Sunday, April 29, 2012

More On Deck Chairs

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education wrote a lengthy blog post at the Huffington Post on Thursday regarding deck chairs student loan interest rates. I’m not sure what it means that we have high officials of the federal government writing for Arianna Huffington, but that’s another issue.

I also must admit that I'm not sure that I understand what it means that we have a Secretary of Education who is 48 years old and has nothing more than a Bachelor's Degree, even though it's from Harvard. Anyway...

He starts out, by way of background, saying that fifty years ago a young person could graduate from high school and get a job that would “guarantee a place in the middle class,” and that those days are gone. He expresses no regret over the passing of those days, nor any suggestion that we make any attempt to revive them. That may have something to do with the fact that he was not even born fifty years ago.

After saying that jobs now and in the future will require a college education, he goes on to say that “college costs across the country have risen almost five times faster than median household income.” He adds that young people did not often borrow money in the past to go to college and now it “is the rule” to do so. He does not suggest that college costs are in any way unreasonable, or that we should make any effort to reduce them. He does not accuse college administrators of any malpractice. He does not appear to see anything wrong with the increase of college costs, and he seemingly has no issue with the lack of increase in household income. He does not suggest that students should not borrow money to go to college. He is merely giving us background here.

 “Captain, there’s a big ass ice field ahead of us.”
 “I know that, Officer Snerdley. Tell me something I care about.”

Sec. Duncan is now approaching the problem area, saying that “a policy change is coming” that will “double the interest rate” on student loans. He says that “no one is suggesting it would be a good idea to double interest rates on credit cards or home mortgages,” and asks why “do some believe it's a good idea to double interest rates for students?” As Liz Browning said, “Let me count the ways” in which he is full of it.

No one is talking about credit cards or home mortgages, nitwit, because those rates were not cut in half two years ago with an expiration date, so they have no expiring rate cut like the student loan rate does. Further, it is the Democrats who “believe it's a good idea to double interest rates for students,” because they are the ones who crafted the bill that cut the interest rate and dictated that it expire after two years, returning the interest rate to its original status.

When the Republicans were protesting the expiration of one of their tax cuts and referred to it as “raising taxes” the Democrats cried foul, claiming that there was a difference between the expiration of a tax cut and an increase in taxes. Then when Omaba’s payroll tax was expiring and he wanted it extended, suddenly the expiration of that temporary tax cut was “raising taxes on working men and women.” Now the expiration of this temporary interest rate is “doubling interest rates for students.”

He refers to it as a “policy change,” which it is not, because the bill is doing exactly what it was written to do two years ago, and is executing the policy which it was crafted to execute.

He sounds the challenge to Congress with a ringing, “We all have a role to play -- the President, Congress, parents, students and schools -- in making college affordable and keeping the middle class dream alive.”

Notice that it used to be that people who graduated from high school were middle class, now people who graduate from college are. The old upper class is now the middle class. That's not actually relevant to the current discussion, but I could not resist making the observation.

 “Captain, we’re steaming at full speed in an ice field.”
 “Officer Snerdley! I told you to rearrange the effing deck chairs!”

The challenge is not that we find a way to provide viable jobs that do not require a college degree; not that we reduce the unconscionable cost of a college education; not that we increase household income to make families able to afford more of everything including college; not that we reduce the need for college loans; but that we maintain the reduction of the interest rate on those college loans. Awesome.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Campaign Commercial

Obama's campaign is out with a new and shiny slogan, coined by Joe Biden presumably, to the effect of "Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive." That is bolstered by a commercial about how Obama ordered the hit on Bin Laden and Romney might not have had the balls to do that. Republicans are aghast the he would use a moment like that as a campaign trick, unlike strutting around on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit with a "Mission Accomplished" sign in the background. At least Bin Laden actually is dead, although a few wierdos are claiming that the killing was faked. (Seriously?) They want the body produced as evidence. Sorry ladies, we actually did walk on the Moon, too.

I don't have any real problem with it, if that's how they want to represent their party's leader; as the world's number one "hit man." It worked for George W. Bush, who swaggered as a "tough guy" keeping us safe, and he got reelected, so if Obama wants to imitate George W. Bush I guess that's his privilege. I think the implication about Romney is a bit of a cheap shot, because Obama's people have no idea what he might or might not have done, and I think it's pretty stupid that they think the economy is doing well enough that they can change the topic away from it.

Both sides desperately want this election to be about anything other than the economy, but I have news for them; the determining factor for elections is voters not politicians. The news media pundits and politicians can blather all they want to about drone strike policies, deficit reduction, Albanian aid packages, and to what degree we did or did not call the death of Albanian people one hundred years ago "genocide," but the voters are going to determine what the election is about, and I will bet my next month's paycheck they are going to make it about the economy.

This scenario for an Obama campaign commercial came from the comment thread at Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory. I put a couple of comments together and edited very slightly for brevity.

 (upwelling strings in background, something by Aaron Copland)
 Announcer (rich baritone): It’s morning in Barack Obama’s America.
 (footage of people lined up at an airport, early morning, being searched
 before boarding)
 TSA man: Is that a weapon, or are you just happy to see me?
 Announcer: People are working again.
 (footage of new Army recruits on a rifle range)
 Drill Sergeant (holding M4 carbine): When you finish this course, you
 will be able to kill a man at 300 meters! Guaranteed!
 Recruit (sotto voce, to another): Cool! I’m gonna learn a trade after all!
 (footage of American flag, trumpets play “America” softly)
 Announcer: We stand today at a crossroads: One path leads to despair
 and utter hopelessness. The other leads to total extinction. Let us hope
 that we have the wisdom to make the right choice.
 (fade to black)

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Deck Chairs Look Fine

Both sides of the political aisle have now made the interest rate on student loans a battlefield, claiming they are fighting the good fight to protect our young people’s best interest and make it possible to get advanced educations and secure the jobs of the future. Sure, and rearranging the deck chairs would have prevented the Titanic from sinking, too.

Do they really think that a student with a debt of $106,000 is going to be dramatically affected by the difference between a 3.4% interest rate and a 6.8% rate on that debt? The problem, you posturing jackasses, is not the interest rate; it’s that a college education costs $106,000 in the first place.

There are several factors contributing to that cost, some of which are unavoidable as a result of the economy, and some of which are sheer greed on the part of several players, but it is the cost of advanced education which should be addressed, and the lack of opportunity to earn a viable living without an advanced education. What both sides are doing right now is equivalent to steaming at full speed through an ice field with the radar turned off, arguing about the schedule for the evening dinner dance.

Dead or... Well, Just Dead

How would we feel if police had the authority to shoot people dead on our streets if they were engaged in what the police perceived to be “suspicious activity” but were otherwise completely unknown? Not stopped and questioned, not arrested and not persons whose faces had appeared on wanted posters. Someone is “dressed funny” and looks “furtive” as he approaches a bank; shot dead. Turns out he was avoiding his wife.

That is precisely what Barack Obama just authorized our forces to do in Yemen, a nation with which we are not at war; to employ Hellfire missiles from drones against unknown persons based on “suspicious activity” such as “carrying rifles and walking toward Afghanistan.”

Virtually every adult male in Yemen carries a rifle, and when I go to the barbershop I am “going toward” the state of Georgia. That does not mean that I am going to Georgia, and in fact I am never going to get within a couple thousand miles of Georgia, but if going there was illegal then under Obama’s policy I could be killed on sight for taking a rifle with me when I go to get a haircut.

I cannot imagine living in a nation that calls itself a democracy, talks about human rights and the rule of law, and does this sort of thing, but I do live in that nation. More and more I am coming to believe that nothing we say actually means anything. Nothing.

Literary Confession

For what it’s worth, I have to confess that I have never read Atlas Shrugged. I tried to do so and never completed the damned thing, because I regarded everything about it as ridiculous and simply could not be bothered to finish it. The plot is thin, except where it is nonexistent, the characters two dimensional, except some who are one dimensional, and the writing hackneyed, except where it is trite. I never figured out why anyone with an IQ greater than room temperature would bother to read more of this book than was required to be able to mock people who did read it in its entirety.

Such as Representative Paul Ryan, Republican, of Wisconsin.

Of course, I was prejudiced against the book because I am old enough to have been aware of her when she was alive and considered her to be a complete idiot. Her “philosophy” seemed to be to take both sides of every issue; for instance to criticize the war in Vietnam but to simultaneously condemn draft dodgers. The only issue on which she seemed to have any clarity was that one’s only purpose in life was to make one’s own self happy and that anything one did to others in pursuit of that goal was perfectly okay. She also looked and postured pretty much like a hooker, so…

I was reading, at the time, such things as Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, one of the best stories ever written and later without doubt the worst movie ever made, and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, a scenario apparently now being set into motion by James Cameron.

In Starship Troopers, written in 1959, Heinlein posits a democracy in which only citizens who have completed a tour of government service, military or civil, are entitled to vote. They cannot vote while in service, or if they fail to complete the required term, and voting is a privilege highly treasured. In a high school class a teacher asks a student why this method is employed and answers his own question, “Because it works.” He goes on to say that in the past a “ridiculous system” had been employed where everyone was given the vote and that chaos and disaster ensued. Remember, this was written in 1959.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

NFL Still Dithering

Speaking of consequences, after coming down hard on coaching staff and management regarding the "bounty program" at the New Orleans Saints, the NFL still has not announced any penalties for the players involved. Presumably they are still negotiating with the Players Union, which thinks that the players should not be punished for reasons which vary from "they were just following orders," to "well, gee whiz." The Players Union is losing credibility every day that this drags out, and the NFL is losing credibility for allowing the Players Union to delay.

Consequences

CBS News did a piece the other night about student loans, interviewing a couple of young persons with high college debt by way of illustration. One young woman was bemoaning that, because of her student loan, she would not be able to get married or buy a house. I had to run and get a hankie to dry my tears.

Certainly the cost of a college education today is a problem, and something must be done about that, but does this young woman not realize that the position in which she finds herself is the consequence of her own choice? Did someone say to her on graduation day, “Here’s your diploma and, surprise, a $106,000 debt that you did not expect?” She wanted a college degree and she chose to engage in these massive loans in order to get one. Now she has the degree and she regrets that her choice is hindering her options to do other things, as if that was somehow unfair.

Part of growing up is learning to make good decisions, and one way that we do that is by making bad decisions. But making bad decisions is a “teaching moment” only if we suffer the consequences of that bad decision, and only if we recognize those consequences for what they are. Increasingly we, as people and as a nation, are not willing to do that.

The young woman was asked how she could ever unburden herself from the debt and her response was to express a hope that the government would pass a bill that would “help students by voiding some of the debt like they did with homeowners.” Sign up for student loans that you can’t pay, buy a house that you can’t afford, and hope that the government will cancel your debt, leaving you with whatever it is that you incurred the debt to obtain. No consequences.

We rail against our government for “bailing out the bankers” whose bad decisions put the banks in jeopardy, but then we turn around and want the same government to bail out homeowners who bought homes they could not afford, and students who cannot pay the loans they signed up for to obtain the degrees which they hold. The homeowners don't want to give back their houses, and the students don't want to void their degrees; they just want their debt cancelled.

We elect people to office and when they turn out to be corrupt we keep reelecting them and blame the Koch Brothers, or the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision for the anti-populist legislation that they create. We complain about their performance and continue to reelect them, and never once do we accept that the government we have is the consequence of our own voting habits.

Does this angry voter have a clue what she is saying as she screams at her Senator in a letter, “It is you and your fellow nutcases who have bankrupted America and stolen the American dream from millions of loyal, patriotic taxpayers. And for what? Votes.” She decries the bad policies they have advocated, and admits they have done so in order to pander to the desires of a majority of voters, blaming them rather than the voters to whom they have been pandering.

The minute we recognize that the government we have is the consequence of our own voting habits then we will change those habits and we will have a better government. For so long as we are blaming it in the Koch Brothers, the Supreme Court and the legislators themselves, then we are stuck with the government we have.

We build houses in tornado country and, because it is cheaper, buy insurance that excludes tornado damage. Then, when a tornado damages our house, we clamor for the federal government to step in and give us money to rebuild our house, unwilling to accept the consequence of choosing insurance that did not cover our loss.

The list is all but endless and, if you listen to the promises of politicians on both sides, the underlying promise is “I will protect you from the consequences of the past.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Big Deal" Department

Headlines are honking about the government finally "filing criminal charges related to the Gulf oil spill." It turns out that one guy has been charged with obstruction of justice for destroying documents requested by investigators. That is a very long way from the claim made. It's sort of like saying that getting rid of Weiner cleaned up bribery and corruption in Congress.

Well, This Is Depressing

Marketplace Economy has an interview with a nitwit named Olivia Mitchell who, I am horrified to report, is executive director of the Pension Research Council at the Wharton School. Wharton, you may know, is one of the top business schools in the country, so I’m predicting that this country is in very deep shit, as you will soon see.

They are discussing the reserve status of the Social Security trust fund and Ms. Mitchell says that “the money actually has been spent.” Yes, she actually says that. She regards U.S. Treasury bonds held by the trust fund as money that has “already been spent.” She is an executive director of something at Wharton, and… We are just screwed.

It gets worse, as she goes on to say that, “we'll either have to raise taxes, or cut expenditures, or issue more debt to be able to pay the scheduled benefits.” This from an executive at Wharton School. Doomed, I tell you.

When the Social Security trust fund decides to cash in its bonds, the same thing will happen that happens when people who hold Treasury bonds cash them in every single business day; the U.S. will issue new bonds to replace them. The debt will be reduced by the amount of the cashed-in bonds, increased by the amount of the newly sold bonds, and net change in the amount of the federal debt will be precisely zero.

No new taxes, no reduction in expenditures, no additional debt.

If this is what Wharton is producing these days, imagine what average business schools are cranking out into our business environment. And we are expecting an economic recovery?

And note that there is only one comment following the article, which reads in its entirety, "Mitchell is correct. The 'trust fund' is zero." We are a nation of morons, led by idiots.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Looking For Sources

I’m looking for good websites to read about current events and politics, both left and right. The ones I’ve been using keep going to the dogs, presumably because writing is hard work, and/or because extremism feeds on itself and leads to insanity.

I ditched Hullabaloo because digby and David pretty much no longer do anything but post lengthy excerpts from other sources with a brief note of their own along the lines of “Sam Snerdly makes a good point here.” Well, I read pretty much the same things they do, so I don’t need to read it again on their site.

Balloon Juice used to be awesome, but they too are mostly excerpts from other sources, and the dozen or so writers there seem to compete to see who can use the most “charged” and insulting language. “The blood sucking Neanderthals of the Repulsive Party yesterday…” Boring.

Salon.com has Glenn Greenwald but is mostly trivial and tends toward Obamabottery, but I used to visit them until, Oh my God look at that website!” I will try to continue to read Greenwald, but I may not even be able to do that. Despite my dislike for lengthy blockquotes, I simply have
to cite their rationale behind that design,

We asked designer Kelly Frankeny to create a news tabloid as imagined by Coco Chanel. Frankeny — a globetrotting designer who is often dropping into beleaguered democracies in Africa and Latin America to work her wonders for embattled newspapers – responded to our challenge with a sophisticated and dynamic design. A brilliant and sassy blond Texan, she has created a new Salon as big as her personality. And yes, while invoking the brassy urgency of a news tabloid, the new design also conveys the elegance of the House of Chanel. Both Frankeny and the new Salon know how to use red lipstick and a simple black dress for maximum effect.

Seriously? This is what our media has turned into? A “sassy blonde globetrotting designer” who used “red lipstick and a simple black dress” to design a journalism website. Yikes. Readers are complaining at a 200:1 ratio, and their response is that “we hope you will come to love it.” Not if I quit reading it.

The Agonist has some really interesting points of view, but it requires registration in order to comment, and registration is closed to new members. It gets a little tiresome to read discussions held by an elite membership that one is not permitted to join.

So I’m exploring “blogrolls” to find new sources, and having a little bit of success, but suggestions are welcome. What are you reading, and why?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Climate Change?

Since all of the climate change advocates were triumphantly crowing about the warm winter as proof of climate change, does this prove that the planet is not warming after all? Just asking.

It IS Obama's Debt

Obama supporters, Paul Krugman leading the charge, are claiming that the situation in which we find ourselves has nothing to do with him because he has been “confronted both with a very bad economy and with complete political obstruction.” Poor little victim, sitting in the White House, wringing his hands and powerless to affect his own destiny.

The debt is not his fault because the problem has to do with a poor economy. It’s not spending that’s too high, or taxes that have been reduced too much, both of those things were done by Republicans, it’s merely that the economy crashed and the GDP is too low.

Wait. President Obama extended the “Bush tax cuts” for two years. That was not something forced upon him by an obstructionist Congress, that was an agreement that he entered into before the bill was even written, let alone passed by Congress.

President Obama proudly proclaimed in a recent campaign speech, “I’ve cut taxes for small businesses seventeen times.” That’s one reason why no one should vote for him; seventeen business tax cuts in less than three years is insane fiscal policy.

Oh, yes, and about that federal debt; two years of renewed “Bush tax cuts,” seventeen additional business tax cuts, and two years of payroll tax cuts for individuals did not add to the debt? If you think so I have a bridge I want to talk to you about.

Racing Strangeness

Dale Earnhardt Junior, who has never won a championship and has not won a single race in several years, drives for the same team as Jeff Gordon, with four championships and two wins last year, and Jimmie Johnson, with five championships and several wins last year. Junior, nonetheless, said at a press conference last week that he is the best driver on the team. His basis for claiming that is unclear.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Toxic Smoke

It is a well known fact that conservatives lie about facts to make their leaders look good, and that progressive/liberals never do that. Which makes it difficult to explain why, when Nancy Pelosi’s office put out this chart last year the left wing so enthusiastically embraced it even though on the face of it, it had to be misleading.

Pelosi's Chart
For one thing, it compares performance between Obama’s (then) two years in office to the eight years that George Bush was in office, which is an invalid comparison on the face of it. Further, the chart is based on “public debt,” which excludes amounts held by Social Security and such, instead of the more commonly used, and more accurate “gross debt” which includes all federal debt.

The original chart released by Pelosi’s office last year showed Obama’s percentage at 35%, and was immediately debunked by fact checkers, but instead of correcting it Obama supporters are now circulating a newer one, and circulating it very widely, which shows him increasing the debt by a mere 16%, which is certainly impressive, and obviously false.

Paul Krugman says that the amount of debt a nation has is irrelevant, that what matters is the ratio between a nation’s debt and its GDP. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Obama supporters universally accept Paul Krugman as the font of all knowledge on matters economic and financial, so we’ll go with that. That being the case, what matters is the degree to which each president raised that ratio, that is which one increased the debt as a percentage of GDP. No one seems to have prepared a chart for that, and when I did so I discovered why. Oops.

My Chart
And, it should be pointed out, Obama did that in a mere three years, while it took George W. Bush a full eight years to accomplish barely more than half as much damage. Yes, Obama's percentage is high because, due to the recession, the GDP is low, but you cannot use an argument only when it suits you. Either the debt is important as a percentage of GDP, or it is not. And the GDP did not shrink, at least not enough to matter, it just did not grow enough to "drown out" the increase in debt.

And note that Obama does not talk about reducing the deficit by increasing the GDP. He talks about cutting spending and raising taxes on the rich. If low GDP is the problem, he needs to say so, and address his plans in terms of increasing the GDP. He is not doing that.

And, this is all nonsense anyway, of course because the federal debt is far from being our biggest problem at the moment, and solving it should be at or near the bottom of the list of our priorities. But if we are going to blow all this smoke into the air by way of distraction, let’s at least make sure that it isn’t toxic smoke.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

This Is My Cat

Molly

Worst Salesmanship Ever

In about 1970 I left the factory floor to embark on a brief sales career for the same company, a large steel company in Milwaukee. I was pretty good at it, not great, but I liked the production environment a lot better and was back in the plant after a few years. It was, however, a valuable experience and I’m glad I did it.

A couple of things that my mentor taught me had to do with my attitude about competitors. For one thing he was adamant that I never sell my own company by means of criticizing our competitors. He said that doing so made me look weak and my company look ineffective. The people who sell that way, he told me, come across to the buyer as having no confidence in their own products and services. “You talk,” he said, “about what we have to offer, and never about how bad the other guy is.”

The other thing was more internal, and was about respecting ones competitors. “It is they,” he would say, “who require us to be as good as we are.” If we had bad competitors we could ship junk, but because we had good competitors, then we have to always strive for excellence. As a result we can take pride in what we do.

I have never forgotten that lesson, and I try to let it guide my personal life as well as my business and political pursuits.

When I look at the political arena, and particularly the liberal side of that arena, I am struck by how that guidance seems to be so desperately missing. The commentary from the left is almost entirely about how bad the opposition is; about the need to vote for Obama not because of any good that he will do, but because it is necessary for him to win to prevent the world-ending horror of a win by the other side.

Indeed, it is such utter horror of the opposition that permits Obama to engage in such illiberal governance and retain to support of his liberal base. Romney accuses him of “blocking offshore drilling,” and Obama loyalists immediately respond with a defense that he has opened up vast areas for offshore drilling. What? If a Republican had “opened up vast areas for offshore drilling” Democrats would be horrified, but here they are using that in defense of their adored heroic leader.

Nora O’Donnel said on CBS News the other night something to the effect that Republicans are united in their desire to oust Obama and are voting against him, while Democrats are voting for Obama. Yet, the rhetoric in left wing discussion, while being that “we have to vote for Obama,” offers no reasons for doing so other than to keep “the other side” from winning.

IRS Follies, Part 2

Well, I have to take back everything I implied about the IRS a few days back, and add a “well done” for my credit union. It turns out that the problem was the tax guy put the wrong bank account number on our tax return. So the IRS advisory that they were “unable to locate” our account was valid.

I was thrown off by the fact that our state income tax refund was deposited, which is where kudos are due to our credit union. A lady there informed me that when no account is found for federal or state transactions they take the additional step of matching by Social Security number, and thus were able to credit our account for the state refund.

She agreed that a request for account verification might not receive that step, and that it might not even be accompanied by a SSN, but told me that the debit for our federal tax payment would have been processed based on SSN, even with the wrong account number. She checked and verified that no such debit had been presented.

So apparently, having been told the account was invalid, the IRS did not process the electronic payment. Can’t fault them for that, but the irony is that if they had been less thorough, had they merely processed the debit without first verifying the account, the tax payment would have been processed without any problem. Sigh.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fear Mongerer In Chief

After hyperventilating about the immediate imminence of war with Iran a few weeks ago, which the Pentagon and Obama Administration had to rather frantically dial back on, Leon Panetta is now saying that we are, “within an inch of war almost every day” in the region around North Korea. He did not specify who we would be at war with, presumably North Korea, unless it would be China, but with Panetta you never know; he might be intending to attack South Korea.

I can’t wait to see who will be appointed to dial that one back.

He went on to say that, "I think it’s pretty clear that this administration took a firm stand with regards to the provocative behavior that North Korea has engaged in … we have made very clear to them that they should not take any additional provocative actions.”

Indeed we did. We withheld 240,000 tons of food that we had scheduled for delivery to feed their starving population. I guess that will show them. Your government fires a rocket to launch a weather satellite and we will by God make sure that your people starve. Makes perfect sense to Leon Panetta.

The mere sight of that man, even when he isn’t speaking, really annoys me. George Bush annoyed me, as did Dick Cheney, but I would have been able to greet either one of them respectfully. President Obama’s policies annoy the hell out of me, but I find him personally quite charming and would consider it an honor to shake his hand. I love our VP to death, even though he voted for bankruptcy reform, and would vote for him in a heartbeat. I’d avoid Tim Geithner if I could, but I could be civil to him if I had to.

Barbara Boxer; well, I’d probably call her “Ma’am” just to piss her off, but I’d do it respectfully. Yes, you can piss someone off respectfully. I learned how to do that in the Navy; mastered the art, in fact.

But Leon Panetta… Well, to paraphrase Ted Nugent, if I were put in a room with that man I would probably wind up dead or in jail because I absolutely would not be able to resist walking up to him and just clocking him.

Point Of View

I read a piece by AP yesterday which painted a glowing picture of a growing economy based on the increasing profits of railroads; to be specific two railroads, Union Pacific and CSX. It did not mention profitability of any other railroads and my eye caught the phrase that, “both [railroads] were able to increase rates enough to offset a decline in coal shipments,” which reminded me that profits don’t necessarily mean growth.

So I went looking for tonnage shipped on railroads, which would be a far better measure of growth, since it would not be affected by inflation or pricing consideration. If you are shipping a higher tonnage then more goods are being sold.

Sure enough, from the Global Economic Intersection I found that, “Week 11 of 2012 ending 17 March 2012 shows rail traffic continued to contract over 2011 levels according to data released by the American Association of Railroads.” That’s based on tonnage.

Part of that was coal, which has to do with a mild winter, but there is still “concern,” and the picture painted by the ton-miles of freight hauled is certainly not as rosy as AP painted in their article based on profits. There might be a lesson there, but I doubt that anyone will learn it.

Update, Saturday morning: That "reduction is about coal, which has to do with a mild winter" has been bugging me. That assumption seems a little glib to me. How much coal is used for heating today? I would guess pretty much none. Coal is used for generating electricity. How much electricity is used for heating? I would guess, not a whole hell of a lot. I'm not sure how valid that "mild winter" theory is.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Different Breed Of Cat

A few financial writers are beginning to get the idea that this economic crisis is different that the ones that have preceded it. Paul Krugman is not one of those, of course, as he continues to compare this one to the Great Depression of the 1930’s, urge that we use the same measures that did not work for that one, since he isn’t recommending another world war, and claim that we can run up debts and magically erase them by GDP growth just as we did after World War Two.

Others, like Edward Luce, recognize that this one is different but see no cause for alarm in that, as described in a recent article in Foreign Policy titled "A Nation Of Spoiled Brats." Don’t let the title keep you from reading it because, though he does talk about the American public, I found nothing in the article to justify that rather odd title. He does talk a bit, and quite interestingly, about the “decline” of this country.

He admits that we certainly have not declined militarily, for whatever that’s worth, but points out that despite Obama’s claim to the contrary in his most recent State of the Union we have declined in our relative economic standing in the world, from 31% of the world’s economy in 2000, to 23.5% in 2010. That’s a pretty sizeable drop.

Then he puts on his rose colored glasses and says that’s actually a good thing, comparing it to the Industrial Revolution in the 1750’s, because the whole world’s economy is growing, he says, and the rest of the world is simply growing a bit faster than we are. Oh, God, he sounds like Paul Krugman. “We did it in 1750, so we can do it again in 2012.” Um, the world changed a little bit between 1750 and 2012.

He and Paul Krugman both assume that because a car can get from 0-60mph in 12 seconds, then it can get from 60-120mph in the next 12 seconds. News flash; the car may not be able to get to 120mph at all.

Yes, this recession is different; it's the result of a changing world, called globalization. We have enjoyed an awesome standard of living for about five decades now, the envy of most of the world. We have assumed that when the rest of the world could, they would bring their standard of living up to match ours. Not going to happen, because the world does not have enough resources for that to happen. The standard of living is going to become more equal on a worldwide basis, but as it does, as the rest of the world rises, we are going to decline.

We have to face the facts of life. The world has changed, and rather than complaining and trying to bring the old one back, we should be finding ways to make the new one work better. We could do that if we tried, we're pretty good at stuff like that, really, but we're not even trying.

Hysterical Denial

Regarding the title, hysterical as in me rolling on the floor laughing my ass off. On Tuesday I wrote about a group that temporarily banned me as a “Romney defending troll” for correcting a writer who misquoted a CBS News article's response regarding a Romney quote. Last night CBS News released a poll showing a dead heat between Romney and Obama in the general election, and that same group has gone completely nuts.

They have been writing smug articles for months about how Republicans were so totally fubar that Obama would win the election in a runaway, and citing polls which showed him with huge leads. Now they are ranting about the atrocious way that CBS News and polls in general are heinous liars, how Republicans steal elections, the atrocious ways in which Republicans deny Democratic voters access to the polls… Sheer panic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Paul Krugman: Liberal Hero?

Paul Krugman is the hero of the progressive movement, advocate of liberal spending, preservationist of the middle class, etc. He also wants the Fed to go for an inflation rate of 4-5% because that “lowers the effective debt” and reduces the cost that the nation will have to pay for all of the borrowing that it has been doing. Nice theory.

What inflation does is reward debt, Krugman’s plan, and punish savings, which Krugman carefully omits mentioning in his plan. Here are the ones who benefit from inflation:
legislators and politicians who ran up the national debt
Wall Street bankers and financial institutions
stockbrokers and major stock market investors

Here are the people who are punished by inflation, even minor inflation:
anyone who works for wages
people on fixed income, such as Social Security
anyone saving money for retirement

So, let’s see now; tell me again how, with his calls for 4-5% inflation, Paul Krugman should be considered as a hero for the middle class and the “little guy,” because I’m not seeing it.

Obama's "Plan C" On Oil

First President Obama told us that removing the 5% of the world’s oil supply that was provided by Iran with his “sanctions,” which are for the purpose of stopping Iran from doing something that it isn’t doing anyway, would not affect the price of oil. We all know how that turned out.

So then he went on a campaign against the oil companies and a plan to take away their subsidies because “they are doing very well” with their “record profits” and certainly don’t need those subsidies. Somehow it seems to have gotten through to people that if you raise the cost of doing business for oil companies by raising their tax rates, the price of gasoline is probably not going to go down, because he has had to drop that plan.

So now he’s on “Plan C” which has to do with speculators.

"We can't afford a situation where some speculators can reap millions while millions of American families get the short end of the stick," Obama said in brief remarks in the Rose Garden on Tuesday. "That's not the way the market should work."

Well, perhaps so, but throwing $700 billion at banks who can’t pay off their debts is not the way the market should work, either. Taking the assets and customers of small banks that have gone broke and giving them to big banks which are propped up with government money, making “too big to fail” even bigger, is not the way the market should work. Throwing money at auto manufacturers who have gone bankrupt as a result of their own stupidity is not the way the market should work. Having interest rates set at essentially zero by the Fed for several years is for damn sure not the way the market should work.

The man spends his first three years in office short circuiting and corrupting normal market functionality, and now that it’s reelection time he gets all concerned about "the way the market should work." Fabulous.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Food For Thought

I have written several times about Obama’s fear mongering, and Greenwald included that as a signifigant part of a speech he made in Canada the other day. You can watch the entire thing, and it’s worth an hour of your time. Glenn is an elegant speaker, and his subject is important.
video

Near the end he describes the conditions under which Bradley Manning has been held and asks why that would be done, then provides what he believes is the explanation.

Is he right? I don’t know, maybe he’s being a little bit hyperbolic, but it’s food for thought.

One of his points is that the climate of fear can be created without people knowing that it exists, simply by people thinking that they do not want to challenge government and therefor do not recognize that they are afraid to. He quotes a saying that, "Those who do not move do not feel their chains."

Maybe we should move from time to time, if for no reason other than to test for chains.

Uncritical Support

In a general sense, while I disagree with Republican principles today, I have more respect for them as a group than I do for Democrats, again, as a group. Individuals are a different matter, of course.

The Republican party adheres to its principles to the point that if an elected Republican legislator violates those principles they will vote him out of office, even at the cost of losing that seat to the other party. Their view is long term. They consider their principles of governance more important than winning individual elections or even than the short term goal of controlling government for any particular period of time.

Democrats not so much. They are all about winning elections and short term, immediate control, and they aren’t too fussy about their legislator maintaining adherence to any set of principles in order to do that. I cannot count the number of times I have seen Liberals/Progressives saying that someone is not upholding their standards but that “we have to hold our noses and vote for him” because otherwise the “other side” might win.

Democratic supporters are simply unwilling to hear anything that is critical of their guy or that is remotely supportive of the guy on the “other side.”

For example; at a blog called Democratic Underground I responded to a post bashing Romney for claiming that “since Obama took office 94% of jobs lost have been lost by women” wherein the writer said that the statement was a lie and that the true number was 38% according, the writer said, to CBS News. My response was that CBS News actually reported that they had checked Romney’s statement and found it to be true, and that they then added that since the beginning of the recession the number was that 38% of jobs were lost by women.

I received a message that my post, which contained a completely accurate quote from CBS News, was deleted by a “Jury of DU members” because I was considered to be a “Romney defending troll,” despite the fact that I had prefaced my comment with, “I have no use for Romney, but…” So, like most Obama devotees, they do not want objective facts, they only want hyperbole which agrees with their preconceived ideology.

The penalty for “defending Romney” (actually defending truth) was that, “You will no longer be able to participate in this discussion thread, and you will not be able to start a new discussion thread in this forum until 8:17 AM. This hidden post has been added to your Transparency page.” I am, you can be assured, devastated.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Who's Getting Rich?

Just five companies, Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Google, and Pfizer, now hold nearly one-quarter of all corporate cash; more than a quarter-trillion dollars.

How many of those are oil companies, which are Obama's "bad guys du jour?" None. How many are health insurance companies. Same number, none. How many are banks or financial service companies? Oh wow, none. How many are health care providers? One. Four of them have to do with computers and/or software, which nobody regards as "bad guys."

How many are being targeted by "Occupy Wall Street?" None.

The "Lesser Evil" Is Insufficient

I was asked the other day why, when I claim to consistently vote Democrat, do I tend to write posts on my blog which are critical of Democrats and not Republicans. The answer, dear reader, is that I criticize Democrats because I voted for them.

I have no expectations of Republicans. I know who they are, which is why I don’t vote for them. I do have expectations of Democrats. I voted for them based on their promises to exercise a certain type of leadership, and when they fail to do that I call them out on it.

Obama, for instance, claimed to be against “stupid wars,” and now he has us in this upscaled quagmire in Afghanistan for the expressed purpose of “denying them space in which to plan their attacks.” Could anything be stupider than that? Of course I’m going to criticize him for that. There is no point in criticizing Republicans for wars. You might as well criticize a fish for swimming. Wars are what Republicans do, and that’s part of why I don’t vote for them.

Obama promised “health care reform” and we got a lot of rhetoric about “bending the cost curve” and a massive program that requires everyone to purchase health insurance. Defenders point out that, “Oh, but it provides for community clinics.” Yes, it does, and Mussolini made the trains run on time. The bill still requires everyone to purchase health insurance and does not adequately regulate the cost of that insurance.

The point is that I don’t expect the other side to do the right thing. I do expect my side to do the right thing, and when they don’t I’m going to express my displeasure with them about it. Complaining about what the other side does is an exercise in mental masturbation; it feels good, but it serves no constructive purpose.

If enough people were sufficiently critical of our present Democratic leadership, we might find that leadership challenged by better quality leaders. Instead, we slavishly support this batch of corporatist panderers because they are the “lesser evil” and we wind up with a government which consistently acts against the best interest of the people it governs.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

More Bogus Arguments

A post the other day at Jonathan Turley, written by a “guest blogger” reports that the very first Congress in 1790 passed a law requiring that ships buy medical insurance for their seaman, and in 1798 passed a law requiring seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves, and wonders why these laws were not argued in defending the individual mandate in Obama’s “health care reform” law. I must admit that I’m having a little bit of fun shooting these ducks sitting in these barrels.

One: the first was a law requiring employers to insure their employees, which is not even remotely the same as requiring individuals to insure themselves, merely because both laws are about insurance. Two: the fact that Congress passed a law is irrelevant in arguing a case in court. If either law had been challenged and upheld in court, then the court’s ruling on that law would be a valid argument; any law itself is not, because the cited law itself could be unconstitutional if no court had ever ruled on it.

He goes on to cite the law requiring every man to own a firearm, and says that is not a mandate to purchase a product because the firearm could be a gift, inheritance or could be borrowed. Likewise the health insurance required by the ACA could be a gift or be provided on a parent’s policy and is therefor not a purchase mandate. Oh please. In either case, someone had to purchase the damned insurance.

I’m not saying whether the mandate is or is not constitutional, I do not know, but these arguments are getting more and more lame.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Getting Greedy,and Stupid

I have not joined in on the hyperventilating about the San Onofre nuclear power station because the only known fact is that it is shut down due to unexplained wear in the tubing of its primary heat exchanger. That is the device similar to a giant radiator that transfers heat from the water cooling the reactor to the water which becomes steam to drive the generators.

The thing that’s interesting about the wear, and which struck me when the problem was first reported, is that there are no moving parts in this device. It’s pretty much like your car’s radiator, just tubes with water on both sides, so wear should not be an issue. The pressurized water inside the tubes is very hot and at very high pressure, so it could be a bit “erosive,” but that did not seem to be the issue.

My thought was that there might be a problem with the metal from which the tubes were made; that it might be the wrong alloy, not be tempered properly, or have inclusions of some sort. As time went on with no report those issues seemed unlikely, because they are pretty easy to evaluate.

Now we find out that the new heat exchangers were redesigned to increase the number of tubes from 9,350 to 9,727 and that doing so “required the removal of supporting cylinder designed to prevent vibrations.” The report also says that the wear is not caused by water flowing through the tubes, as earlier reports have implied, but is caused by the tubes rubbing against each other and against support structures.

It seems pretty clear that these heat exchangers will need to be replaced, and that they will need to be redesigned; probably returned back to the original design, which worked very efficiently and lasted for thirty years.

I have been supportive of the nuclear power industry and the NRC, at least as it relates to the use of pressurized water reactors. I opposed the boiling water reactor design, the type that failed so disastrously in Japan, when it was first proposed and I think the ones still in use should be shut down. I have believed, however, that the PWR is an acceptably safe design and that the NRC does a reasonable job of maintaining safe operating standards. Given this report, though, I may have to rethink that.

The engineers made a redesign on this heat exchanger, and the NRC approved that redesign, which removed a “supporting cylinder designed to prevent vibrations” in order to add tubes which added a mere 4% to it’s heat transfer capability. To risk increased vibration, a risk which obviously was a very real one, for such a small return strikes me as sheer stupidity. If this is the caliber of our new generation of nuclear engineers, and if the NRC is either of equally low caliber or is so inattentive that they failed to notice, then I may have to join the ranks of those who oppose nuclear energy in its entirety.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dumber Than Politicians

I have finally found someone whose jackassery exceeds that of politicians; NFL football players, who are asserting that the NFL should not punish players involved in the “bounty program” with as much severity as it punished coaches and ownership, because… Well the “because” part is gibberish. At the risk of being impolitic, I think these guys have had their bells rung a few times too many.

One reason given is that players “now really know that the NFL will not tolerate this.” Oh, please. As the moderator pointed out, how do they “really know” that if the NFL does not punish them severely? More to the point, if the NFL does not severely punish the player participants, then the NFL actually will be tolerating this behavior.

Then one bonehead suggests that suspensions for coaches are okay because “their careers last for decades,” but suspensions for players would be unfair because a player’s career “is only ten or twelve years long.” Again two points refute this supremely silly argument.

First is that a player’s career is that short due to physical abuse received while playing. If he is suspended he is not playing, so his career is not shortened, it is merely delayed. If he had ten years of playing time left, he will still have ten years playing time left, it merely will be the years spanning 2013-2023 instead of 2012-2022.

Secondly is that if a player is suspended that is not result of some cruel treatment being imposed by the league, it is the result of the player indulging in illegal behavior. The way to avoid losing a year’s playing time is not to commit crimes.

These boneheads are suggesting, in effect, that if I were to hire someone to murder my ex-wife then I should be imprisoned for life for hiring the killer, but the person who committed the actual killing should get a slap on the wrist. Perhaps professional killers have shorter careers than computer programmers, or some such nonsense.

The NFL established a great deal of credibility with its reaction to the exposure of the Saints’ bounty program, now it remains to be seen whether the Players Association will be able to do the same. For the sake of the game I hope they do better than the two clowns who were on ESPN today.

Bits and Pieces

Obama’s “Buffett Tax,” otherwise known as “tax the rich,” will apparently raise $50 billion in 10 years. That is $5 billion per year to work on a deficit of $1.3 trillion, so it solves about 0.4% of our deficit. The man is a really big thinker, isn’t he? Now what’s his plan for the other 99.6% of the deficit?

North Korea was “warned not to proceed” with their rocket launch, but went ahead and did it anyway. That’s freedom loving America for you; we “warn” other nations about what they can and can’t do. When they don’t obey us, we withhold 250,000 tons of food from them. Follow our orders or starve to death. Way to go America; I am so proud.

It is fascinating how the same people who were saying last winter that cold weather does not disprove global warming are saying this winter that warm weather does prove global warming. One would think that weather is either proof or it is not proof, but I guess it depends which side of the issue you are trying to prove.

Democrats abhor deregulation, denounce Republicans for engaging in deregulation, take great pride in purported re-regulation in the form of the Dodd-Frank bill, and then in an election year pass a major deregulation bill and call it the “Jobs Act.” Republicans, meanwhile, fulminate about the horrors of Obamacare and then nominate a presidential candidate who instigated that exact same program in his state as governor.

I guess both parties think that espousing both extremes simultaneously will secure the “center” votes. They may be right; it did for Bush. He was a “born again Christian,” he tortured people and espoused wars of choice, and he got reelected.

Update: I'm reminded of a movie titled "Operation Petticoat" about a submarine in World War Two. They needed to repaint it, but had neither enouth red lead for the base coat nor enough white lead, so they mixed them together, which is sort of what the potlitical parties are doing these days. The outcome in the movie was not pretty, unless you consider a pink warship pretty. The Chief Of The Boat was not happy.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Dangerous Mess In Syria

John McCain and Joe Lieberman are grandstanding in Turkey, visiting Syrian refugee camps and urging that the US engage in yet another war of choice in the Middle East to secure “freedom and democracy” for the people of this “embattled country.” He did not quite go so far as to declare, as he did during the Russia-Georgia conflict, that “We are all Syrians now,” probably because, unlike the Georgian people, Syrians are not Caucasian. A politician cannot run around saying that he is a “raghead” after all. The man is insane, but he’s not stupid.

He did admit that such a war might not be popular at home, at least initially, but, in a sort of backhanded compliment to our current President, he said that he thought Obama could sell the idea if he tried. His precise quote was, “Americans are war weary, but presidents lead. If the president of the U.S. tells the American people about this slaughter, I am confident the American people will support stopping it.”

I’m not sure if failing to capitalize Mr. Obama’s title in that quotation was his error, a deliberate insult on his part, or an oversight by CBS News. Anyway, while saying that he thought Obama could sell such a war, which is a compliment, McCain was also criticizing him for not doing it, so he was staying fairly true to form.

Actually CBS News is telling the American people about “this slaughter” every night, but it is not selling very well at all, so McCain’s supposition might be something of a pipe dream. The people of this country might welcome another war in the Middle East about as much as they would welcome an outbreak of Bubonic Plague.

And presenting it as a “slaughter” perpetrated by an unsupported Asad regime is more than a little bit inaccurate, to boot. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Libya, which is an adventure that did not turn out at all well for anyone. Eric Margolis has a superb presentation on the reality of what is actually a full blown civil war in Syria, and points out that, “important sections of the armed forces, the 17 intelligence and security agencies, the powerful Alawai minority, most Syrian Christians, tribal elements and much of the commercial middle and upper class still back the Asads.”

He goes on to tell us that the rebel forces include a variety of hugely unsavory groups which we profess to abhor, including those which we are busily killing with drones pretty much everywhere except Syria.

As usual, our leadership is cheering for “regime change” in Syria and, as usual, the accomplishment of that goal would almost certainly further destabilize the Middle East; something which we have developed into an art form.

Good Question For PETA

If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Predictive Policing

CBS News did a piece this evening on an "innovative" procedure recently implemented (last November) by the Los Angeles Police Department whereby they use a computer to analyze crime patterns to predict where crime will occur, so that they can shift police patrols in order to prevent crime rather than merely catching miscreants after they do the deed.

I could not help but start laughing out loud as the piece was presented, because the San Diego Police Department has been doing that for the better part of a decade. Our little backwoods city is sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of metropolitan areas; we don't get no respect.

Food Blogging: Chicken Serrano

Serrano Chile
2 ea boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 tbsp Taco Sauce
2 tsp Chili powder
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Zucchini squash
Green beans
“Baby” carrots
Red bell pepper
Sweet onion
Chinese peas
Etc, whatever vegetables you like.
1 Green Serrano Chile (pictured)
more garlic, crushed
Oregano
Thyme

Mix Taco sauce, chili powder and garlic. Cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Put chicken and sauce into a zip-lock bag, squeeze out the air and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

The vegetables listed are just a suggestion; use whatever ones you like. Prepare all of the vegetables to be sauted in a skillet. Slice the carrots in half lengthwise. Slice the Serrano chile lengthwise and strip the seeds, get rid of the stem end, then dice it very fine.

Put a skillet on over fairly high heat. Add olive oil and crushed garlic, and start with the vegetables that take longer to cook, like the green beans and carrots. When they’ve gotten a start, add the chicken. Once it’s about half cooked, add the rest of the vegetables, the herbs and the diced Serrano chile. Toss and stir frequently while it finishes cooking.

You won't really taste the chili, but you'll know it's there. It produces a subtle "kick" that is sort of an undercurrent in the dish. Lovely. The produce worker at Albertson's gave me that tip.

More Scapegoating

A friend suggested a topic for me to write on, which I will at some point, and she added that I should use her suggestion "if you ever get tired of bashing Obama." Not sure when that point will be reached, since he keeps giving me new material and/or recycling old material.

He has returned to his "tax the rich" meme with his latest campaign rhetoric of demanding that Congress pass the "Buffett rule," something that it will do about the same time that hell freezes over. It shows, for one thing, that he has divorced his campaign completely from governance, and that until after the election we have no President, we have a presidential candidate in the White House. There's nothing unusual about that, of course, it happens about every eight years. It does shoot down any last traces of the idea that this guy was going to be "different."

This is also another of his scapegoating tactics which has become a trademark of his, much as it was with FDR, although he is much more timid in his approach and squeaks about "fairness" rather than actually "taking them on." Fairness is usually an issue for six years olds, and most people have outgrown that complaint by the time they reach adulthood, but... I have noticed that alcoholics who stopped drinking last Wednesday complain that "It's not fair" a lot, but then they too have quite a bit in common with babies.

FDR said things like "I welcome their hatred," while Obama says that taxing them more would be "fair," that they actually want to be taxed more, and pleads with Congress to throw Brer Rabbit in the brier patch.

So, at the moment the tax rates, which he extended for two years, are "unfair" because they favor rich people. Two weeks ago the enemy was the oil companies who were charging high prices for gasoline merely because they could get away with it and wanted to continue to rake in their outrageous 7% profit margins. Well, he left out the 7% part, of course, and substituted the phrase "record profits." During the "health care reform" debate it was the evil and greedy health insurance companies, who he nonetheless insisted everyone should purchase insurance from.

And, of course it's the Republicans who cut taxes all the time, which is a disastrous policy leading to massive deficits in the federal budget. Until he says to the Associated Press, "I cut taxes for small businesses 17 times," so apparently it's only Republican tax cuts that lead to deficits.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

IRS Follies

Last year when we filed our 2010 taxes we owed money. The tax preparer told us of a easy peasy new process whereby he would file electronically for us and on April 15th the IRS would deduct the amount owed from our checking account. He said that this is the method preferred and urged by the IRS. Of course it is.

So on April 7th we get a letter from the IRS saying that in preparation for deducting the money they had made an effort to verify our account and were unable to do so. For "our convenience" they included a payment voucher so that we could forward payment by check, since they would be unable to deduct the payment from the account which they were unable to access. I wrote and mailed a check, which they deposited.

Then, of course, on April 15th they went ahead and deducted the payment from our checking account. Why did I not see that coming?

Yes, from the account which they had been unable to access. So now we had paid our income tax twice. I am perfectly happy to pay my taxes, but I am not particularly happy to pay them twice. So I contacted the IRS, who were very friendly and pleasant, were totally unable to explain anything, and could not comprehend my explanation about having paid twice. They kept asking, in fact, why in the world I had paid twice. They did, finally, refund the extra payment.

So this year we owed money and our tax preparer assures us that he has straightened everything out. He files the electronic thing and tells us that on April 17th the IRS will deduct the payment from our checking account.

Guess what came in the mail today from the IRS. Yes indeed; "We are unable to access your bank account," and a payment voucher so that we can pay by check. Oh boy, here we go again.

Inflating Another Bubble

The “Jumpstart Our Business Startups” (JOBS, isn’t that cute?) Act is now signed into law, so Obama now has another stunning item of inconsistency on his track record. After spending five years castigating Republicans for deregulation, he champions and signs a major bill deregulating the formation of publicly traded businesses in the capital market. Whether or not this headless turkey of a bill will succeed in actually inflating another economic bubble remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a valiant effort.

The Act goes into effect after 270 days, during which the SEC is charged with “implementing additional regulations.” Shades of the “Consumer Financial Protection Agency” which Congress was so concerned about that they passed it by name only and charged it with creating its own regulations. Obama is upset about “unelected judges overturning laws,” but neither he or Congress seem concerned about unelected bureaucrats defining the regulations under which businesses and citizens will function.

Some Congress critter was criticized by a constituent over the CFPA and retorted by saying that, “What do you expect us to do, write a bill that’s over a thousand pages?” Well, actually, yes. How many pages did you write for “health care reform,” dimwit?

Relieving a new company from financial disclosure requirements before startup and for five years after startup certainly does make it easier for new companies to enter the capital formation market, meaning to issue stock and sell it in the stock market. And I am finding it hard to breathe even as I type those words, horrified by the idea that investors are being deprived of the protection of strict financial disclosure laws. This came from a Democratic Senate and was signed by a Democratic President.

It also embraces the Internet as a major player in the funding activity for new businesses. Seriously, the Internet. One out of three cases on television judge shows are people who bought stuff on the Internet which turned out to be other than as advertised, or met people on the Internet who turned out to be bums. I have bought four things on the Internet, and three of them were rip-offs. The only thing that reliably makes any money on the Internet is pornography and scams.

Matt Taibbi says that the Act “will very nearly legalize fraud in the stock market.” I think that I disagree with the “very nearly” part of that. Read his whole take down on this bill; it’s good reading.

Forbes rather likes the act, but gives very little factual basis for that liking. It says that an amendment was added in the House to “protect crowdfund investors,” but doesn’t say what that protection consisted of, nor whether it survived into the final bill. It quotes the founder of a “social networking platform for entrepreneurs” (oh boy) as saying that the bill, “will make funding more accessible for startups by allowing non-accredited investors to participate.” That’s exactly what we need, more “non-accredited” participants in our capital markets.

As Judge Judy said just a day or so ago, they definitely made a movie about this. Who were the lead actors again? Oh yes, Dumb and Dumber.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Lazy Blogging

For some people I guess blogging is too much work; or at least the "original thought" part is. More and more I see blogs with posts that consist of huge chunks of quotations from other sources and one or two sentences which amount to little if any more than "I agree with this." There is a need to post multiple times daily to generate web traffic, but actually writing is hard work, so they take the "cut and paste" route to generate posts without having the actually think or spend time composing anything. I'm tempted to name names, but I'll refrain.

The other approach is to have multiple authors. One blog that I used to enjoy has added so many authors that the original author has diminished to merely putting an occasional picture of his pets, while a dozen or more people write multiple posts daily and compete with each other to see who can use the most inflammatory language. That blog does generate a huge amount of traffic, so the approach works, but to what end?

Me, I will just keep plodding along. The title reflects the purpose of my blog, so when there is something on my mind I will express it. Pasting huge chunks of other people's thoughts does not serve that purpose, nor would having other writers come here to generate traffic. I value having you visit, and welcome your comments, but I'm not here to boost my ego by running up a huge count of readers.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Another Promise Is Toast

One of Obama's campaign promises was that he would negotiate with Iran "without preconditions," unlike Bush who would only agree to negotiate with them about their nuclear program if they first discontinued their nuclear program. Now Obama is saying that in order for us to meet with Iran they much not only shut down their nuclear plant, they must dismantle it.

I have never understood the concept that negotiation is based on one party losing the negotiation before it begins but, of course, that has always been Obama's basis for negotiating with Republicans.

False Equivalence

Three times this last week I have seen the argument raised that if Social Security can be upheld by the Supreme Court then so can the ACA be upheld because both programs are ones which require people to provide for their own well being. The argument overlooks the concept that method of accomplishment matters.

I have the right, for instance, to prevent my neighbor from coming onto my property and cutting down my shade tree. If I do that by building a fence which denies him access, all well and good. If I do that by shooting him dead... Well, obviously the law is going to take a dim view of my method of accomplishing a perfectly legal goal.

In upholding Social Security the Supreme Court ruled that the government can require people to provide for their old age. They did not have to rule on the method of doing that, because it had already been established that the government was able to collect taxes. Now the question is whether or not the government can require people to buy a product from privately owned sellers. I don't pretend to know that answer to that, but I do know that it has nothing whatever to do with Social Security.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Candlelight Vigil?

What's wrong with this picture? The Union-Tribune article headline reads, emphasis mine, "Crash victims honored at emotional gathering." Hundreds of teens, apparently, gathered at a "candlelight vigil" to exchange memories of how wonderful these dead kids were.

These "kids" were drunk, which is illegal, and were participating in street racing at speeds in excess of 100 mph, which is also illegal. Their irresponsibility and recklessness cost them their own lives, and risked the lives not only of their friends but of the public at large, endangering the lives of any of thousands of people who happened to be using the public streets upon which they were racing. These are not the first lives lost to this deadly and reckless behavior.

And for this we "honor" them with a candlelight vigil? Seriously? Whoever these kids were and however the event came about, their deaths were the result of criminal behavior, and that should not be "honored" with vigils and soft words.

Ivory Tower Thinking

Paul Krugman is at it again. The problem with these ivory tower thinkers is that they think in terms of what will “help” their fictional “economy,” some arbitrary set of numbers called the “Gross Domestic Product,” rather than how policies will affect the daily lives of men and women who are working and feeding their families. The man is an idiot.

In his column today, Krugman renews his call for the wonderfulness of inflation, asking “would a rise in inflation to 3 percent or even 4 percent be a terrible thing?” and answering his own question with, “On the contrary, it would almost surely help the economy.” He goes on to describe in glowing terms the wondrous benefit it would bestow upon “the economy.”

His first claim is that it is the burden of debt “overhanging consumers” which is restraining them from spending and that, “Modest inflation would, however, reduce that overhang — by eroding the real value of that debt — and help promote the private-sector recovery we need.” Let’s examine the validity of that in the real world.

I would actually question his premise to begin with, as I suspect the major factor keeping consumers from spending has less to do with "debt overhang" than with the fact that they don’t have jobs, or if they do, they have jobs which pay lousy wages. Inflation isn’t going to change that.

There is also the fact that, while inflation diminishes the burden of that debt in theory, it doesn’t do so in actuality unless wages go up and we know from historical fact that wages are not tied to inflation, they are tied to the rate of employment, so without increases in wages the degree of burden of that debt is utterly unchanged.

Finally, since the cost of the daily necessities of life, food, clothes and gas, are more costly when inflation is driving them up and wages are unchanged, the difficulty of paying that debt is greater, so the burden of that debt is actually increased. That’s how full of shit Paul Krugman is.

Then he considers the business environment and opines that because the corporate world is sitting on huge piles of cash that, “the prospect of moderate inflation would make letting the cash just sit there less attractive, acting as a spur to investment.”

Paul is not content to sit in his ivory tower imagining that he can know how a working person lives, he also sits in his ivory tower imaging that he can know how a businessman thinks, and he utterly fails at both endeavors.

Spending money on stuff that you don’t need because you think that your money might be losing 3% of it’s theoretical value would be incredibly stupid business practice. I have cash that is earning me 2% interest but losing value due to 3% inflation, so I’m going to buy some equipment which will be doing nothing for me, earning nothing, but still be losing real value at 3% inflation and book value at 30% depreciation. Brilliant.

The only thing that is going to make businesses invest and hire is if they see indications that the economy is actually recovering and that such spending will result in additional production and profit for them.

The “economy” that Paul Krugman thinks he knows so much about in his little book-lined library is not some theoretical set of numbers, it is men and women working for a living and making daily practical decisions pursuant to that end. He wants to sit there and reward debt and punish savings because that helps his precious numbers, but it has precisely the opposite effect on the flesh and blood workers for whom that debt and those savings are the stuff of life. The retirement savings of millions have been decimated by the recession, and he wants to erode them further by inflation in the name of "helping" his precious "economy."

Paul Krugman is not only an idiot, he is an asshole.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Hello Pot, Meet Kettle

Insane arguments are limited to conservatives, who use them in defense of absurd statements uttered by their leaders in support of batshit crazy tax policies and pursuant to destruction of the American Way of Life. Liberals, on the other hand, are universally logical and accurate in all arguments in support of leadership which makes statements that are always reasoned and completely accurate. Now that we have that established...

I was reading a liberal blog Tuesday, and the subject was President Obama’s statement that it would be a heinous wrong for the Supreme Court to overturn “a law which had been passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” That “strong majority” consisted of 50.3% of the House, and was just one vote away from a filibuster in the Senate, but we’ll ignore that part because liberal leadership never makes absurd statements. Only conservative leadership does that.

I will mention in passing that the President is, at best, breaking protocol rather badly by running around saying that he’s sure the Supreme Court will uphold his law “because they take their job seriously” and such things, because officials of the Justice Department are really not supposed to comment on pending cases before any court. He is the highest official of Justice, commenting on a case pending in the highest court and, as a lawyer himself, and a “constitutional scholar,” he should know better.

Anyway, moving on, one commenter pointed out that the constitution does not grant the Supreme Court the authority to overturn laws passed by Congress, that doing so was a role that “they assumed on their own in the 1800’s,” with the implication that they did so without proper authority. The writer went on to say that Obama was entirely right and that overturning any law passed by Congress would be overstepping the bounds set for the Supreme Court by the constitution.

I am so glad that liberals never make crazy, insane arguments in defense of absurd statements uttered by their leaders.

Indeed, if you read the constitution, Article 3 does not contain the words “overturn laws passed by Congress.” I’m pretty sure the constitutional committee didn’t think those specific words were necessary, though, because they were not writing the damned thing to be read by third graders.

In addition to beginning the enumeration of it’s powers by saying that “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States,” Article 3 goes on to say that judicial power extends “to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party.”

So, if Congress passes a law which infringes upon the rights of individuals then clearly there is a controversy between Congress and individuals whose rights are being infringed, and clearly the United States is a party to that controversy. The Supreme Court is charged specifically by the constitution with resolving that controversy, and what possible remedy does it have to that end, other than by invalidating that law?

Further, and more simply, the constitution says that the Supreme Court has “judicial power” over the “Laws of the United States.” What, exactly, does the writer think that means? Come to think of it, what does President Obama think that means?

The differences in behavior between liberals and conservatives are becoming increasingly difficult to discern.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

More Delusion From Obama

Obama simply must be living in some kind of alternate reality, because his words and actions make no sense whatever in this reality and are, it seems to me, diverging further and further from anything resembling sanity. Liberals accuse the Republican candidates of spouting nonsense, and indeed they do, but they have nothing on Barack Obama.

In saying yesterday that the Supreme Court will uphold his “health care reform” act he went so far as to say that if they did not do so they would be overturning, “a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” The act passed by a vote of 219-212 in the House and barely escaped a filibuster, by a single vote, in the Senate. In what universe does that constitute “a strong majority” of Congress?

And now it turns out that his talk of releasing oil from the Strategic Reserve and saying that “the market has sufficient oil” that removing Iran from the equation would have no effect on prices were not a week apart, he was and is saying both things at the same time; a combination which is orders of magnitude more delusional than either statement alone. It seems that in making the “market adequacy” remark he was factoring in the planned release of oil from the Strategic Reserve.

The amount of oil which can reasonably be released in total from the reserve is equal to about 1% of the amount of oil that Iran ships in one week. To say that we can deprive the market of the ongoing supply of oil from Iran and compensate for that 5% drop in oil flow into the market with a one-time release from the reserve is the babbling of an insane person or a total idiot.

Why does anyone pay any attention to anything this man says?

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Feckless Reform

The San Diego Union Tribune is running a multi-part series on how the homeless are using the emergency rooms as a place for routine medical care, and are clogging up the system and interfering with the hospitals' ability to deliver emergency care. What it shows is how ineffective the basis of the "health care reform," with its focus of making health insurance available for everyone, really is. How many people think that the homeless population is going to sign up for health insurance, regardless of cost?

Obama Weighs In

Well, Obama has finally weighed in on the Supreme Court hearings regarding the ACA, saying yesterday that for the Court to rule against the act would amount to, “judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint - that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” So, in the words of Ian Welsh the other day, I guess this is “the hill he wants to die on.”

The second half of that statement is remarkably silly coming from the mouth of someone who claims to be a constitutional scholar. I make no such claim, but even I know that overturning laws passed by Congress when they are not in accordance with our constitution is precisely the purpose for which the Supreme Court was created. If the Court is not examining and occasionally overturning “duly constituted and passed law” then why do we even have the damned thing?

Obama, the constitutional scholar, has a remarkable inability to grasp the “three equal branches of government” thing. He does not believe that Congress can direct him when to engage in war and when not to do so, and now he believes that the Supreme Court is powerless in the face of any action taken by Congress. What does he think the Supreme Court has been doing for the past 200+ years?

And of course the Obama supporters are cheering wildly that Obama is “fighting back” and is going to do battle for “health care reform” and is going to “run against the court.” All he’s actually doing, of course, is a little bit of feckless name calling, but his loyalists love that sort of thing.

I recall a few years back when Republicans were objecting to various court rulings, gay marriage for instance, and they referred to "activist judges" and "judicial activism" and liberals cried foul. They said that conservatives were just sore losers and that the judges were just doing their jobs, and that the laws were interpreted correctly by these judges.

Now we have Obama saying that if the law that he signed into being is overturned that it would be "judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint" and the response of liberals is to cheer and be delighted that he is going to fight the Supreme Court. Even though he is saying, actually, that the conservatives were right back then in their criticism of the liberal rulings.

What is the difference between the two instances? Why do liberals cry foul at an argument made by the other side and cheer when the same argument is made by their side? Merely because they like the one judicial decision and dislike the other? Isn't that a little bit sanctimonious?

Oh, of course not. It’s because one decision is right, and the other wrong.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Well, That Was Embarrassing

The only way I thought that Kansas might win was if Bill Self convinced his players that this game was sufficiently important that they should actually play defense in the first half, something they have not done all year. Obviously, that did not happen. The announcers tried to create some excitement in the second half, but that was bogus; even though Kansas had finally decided to play defense, they were still hitting only 33% from the field themselves. When you donate 28 points to your opponent by missing 11 layups and 3 dunks, you are not going to win many games. These guys could not reliably hit the basket if it was four feet in diameter.

That was a gritty attempt at a comeback in the second half, but...

Update, Monday morning: They "fought to the end" is all over the sports media. Indeed, but it might have been better had they fought from the beginning. To lie supine and let the opponent run up a 16-point lead before beginning the effort to win the game is just plain stupid.

The JOBS Act

Judge Judy has a saying that asks, “How do you know when a teenaged girl is lying?” and answers herself with, “When her lips are moving.”

A similar principle applies to legislation; how do you know that legislation is bad? When it passes Congress. No bill can ever pass Congress unless it meets with the approval of the people who finance the reelection campaigns of the legislators, and that is not the common voters. They may put nifty little names on the bill, like the “Jumpstart Our Business Startup” Act, which can be abbreviated the “JOBS” Act and advertised for the purpose of creating jobs, but the reality is that it is a massively deregulating bill which will create enormous opportunity for fraud.

Well done, Congress and bipartisanship, well done.

Defending The Mandate

Ian Welsh has an interesting post at his place titled, “Is the individual mandate really the hill progressives want to die on?” You can go read it for yourself; which I recommend because his writing is almost always worth your time. I don’t agree with him entirely, but…

I would not have not brought him to your attention if I did not think he had a point, of course, and a partial answer to his question lies in the apparent fact that I have not heard the subject mentioned even one time in President Obama’s campaign speeches. Biden has opined that the Court is going to uphold the mandate, but that’s Joe Biden. He says a lot of things.

It’s hard to figure out why the Democratic Party as a whole would want to defend something that is viewed with disfavor by 70% of the voters they are wooing. It’s probably more than that, because that's the percentage of total voters, and Obama loyalists probably love the damned thing merely because it was signed into law by Obama. He could sign a bill outlawing apple pie and motherhood and his loyalists would cheer wildly and declaim how wonderful the bill was.

In the comments following that post Ian says that he believes Obama will have a second term, so it seem the progressives are not actually going to “die on that hill,” but how ludicrous is it that Obama’s signal legislative achievement of “health care reform” depends upon a factor that is almost universally unpopular and that is quite possibly unconstitutional?

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The "Limiting Principle"

I have been vastly amused and entertained by the horde of pundits and scribes who have declaimed at length on the “health care reform” discussion in the Supreme Court this past week and have described at length how much better educated on matters of the law they are than the sitting justices of the Supreme Court.

I do not presume to know how the Court should rule on this thing, but even I know that some of the instructions that some of these pundits have issued to the court, telling the Supremes how they should rule, are ridiculous on the face of them. I do understand, for instance, what the justices meant when they asked for the “limiting principle.”

I can’t count how many people I have read who tried to refute Scalia’s “broccoli comparison,” his limiting principle request, and I have yet to see one get it right. Paul Krugman didn’t even really try, merely saying that “broccoli is different than health care.” Well, of course it is, which was Scalia’s point, but in what manner is it different? The court needs that definition, and no one seems able to provide it. At issue is the answer to the principle of precedent; “how can we uphold this law without it becoming a precedent for future laws?”

In layman’s terms, the court needs to be able to be sure that at no point in the future can someone come back and say, “Well you allowed the purchase of health insurance to be mandated, so you must also allow the purchase of this to be mandated.” They need to be able to put into their ruling some language that prevents that eventuality by saying that insurance is a special case because… And no one is giving them that “because.”

Quite a few people have said in effect that, sure, there are lots of things that could be mandated but that Congress is simply not stupid enough to mandate them. Aside from the fact that Congress has clearly illustrated that it is stupid enough to do pretty much anything, the Supreme Court cannot rely on the restraint of Congress. If it could, we would not need the Supreme Court, would we?

In 2000 the Supreme Court ruled on an election in Florida and simply said in the ruling that they were not setting a precedent, without giving in that ruling any rationale as to why that was the case, and in doing that they rather seriously damaged their credibility. Maybe they can simply do the same thing again; saying, in effect that health insurance is special but that we don’t know why? I kind of suspect that they don’t want to do that.