Friday, March 28, 2014

If It's Broken, Don't Fix It

The Los Angeles Times was asking last weekend where the stories were about Obamacare which portrayed good news for people needing health insurance. It pointed out that stories abounded regarding people who had lost their policies because they had been cancelled due to not meeting Obamacare requirements, but it wanted some stories about people for whom Obama he been a benefit rather than a disaster.

And it found one, of course. It’s hardly surprising that it found a couple who had been previously uninsured but which was now able to buy insurance, since that is precisely what Obamacare is designed to do. I’m guessing that they didn’t have to look very far.

The article listed the couple’s medical expenses at $9536 per year, and said that their insurance policy will cost them $4548 in premiums, with a $2000 deductible. That leaves $2988 not paid, and somebody is going to have to pay that money. It is not going to be the insurance company, it is going to be other people who buy policies from that particular insurance company. So this couple has not reduced the cost of their health care, they have shifted $2988 of the payment for that care to someone else.

But, you say, that’s what insurance is all about. Right? No, it’s not. That’s what socialized health care would be about, if we had it, which we should, but we don't. We have insurance, and insurance is about risk.

I have paid for auto insurance for some fifty years, and have never received the first cent in benefits from it, which is why I pay a very low rate. If you have had a wreck you pay a higher rate. If you’ve had a lot of wrecks, you pay a very high rate, and may not be able to get insurance at all. That's how insurance works.

Based on today’s health insurance model, everyone would have the same kind of auto insurance, we would all pay the same premium, and I would be paying for the damage caused by your car wrecks because it would no longer be about risk, it would be about everyone paying the cost regardless of who benefits or who created the need for payment.

Under that scenario there is no incentive for me to drive carefully. I might as well drive recklessly and have a lot of wrecks because I’m going to pay the same regardless of my behavior. I’m going to pay out if you have a wreck.

So, if I buy insurance from the same company that the couple described by the LA Times purchased from, then I am paying for a portion of their health care. If I buy from a different company then I am not. Is that logical?

With today’s mandates Insurance companies cannot know about a person’s health before selling to them and they cannot turn them down. If I buy from a company which gets lucky and sells insurance to a lot of healthy people I will pay a low price for insurance, but if I buy from a company that has the misfortune to sell to a lot of sick people I will pay a high price. On what planet does that make any sense?

But that's actually the plan. It's the whole basis of Obamacare. It is supposedly logical and reasonable that people who don't need health care should pay for it anyway so that people who are using health care will be able to pay less for what they use. They call that "insurance," but it is no more insurance than I am an astronaut. It is making people who don't need to spend money spend money without receiving any benefit for it so that other people can get more benefits for less money. That would be socialism if it were applied generally to society as a whole, but it is not. It is applied piecemeal on a basis of the corporation which one happens to patronize, so that the benefit is not only selective, but is arbitrarily selective.

It is supposedly logical that I should pay out if you have a car wreck.

Instead of “health care reform” actually reforming anything, it merely took a broken system and broadened its application. If what you are doing isn’t working, do more of it. Or do it with greater intensity. But don’t, for God’s sake, think of doing something different.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


lego maniaCBS Evening News ran a piece the other day on how the NFL ran a football camp for high school football players to teach them how to tackle properly. They included "the only person the kids might listen to," the kids' mothers.

The images of mothers flopping through football drills was disturbing in itself, of course. If one of those had been my mother I would have decided to play, I don't know, tennis maybe, or cribbage. Yikes.

But, what has happened to our social structure that "the only person they will listen to" is their mothers? They are not saying that these are kids from broken homes or are underprivileged. They don't hint in any way that fathers are not in the picture, or that if they are not that there's anything remarkable about that. They just imply that it is perfectly natural for mothers to be the most potent image in a young man's life, and I find that disturbing.

That is a trend that has been becoming greater and greater. Football and basketball players have increasingly spoken of their mothers as their support figure. Sometimes that has clearly been due to an absent father, and I get that, but I've seen quite a few where the father has clearly been present but has been in the background as the player speaks about his mother and the role she has played in his life.

I have to tread a bit lightly here, because I did not have a good relationship with my mother, in fact nobody had a good relationship with her, but the person I looked to as a role model and was my teacher and guide was my father, and that would have been the case regardless of how I felt about my mother. That was how boys grew up in my day. In fact any boy whose role model was his mother was destined to lead a pretty miserable life. Today that seems to be the norm, and I'm not sure whether that serves us well or not. I'm inclined to think it does not.

Friday, March 21, 2014


I had my semiannual checkup at the lung doctor yesterday. There's a little machine to blow in which calculates the state of my lungs, and makes me wonder why I need the doctor. They could put the little machine in an ATM-like thing; insert credit card, blow, and take the printout. The doctor smiled and said he'd love to play golf more often, but that he would miss seeing me, which is a sample of why I like him.

One of the things the machine does is calculate the age of my lungs, and it reports that they are now 79 years old. That doesn't mean that my mother delivered my lungs and then nine years later delivered me, which would be a very tricky business indeed; it means my lungs would be consistent with a 79 year old man. This, apparently, a somewhat metaphysical machine which is telling me that I have "79 year old lungs."

It's an improvement, though, because six months ago I had "86 year old lungs," so while I have gotten six months older my lungs have gotten seven years younger. That's a pretty neat trick, and if I can keep that up by the time I'm 80 my lungs will be teenagers. Unfortunately my heart, muscles, brain and a bunch of other things will continue to get older, so that presents a somewhat incongruous picture. Not sure what I'd do with teenaged lungs.

And I don't think that my train of logic is on the right track, anyway.

A friend asked me what I'd done to create the improvement in my lungs and I told him that apparently not dying was sufficient, because I hadn't done anything. I was, six months ago, closer to the tail end of my bout with pneumonia, so it may merely reflect more complete recovery from that.

I left with a nice warm fuzzy feeling about the nice doctor, but today not so much because the sonofabitch gave me a pnuemonia vaccine shot. It felt fine yesterday, but some bastard hit me in the left arm with a baseball bat when I wasn't looking, hit me really hard, and then two Russian mobsters took me out in the front yard while I was asleep and beat my entire body with big sticks.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Competence Abounds

Jimmy Johnson, six time champion, finished 19th yesterday, 2 laps down to the leader, but we cannot fault him for that result. It was due to a decision made by his crew chief, Chad Knaus, who is usually called “God” for short.

During a caution at lap fifty when everyone else took four tires, Jimmy’s car was given only two tires, and they were not put on the right side where tires receive the most wear, but on the left side. It was a weird call, and the announcers were commenting on it but saying, “Well, I’m certainly not going to question Chad Knaus.”

I was thinking at the time, “I’m sure as hell going to question Chad Knaus. Taking two tires is stupid, and taking them on the left side is stupid squared.” Sure enough, about thirty laps after the restart Jimmy had a blowout of his right front tire. By the time he got it changed he was two laps down. Great call Chad, baby.

Jimmy finished one position and one lap behind Danica Patrick, who was 18th, and one lap down to the leader. She did manage one noteworthy feat during the race. Leaving the pits during a caution, she lost control of her car and clobbered another race car which was stationary in its pit stall. To say that was unusual would be a massive understatement.

The race was yellow flagged with two laps remaining, but no one knew why. After the cars had been parading behind the pace car for several laps the yellow flag was still unexplained, but it began raining so they threw the checkered flag, giving the win to Carlo Edwards who had been leading when the yellow came out. It was later discovered that the yellow came out because someone in the flagstand accidentally leaned against the button. Thus the title; competence abounds.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Kind of Democracy?

Jonathan Rauch has a post this month about the difference between “honest corruption” and “dishonest corruption.” I don’t agree with every point which he makes in the piece, but he does touch on the point of the difference between representative democracy and direct democracy, although he doesn’t dwell on it and probably made the point unintentionally when he said,

Reformers, worried about corruption, also put tight limits on direct political contributions to candidates and parties. The result has been to divert money to unaccountable private groups, many of which clobber candidates who take tough votes to support party leaders. Meanwhile, rules requiring deliberations to be public have proved a mixed blessing, because it’s hard to negotiate in earnest while striking ideological postures for TV cameras.

What I take from that is that the founders formed a representative democracy because they knew that a direct democracy was unworkable and we are pretty thoroughly proving that point right now. Instead of electing legislators and allowing them to represent us, we are watching every single issue which comes before Congress and trying to dictate to our representatives how he/she should vote on that particular issue, and then screaming bloody murder when he/she does not do so.

No matter what Congress does, there is always some noisy minority screaming at the top of its lungs about Congress getting it wrong, so Congress responds by doing nothing. That is, of course, an idiotic response to the problem, but

Representative government means we elect our legislators and then we do not hold rallies to tell them how to vote on issues that raise public passion. If that was the proper procedure we would not need the legislators, we could use referendums on issues. At the end of the term we evaluate the legislator and if, on balance, he has performed in accordance with our principles we reelect him/her. If not, we elect someone else. To vote someone out of office based on one single vote which he/she made while in office is utterly absurd.

He/she, him/her, we need another pronoun.

As usual, we place the blame in the wrong place, or at least partly so. We are outraged that Congress accomplishes so little, but it does not occur to us to think that we ourselves might be part of the reason.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Missing The Point, Again

Some fifty years ago when the media was nattering about the new “service economy” my father made a dry comment that, “What the hell? We can’t all make a living selling hamburgers to each other.” That comment comes to mind when I read the furor over the wages paid by McDonalds and other fast food sellers.

These jobs, “flipping burgers,” were at one time entry level jobs held by high school and sometimes college students to earn spending money and gain some experience in the concept and discipline of earning wages while they studied in preparation for obtaining real employment in their future. So severe has been the degradation of our economy that these have become mainstream jobs, and that is a sad commentary on this nation that is being missed.

Instead of reacting to the situation by saying that we should rebuild our economy so that these jobs are once again nothing more than stepping stones to real employment, we take the approach that we should turn this trivial, meaningless task into mainstream employment and turn this economy into one where we do, in fact, “make our living selling hamburgers to each other.”

Good God Almighty, are we no better than that? Are we the kind of nation whose people are willing to settle for a career as trivial as standing at a grill flipping burgers? Instead of demanding that these meaningless dead end jobs pay career wages, how about demanding that this nation once again create the career jobs that it once had, so that people can do work that means something as well as paying a living wage? How about we keep the entry level jobs for entry level workers and give them something better to aspire to?

This was once a great nation. This was once a nation whose people would never settle for jobs “selling hamburgers to each other.” Today we seem not to have the ambition even to ask for better.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Who, Me?

Cat in the TPDogs always look guilty, even prior to any accusation. Cats not so much. They either deny knowledge, or they admit having done it but assert their right to have done so.

Adjust As Needed

Does anyone ever notice the highlighted phrase in the Census Bureau’s report on economic progress, I wonder? When they say, for instance, that “retail and food services sales for February, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $427.2 billion, an increase of 0.3 percent (±0.5%)* from the previous month, and 1.5 percent (±0.9%) above February 2013,” that would appear to indicate that retail sales are increasing. But does it?

I think they forgot to adjust for the phases of the moon, and perhaps the adiabatic effect of the current solar wind, but we’ll have to live with those inaccuracies.

What are those “price changes” for which they are not adjusting? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe those are due to something called “inflation.”

Isn’t that interesting? How often do you read that the budget, or taxes, or some such thing “adjusted for inflation” is stable? But we are always informed that retail sales “not adjusted for price changes” is increasing by some small amount which, if you check carefully, is somewhat less than the amount reported for inflation.

Looking at retail sales of “1.5 percent (±0.9%) above February 2013,” which doesn’t need to be “adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences” because February of 2013 does not differ in any of those respects from February of 2014, and using the good sense to adjust for inflation of 1.6%, we would sensibly report that February’s retail sales were down 0.1 percent (±0.9%) below February 2013,” People are actually buying less; they're just paying more for what they're buying.

Even that is less than an accurate picture since the reported inflation omits energy and food, which constitutes a major portion of retail sales.

I’m not trying to suggest that the Census Bureau has any sort of political axe to grind with their reporting, I’m merely suggesting that their reporting is idiotic.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cause and Effect

The political name of the game now is “economic inequality.” Obama is sort of declaring war on economic inequality, although fortunately he isn’t stupid enough to use that phrase as Johnson did with the “War on Poverty” or Nixon did with the “War on Drugs,” neither of which has worked out very well in the long run.

The undeclared war on inequality won’t turn out very well either, because economic inequality not the problem. It is the result of a whole host of problems which have plagued our nation over a span of several decades. Trying to stamp out inequality is sort of like trying to stamp out death on our highways by making it illegal to die in car crashes, or saying that it’s okay for people to drive drunk as long as they don’t kill anyone in the process. It’s trying to solve the result instead of solving the problem.

Taxing the rich is not going to even make a dent in the actual problems because it doesn’t address the stagnation and decline of working class incomes, and in any case the rich didn’t get that way by having large taxable incomes. Besides which, they are already rich, so how is taxing incomes going to affect existing wealth? A wealth tax? Good luck with that. Forget taxing the rich. Not that it wouldn’t be right; it just won’t do any good toward solving any problems. It might reduce the federal deficit a bit, but we’re talking about economic inequality and it won’t solve any of the problems which have led us to that result.

The labor union movement to some degree signed its own death warrant with the amount of political and economic corruption, both internal and external, which arose within its organizations and its loss was not altogether a bad thing, but the return of the prevalence and power of collective bargaining would go a long way toward restoring economic equality. The balance of power is a beautiful thing, and it works.

Business needs to recognize that short term gain can be long term loss; that when you ship jobs overseas to save production costs, in the long run you wind up with a market which cannot afford to buy your products.

We need a government which no longer pumps an economy based on ever increasing debt and on a negative balance of trade. Both have been pushed beyond their natural self limiting terminus and are diving deeper and deeper into fantasy land. The result is already ugly and will eventually get worse.

We need to dethrone the high priests of deregulation.

And we need to change a national attitude that says, as a sign that Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” speaks of seeing in his high school, that we should “work smart, not hard.” Obama says that every child should have a college education so that he/she can obtain the “jobs of the future,” as if the future will not need welders, or pipefitters, or electricians or any of the other jobs that tire one’s muscles and dirty one’s hands.

We need to make such “blue collar” jobs not only pay a wage with which one can raise a family, but make them as respectable as they once were. We need to make it honorable to work hard; to make these jobs the “jobs that Americans want.” That starts in school, with a curriculum that isn’t merely a preliminary for college, but which introduces children to the trades as it once did.

That starts with a father who takes his son downtown and points. “You see that bridge?” he tells his son. “My two hands helped build that bridge. You play your cards right and you can do something like that.”

We need to restore the march for social justice, which has not just lost momentum since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, but which has regressed. We still have ghettos. The walls aren’t brick and mortar, but they are walls and we need to tear them down. Economic equality cannot exist with the kind of social inequality which persists in our society today.

There is no magic wand; no easy answer. Do you think we can have economic equality in the face of today’s social injustice, unemployment, “dirty jobs,” unregulated commerce, and the world’s greatest debt load? Sure we can. And we can reduce highway deaths by giving the go ahead to drunk drivers and simply telling them, “just don’t kill anyone.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Entirely Predictable

Dianne Feinstein is pitching a fit because the NSA spied on her computer. Poor baby. That comes as no surprise to me. Neither part of it. I am not surprised that the NSA would spy on her because I am not surprised that they would spy on anything. They are out of control and nothing is going to reign them in.

I am not surprised by the senior Senator from my state. Embarrassed, yes, and annoyed, but not surprised. "I am going to support spying on everyone else, but if you spy on me I am going to kick you in the nuts." That's because the senior Senator from my state is special, unique, entitled, and monumentally stupid.

Cooler Head on Ukraine

I have recently been introduced to a blog by David Stockman, who has been, among other things, Director of the OMB under President Reagan. Perhaps simply because, like me, he's too old to get excited by anything that starts with "neo" he is not a fan of neocons or neoliberals.

He wrote a post a few days ago regarding the situation in Ukraine, how it matters to US national interests (it doesn't), and why everyone screaming for US intervention are wrong. By way of background he described the US Warfare State, which struck me as a rather apt term, and said that,

The post-1991 absurdity of bolstering NATO and extending it into eastern Europe, rather than liquidating it after attaining “mission accomplished”, is just another manifestation of [the Warfare State's] baleful impact. In truth, the expansion of NATO is one of the underlying causes of America’s needless tension with Russia and Putin’s paranoia about his borders and neighbors. Indeed, what juvenile minds actually determined that America needs a military alliance with Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania!

The last sentence should have ended with a question mark rather than an exclamation mark, or perhaps both, but the sentiment of the entire paragraph is so powerful that I'm not going to quibble. Well, okay, I just did, but you get my point. As to Crimea, he points out that Crimea was actually annexed by Catherine the Great in 1783 and goes on to say that,

For the next 171 years Crimea was an integral part of Russia—a span that exceeds the 166 years that have elapsed since California was annexed by a similar thrust of “Manifest Destiny” on this continent, thereby providing, incidentally, the United States Navy with its own warm-water port in San Diego. While no foreign forces subsequently invaded the California coasts, it was most definitely not Ukrainian and Polish rifles, artillery and blood which famously annihilated The Charge Of The Light Brigade at the Crimean city of Balaclava in 1854; they were Russians defending the homeland from Turks, Europeans and Brits.

I am bookmarking his blog, because the guy can write the ears off a Missouri mule. You should read the whole piece. Even if you don't agree with him. He is antertaining and enlightening.

PS: in case you don't go thers, I loved his description of the Warfare State as, "the existence of vast machinery of military, diplomatic and economic maneuver that is ever on the prowl for missions and mandates and that can mobilize a massive propaganda campaign on the slightest excitement." Awesome.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Presidential Fulminations

Our president is in full hue and cry over Russia doing something that has heretofore been the sole prerogative of the United States, namely the use of its armed forces in foreign countries to impose its will. He sent John Kerry to Kiev to tell the Russians that “You don’t just invade another country on trumped up charges to serve your own interests.” Why he could not have told them that from Washington is unclear, but perhaps he thought it would sound less hypocritical if he said it in Kiev. He was mistaken.

Obama told the world that, “The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law,” which reveals his attitude about laws. He did not think that partition would violate international law when the US sponsored the partition of Sudan, nor when we lent military assistance for the partition of Yugoslavia, which Russia opposed, by the way. Obama views laws through the lens of his personal objectives.

He also said that the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s actions "constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” which, even for him, is a bit bizarre. Obama’s responses to those actions might present a very real threat to our national security, but short of Obama doing something really stupid the situation is no threat to us at all. And what is a “threat to our foreign policy,” precisely? Even George W. Bush didn’t exacerbate international tension by fulminating about “threats to our foreign policy.”

“We took these steps in close coordination with our European allies,” Obama told us, with respect to the sanctions issue. “I'm pleased that our international unity is on display at this important moment.” He must not have been listening when our European allies were coordinating with him, because all of them have said they are not on board with any sanctions.
Of course for America "coordination" consists of us telling them what to do. That didn't start with Obama; we've been that way for decades.

He also said that “any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.” He doesn’t specify what he means by “legitimate government,” but the current government of Ukraine is the armed mob that took over by means of a violent overthrow of the elected government. So, which government does he propose to include in his proposed (and ultimely imaginary) discussion?

At least he’s not waving a yellow and blue flag like John McCain is.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Fine Lines

From a comment elsewhere (which I cannot now find):

"Whatever you want to say about George W. Bush, he would never have tolerated this nonsense in Ukraine this long like Obaba has. He would have invaded New Zealand by now."

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

We Keep Buying This Idiocy

They keep telling us that a one-year budget will save $43 biillion over the next ten years because the media keeps printing it and we keep reelecting the idiots who are saying it. A one year budget ceases to exist after one year and cannot do anything for the next nine years after that. A one-year budget will not do anything in ten years. It will do something for one year and then die.

Closer examination often reveals that the savings are "back loaded" and are scheduled for the last eight years of the one-year budget. Savings are almost nonexistant in the first year, but then kick in during later years, and we buy that nonsense. There are no later years. It is a one-year budget.

Tell us what will happen during the life of the budget. Anything else is a lie.

Agressors Indeed

It's interesting. Russia does nothing more than sort of mumble in protest as we sign up nation after nation in their neighborhood into our military alliance. NATO is not a boy's club, you know, nor is it an economic organization. It is purely a military alliance, providing for commonality of weaponry and military practices. Russia expresses discontent but does not even make formal protest in the UN as, one after another, we sign up its former allies (satelliet nations) into our military alliance.

But then, when we reach the final ones and attempt to sign up the nation that is actually on their border, their equivalent of what Canada or Mexico would be to us, they say "Oh hell no," and we label them as agressors. They stop our military advance on them and so they are the agressors.

You did know, didn't you, that the "economic aid package" which Ukraine turned down from The European Union included requiring that Ukraine adopt NATO weapon standards and convert their military within a few years. Aside from what that would cost Ukraine, and the profit it would involve for Europe and the US, it was a military incursion into Ukraine; an attempt to make the Ukranian military part of NATO. A reasoning person might see why Russia would object to that.