Thursday, April 30, 2009

Irrational Panic

We need to realize that regular seasonal flu kills 36,000 people every year in this country, and we don't get all freaked out about that and start hyperventilating about closing schools and shutting down borders. In the week that 156 people died in Mexico from the H1N1 virus, statistically 692 people died in this country from plain old vanilla flu. That's 692 every week from the plain old flu virus that goes around every year.

Press Conference 3

I was mostly impressed last night with how vapid and feeble our media tends to be. They have little tablets from which they read their questions, apparently too feeble minded or too long winded to remember what they are planning to ask. When they finally manage to get the question out, it frequently turns out to be pretty worthless; designed not to elicit any information but to see if they can make the President say something that he doesn’t want to say.

Fat chance, they are not in his league. Lambs to his wolf.

For the most part he took the non-questions, smiled, and then provided informative and relatively non-political answers. He didn’t make a bunch of mini-speeches and sling cliches around either. It is really nice having a President that I can enjoy listening to.

It boiled down to him saying that the job is really, really hard in a way that was completely devoid of complaint or whining. He said that he was the right man for the job in a manner that was devoid of arrogance, and that he had the right team for the job. He said that the administration was off to a really good start, and his demeanor implied without the least self aggrandizement that he was thriving in the office.

He did shuffle his feet a bit on the torture issue, calling it by name but carefully avoiding connecting it with the previous administration. When asked about providing help for the 50% unemployed people of color in New York, he threw platitudes around pretty freely to avoid giving the true answer; that he is doing nothing to target them or groups like them.

On the question about the “state secrets” thing he flat blew major bs at us with the statement about the act being “too broad” and the DOJ working to narrow it down, and on the issue of having to use arguments in court due to lack of time to prepare.

On the first, the arguments his lawyers used go beyond the already overly broad arguments used by the Bush Administration, and both have broadened the narrow definition of the act beyond sanity. As to the second, any court in the land will grant additional time to prepare under reasonable circumstances. In fact. in one of the cases in question, the judge even offered a delay which was declined by the Obama lawyers.

I did quite like the way he sidestepped reporters efforts to get him to to outright bash the Republican Party, and his suggestion that a policy of simply rejecting everything was, "not an effective policy."

So my bs meter report was that it twitched slightly on one question, it fluttered in the yellow zone for another, and it was flat on the peg in the red zone for another. But it was comfortably on the zero peg for ten questions. Not bad, not bad at all.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Obama Flu

Apparently the worst thing Obama has done in his first 100 days is cause a Swine Flu outbreak in Mexico. Michele Bachmann, Wingnut Republican from Minnesota, says that she finds it "interesting" that the last time we had an outbreak of Swine Flu was "under another Democrat president in 1976, Jimmy Carter."

Of course that outbreak was before Carter was even elected in 1976, let alone before he took office in 1977, but let's not be picky. I really want to comment on her assumption implication that the resident of the White House has something to do with an outbreak of a disease in Mexico, but I am simply at a loss. Some thinking is so far outside the boundaries of reality that it defies rebuttal.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu Note

Left-leaning pundits and bloggers everywhere are bloviating at length about how the holdup on the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius as HHS Secretary, and the concomitant vacancy of twenty or so executives positions in that department, is a disaster in the face of the current Swine Flu outbreak. I regard that as nonsense at a couple of levels.

First, the Department of HHS is staffed by career professionals who are not sitting around reading magazines and waiting for these 21 people to tell them what to do. The unfilled positions are political, policy-making positions which have little to do with the day-to-day operation of the department.

Secondly, and more importantly, an outbreak of a communicable disease is monitored by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. It is fully staffed and its management staff is fully in place. It is monitoring the outbreak and is releasing public statements on a regular and as-needed basis.

The 100 Day Thing

I'm going to get a jump on the 100-day critique of President Obama's performance, and I feel quite confident doing that in that my expertise is so severely limited and my fame so utterly nonexistent that I am sure to influence nobody of significance. I don't think David Axelrod is going to call me up and complain about me influencing, say, the New York Times.

I'm not going to discuss his legislative agenda for the simple reason that I don't believe a President should even have a legislative agenda. I think the legislature should have a legislative agenda (which our current one does not). Pretty radical thinking, and to some degree itself a critique, but...

I believe the role of President is to provide moral leadership to the nation, and to represent us in the international community. Grade A- on the first and A+ on the second.

He would grade higher on the first as well if he weren't quite so cozy with Wall Street and so incoherent on his recovery plans. Polls suggest that the nation loves his economic stimulus but is unhappy with his financial sector bailout and less than thrilled with his handling of the auto industry. He is doing so many other things so well that "right direction/wrong direction" and "confidence" polling suggests that we're sort of blowing those off and feeling good about ourselves and our nation though, so he gets a win.

On a personal note, he would grade higher if he were less in the "look forward" mode and less insistent on ignoring the previous administration's abuses of the laws and constitution of this nation.

I'll speak tomorrow to some details that I don't like, when everyone else is talking about his water-walking skilz. Well, everyone but the Republicans, of course.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Minor Cat Fight

It seems that Eric Cantor picked a spat with Barack Obama in a meeting at the White House, a move that apparently did not go all that well for him according to an article at the Politico site,

Obama ultimately reiterated his commitment to reach across the aisle, a participant in the meeting said. At that, Cantor brought up Obama’s request that his Cabinet secretaries find $100 million in cost savings. That was a “good start,” Cantor told the president, but he added, “We could do more.”

Obama asked Cantor to present him with a list of places where the federal government could save more money. The self-described conservative eagerly agreed.

“You can expect us to have something very soon,” Cantor said.

The typical, "Um, we'll get back to you as soon as we get a clue."
I want to see a showdown between Barack Obama and Chuck Norris.
My money would be on Barack Obama.

Government's "Corrupt Compact"

I was watching an interview with David Kilcullen, author of "The Accidental Guerrilla” and, especially for an author, a remarkably fascinating speaker. He was on Cspan2 being interviewed by David Ingatius about the book.

One of the things he said quite struck me as he was explaining why the Iraqi government is not functioning properly. He stated that “The members in their government do not represent the people, they represent the parties.” He went on to say that we should be doing something to make the Iraqi government more representative of the people.

I could not help but think that maybe we should look to our own house.

Consider both houses of our own legislature, where measures pass based not on the content of the legislation but on the permissibility placed on them by party leadership. Only very rarely does a public hue and cry erupt that is of sufficient volume to cause legislators to vote based on the desire of the governed; our legislators represent their own party interest and openly work to keep their own party in power when they are in the majority, or to depose the majority party when they are not.

The mantra of the modern legislator is never “How can we best serve the nation?” but “How can we maintain our own power and beat the other party?”

Earlier in the day I had been listening to Juan Williams discuss how Martin Luther King had changed American politics, and at the end of his talk he quite eloquently challenged voters of color to reengage in the political process. One young woman asked a question, wanting to know how the House of Representatives, the body that the founders had designed to be the “closest to the people,” could have evolved into its current state with the highest reelection rate in politics. His reply briefly addressed congressional districting, and he said that this was “a corrupt compact” that politicians had made in order to preserve power.

This “corrupt compact” is abetted by the fact that barely half of the people in this nation who are eligible to vote perform that duty, often far fewer than half in local and primary elections. Only the most ardently political voters participate in primary elections, and as a result only the most radically partisan politicos emerge from them to campaign in the general elections. That leaves the general population with nothing but fairly bad choices, but that is of their own making since they did not participate earlier when they could have affected those choices.

The partisanship that has infested and paralyzed our governance today is partly, not in full but in significant measure, of our own making. When you care so little about who will govern you that you cannot be bothered to go to the polls and participate in electing them, then you will get bad people in government. When you care so little that you go to the polls and vote without knowing the people or issues, when you vote on a partisan basis, then you will get a partisan government.

This partisan government and its “corrupt compact” is the one we elected.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Best Comment Ever

Reading a post about a guy who is trying to get information off of his old Windows XP computer onto his new Vista one. Comments are a) telling him to get a Macintosh, b) trashing Vista, c) suggesting he revive the old xp machine, d) urging him to get drunk and similar exercises, e) a few useful suggestions on how to do it and then,

Waterboard the xp machine and it'll give you all the information it has.

Win. First runner up was this,

I swear to the gods, I dislike Mac people almost as much as I dislike Republicans. A simple request on how to address a problem with a PC brings them out of the woodwork to start touting and defending their overpriced elitist toys. Really, if you can’t actually help, just shut up. You are all pathetic.

Sounds a little oversensitive, but that post follows one that claims that no Mac has ever in known history crashed.

Torture Debate: Endless Stupidity

Something new has been added to the torture discussion, a discussion which has mostly been the same things flogged repeatedly; moral, legal, functional and political squabbling dragged down to semantic niggling.

During WW2 the military had a policy, and as far is I know still does, that anyone who knew of future military planning was required to stay on base. They were not allowed to go where the enemy might capture them. That way, all the enemy could learn from captives was what they already knew; who we were and what we had done. They could not learn from captives what we were planning.

In a segment Friday evening on Hardball an intelligence professional makes the, to me, very sensible argument that this paranoid focus on interrogating captives has not only failed to give us information of the future planning of terrorist networks, it has detracted from the effort which could give us that knowledge, “case officers in the field” looking for and studying the activity of persons who we have not yet captured.

Drumheller describes how we started this whole ugly mess because we were terrified on 9/11 and just “had to do something,” and then how the process fed on itself and “gained momentum.” He described how “they thought ‘this happened because we were weak and now we’re going to be strong.’” And repeatedly he decries how it detracts from the far more valuable collection of “information by case officers in the field.”

The transcript won’t be available until Monday, so watch the clip to hear the details, but Mt. Drumheller is well worth listening to, and Chris Matthews is somewhat less obnoxious than usual in that he often allows the guest to finish a complete sentence.

Stupidity, Part Two: The Hardball Award
In the segment following that one, Chris Matthews repeatedly shouted down guest Jonathan Turley as he kept trying to say that torturers should be prosecuted, and chuckled along with Pat Robertson as he defended not investigating it. He showed a clip of John McCain adamantly (well, as adamantly as McCain is capabable of these days) insisting that the whole thing be dropped at once because it is “partisan” and “distracting.”

He then presented the “Hardball Award” to McCain with his usual fawning discourse about how McCain is a hero, and has been tortured, and has stood up against torture. He didn’t, of course, after lionizing him for “standing up against torture,” replay the clip from the previous segment of McCain insisting that those who used torture not be prosecuted.

This Hardball Award was a joke from the beginning, and it becomes more so every day. It’s reached the point that if he sees your name in a headline in any Beltway or New York paper he will fall all over himself presenting you with a Hardball Award. Now he’s added Chicago to that list with his fascination over the deposed governor.

Don’t get the wrong impression, I actually like Chris Matthews, and I watch him regularly, but he can just come off as a real airhead at times. And I am totally at odds with him on his unstated but clear position that investigating the Bush Administration is a distraction and should take a back seat to more important things.

Friday, April 24, 2009

American Hubris

hubrisThis annoys me on a couple of levels. First, our generals should not be discussing foreign policy. Second, Pakistan is perfectly capable of determining its own policy and priorities; they do not need instruction from our State Department, let alone from our generals.

Springtime in San Diego

Nasty. Back to typical spring weather; high in the very low sixties and the sun, if it comes out at all, is only seen for an hour or so in late afternoon. Yecccch. I can't wait for July.

Nation of Laws

Jamal Williams, defensive lineman and consensus superstar for the San Diego Chargers, was stopped for 85mph and an erratic lane change in the early morning. He was held for several hours before blood was drawn for a blood alcohol level, by which time it was 0.07% and below the legal level for a drunk driving charge. (That he was held at all indicates that the officer had reason to believe he was intoxicated, since a person would not be taken in for the traffic violations alone.) He will pay a $400 fine for the two minor traffic offenses and attend an eight-hour traffic class.

How many people who were not multi-millionaires and/or publicly adored stars (or, in Williams' case, both) would be allowed to sober up before having their blood drawn, thereby avoiding the more serious charge?

Move on folks, no favoritism is being shown here, nothing to see. We are, after all, a nation of laws.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Irrelevant Argument

Let me be as plain as I can be here. If you walk into a bank, pull out a gun, demand money and escape successfully with the money, the police are not going to say, "Oh we won't pursue him because the bank robbery worked." They are going to hunt your scrawny ass down and throw it in prison.

So why should we say that torture, a crime against humanity, is okay because it worked? That is just absurd.

Wrong Argument on Torture

I am really sick of the ongoing argument about torture, but to hope that it goes away just because I (we) are tired of talking about it is to allow evil to triumph. In the face of our government’s apparent unwillingness to address it, the only way that this will be resolved is if ongoing public discourse forces the resolution.

America has never officially sanctioned torture, and that is precisely what the Bush Administration did. If we do not prosecute those who created and promulgated that official sanction, then we become part of it and it is no longer the Bush Administration sanctioning torture, it is the nation. That’s what is at stake here; not just retribution or punishment, but preserving the integrity of our nation.

Karl Rove refers to the present discourse as nothing more than a policy disagreement, but it is a great deal more than that. The Bush Administration had a policy of sanctioning the use of torture and the question is simple: do we allow that to become a national policy, or do we establish that it was a rogue policy limited to the Bush Administration.

Look, America has always used torture. That is a very unpleasant thing to face but I do not doubt it. Stories abound of the CIA taking a couple of North Vietnamese up in a helicopter, throwing one of them out at altitude and then questioning the other. In that war and in wars throughout history interrogators have faced the “ticking time bomb” scenario repeatedly. They have a captured enemy who they think knows the details of an impending attack on our forces and are determined to obtain that information. That torture was ever successful in doing so is doubtful, but that hasn’t stopped interrogators from doing it in case after case.

In resorting to torture those historical interrogators knew that they were breaking the law. They were not ordered to do what they did, and they did not ask anyone if what they were doing was legal. They knew that if what they were doing was brought into the light of day it would reflect badly on their nation and would have disastrous consequences for them personally.

What they did was not sanctioned by their superiors or by their nation.

In a way they could be considered heroes; their intention was to save lives. They put the welfare of the troops ahead of their own scruples and their own safety vis a vis the law. But they are dangerous and despicable people and whenever possible they should be prosecuted and, when judged guilty, punished severely. They broke the law, they committed crimes against humanity, and they put at risk the reputation of their nation.

For the first time in the history of our nation this activity was not the work of rogue interrogators, but was the officially sanctioned policy, passed down from the top and carried out in the form of individuals following orders.

For a time the Bush Administration tried to conceal the treatment that they had applied to “detainees.” When they could no longer do that they tried to redefine that treatment so that it was no longer “torture” and therefore not illegal. That has now failed and they are trying the argument that it obtained valuable information, that it “worked.”

It doesn’t matter whether it worked or not, it is a crime against humanity.

Even if it did “work,” even if it saved hundreds of thousands of lives, we should thank them for their work, maybe pin a medal on them, and then lock them in a maximum security prison for the rest of their lives.

Resolution will not be reached if this nation absolves anyone who participated in the officially sanctioned policy of torturing captives, as Barack Obama seems passionately determined to do. All traces of that official sanction must be expunged.

I am not reading too much into his release of the latest memos, much as I admire his willingness to do so. Some say the release is political calculation to further an eventual investigation into the torture program, but it could equally be a political calculation that refusing to release them would have created a firestorm against him that he was unwilling to face.

His statement releasing the responsibility for the investigation decision to Eric Holder has been accompanied by a host of rather strongly worded messages that such an investigation would be highly unwelcome by the man who appointed him to that office and at whose pleasure he serves.

"There's a host of very complicated issues involved there. As a general deal, I think we should be looking forward and not backward.

"I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively, and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations."

And, of course, he has very specifically promised that those who performed the actual crimes will not only face no prosecution, but will keep their jobs in the national intelligence organization. So, while we are no longer committing these crimes, we are still employing the people who did so and are employing them in the same positions which they held when they committed the crimes.

Exactly how our President can do that and then say with a straight face that “we are a nation of laws” is completely beyond me.

It is also beyond my ability to comprehend how we can be expected to accept the argument that a crime against humanity is permissible national policy because it serves our purpose. That’s like a bank robber pleading to a judge that his bank robbery was okay because he succeeded in getting the money, money which he needed very badly, and therefor the robbery was not wrong. No judge would buy that argument.

Nor should we buy the argument that “torture works.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Right on Secretary of State

The more I see of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the more I believe that she is turning out to be an excellent choice for that position. I did not support her selection, and I’m increasingly thinking that I was dead wrong.

For one thing, we are not seeing all that much of her. I rather expected grandstanding and there is a lack of that which is a credit to her, to her office, and to the nation which she serves. On the occasions when we have seen her I have felt significant pride at the manner in which she has represented my country with dignity and grace.

She has unfailingly and wholeheartedly supported her President. In every instance when there has been opportunity for her to advance her own policy, or even what might be his policy on her own initiative, she has deferred to the President. She has deflected criticism of the President and supported him without using reflexive, defensive platitudes and without to the least degree becoming a presidential echo chamber.

The following clip provides an interesting exchange:

I enjoyed the quote about “It won't surprise you that I don't consider Dick Cheney a particularly reliable source…”

I inserted the clip, however, for what follows that. Pressed, in an extremely rude manner, for an answer about her position on releasing the memos that Cheney claims exist Clinton responds that “I will support whatever decision the Obama Administration makes.” Asked what her recommendation will be on that decision, she says that she “will not share that” with the committee.

I have seldom seen a member of the legislature treat a member of the Executive Branch quite as rudely as that jackass treats Mrs. Clinton but, while she gets just a little bit short with him toward the end, she remains quite polite to him throughout.

I’m thinking we may have the right Secretary of State.

Tribal Journalism

I have lost the source of this quote, but I’m going to use it anyway. I read it in the comments of something I was reading and made a copy of it because it so perfectly expressed what I have been experiencing lately. The first paragraph merely provides basis for the second, which is the real crux of the quote. The emphasis is mine.

What sickened me though was flipping between news stations and having to see Hannity et al on Fox News proclaiming to be populist saviors and giving voice to a bunch of people who, although I agree with them that "we the people" are getting screwed, think that we should never pay taxes and that Obama is some socialist demon risen from Hell to eat everyone's guns. Seeing Hannity interview Joe the Plumber was like the icing on the cake.

Then you could switch channels to see Maddow and Olberman yucking it up about how stupid the protesters are and how great the Federal government is--and basically acting like the smug liberal stereotype that the right tries to portray them as. It was all thinly veiled tribalism on both channels, with nary an ounce of critical analysis and thinking.

There is, if you look carefully, an underlying complaint in the “tea bag” protests some unrest that is not about current taxes but about the tax burden that we will be placing on future generations if we continue the spending levels for which Obama is setting precedent. (Well, in fairness, Bush set the precedent and Obama is expanding on it.) This is a valid concern which one side translates to “we should never be taxed,” and the other side mocks and laughs at.

To be critical of Fox News, which Olbermann and Maddow do at great length, while using the same exaggeration, hyperbole and lack of seriousness that the organization you are attacking is engaged in is the definition of hypocrisy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Getting It Right

Well bless Google's pea-pickin' little heart. I have never liked comments in either the full page or popup format, and they just added a new format: embedded below the post. When you add a comment you will now be on the actual "individual post page" and have the actual post (scroll up), as well as all other comments while you are adding your own comment.

I was reading a comment "hack" and somebody added that Google had added the new feature. There are about a zillion people "out there" who are adding features and gimmicks to Blogspot, and many of them are almost awesomely creative.

You'll note I added a neat little "read more" button for expandable posts which is my own creation. This site is getting kind of classy, and I'm having some fun.

Getting It Wrong

The media is all atwitter with the Jane Harman story, and the issue seems to be that Alberto Gonzales stifled the investigation for political purposes, that the administration needed her support on the illegal wiretapping issue which was about to break. The Bush Administration quashed investigation of a crime in order to use that evidence to blackmail the perpetrator.

How about the fact that she seems to have been willing to support a foreign cause for money? She was, after all, overheard telling agents of a foreign government that she would support their cause in return for money and their return support. That is acceptance of bribery. The media is mentioning this in passing, but pundits are largely ignoring it.

How about the fact that Nancy Pelosi appears to have been covering this crime up? The investigators were required to report the issue to the senior member of Harman’s party and say that they did so; that would be Pelosi. She denied Harman the chairmanship, but went along with Gonzalez in concealing the bribery. This part of the cover-up is accepted as being nothing more than normal politics.

So the media and pundits are coming down in righteous outrage and indignation on those involved who are already out of office but are giving a pass, as they always do, to those who are still members in good standing of the governing elite. Laws regarding bribery and covering up crimes do not apply to them.

In the continuing argument on torture, those who oppose it keep allowing proponents to draw them into the wrong defensive non-sequiturs. The only arguments needed are that it is unlawful and that we are a nation of laws, and the larger argument that it is inhumane and we are a humane people.

When someone says that “it works” it is not necessary to argue that it does nothing of the sort. It does not “work,” of course, but that it not the point. The point is that it does not matter whether it works or not; it is inhumane and illegal. Bank robbery “works,” but that doesn’t mean that people who need money should go out and rob banks. Why not? Because it harms others and is against the law.

When someone justifies torture by arguing that “these are bad guys who killed thousands,” it is true but irrelevant to argue that their guilt has not yet been proven. The correct argument is that it isn’t about them, it’s about us. It doesn’t matter who they are, it matters who we are. We treat all persons in a humane manner because we are humane. We treat all persons in a lawful manner because we are lawful.

By using the wrong argument we corrupt the very fabric of our society because we make the discussion about something else altogether; not that we become what we are talking about, merely that we make the discussion so. In the first instance the issue is no longer about a nation in which laws mean anything; it's now about which party is currently in power and can control the enforcement of those laws. In the second the discussion is no longer about who we are, nor about whether we will or will not torture, but about when and under what circumstances we will torture.

But if we continue a discussion along these lines long enough, we can become these things because we lose sight of the underlying truth; the truth which is lost in the conversation because it is never spoken. I would suggest that, in the first case, that is already happening.

Monday, April 20, 2009


That's how many people hit our beaches each day this weekend. Normal is 30,000 to 50,000 per day on a non-holiday weekend. It was the end of spring break, and did I mention the weather was warmish? There were only some 50 rescues, though, probably due to a 58-degree ocean temperature.

Silent Messaging

hot catI think someone is trying to tell me to do something about this damn heat. My wife would be doing a similar thing, but she is at work at the moment. Unlike Molly, she does not wear a fur coat, but she manages "the look" every bit as well. Sheesh, it's only 97, and there's quite a nice breeze. The "heat index" is a mere 92, and if it gets down to 28 we'll have fog.

Semantic Nonsense

The argument over gay marriage continues, and I’m going to post what may be the longest article I’ve ever posted. It’s on that subject, giving my thoughts on why this whole thing is such a nonsensical argument and why civil unions for same sex couples are not only unequal, but how they are hopelessly inadequate.

When my wife and I got married we had a ceremony in a church with a priest, quite a lot of people and music. We made vows to love and be faithful, we invoked God as part of the union, most of the women cried and then we walked down the aisle. After all of that was finished the priest said “We have some business to take care of” and we retired to a small room with the priest, best man, and matron of honor. We all signed a bunch of documents which the priest then filed with the State of California.

Sound familiar? Sure it does. Everyone who has been married in any church has been through that routine, engaging in two entirely separate ceremonies on the same day, one following immediately upon the heels of the other. They are two different processes involving entirely different concepts and, unhappily, both of them are called “marriage.”

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to refer to the first one, the one in the church with the music and what have you as “marriageC” for church marriage, and the second one, in the little room, as “marriageD” for the documents that are involved in it.

In the first ceremony the priest was functioning in his capacity as a representative of the Episcopal Church and a delegate of God because we chose to make this a religious ceremony involving that church. Note here that I spoke of the vows of love and faithfulness, as these vows are usually considered an important aspect of marriageC.

In marriageD the priest was functioning as an official of the State of California, and was overseeing us as we entered into a legal agreement between us involving power of attorney, property rights and other legalities. There is nothing in that agreement about love or faithfulness, and the priest was signing it purely in his capacity as a state official.

In our society today any heterosexual couple can elect to have marriageD, or marriageC, or both. Unless, that is, your church won’t let you.

The Catholic Church doesn’t recognize divorce, so if you get divorced you are still connected by marriageC but not by marriageD. If you remarry the Catholic church does not recognize that marriage so you are not single in marriageD terms but you sort of are single by marriageC terms, except you’re still sort of marriedC to your first spouse. I have no first hand knowledge, but I’m sure there are other churches with similar and other issues regarding the permissibility of marriageC.

Everybody was perfectly content with that, with churches discriminating on no real apparent legal basis and with people being married but not really married, until two men announced that they wanted to get married. At that point religious fundamentalists took up the hue and cry and something approaching a civil war has erupted.

Over what, precisely?

No one has suggested that any church must accept in its marriageC definition the union of same sex couples. Churches would be entirely free to grant or deny the marriageC ceremony to same sex couples, just as the Catholic Church denies it to some heterosexual couples today.

The argument is over whether or not same sex couples should be allowed to enter into the legal contract which we call by the same name. It is not the same thing, however; it is merely a contract that says, “This is the person whom I choose to make decisions for me when I am incapacitated. This is the person with whom I choose to share my property.” Etcetera. It is a legal contract between the parties and the state, and has nothing whatever to do with any higher power or religious belief.

So when you hear someone say that they think the government should just limit itself to “civil unions” for everybody and leave marriage up to individual churches, tell them that that is exactly the way we are presently doing it, except that we use the word marriage for both of them.

There are plenty of cases in the English language where we have two different things that go by the same name, and we don’t seem to have any huge problem with them. (The fact that they are called “homonyms” is a bit unfortunate, here.) Take the word “bank” for instance. You don’t freak out and ask your friend why in the hell he would bury his money alongside a river, do you?

We use the same word for two different institutions because our law is derived from English Common Law in which, at one time, the Church of England was the “established” church and the two issues were not separate. But they are entirely separate in America today.

Some couples choose to get married, marriageD, by a Justice of the Peace and never engage in marriageC at all. There are cases where a couple will choose to engage in a marriageC and not in a marriageD and, in fact, if one is a member of a church willing to do so a same sex couple could do that very thing today.

That is no solution to the problem, though, because that couple would not have the same legal rights as my wife and I do, and that is the point of the argument. Why should a same sex couple not be allowed to have those same rights?

Pat Robertson applies the “one man, one woman, for the purpose of procreation” definition to both forms of marriage. (Perhaps because he has difficulty distinguishing between church and state, but…) His argument of applying that definition to marriageD gains some credibility from the fact that a child which is the product of a marriageD contract inherits from the father, while the child produced without the benefit of that contract does not.

However, the right of inheritance is not spelled out within the marriage contract, but is spelled out in other laws with marriage being referenced in those laws as a status being needed for those laws to apply in a certain manner. If the status of marriage does not exist then those laws are applied in a different manner.

That is because we carry out the marriageD contract by having the state confer upon us the status of marriageD that requires that various other laws be carried out in various ways. The rights of marriageD are not enumerated rights, but are inherent rights conferred by the status of marriageD in the application of all of the other laws of the state within which the marriedD couple lives.

One of the inherent privileges conferred by the status of marriageD is to have the father’s property passed on to the children in the application of the state’s property laws. Not marriage laws, property laws. (Pat Robertson translates that to “a license to procreate.”) A same sex couple would in many cases, but not all since some will adopt, not be choosing to use this privilege. Does this render them ineligible for the status of marriageD?

Citizenship is another issue which confers inherent rather than enumerated rights and priveledges. One of those is the right to run for public office, something which the vast majority will never do. Should they therefore not be eligible for citizenship because they will not be exercising one of the privileges of that status?

So the fact that a same sex couple cannot procreate is a nonsensical reason for refusing them the status that we grant to others. Besides which, many heterosexual couples engage in marriageD without having the slightest intention (and in some cases ability) to procreate.

Since the rights and privileges of marriageD are inherent rather than enumerated, the use of “civil unions” is utterly unworkable. To make that status equal would require going through every single state law and changing every single reference of “married” to read “married or engaged in civil union.” Absurd. If you missed even one instance, then the “civil union” would not be equal.

The alternative would be not to expect a “civil union” to have inherent rights and then list all of the state laws and apply them as enumerated rights and privileges in the status conferral rather than changing laws. That process is even more absurd, because then the status would have to be amended every time a new law is passed.

And what happens if the couple moves to a different state?

I have always thought that it was required that all states honor marriageD status conferred by all other states, but I can find no reference indicating that such is the case. Certainly that has always been done prior to this issue arising, perhaps merely as a point of common understanding, and certainly things would be chaotic as all hell without it. Otherwise a couple would have to perform a new marriageD every time they moved to another state. As far as I know all states honor do the marriageD status conferred by other states for heterosexual couples today.

To summarize, there is no valid reason not to grant marriageD to any couple based on gender; none whatever. The screaming and yelling is occurring because churches, not all churches but only some churches, do not want to grant marriageC to same sex couples, when the discussion is about marriageD and no one is even talking about marriageC. Churches who want to grant marriageC to same sex couples can already do so and churches who don’t want to don’t have to, and that will remain true no matter what happens with marriageD.

So why is the religious argument even in this thing? Because the antagonists cannot tell the difference between fishing from a bank and putting their money in a bank.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cooking Today

I'm in the process of making barbeque sauce for grilling chicken, which requires four hours or so. My wife just asked me why I'm doing that when we're not having company, and I'm trying to figure out what that means. Was I just insulted? Was she complaining, or expressing happiness...? What?

Watching TV

I've been following a multi-blog discussion on the issue of reporters granting, and public officials demanding, anonymity in news reporting. The idea keeps surfacing that a contributor to the issue has been the television series "West Wing," where the public official would breezily use the phrase "off the record" and have it automatically granted. Just as with the idea that CIA operatives got their ideas on questioning suspects from "24," I find that idea really quite horrifying.

Do we really have people in such responsible jobs drawing their standards for real life behavior from fictional television programs?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Earthlink Unlinks

It seems that Earthlink has taken some sort of sudden dislike to Cox Communications and is rejecting all emails originating at My family is at the former and I am at the latter, so my family may think I'm dead. I'm not. I'm not a spammer, either, despite Earthlink's accusations and email rejections, and my computer is not infected with anything. The Cox people said it is their entire network that's being blocked.

Update: Saturday, 6:00pm
Still not fixed, and I have to have a little sympathy for the technicians at Cox, which is a fine company with excellent customer service. My guess, and this is strictly a guess, is that someone in the area is infected with some sort of spammer virus (maybe Conficker?) and Earthlink has cut off the entire source network. That's not unreasonable on their part either, so... Damn spammers. It's not me, though, I checked.

Update: Sunday, 8:00am Back up

Rain on the Parade

Rain is a bad thing if you're having a picnic or a parade, but it's a good thing if you're a farmer.

Things that happen are just that, things. They are not bad things or good things, they are just things that happen. "Good" and "bad" ("better" and "worse") are not inherent in those things, they are just value judgements which we place on those things when we speak of them. And we place those value judgements based on how those things affect us.

So when President Obama said that he saw signs that the economy is beginning to get better he is making that value judgement from his point of view which, in all fairness, is the only avenue available to him.

The stock market is moving up, as are bank profits. Unemployment is moving up, as are home foreclosures.

So if you are a Wall Street banker or trader the economy is indeed improving. If you work for wages or are currently unemployed, if you're struggling to make house payments or if you are worried about the falling value of your home then the economy is continuing to get worse.

If you are in neither of those categories, then you can "choose your camp" in order to place the value judgement. Decide which group is important to you, to your nation, or which group ultimately will affect you and let that guide you in deciding whether or not the economy is improving.

Obama Rail Plan

I have been a "train nut" since I was about ten. My family used to spend vacations (being military we called them "leaves") travelling the Rockies and exploring the routes of the narrow gauge railroads. I once took a trip from Milwaukee to San Francisco by train, just for the sake of riding a train through the Royal Gorge and the Feather River Canyon.

So when President Obama talked about the new program for enhancing America's rail system I was tickled pink. Given that the government supports air travel with the FAA air traffic control, there is no reason why it cannot reasonably support travel by rail.

The only objection I have is using money from the stimulus bill for it. These rail project jobs will not become available for well over two years, and we need them now. That money in the stimulus bill should have been allocated to creating current jobs, and the rail project money should have been allocated in a long range planning bill.

Friday, April 17, 2009


People like this just drive me nuts. Discussing the "torture memos" and in at least partial justification of them, Andrew Sullivan today says this,

I certainly think we have to remember the climate of terror and fear of the unknown that followed the 9/11 attacks, a climate that dragged all of us, including this blogger, to places we now wish we hadn't gone.

All of us? Speak for yourself, you sniveling creepy piece-of-crap coward. I have never lived in a "climate of terror and fear of the unknown" and, while 9/11 horrified me to a very high degree, I knew the day it happened it was a one-time event and I did not, like you seem to have done, spend the next months or years hiding under my bed quaking in fear of who might be coming to kill me. Not fear of who might attack my country in general, who might be coming to kill little-bitty me, personally.

Just because you have all of the courage of a three-year-old, screaming in the night for Mommy because he had a bad dream about monsters, does not mean that all of us are like you. Some of us actually are adults; we can see horror and go on with our lives despite it.

We can see evil and not be changed by it into something unhealthy.

Good Politics

And by that title I mean, "This is what politicians ought the be doing, and this is the way they they should be speaking about it." To give you some background on his speech.

Time Warner Cable implemented a plan called “Internet consumption billing” in the district represented by Congressman Eric Massa, who is a Democrat serving his first term in the House. The film clip is his response, speaking to constituents regarding the plan, which Time Warner has since abandoned.

"I plan on putting the entire full force of my incumbency, and all of the risk associated with that, to stopping this very, very ill thought out decision by Time Warner."

"This is a job killing initiative that will fundamentally put The United States in the third world category in the access of the information that we need to move forward in the twenty-first century."

"...who download more than their fair share of information. Who has set the limit on information? Since when does some executive get to say that you're getting too much data from the Internet?"
He goes on to talk about farmers downloading satellite images for information, "..and cut their costs in half, and now we're going to say 'I'm sorry, it's more than a gigabyte?'"

" have to pay your fair share. Ladies and gentlemen, there are no additional costs associated with the downloading of additional electrons over the Internet."

"This is bigger than just a malformed billing idea. And it will not stand."

I wish we had more representatives like this. A good speaker, yes, but additionally one who researches the concepts and knows what he is talking about. More importantly, one who represents the people of his district and not corporate interests.

Listen to the clip to hear an outstanding speaker voicing good policy.

Obama's Big Win

I don't think it can be understated just how important it is that President Obama made the decision that he did on the release yesterday of the "torture memos." He promised to give us an "open and transparent" style of government, and this delivery on that promise in the face of fierce opposition of the intelligence community is enormous. It is a decision that I regard as a fulfillment of one of the reasons that I voted for him, and it confirms my belief that he is a man of honor and one who believes that the constitution of this great nation is more than just an aging piece of paper.

Accompanying that release with assurance that no one who used those memos as justification for acting in violation of the law has to be viewed, in my opinion, with decidedly mixed reaction. While one can understand to a degree not wanting to alienate the intelligence community, the reason touted for him giving that assurance, he is their boss. He need not cater to them in order to secure the performance of their duties in support of his objectives; they are bound to do that because of their oaths, their self respect, loyalty to their nation, and professional responsibility. If we have people working in those offices who would violate all of those things merely because they are pissed off at the President, then we have far bigger problems than we think.

The "I was just following orders" excuse was denied to the defendants at the Nuremberg Trials, and the ones who made that denial were members of what are now our Justice Department. Yet Barack Obama now gives blanket safety to our intelligence community based on that same debunked principle, and I find that difficult to accept coming from a man who is not only a lawyer but a constitutional scholar.

Still, he did release the memos with very little redaction, and what he gave was not pardons; so we will have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, he did the right thing. Win.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fixing Health Care?

According to the Associated Press, part of the health care planning of the Obama Administration is concern not to drive the private health insurance industry out of business.

One part of what Obama proposed is to offer government insurance to those who do not have private coverage and want to choose the government plan. It would be modeled on Medicare, but would not simply be an extension of Medicare. Private insurers are concerned that a government plan would present “unfair competition.” The administration responded by suggesting that it would not reduce payments to medical providers.

DeParle suggested one compromise might be that the public plan pays hospitals and doctors rates similar to what private insurers pay. That would address fears that government would use its muscle to pay rock-bottom prices for medical services, allowing the public plan to charge discounted premiums that private insurers couldn't compete with.

Even if the government plan paid private-market rates to doctors and hospitals, it could still cut costs, DeParle said. A government plan wouldn't have to turn a profit, and could also save on administrative expenses.

Noticeably absent from the discussion is reducing cost to the consumer; reducing the cost of medical care to the person receiving that care. And DeParle is an Obama Administration representative.

Also notice that contained in that discussion is an open admission that a factor driving up the cost of our health care right now is “turning a profit” and the administrative costs of the private insurance industry. And I do not hear DeParle making any suggestions for eliminating, or even reducing, those costs.

That’s more support for the insurance industry than it is for the taxpayer.

Defining Cowardice

George Bush defined 9/11 as a “cowardly attack” and the perpetrators as “cowards,” and in discussions of piracy I have very often seen the Somali pirates referred to as “cowards” or “cowardly.” I wonder why we seem to use that word to the degree that we do; why we apply it so often to anyone who attacks us, regardless of the nature of that attack.

I can think of a lot of terms to apply to someone who sits at the controls of an airplane and deliberately flies it into a building at the cost of his own life for a greater cause that he believes in deeply, but I do not think that “coward” would be one of them. I can think of a lot of terms for three guys in a lifeboat refusing to surrender to hundreds of military people on ships armed to the teeth and able to blow them out of the water in a heartbeat, but I hardly think I would call them “cowardly.”

Are they cowards because they attack unarmed civilians even though, in the case of the Somali pirates, they have killed no one? Does that make our Army and Marines cowards when they kill unarmed civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan? Before you say it, no, that was not by accident; I’m referring to air strikes and artillery called in on houses to take out snipers on the roof. I’m not calling our troops cowards, I don’t for a minute think they are, I’m asking a question.

Psychologists use a term “projection.” It’s a phenomenon whereby one accuses another of possessing one’s own shortcomings as a method of denying those shortcomings in one’s self. It’s a method whereby I blame you for things going wrong, while I continue to cause them to go wrong. (Sounds like a bunch of Republicans, but I digress.) Think about that the next time you hear someone lecturing about “cowardly attacks.”

Are we calling them cowards in order to deny that we are afraid?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

IRS Payment Follies

Remember how I posted that the IRS had played "good guy" and made sure that our account number was valid prior to tax day? Well, I take it all back.

The notice included a statement that I could go ahead and pay by check, and included a coupon for me to use for that purpose. I did that, and the check was received by my bank and paid on the 10th of April. Guess what happened on the 15th of April.

The IRS deducted the payment from our account.

After notifying us that they could not do so, and after cashing our check and crediting it to our account, they deduct the payment that we have already made from the account that they stated they were unable to access. So we have now paid our furshlugginer income tax twice.

Good guys my ass. Feed those jackasses some thistle.

Back to Privateering

The website Politico is not exactly known for being a hotbed of sanity, but they have gone a little overboard with this lengthy espousal of Ron Paul's idea to have the US grant letters of marque to private warships and have them go put down the pirates around Somalia. Aside from the fact that we probably don't want the sea-going equivalent of Blackwater flying the American flag, how would these privateers make their profit? Capturing a zodiak runabout with four teenagers and five rifles seems hardly worth the expense of building, manning and arming a warship.

The article talks about the privateers receiving "bounty" payments, but I have no idea where they got that little dream from. Privateers captured ships and sold those ships and their cargoes. If they sank or burned an enemy ship they received nothing for their efforts. Some of those "letter of marque" sailors became very cavalier about just whom they attacked, maximizing their profits, and turned into... wait for it... pirates.

They point out that letters of marque were, "[u]sed heavily during the Revolution and the War of 1812," which does not necessarily mean it is
a good idea to use them now.

And, minor detail, letters of marque were outlawed by treaty in 1856.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Oh Goody

Obama sees "signs of progress," which might be because Goldman Sachs decided that December doesn't exist, along with the writeoffs they made that month, and Wells Fargo's profit may be voodoo accounting. North Korea has restarted its nuclear program, kicking out inspectors and removing seals from its plutonium reactor. And the Pentagon is talking about a land war in Somalia to solve the pirate problem.

Monday came on Tuesday this week. I'm going back to bed.


Bloomberg News has a headline item today, the message of which is repeated in the story, that retail sales dropped as unemployment increased, and that the drop in retail sales was unexpected. The word "unexpected" is in the headline and in the story.

Unexpected by whom, precisely?

Beach Season Elections

In 1919 the citizens of San Diego, outraged by that fact that their picked-up garbage was being sold to pig farmers, passed a law mandating that trash collection for private residences be funded by the general budget, that no separate fee could be charged for that service. Why selling garbage to pig farmers was objectionable and what separate fees have to do with that is a complete mystery to me, but San Diegans have never been big on being rational about what we do or why we do it.

We have sun, beaches, beautiful girls... Rationality would ruin everything.

Fast forward 90 years to our current budget crisis, and a few City Council members have become outraged that, with the city budget deficit, the city is still offering its citizens, wait for it, “free trash pickup.” They claim that we simply can no longer afford to provide the “luxury of free trash pickup” to a million or so homeowners.

The trucks are owned and maintained by the city. The people who do the work are city employees. The landfills are on city property and are operated by city employees. All of this is paid for in the city budget with money provided by city resident taxes. So how this amounts to “free trash pickup” is apparent only to these few City Council members.

But there I am expecting rational thinking again. Silly me.

There is a reason these City Council members have come up with this concept; not a rational reason, of course, but a reason. I shall attempt to explain. Pay attention because you are not only dealing with California here, but with San Diego, which is an abstruse, Republican subset of California.

California cannot raise taxes without a two-thirds vote of the affected public. The City Council can, however, impose and modify fees for services without a public vote at all, so these City Council members want to impose a trash collection fee rather than trying to obtain a tax increase. Unfortunately, for them, that pesky 1919 city ordinance specifically prohibits that particular fee from being imposed.

It does not, as those members now claim, mandate “free trash collection.”
It does mandate that trash collection be paid for out of city general revenue. These members are applying the “clap harder” principle, whereby if they say something often enough and loudly enough eventually people will come to believe it. Interestingly, it seems to be working because 30% in a recent poll indicated that they believe we should not “continue free trash pickup.”

The poll may have been conducted at Ocean Beach on a sunny day.

Perhaps adjacent to the dead whale. They may have polled the people who were in that immediate vicinity having come there, apparently, in order to complain about the odor.

Or, that 30% may be people who live in apartments and condominiums and have been paying for many years to get their trash picked up because the 1919 law applies only to single family dwellings. If that is the case, then no matter how hard the City Council claps, that 30% is not going to increase.

The City Council knows that citizens of this city will not vote to raise taxes on themselves, and will not vote for a raise in fees on themselves. Nonetheless, these City Council members are operating on the fond hope that the citizens of San Diego will vote to overturn a 90-year-old ordinance that prevents a fee from being imposed when the City Council has said that it is asking for the ordinance to be repealed specifically so that it can impose that fee. Although, given the length of that sentence and the attention span of the average San Diegan, they may be right. The special election is in May, which is beach season.

And, of course, we did elect them, which was not entirely rational.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fun in San Diego

A dead whale washed up on the beach, not all that uncommon here and a bit of an odor problem, so the Harbor Police towed it back out to sea.
It promptly washed back up onto the beach which, for some reason, came as a surprise to the Harbor Police.

Update: Monday, 5:30pm
The news today is showing people on the beach standing around the dead whale and complaining about the odor. We have some 50 miles of beach but these people need to be at this particular spot, apparently.

Plans are now afoot to take this thing to the Miramar landfill. Brilliant.

Misleading on Piracy

Usually the British publication, The Independent, is pretty reliable, but this sympathetic piece about piracy off the Somalia coast begins with a premise so recklessly inaccurate that it makes me question the rest of the article in its entirety. The author starts by making an attempt to explain the origins of piracy and, after describing the harsh conditions that men suffered in sailing warships, specifically British, he says this,

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied – and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively, without torture. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls "one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century."

Glamorous, but utter nonsense. To begin with, piracy existed before the British Navy ever existed; before Britain did for that matter.

In addition, mutinies were virtually never successful, and the few that were got ruthlessly hunted down by the British Navy and hanged to a man. The exception was the famous mutiny on the Bounty and, while they were not found for more than a century, they most certainly did not become pirates.

Until outlawed by treaty in 1856, nations issued “letters of marque” to private ships which allowed them to operate essentially as warships representing that nation. The ships made their profit by capturing rather than sinking enemy shipping and selling not only the cargoes, but the ships themselves. These “privateers” were quite profitable and completely legal until wars became scarce and slavery unpopular, at which point they turned their skills to capturing and plundering ships at random and became pirates. These are the jolly, egalitarian bands of brigands the author is imagining.

Nor were these ships as democratic as he fondly dreams. Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard, owned his own ship and was certainly not democratically elected by his own men, some of whom he shot from time to time, “or they would forget who I am.” Given that personnel climate, it is doubtful that they voted on many decisions.

The author of the piece may be better at gathering current facts that he is at marshalling historical ones, and so the rest of the piece may be worth the read. It would be unsurprising for the Italian mafia to be in the trash hauling business and to be dumping it off the coast of a failed nation, and it certainly would not be surprising to know that commercial fisheries would be operating wherever they can do so with impunity. Somebody should be taking action to investigate these claims and resolve wrongdoing.

That does not justify the taking of ships at sea, even when killing is not part of that process. Lives are put at risk, and the sea is dangerous enough without mankind adding to it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

True Grit

The captain of the Maersk Alabama is apparently quite a guy. When the pirates initially boarded he was sufficiently cool under pressure to pass control to the engine room and disable the bridge controls. He then placed himself in harm's way to protect his crew and was not a docile captive, attemting escape despite the risk of being shot for the attempt.

But what really impresses me is this. The crew of a ship takes its personality from its captain, and this crew fought back against attackers armed with machine guns when they were armed with only their hands and an icepick. Now that, captain and crew, is impressive.

Update: Monday morning
"They never had control of this ship. I want to make that clear. They had the Captain, but they never had this ship."

I really admire that crew. Much is being made of the Captain, and rightfully so, but that is one hell of a crew.

Losing Hearts and Minds

American officials claim that Predator attacks across the border into Pakistan are an effective tactic in the "Global War on Terror," killing many high level al-Qaeda leaders, and dispute the claim that innocent noncombatants are being killed and injured in the process. The military touts the high-tech nature of the Predator, and discuss the high level of accuracy which its missiles are able to achieve.

Pakistani officials tell a different story. In an article in the International News, they say (h/t to Informed Comment),

Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan- based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.

Along with bombing wedding parties, proper counterinsurgency this is not.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Anxiety in Afghanistan

anxiety imageOn the other hand, even with a diagnosis of "anxiety disorder" I'm not sure that a man should be sent into combat.

Bubbles and Accounting

According to the Time’s financial writer Douglas A. McIntyre, whose curriculum vitae I cannot find, the banking crisis is over and the government “stress testing” may now be scrapped. The Wells Fargo takeover of Wachovia was a success and has made them profitable for reasons which will extend to all other banks, so all join hands and sing of happiness.

Wells Fargo (WFC) said that the low cost of money from the government combined with a surging demand for mortgages was all the medicine that it required.

No mention, of course, that the “surging demand for mortgages” is mostly refinances and not home sales and therefor is somewhat self-limiting. Nor anything about “the medicine they require” including stable employment of the market they are lending to, in order to prevent mounting loan losses as unemployment increases and the unemployed default not only on mortgages but on credit card debt as well. So forgive me if I don’t hold your hand and sing songs of happiness with you.

Oddly absent from the discussion of how well Wells Fargo did is why the government was in the midst of testing bank balance sheets at all. The experts at the Treasury had been thrown off the scent and consequently had missed the fact that there was not need to test what is already working well. The same holds true for the Geithner plan to take toxic assets off bank balance sheets. It is academic now. What banks are earning from the difference between the cost of capital and the income from lending is now great enough for the banking system to be self-sustaining again.

This is an incredibly odd statement, but I have been expecting ever since the FASB announced that it was changing the long-standing and heretofore effective “Mark to Market” accounting rule.

The banking crisis originated because of the collapse in value of the “securitized mortgage assets,” the so called toxic assets, held by those banks; a collapse in value that left their balance sheets in such disastrous condition that they could not lend money. For many months the whole crisis of the collapse revolved around the method of ridding them of those toxic assets or injecting capital into them, but now it is a simple matter of getting cheap money from the Fed which allows them to lend at a profit.

The banks are “self-sustaining again” based on the difference between the cost of the money they borrow from the Fed and the profit they make from lending it. The state of their balance sheets is no longer an issue.

There “was not need to test what is already working well.” Nobody, I repeat nobody, thought it was working well at the time. Including Time Magazine. The discussion was not about lack of income from lending, it was about the disaster of their balance sheets due to the devaluation of the toxic assets. Now the balance sheets are no longer an issue, lending is profitable even though the Fed rate has not gone down and lending rates have decreased, and the banking crisis is over

You thought we didn’t notice that, didn’t you Doug? The Fed rate has been effectively zero since the crisis began, mortgage rates have been declining steadily and are now at a thirty-five-year low, and suddenly lending has become more profitable? How, precisely, did that happen?

The answer, of course, is that the government has created a “bubble” of government-backed refinancing of existing mortgages; low margin, but profitable because it is government backed. The contribution to the economy of this refinancing is precisely zero, and its contribution to the banks is self-limiting because the amount of money allocated by the government is fixed. The refinancing will quit happening when that pool of money runs out.

And so, of course our enthusiasm for “bubbles” continues.

The balance sheets of the banks are no longer an issue because the FASB rule change means that the banks no longer have to report the toxic assets at the value placed on them by the market, that is what the market thinks they are worth. The banks may now show them on their balance sheets at whatever value they want to show them at, regardless of what they are actually worth. Of course bank balance sheets are suddenly improved.

The government “stress test” results are coming out only after, and immediately after, that rule change was implemented, and the preliminary result of the stress test is that all of the banks are just fine. A skeptic, such as me, has to wonder what the result would have been had it come out earlier. A cynic, such as me, has to wonder why the stress test took as long as it did.

Douglas A. McIntyre is neither skeptic nor cynic, obviously.

An economy of bubbles and sanctioned tricky accounting. Enjoy.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Again Supplementals

President Obama promised to end the practice of funding wars "off budget" through supplemental appropriations, and part of the reason that his budget for upcoming years is so large, we are told, is that it includes the war funding that previous administrations had omitted. But yesterday the Obama Administration submitted a supplemental appropriation for funding the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the amount of $83 billion.

From AFP News,

"We can't wait until the appropriations process is done in September or August or September to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in June," said spokesman Robert Gibbs.

"The honest budgeting and appropriations process that the president has talked about falls somewhat victim to the fact that this is the way that wars have been funded previously," the spokesman said.

But "this will be the last supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan," he promised.

Of course we were told that George Bush's last supplemental would be the last war funding supplemental, so...

So, does this $83 billion fund the wars only for three months? If so we are talking about spending some $400 billion per year. How long are we going to continue spending that kind of money, and what could we do with it in the way of domestic programs if we did not spend it on wars? Idle questions, because our government does not consider wars to be optional.

Alaska Wingnut Party

I really don't know all of the details, and I don't care enough about it to research beyond verifying the most fundamental facts, but unless there are some underlying justifications, this is hilarious.

First Sarah Palin appointed someone to a vacant Democratic State Senate seat who it appears had switched parties specifically so that she could make that appointment. Unless I'm mistaken, it was a high school crony of hers from Wasilla. In any case, that gave new meaning to the term "DINO" (Democrat In Name Only) and the Senate Democratic Committee rejected her appointment and told her to try again. They have now rejected her second appointment and asked her to give them a new one by April 20th.

Sarah is not getting along with her State Senate very well, apparently.

Fact Free News

If newspapers are dying, maybe in part it’s because they are relying upon AP for their articles and AP is providing articles like this one, alarmingly headlined that “spies have hacked into the U.S. electric grid.” It’s a lengthy article which contains precisely one asserted actual fact; a fact which is stated in the headline and is provided by (wait for it) an official but anonymous source.

Well, that’s a minor canard. Actually it was a “former U.S. government official” who “wasn't authorized to discuss the matter and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.” Note the “former” in that.

Other than the one assertion from a single source that a hack was found in one electric company grid, a fact which has not been verified even by a second “anonymous source,” there is not one other fact in the article. There is no assertion, and presumably no evidence, that the hack penetrated beyond the one electric company. There is assertion that is was planted by hacker intrusion, but since it was simply found in place, they do not actually know that; it could have been planted there from within by an employee, for instance.

The article is a mashup of suppositions and probabilities, mostly from yet more anonymous sources, and many of them worded so as to make them sound like vaguely threatening and scary facts. Words like “could” and “probably” abound throughout the article, along with phrases with “can be” and “might begin.”

The one person quoted and actually named says that “The severity of what we’re seeing is off the scale.” The person speaking is VP of a computer security technology company, and I suspect that he is speaking about viruses Internet-wide since his quote is not apropos of anything contained in the article. Of course he wants you to be frightened of the miscellaneous viruses that are attacking the computer network that controls our electric grid. The same viruses are attacking my computer network as I type this and, notably, are not bringing down either network.

After the nonsensical stenography that passed for journalism in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, the news media did much breast beating and claimed to have learned something. Part of what they claimed to have learned was to avoid anonymous sources and to stick to factual reporting. This article does neither, and it is all too typical of the current major media process.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, like local newspapers everywhere, is a failing paper, shrinking steadily, providing less and less content, and becoming less and less of a significant advertising medium. Part of the reason is that it has abandoned news reporting and turned that function over to “services” to which it subscribes; services which perform that function with a mixture of sloppy ineptitude and political deception.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

On "Meanings"

The concept that allowing gays to marry will somehow, as opponents claim, "change the meaning of marriage" for me or for anyone else just strikes me as sheer nonsense.

Marriage "means" one thing to one married couple and something different to another. The "meaning" of anything is determined by the person who holds that meaning, not by outside events. Laws define the legal aspect of marriage and the civil benefits conferred by that civil union. Churches and other spiritual groups provide guidance as to the spiritual meaning of marriage, but ultimately that spiritual meaning is created for themselves by the two people who form each unique union.

If your beliefs are so infirm that they become invalidated by what someone else does or believes then I can only say that I hope that you can someday find a faith that is more robust.

Update: Thursday, 8:30am

Steve Benen in today's post at The Washington Monthly mocks this commercial and basically says that if this is the best that the anti-gay marriage forces have then they are doomed. He is mistaken. This is an ad that is deadly in its effectiveness. I saw ads of precisely this nature run in California, and they took Prop 8 from minus 20 to victory in just two months. Which rather defeats my point above, but...

I'm also playing around with the new blog template. I wanted to see if I could embed that video at reduced size and positioned on the right, with text wrapped around it. Amazingly, I succeeded on the first try. I did have to fiddle with the margins a little, but that was all. Woo hoo.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Twilight Zone

Okay, four states now support marriage equality and California is not one of them. The land of fruits and nuts does not... Sorry.

Change That Isn't

Almost from the beginning of his campaign Keith Olbermann has been openly supportive of Barack Obama on his nightly show, Countdown. Last night, however he devoted the first two segments of that show to a scathing denouncement of the Obama Department of Justice’s stand on electronic surveillance as reflected in its response to a lawsuit filed by five persons who assert that they were improperly spied upon.

The Obama Administration not only uses the same “state secrets” arguments that its predecessor did, but has come up with a new and even more far reaching one, making a claim to throw out the lawsuit based on “sovereign immunity.”

The argument has been made that Obama cannot do everything at once; that change takes time; that one must walk before one can run; that changes must be made incrementally. While I accept all of those platitudes, I do not accept that any of them support taking actions that which are affirmative continuation of repugnant policies which he promised to end, let alone expanding on those policies with acts that are even more extreme and repugnant.

“Sovereign immunity” means “one cannot sue the King” for God’s sake.

In the first segment guest Howard Fineman explains that “The Obama Administration is balancing two things here.” He describes the first as the people who supported him and propelled him into office; the people who are appalled by the issues of torture and illegal spying and executive overreach.

“Then there is the politics of the intelligence community, the CIA. Obama is an outsider, and he appointed as director another outsider, Leon Panetta. Obama and his people do not want to antagonize the intelligence community because they need them to support them in the war on terror and to get the President’s job done around the world right now.”

He speaks at some length about Obama’s willingness to disappoint the people who elected him to office, to abrogate the promises he made to those who voted for him in order to cater to those who represent the real power of this nation; not the elected government, but the unelected bureaucracy. The intelligence community will not do their job merely because it is their job, but only if the elected government is pleasing to them. The electorate, the people whom this government is supposed to serve, do not need to have their wishes considered.

He goes on to describe why Obama is taking the current stance,

“No president wants to cede any powers that the presidency itself has accumulated, even if they were accumulated by people that the current occupant of the office campaigned against.”

When Olbermann asks about the likelihood of Obama investigating the actions of the prior administration, Fineman replies that the Obama Administration prefers to leave that to Congress but that the Democrats in Congress will not do it unless they can get Republicans to go along with it. So far, unsurprisingly, no Republicans have signed on, so he doesn’t believe that any meaningful investigation will occur.

In the second segment the guest is a professor of constitutional law, Jonathan Turley, and he paints an even more bleak picture, beginning his comments by saying that he believes that the Bush Administration should bring out its “Mission Accomplished” banner.

He says that the Obama position, “Leaves citizens with a right without any protection” in that, while we have the right of privacy, we have no way to enforce that right. If the government chooses to violate that right we have no way to protest or prevent them from doing so, and therefor we effectively do not have that right at all.

He describes the latest Obama Administration stance as,

“They say that the Bush Administration was bad people doing bad things. But it doesn’t matter if you say you’re a good person doing bad things. They’re still bad things. And that’s what this is.”

Right near the end of the statement,

“Our President, I think, is more interested in programs than principles and he never intended to fight on issues like torture and electronic surveillance. And we’re going to have to come to grips with that. … And the people who support him will have to tell him that we will not support him on this. …because of some cult of personality where he’s so popular that he can do anything. He can’t do this. Because what he’s frittering away are the rights that we all have as citizens.”

I had a sinking feeling when Obama voted for the telecom bill during the campaign that he was not everything that he was claiming to be, and I have an even stronger feeling that Turley sums it up quite well; that Obama is “more interested in programs than principles.” If that is true then some important issues are going to fall by the wayside, and this will become a poorer nation for it.

There has been much talk about the 25% who would remain ever loyal to George Bush no matter what he did. We seem to be generating a, what, maybe 50% or so who will remain uncritical of Obama no matter what he does. I am not one of them.

I like a lot of what he is doing. I like a lot about who he is. I’m glad he is my President. I absolutely will not support him trashing the constitution because “he does not want to antagonize the intelligence community.”

The Ultimate Argument

There are endless arguments regarding gay marriage. I make no secret that I favor making marriage available to any two people who profess to love each other, and I’m not going to rehash any arguments here. I will say that the whole discussion is becoming repetitive and a bit tiresome.

I’m all for freedom of religion, and for the freedom of being able to discuss religion, but these people who are trying to convince me that my marriage is in trouble because two people of the same gender get married are beginning to annoy me. Hearing the same discussion over and over is getting old.

I heard a new point made by an Iowa State Senator describing his daughter, who had been listening to a group of elderly men discussing the subject at length. Finally she spoke up, he said, and told them, “You guys just don’t get it. You’ve already lost. My generation doesn’t care about this.”

Now that argument made me smile. “You’ve already lost.”

The younger generation elected Barack Obama, not just with their own activism, but by changing their parents’ minds. They will cause gay marriage to become the law of the land. They are the “green generation.” The younger generation is taking things over, and the older generation is flailing in the wind.

That is the natural order and is a very, very good thing.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Medco Madness

We have a mail-in prescription plan with Medco, and overall I like it very well. The people have always been very pleasant to deal with when that need has arisen, and the service is excellent; outstanding, in fact.

I have one medication that I get refilled at a local pharmacy and Medco's website gave me a message about a wonderful cost saving option on that medication. I wondered what it could be, since I already use a generic, so I clicked on the link.

Turns out they are offering an option to get 90 day supplies by mail-in prescription but, since it is a controlled substance, refills cannot be faxed to them as usual. I would have to mail them a handwritten prescription every 90 days, which means I would need to see my neurologist every 90 days instead of once per year as I do now.

The savings I would realize with their new option? Four cents per year.

Whee. They mean well, but... Whee.

Pakistan Being Disagreeable

According to Reuters News, American and Pakistani officials had a nice meeting while President Obama was in Turkey, which I think was coincidence, and agreed on quite a few things but not on the issue of us firing Hellfire missiles into their villages from pilotless drones. It seems they do not think we should be doing that and we will not agree to stop. The fact that it is their country we are shooting the missiles into makes them think it is their issue to decide. The fact that we have the missiles and drones makes us think it is our issue to decide.

They use the tired old "national sovereignty" argument. We say that we might be aiming at somebody that might be planning to maybe harm us and we might hit what we are aiming at.

If we make a mistake and aim at the wrong people, or if we aim at the right people and miss, or if we hit the right people and blast damage kills some innocent citizens who just happened to be hanging out in the neighborhood, then it's a case of, "Oops, our bad."

I wonder if the parties would use the same arguments if it was them shooting Hellfire missiles into, say, Alabama. Our government would bless their efforts with, "Well, go right ahead. We understand that you have to protect yourselves from those rednecks."

Incindentally, that ship in the heading... She was sold to the Pakistani Navy in 1964 and was lost at sea with all hands under somewhat mysterious circumstances, which makes you wonder just how far back this thing we have with Pakistan goes.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
While Robert Gates was proudly announcing the billions we are going to save by discontinuing development of the Missile Defense Syatem, President Obama was in Europe assuring that we will continue with its deployment. I suspect that sort of made Russia wish that Robert Gates was President rather than Obama, and probably confused the crap out of everybody else. Maybe we're going to deploy an undeveloped system?

As Is My Damn Cat

cat in the chairShe and I fight a daily battle over this chair. Every time I get out of it she gets in it. She will be sitting on my desk while I'm working at the computer, right by my elbow, and I'll be thinking how nice it is that she likes to be near me. No. She's lurking, like some sort of fuzzy little vulture, waiting for me to get out of the furshlugginer chair.

Sometimes, if I work too long to suit her, she will put out a paw and push on my elbow. Proactive. "Get out of my chair." Stupid cat.