Saturday, June 30, 2012


This year's phenomenon, Danica Patrick, finished 12th, two laps down to the leader last night. With 20 laps to go she was running 15th. She didn't pass anyone; three cars ahead of her either had engine failure or ran out of gas. Her teammate, who is racing on four wheels for his first year, was running in 9th when he ran out of gas.

At one point Denny Hamlin was complaining that his car was so bad it was "undriveable." He was running in 7th at the time, ten seconds ahead of Danica, who was in 13th and said her car was "a little loose." Rusty Wallace said of her, while she was still just one lap down and in 14th place, that she was "getting a little racy at times," and was "holding her own" and doing really well. He would say that if she was pitting on every lap.

Someday, I hope soon, we will get a female driver in NASCAR who is a competitive driver, and not merely a media darling and swimsuit model.

A little while later Hamlin's engine blew up and his car literally was undriveable, so handling was the least of their problems. Not long later his teammate's engine blew up, so it seems that Joe Gibbs' race team might have an engine problem. God knows his football team had... Never mind.

Announcers told us at one point that Austin Dillion had led 169 laps, which is a nice trick, since only 167 laps had been run in the race at that point. He went on to win the race, and then failed inspection. His car was too low in the rear, which would make it much faster than a legally configured car. We are waiting to see in what manner NASCAR will penalize the team.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Victory" Has Been Achieved

The ruling on the mandate is actually a little mixed, although it will clearly allow “health care reform” to stand. What it boils down to is that no, the government cannot require you to buy health insurance, but it can tax you if you don’t. That’s what “ACA” does, so Obama’s “grand legacy” is intact. Liberals are absolutely beside themselves with glee, and are wearing out the exclamation mark keys on their keyboards.

I'm glad they are all so thrilled that health insurance companies are going to be selling so many more policies. Yes, I know this is better than nothing, and all that, but unlike everybody else in the liberal camp, I actually think that legislation which makes health insurance companies bigger and more powerful, more in control of the health care delivery system, is a very long way from the best thing that can be done for this nation.

I know, there is all the wonderful things about how they cannot turn down people and must keep kids until age 26... Awesome. They are required to have all of these additional paying clients whether they want them or not. Makes your heart bleed for those insurance companies, doesn’t it; saddling them with all of that additional revenue?

Where are the regulations limiting insurance premiums? The 80% “medical loss ratio” thing? No, actually that's a regulation insuring that they do make a profit, because whatever their costs are they are allowed to add 25% to that to determine their selling price. It’s the “cost plus” thing that Pentagon procurement is so fond of. In any case, that is not a “health care cost” issue, that is a “health insurance price” issue.

Health care costs are generated by hospitals, physicians, drug companies and the like. Where are the regulations saying that a hospital can't charge you $300 for a blanket that they let you use for five minutes before surgery? Where are the regulations that say a hospital can't charge $1000 to one insurance company for a procedure and $3000 to a different insurance company for the same procedure? Where is the regulation saying that a drug company can’t charge $100+ for a pill that costs them 50¢ to make?

An insurance company must spend 80% of its pricing on cost, but a hospital is not limited in anything like the same way. Its costs might very well be only 40% of the amount that it bills. Drug companies might have costs that are only 35% of what people pay for drugs.

So the insurance companies pay the outrageous hospital costs, pay the outrageous drug costs, pay the $2,000,000 doctor salaries, and then they add 25% to that and pass it on to be paid by the people who are being treated. And we are cheering lustily because instead of fixing that broken system, we simply require more people to participate in it.

Victory? This nation is so bankrupt we don’t even know what victory is.

Adjusted Again

Last week's initial unemployment claims were 387K. Um, no, they weren't.

In the week ending June 23, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 386,000, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 392,000. The 4-week moving average was 386,750, a decrease of 750 from the previous week's revised average of 387,500.

Emphasis mine. So once again, for the second week in a row, instead of this week's 386,000 being essentially flat from last week's 387,000, we have a "drop" from last reek's "revised 392,000" claims. At this rate we will have a "drop in claims" every week and wind up with everyone in the nation on unemployment.

Robert Reich Is Delusional

I think there must be too much residual pot smoke in the air at the University of California, because every time Robert Reich speaks he sounds more delusional than the time before. He is now saying that the Supreme Court will uphold the “health care reform” act, and gives three of the silliest reasons I’ve even heard for his prediction.

First he says that the Court wants to “restore its credibility” with the voting public. Of course, they hold office for life, essentially cannot be impeached, and have never shown the slightest indication that they care about public opinion, but none of that seems to seeped into Reich’s addled little brain. Further, more than 70% of the voting public wants at least part of the act overturned, so upholding it would hardly endear the Court to voters.

Second he says they have a lower court ruling to use as a precedent. Oh, dear. If the Supreme Court was going to do that we would hardly need the Supreme Court, would we? I hardly think it’s likely that the nine justices intend to render themselves irrelevant.

Finally he cites Social Security and Medicare, as if he thinks that requiring citizens to pay into a government program is the same thing a requiring them to purchase a product from a private company. The point that it’s not the same thing is the whole point of the lawsuit.

Now, if the President would “put health insurance companies into receivership” as Robert suggested he do with a British corporation during
an oil spill… That might incur cries of a dictatorial presidency, but what the hell, we have those cries already.

Update, 7:30am: I didn't say they would not uphold it, I have never had any predictions on that outcome, and I was not mocking his prediction itself. If you think they upheld it for any of the reasons he gave, you are simply mistaken. I'll look forward to reading their ruling, but it won't read, "We wanted to restore our credibility."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

California & The Internet

San Diego County allows you to pay your property taxes online, but charges you 6% for doing so. They claim that credit card companies charge them that percentage for processing the payment, which is absurd. I have a merchant account which charges me less than that, and I am a flyspeck compared to San Diego County.

The renewal notice for your auto license says that you can renew online and provides the URL for doing so. That turns out to be not wholly mythical, but it is not entirely factual, either. I went to the DMV website, which says there is no extra charge for renewing online. Excellent, let's give it a shot.

I clicked on the "renew tag" link and got "page not found" error. Tried again and got the "Step One" page where I filled in the tag number and last five digits of the VIN. Clicked on the "go to step two" button and got another "page not found" error. There are, it said earlier, eight steps.

I believe it is time to get out the checkbook and some stamps.

Krugman On Deleveraging

Paul Krugman opines today on why present economic policy for ending the depression is all wrong. Perhaps “policy” is not the right word, since his reference is to what “debtors” are doing, and God only knows who the “debtors” are. But, moving right along, without having a clue as to who we are talking about, which is perfectly okay because we also don’t have a clue as to what the hell we are talking about,

So one way to explain our depression is to say that debtors, as a group, are trying to deleverage too fast, in the sense that the collective rate at which they are trying to pay down debt isn’t feasible given the zero lower bound on interest rates.

Now, that sounds very erudite, talking about things like “deleveraging,” “collective rates” and the “zero lower bound,” but in plain English what he’s saying right there is that people should not pay down debt when interest rates are this low. Saying that it "isn’t feasible" is his way of saying that he thinks it's stupid because, of course, it's perfectly feasible. His thinking is how we got into this mess in the first place. “Borrow on your home equity now because I can offer you a mortgage at 1.34% interest.”

He is also illustrating why economists should never discuss financial matters because a borrowing decision should never be based on what the interest rate is; it should be based on whether or not you need the money and whether or not you will be able to pay it back. The interest rate enters into the decision only because it is a factor affecting your ability to repay.

"You can save $2000 by buying a car now with these low, low interest rates." News flash; I can save $20,000+ by not buying a car at all, because I don't need a new car. I don't even want a new car, and if I did, I don't want it badly enough to be making payments on it. If I don't need a car, don't want a car, and can't or don't want to make payments on a car, the interest rate is absolutely irrelevant. Paul Krugman, take note.

He also says at one point, that “you can’t get real interest rates low enough to induce sufficient spending on the part of those not deep in debt.” Because, of course, spending is done only by means of incurring debt, which is the basis of Paul Krugman’s economy. He might, unwittingly, be pointing out that a lot of people are smarter than Paul Krugman is, and are not borrowing money merely because the interest rates are low.

I suspect that his wife never lets him go into a store by himself.

The paragraph after the one I quoted says that the government’s economic policy goal “is not to stop aggregate deleveraging,” by which, if you take away his thesaurus, he means not to stop people from paying debt down to zero, but “to slow it down to a pace that can be accommodated by monetary policy.” God only knows what that second part means, because I’m not sure that even Paul Krugman does. He doesn’t, at any rate, explain it. If you are disturbed by a government policy of officially discouraging reduction of debt, you are not alone.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Origin Of The Universe

Watching this was an hour very well spent. Delightful and informative.

I have always had a little difficulty fully comprehending a universe expanding away from us in all directions when we are not the center of it. This guy presented it in a manner that fully clarified the issue, and he is an entertaining and brilliant speaker. His "take" on dark matter and energy is fascinating.

Monday, June 25, 2012

On Moral Leadership

I was not a particularly great admirer of Jimmy Carter when he was President, but in the years since then I have come to think of him as unquestionably the greatest Former President this nation has ever had, and one of the great unsung heroes of all time.

Like our present President, he has a Nobel Peace Prize; only his was not awarded in the hope that he might not start wars all over the world, which turned out to be a somewhat futile hope, but was awarded twenty years after his term in office ended, for “his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development," all of which he did without seeking any trace of public recognition.

So when, in a New York Times editorial yesterday, he speaks of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights he knows whereof he speaks, and when he says that, “our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles,” he speaks with a moral authority which should be taken very seriously.

You really should read the whole piece, which he finishes by saying that, “As concerned citizens, we must persuade Washington to reverse course and regain moral leadership.” I’m not sure how we could do that by reelecting Barack Obama or by electing Mitt Romney, which leaves us with a considerable dilemma.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

We Don't "Do These Things..."

The New York Times has an article today about hospital charges which says, among other things, that “the charges you see on your [hospital] bill are usually completely unrelated to the cost of providing the services.” It asks why, for instance, thirty minutes in an operating room is charged at $2000 and answers its own question with, “There is absolutely no basis for setting that charge,” and that it is not based upon the cost of running that operating room.

And what did “health care reform” do to address this issue? Well, actually, nothing. The legislation does not even attempt to regulate hospital pricing, any more than it regulates drug pricing. If a drug manufacturer wants to charge $100+ for a pill that it costs 50¢ for them to manufacture, and many do precisely that, it can do so with impunity because “health care reform” legislation is entirely silent on that subject.

The article goes on to say that hospital charges, what is paid by insurance and what is paid by the patient, is determined by the economic power of the insurance company and the medical provider, leaving the patient caught in the middle. “If you line up five patients,” it says, “…and they get the same exact medication and services, if they have insurance or if they don’t have insurance, the hospital will get five different reimbursements, and none of it is based on cost.”

Simply assuring that everyone has insurance solves nothing. It tells of one patient who was billed by the hospital demanding immediate payment of $9200. It turned out that only one insurer had paid at the time of the billing and that all the patient actually owed was $142. What does the “health care reform” bill do to correct that problem? You guessed it; nothing.

Another patient was billed $25,000 which an advocate got reduced to $3,915 because there were billing errors by the hospital, and services were performed which were neither requested or necessary.

Supporters say that the scheduled reductions in payment amounts by Medicare will drive down the cost of health care. They might if they are ever actually implemented, but they have been scheduled since 1997 and every year Congress has “postponed” the scheduled reductions. Even if enacted, they will reduce the cost only for Medicare, not for health care as a whole, and they may very well increase the cost elsewhere as the Medicare reimbursement reduction is made up general medical practice.

It wasn’t “health care reform,” and even as insurance reform it was botched.

Friday, June 22, 2012

"We Do These Things..."

The blog Newshoggers is a big fan of “health care reform” and occasionally posts a compendium of articles regarding improvements in health care which claim to be a result of that legislation. I, as you know by now, am somewhat less of a fan and never use the term without putting it into quotes. It’s my own private little revolution.

All of the things that John Ballard touts are well and good, but they do not address one fundamental fact: when it was time to address “health care reform” a choice had to be made between changing the manner in which health care is delivered in this nation and expanding health insurance coverage. We took the easier, and less effective path.

When John F. Kennedy challenged this nation to put a man on the moon within a decade he said, “We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” He believed in a nation that not only could do hard things, but was willing to do them.

Changing the manner of delivery for health care would have been hard or, as President Obama said of “single payer,” it would have been “too disruptive.” We are a nation, today, that is not willing to tackle the hard task; that is not willing to embrace a better way if it is “disruptive.”

And so instead of fundamentally changing a bad system, we merely extended the system to include more people. As a sop to those of us who would be outraged by the choice, it threw in tidbits to tinker around the edges of cost, but it will do nothing whatever about the fundamental cost drivers of health care delivery, and as such will make no substantial inroads into the excessive cost of the system. Doctors will continue to make seven figure incomes, drug companies will continue to be predators, hospital corporations will continue to pillage the economy, and excessive amounts of medical equipment and supplies will continue to be manufactured and sold. "Health care reform" did nothing, nothing, to address any of that.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Oh, This Is Rich

Last week initial jobless claims were 387,000 for the week. This week initial jobless claims are also 387,000 for the week, but last week was revised upward to 389,000 and so they claim that this week is a "slight drop" from last week's 389,000. Our government is simply hilarious. This week's 387,000 is smaller than last week's 387,000 because we magically turned last week's 387,000 into 389,000 so that we could claim a drop this week.

And I have a bridge in Brooklyn on which I can make you such a deal.

San Onofre Debacle

The reactors at San Onofre nuclear power plant have been shut down for almost six months now, and it is uncertain when they will be restarted. Sempra Energy is assuring us that even if we have an unusually hot summer there will be no power shortages, but they are also publishing instructions on how to conserve power, so that’s a bit of a mixed message.

At issue are not the reactors themselves, but the steam generators which transfer heat from the “primary cooling loop” of high pressure, high temperature reactor cooling water to the lower pressure and lower temperature system which drives the steam turbines that generate electricity. These steam generators were replaced very recently, are a redesign over the originals that lasted for more than twenty years, and failed after only a few months in service. There are a lot of questions about the need for and the execution of the redesign, which added only a trifling percent to the capacity. My sense is that a lot of stupidity was involved.

The media covering this story really should send people to cover it who have at least some knowledge of nuclear reactors, because they keep spouting nonsense. They say, for instance, that some of the steam generator tubes are “corroded,” and talk about the piping that “carries radioactive water.”

According to sources at San Onofre, the leaks are not caused by corrosion, but by vibration causing tubes to rub against each other and against supports within the structure. It seems this is the result of ill-advised design changes for the purpose of increasing heat exchange capacity.

And there is no “radioactive water” in a nuclear reactor, because water cannot become radioactive. The primary cooling loop in the pressurized water reactor design type is separate and at higher pressure so that the water may be kept at a higher temperature, which allows the reactor core to operate at a higher efficiency and temperature. If there are any impurities in that water, which is inevitable, those impurities will become radioactive, so that water does contain some small traces of radioactivity, but it is not “radioactive water” as such.

The implication of saying it the way the reporters do is that the water is separate because it is radioactive, but if that were so there would not be the “boiling water reactor” type, in which the water which cools the reactor is turned into steam that drives the turbines. There is nothing inherently dangerous in this design from a radioactivity standpoint, although there are other really severe drawbacks to it which should result in it being banned.

I realize this sounds like nitpicking, but when a reporter starts talking about “radioactive water” it creates a sense of danger which is simply not accurate. My support for the NRC and the nuclear industry has taken a bit of a hit from reading about the stupidity involved in the design changes in these steam generators and the NRC’s approval of those changes, but we don’t need to add to the anti-nuclear hype with inaccurate reporting.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

American Exceptionalism

Glenn Greenwald is considered by some to be, shall we say, a bit “shrill”
in his condemnation of some of the practices of the US justice system. I would say that passion in the pursuit of restoring the constitution is not a vice, but that's just me.

In discussing the plea that Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, is making to Ecuador for asylum, he says that Assange is not trying to avoid justice, he is trying to avoid the United States, and he makes some rather telling points. He speaks of having talked with numerous individuals who were once associated with WikiLeaks or who still are, and says that “many have said that they stopped even though they believe as much as ever in WikiLeaks’ transparency cause,” and continues that their reason was “fear: not fear that they would be charged with a crime by their own government, but out of fear that they would be turned over to the United States.”

He has pointed out the inhumane solitary confinement of Bradley Manning for over a year without any actual charges being brought, let alone conviction, which makes a person’s fear of being turned over to the United States seem like a pretty reasonable fear. It also does not really fill me with pride at being a citizen of the nation in question.

Can’t say it makes me want to rush to the polls and vote for Obama, either.

Full Circle

And so now we have come full circle, as President Obama cites executive priveledge in refusing to provide documents regarding a Justice Department foul up to a Congressional committee investigating that debacle. More and more this President is morphing from "Bush Light" to "Bush redux."

Economic Nonsense

Paul Krugman was on Rachel Maddow on Monday. She spoke for five minutes first, giving her own expert opinion on the economy, then she had Krugman on for four minutes and allowed him to talk for two minutes about his expertise on the economy. Her questions were longer than his answers and it was, to say the least, not very illuminating.

Mostly they talked about providing jobs for school teachers. I had the rather foolish impression that schools were for the purpose of educating children, but apparently I am behind the times, because these days schools have the primary purpose of providing jobs for teachers.

San Diego is facing budget cuts in the education system, and all of the talk is about “teachers facing layoffs.” When some funding was salvaged the headline was about how many “teachers’ jobs were saved.” There was never any discussion regarding the effect on the children attending the schools.

Anyway, Paul Krugman talked about 600,000 teachers being laid off and the effect on unemployment, and that if we could have saved those jobs, or if we could return those 600,000 teachers to work that “unemployment would be down around 7% and we would not have this depression.”

Seriously? We lost 14 million jobs since the beginning of this depression. The recovery, according to Obama, of 4.3 million jobs brought unemployment down just under two points, and 600,000 jobs is going to bring it down more than another full point?

Krugman and Maddow agreed that we should be adding more government jobs because “they are real jobs” and because government workers spend money and that “consumer spending” helps the overall economy. What neither of them considers is that the money that government workers are spending comes out of the pockets of non-government workers, which reduces those people’s ability to spend. If you take money out of one pocket and put it in a different pocket you have not increased your wealth.

But that’s the way modern economic theory works today. The solution to an economy which crashed due to excess debt is to borrow more money. Moving money from one place to another place creates wealth. Labeling bad debt as good debt restores a balance sheet to health. Endless bullshit and insanity.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Well, This Is Exciting

It turns out that "charm flavored quarks" are forming more frequently than they should, which means that subatomic particle physicists may not know what the hell is going on. Fancy that.

The article says nothing about "strange quarks," which are my favorite kind.

Prosecutorial Discretion

Media Matters and the Obamabots are all excited because the new Obama policy of not deporting specified illegal immigrants was not done in the form of an “Executive Order,” but is merely an exercise of “prosecutorial discretion.” According to their article, that practice is “consistent with the current law and has decades of precedent.”

What constitution? We don’t need no steenking constitution.

Article II, Section 3, of our constitution includes in the responsibilities of the President that, “he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” It would be nice for Media Matters and the Obamabots if it concluded that phrase with the words, “at his discretion,” but it does not, nor does it give him that kind of discretion anywhere else.

Media Matters claims that “prosecutorial discretion” is “consistent with the current law.” Do they seriously claim that Congress passed a law at some point which said that they were okay with selective enforcement of they laws which they pass? Does, “We’re going to pass laws, and the President can blow them off whenever he feels like it,” sound like any Congress this nation has ever had?

The practice, they say, also has “decades of precedent.” Well, so does starting wars without the approval of Congress, but that doesn’t make the practice acceptable. Okay, bad example, since that’s another constitutional clause which has become obsolete.

So it doesn’t matter whether he used an Executive Order, a Memorandum, or gave the direction verbally, the point is that a law passed by Congress is being unenforced at his direction, and that is a violation of the responsibility placed on him by the constitution of this nation. There is no provision for impeachment of a President for failure to perform his assigned duties, but we should certainly not reelect him when he deliberately announces that he is unwilling to fulfill a specific responsibility of his office.

Obama himself, on March 28, 2011, acknowledged that he could not do what he did last week at a Univision (Spanish television) town hall meeting,

"There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system, that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president."

Of course he was not campaigning for reelection at that point, and the Hispanic voting block was not a big issue for him at the moment.

Obamabots are going to claim that while he admitted he cannot do it through “executive order” he can do it through “prosecutorial discretion,” but that argument is nonsensical if you actually consider the phrase “ignore those congressional mandates.” To suggest that he cannot ignore them by one method but can do so by a different method is sheer idiocy.

Under the constitution he cannot refuse to enforce the laws passed by Congress, and the method he uses to avoid that responsibility is irrelevant. Conformation to the dictates of the constitution is not trivial. That piece of paper is the document which defines our nation, and if we abandon it we have nothing.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Slight Contradiction

hash marksThe Navy uses “hash marks” on the left sleeve to denote length of service, and on the dress blue uniform the color of the hash marks, along with the chevrons under the “crow,” has significance. Red is worn by the below-deck rates, such as Electrician; white is for deck rates, such as Quartermaster; blue is worn by Seabees; and green is worn by Aviation rates. After twelve years, the hash marks and chevrons are gold if the wearer has an unblemished disciplinary record. And therein lies the story.

I once saw a Seaman, Boatswain’s Mate striker, with four hash marks indicating sixteen years service. They were gold, indicating no disciplinary actions in at least twelve of those years, and he was still an E-3. I knew that rate promoted slowly, but…

One of our Senior Chief Petty Officers had eight gold hash marks. To say that he was impressive in dress blues would be an understatement. When he entered a room you had to turn the lights down, or wear sunglasses. He walked with a slight list to port. He referred to his left sleeve as “thirty two years of undiscovered crime.”

This circuitous route has brought me to a couple of the conditions in Obama’s new program under which illegal immigrants will no longer be deported from this country if they are “military veterans in good standing” and “have clean criminal records.”

This is where the “undiscovered crime” part comes in, because the only way that an illegal immigrant can enlist in the military is to present false documents certifying that he is in the country legally. That is, of course, a crime, so the person must have not been discovered committing that crime in order to “have a clean criminal record.” One has to wonder if it was worded that way on purpose, because if it said the person “must not have committed any crimes,” then the mere fact of being a military veteran would reveal the commission of a crime and render the person ineligible.

Perhaps I’m overthinking this whole thing, but…

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sidestepping Congress

Obama is announcing a new executive order that will halt the deportation of illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, implementing a portion of the “Dream Act” that Congress has failed to pass for the past couple of years.

While I like the action itself, of course, or at least don’t dislike it, there are a couple of objections that come to mind. The first is that I have always disliked governance by executive order, especially when it regards policy which Congress has declined to enact. It doesn't matter to me why Congress has declined; if Congress is broken it is up to the American people to fix it, not just sit back and cheer as the chief executive becomes more and more imperial. We are happy when a President is sidestepping Congress with executive orders that we like, which strikes me as a little hypocritical since we are so unhappy when one is doing the same thing with executive orders which we dislike.

My other objection regards my cynicism regarding campaign timing. After deporting illegal immigrants at a record pace for the first 3+ years of his term, he suddenly reverses himself with this policy just when he is courting the Hispanic vote in the upcoming election. I am not a fan of enacting policy based on campaign politics, even when I like the policy.

Glass Houses and Bricks

Again yesterday Obama was rattling on about the evils of his Republican predecessor who cut taxes and “put two wars on the national credit card.” Three and a half years in office and he’s still jeering at the previous administration for policies which he himself has continued to follow.

How, precisely, has he paid for the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen? Not to mention Somalia and the Congo. Yeah, he put them on the same "national credit card" that George Bush used.

Also not to mention making the Afghanistan war more expensive to the tune of $100 million per month with his clever "let's piss off Pakistan" policy.

This is the president who despised the Bush tax cuts so much that he left them alone for two years and then extended them for two more years. So he has spent four years criticizing these tax cuts, while spending his full four years in office not only not attempting to repeal them, but actively extending them for half of those four years.

This is the same president who recently said, “I’ve cut taxes for small businesses seventeen times,” and, “Nobody has cut taxes more often for the middle class than I have.” This is the same president who, for the first time in history, cut the Social Security payroll tax, and then demanded that the cut be extended for another year.

Democrats are, of course, cheering him wildly.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Modern Strategic Thinking

Anthony H. Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has presented what he calls a “paper,” but is actually a series of Power Point slides, regarding “The FY2013 Defense Budget , the Threat of Defense Cuts and Sequestration, and the Strategy-Reality Gap.” You can read it for yourself (pdf), because I just don’t plan to quote very much from it. If I did, I would probably have to buy a new keyboard.

Now, if the title of the think tank, the fact that it is presented with Power Point slides and bullet points, and the title of the piece itself don’t lead you to believe that it is unmitigated bullshit, consider that near the very beginning it screams at the reader in 50-point bright red type that, “National Defense Totaled 5.2% to 6.2% of the US GDP from FY1980-FY1089; It had shrunk to a Post-WWII low of 3% in FY200 and FY2001.”

Since the United States didn’t even exist in 1089, and civilization pretty much didn’t exist in the year 200, that statement is somewhat more detached from reality than it would be without the typos, but not by much. More seriously, when someone doesn’t even proofread his headlines, it’s difficult to consider him as anything other than something of an idiot.

Not to mention that discussing a 2013 budget by considering spending from more than a full decade earlier and under circumstances vastly different than those which currently exist makes very little sense, and discussing line item spending as a relationship to Gross Domestic Product is downright idiotic; total government spending as a percent of overall economy, perhaps so, and total government debt, but one line item of the government budget…

After making the rather reasonable statement that since conditions will always change the government cannot actually form realistic budgets for more than one year at a time, he goes on to show Power Point slides with bullet points for budget discussion through the years 2017, which is certainly more than one year in the future.

He has one whole Power Point slide which illustrates with a graph that “The Key Problems are Recession, War Costs, and that Burden of US Public Spending is Limited Compared to Other Major Democracies, But Too high for American Politics.” The “key problems” toward what objective is unclear, and since the graph has nothing to do with recession or war costs all it actually shows is that European nations spend more than we do, but since they have what we call “socialism,” that’s hardly surprising.

And that’s just the first 9 of 128 pages slides. If this is what passes for “strategic thinking” these days, this nation is in deep shit.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Inept Campaign

The Republicans saved all of their viable presidential candidates and ran their idiots this election because it was widely believed that they could not defeat an incumbent, and especially not an incumbent with the charisma and popularity of Barack Obama. In spite of that, their least bad idiot is making a very close race out of it because Obama and the Democrats are conducting the most idiotic campaign in the history of politics.

For his first campaign Obama and his team provided soaring rhetoric that, while short on details, was filled with promises of what he was going to do if elected; a campaign based on the theme of “hope and change.” This year he is blaming Bush for handing him a difficult task, telling us that he has not done much but that he has done a little bit, and warning us of utter disaster if we elect a Republican to replace him.

I want to grab him by the shoulders, shake him until his teeth rattle, and tell him, “Quit whining about the raw deal you got, quit telling me how little you’ve accomplished, and tell me what the hell you’re going to do. And don’t let me hear the words ‘Republican’ or ‘Romney’ come out of your mouth.”

Republicans know how to campaign. They have their little sound bites, which actually mean nothing but which sound good, and they wind those into the answer of every question they are asked. “We believe in small government.” They don’t even know what small government is and, since they want to regulate what people can do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, they certainly don’t believe in it, but it sounds good to voters.

“What are you going to do about the high price of milk?”

“Milk producers are currently saddled with too many regulations, which drives up the price of milk. We believe in small government and reducing regulation will reduce the price that mothers will have to pay for the milk that the need to nourish their children.”

It’s nonsense, and in the answer they did not actually promise to reduce any regulation, or say what they will do about the price of milk, but they got votes because the message the answer conveys is, “we’re on your side.”

Democrats claim that their political beliefs are too complex and intellectually deep to lend themselves to sound bites, and so asked what they are going to do about the price of milk they launch into a ten minute lecture about the economics of milk production which puts the audience to sleep, or they simply counter with a statement that Republicans will cause the price of milk to increase, which no one believes.

Democrats also make statements like, "Republicans want Americans to starve to death if they become unemployed." That is a ridiculous statement, because no one has ever heard a Republican say that, and no Democrat can reasonably claim to have mind reading ability to prove the validity of that claim. Is anyone, other than a radical Democrat, going to actually believe that Republicans want the people of this country to starve?

What Republicans actually say on that subject is that their policies will reduce unemployment to the point that churches and other charities will be able to provide the help needed by the unemployed. That's almost certainly not feasible in practice, but it's not unreasonable, and it's a long way from "wanting Americans to starve." Democrats wind up just making themselves sound like idiots with this sort of wild rhetoric.

If Democrats would come up with something like, “Just as the government protects you from terrorists, we believe that the government should protect you from the predatory practices of big business,” and weave that into their answers they could attract many more votes.

“What are you going to do about the high price of milk?”

“Dairy farmers have to sell their milk to giant corporations. We believe that just as the government protects you from terrorist attacks, government should protect you from the greed of giant corporations who are driving up the price of milk.”

It’s nonsense, of course, and it did not answer the question, but it delivered the only message needed in a political campaign; “We’re on your side.”

Does Obama think that “we haven’t done very much, but we’ve done a little bit” is really a winning message? Further, by attacking Republicans he is subliminally delivering a counter message because Republicans are saying “we’re on the side of voters” and he’s saying he’s against Republicans, so where does that put him with respect with voters?

If Obama wins in November it will be in spite of, not because of, himself and his campaign staff.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ivory Tower Thinking Again

Paul Krugman is expounding brilliantly on the European economic crisis again, quite properly decrying the process of bailing out banks while leaving unemployment basically untouched, but calling for cuts in the interest rates to stimulate “modest inflation.”

Krugman continues to illustrate the vast gulf between theory and practicality every time he sits down at his computer in his ivory tower at Princeton.

Inflation, the theory goes, decreases the relative value of debt and is therefor a “good thing.” Put a theory in one hand and a pile of dog poop in the other and see which one you can smell. The theoretical diminishment of the value of your home mortgage, for instance, does little good when inflation is driving up the cost of food, gas, heating oil, clothing and medical insurance and making you unable to make your house payments.

He also believes that the solution to excess debt is to borrow more money and let inflation devalue the debt because, presumably, inflation is devaluing the debt faster than new borrowing is increasing it. The problem with that is that the inflationary devaluation is theory while borrowing is real numbers, so the debt may be getting theoretically smaller but the numbers attached to it keep getting bigger, and bankers and financiers don’t look at theories, they look at numbers.

Reducing Unemployment

There is much that does not make sense about the issue of public sector unions, or public sector workers at all for that matter. Consider three points:

*San Diego pays $15/hr to the workers who maintain its grounds.
*Private companies pay $12/hr to similar landscape workers.
*California pays $400/wk and more to people who have no jobs

We are paying people $15/hr to mow our grass, and we are paying people to do nothing. If we had any sense, we would do one or the other, but not both. We would have no monetary unemployment program, because our public sector jobs would be our unemployment program. If you lose your private sector job you can come mow our grass and pickup our trash until you can get a better job in the private sector.

Mowing grass for the city would still pay $15/hr and it would still have medical benefits, but there would be no pension benefit other than your contribution to Social Security, because it is a temporary job, intended to last until you can return to the private sector.

The unemployed person has gainful work to perform, has medical care, and makes more income than unemployment insurance would provide. The taxpayer does have the cost of employer payroll taxes, but it saves the cost of the unemployment program and the public sector pensions. Private companies no longer pay unemployment tax. Everybody wins.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Racing Wierdness

In the ARCA race yesterday one driver turned and crashed head-on into the wall during the pace lap, all by himself, before the race even began. I've watched a lot of races, but I've never seen that before.

I did once see a collision while the cars were parading during a caution flag. Bennie Parsons was asked later what happened and he said that the car ahead of him got sideways. Asked how that happened, at about 40 mph, he said, "I don't know." Asked why he then hit the car that was sideways he replied, "I didn't stop." Asked why he didn't stop his answer was, "I don't know." Aren't we glad he clarified that situation so brilliantly?

Jimmie Johnson was penalized today for speeding on pit road while serving a penalty for speeding on pit road. That's sort of like carrying a beer into a court-ordered AA meeting.

It should be pointed out that race car drivers mostly don't go to college.

Valerie Plame Redux

Glenn Greenwald has written a piece in The Guardian in which he claims that the Obama administration is selectively leaking information which enhances the image of the current president in an election year, while simultaneously punishing people who leak information which it is in the public interest to be known. Glenn bases this claim on such flimsy evidence as the author of an article saying that his source consisted of “three dozen former and current administration officials” who spoke, of course “on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.”

I don’t know why Glenn Greenwald would think that the Obama administration is leaking information merely because the person who has that information says that he got it from the Obama administration.

Obama is, of course, outraged by the accusation; not from Greenwald, who he may never have heard of, but from Republicans and no few Democrats. He says that he is going to launch an investigation to find the leak.

"We have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences," the president said. "In some cases, it's criminal. These are criminal acts when they release information like this. And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past."

Where have we heard this before? Oh yes, I remember now; someone leaked the identity of a CIA operative. The timing of that revelation was suspicious, as was the fact that it was very much to the benefit of then-President George W. Bush. Remember him?

You may recall that Bush was outraged by the leak and promised that an investigation would be done; an investigation of the Executive Branch by the Executive Branch. The outcome of that investigation was, you may recall, limited to one Scooter Libby, who was convicted of lying to investigators, and who served not one day in prison due to President Bush.

Isn’t it awesome how history repeats itself? Perhaps I should ask, isn’t it awesome how Obama copies Bush? Again we have leaks from the Executive Branch which benefit the executive, followed by Presidential outrage, followed by the Executive Branch investigating itself, followed by…

Well, you know what comes next, the guilty will not be punished.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

I'm Glad He Cleared That Up

President Obama held a press conference on the economy yesterday in which he said that "the private sector is doing fine." Mitt Romney said that statement showed he is "out of touch." I don't think it showed he is out if touch, I think it shows he is campaigning for reelection. Press conferences are supposed to be about governance, of course, but we all know that reelection takes precedence over governance, so we should hardly be surprised when he babbles campaign slogans at press conferences.

Later that same day he did a photo-op with President Aquino and somehow or another, someone allowed an unscripted question to be asked.

Q: "Mr. President, Mitt Romney says you're out of touch for saying the private sector is doing fine. What's your response?"

President Obama: "Listen, it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine. That's the reason I had the press conference. That's why I spent yesterday, the day before yesterday, this past week, this past month, and this past year talking about how we can make the economy stronger."

So he held a press conference because the economy is not doing fine, in which he said that the private sector economy is doing fine, and when asked why he would say that the private sector is doing fine his response is to ignore the question and say that the economy is not doing fine, and that he has been talking about how to make the economy better.

Needless to say, the questioner did not get an opportunity to follow up and say, "Okay, but why did you say that the private sector is doing fine?" If he had, the question would have been ignored again.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Democrats Defending Labor?

Democrats are rallying in passionate support of the public sector unions in Wisconsin, and I am going to call them out as hypocritical political animals and liars. They do not care about the labor movement; this is just another battle in their holy war against Republicans, and they are using the labor movement as their “cause du jour.”

Where were the Democrats when private sector unions were being decimated? What were they doing while private sector union membership was declining from more than 28% of workers to the less than 7% that it is today? Nowhere is where they were, and nothing is what they were doing. They did not care.

Where were the Democrats when Boeing shut down part of its unionized Washington plant building the new 787 and opened a new plant in non-union South Carolina? They said nothing, because they did not care.

Where were the Democrats when auto makers closed unionized plants in northern states and opened them in non-union southern states, one after another? They said nothing because they simply did not care.

They were waiting for a Republican to make an anti-union move so that they could attack the Republican, casting it as a support of unions. But they don’t care about unions or they would have acted far sooner. They did not defend the labor movement from the predation of big business, but they get all fired up and cloak themselves in righteousness to defend the “rights of workers” from Republicans.

Defending workers? No; they are fighting only for power.

Krugman Hearts Reagan, I Think

Paul Krugman goes all wonky on us again, writing a couple of pieces in the past few days to prove that the government spent more money at all levels under Reagan than under Obama. I have no idea why we care about that, nor do I have the faintest idea what state and local government tax revenues has to do with either Reagan or Obama.

He is, of course, providing graphs, one of them even using a logarithmic scale for added drama, but all of them proving, as far as I can tell, that his pet theory of Keynesian government spending works to boost the economy only for so long as the spending continues. As soon as the government quits spending money, and sometimes even before it quits doing so, the economy collapses again.

It’s sort of like if I prop up my front porch with a stick and expect it not to collapse when I pull the stick away. Or, if you’ve ever been camping, do you expect the tent to stay up when you remove the tent poles? I thought so.

He is remarking about how much spending has declined under Obama, which is doubtless why the Obama team is bragging about Obama having created 4.5 million jobs; the best jobs creation record, they claim, since, I don’t know, Attila The Hun or somebody. Or perhaps government spending and jobs creation are unrelated. No, no, wait…

Absurdity Abounds

The stock market soared yesterday based, apparently, on two things:

First that Bernanke said that he might, at some point, be willing for the Fed to do another round of "quantative easing." He did not say that would happen, and there is no real evidence that it would have any measurable effect on the economy if it did happen, but his mere mention that it might happen triggered a frenzy of stock buying.

Second is that China cut its interest rate. That's actually bad news, because it means their economy is slowing more than was previously thought, but the people with high foreheads on Wall Street read it to mean that China's economy will now take of like a rocket. Just like ours has done due to our low interest rates.

And so Wall Street had "its best day all year," based on absolute bullshit.

Thursday, June 07, 2012


I grew up Air Force and when I enlisted in the Navy my father related to me that he had experienced just a few days with the Navy, during World War Two, and had been favorably impressed.

He had quit flying because the USAAF decided they needed medical officers more than they needed pilots, and he was getting bored. In addition, his quarters in Northern England rather sucked; inadequately heated, no hot water, and the food was terrible. He saw a bulletin asking for medical volunteers for a mission that would be “interesting, adventurous and possibly hazardous,” and decided to apply for it.

He reported a few days later, to a Navy ship; an LST. That formally stands for Landing Ship, Tank, but they were known by their crews as Large Stationary Targets, even though by oceangoing standards they were not all that large. They were certainly large by landing craft standards, and they were certainly slow, but to an Army Air Force Captain the craft seemed very large, complex and baffling.

The crew kept calling him “Major,” and he kept telling them he was a Captain, to which they would reply that a ship could have only one Captain. That confused him even further because the guy they kept calling “Captain” was a Second Lieutenant who was actually, of course, an Ensign.

Nonetheless, he slept in a warm bunk, had a hot shower and ate roast beef for the first time in months. He also drank the best coffee he’d had since he’d been Stateside, so he decided the Navy was a pretty good place to be. Then I told him I was volunteering for the submarine service and he decided he’d raised a complete idiot.

Anyway his purpose was to tend wounded on the return trip from Omaha Beach on D-Day. “Possibly hazardous,” forsooth. He didn’t talk about that part of it, but I did find out that he made some six trips over the next several days. Like most veterans of that war, he didn’t talk about the hard times.

Playing With Fire

There is much rhetoric about war with Iran, or the likelihood that we may have avoided such a war, but I am becoming more and more concerned that our next war may actually be with Pakistan. Our government is treating that nation with increasingly aggressive levels of contempt that strikes me as possibly more than a little bit dangerous.

Drone strikes in three consecutive days killed 27 people, all of whom are claimed by the US to be “militants.” The US, however, pretty much claims that a militant is anyone killed by one of our drones, so it’s unclear how many of those people were actually enemies of this country.

One of them is reported to be Al Qaida’s “number two” (again!), but for several days after the hit we were not sure we had actually killed him because we hit a house that he was believed to be in. There were quite a few people killed when the house was destroyed, but it took a few days to confirm that he was one of them. If that does not sound to you like the “highly specific and carefully targeted strikes” that Obama claims for the drone program, then you are probably a terrorist yourself or at least some sort of terrorist sympathizer.

If some other nation blew up a house in downtown Casa Grande, AZ because they believed that one of their bad guys was in it, and in the process killed a dozen of so of our citizens, I’m sure we would say that was perfectly okay with us. We might be a little queasy about it at first, but once they confirmed that one of the dead people was actually their bad guy, I’m sure we would be fine.

Pakistan is not quite so understanding, and is demanding that we quit firing Hellfire missiles at targets in their nation, claiming that it is “unlawful, against international law and a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.”

We do not claim that it is lawful, or in compliance with international law, nor do we make any arguments about national sovereignty. Our response from Leon Panetta is simply that, “we are going to continue to defend ourselves.” International law and national sovereignty are apparently irrelevant.

He also tells Pakistan that, "terrorists who threaten the United States, threaten Pakistan as well.” Pakistan doesn’t seem to think so, but what do they know? He was in India when he said this, which adds insult upon insult, because they actually think India is their enemy just because they have fought three wars with them. Panetta tells them that India is not their enemy, and that tribesmen living within their own borders are. Aren’t we glad he cleared that up?

Now Leon Panetta is telling Pakistan that we are “at the limit of our patience” with respect to the “terrorists” who they are not killing within their own borders, which is a decidedly threatening way of putting it.

These “terrorists” are defined as such, of course, because they are attacking our armed forces in Afghanistan. In some circles our forces would be called “foreign occupiers” and the people attacking them would be called “freedom fighters” as was the case in that same territory in the 1980’s. Because the forces they are attacking are American rather than Russian, however, they are “terrorists” instead of “freedom fighters.”

The Russians had the good sense not to extend their war into the national territory of Pakistan, but we seem to have less respect for Pakistan than the Russians did. Or, perhaps, we have more assumptions about our own capability than they had about theirs. At any rate, Pakistan is more and more aggressively telling us to stop firing missiles within their borders, and we are more and more aggressively telling them to go to Hell. This is not going in a good direction.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Some San Diego Trees

Jacaranda mimosifolia
imageIt is time for the Jacaranda to bloom in San Diego, and with our unusually sunny weather (for June) they are simply awesome this year. This one is about a block from our house.

They actually do have some leaves, but when blooming the leaves sort of disappear. These blooms don't wither and die, either, they fall off the tree pretty much intact and make an incredible mess for a couple of weeks.

Cinnamomum camphora
imageWe had a Camphor tree in our front yard for many years, and still have a nice one across the street after ours got root rot, looked more and more sickly for a couple of years, and finally died.

Camphors technically are deciduous, but are effectively evergreen because they shed their leaves (still green) and put on new ones at the same time in early spring. Their blooming happens at leaf change, is hardly noticible, and is followed by a seed drop that can get pretty messy for several weeks.

Spathodea campanulata
imageOur yard will soon be graced with an African Tulip Tree to replace the Camphor. They are very common in Hawaii, so we can look out the front window and... Never mind.

Our specimen will be chosen for a little more fullness than shown here, and the tree becomes quite large; can grow to 75' tall. It is evergreen, has some of its reddish orange flowers all year and blooms most heavily in late winter.

The crew is currently prepping for new sod, and the tree (in 24" box size) will be planted after the sod has set firmly; typically about two-three weeks.

Recalls, Leaking and GM Stock

The Wisconsin Governor won the recall election, and did so by pretty much the same margin over the same opponent as the original election. I have to say that I find that outcome rather satisfying, since I generally consider recalls an abuse of process. The losing side is almost never going to like what the winning side does, and they are supposed to accept that until the next election.

Losers of the recall are, of course, saying that the higher spending by their opponent was the cause of their loss (it’s all the fault of the Koch brothers), but with the margin of the vote being so close to the original election, that seems unlikely to me. It seems to me that the people who voted him into office in the first place wanted him kept in office, and that really should not come as any big surprise.

It’s called democracy, majority rule, but more and more this country is claiming that it’s only democracy if my side wins. If I don’t win I’m going to screw up the side that does, or try to get a do over. Republicans are doing that with their refusal to negotiate in the legislature, and Democrats are doing it proactively with their prognostications of doom should Republicans win. It’s childish, selfish and stupid.

John McCain is claiming that Obama’s administration is leaking classified information to “enhance President Obama’s image as a tough guy for the elections.” He’s referring, of course, to the articles about the drone programs and the “Kill List” stories. I basically think of John McCain as a senile old fool, but I think he’s actually right on this issue.

Mitt Romney is accusing Obama of “sitting on the government's 26 percent stake in General Motors in order to avoid an embarrassing financial loss before Election Day.” That one is, I think, nonsense. It’s true that the stock is worth less than what the government paid for it in the GM reorganization, and it’s true that the government is “sitting on it” in that they are not selling it. But there was no commitment to sell it at any particular time, and holding on to stock which you believe will rise in value is a perfectly reasonable thing to do; sound fiscal policy.

I would, in fact, be a little pissed at Obama if he did sell that GM stock now.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Fallacy of Cheap Interest

I am not an economist, and I don’t have any great degree of financial education either, but the argument that we should keep borrowing simply because interest rates are low seems nonsensical to me on several fronts. To use that as one of several arguments might make sense, but it is often used as pretty much the sole argument.

To set the record straight, I do think the government should be doing some sort of “New Deal” spending right now to create jobs. It would be better than spending money for unemployment benefits, which doesn’t provide us with any direct return on our investment. If we have to borrow some money to do that I think that is a case of necessary borrowing. I do not subscribe to the theory that doing this will “kick start the economy,” but it will help people who don’t have jobs.

But the argument that we can borrow endlessly merely because current interest rates are low just seems too much like a “free lunch” proposition.

For one thing it assumes that the borrowed money does not ever have to be paid back. Paul Krugman and Dean Baker, of course, argue precisely that; governments never repay debt. Krugman has a formula based on the post-WW2 era where the debt incurred in fighting that war was subsumed in a growing economy until it vanished without us ever paying it back. I’m pretty sure the “never paid it back” part is bogus, because the government sold some $190 billion in war bonds and only about $9 billion are currently outstanding, so I believe at least $185 billion was paid back. I’ve already discussed economic growth when you have no global competition because you just bombed all of it into rubble, so I won’t bore you with that again.

Even low interest is not “no interest.” This year, with our current debt and the current “historically low interest rates,” we will pay $414 billion in interest. That is the third largest item in the nation’s budget. If we borrow more money it will go up and, if Krugman and Baker are correct and we do not repay any of the debt, we will continue to pay that interest forever. And we get nothing for that expenditure; that is payment for past behavior.

That assumes that the interest rate remains low. All of this debt is “term debt” that must be refinanced when it becomes due. What happens if the interest rate has increased when that refinance date arrives? That should not be “if the rate is higher,” because the rate will be higher. We will be paying more interest, a lot more interest, even without additional borrowing.

Economists try to calm us by saying that our national debt is still slightly less than our GDP and that it can even be slightly higher than our GDP and we will be okay. Sounds good, but what does it really mean?

What jumps to mind is your comparison of debt to annual income, doesn’t it? If you own a house your debt is probably larger than your annual income, maybe twice or more in fact, so that ratio of national debt to GDP actually sounds pretty good. But…

National income and GDP are vastly different things. Exclusive of Social Security and Medicare, which are not federal income and cannot be used to pay down debt, federal income at this point is about $1.9 trillion per year. That means that our debt of $15.7 trillion is well over eight times our national income. No financier would regard that as a healthy balance sheet, and no sane banker would lend money to someone who had existing debt exceeding eight times annual income.

Granted, a nation is not a household or a business, but still…

"Demon Oil" Again

This is the sort of demonization of oil companies that makes one wonder why we even bother to have a news media any more. A piece at, written by Will Bunch, starts off with the following paragraph,

They are the world's second largest corporation by revenue, and last year Royal Dutch Shell made an astronomical $31 billion in profits - more than triple what the global oil giant was earning just two years earlier.

The link that is included in that paragraph sends you to a list of corporation rankings by size. It shows Wal-Mart in first place, and Shell Oil in second with revenue of $378 billion and profit of $20 billion, not the “$31 billion in profits” which he claims in his article. The profit margin, which he doesn’t mention, is 5.3% on revenue; which is hardly "astronomical."

For comparison, drug companies, whose profits were protected when Obama and Congress negotiated ”health care reform,” average 35% profit.

He goes on to say that the governor of Pennsylvania “wants to give them your tax dollars, too - perhaps as much as about $1.7 billion over the next 25 years.” That’s much more impressive that saying $67 million per year, and notice the “perhaps as much” in that accusation, which means he doesn’t have any real facts.

He repeatedly refers to the deal as an “additional cash giveaway,” because the state is granting Shell Oil a tax exemption as an incentive to build a major plant in their state, providing thousands of new jobs. Why this is remarkable escapes me, because states have been doing this for decades. Why it’s a bad deal also escapes me; it' not a "giveaway" at all, it's a waiver of collection of taxes which, if the plant were not built, they would not have anyway, and this way they get new jobs.

The impression I get in reading the article is that it's about how evil the oil company is, and how corrupt the governor is, and the author is weaving this instance to fit his larger narrative, because I see nothing in the particulars of this specific event that seems in any way unusual. The author tries very hard to make it an episode of corruption exposed by his intrepid reportage, but it just comes off as holding a candle and screaming for a fire engine.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A Lesson In Elections

I got a little lesson in democracy elections from Juan Cole recently, in a discussion of the recent events in Egypt. He was writing of the problems regarding the two finalists in that election and I asked how that could be such a problem if they were the two which the people had chosen. How, I asked, was a win by one of them going to lead to “blood in the streets?”

He pointed out that the initial election had a great many candidates, and that between them these two guys commanded only 40% of the vote. “So,” he says, “by the vagaries of the election system, a plurality of Egyptians was disenfranchised.” Meaning, in simpler words, that 60% of the voters don’t want either one of these guys. Good point.

Why does that sound familiar? Oh, yes, it’s all the Democrats who admit that they don’t want to reelect Obama, but will “hold their noses and vote for him” anyway because… Well, you know the reason, God knows it’s been said often enough. So a lot of Democrats can relate to those Egyptians. We also don’t want either one of those guys.

Actually, in American presidential elections, “I don’t want either one of those guys” is pretty much the norm, so I don’t know what those Egyptians are so upset about.

The weakness, in Egypt, is a system where the two highest vote getters proceed to a runoff election. If you have a large number of candidates, the vote is heavily splintered and it’s almost guaranteed that you will get at least one candidate in the final two who is not sufficiently popular to be really legitimate. It’s not hard, in fact, to get two of them.

Interestingly, that’s the primary election system just adopted by California. Voters were tired, it seems, of all the partisanship. It’s not clear that voters actually were tired of the partisanship, but a group of people who sponsored one of our ubiquitous propositions was; it got on the ballot and sufficient money was spent on mostly false advertising for it to pass. With California’s proclivity for picking precisely the wrong solution to every problem, I would have been surprised had it not passed.

And the Egyptian problem is already at work in San Diego. We have five candidates for Mayor, parties not named, on the ballot and nobody wants any one of them to be elected, so we are guaranteed to have two minority candidates in the runoff.

But I don’t think there will be “blood in the streets” if the wrong one wins.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Hypocrisy Abounds

Hillary Clinton denies Russian claims of neutrality and is saying today that Russia is “supporting the continuity of the Assad regime” because they are not calling for Assad to “step down” and are delivering weapons to Syria.

Back when Israel was shelling Lebanon, destroying civilian infrastructure and killing noncombatants, we were saying that we were neutral but that Israel “has the right to defend itself.” Israel was using munitions, including cluster bombs, sold to them by the United States, and when they ran low we resupplied them.

Our government is so full of shit.

These Are The Good Guys?

My blogging has been a bit half-hearted lately, and the reason has been
an article in the New York Times about the process in the White House for routine approval of the “targeted killing” of people we deem inimical to us. What this article revealed, in several dimensions, about where this nation has gone, has put me into a rather significant depression.

You can read the article linked above, and Glenn Greenwald discusses several aspects of this issue at greater length than I can. But what other nation in the world spends such vast resources on a global basis killing individuals, some of whom it does not even know by name, who it thinks might wish to do it harm, whether or not they are actually capable of doing so? And why should any nation be allowed to do that?

Just as we decided in the Bush days that “torture” would continue to be illegal but that “enhanced interrogation” would be permitted, we are now deciding that “assassination” will continue to be illegal, but that “targeted killing” will be permitted. Bush had the Office of Legal Counsel draw up a memo justifying the use of torture, and when this administration wanted to “target” an American citizen this was the process,

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.

A significant portion of the media and public objected to the Bush assumption of the power to detain people based on secret OLC memos, but there is absolutely zero objection over Obama’s assumption of the power to execute anyone, including American citizens, based on secret OLC memos. Is no one other than Glenn Greenwald and me appalled by the idea that “due process” can now be “satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch” in this nation of laws?

Just as with justification of torture by claiming that it “provided valuable intelligence,” something which has never actually been proven, supporters of killing by drone claim that it is justified because it is keeping us safe, which is another highly questionable claim and does not rebut either the legal or moral argument against the process in any case. Glenn Greenwald makes that point better than I can do.

I knew, of course, that this drone killing was going on, but the NYT article drove home the level to which the President himself is involved in it. Weekly meetings to decide who will be killed. A President who “approves lethal action without hand-wringing,” and for whom the decision to order the death of an American citizen was “an easy one.”

The most stunning thing for me was that the administration would allow this to become public at this time. Similar information about Bush did not become public until after he was out of office and his successor had made clear that prosecution would not be forthcoming, but Obama’s staff is releasing this during a reelection campaign. It seems clear that not only do they not believe that it will be damaging, they clearly believe it will enhance his chances at reelection.

The leaking itself is controversial. As Glenn Greenwald points out, Obama is prosecuting people who release classified documents at a rate greater than all of his predecessors combined, yet this article is based on the statements of no fewer than thirteen members of Obama’s staff, none of whom are named other than as officials, “who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.” That’s a definitive statement that they know they are leaking information in violation of the law, but they are releasing information that they believe enhances Obama’s appearance rather than damaging it, so they feel quite okay with it.

Obama clearly seems to believe that release of his program of killing, a program which includes the assumption of imperial presidential power beyond even that which George Bush engaged in, will enhance his chances of election, and it seems to be working, since there has been no backlash that I have seen. Public sentiment seems, overall, to be completely in favor.

Democratic supporters are still saying that we must not let Republicans win because they will do horrible things, and that we have to keep the “good guys” in office. These are the good guys? What can Republicans do that is worse than this? These “good guys” have turned this nation into the world’s biggest killing machine.

And there is no end in sight; this killing will never end. We have killed “Al Qaida’s number two man” a couple of dozen times now, and another one is already in place. Do we think that we will ever run out of people that might want to harm us to aim our drone missiles at? This is America now, and I find that depressing beyond words.