasons. It bought the fear lock, stock and barrel. The Democratic leadership did everything possible to pass this bill, because it was in thrall to the fear this time, just as it has been in the past. “The auto industry will collapse and this nation cannot survive without it.”

“But,” you claim, “it isn’t just the government. Everybody is saying it.”

At first it was only Bush and Company hyperventilating about the mushroom clouds, and then every news medium and pundit was screaming Iraqi Armageddon. At first only Paulson had the vapors about financial meltdown and the American people were inundating their representatives with advise against any bailout. Then media and pundits took up the hue and cry and in a matter of days, “everybody” was screaming about approaching financial doom. It has always been, at first, just the government advertising the fear. But always, always, fear spreads like wildfire.

The Bush Administration should go down in history as having fundamentally changed the character of a nation. From the nation that won World War II, we have become the world’s most fearful nation. No other nation in the world has news media whose headlines as consistently scream fear and disaster as ours. No nation has a legislative leadership whose decisions are as consistently motivated by reaction to fear. No nation has a public whose requirement of its leaders is first and foremost to “keep us safe” from threats, mostly nonexistent.

Our national anthem ends with the phrase, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Our freedom is being eroded, and bravery is now essentially limited to less than one percent of our men and women, those who serve in the military. Beyond them I think this country is notable only for its cowardice.

We have become a nation of cravens, cowering in our foxholes, bleating at our leaders liberties be damned, just bail us out of our problems and keep us safe.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Where is the Marine Corps?

San Diego’s largest landfill, quite near the Marine Corp air station at Miramar, is filling up and the city is negotiating with the Corps to raise the maximum height of it by twenty feet. The negotiations were suspended last Monday when a F/A-18 fighter crashed into some homes near the base. I understand the suspension, as the same people are involved, flight safety personnel, and the fighter crash certainly has priority.

The man whose wife, mother-in-law and two daughters were killed in the crash is facing costs to bury them and, according to his pastor, is worried about being able to pay those costs. He also needs to fly family members from Korea and is worried about meeting those costs too, as well as housing them while they are here. His church is seeking donations.

Many people are being kept away from their homes; quite properly so, as the site is still very hazardous. One of them is known to us, a man named Robert Johnson. He and his family are being helped by the Red Cross; are being put up at a different hotel each night and given coupons for restaurant meals. They have been provided with bare minimums for personal needs, and they have no car since theirs was destroyed by the plane crash.

Robert is retired Navy and has spent many hours this past year volunteering as a docent at the USS Midway Museum.

Where the hell is the Marine Corps public relations? Why are they not stepping in to take care of these people?

There can be no question of liability; there is no question it was a Marine Corps jet that caused the loss that these people have suffered. The Corps should have been on the scene within hours telling people that they would be taken care of in every way possible, and if that is being done there is absolutely no sign of it. The flight safety personnel are preoccupied right now, but the Corps has a staff of people who have no job other than public relations, and they are dropping the ball altogether here. What do that have on their plate right now that is more important than this?

It is time, past time, for the Marine Corps to step up.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Terrorist Thinking

Much is being made of the terrorists in Gitmo deciding on November 4th to plead guilty and seek to be put to death. Nobody has offered a really satisfying explanation for that action, and especially not for the date, but I think Mike German, author of “Thinking Like a Terrorist” might be able to do so. Having just finished his book I’m going to offer the conclusion that I draw based on what he offers in it.

So long as Bush, or someone with a Bush mentality, is in office these men are being held as political prisoners and are regarding themselves as martyrs. There is, in their minds and (to them) in the minds of their followers a sense of nobility in their captivity and impending death. As soon as Obama is in office they will be moved into a normal justice system where they will become not martyrs, but criminals. They will be put on trial not for their ideology as they are now, but for their actions, which are common, heinous crimes against humanity.

They want the issue to be their ideology, not their actions.

The book is pretty interesting reading although, like many of this genre, the meat is in the first few chapters. After that it delves into mundane detail about what a multitude of subchapters of various terrorist groups did throughout history. Sort of, “I’ve said everything I have to say, but nobody is going to pay $24.95 for twenty-two pages, so…”

Terrorists, he tells us, always write a manifesto detailing their cause. We did that in 1776 and called it our “Declaration of Independence.” Instead of bombing British tearooms, though, we called them out and met them on battlefields at Lexington, Concord, Yorktown and other places, so we did not become terrorists.

Terrorists always have a cause, and sometimes that cause is quite legitimate. That doesn’t make their actions legitimate, and this is the great pitfall of our reaction to terrorist acts. Why one does something does not justify the crime in a civilized world.

The very use of the term “Radical Islam” is a setback to our efforts to deal with the problem. The people we seek are Muslims. But we are not seeking them because they are Muslims, radical or otherwise; we are seeking them because they committed crimes against humanity. “Radical Islam” is not a threat to us; people who set off bombs in our cities are a threat to us.

German suggests that we need to change our approach from “declaring war,” to fighting crime. Declaring war is counterproductive, whether that war be on nations, groups or ideology. He points out the success that the FBI has had against domestic terror groups using a crime-fighting approach but, since he is writing mostly about his own experience and research, doesn’t delve into the success the British have had with that approach recently with international terrorism.

I would suggest we need to change our rhetoric as well, and in two respects. First, we need to quit dignifying these acts by using terms like “war” and “terror” and simply call them what they are; crimes. Secondly, we need to cease adding fuel to the fire by stressing the threat on a daily basis. These criminal groups pose no more threat to us than do drug sellers, for instance, or any other criminal gang, who kill many more people in this nation every year than do “terrorists.”

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Chargers Overconfident?

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes today that the San Diego Chargers players may have approached the season with a little bit too much of a cocky attitude.
But there is a pervading feeling in the locker room that the Chargers were doomed in large part by overconfidence.

Well, duh.

Those of us who know a lot less about football than NFL head coaches are supposed to know have been well aware that Chargers players had an unwarrantably high opinion of themselves since, oh, maybe the second game of the season. We have observed repeatedly that the players wearing lightening bolts have seemingly expected opposing teams to faint at the mere sight of their awesomeness. Opposing teams have been somewhat less impressed, and have whupped up on that awesomeness in a thoroughly embarrassing manner.

So how is this attitude problem, and its persistence for no less than twelve weeks, not a massive coaching failure? How, in the face of such a total failure to correct such horrendous attitude problem, is Norv Turner assured of another year as head coach of this team?

Inquiring minds want to know.

The Shinseki Appointment

I have avoided commenting on Obama’s cabinet appointments to this point, other than to express my dismay at his choice for Secretary of State, but some recent commentary on his selection of Eric Shinseki for VA Secretary compels me to weigh in.

As background, for any who may not recall, as Chief of Staff of the Army General Shinseki testified before Congress that he believed that “several hundred thousand” troops would be required to control Iraq in the aftermath of invasion. He was publicly mocked and humiliated by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz for this statement, and retired shortly afterward. He was not, as many commentators including Keith Olbermann have stated, fired by Rumsfeld. His retirement, however, was well ahead of schedule and was clearly coerced. None of the civilian military leadership attended his retirement ceremony, a serious insult.

Both Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have commented that George Bush tacitly admitted that Shinseki was right when he initiated the “Surge,” which demonstrates the degree to which both of them enjoy engaging in idiotic hyperbole. The 30,000 troops that were sent in that escalation are miles from the “several hundred thousand” that Shinseki said would be needed, and do not even remotely represent a validation of this fine general or any degree of repudiation of the humiliating treatment which he was afforded.

Chief of Staff of the Army is a huge administrative job and, as such, may
be one of the very best backgrounds for Secretary of the Veterans Administration. Eric Shinseki is not a self serving political general, but a career general in the best sense of the term; dedicated to his service rather than to himself. That is born out by his silence since his retirement, and it is precisely what the job requires today. Rachel Maddow asked if his low profile persona was sufficient to the task of pressing for the resources needed by the VA, and I would suggest that it is precisely what is needed.

Finally, I do wish that the media would make an effort to distinguish between the administrative problems of the VA bureaucracy and the superb quality of the VA Medical Service today.

After Vietnam the VA medical facilities attained a reputation as hellholes of the worst sort, and quite deservedly so. Under the direction of Kenneth W. Kizer, beginning in 1994, the VA Medical Service has made one of the greatest turnarounds in modern history, and it is now one of the finest medical systems in the entire world. You will hear many veterans complain of difficulty getting into the system, but you will hear no complaints from veterans presently being served by the VA Health Service in any of its facilities.

The first thing needs to be dealt with, and Eric Shinseki is an excellent choice to deal with the administrative problems facing the VA. This nation has done things that need to be corrected, but we need for the media to acknowledge the things that we have done right as well.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Fiscal Expansion

Paul Krugman, in the New York Times on Dec 1st op-ed column,
One more thing: Fiscal expansion will be even better for America’s future if a large part of the expansion takes the form of public investment — of building roads, repairing bridges and developing new technologies, all of which make the nation richer in the long run.

But is “fiscal expansion” in the form of subsidizing the production of automobiles, which are sold by the expedient of increasing consumer debt, good for the nation in the long run? I doubt seriously that it can be argued that producing expendable goods and increasing both federal and consumer debt in the process is “making the nation richer in the long run.”

And don't accuse me of favoring white collar over blue collar; I was against the Wall Street bailout, too. I am opposed to the whole business of politicians prating endlessly about how bad things can get and passing measures in panic mode for the sole purpose of averting disaster. That is the antithesis of leadership. I am totally in favor of Obama's modality of proposing solutions, and of the "New New Deal" which he proposes and which Paul Krugman endorses.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Dec 7, 1941

Dec 7, 1941
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Chargers Win One

One of our local sports writers was so giddy over the Chargers actually winning a game that he gave an "A" rating to our quarterback, who only completed 45% of his passes. Of course he may have been doing some comparison to the combined Oakland quarterback rating of 27. I thought if you managed to avoid fainting at the line of scrimmage you got a 32 rating. Apparently not.

The Oakland running backs were falling over their own downed linemen, thereby creating something I have never actually seen before; a football team that literally cannot get out of its own way.

Well, what the hell, it's a win.

Bullying Congress

I don’t know why I watch Hardball, really. I kind of like Chris Matthews, but the things I learn on that program aren’t really things that are much worth knowing, and Chris is sometimes a bit of an idiot.

He’s all over Sarah Palin, just thrilled to death with the prospect of her future as the leader of the Republican Party. He thinks she will be the next Republican presidential nominee; says she’s really smart (?) and that she has “star power.” He opined that “Goldwater did it, Nixon did it, she can do it.” Um, those two guys were presidential candidates who came back to get nominated, not vice-presidential selections.

And, “she’s really smart,” he says? I think he’s been feeling too many thrills up his leg.

He had one of the auto executives on and asked him if the company could assure that it would be able to repay a loan. The exec gave a pep talk about the importance of car companies; didn’t even pretend to answer the question. To me that means that, no, that cannot be even remotely certain of repaying the loan. Chris Matthews just thanked him and moved on to the next question.

Which brings me to the title of this post. The auto makers are doing the same thing to Congress that Paulson did.

“Armageddon is coming and you need to do what I tell you, precisely the way I tell you to do it, within days, or the world as we know it will end. I am the only one who knows the solution, your solutions will not work, and if I try to explain things to you your head will explode because you are entirely to stupid to understand these high principles. Shut up and do as I tell you, right now.”

How do we know that a bailout loan is the only workable solution? Because the auto executives say so. How do we know that Chapter 11 bankruptcy is not viable? Because the auto executives say so. How do we know that millions of jobs depend on the auto companies? Because the auto executives say so.

Well, everybody is saying these things now, but they got them from the auto executives and are taking them as gospel.

Congress caved to Paulson. They put some lipstick on Paulson’s pig, but it was still a pig when they served it up. Interestingly, the $700 billion that Paulson said it was imperative to spend buying toxic debt to avoid Armageddon was not spent the way Paulson claimed was essential. Half of it was spent in a different manner, a manner that Paulson said would not work. The outcome has hardly been pretty, but it certainly has not been the financial meltdown that Paulson predicted.

Congress will cave to the auto executives as well. They are busily lipsticking the pig, but they will serve it up in the end. Congress has proven that it cannot think for itself, and it cannot or will not act independently. It will do whatever it is bullied into doing.

So they will get the loans and build the cars, and then what? The cars will go where, exactly? Nobody is buying cars, not Detroit cars certainly, but not any brand in any quantity. With unemployment projected to continue increasing for up to a year, who is going to be buying these cars?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Conrail Them

We’ve been here before; the auto industry is not the first industry “too big to be allowed to fail.” In early the 1970’s our railroad industry was crumbling; tracks in disrepair, rolling stock crumbling, and operations outmoded beyond comprehension. They claimed their problems were due to competition factors beyond their control, and to some extent that was true. The Interstate Highway System had moved freight into trucks and the airlines had moved passengers into the air. Still, there were clearly management issues which exacerbated the problems and they were functionally bankrupt and on the verge of closing down operations.

Rather than throwing huge amounts of money at those who owned and mis-managed the railroads (Republicans weren’t in power yet), the government took steps to actually solve the problem.

First, the government nationalized passenger operation under Amtrak in 1971, since airline travel had impacted that business such that even profitable railroads in the West were losing money on it. Amtrak remains a government sponsored entity today.

As to the failing Eastern railroads, the government formed a national, government owned and funded corporation to take over the failed railroads. Consolidated Rail Corporation, known as Conrail, absorbed selected failed and failing railroads and began operation in 1974, operating as a private company, but owned by the US taxpayers.

Initial investment was minimal; the railroads voluntarily moved themselves into Conrail since the alternative was simply closing down and selling their equipment as scrap.

Conrail operated at a loss for quite a few years, losses which the taxpayers absorbed, but almost immediate improvement was seen in its operations. Infrastructure repairs were undertaken, new locomotives and rolling stock began to make appearance, and trains began rolling at higher speeds and with improved safety records, all within a very short time of Conrail’s beginning.

By the late 1990’s Conrail was operating at an excellent profit, and the system was broken up and sold off to private railroads, mostly Norfolk Southern and CSX. Exact figures are hard to come by, but as best I can tell, taxpayers absorbed $2.2 billion in operating losses, realized something in operations revenue for about ten years, and then received $1.9 billion when Conrail was sold off.

As a net result of the Conrail enterprise, the taxpayer is out very little (if any) money, and we have today a modern, thriving and profitable railroad industry built on the ashes of a failed and crumbling predecessor.

General Motors has a negative net worth of $60 billion and it cannot meet its financial obligations this month. This company is not going to go bankrupt, it is there already. This company is not sinking, it is resting solidly on the bottom. With all this negative worth, and stock value totaling an absurd $3 billion, it expects the taxpayer to lend it $18 billion. That is madness.

We should do a Conrail on the auto industry. Form a government owned corporation, staff it with competent management (from Japan maybe), and fold all three big automakers into it. Run it until it is making money at a level sufficient to have returned the taxpayer losses, and then sell it to the highest bidder.

It worked for the railroads. It saved railroads and saved railroad jobs.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Economic Wierdness

The government is making plans for a stimulus that includes spending a ton of money to create jobs. Seems the government considers jobs to be really important; a priority with which I happen to agree.

So the automakers appear in Washington with their plans, appealing for loans; plans which include laying off thousands upon thousands of workers. Their plans also include closing several thousand dealerships, which means many more thousands of jobs lost.

Am I the only one who sees insanity in this?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Producer Economy, Part Two

I wrote a post yesterday about this nation's economy and, based on the comments, I didn't make my point very well. My point wasn't about buying American vs. foreign products. I see no great value in the former or detriment in the latter. "Not that there is inherent superior value to things that are made in this country," I said in that post.

The point I wanted to make was about policy makers not paying attention. It was about policy makers still saying that it is acceptable for this nation's economy to be based on consumption; that the purpose of building bridges etc. is to create jobs for the purpose of refueling the engine of consumption.

Policy makers seem to think that jobs do not exist for the purpose of making things, but that they exist for the purpose of getting money so the job holders can buy things. But jobs do not exist just to fuel the engine of consumption and most people, I think, want their job to be more than just a way of making money.

So in part it's about policy making, and in part it's about perception of the jobs themselves. And the comments are about buying American products.
I appreciate all comments, especially positive ones as these were, but buying American was not what I was talking about. In fact, I was kind of suggesting we should not be buying at all for a while.

Sometimes I try to keep my posts too short, and sometimes apparently I don't write as well as I think I do.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Zippo Lighters

When I was ten or eleven my brother hit me in the head with a hockey stick and gave me a concussion. (It wasn't on purpose, or at least he claimed it wasn't.) I was taken to the hospital and was being kept awake, and of course I was pretty scared. I wanted to go to sleep, but what I really wanted was my Dad. Finally somebody came in and told me I could go to sleep, but I couldn't do that. I struggled and struggled and kept myself awake. Then I heard a Zippo lighter click shut in the hallway outside. I knew that was Dad's lighter, he shut his lighter with a special click. I heard the Zippo click shut; Dad was here. I was out, never even saw him enter the room.

Amazingly, Zippo lighters are still being made today, in Bradford PA. They are completely unchanged from the one that my father clicked shut in that hospital hallway more than fifty years ago.

A Producer Economy

I have been reading as many advisories as I can on how we need to proceed to restore our economy. There seems to be consensus that a jobs plan, one rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, is needed. There certainly agreement on economic reform. Other means seem to have less of a solid consensus, but there is one thing I have not seen suggested by even one single pundit, economist or legislator.

Not one time have I seen it suggested that we even attempt to return this nation to being a producer nation instead of a consumer nation. Not one place have I seen a suggestion that we need to recreate the industries, other than automobile, that manufacture the things that American consumers buy.

In the political campaigns there was rhetoric about “exporting jobs” and “shipping jobs overseas.” That rhetoric didn’t include any specifics about bringing back the jobs that had already been exported. In all of the current discussions about the economic recovery, however, the discussion of manufacturing jobs, other than auto, has been noticeable by its absence.

Not that there is inherent superior value to things that are made in this country, but there is value in having the jobs that manufacturing in this country can provide. Buying does not provide jobs; manufacturing provides jobs as well as products that Americans buy.

So that when I buy a toy for my kid it says, “Made in USA.”

So that when I buy a television it says, “Made in USA.”

So that when I buy a part for my car, not the car itself, but a starter, or a windshield wiper it says, “Made in USA.”

So that when I put on my shirt in the morning it says, “Made in USA.”

Maybe restoring our producer economy cannot be done. Maybe the foreign competition has labor costs that we cannot meet. Maybe we are not innovative enough, or smart enough, or we just don’t care enough to overcome that deficit. But we are not even trying. No one is even suggesting that we try. It seems sufficient that we manufacture automobiles from imported parts, and that we import everything else.

It used to be that “third world” countries were considered inferior because they could not manufacture, and they had to import manufactured goods from us. Now those same countries are providing the manufactured goods that we are importing. We don’t seem to feel that makes us inferior.

I don’t think we are inferior. I think we can be a producing nation, or at least I don’t know why we can’t. I don’t understand why we are not making the effort.

There’s something uncomfortable about being a “nation of consumers.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Roy Orbison is, of course, best known for Pretty Woman. Good song but this one, written for his first wife, actually may be my favorite.

There was a special on PBS last night of his night at Coconut Grove. The last number was Pretty Woman, and the group riffed in the middle of it at great length. Relentless, and great music.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ruling the Roost

I know the saying about “dogs were domesticated, cats moved in because there was food.” I know about, “dogs have masters, cats have servants.” But this creature is getting completely out of hand.
molly image I bought a new computer chair the other day. It’s a nice one and, unfortunately, Molly likes it too. We compete for it much of the day, but I’m bigger than she is so I routinely win, and she does not take that particularly well. My desk is ell-shaped, and she crouches at my right elbow, waiting like a little fuzzy vulture for me to abandon the chair. No more hanging out behind the monitor, as that is too far away from the chair.

Remember the cartoon with the vultures? The caption reads, "Patience my ass, I'm going to kill something."

I draw the line at her new trick of poking me in the back with her paw while I’m typing. Trying to push me out of the chair? Or merely suggesting that I leave? Whatever, it’s going a little to far. Lurking is one thing; proactive efforts to take possession is a little much.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spitting in the Wind

Bloomberg suspects that the latest move in Washington's flailing efforts to save a drowning economy, the $200 billion to stimulate consumer lending in the form of car loans and credit cards and the $600 billion in mortgage loans, is spitting into the wind. As a sailor, I suspect their metaphor is poorly chosen, since that one refers to an act that is going to make you devoutly wish you had not done it. I think that "spitting into the ocean" would be more apt, meaning an action that is completely futile.

Consumers are already saddled with excessive debt at this point and, additionally, unable to pay existing debt let alone any addon. So who, precisely, are banks going to lend this $200 billion to? Certainly not to the increasing ranks of unemployed workers.

In creating the push of mortgage money, rates have dropped but banks aversion to risk has not, so I'm guessing that most of it is going to go for refinancing sound mortgages at lower rates. Since the tax incentives have not lured new buyers into purchasing the glut of unsold homes, it seems unlikely that the simple availability of money is going to. And, again, who are the buyers? Certainly not the growing ranks of unemployed and those who are fearful of losing their jobs.

But what if the push to lend was successful? Where would that put us? It would put us right back into the same economy that failed, an economy based on consumer spending and easy credit. If it wasn't sustainable then, why do we think it will be sustainable now?

We are engaging in the form of insanity that consists of "doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting different results." Except that it may be mere stupidity. Insanity is excusable, the insane person is not in command of his/her actions.

Stupidity is just plain stupid. We need January 20th. Soon

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Laughing at Curves

The Laffer Curve is an economic theory drawn on a cocktail napkin many years ago. It has to do with income tax rates and government revenue and it says, basically, that raising rates provides a disincentive to make money and therefore actually reduces the amount of money that the government takes in. People, and businesses, decide that if most of the additional amount that they earn is going to be eaten up by tax, then they will just not bother to earn it.

It’s an interesting theory even though, while I have heard many people complain about taxes, I have never seen anyone decline a raise or tell a client, “I don’t want any more money.”

Let’s say you are Joe the Plumber. Do you remember Joe, of 2008 election fame? He supposedly was making $280,000 per year. (Actually, he was making less than $40K and owed some back taxes, but…)

He was concerned about the tax increase that Barack Obama was proposing; an increase of the 36% rate to 39%. So let’s explore the incentive effect of that tax increase.

The first $200,000 is unaffected, so the increase is on $80,000 and the amount of the increase is 3%, which comes to $2400 per year. Just for reference purposes, that is a bit less than 1% of his overall tax bill. Also for discussion the increase changes the amount that Joe keeps out of that $80K from $51,200 to $48,800.

What is Joe’s incentive, then, to go ahead and make that additional $80,000, and to what degree did the tax increase change that incentive? If Joe can’t keep, in round numbers, $51K then is he going to spurn $50K? Really? I mean, $48,800 will buy quite a lot of nice things.

And if he doesn't want that $48,800, he can give it to me.

Supporters of the Laffer Curve use the Reagan tax cuts and the concurrent economy as proof that tax cuts cause the economy to boom and tax revenues to increase. (They conveniently ignore the last round of Bush tax cuts.) Their theory is that if two things happen at one time then one thing therefor caused the other thing. Ipso facto. They get to pick which was cause and which was effect.

Okay, temperature rises after the sun comes up. Was the temperature increase caused by the sun coming up? Well, in fact it turns out it was. Here's another one. Car crashes are much more numerous when the sun is in the sky than when it is not. Are car crashes caused by the sun being in the sky? No. The sun being in the sky is coincidental to there being more cars on the freaking road, which is the cause of the increase in car crashes.

Another thing drawn on a cocktail napkin was the scoring system for stock car racing, and it works about as well as the Laffer Curve. It is universally unpopular with fans, and NASCAR refuses to change it.

The moral of this story is beware of plans drawn on cocktail napkins.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Money Run Amok

The public was aghast that taxpayers would be throwing $700 billion at financial institutions, and lawmakers were inundated with mail and emails from constituents which ran overwhelmingly against such a bailout. After adding “safeguards and oversight” to the bailout, it passed anyway. Of course the allocated money is gone and the oversight has not been even appointed yet, and the scale of the bailout is actually vastly larger than that to which taxpayers objected. How much bigger?

Seven trillion dollars bigger.

If you hated throwing $700 billion at failing institutions, how do you feel about throwing $7.7 trillion at them? That's half of the amount that our entire economy produced in the current year.

Having done that, however, Congress is loathe to toss $25 billion to the automakers. My calculator cannot handle those numbers, but $25 billion is a tiny fraction of one percent of the amount of money that has already been committed to rescuing this economy. Talk about swallowing an elephant and choking on a gnat.

Some highlights of the article.
“Some have asked us to reveal the names of the banks that are borrowing, how much they are borrowing, what collateral they are posting,” Bernanke said Nov. 18 to the House Financial Services Committee. “We think that’s counterproductive.”

The “some” to whom he refers would be legislators, of course, our elected representatives and, as such, the American taxpayers who are footing the bill for this. It’s “counterproductive” to let us know where our money is going and what is being done with it.
After Bear Stearns’s collapse in March, the central bank started making direct loans to securities firms at the same discount rate it charges commercial banks, which take customer deposits.

In the three years before the crisis, such average weekly borrowing by banks was $48 million, according to the central bank. Last week it was $91.5 billion.

Prior to the crisis the central bank lent only to commercial banks, then it not only began lending to securities firms, it began doing so at the same interest rates receives by those banks. And just look at the amount it is lending.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said he was angry that banks used the money for acquisitions.

“The only purpose for this money is to lend,” said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. “It’s not for dividends, it’s not for purchases of new banks, it’s not for bonuses. There better be a showing of increased lending roughly in the amount of the capital infusions” or Congress may not approve the second half of the TARP money.

Having already gotten $7.7 trillion, how worried are they about the remaining $350 million in the TARP funds? Barney Frank is shaking his fist in his pocket.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Door Opened then Shut

The Chargers are talking about how they can still make the playoffs. I don't know why, since there is not one single playoff team that they are capable of beating. Why think of making the playoffs if you are just going to get your collective ass handed to you if you do?

Peter Schiff

CNBC's "Fast Money" is really annoying, filled with loud and fast talking clowns, and I never watch it; but I see clips from it on news talk shows from time to time, and this one is a bit worth watching. It's rather frightening, and I hope that he is wrong as to degree, but I think he is right as to the nature of our economy.

I have long argued that an economy based on consumption, based on importing consumer goods and paying for them with money that we have borrowed from the same nations who exported the goods to us is unsustainable. Despite my lack of expertise, I may have been right. At least this guy thinks I am.

At about 3 minutes into the clip: "We have to pay for what we import." And, "We manufactured our way into becoming the wealthiest nation in the world, and now we've squandered it on consumption."

I love the part where the CNBC guy says other nations' money is no good because "they're Commies."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

East County Posse

imageA group in San Diego’s East County get together to have fun. Their definition of fun is helping people in need, and they do it in person. They waltzed into a disabled person’s home one weekend recently, for instance, and rebuilt the place to provide wheelchair access. They brought the materials with them, too.

Some 300 of them got together another time and, in 12 hours flat, built an entire daycare facility using $250,000 of donated materials. That’s some way to have fun, huh?

To these people charity isn’t just tossing a dollar in the kettle. To them, helping means giving of their time and energy and donating their sweat to help their neighbors. They don’t just do it once, they formed a club to make a regular thing of it.

Tell me again about California being “the land of fruits and nuts.”

Mortgage Worries

We're worried about being able to pay our mortgage. Not a cash shortage, I'm retired and my wife is somewhat overemployed since she deals with people who have been laid off. Our problem is that the holder of our home mortgage is Citibank. Who do you make the mortgage payment to if your lender closes their doors?

Oh to heck with it. Football games are on.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Military by Consensus

From "Think Progress,"
Obama will not immediately move to repeal the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which bans openly gay individuals from serving. Obama reportedly “first wants to confer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his new political appointees at the Pentagon to reach a consensus and then present legislation to Congress.”

Another "commander in chief" who lets the generals dictate policy?

Another four years of, "General Petraeus will tell us when the troops can come home" in the future for our armed forces?

I can tell you for sure, this is not what I voted for.

Harry Truman integrated the military by executive order in 1948, and he did it over the objection of many of "his generals." He did it because it was the right thing to do and because he knew that, in the long run, it would serve the best interest of the military. He told the generals who opposed it that they either got behind it and supported it or they resigned, and that mere acceptance of it was insufficient.

He didn't wait for it to become popular, and he didn't wait for a "consensus of generals" to emerge. He led, he didn't follow.

Today the title of commander in chief is used by the media, by the president and by the president-elect endlessly and with unprecedented frequency, but the president is constantly "being guided by his generals," making statements like "Petraeus will tell us" when something can be done and, now our president-elect is apparently waiting for a consensus to allow gays to serve openly in our military as they do in almost every civilized nation in the world. And he's not going to do it himself, he's going to pass the buck to Congress.

Is Obama going to be a real leader, or is he going to be another "commander in chief" who gets pushed around by his generals? Anyone who wants to be called "commander in chief" needs to be a "commander in chief." Repealing DADT will take about five minutes of time, although it may take a few hours afterward to find replacements for a handful of dinosaur generals.

It's a Nike thing: just do it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Endless Drama

Will we ever be free of this endless Clinton drama?

I’m not against Obama reaching across the aisle in picking his cabinet. I’m not against him picking “insiders” in order to get the best, most experienced people to serve in our government. I’m just opposed to this particular choice because of the drama it creates; the drama that she and her husband always create. No, it isn’t just the media creating all of the drama, the Clintons thrive on this, and they feed it.

Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination and who was in the news endlessly? What did Hillary want? Was Hillary going to be picked as VP nominee? Now Obama has been elected President and what is all the news blather? Will Hillary be Secretary of State? What will Bill do? It is rude and unseemly, now that the suggestion has surfaced, for Hillary Clinton to allow the speculation to continue for so long without resolution, like some coy debutante being courted for a prom date. Negotiations, for God's sake, are ongoing between the camps.

I have heard at least five pundits opine that there has been essentially no difference between Obama and Clinton on foreign affairs. Am I the only one who recalls in the debates Clinton's statements about the naivete of meeting with leaders of hostile nations without preconditions? Does no recall how she said that doing so put the office of the presidency at risk and that suggesting it showed how unready Obama was to serve in that office?

That seems like more than a minor difference to me.

Given that Obama has promised to meet with the leadership of Iran, why does he want as his Secretary of State someone who has talked openly of “obliterating” that nation?

I trust Obama’s judgement and am looking forward to having him as President. But, I am sick to death of the drama and infighting of the Clinton crowd, and I dread the thought of having her and her clown of a husband center stage for the next four years.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Golden Rule Time

There's two ways to look at the Liebermann issue as it relates to Barack Obama. Here's the way I look at it. We have just elected a president who doesn't just talk about Christian principles and the Golden Rule; he lives them. We get to have this man leading our nation for four years.

Cold Spell

Well, that’s a relative term, I guess, as it only got up to 82 yesterday. But Molly decided she needed some sun and she hasn’t been featured lately.
sunbathIt’s supposed to be in the mere seventies this weekend, and then warm up again next week. There’s a forecast for a 20% chance of rain in 2009, but they aren’t going out on a limb and predicting which month.

Oh, and will somebody please tell me why it takes Alaska two full weeks to count their senate votes, when they have fewer votes in the entire state than San Diego has in a single precinct? Not to mention that it took them only hours to count their presidential votes. Weren't they on the same ballots? Weird state, but I think we knew that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Clinton Again?

I am not really all that prone to be telling Mr. Obama how he should be running his presidency. He demonstrated great intelligence and skill at getting elected, and I suspect he will do the same in office. I do not think he needs my advice.

That being said, I am unhappy with this talk of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. A commenter on another blog summed up part of my issue with the choice,
So sick of her and Bill and their inner circle and their supporters and the histrionics that seem to follow the Clintons wherever they go. We finally elected an adult who manages a team of adults and I don’t want these egomaniacal drama queens anywhere near the White House.

And not just her drama, do we really want the head of State Department accompanied (figuratively) by a galloping playboy slurping up money worldwide, whatever the purpose?

The other part is that the position requires management of a large staff of skilled and intelligent people. Look at how well she managed her campaign staff; at all of the infighting, squabbling and fighting for power in that relatively small group that she failed to quell or keep out of the press. Can she do any better with a larger State Department? Do we want State staffed with the best people, or would we welcome the Clinton proclivity for staffing with loyalists?

It would be pretty hard for Obama to pick someone who did not support the Iraq War, but does he need to pick someone who supported it in quite such a high profile way, and for so long? Someone who has never admitted the error of that support and never apologized for it?

Maybe I'm just being overly cynical, but the best reason I see for the choice is that it effectively prevents her from running against his reelection in 2012, and that does not reflect well on him.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Awesome Game

The hottest weather spot in the nation yesterday was El Cajon, just a few miles East of my home in San Diego. I spent the afternoon watching the Chargers play the Steelers in snowy weather. The final score was 11-10, but the game was closer than the score would seem to imply.

I would have preferred a win, of course, but that was one of the best and most enjoyable games I have seen in a very long time. That was two fine teams taking no prisoners, and was football the way it should be played. The Chargers offense made some mistakes, but it moved the ball well on the best defense in the league, and scored twice. The defense was aggressive and hard hitting, held a very good opponent without a single touchdown, and finally was not regularly missing tackles.

We set a record in that, after more than twelve thousand games, there has never in history been an NFL game ending in that score.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Santa Barbara Suffering

There is one place in California where fire is a worse nightmare than in San Diego; that is in Santa Barbara, and they are living that nightmare now. Heartbreaking. Santa Barbara is even more beautiful than the name would suggest, perched between the mountains and the sea.

My wife graduated from Westmont College, and they have lost many buildings. No people, thankfully, but college buildings and staff member's homes have gone up in flames. Cal Fire is saying as of mid day today that the "Tea Fire" is 0% contained, as the "Sundowner" winds continue. (Down here they are called Santa Ana winds.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wasting No Time

From Crooks And Liars, at 10:03am today: John Kyl (R, AZ) vows to filibuster Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, even though Obama has not taken office yet, hasn’t offered any names yet, and none of the current judges has retired yet. He doesn't know who he's going to filibuster against, or when he's going to do it.

No target in sight but by damn he has his gun loaded and cocked.

I used to live in Arizona, and I can tell you that John McCain is actually one of the most sane and reasonable persons in the entire state. It is a very strange place. To give you an idea, Tucson decided to add one lane to their freeway, so they closed all entrances and exits to their freeway through all of the downtown area for a three year period. To add a single lane each direction. You can go through Tucson on the freeway, but you cannot go to Tucson on the freeway until the year 2011. (Tucson only has one freeway.)

Too Big To Fail?

I know the argument about the big three automakers being worth saving, not because the corporations themselves are so valuable, but because of all of the jobs they provide and the subsidiary businesses they support. I’m not sure that I really quite buy all of that in its entirety.

If, say, GM suddenly quits making cars are that many fewer cars suddenly going to be sold in this country? Or will that many cars of other makes be sold? If the latter, don’t a significant number of ex-GM workers get put to work at the manufacturing plants of other car makers? Maybe they don’t, but a similar number of laid-off workers at those plants get rehired. Same result, the number of jobs decreases, perhaps, because of efficiency issues, but not nearly by as much as the doomsayers forecast.

Same with parts suppliers; the demand for GM parts is gone, but demand for Ford, Toyota and Chrysler parts is up. The GM dealerships close, but more employees are needed at other dealerships.

My point is that employment is driven by the market, not by employers. Employment rises and falls as demand for the products provided by that employment rises and falls, not as new manufacturers decide to start up or as old ones fail.

When the market declines, the manufacturers who survive are going to be those who are best managed and who have the best products. That’s not free market thinking, that’s just common sense. If the government wants to help the manufacturing sector, I suspect it should focus on measures that would improve demand for the product, rather than pouring money into those firms who have demonstrated the poorest judgement.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Liberal Thinking

Rachel Maddow (and she is by no means alone) wants Joe Liebermann thrown out of the Democratic Party, the party of Liberals, for his actions in behalf of John McCain. She (they) should look up the definition of the word.
Liberal: Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

I picked on Ms. Maddow, because she prides herself on being "liberal."

Barack Obama, notably, suggested that Liebermann remain in the Democratic Caucas. Seems he knows what liberal thinking is.

Update: Tuesday, 1:30pm
Besides which, you might want to keep in mind that pretty much everything Obama has done has worked. Those who have been second guessing him are, um, nowhere. He might have a clue. Or two.

Protesting Prop 8

Marchers are protesting the passage of Proposition 8 here in California, and I have to admit I find the current protest a little bit puzzling. I don’t like the outcome of that measure; I voted against it and I wish a majority had done likewise, and as such I am sympathetic to the protesters. I don’t argue for a moment their right to make this protest, but I wonder at the timing of it and I question just a bit whether or not it is entirely appropriate.

To the latter point first, Prop 8 is not a law passed by the legislature but a measure passed by a fairly significant majority of voters. The former might well be a valid cause for protest, but the latter? We have democracy in this nation, which implies that those who hold the minority position accept the decision of those in the majority. What would be the result if McCain supporters started holding protest marches at this point? There was a vote, and the majority spoke. Case closed.

Some of the protests are directed specifically at the Mormon temple locally, protesting the financial support that that religious body provided in favor of the measure. That protest makes sense to me. “We don’t like what you did, and we disagree with what you stand for.” But to march simply in protest of a majority vote of your fellow citizens?

As to the timing, the marches might better have been held before voting day. There were a few people at polling places on election day encouraging a “no” vote, but campaign activity against this measure was terribly scant prior to the election, outweighed in a very major way by those who favored its passage. These people are marching in the streets now, but why were they not in front of grocery stores handing out leaflets before the election? Their opponents sure as hell were. People for the measure were campaigning vigorously for its passage, those against it seemingly waited until it passed to become active, to march in protest against what had already happened.

Sort of like shaking your fist at the sky and cursing the rain, rather than building a roof.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Changing of the Guard

The Obamas visited the White House today and were treated with great courtesy by President and Mrs. Bush. Pictures and commentary have been on all of the news talk shows, and I have found myself being oddly moved by it all. What the hell; this happens every four to eight years. And then I realized: Zimbabwe.

In that unhappy nation elections are held and the losing incumbent refuses to relinquish power. The UN has to step in and work out a “power sharing” arrangement, and the losing incumbent refuses to honor that agreement, maintaining office by threats and the use of terror tactics on his people.

Here we have had eight years of a presidency that took executive privilege to unheard of extent, that gave new meaning to the term “unitary executive.” This is a president who has wrapped himself in the title “Commander in Chief” and called himself “the Decider.”

And yet when the time comes, he meets his successor at the door of the White House, shakes his hand and says, “Welcome to your new office.”

This is a great nation.

Noted in passing:
Chris Matthews referred to the office in passing as “the nation’s chief executive.” Thank you, Chris, that was music to my ears. I hope it is a sign of things to come.

Robert Reich, financial advisor to Barack Obama, in discussing the financial crisis and pending ways of dealing with it mentioned Obama, “mobilizing the people to be pressuring Congress to be sure things get done.” Not even a week since he was elected and here is a hint, however small, that Obama might be keeping his campaign promise to make “change happen from the bottom up.”

And I'm going to have to quit bragging about the weather. It's clear today, but it rained almost a tenth of an inch yesterday and the high today was only 67. It could reach 90 this weekend though.

(Obviously that last was snark and I'm still bragging.)

Treasury Transparency

Just before the elections Paulson came screaming to Congress that the sky was falling and that he needed $700 billion in unaccountable funds to rescue the economy. Congress, amazingly, actually asked some questions and gave him only part of the money he wanted, and they attached some strings to it. At least that’s what I think we were told happened; that Paulson would get only $350 billion now, with more later if needed, and that there were conditions attached.

Over the past few weeks it seems the conditions are not, emphatically not, being met and then today this item appears in Bloomberg News,
Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

The Federal Reserve is not the US Government. (I’ve never been real clear on what it is, exactly.) That article, however, says that $2 trillion in loans have been made “from American taxpayers” to unknown firms; banks and financial houses presumably.

Click on the link and read the story, but mostly what it says is that an unimaginable amount of money is gone, nobody knows where it is except the people who gave it away and the people who got it, and nobody is talking.

Except, Treasury officials are claiming that “transparency is good.”

Executive Orders

Barack Obama has released a statement to the effect that he is going to "undo" a great many of the Bush executive orders, ones damaging to the environment and such, by issuing executive orders of his own countering them. Many are cheered by the news, but I find it rather disturbing. The fact that one agrees with, or is of the same party as, the executive issuing orders does not make it any better that he is doing so.

Our founding fathers did not design our form of government to be one that was run by a President issuing orders. I seem to recall Obama promising to abolish the "unitary executive" theory; assuring us that he "understood the constitution because he had taught the constitution." I have never taught the constitution, have never read it from start to finish that I can recall, but I do not believe it contains anything about governing by means of presidential executive order.

I'm beginning to worry about just how much the times are changing.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Times, They Are A Changing

This is a lovely and timely song, and it has some lovely images.

"Come Senators, Congressmen please heed the call,
Don't stand in the doorway, don't block off the hall.
For the times, they are a changing."

Friday, November 07, 2008

Media Madness

Barack Obama has named three of the multitude of staff appointments he will be making in the immediate future, and already Rachel Maddow is having a major case of the vapors over him "surrounding himself with Clintonistas" and asking, "will this be Clinton's third term." Of course, nothing and no one will ever be sufficiently progressive to meet Rachel Maddow's standards, but...

Not having Bush to kick around is doing seriously bad things to her.

Update: Friday, 2:30pm
Knowing that Obama was going to carry California handily, I didn't really pay much attention to the county results in that race. Holy cow, he carried San Diego County. First time a Democrat has done that since 1944, and it wasn't even all that close; 53.8% - 44.5%.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Silly Weather

Well, this is just a little bit silly. There is a full-blown hurricaine in the Gulf, we have a Santa Ana condition (albeit mild) as I write, and another forecast for next week. Is my calendar off, or what?


San Diego County has no regional fire-fighting system; the only metropolitan county in California not to have one. Each rural town has a volunteer fire department, manned by local business people, so until a fire reaches the San Diego city limits it is not being fought by professional, fully trained firefighters. Well, the California Department of Forestry has very professional and well trained firefighters, and some of them are stationed in San Diego County, but they are stretched very thin. And I do not want to denigrate those volunteers, they do yeoman work and are very good.

The counties to the north take a very dim view of us over this situation, since their agencies are always called upon when we have major fires, leaving them short in the event that a fire starts up there.

A proposition was on this year’s ballot to charge each rural homeowner $52/year to establish and fund a regional agency so that the rural part of the county would be better protected. This is an urgent need that has been well established by disastrous fires in two out of the last five years. Just $52 per homeowner per year. The measure failed.

California the state, however, passed a measure to fund a high speed rail line to Northern California using unproven technology and to serve an unestablished number of riders to the tune of $9.9 billion dollars. It won't cost anything though, because it's a "bond issue" not a tax.

Another measure that did not fail was a proposition to assure chickens the right to live more comfortably before they are slaughtered; to assure that they will have room to spread their little wings before they are flung into a machine that will pull their heads off.

Another measure that passed was one to remove from gays and lesbians the same right that the rest of us have, the right assured them by a court ruling in June; the right to get married to the person they love.

Seems Californians don't want anything they have to pay for, and they care more about chickens than they do about some kinds of people.

That thing about the "bond issue" not costing anything was snark.

My grandmother used to drive my father nuts with "These biscuits didn't cost me anything to make, because I already had all of the ingredients." Dad would start sputtering and you would look at Granny; she would be absolutely straight-faced, but her eyes would be twinkling.

Update the second:
Granny was a very cool old lady. Us kids went to her house for dinner when the parents went for a night out. She always served the same thing: hamburger patties so overcooked they were crunchy, sticky white rice, and frozen peas. That was our favorite experience and we always bugged the folks to have a night out so we could spend the evening at Granny's.

She also took the turkey carcass home after holidays and came back the next weekend with deep dish turkey pie that was to die for. No doubt it didn't cost anything either.

She was "lavender and lace" and just fun to be around.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A More Perfect Union

On Election Day 2008 America cast off the threadbare jacket of ethnic tolerance and wrapped itself in the new, warm mantle of acceptance, equality and justice.

Tolerance was the result of a movement in the 1960’s that involved anger, strife and violent protest. It was a necessary and valuable movement, it was a movement that I supported strongly at the time, but it was a movement that in the end divided a nation and resulted in laws that coerced tolerance.

Barack Obama started a movement that united a nation, united a people. Asked why he would not be critical of the opposition party, he asked in response that if he spoke only to members of his own party how could he reunite a country? He appealed to our better nature and he made us a better people. We looked at this man, we saw the color of his skin and we elected him President.

We, the people of this nation, chose this man.

In a moment of symbolism, it was no one state that put the electoral vote over the top. Immediately when the Pacific states polls closed, three states were called simultaneously and Obama was projected as the next President. That was a nice touch.

Better than the happy crowds was Jesse Jackson, standing silent gazing into the distance with tears streaming down his face. I can’t help but think he was seeing Dr. King, and all who marched with him and are no longer with us, finally at peace.

This, not tolerance, is what they marched for.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting Day

I don't recall that I have ever felt this good about the act of casting my vote. Not even the first time I voted, something like a century ago. I don't think Obama needed my vote here in California, but "No on 8" sure as hell did. I went just before lunch, right after the rain stopped, and there was no line.

There were a couple of guys about 102' away from the poll waving "No on 8" signs, so I went over and shook their hands.

I was getting the mail out of my mailbox and my elderly neighbor came out to talk about how excited she was about having voted today. She's been jealous because my Obama poster is bigger than hers.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Football Morning

Even with the Chargers off this week, the local news is discussing the lack of defense and saying that the central problem is the absence of Merriman. That is nonsense and infuriating. There are 32 teams in the NFL and 31 of them have never had Merriman. Many of them have played excellent defense. We do not have ten useless, mediocre, inept, stupid, talentless, clumsy, slow players whose complete lack of any worthwhile qualities was concealed by the presence of Merriman. Get a grip.

I'm surprised they aren't suggesting that the war in Afghanistan is going badly because the Army doesn't have Shawne Merriman. The economy has gone to hell because the Treasury doesn't have Shawne Merriman. Auto sales have declined because the auto companies don't have...

Finance Questions Abound

We have had, for years, and economy that is dependent on consumer spending. Some 70% of our economy consists of consumers buying things. No one of substance disputes that, no one thinks that is remarkable, no one thinks that is problematic.

But, on the very face of it, doesn’t that mean that our economy is creating more and more debt? If well over half of the “domestic product” consists of money being spent on consumer goods, then less than half of the economy consists of money being earned by producing goods, and that means we have a negative economy, one that is creating debt.

No one disputes that either, and no one seems to be concerned by it. One reads statements constantly to the effect that “our economy is fueled by credit,” and that “our economy depends on the availability of credit.” Indeed, credit has been readily available, at low interest rates which were set not by demand, but by government fiat, and which was secured not by real collateral, but by the “bubble” value of a glut of real estate.

Indeed, the current failure of our economy is attributed to a failure of available credit.

So an economy based on consumer spending and easy credit has failed in a very major way, and what are we doing to recover? We are lowering interest rates, trying to stimulate consumer spending, and trying to restart easy credit by pumping more cash into financial (lending) institutions. Trying to restore the economy to the condition that it was in when it failed.

What? Isn’t that rather like trying to get a car with a blown engine going again by refilling the gas tank with high octane?
“My engine done blowed up!”
“Okay, pull up to the pumps and I’ll gas you up.”

So far, this tale just sounds stupid, but then it takes a turn toward ugly.

To date some $125 Billion has been injected into the failing institutions in the name of “recapitalization,” with more promised up to a supposed maximum of $700 Billion. The idea, supposedly, is that the money will be loaned to people and that will stimulate the economy. But…

According to USA Today, fully half of the banks which have signed up for the recovery program are intending to pay out billions of dollars in dividends to their stockholders. Too cash-short to lend money, but they have money to pay dividends to stockholders. Money they received from the recovery program? It would seem so. And there’s more…

According to The Nation, the shares that were purchased with this money are identical to shares purchased a month ago by Warren Buffet except in three respects; the taxpayer shares have no control, they pay half as much return on the investment, and they cost twice as much per share. Click on the link and read more. And there’s more yet…

According to Bloomberg News, firms that have received funds from the recovery program are intending to pay year-end bonus money to their executives in very large amounts. Totals are not known, but just three of those firms have set aside $20 Billion for that purpose. Again, click on the link and read the full details.

Barack Obama has promised to make sure than none of these things will happen, but he needs to be in office to do that and, assuming he is elected, he will not be there until Jan 20, 2009. All of these atrocities are happening now, with cooperation of officials of the Bush Administration.

This administration has almost three more months to facilitate stealing from the Unites States taxpayers by its cronies. In its rush to maximize its looting of the Federal Treasury, it is no longer even attempting stealth or pretense, and there seems to be absolutely nothing we can do to stop them.

Update: Sunday, 7:20pm
And now the Washington Post is suggesting that the $143 Billion the US taxpayer has pumped into AIG may not have done anything useful for the US taxpayer. Putting that money into a bankrupt company may have been a bad decision.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Peace As A Profession

I grew up in the United States Air Force, a good part of it in Strategic Air Command, the command that handled nuclear deterrence, including heavy bombers and missiles. I can still clearly recall the powder blue diagonal stripe, the mailed fist, and the proud motto, “Peace Is Our Profession.” I went on to serve in the Navy, but not due to any lack of respect or affection for the USAF.

What brings that to mind is that Templehof Field in Berlin closed yesterday, and Templehof evokes memories of the “Berlin Airlift,” one of this nation’s finer moments, and certainly one of the most glorious accomplishments of what would become the USAF. That airlift was one of those “it can't be done” things that got done because the alternative was unacceptable.

For those of my readers too young to recall, early in the Cold War the Russians closed the highways and railroads to Berlin in an effort to force us to concede that city to them by denying vital supplies to the citizens living in the half of the city controlled by the US and Britain. The only access to Berlin was by air, and the only operable airfield was Templehof.

Truman was determined to neither surrender Berlin nor go to war with Russia, so he determined that we would supply Berlin by air. The task seemed impossible. The airplanes were designed to fly long distances with few takeoffs and landings, and this was a very short with incessant takeoffs and landings that, it was believed, neither crews airplanes could withstand.

Withstand they did. For almost a year Templehof was the scene of ceaseless activity, day and night, 24/7. Not just food, they flew in thousands of tons of coal. More than a quarter million flights brought in more than two million tons of supplies that saved a city. Russia blinked, and West Berlin remained in our control.

The Air Force remained a proud and effective service for many years. I still remember watching flights of BUFF’s departing at precise thirty-second intervals; alternating right, left and center; each one wobbling in the wake of its predecessor. Zero failure. A scene repeated twice daily like clockwork, and the thought that one of those airplanes might not show up or even might not be on time, never imagined in a million years.

But something has gone horribly wrong.

A B-52 flies across the country with live nuclear weapons aboard and, worse, the flight crew does not know that they are live. At the destination the plane, weapons still aboard, sits untended for hours after the crew departs.

Just this week we learn that a fire occurs in a missile silo that contains a nuclear-tipped missile. No one on duty knew about the fire until it had already burned itself out.

I think I’m glad that my father is gone. I wish he were still here, but I think I’m glad he did not live to see this happen to his service.