Thursday, January 31, 2008

Clinton on the Board

I have a lot of “bones to pick” with Senator Clinton, but her service on the board of WalMart is not one of them. The latest issue seems to be that she did not push back against management on their anti-union stance. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, certainly no big fan of the Clintons, sums up her service rather well.
"We knew Hillary served on the Walmart board. The company is notoriously anti-union. I think it basically goes without saying that she wasn't going to be pushing for a more union-friendly company policy, certainly not at a public board meeting, or else she wouldn't have stayed on the board for more than five minutes. The story points out that she did push for more representation of women in the higher ranks of the company and also for more green policies -- and on both counts had she at least some success."

I’ve had some experience with politics in major companies. It isn’t that you pick the fights you can win, it’s that you pick the fights that are fightable. In the case of Mrs. Clinton, had she gone to the wall on the anti-union stance, assuming that she wanted to, she would have destroyed her usefulness in the battles on other issues where she was able to make a difference. In my opinion she did exactly what was most effective for her ability to create useful change in the company's direction.

If you want to beat Senator Clinton up there are a number of issues you can use, but let go of this one. It just doesn’t work.

Government in Action

I received a notice from AAA yesterday that payment of the annual membership fee was past due. Careful research revealed that I had never received a bill for that fee, so I will trot myself down to their office today and pay it. But it raises a point.

Why have I not received a bill for the annual fee?

A couple of years ago I began noticing that I did not always get a monthly bank statement. That was about the same time that I got into a discussion with one of my providers, I think it was the cable company, about a late charge and realized it was incurred because I had not received a monthly bill and had failed to notice its absence. Given my record of on-time payments, as I recall, they were nice enough to waive the late charge.

I also realized that I was receiving quite a lot of first-class mail in my mailbox that was not addressed to me. In many cases the address was not even similar and some of them were not even in the same neighborhood. I would put a note on the mail and leave it in the box and it would disappear, so I assumed the mailman was picking it up and redelivering it.

The issue came to a head when one such item was simply left in the box and more mail was placed on top of it. I wrote on it in a red felt tip that it was delivered to the wrong address and that it should not be left in the box but should be picked up and redelivered. The mailman came to my door and angrily demanded that I never do such a thing again, that I should put a postit on it instead. When I said something about him giving orders to a customer he profanely told me that I was not his customer.

I went to the post office and spoke to the postmaster at the branch responsible for my address. I described to him the problem with mail being delivered to me that was not mine and that I was rather routinely not receiving mail that was being sent to me. He simply said that I was incorrect. If I was not getting mail it was because it was not sent, that everything sent in the mail was delivered to the addressee. I asked him why someone to whom I owed money would decide not to send me a bill and he said that I would have to ask them that question.

I am not making this up.

I told him that I had asked them and that they claimed they had sent me a bill, and I went on to tell him that I had not received the bill that they claimed to have sent. He remained in denial, insisting that they had not sent the bill.

The USPS, at least in my area, remains a notoriously unreliable method of communication, but there is a problem in that it is illegal to send a letter by any other method. If a provider of goods or services wants to bill me they can be prosecuted if they send their bill by any physical method other than USPS, so I am doing as much business as I can by Internet and email.

I guess this is some slight improvement over the postmaster to whom our neighborhood complained eight years ago. Our mail delivery person was routinely so drunk that he scattered mail on the ground, and he had been observed reading mail and pocketing coupons. The postmaster said that we should just tough it out because the guy was retiring in about a year. Which he did.

I’m not sure his replacement is all that much better.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Great Tag Line

huffingtonThe article isn't as good as the tag line, but it's worth reading. I couldn't resist the tag line, though. Even with its misspelled word.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Um, stand back!

aa lavaNow this is what a volcano is supposed to do, and maybe this...
night lavaWe may not be very good at elections, but we do volcanos well.

Blackhawks Absent

What’s happening in Somalia? Bush did not mention that country in his speech last night, and we know U.S. military is involved. If nothing else we were (and are?) heavily involved in training the Ethopian tropps that invaded, and there is little doubt that our involvement is more direct than that. Somalia was big in the media for a while. Did it fade from the news because the fighting died down, or just because the media got tired of it?

A Google search turned up these items today.

Kismayo's Only Hospital Closes As Aid Workers Killed

19 Killed in Somalia Clash

UN 'frustrated' by lack of progress in Somalia

Ethiopian Troops Abandon Key Military Base

Fighting Restarted in Central Region

UN: condemns killings of humanitarian workers in Somalia

In Brief: Blast claims four in Somalia

Somalia: Capital City Shell Shocked and Deserted by Population

Dozens more along the same lines. A couple of them are from AP, but almost all are from news agencies abroad. Seems other countries still care about Somalia, but America not so much.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mortgage Meltdown Solutions

Many years ago I took a business trip from Atlanta down to Florida to meet on a project there. I was accompanied by a guy from another company involved in the project who was from Chicago and while we were there he announced that he wanted to go look at a piece of property that he had purchased. The Florida guy and I sort of looked at each other like, wtf, but we went along with this guy to look at the property. I don’t need to tell you that the property was in a swamp and as we were driving back to the jobsite, the Chicago guy kept wondering aloud why the seller had claimed that it was “ocean view property” when it so clearly was not. The Florida guy finally lost it and said, “They called it ocean view property so that idiots from Chicago would buy it.” The rest of the car ride back to the jobsite was made in a profound silence.

Funny, the government never considered rescuing people who bought “ocean view property” in Florida in the 1960’s.

But the government today wants to rescue people who are about to lose their homes due to bad loans. Let’s look at one of the loans that that the government considers to be in need of rescue. The financial history of this loan is provided by the Irvine Housing Blog,

purchase7-20-2001$317,000 $79,400 down
4 mths11-07-2001 $48,000 HELOChalf+ of down
13 mths8-26-2002$360,000 ReFi
3 mths11-26-2002$29,000 HELOC
11-26-2002$71,000 HELOC
7 mths6-18-2003$56,000 HELOC
6-18-2003$100,000 HELOC
12 mths6-1-2004$517,500 ReFipd off HELOCs?
4 mths10-22-2004$89,900 HELOC
6 mths4-21-2005$624,000 ReFi 1st
4-21-2005$156,000 ReFi 2nd
17 mths9-12-2006$948,750 ReFi 1st
9-12-2006$189,750 ReFi 2nd

Leaving a total debt of $1,138,500 against an original loan of $317,600.

A home originally sold for $396,400 is now mortgaged for $1,138,500.

The history of the home does show some $200,000 in capital improvements, but the rest… Forget about emergencies and healthcare crisis costs, that half-million plus went to finance an “enhanced lifestyle.”

This is one of the homeowners that Washington wants to rescue. What portion of problem loans does this type of activity represent? I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that, but to start throwing solutions at the problem without asking that question and getting an answer to it is reckless and irresponsible. Any solution should be crafted to avoid “rescuing” this kind of behavior, and none of the solutions that I’ve heard proposed addresses this issue.

One more little homily and I’ll get to my second point.

For health reasons I usually knock off work by early afternoon and fairly often watch the judge shows on television. I can’t tell you how often the judge will ask the plaintiff with disbelief, “You signed the contract without reading it?” This is almost invariably followed by something like, “Why would you sign a contract without reading it?” and, “When you sign a contract without reading it the law can’t help you.”

The point that Washington wants to make is that they are trying to rescue homeowners from “predatory lenders.” There is no doubt that the vendors of these loans were charlatans, but I do not for a minute believe that it was not spelled out in the loan documentation that the payments would increase. If the seller of the loan claimed otherwise then the borrower’s first question should have been, “Show me where it says in writing that the payments will not increase.” If the borrower did not see that written in the document then the loan papers should never have been signed.

Undoubtedly there is some portion of this debacle that truly consists of innocent victims: little old ladies who were stampeded by predatory relatives, illiterate homeowners who were unable to read the loan documents... I would suggest, however, that such innocent victims are in a very, very small minority. By far the greatest portion of the home mortgage meltdown is caused by the type of greed illustrated by the homeowner from Irvine described earlier, or by buyers too greedy or careless to be responsible for their own actions.

The responsibility for the affordability of a loan lies with the borrower. To say that a borrower should be relieved of a debt because he chose to borrow more money than he could afford to repay is utterly absurd. No one forced that borrower to assume that unpayable debt.

The risk of a loan lies with the lender. To say that a lender should be relieved of the loss because he chose to lend money to someone who was transparently not going to repay the money is equally absurd.

The government is trying to do both things at one time; to erase the bad debt with neither the lender or the borrower losing anything.

The fact that there was a middle man does not relieve either party of responsibility. First, there should not have been a middle man and simply allowing there to be one was reckless on the lender's part. The lenders should certainly have known better. Secondly, both borrower and lender should have been more responsible than to allow a middle man who had everything to gain by making the loan and nothing to lose when it later went sour to, in effect, make the decisions for them as to whether or not the loan was going to be consummated and how it was going to be structured. The middle men were, for all practical purposes, selling "ocean view property in Florida" to borrowers and lenders at the same time.

I am reminded of a scene from Bridge on the River Kwai. In the aftermath of battle the major stands on an embankment overlooking the blown-up bridge and all of the death and devastation and he says just one word, in disbelief,

“Madness, madness.”

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Morning

I slept late because the rain kept waking me up. A little under 3/4" so far here, but it's still coming down so...

The thing about South Carolina that caught my eye, other than the size of the Obama win of course, was that apparently 40% of the Democratic voters say they've not been paying attention to Bill Clinton's campaigning. Of those who have, two-thirds did not vote for Bill's wife. That's encouraging.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Weather Blogging

I daresay that some readers, say in Minnesota or maybe Illinois, are looking at this and wondering if I've utterly lost my mind. When you live where 11" of rain per year is normal and 3" per year has been normal the past two years, a storm promising 2"-3" at your house is a significant event. Such a thing has not happened here in something like ten years.

Final Update: Sunday, 1/27/08

Looks like the bulk of the storm has passed now, with just scattered showers for another 24 hours. In terms of the forecast, it turned out to be a fizzle. We got 3/4" at the coast, far short of the 2"-3" forecast, and the mountains got at most 3.5" instead of the prognosticated "as much as 10 inches." Just as well, since those amounts would have caused serious flooding, especially in the areas burned last fall.

Update 2: Saturday, 1/26/08 Romeo meets Juliet...

satellite todayand promised choas ensues. Damn, this is cool, except that it might flood.

Update: Saturday, 1/26/08 "Where'd I leave my ark?"

satellite todayLook how far south that low pressure has gone. All of that tropical moisture is now up over San Diego, but no rain yet because there's no atmospheric mechanism to make it precipitate out. Tonight the jet stream will move the low to the east and provide that mechanism and that's when, as we say in the South, the grits will hit the fan.

As of today we are .15" below normal for rainfall, year-to-date. I do believe that's about to change.

Update: Friday, 1/25/08 "We need a bigger boat."

satellite todayIt's still lurking down there, even more of it, and they are still predicting a connection. Stay tuned as the exciting saga continues.

Update: Thursday, 1/24/08

satellite todayTropical moisture moved south but the saga continues. Stay tuned.

Originally posted: 1/23/08

satellite todayI love stuff like this.

See that long band of purple that goes diagonally from the southern Pacific up through Mexico and into Texas? That is tropical moisture, and there is one whole hell of a lot of it. Now see that roundness with a blob of purple near southern California? That’s the jetstream with a trough and a low pressure approaching San Diego.

Those two things are about 150 miles apart which, in meteorological terms, is a cat’s whisker. If they connect I am going to need plans for an ark. And they are, in fact, predicted to connect.

Campaign Tactics

Clinton's latest statement boils down to this: "I will smear my opponent in every dirty, slimy way I can think of and after I win the nomination his supporters will vote for me in November, because what really matters is
to install a Democrat in the White House."

You read me wrong Mrs. Clinton.

Food Blogging Today

This may look really similar to other stuffed pepper recipes you’ve seen and/or used, but it’s one I invented on the spot a couple of nights ago.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

4 ea med-sized Bell Peppers
2 ea Italian sausages
6 oz fresh mushrooms
1 ea stalk fresh celery
1 ea boneless chicken breast, cooked
¾ cup rice, cooked
15 oz can Tomato sauce
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp Oregano
½ tsp Thyme

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the tops off the peppers, core them and pop them into boiling water to parboil for about 3-4 minutes. You can use any color peppers you like, green is traditional, but I use red.

Squeeze the sausages out of the casings into a skillet with a little olive oil in it and medium heat and while it is cooking chop it up into little bitty* pieces. Do I need to tell you not to use a non-stick skillet** for this?

Now chop the mushrooms into small pieces and add them to the skillet.

Stir that occasionally while you’re chopping the celery into little bitty pieces. Add the celery to the skillet.

Stir that occasionally while you’re chopping the chicken into little bitty pieces. Add the chicken to the skillet.

Add some garlic powder, Oregano and Thyme to suit your taste. Let that mellow a couple of minutes as you stir it and then add the rice and tomato sauce.

Mix that all up well and put it into the peppers in a glass oven dish. You will have more than will fit into the peppers. That’s fine, let it spill out around them in the pan. Put it in the oven and let it bake about 20-25 minutes.

*I try to avoid highly technical cooking terms like this in my recipes, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. In this context it means chop away until you have something like crumbled hamburger. It will require persistence and a bit of patience.

**My skillet is cast iron. I don’t even own one of the non-stick kind, although my wife does. She immolates some eggs in it once a week or so. I try to avoid the kitchen at times like that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

San Diego & News

San Diego is being featured on a couple of my favorite news locations today, but not in a good way.

The Best Buy in Mission Valley near downtown San Diego made the Worst Persons Silver on Countdown with Keith Olbermann tonight. Seems they made a display selling Heath Ledger's videos before the autopsy was even done and Keith took a dim view of that. Hmmm, me too.

Then the blog Whatever It Is, I’m Against It features a picture of President Bush with "a tammany of mayors" today and right there sitting beside the president is Mayor Sanders of San Diego. On the brighter side, Sanders does not appear to be particularly enjoying the experience.

Party of Change?

Watching the debate Monday night put the last nail in the coffin of the idea that electing Democrats to office was going to change anything about the way this country is governed. Watching these adolescent self-centered, self-aggrandizing, power hungry, egomaniacs squabbling, arguing, name calling and talking over each other like unrestrained high schoolers was beyond disgusting.

Keith Olbermann asked how far they can go with this behavior without destroying the party itself. For me, the answer is that they have already crossed that line.

Certainly it is true that placing the Democratic Party in charge of both houses of Congress has changed nothing. Not only has nothing changed in the results of governing, but nothing has changed in the way it is done either. The process is still about the best advantage of the legislators and their corporate sponsors and no real effort is even made to hide the graft and corruption. Investigation after investigation has proven to be nothing more than political posturing.

As Glenn Greenwald points out today, in a column regarding a Congressional announcement that a full vote on criminal contempt citations against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers will be postponed indefinitely,

Consider the entire panoply of Bush abuses over the last seven years -- from illegal domestic spying to torture and rendition and black CIA sites and the FBI's illegal use of National Security Letters (remember those?) -- and there have been virtually no investigation of anything. And the few times Congress has purported to do so, they have made matters worse, not better, by making clear that they will do nothing if their subpoenas are ignored, thereby affirmatively creating the incentive for any rational executive official with something to hide to ignore them.

Our government has sunk into a morass of self interest, greed and corruption and the Pollyanna concept that electing Democrats is going to change anything is rapidly being dispelled by the Democrats themselves. Monday night’s debate was just another step in that direction.

I might vote for Senator Obama if he drops this dirty crap now and cleans up his act. I will never vote for Hillary Clinton and her husband. And, make no mistake, you will not be voting merely for her.

The party leadership and the party faithful choose Clinton and her husband because of electability. Not because the Clintons offer policies that are best for the country. They might or might not, that is not the point, the point is perceived electability. Win at all costs.

Only one candidate (and her husband) use the terrorist fear card in the campaign, “Al Queda is watching our elections very carefully.” No one in the party leaderships chides her and her husband for this blatantly Republican campaign fear tactic, and in the primary following that statement she won the most votes from the party faithful.

One campaigner and her husband are using the Republican method of campaigning by slashing and hacking at your opponent with half truths and innuendo, often using surrogates to do so and surprisedly claiming innocence. No one in the party leaderships chides her and her husband for these blatantly Republican campaign tactics, and after those tactics she polls the highest among the party faithful.

The Clintons will not change their campaign because this is who they are, this is what they do. Rather than elevate themselves, they are determined to drag Obama down to their level; not to show the country how good they are, but to win the nomination by illustrating that he is just as dirty and slimy as they are.

Which, unfortunately, I’m beginning to believe he actually may be.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Have a Dream

A newscaster interviewed a African-American voter on ABC News last night and her statement was something very close to “I really like the idea of having an African-American president, but I’m torn. I’m also a woman, and I’d like to vote for a woman.” At that point I wanted to throw something through the television screen.

If this is the way we select our leaders then we deserve a president the caliber of George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, this is the way we select our leaders. It’s how we got George W. Bush, and the news media helps it be that way. Bush was constantly presented as “the guy you’d like to have a beer with” and never as the guy who failed to fulfill his National Guard obligation, or the guy who got off of a drunk driving charge, or…

It isn’t about whether the next president is black, or female, or chartreuse, or a freaking hermaphrodite. It’s not about what they are, it’s about who they are. It’s about what they have done and, more importantly, what they offer to do if elected.

To paraphrase a great man whose birthday we celebrated yesterday, although not to presume that my words will ever approach in greatness or nobility or courage the steadfast nature of his life.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the leaders of this country will be elected not based on the color of their skin, or on the shape of their bodies, or on the winningness of their smiles, but on the content of their character and on the value of their actions.

I have a dream that one day the media of this country will present to the electorate the true facts upon which to base a decision when selecting their leaders in the voting booth.

I have a dream that one day the leaders of this nation will serve the best interests of the nation and its people and not campaign with bitterness and hatred in their own best interests and in pursuit of personal power and self aggrandizement.

Today, I can only dream.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Weather Blogging

This is a La Nina year, which bodes dry weather for the Southwest. Apparently San Diego is not in the Southwest. Who knew?

The last two years we have averaged 3" of rain per year, compared to our normal rainfall of 11" per year. During the summer the La Nina developed, cold surface temperatures in the Pacific, and it has persisted so we have been hearing predictions of another dry winter. Not so much. We've had several very wet storms and are actually ahead of normal rainfall for the year for the first time in several years.

Weather pundits said, "Oh those storms were mere anamolies. Don't worry about it, it will go back to being dry."

The current forecast? Well, it's raining now and the forecast is that it will continue to do so for the next four days. When is the last time it was rainy for five days continuously in San Diego? Nobody remembers.
Pineapple ExpressHere's the forecast for the jetstream for Thursday. It is, in case you don't notice, bringing moisture from well south of Hawaii directly over San Diego.
I love weather pundits.

Economic Activity

A couple of items in an item from McClatchy Washington Bureau Friday.

Consumption drives roughly two-thirds of the U.S. economy, so the jobs question is important. People with jobs spend money.

I just cringe every time I read that, every time I read that it is a calmly accepted fact that this country has become a nation focused on consumption, on having things, on spending money.

This used to be a nation focused on building, on producing, on supporting family, community and each other. We used to be the steelmaker to the world and now we import more steel than we make. Shop in the stores today and you literally cannot find a product manufactured in this country. We don’t make things, we buy them, and we incur ever-increasing debt at all levels to do so.

Beyond the economic folly of basing a nation on consumption is what it says about the moral fiber of the nation. I’m not answering that question here, I’m asking it.

The cure for an ailing economy seems to be more consumption. Am I alone in seeing that, on the face of it, this is insane and totally unsustainable?

Not one politician is discussing a return to an economy based on production. No one is talking about a need to be contributing to the world economy rather than being focused on how much we can take from it. Our governing body seems quite content to lead us down the path of ever increasing consumption and ever increasing personal and national debt.

Core inflation, which strips out the more-volatile food and energy prices, remains at the upper end of the Federal Reserve's comfort zone, and if it doesn't subside, it could limit the ability of the Fed to lower interest rates aggressively to spark economic activity.

Two parts of that statement disturb me, both relating to how the government manipulates the people for whose benefit it is supposed to be governing.

First, the most vital function of your income is to provide for the most essential needs of your family: food and shelter. Your core needs are food to feed your family and energy to keep them warm and cook their food, but the government excludes those costs from what it calls “core inflation.” Why do they publish that utterly bogus statistic? The simple answer is that they want to hide the truth as much as possible.

Food and energy costs, they say, are “highly volatile” and make the raw inflation number meaningless. But the truth is that food and energy costs are rising dramatically and are causing real inflation to rise. To hide that unpleasant fact, the government removes the rising costs of things that you must buy in order to survive and measures inflation only based on costs of things that you do not need to buy. “Inflation isn’t bad, the cost of cut glass decanters has only risen one percent.” And that practice started well before the Bush administration; Mr. Clinton did not eschew the use of it.

And “..lower interest rates aggressively to spark economic activity.” That means get people to spend money, which does not benefit the people who are spending the money. It benefits the people who receive the spent money, namely the corporate sponsors of the politicians to whom the Fed, in reality if not in name, answers.

We're standing in a burning house, and not even looking for the exit.

Enjoying the warmth, because it's cold outside.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


By Wednesday we are expected to have a high temp of 52 degrees and, that night, a low of 38 degrees. That's Farenheight. In San Diego. Yes, I know it's winter, but this is San Diego ! Wtf ?

And no, I'm not predicting the outcome of Chargers/Patriots tomorrow. Other than that the winning team will be wearing helmets.

Update 10PM: Okay, the helmets of the winning team will have lightening bolts on them. But you didn't read that here. Only a blithering idiot would say that. If I said that you would never read this blog again.

On Spending Money

I remember an event in my life many years ago that seems relevant today. It was during a period of personal rebuilding after realizing that I had built my life on a foundation of sand and needed to find a set of principles to live by that were more lasting than self-gratification and self-aggrandizement. This was not a religious thing; it was more just a case that what I was doing, while outwardly successful, was inwardly failing me completely.

Money, which had been plentiful before, was in short supply. At one point I had some spare cash and decided I was going to go out and buy something simply because, for the first time in quite a while, I could afford to. I went to the store and walked around for some time, but I just couldn’t find anything I wanted. After a while I left with the money still in my pocket. Later I recognized that a change of significance had occurred, that I had achieved a measure of growth.

I knew that spending money was not going to make me feel good.

I’ve thought about that as I read about the “economic recovery stimulus” package that is being discussed these days on this kumbaya bipartisan basis. The one thing that seems to be universally agreed is that,

we have to put money specifically in the hands of people who will spend it.

If the money goes to people who use it to pay down excessive debt the economy will still be screwed. The high levels of debt, high levels of bad debt which will be defaulted upon, is not the problem. If we put the money in the hands of people who will save it the economy will still be screwed. The lowest-ever level of personal savings is not the problem.

The problem with the economy is that people aren’t spending enough.

Ever since the economy first became a concern I have been looking at the casual statement that consumer spending is the “backbone of the economy,” that it accounts for more that 70% of GDP, with a degree of disbelief. Not that the condition exists, but that everyone is so comfortable with it. My father died more than 25 years ago but I recall him mumbling something, when he read about the economy back then, to the effect of, “Hell, we can’t base an economy on selling each other hamburgers.”

Actually, we’ve done worse than that - people would have to continue buying food to avoid starving. We’ve based our economy on selling each other flat screen televisions, using borrowed money to pay for them and sending that money overseas to import them. To paraphrase, “That giant sucking sound you hear is money leaving the United States.”

I have long wondered how can a country survive when it doesn’t actually produce anything. Historically, America has been a manufacturing country, but over time we have allowed that manufacturing capacity to erode and now we produce very little other than military hardware and software. We have become the world’s largest debtor, and when spending slows the solution seems to be that we should spend ourselves deeper and faster into debt.

Politicians claim that “putting money into the hands of people who will spend it” will create jobs and boost the economy. Certainly it will do the latter, at least momentarily, since the economy consists primarily of people spending money. But how is it going to create jobs?

Suppose I own a store and my sales are down because consumers are not buying in my store. The government hands out a bonus and a surge of people come in and buy things in my store. (Our government does like “surge” policies, doesn’t it.) Am I going to expand my store and hire new people based on that? Not if I have any sense, since I am bound to know that the spending spree is over and will not benefit me past the short term.

Inflation occurs when an economy is booming and materials and workers are in short supply. Competition for inadequate resources raises the costs of them. Recession occurs when an economy is slumping and there are too many goods available. Prices for materials and wages drop because demand for them is low and no competition exists between users of them.

When inflation and recession occur simultaneously something is fundamentally flawed in the economic model, and I don’t think it’s going to be fixed by a quick handout of “putting money in the hands of people who will spend it.” I’m not enough of an expert to know in detail what the solution is (or solutions are), but I just don’t believe that this is it.

I do believe that our economy can recover, but I think it’s going to be a long and difficult process. It’s going to involve things like rebuilding our manufacturing base and restoring productive, well paying jobs. It’s going to mean fundamentally restructuring our tax codes in some fashion. It’s going to mean stopping “cooking the books” on unemployment and inflation numbers and looking at what they really are. It’s going to mean real health care reform, not just minor changes in health insurance coverage. It’s going to mean, above all else, eliminating our dependence on foreign oil.

Just spending a little money isn’t going to make us better.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Flying Skill

chopperI took this photo from The Daily Dish where Andrew Sullivan says that, while he has not verified the claim, he was told that it is our military making a rescue somewhere in Afghanistan. He says,

"Sometimes we forget what amazing people we have in the military - people with skills and balls most of us cannot even imagine. (...) I don't mean this as a typical look-at-me-I'm-a-patriot-Fox-News kind of gesture. But these kids are astonishing."

Indeed they are. Can you imagine the degree of skill required to fly that helicopter into that position, let alone hold it there?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Medical Wisdom

Jill over at Brilliant at Breakfast in her post today calls our attention to a New York Times article about cholesterol which you can read here.

Now, I generally think that people talking about their health is about as exciting as watching paint dry. I know whereof I speak, because I have actually watched paint dry, but that is a story for another day. But this whole cholesterol thing and the timing of it, vis a’ vis my health status, is just too weird not to share with you.

I have enjoyed very low cholesterol all of my life, usually in the 120 range and sometimes below 100, and very good “ratios” of LDL to HDL. Doctors have always been borderline ecstatic with my blood tests and I’ve never really had to work at keeping those levels stable. I do maintain a reasonably healthy diet, but I don’t really work at it; I seem to just have good genetics.

I have had emphysema for more than 20 years to a rather severe degree, but I learned to breathe efficiently with the remaining portion of my lungs and the condition has had no real effect on me. I was, for instance, still able to do cross-country skiing at 10,000 feet altitude when I was 60 years old.

In 2003 my health crashed. I really don’t know any other way to put it, as pretty much everything went to hell. I had seven small strokes, my heart developed a couple of arrhythmia’s, I had some sort of systemic inflammation problem and in 2004 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. My cholesterol was still in the low 100’s.

One of the tests suggested a blocked cardiac artery, so I went in for an angiogram and the result was that I had arteries that, according to the cardiologist, the average forty-year-old would be happy to trade me for. Lovely clear arteries with not a trace of plaque.

One friend suggested I should turn myself inside out so my arteries would show if they were that lovely.

So I had a procedure to stabilize my heart and I’m on medications for all the other things, and I’m thriving. Modern medicine is awesome.

One small problem has developed, my cholesterol is going up. It’s above the magic number of 200, it’s now up to a whopping 206 and now the doctor wants to put me on a medication to reduce it.

Okay, go read the New York Times article. I’m going to cut it out and take it with me next time I go to the doctor.

Even if current “medical wisdom” is valid it doesn’t suggest that cholesterol itself is the problem. The problem is that cholesterol leads to a buildup of plaque in the arteries and that is not something that happens overnight. I am 65 years old. I have severe emphysema, heart disease and Parkinson’s. I’m optimistic, but really – how much longer am I going to live? How much plaque is going to build up in these arteries which are currently plaque-free?

Jill even suggests that cholesterol might be the result of a problem rather than the cause of one. I don’t think that is an outlandish suggestion at all. Is my rising cholesterol my body’s response to the assault?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Democratic Debate

I actually watched the Democratic debate last night, and I’m quite glad I did. It was informative and, for the most part, interesting. The moderators were much less obnoxious than I expected and after some initial “horserace” questions the debate got down to issues that mattered. Tim Russert is an idiot, though. How many people think John Edwards called Musharref to “provide him with cover” as Russert so coyly suggested?

I thought I was going to have a long night of high blood pressure when Senator Clinton said, “..and I opposed the Bankruptcy Bill of 2005.” While she didn’t vote for it, she didn’t vote against it either, and I do not recall any speeches of significance from her at that time to the effect that it should not pass. Maybe she opposed it at the time without saying so, but…

She talked about her desire to freeze mortgage rates, a plan that I have opposed because it rewards the poor judgement of too many people who used teaser rate loans to refinance their homes to support an unsustainable lifestyle. Senator Clinton pointed out that her plan is consistent with the Fed cutting rates and asked why should bank rates be getting cut now while mortgage rates are still resetting upward. That is a very good point, and she has sold me on her plan. Let’s freeze those mortgage rates immediately for people who live in these mortgaged homes as a primary residence.

There was some interesting “back and forth” between Obama and Edwards regarding the military presence in Iraq which made that part of the show an actual debate. I wish more of that were allowed on a regular basis which, with fewer candidates, is entirely feasible. We learn a lot about the candidates themselves in such a discussion, and we learn a lot more about their positions.

The segment on energy policy was seriously interesting to me and I was very surprised by whom I liked. Obama’s energy policy is vague and muddled at best, and his position on nuclear power is totally unclear. Edwards just plain doesn’t seem to have an energy policy. Clinton blew the doors off of both of them, not only having a clear plan but one that makes a lot of sense to me. She also had in her energy statement what was, for me, the best challenge of the night for this country in saying that energy should be a major effort, “This should be our Apollo Moon Shot.” I think she is exactly right and I think that is an outstanding way to phrase it. I very much liked her description of the 2005 energy bill.

Her other heroic moment was her legislation to prevent Bush from making long term military agreements with Iraq which bypass Congress. Her asking Obama to cosponsor the effort was politics (and pretty canny politics, I had to rather admire that move), but the legislation itself is admirable indeed. I hope we hear more about this in the near future, like maybe Congress passing it with a veto-proof majority.

Before you think somebody else is writing my blog today…

When reminded of her promise to dump from her campaign anyone who used tactics of which she disapproved and asked if she would distance herself from Bob Johnson for his oblique references to Obama’s teenage drug use, Clinton said Johnson had explained those remarks away and that she believed his explanation. She has got to be the only person in this country who does.

When asked about her greatest weakness she replied that she is too aggressive in working for change. I was looking for a barf bucket.

My blood reached something close to boiling point when she was defending, and expanding upon, and repeating, her fear mongering prior to the New Hampshire primary. Obama countered that, but not as vigorously as I believe he should have done.

At least nobody mentioned changing the constitution.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Drained Pond

I’ll bet when you read the title you weren’t expecting something like this.
hawaiiHawaii evokes mental images of beaches and lush greenery, right? But the Big Island has the world’s most active volcano and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory provides an outstanding library of images, and they are updated quite frequently.

Lately the “rift” has been erupting, which is really cool; lava pouring out of a long split in the earth and flowing down the mountainside. It formed a pond of lava which lasted several days until the rim ruptured and the pond drained, shown above.

Hillary Clinton, Republican

I am trying to avoid becoming a "Clinton hate site," but some things are just too abominable to let pass. Before the New Hampshire primary Senator Clinton was adopting the Republican tactic of fearmongering, “Vote for me or the terrorists will kill you,” and now she’s using the Republican Swift Boat maneuver. Talk about a Republican in Democratic clothing...

The lawsuit filed in Nevada to prevent the Culinary Workers Union from voting effectively in support of Obama has been filed by a group which Senator Clinton avows she has no knowledge of or affiliation with. You can read more details on this affair in Dick Pohlman today, but her disavowal sounds just like Bush’s disavowal of the Swift Boaters. "Who me, I don’t know anything about them, but I can’t do anything about their actions." She claims the group does not include her supporters, but... Not that she doesn't know, she claims they are not. Read the piece by Pohlman.

The group of non-Clinton supporters was fine with the polling places in question until that union endorsed Obama, now they are filing a lawsuit that seeks to close the polling places where most of that union would be voting. Hillary Clinton has "no opinion" on the lawsuit.

Of course Clinton won't speak against a lawsuit that aims to disenfranchise voters who might vote against her.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Charger Weekend

Update: Sunday, 6:00PM

If the Chargers want to visit Catalina Island they will not need a boat or an airplane, they can just walk there.

My goodness. The game was over at, what, 1:30, but it's taken me until now to collect myself. That was no fluke, the Chargers earned that on both sides of the ball. With four pro-bowlers injured on the sideline. I do believe A.J. Smith has found our head coach.

And there will be a Manning playing next weekend. It won't be Payton. Yesterday both of the favorites romped to easy wins. Today both of the underdogs prevailed in exciting games. Cool.

Update: Sunday, 9:20AM

After watching the games yesterday the Chargers are looking better to me. Lots better. Admittedly, New England is the best offense in the league, but the Jaguars are slow on defense. I've seen glaciers move faster than that. Before global warming. Brady got to have a lunch break before throwing the pass on every down. The secondary guys couldn't find their butts if you gave each of them a mirror on a stick. Only two incomplete passes in an entire game, and one of those was a drop. Sheesh.

The "snow bowl" wasn't much better. Couldn't see the yard markers? Seattle didn't know where the freaking stadium was, let alone any of the yard markers.

Only one national sportscaster that I have found is actually picking San Diego to beat the Colts today, but by golly there actually is one! Of our locals, one of four is predicting the Chargers on the winning end of today's score. Don't look at me, my record is close to zero.

Still, the Chargers defense is pretty much as good as it's cracked up to be and the secondary has gone from a major weakness in the recent past to what may be the best there is. The offense is "feast or famine," but if the offense doesn't do a pratfall today do not rule this team out.


The Chargers not only beat Tennessee last week, they did so rather convincingly. Well, for one half at least, but it was enough. Reading the paper the next day I kept wanting to ask the sports writers "Um, did you watch the first half?"

So tomorrow we go to Indianapolis. No problem, we’ve already beaten them the last two times we played them. Right. All we have to do is intercept Manning six times, run back two kicks for touchdowns, have them miss two easy field goals and have it rain in the RCA Dome and we can win by a whopping two points.

Add up the errors listed above. Each interception prevents a score for them and makes possible one for us, so there’s a potential for a 90 point swing there. There was 42 points to be had off interceptions, and we won by 2 points. Of course that’s hyperbole, but…

There is an event scheduled at Qualcomm next weekend, a monster truck rally, that will have to be cancelled if a) the Chargers beat the Colts and b) the Jaguars beat the Patriots. If both of those eventualities come to pass then San Diego would host the championship game against Jacksonville next week.

I don’t think monster truck fans need to worry.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The "con" in Economy

Many analysts now expect the Fed’s policy makers to cut half a percentage point off the Fed’s benchmark interest rate, reducing it to 3.75 when they next meet, on Jan. 29 and 30. They expect the Fed to continue cutting, to 3 percent or even lower by summer, to prevent — or at least mitigate — a recession. The goal would be to get people to borrow and spend more.

New York Times News Service, Jan 11, 2008

I find that highlighted statement (the emphasis is mine) utterly astounding. Granted, I do not have any sort of formal educational background in economics, but in what world does this make any sense?

American savings rates are at an all time low. Wages are not keeping pace with inflation. Home equity is disappearing faster than the ice caps. Bank foreclosures on homes are multiplying like rabbits. Late payment of credit card debt is increasing. An increasing number of people are without health insurance because they cannot afford the premiums.

And the solution for the financial crisis is for people to borrow more and spend the borrowed money.

This solution makes sense for the management and stockholders of corporations who are selling the products and services that the borrowers are going to buy. It makes sense for the managers and stockholders of the lending institutions who will be lending the money.

Notice the “managers and stockholders” in the part about who it makes sense for. It makes sense for the money-holding part of the economy, the part of the economy that consists of people who already have money and want to have more of it.

This solution makes no sense whatever for people who work for wages; wages that increasingly are not providing for the well-being of wage earners and their families.

A policy of propping up the economy with the spending of borrowed money drives those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder deeper into debt to further enrich those on the upper rungs.

And… Does not reducing interest rates contribute to further weakening of the dollar in the world economy? On the face of it that helps our export market, but we are so dependent on imported oil and manufactured goods that a weaker dollar deepens our trade deficit rather than reducing it, and it adds to inflation and further erodes the purchasing power of worker’s wages.

Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but maybe we’re being conned.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Weather Follies

todays weatherThis is, in part, the weather display for us for today at the NOAA site. Yes, to some degree I’m bragging, but note that there seems to be some hazardous weather in the offing. Okay, sunny and warm with mild breezes and hazardous weather.    So, click on the hazardous weather link, and...
todays hazardWell now, isn’t that a kick. They are being very specific about where the hazard does not exist. How many agencies go to that much trouble to tell you that you are not in any danger?

Department of Homeland Stupidity eat your heart out.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Food Blogging

Some people do recipes on Mondays, cat pictures on Fridays, etc. I'm not that regimented. I do cat pictures whenever Molly does something cute, and food whenever I feel like it. I promised you a recipe, so... Despite all the voting going on in New Hampshire, let's eat.

Orange and Ginger Chicken

2 boneless, skinned chicken breasts
2 tbsp peeled fresh ginger, minced fine
4 tbsp brown sugar
2 cups orange juice
1 tbsp grated orange peel
1 tbsp cornstarch

Slice breasts in half so you have four thin pieces. Flour lightly, salt and pepper to taste and then brown on both sides in a good olive oil in a skillet. No need to be sure they are cooked thru at this point, just brown lightly on both sides and transfer to a plate.

Add a touch more olive oil if needed and add ginger to skillet, cook for one minute. Add brown suger and stir for one more minute. Add orange juice and orange peel and bring to a fast simmer, stirring as needed.

Mix cornstarch with a bit of cold water and add to skillet and stir until sauce is thickened, reduce heat to a slow simmer. Return chicken to sauce, cover and simmer slowly until chicken is cooked through, about ten minutes or so. Serve over noodles or rice.

Part of the secret is not to overcook the chicken initially, before transferring it to the plate. Letting it finish cooking at the slow simmer in the sauce cooks the flavor in and leaves it really tender.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Senator Clinton on Change

Wait a minute now, wait a minute. I’m going to respond to this because obviously — making change is not about what you believe. It’s not about a speech you make. It is about working hard. (…)

I want to make change, but I’ve already made change. I will continue to make change. I’m not just running on a promise of change, I’m running on 35 years of change. I’m running on having taken on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, taking on the oil companies.

So, you know, I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered. The best way to know what change I will produce is to look at the changes that I’ve already made.

Sen. Hillary Clinton at the Democratic Debate.

First, talking about making change and reminding us that you have been part of the system for 35 years seems counterproductive to me. You are reminding me that you are part of what we are trying to change. I’m looking at the changes you’ve made, Senator Clinton, and I do not want more of the same.

You’ve taken on the drug companies, have you? And the outcome of that was what, precisely? You gave seniors the infamous “donut hole” in their drug coverage and drug companies enjoy their highest profit levels ever. That’s not the kind of change I am looking for.

You’ve taken on the health insurance companies? Looks to me like they won. Certainly Nataline Sarkisyan, who died because her insurance denied her a liver transplant didn’t win and, like the drug companies, health insurance companies have the highest profit levels in their history. I’m less than thrilled with your accomplishment there.

You’ve taken on oil companies? They take oil out of public lands without paying royalties, gasoline is at its highest ever winter price, homeowners are going into hock to pay for fuel oil to heat their homes, and oil companies also have record profits. Who benefited from the changes you accomplished there?

False hopes? Just how cynical can you be? Hope, by definition, can never be false. What you offer is no hope at all.

Change begins with beliefs and speeches. Words do lead to change, and leadership is about making speeches and creating hope. In fact, that’s what leadership is all about. Empowering people and inspiring them into action, and it is words that do that. Yesterday is a cancelled check and the words and actions of the past will not lead to tomorrow’s change. To quote shamanic over at The Newshoggers, "..without the right words today, the actions of tomorrow will continue to fail us."

As they have failed us on your watch, Senator Clinton.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Fine Lines

Thanks to shamanic over at The Newshoggers for one of the best lines I think I've ever read. In response to a quote by Hillary Clinton,

"Words are not action and as beautifully presented and as passionately felt as they are, they are not action. What we’ve got to do is translate talk into action, and feeling into reality."

shamanic responds, in part, "..without the right words today, the actions of tomorrow will continue to fail us."

Go read the entire post. I guarantee it's worth the click.

New Voters and Youth Vote

In reading online about the primary, I think that not enough is being made of a couple of factors in Obama's Iowa victory.

Independent voters (in decreasing order of significance) turned out in large numbers, voted in the Democratic primary, and voted for Obama. How they voted may, however, be indicitave of why they turned out so their votes being for Obama may be more important than it would seem.

First time caucusers participated in large numbers, and they too voted in the majority for Obama.

Young people turned out in unusually large numbers and voted heavily for Obama, and I believe that is by far the result of most significance.

For too many years the quality of governance of this nation has suffered from the lack of participation by citizens. The number of people who go to the polls on election day is a national disgrace, and the state of our government, the lack of accountability, the arrogance and corruption reflects just how uninvolved the citizenry has become.

If Obama does nothing more than reinvolve people, particularly young people, reactivate citizen participation in governing this once republican (small 'r' ) nation, then he will establish himself as one of the men that history books will write great things about.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Football Follies

The sports writers in today's paper are swooning over the Charger's record in the last six games. They fail to consider who the opponents for those games have been. Only one has had a winning season, Tennessee at 10-6, and the cumulative record for all six is a whopping 37-59, for a 38% winning average. The last five games for those teams is even worse, 9-21 for 30% average. It really doesn't take a stunning effort to defeat teams that only win 30% of their games.

Nick Canepa waxed rhapsodic about the Chargers defense in those six games. Well, the highest ranked offense that the Chargers have faced is Denver, ranked 11th in the NFL. The others that this "awesome defense" has stopped are ranked 19th, 21st, 25th, 22nd and 31st for an average of 25th. I am somewhat less dazzled than Nick by this performance.

Norv Turner raves about the performance of Philip Rivers, citing that the bottom line is that he has won games. With a couple of games where his rating was in the 30's and several in the low 60's, I don't see much to rave about; and Norv doesn't mention the fumbles, interceptions, and really bad decisions. Does Norv not think that a running back wearing the number 21 had something to do with those wins?

Methinks there is a little bit of wishful thinking going on here. The team and the writers cannot talk themselves into a win over Tennessee tomorrow, the team is going to have to shut the hell up and perform. This team has a tendency to start believing their own hype and expecting that the opponent will simply faint when they come on the field. Unfortunately, that seldom happens. Actually, we're still waiting for it to happen.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Wacky Weekend

Well, the weekend may be a little wacky but mostly I’m getting that way. I’m taking a break from working my butt off. Well, I’ve been working 3+ hours/day which for me is a frenetic pace: I’m supposed to be retired for medical reasons which I won’t bore you with.

There is a major rainstorm coming, I have laid in supplies for cooking but have decided not to build an ark, and the Chargers are in a playoff game on Sunday which may or may not be televised locally and which they may or may not win even though they are favored by a ridiculous 9 points.

The rainstorm has been being forecast for several days, with predictions of up to 5”-6” at the coast. That would put us above our normal rainfall for the first time in several years. At one point the NOAA was cautioning about the “likelihood of life-threatening flooding” in the recently burned areas. More recent predictions are beginning to soft-pedal a bit, but they are still for quite a lot of rain for several days. This during a La Nina year, which normally produces severe drought here. Go figure.

I’ve laid in supplies because San Diego becomes quite hazardous when it rains. Everybody thinks their car is going to dissolve, or something, so they drive really fast to get home before that happens. Nobody’s windshield wipers work because “My God, who knew I might need them?” and, of course, you can’t replace them when it’s raining. You’ll get all wet.

Grilled burgers for dinner tonight, Orange and Ginger Chicken on noodles tomorrow, and Green Chilies Chicken Salad for the football game Sunday. Want recipes? I might accommodate you in the next day or so.

Which brings us to the upcoming game with the Chargers, winners of six straight games now. Yeah, against teams with records like 4-12 or so. I’m not quite as impressed with them as they are with themselves. Nine point favorites against the Titans? In your dreams.

The personalities of the players, with their arrogance and chest-pounding, “look at me” ways may have something to do with the fact that, as of Friday morning, the Sunday playoff game was not yet sold out and its presence on the tube was still uncertain. That and the forecast of rain. San Diegans do not like to get wet, except in the ocean or their bathtubs. But you can’t get naked at Qualcomm Stadium. (Well, I guess you could, but... Never mind.) There were only about 350 tickets left to be sold as of today, so…

Philip Rivers is being hailed as something between George Washington crossing the Delaware and Moses parting the Red Sea. To me he looks more like Barney Fife dropping his bullet while loading his gun and doing a belly flop in the lake. He’s turned out to be an arrogant jerk with a thoroughly unlikable personality; but we aren’t asking him to dinner, we’re just expecting him to throw enough good passes to win games. Which he has done, marginally, against 4-12 teams. It remains to be seen what he can do against a team with a winning habit.

I want to see them win Sunday, I’m just not real confident that I will.

Spin Goes Into High Gear

I am absolutely cracking up today as the "spin machine" kicks into ultra-high gear. Those who hate Clinton are whooping and hollering about the whupping she got, and those who support her are decrying what a "flawed process" the Iowa caucuses are.

The reality is that it doesn't mean as much as either side is making of it. It does destroy the "inevitability" of the Clinton coronation, and I'm all for that, but she is far from out of it. She has a powerful machine and a lot of money, and those are the meat and potatoes of politics today.

But I have more hope for this nation today than I did yesterday, that's for damn sure.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Campaign Tactics

Just a quick note on presidential election campaign tactics.

"We’re a nation at war in a dangerous world," Clinton tells Iowans in what she calls her “closing argument.” It does get a bit better after that, but that’s her opening salvo.

That’s the kind of “leadership” we’ve had for the past six years and more, do we really want four more years of fearmongering from the White House?

In a blog I was reading the other day the author was ticking off the points in favor of the candidates and one of the criteria was “willing to do anything to win.” He graded Clinton highest in that category, saying that she seemed very willing to do anything to win and that that makes her the best candidate. I just can’t get on board with that. I think honesty and decency and ethics count. Rove and Bush and company were willing to do anything to win, and they won (well, they took the prize) and look where that got us.

Clinton does appear to me to be willing to do anything to win the presidency, including the use of Republican scare tactics, and to me that is reason to vote against her, not for her.

Not that I was going to vote for her anyway, of course.

Update: Thursday 9:30PM

I can't find the quote, but there was something on an MSNBC crawler about Hillary Clinton saying that today was a "great day" because so many people turned out to vote in the Democratic primary, or caucus, or whatever. The fact that only 29% of them voted for her apparently didn't upset her a bit.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sam Nunn and Campaign Issues

I lived in Atlanta many years ago, and Sam Nunn was a man for who I had great respect. He had character. I remember one time while chairing the Armed Services Committee he favored a Boeing proposal over a Martin-Marietta one for the Air Force, even though the latter one would have had the planes being built in his home state of Georgia. He drew a lot of heat for that, but the Boeing proposal was the more cost effective one.

I had been gone from Georgia for some time by the time he retired, so I don’t know what happened to him. I do know that he has been active in nuclear non-proliferation issues, which is certainly effort well spent.

Now he is launching a series of seminars to try to coerce the presidential candidates to address serious issues that he feels are being neglected in the present campaign; issues like the federal debt, national service and failure of this country to adopt a comprehensive energy policy. He is drawing a lot of criticism from both sides about this “bipartisan” effort, a label that as far as I can find has not been used by him but has been applied only by his critics.

I am seriously unhappy about his decision to include Bloomberg in his efforts, and the impetus that such a move provides for Bloomberg as a third party presidential candidate. Third parties in the presidential election have been pretty disruptive in the past, sometimes disastrous, and Bloomberg is a particularly awful choice to put in such a role.

However, he has a valid point in saying that the presidential campaign to date is giving us pretty much nothing on which to base any kind of decision on who is best suited to guide this country. Look at the subjects he named and ask yourself how much discussion has been held regarding them in the campaign so far, by any candidate of either party.

To the list mentioned by Sam Nunn I would add one, the fact that our spending on the military exceeds that of the rest of the nations in the world combined and what little talking is done about that is to the effect that it should be increased.

The two subjects that are discussed are the war in Iraq and healthcare. As to Iraq, Republicans will keep us there and Democrats will get us out but the promises of getting us out are short on specifics as to implementation and are always hedged with conditions about the need of “keeping us safe.” On healthcare Republicans wants to leave individuals on their own and Democrats promote variations on the theme of increasing the role of the insurance industry which is the only present winner in the current debacle. Yes, these statements are oversimplifications, but not by much.

The rest of the campaign is fluffy statements that are geared to the audience of the moment, empty rhetoric designed to make the speaker sound good and/or make the other candidate(s) sound bad. “I’ve been fighting for you for 35 years so you should vote for me,” whatever that means.

The federal debt? We cannot talk about that because untying that knot requires talking about raising taxes on somebody, probably on campaign contributors, or cutting services, to people who vote, or reducing pork barrel spending, on projects being built by contractors who are campaign contributors. We are spending the resources of future generations, which is irresponsible to the point of criminality.

National service? Perish the thought that we should talk about patriotism in the form of actually asking men and women to bear arms and die for their country, or even telling them that it is their duty to do so. Duty is to go shopping and to put a magnet on one’s car in memory of other people who bore arms and died for their country. No politician can say today what Kennedy said so many years ago that stirred a country to action, “Ask not what your country can do for you…”

An energy policy? We cannot form a sensible energy policy with gasoline that costs about half what the rest of the world pays to fuel their cars. We can’t do it with auto manufacturers being free to set their own mileage standards, and with other manufacturers free to set their own air quality standards. We can’t do it with corporate America running Congress with lobbying dollars.

Sam Nunn has one thing right, the presidential candidates need to talk about the hard things. The Iraq war and healthcare are the popular things to talk about, the easy things, and the candidates are not giving us real talk even on those. The easy things matter, but the hard things matter too, and they won’t go away just because we don’t talk about them.