Monday, August 31, 2009

Morale at CIA

Busy with things today, but over the weekend much was made about how all of this investigation stuff is destroying morale at the CIA. It seems the people who did things like beating prisoners senseless and threatening to rape their families are upset that we want to investigate their actions, and so morale at that agency is suffering due to all of the bad publicity.

Everybody who cares about CIA morale raise your hand. I thought so.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sports Note

I know how we can finish the deal in Afghanistan. Just send the Chula Vista Little League team over there. They will wrap that thing up in six innings.

Congratulations to San Diego's southern neighbor. Well done.

Growing Our Way Out

I am not a PhD economist with a Nobel Prize in the subject, so perhaps the idea of me taking on Paul Krugman is a bit nonsensical. Well, “perhaps” nothing, it is nonsensical, but that isn’t going to stop me from doing it, because I think he has nosedived into theory at the expense of logic, and is coming up with fallacy.

In a post on Aug 28th he points out that,

“…in 1950, federal debt in the hands of the public was 80 percent of GDP, which is in the ballpark of what we’re looking at for 2019. By 1960 it was down to 46 percent — and I haven’t heard that anyone considered America a debt-crippled nation when JFK took office.”

He goes on to point out that the debt did not shrink because we paid it off, it shrank as a percent of GDP because the GDP grew enormously. His implication, in this post and in earlier ones, is that the size of national debt doesn’t matter; what matters is the amount of debt as a ratio to the overall economy. I’m not as sanguine as he is, but we’ll accept his postulate.

That initial debt was right after the end of WW2, when much of the world was devastated by the most destructive war in history. Growth in demand for product has got to be utterly phenomenal in a world that consists in large part of rubble, so it’s hardly surprising that the GDP grew at a very rapid clip. “Growing out of debt” was pretty easy in that environment.

In a post on Aug 30th he begins a post by saying that comments had raised two objections to his breezy “grow our way out of debt” idea, one being that the “baby boom” introduced a new boost of production and the other that WW2 had left the rest of the world and our competitors, in ruins.

“Let me explain why both objections are off point.” He says, and for the second point merely rebuts with,

"What about the way the war left our competitors in ruins? Well, yes it did — but it also left our markets in ruins."

Well, that’s rather my point; a market in ruins is a market with the very highest level of demand. Growing from zero makes fast growth a lot easier than growing from an already huge economy, with markets that are full of stuff. Furthermore, growing with little or no competition from the rest of the world is a lot easier than growing with competition from a Unified Europe, and from India, Brazil, China and to no small degree Russia. Lastly, growing when the world’s natural resources are largely untapped is a lot faster than trying to do so when they are increasingly tapped out.

Finally, while I do not decry the claim the climate change presents economic opportunity and that there is job growth and money to be realized there, it is unquestionably true that climate change presents enormous challenge as well and will seriously hinder a major portion of our economy in coming years.

Just because we did it half a century ago, in a vastly different environment, is no assurance that we can do it now. I am a lot less sanguine than Dr. Krugman that we can spend like drunken sailors and blithely count on “growing our way out of debt.”

We won't mention that in 1950 that debt, at 80% of GDP, was held for all practical purposes entirely by American investors, while in 2019 a significant portion of it will be held by foreign concerns. I'm not sure what,
if any, difference that makes; but...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hoping For A Walk

In baseball, scoring occurs when the baserunner crosses home plate. Getting on base is only the first part of that, and many runners get left on base at the end of the inning and so never score; getting on base turns out to have been useless.

The health care debate has devolved to a process of “getting health care reform to first base” now, rather than actually achieving success. It has become such a lamed down process that supporters are now suggesting that Congress should not even try for more than first base, just leave the bat on the shoulder and hope for a walk.

How many home runs would Babe Ruth have hit if he always came to the plate and just looked at pitches, hoping to get on first base because the other side threw bad pitches? How many games would his team have won?

As Bill Moyers says, to paraphrase, “I would rather see Obama go down swinging with a principled program than see him win with some incremental program that is more of a victory for the insurance industry than for the American people.”

He goes on to say that such a defeat would set the stage for later victory; would invigorate supporters of real reform, while passage of the unprincipled bill would turn both supporter and foe against the entire argument and leave the insurance industry as the sole winner. You can listen to his discussion with Bill Maher in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and I urge you to listen to the entire half hour. I think Bill Moyers encapsulates exactly what the Democratic Party and Barack Obama are all about.

I would add to his bafflement on Obama having lost control of the message on health care reform; Obama has lost the message of his candidacy. As a candidate he was soaring rhetoric about energizing the people who would follow him; he was about restoring the greatness of a nation. As a president he is, “if you like the insurance you have you won’t lose it,” “reform won’t take this away from you,” “reform will give you…” and “I will cut taxes for...”

He is standing at the plate with the bat on his shoulder, hoping to be able to look at bad pitches and get a walk to first base.

I voted for candidate Obama, I can’t see voting for this one.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Triple Digits

Temps well over one hundred past two days, today and tomorrow. A real cold wave this weekend is forecast, with highs in the mid-eighties, then a "warming trend" resumes. But the fires are all well north of us.

"But it's a dry heat."
"So is your oven, but it still cooks things."

Debt Is Good

Paul Krugman had reached a degree of cheerleading for the Obama Administration that leads to him now saying that debt is an asset. Debt is good for you, is something to be desired. Debt is even better when you have a lot of it, so lets add to our debt as fast as we can.

“Right now deficits are actually helping the economy.”

Deficit spending is helping the economy, but it’s the spending part of that which is helping, not the deficit part. If we had trillions in reserve and were spending from that reserve the spending would be just as effective. Of course, if we had trillions in reserve we would not have spent ourselves into this mess to begin with, but…

Krugman’s column today in the New York Times is saying, in effect, that the mortgage on my house is good for me, that in and of itself it benefits me in some undefinable way. I submit that my mortgage is a liability that reduces my net worth and benefits me only in that it permits me to maintain the overlying asset, which is my house. My house would be a more valuable asset if it were not encumbered by that mortgage, and the smaller that mortgage becomes the larger is the net value of the house to me.

What we are doing nationally is what many homeowners did; namely, taking out equity in the home (nation) to maintain an otherwise unaffordable lifestyle. Not only does Paul Krugman say that is a good thing, in his column he says that the debt itself is good. I am maintaining that it may be necessary, but it is not good and, regardless of the borrowing impetus or the level of debt, the debt itself is a liability that devalues the asset.

I would certainly agree with Paul Krugman if he said that the spending which is causing the deficit is helping the economy, and that the deficit is an acceptable byproduct of that spending. I might well agree with him if he said that we do not need to worry about the current deficit. I would defer to his superior knowledge (no snark intended) if he said that we do not need to worry about running up a debt amounting to 70% of GDP. I worry about running up that kind of national debt, but I believe him when he says I don’t need to worry about it.

I’m still going to vote against any fool politician that proposes doing it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Blind Loyalty

Liberals have always been contemptuous of the “Bush loyalists” who would brook no criticism of George W, following him off the cliff and still singing his praises as they laid with him on the rocks of disaster. Those same people will not tolerate the slightest word that might be critical of their hero who is the current occupant of the White House.

For what it’s worth, I voted for Obama in spite of his promise to escalate the war in Afghanistan, not because of it. I voted for him because he held positions that I favored and positions that I did not; because the former outnumbered and outweighed the latter. I did not vote for him because he was riding some kind of white charger and was clad in shining armor.

From the day, from the hour that the decision was made to allow Osama bin Laden to escape into Pakistan instead of trapping him in the caves of Tora Bora the war in Afghanistan has been an exercise in meaningless death, destruction and futility. It has nothing to do with our people who died on 9/11, or with the people who caused those deaths. That attack was planned in Hamburg and in Florida and the money came from banks that were not in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden approved the plan from his location in Afghanistan, but he could have just easily done so from downtown San Diego and he most certainly is not in Afghanistan today.

I don’t know why we are fighting, why our soldiers are dying in Afghanistan. It certainly is not “in defense of freedom.” Our freedom is not threatened by anything other than financial crisis, and that is made worse instead of better by the expenditure for wars overseas. It is not the silly “deny the use of Afganistan for planning future attacks.” Planning takes place in the minds of terrorists, not in the wilds of the Hindu Kush. It is certainly not to “drive out those who planned the attack of 9/11.” Those planners are not in Afghanistan and have not been for years. And the idea that we can “assure that they never return” is simply absurd.

The only rationale I can discern is that we are unwilling to be seen to have lost, or even to have “not won” that war, and that is the very worst reason of all. If more than 1% of the people of this nation were paying the price of this meaningless fighting and dying, then the people would be demanding that we put a stop to it. But not enough are involved, and 99% just have no stake in making it stop. Obama says it must go on, and we must not be critical of our Democratic salvation.

So much for, "I'm not against all wars, I'm against dumb wars."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Unanswerable" Questions

Attywood has a post today about redemption, in which he refers to a discussion comparing Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick to Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring, asking if Kennedy could recover from his error had it occurred in 2009 instead of forty years ago and by implication pondering Vick’s future. The comparison is odious in the extreme.

I cannot answer as to Vick’s future, of course, but the two people and the two “crimes” are far different. One was a decision, a very bad decision, made in a moment; indicative, perhaps, of a flawed character, but nonetheless a momentary decision made without time to think, without time to ponder the implications of the decision. Vick’s actions were made over months and even years; rationalized, thought out, made coldly in the light of day. Vick saw the results of those decisions and did not alter course, but rather continued until caught by the law and only then “repented.”

A decision made in the heat of a panicked moment qualifies as a “mistake.” A course of action taken for many months while seeing the horrors caused by that course of action is no mistake, it is evil. One apologizes for a mistake; one cannot apologize for evil.

Ted Kennedy spent a lifetime in atonement for his error; went far beyond the requirements of that task. Michael Vick spends a mere few months in jail and expects to be forgiven for his evil; expects to be welcomed back in the public arena as “having paid for his error.” It was no mere error, and he has not paid for it.

These questions are not unanswerable; they answer themselves.

Ted Kennedy Healthcare Bill

KennedyDon’t do this for Ted Kennedy; Ted did not want this for himself and he would not want us to do it for him. Do it to finish his work. Do it so that Ted Kennedy can rest, knowing that his work is finished and complete.

Don’t name it to honor him; Ted Kennedy never shunned honors, but he was not the typical glory seeker. Give the bill his name to signify that this is his work, carried on after his passing; so that his presence carries on in the cause of his life.

Give the bill his name so that people who benefit for generations will remember the man who championed the cause and changed America.


I am by no means a young person, but since I have been politically aware I have never known a Senate that did not have a Kennedy in it.

This is the third Kennedy who I have watched be taken from us; not passing in the fullness of time, but taken. Good men all, giving of themselves to public service. Loved not only by their families but by the public they served. What a family, to have given us three such men, the youngest of whom came to be known as “The Lion of the Senate.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

US Postal Service: Failure

In just this week I have received statements from two medical providers referencing bills that I never received. One also referenced a bill that I did receive, and of course I received both of the statements. But the bills in question, two of them, each of which was sent first class mail, never reached my mailbox. The providers use the same computers to address the bills which did not arrive that they used to address the bill and statements that did arrive.

In one week, two items from two different places, sent via first class mail, were not delivered to me at all. They were not slow, or mangled in some way, they simply never arrived. In fact, people mailing things to me and me not receiving them is quite common.

I send a letter via First Class mail, US Postal Service, and I have no confidence at all that the letter will reach its destination.

If this were competition, then the Postal Service could perform poorly and we could choose to utilize a more reliable service, but such is not the case.

The law requires that the US Postal Service be used for such purposes. For those medical providers to send those bills by any other method would be against the law. The law gives the US Postal Service a protected monopoly, and then the US Postal Service does not deliver the mail. This is not about struggling or having a problem, this is not about losing money or rising prices, this is about the US Postal Service having utterly failed its mission. This is not a small problem, any kind of problem; this is complete failure.

The United States Postal Service is not delivering the mail.

Congress should change the law, removing the monopoly that the Postal Service enjoys, allowing us to use a more reliable service. The US Postal Service is a failure, not because it is losing money, but because it is not delivering the mail.

Chris Matthews is an idiot

Chris Matthews went on and on about the revelations of CIA interrogation methods yesterday, and he was engaging in sheer blather. I know, what’s new about that?

He kept referring to the Vice President, saying things like, “This leads right to the Vice President.” No, Chris, the Vice President is Joe Biden, who has had nothing to do with interrogation of terrorists. Are you, perhaps, referring to former Vice President Dick Cheney? Of course you are.

He spent the rest of his air time blatting about how Cheney had given the interrogators a defense. “I’m a defense attorney…” His claim is that they were doing what Dick Cheney told them to do, that doing so made them innocent, and not one of his three guest pundits called him on his bullshit.

Chris, turn to page 14 of your history coloring book. It says right there that the Nuremberg Trials established that bleating about “following orders” is not a valid defense. Sheesh, and this guy is not only giving us the news, he’s commenting on it.

Obama on Detainees

The President has done a couple of things on the “detainee” issue that I perceive as serving this nation’s interest. He really should have done them much sooner, but let’s just be happy that he’s doing them now.

He is releasing the names of those being held in our detention camps to the International Red Cross. That we have not been doing this all along is despicable, since it is required under international law. Unless, that is, you are one of those who consider the Geneva Conventions to be “quaint.”

He has also formed a new organization to control the interrogation of “high value detainees.” This group will be reporting to the head of the FBI.

It is my admittedly uninformed opinion that far too much emphasis is placed on this “interrogation of high value detainee” business, and that we should be more focused on infiltrating active planning cells and measuring ongoing terror group activity. If, however, we must be doing it then I am glad that it is the FBI and not the CIA that is the reporting agency. The FBI is certainly not staffed by a bunch of flower children, but it has a far better track record of responsibility and ability to stay within guidelines than does the CIA.

The choice of John Brennan to head the new group is an unfortunate one, however, and this continues Obama’s habit of hiring foxes to staff the hen house. Brennan withdrew as Obama’s potential CIA Director nominee because of his position in the Bush counterterrorism machinery and his staunch support of “harsh interrogation methods.” So, right in the middle of a storm of controversy over CIA interrogation techniques, Obama names him head of the new interrogation agency.

Sometimes I'm nor sure whether Obama is incomprehensibly brilliant, or if he's just dumb as a post.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Paul Krugman on Debt

This is why it's a good idea to have guys around who have "Swedish thingies" in their bookcases. They can put fears about the national debt into proportion for us.

Do you own a home? Have a mortgage on it? How big is that mortgage as a ratio to your annual income? I'll bet it's a lot more than 60% as big as your annual income. I'll bet it's bigger than your annual income. Are you worried? Is the bank worried?

Yeah. Paul Krugman is not worried about 60% of annual income, either.

Yes, I realize that's not what he's actually saying, because GDP is not national "income;" but his point is that it is not necessary to let the sheer size of the numbers, alone, frighten us out of out wits.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Paul Krugman Responds

Paul Krugman responds, not to me but to about sixty comments on his blog saying that we are in a recovery. One of those comments was mine, and most of the comments were along the lines of my post earlier on the subject. His response is entitled “Some call it recovery.” Note the coy use of “some” in that title.

He called it recovery, and is backpedaling furiously now.

He now claims that he was merely saying that by the formal definition of “recession” the recession was over and that he knows full well the economy is not actually recovering, because he is fully aware of the suffering of people who do not have jobs. Blah, blah, blah. I love these people with high foreheads who can't just say, “Oops, I screwed up. I wasn’t thinking.”

To quote the post which he is now breathlessly backing away from, “Barara Kiviat asks, is this a recovery or isn’t it? The answer is yes.”

I will repeat what my post said, “The answer is no. The recession may be technically over, but this is not a recovery.” Which is what Paul Krugman is now claiming is what he said.

I may not have “one of those Swedish thingies,” but I can read printed English. It’s right there in black on white in the New York Times, “The answer is yes.”

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Incoherence on Countdown

Olbermann’s writers have become more incoherent than usual lately, or perhaps Keith is skipping some lines on the teleprompter.

Thursday in “Worst Person, Bronze” he began by describing Karl Rove as having been named as “one of the most prominent Norwegian-American statesmen in America” and then segues into him demanding apologies from newspapers because he has not been formally indicted in the Alabama Seiglemann case.

I first thought Rove was demanding the apologies for the “Norwegian-American statesmen” thing, which seemed odd; then for not having been indicted, which seemed even more odd. Why would he want to be indicted, and why would it be the responsibility of the newspapers to do so? Olbermann never made that entirely clear.

Then Friday in his “Nexus of Policy and Terror” segment Olbermann twice says that Donald Rumsfeld defended himself against Tom Ridge’s charge of raising the threat level for political reasons by quoting Osama bin Laden. Olbermann then provides quotes from Rumsfeld “spokesmen,” but he never quotes Rumsfeld himself to the extent of a single word, or gives the slightest hint of the nature of the Osama bin Laden quotes that Rumsfeld supposedly used. That was just weird.

Countdown: 3, 2, 4, 5, 1.

Krugman's Recovery

Let the church bells ring, start the parades, hold te deums in the churches; we are in recovery. Paul Krugrman, whom I used to respect, says so.

Of course, if you need to work for a living, if you need a job and a paycheck, he doesn’t include you in that recovery. Recovery has nothing to do with jobs, employment, the ability to earn a living and feed your family, any of that. If you actually need to work for a living, you don’t count. Recovery means that the stock market is up, banks are sound (?!), and financial service firms are making profits.

Home mortgage defaults reached a new high last month as unemployed homeowners were unable to meet payments, and the defaults included a record number of thirty-year fixed rate prime mortgages. Paul Krugman conveniently ignores this. We are in recovery.

If you are in the last two weeks of your unemployment benefits and have little hope of finding a job, I suspect this does not feel much like a recovery to you. Go talk to Paul Krugman, he will cheer you up; will tell you we are in a recovery. His voice may have a slight echo as he speaks down to you from his ivory tower.

Paul Krugman says that, “the 2001 recession formally ended in Nov. of that year, but it didn’t feel like a recovery until the second half of 2003.”

I’ve got news for Professor Krugman. To people who work for a living it never felt like a recovery. As organized labor was defeated by business interests and wages stagnated, as manufacturing and technology jobs got shipped overseas, and as the middle class eroded further and further, the “jobless recovery” benefited the upper class and left the working class in the cold.

The Republican election campaign made much of the “arugala-eating elites” who were not in touch with “mainstream America” and, if Paul Krugman is any example, they may have had a valid point. He defines the situation in breezy fashion as a "jobless recovery" as if jobs don't matter.

There is no such thing as a "jobless recovery", because a recovery without regaining lost jobs is not a recovery, you arrogant jackass.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sorry Salesmanship

This may be the worst selling job of the best product in history.

One side is screaming about death panels, loss of choice, socialism and government takeovers. People will be taken off of Medicare, and those on Medicare will get less service. You won’t be able to choose your own doctor and the government “will pull the plug on Grandma.”

But Obama’s sales pitch is hardly more realistic. Those who don’t have insurance will get insurance. Those who have insurance will get better insurance. Insurance will provide more and cost less, and if you can’t afford it the government will pay the premiums for you. Medicare will be bigger and better. Veterans care will be bigger and better. Nobody will have to pay except for a tiny number of people who have ridiculously high incomes.

I want health care reform or, failing that, health insurance reform but I don’t believe either side. Both sides are making claims that simply are not credible. One side is trying to tell us we can have a free lunch and the other is trying to send us to bed without supper.

Supporters of the “public option” hold it up as the ultimate solution to driving down the cost of health care because it will “keep the health insurance companies honest.” Just exactly how it’s going to do that is never spelled out, because if the plan is that it will pay all claims without questioning them it is most certainly not going to reduce costs. If it is going to examine claims, how is its standard going to differ from that of private insurance?

How is the public option going to eliminate the extra staff that every doctor’s office and medical provider, hundreds of thousands of offices, must maintain to fill out forms and pursue payment?

Perhaps the public option is going to eliminate that “twenty cents on every dollar of premiums” that private insurance companies keep as profits according to Keith Olbermann. Except that eliminating the 4-7% which actually is their profit doesn’t get us anywhere close to spending what other civilized nations do on health care.

Perhaps there is something in that 1100 pages of legislation that reduces the cost of health care, but if there is then so far no one has been talking about it. On either side.

Health Care Heartbreak

The one thing that I suspect a lot of us will agree on; the heartbreaking issue about this health care debate is that when it comes up for a vote in the Senate it appears that Ted Kennedy won't be there to vote on it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dumber Than Usual

Keith Olbermann decries the lies and dishonesty with which Conservatives attack health care reform, and then he does a segment comparing the health insurance industry to casino gambling, says that health insurance companies “already make almost twenty cents profit on every dollar you pay in premiums,” and that they now want to collude with Congress to make you provide them with 35% margin of profit.

Keith Olbermann has demonstrated many times that he is no mental giant, but even for him this is dim-witted. The proposal is that individuals should pay 35% of costs out of pocket, and that insurance companies should insure 65%, basing premiums on that 65% which they are covering. The statement, and the stated percentages, have nothing directly to do with profits. The insurance companies are saying that, if caps and exclusions are going to be eliminated, then the deductibles and copays need to be increased.

I don’t necessarily agree with such a plan, but it doesn’t equate to them asking for 35% profit, and I would like to see him document his claim that they “already make almost twenty cents profit on every dollar you pay in premiums.” The documentation that I have been able to find shows the industry making well under 10% in all cases.

Aetna: 4% in 2009, down from 6% in 2008.
UnitedHealth: 6.6% in 2009, down slightly from 7% in 2008.
WellPoint: unclear but appears to be 7% in 2009, up from 4% in 2008.

It took me less than ten minutes to find these figures, publicly available in the annual reports which are filed by the companies with the SEC and are shown on the websites of those companies.

I favor health care reform, or health insurance reform, but lets use honest arguements to promote it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Weather Disclaimer

Hurricane Bill is in no way or manner related to or affiliated with this blog.
I did not give it that name, I did not ask for it to be given that name, and
I have no opinion about it having been given that name. It is not my freaking hurricane and I am not responsible for its behavior.


President Obama is taking heat for defending the government against a gay couple suing for infringement of civil liberties based on the Defense of Marriage Act. Liberals claim the Department of Justice should not argue against that suit.

I'm with Obama on this one. He took an oath to perform the duties of his office, one of which is to assure that "all laws shall be enforced." He cannot be selective about that, enforcing only those laws with which he agrees. As with DADT, it is up to Congress to change that law. We can argue the manner of the defense, but until until Congress changes that law, Obama's DOJ is required to defend it in court.

Everybody Gets Everything

In Phoenix yesterday, talking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Obama promised that, “One thing that reform won't change is veterans health care. No one is going to take away your benefits.”

As an aside, the veterans broke out in loud and sustained applause at that point, which made me just slightly ashamed to be a veteran, albeit not one of any foreign war.

To seniors he promises that no one will take away Medicare. To poor people he promises that Medicaid will remain intact. To people with insurance that they like he guarantees that they will be able to keep it. To people without insurance due to preexisting conditions, he promises that those conditions will not count against them any more. To people without insurance because they cannot afford it he promises that they will now be able to afford it.

The only losers are people who actually don’t want health insurance; they will now be required to carry and pay for it. But he doesn’t speak to them.

This is not leadership, this is pandering.

During his campaign Obama spoke of a great nation; he spoke of principles and what he believed in; he spoke of changing the way things are done in Washington. Since he has been in Washington he has brokered deals. He has pandered to the public by appealing to their greed and catering to their fears. Instead of health care reform for the greatness of a nation, he is pandering on a health insurance reform that gives everything to everybody and is somehow magically going to dramatically reduce costs. He claims the same old, tired reduction in the form of “saving billions by reducing waste and fraud.” How many times have we heard that generic promise?

Instead of defining what he believes reform to be, fleshing out what he hinted at in his campaign, he triangulates and allows reform to be defined for him as "whatever I can get passed by Congress," however ugly and ineffectual that end result might be.

Instead of leadership, we get just another politician who values programs over principles and pays for those programs with magic.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stones and Glass Houses

I was watching a panel discussion on C-Span yesterday, entitled “How the Right Can Win Online.” It was being held at a convention of the right wing blogosphere in Pittsburgh and it was an interesting discussion held by levelheaded and sober people whose principles, for the most part, I do not agree with. What was most interesting to me was the total lack of understanding that this group held about their “opposition,” namely the left wing blogosphere.

One of the things that was said, for instance, and was generally agreed,
“The Left has a top down model where talking points and ideas are promoted by the George Soros crowd and then repeated by the echo chamber, while the Right is more grass roots oriented and less likely to accept marching orders.”

What’s interesting is that the Left says precisely the same thing about the Right, naming Rush Limbaugh as the arbiter of talking points and marching orders. I suspect that the both assessments are oversimplifications with elements of both error and accuracy in them. Both groups call the other group “stupid” and refer to their arguments as “idiotic,” like two groups of college students flinging rocks at each other’s glass houses.

The opponent for whom you have contempt beats you because you didn’t bother to study him; you didn’t know his weapons or his tactics, and he came at you from an unexpected direction.

In this case the left will be defeated from an unexpected direction, all right; from the direction that they have been treating with contumely and derision.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Food Blogging Saturday

SkilletThis isn't really a recipe, merely what I did with a couple of leftover grilled chicken breasts I had on hand. Tear them into shreds and put them into a skillet with olive oil and garlic, add vegetables and a few herbs. It's not exactly Julia Childs, but...

For herbs I like Thyme and Oregano. The vegetables here are carrots, which need more time than the others, zucchini, cauliflower and broccoli. I usually would add some bell pepper and sweet onion, but I didn't have any that evening. I use quite a lot of garlic, enough olive oil to carry the garlic to the vegetables, and a fairly high heat. Pretty frequent stirring is required.

New Low In Television

From The Daly Planet, "This Saturday, ESPN2 is going to offer something TDP discussed earlier in the week. ... Instead of Marty Reid calling the race, ESPN will have four NASCAR analysts who will talk among themselves while the race is in progress."

One of the reasons I don't watch Monday Night Football is ESPN's practice of repeatedly ignoring the football game, merely using it as a visual background for some interview or discussion between the "sportscasters" while play after play happens on the field without them paying the slightest attention to it. CBS also does that during preseason football, but at least they drop it once the regular season begins. ESPN keeps it up all season.

Do they really think that I am going to tune into an auto race and see them treat the entire race that way?

ESPN really does believe that we do not tune in to see the event; we tune in to see ESPN and the heroic and oracle-like announcers who use the event as background for a display of their greatness and brilliance.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Failing the KISS Test

Obama is getting the blame for losing control of the message on health care reform, or health insurance reform, but I see Congress being more of the culprit for giving him a horribly garbled message in the first place; something that Congress is altogether too prone to do. Part of the problem is that we don’t even know what we are reforming; is it health care, or is it health insurance? Nobody seems to be quite certain, and we are talking about one thing one day, and the other thing the next.

Part of the problem, and to me a very large part, is that Congress seems incapable of crafting a bill that focuses on doing one basic thing. They consistently fail the “KISS” test; “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Each person in the legislature insists on getting his/her little pet project inserted into the bill and, by the time all is said and done, we have a massive convoluted mess with so many clauses, paragraphs and sub-paragraphs that there is something in it for everyone to object to. The basic idea may have been relatively uncontroversial, but we wind up with dozens of special interests raising Cain over one add-on or another.

The economic stimulus bill wound up being far more controversial than it needed to be. Conservative Republicans opposed the basic idea of it, but the nation as a whole was enthusiastically behind the idea of a spending bill that would create jobs and give a boost to the economy. Then Congress went to work on it, and the thing barely passed because it was loaded, not with the “pork” that Republicans claimed, but with peripheral projects that were social policy rather than direct stimulus.

For instance there was $8 billion allocated for high speed rail projects, which would produce no actual “shovel in the ground” jobs for eight to ten years. The rail projects not only had not yet been designed, the locations had not yet been determined. As policy, this was good policy and should have been promoted, and $8 billion seemed like the right amount, but it did not belong in the stimulus bill. That $8 billion should have been used to create jobs in the upcoming 18 months, and high speed rail should have been included in a transportation bill. Opponents used that clause to fight the stimulus bill, distorting it and lying about it, which could have been avoided had it not been included in the bill to begin with.

Congress has done the same thing with health insurance reform, giving opponents ready ammunition by inserting easy targets in the form of complexities which are not central to the reform that the bill is actually designed to address.

The “death panels” thing arises from a clause that authorizes Medicare to pay for consultations, which really has nothing to do with insurance reform, but is simple housekeeping. Every year or so Congress reviews what Medicare does and does not pay for and revises the list, and this is one of those revisions. This item actually passed last year in another bill, but the bill expired at the end of session and so its sponsors inserted it into this reform bill.

As with the stimulus bill, none of the attacks are made against the basic premise of the bill itself; that premise is too overwhelmingly popular to allow that. All of the demagoguery is taken from “Clause 1714, paragraph 23, sub-paragraph 7, which says…”

Demagogues can’t attack simplicity; they thrive on complexity.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wars as "Commonplace"

Katy AbramsThis is a picture of ignorance, stupidity and dishonesty with curly hair. She was a questioner at a town hall held by Arlen Specter, and notably had to read her question from a piece of paper she was holding in her hand, and Lawrence O’Donnell brought her onto Hardball to talk about what had led her into asking that angry question.

He asked her if she was in the group of people who made more than $250,000 and would be one of those paying the higher taxes to which she was objecting. She did not know. “My husband pays the bills and takes care of the family.”

He asked her if she believed that Obama’s plan would permit choice and she said she did not. After claiming that she had never been interested in politics until this year, she says that she “saw Obama on television in 2002 or 2000” say that we would move to a single payer plan. Even people very interested in politics were not watching Obama on television seven or nine years ago. She then decided “it was a couple of years ago.”

O’Donnell prefaced his next question by saying that she must have lived through 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan. She must have lived through the build up to and invasion of Iraq, the years of war there and the Surge. After all of that, he asked her, why did not all of that awaken her political interest? Why now? Why did this debate over healthcare awaken something that all those things did not?

"I always seemed to have faith in the government. And, honestly, I didn't really care. I had other things going on, you know, getting married, having children. It just-it wasn't a priority in my life.

"And, you know, I really didn't start even watching the news at all, I think, until maybe 1991, I guess it was, when we first went to the Gulf War. I remember watching CNN with my dad and watching the-the infrared missiles going across that you could see. And I think it-to me-maybe I'm just not that smart, but, you know, it seems like we have kind of been at war for-since then. I mean or maybe even before. I don't know. It just always seems like we're-we're having some kind of conflict. So, that-you know, whether-about wars, I don't know. That just seems commonplace now. I think everybody's just so used to it."

Emphasis mine. That may be the most ringing condemnation of this country I have ever heard. Admittedly, this is a particularly stupid and selfish young woman. She is almost certainly not typical of young America. Still, that anyone can think that being at war is a natural status for our nation simply horrifies me.

Unfortunately, I think to some degree she may be right. We fight wars too often and for too long. The American people accept wars that we should not accept. Because of the all-volunteer force, the citizenry at large has no stake in our wars; we aren’t even taxed to pay for them any more. We say, “Thank you for your service,” to the soldiers we meet, but they are empty words; we know nothing, nothing about the price that those men and women and their families are paying. We have no clue what we are thanking them for. If we did, if we actually saw even a small measure of that cost with our own eyes, we would be down on our knees begging their forgiveness.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pork Barreling Health Reform

On the face of it, I’m one of the people Democrats are talking to when they defend insurance reform by saying that, “If you like the health care you have you won’t have to change it.”

Our insurer is United Health Care through my wife’s employer. It’s a very large group, and the coverage is very decent. Deductibles and copays are a bit higher than they were a few years ago, but they’re bearable and there is no cap. I have some health issues, so we’ve had quite a few claims and they have been paid promptly. All of my doctors are of my choice.

So on the face of it I would be one of the ones saying not to “rock the boat” on health care, except that I am not the issue here. Three hundred million people are the issue.

When did our national character deteriorate to a degree that so many would say that fifty million others, those who lack insurance, should suffer so that I can keep what I have? Not merely keep what I have, but keep it in every detail and put none of it at risk.

Democrats cater to this selfishness with the endless chanting of, “If you like the health care you have you won’t have to change it.” Real leadership would demand that we call upon Americans to band together; to say that this is not about individuals; that this is about society; that this is about who we are as a nation, as a people.

This is “pork barrel politics” at its lowest level. In Congress we have individual states competing for federal dollars in an absolute orgy of greed that divides the nation and works against the national interest. In the health care debate we have individual against individual, “have” against “have not.” Everyone is afraid, and politicians of both sides are catering to those fears, mitigating against any chance of achieving meaningful reform.

We need to put fear aside; to stand up united as a nation and do this.

Health Insurance For Cars

One of the Republican opponents of the current insurance reform proposal went on about how health insurance should be like car insurance, claiming that if you bought car insurance that paid for oil changes nobody could afford car insurance. Health insurance, he claimed, should cover only catastrophic illness and people should pay for routine medical expenses out of their ordinary income.

He’s been watching too many reruns of “My Mother the Car.”

If my car loses a wheel and I can’t afford to replace it I have quite a few options; I can get friends to take me places; I can ride buses; I can walk; I can stay home. There are probably some other options I didn’t think of.

Delaying the repair to the car is not going to make it worse. I can easily wait until I save up enough money, and when I do it will still cost the same amount for the repair.

I, however, am not a car. I am a person and I have emphysema.

So let’s say that I have the catastrophic insurance that this Republican thinks is reasonable. I get a cough and I don’t have the $100 that it costs to go to the doctor, so I don’t go because the insurance doesn’t cover that. The next thing that happens is that I have a major lung infection and am in the emergency room, which costs several thousand dollars. The insurance policy pays for that.

So my decision was a sound one economically for me, but it means a lot of discomfort, and it’s probably a false economy due to time lost from work.

But was it sound for the insurance company, and was it sound for society? I’m not an insurance underwriter or executive, but I’m pretty sure the insurance company would have been happy to pay that $100 in order to prevent the emergency room visit.

It’s a really bad decision for everybody if, as is quite possible in my case, I get pneumonia and die from it despite a week in intensive care at a cost of many thousands of dollars.

All because of an uninsured $100 doctor’s office visit that I couldn’t afford.

The President On Single Payer

Yesterday in New Hampshire,
“I have not said that I was a single-payer supporter because, frankly, we historically have had a employer-based system in this country with private insurers, and for us to transition to a system like that I believe would be too disruptive. So what would end up happening would be, a lot of people who currently have employer-based health care would suddenly find themselves dropped, and they would have to go into an entirely new system that had not been fully set up yet. And I would be concerned about the potential destructiveness of that kind of transition.”

That's just lame. Even from a US Senator, a breed that specializes in dumb statements, that would be lame. From Obama...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ode for Barack Obama

He Is ComingHe is coming to your state.

He is coming to your county.

He is coming to your city.

He is coming to your zip code.

He is coming to your street.

He is coming to your house.

He is going to rip your heart out,

and feed it to your dog.

Selling Fear

Much is being made about the manner in which Republican conservatives are trying to stop health care insurance reform, by selling fear, by making you afraid of it. "Death panels, euthanasia." "They'll kill your grandmother."

But what are Obama and company selling? "Costs will continue to rise." "Pretty soon you will be paying half your income for health insurance." "You can lose your insurance if you lose your job." Democrats are trying to make you afraid not to do it.

Whatever happened to the kind of leadership that says, "We need to step up and be the great nation that we claim to be."

Monday, August 10, 2009

No, I Did Not

In an earlier post I talked about United Health Care making 5% profit margin, and claimed that such a profit was not excessive. That produced a small number of charges to the effect that I was defending the insurance companies, which is not entirely true. I am aware that in order to achieve their profits, reasonable or otherwise, many insurance companies employ a number of scurrilous practices such as declining to pay claims, dropping people who become ill, refusing to insure people with previous medical histories, and others.

I most certainly did not intend to defend those practices.

My point is that they do not engage in these practices for the fun of it, they do it to reduce costs. If they are required to knock it off, which they should be, their costs are going to go up and their profits will decline. If we require them to do enough more paying out and at the same time drive premiums down, their profits will disappear altogether. If insurance companies do not make profits they will cease doing business.

If that happens, you and I will not have health insurance.

I’m totally in favor of health care reform or, if we can’t have that, of health insurance reform. If we can’t have good reform, them let’s have crappy reform. Just pass the best thing that we can pass and let’s get on with making this thing as much better as we can make it, however little that might be.

Just don’t pee in my ear and try to convince me that it’s raining.

Arguing Socialized Medicine

In the ongoing, rather incoherent, debate on health care reform many liberal pundits keep defending against the charge of “socialized medicine” by saying that we already have such a thing, and that we call it Medicare. Lawrence O’Donnell is particularly fond of firing back at conservatives to the effect that he will give credence to their belief when they decline their Social Security checks and refuse Medicare.

Either they don’t understand Socialism, or they don’t understand Medicare, or I’m missing something. Here’s the definition of Socialism,

Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

Medicare consists of individuals paying money into a trust fund and then, at some point, using that money to pay for medical care which is provided by privately owned medical facilities and doctors in private practice. How, precisely does that fit any part of the definition of Socialism? Where is the “collective or governmental ownership of the means of providing” anything part of that program?

Social Security, similarly, consists of individuals paying money into a trust fund and then, at some point, using that money to pay for groceries and many other things which they buy from privately owned stores and providers. There’s no communal or governmental ownership here either.

Admittedly both programs are not optional, but not everything that is mandated is Socialism. Requiring a driver’s license is not usually claimed to be Socialism; Fascism, maybe, but not Socialism.

A commenter at Balloon Juice pointed out that Medicare is socialized health insurance. That is a good point, and part of the probem in the debate is that Obama and many other supporters of reform use “health care” and “health insurance” interchangeably. They are not, of course, the same thing.

The Veteran’s Administration Health System, which is voluntary, is socialized medicine and widely recognized as being one of the best medical care providers in the world. A few canards are still being spread about it as leftovers from it’s pre-1990’s makeover, and there are definitely problems getting into the system from the military medical systems, but one hears very few complaints from people who are presently receiving care in that government-owned medical care system.

The socialized medicine argument is a silly one anyway, because the inevitable conservative response is to the effect of, “Fine, so let’s get rid of Social Security and Medicare.” That doesn’t advance one’s argument for health care reform very much.

So against a charge of socialized medicine it makes a lot more sense to say, “It isn’t socialized medicine, you moron,” than it does to claim that we already have socialized medicine.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sports Shorts

No, not that kind of shorts. Clean up your mind.

Article in the San Diego Union Tribune today about how the Chargers had a high-powered offense last year, and still do, and how they need to focus now on stopping the other team. Well, that's not a problem, Shawne Merriman is back. He can stop the other team all by himself. Just ask anybody; especially, of course, Shawne Merriman.

Sponsorship in stock car racing has gotten a bit out of hand. The name for today's NASCAR race?

NASCAR Sprint Cup Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips At The Glen

The question is, how many times are the announcers going to have to say that, and how many times are they going to get it right. The network is ESPN; same network that just banned its personnel from using Twitter.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Economic Exuberance

There’s good news, and even better news on the economy; or, more properly perhaps, some not bad news and some even less bad news.

But first a piece of non-news to dispose of; that drop in the unemployment rate from 9.5% to 9.4%? Forget about it. That didn’t happen because a bunch of people got jobs, or because a bunch of jobs were created; neither one of those happened. It occurred because the “workforce contracted.” That means a lot of people had their unemployment benefits expire and, completely discouraged, quit looking for jobs. Those people are not counted an unemployed. So the 0.1% drop in unemployment is not good news.

The good news is that a mere quarter of a million jobs were lost last month. Yes, that is good news because that compares to more than a third of a million the preceding month, and more than half a million in May.

The really good news is that, if you eliminate the “cash for clunkers” program, consumer spending was down in the most recent period. Why is that good news? Because fewer jobs are being lost and that is happening without the false impetus of consumer spending. Our economy has been overdependent on consumer spending for too long and this is a sign of life for an economy that is not based on that.

So did Obama and/or his policies cause this newly exuberant economy? Damifino, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable, and if he wants to claim credit for it that’s okay with me.

For damn sure the Republicans didn’t cause it.

MSNBC Follies

Jonathan AlterJonathan Alter totally punked Keith Olbermann in his first segment last night when Keith asked him, regarding people who are disrupting the political town hall meetings, “How is that different than what Hamas or Hezbollah does? How are these people not political terrorists?”

Alter replied, “Well, I don’t like comparing people to terrorists or Nazis; that’s what the other side is doing right now is comparing people to terrorists and Nazis”

That apparently sailed right over Keith Olbermann’s head.

HillaryPretty sure that I have never referred to Hillary Clinton as “charming.” I know that many others have, but before this I’m fairly sure I haven’t. I’ve used lots of adjectives for her, good and bad, but charming would not be one of them.

In this clip which Chris Matthews played on Hardball last night she was really delightful, though, as she broke out in laughter at the mere mention of John Bolton’s name. She didn’t even have to be told what the Walrus had said about her husband before she was cracking up. You can watch the clip yourself on this one.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Health Care Co-ops

Just a couple of weeks ago the health care insurance reform supporters were decrying "co-operatives" as a sham, with too little muscle to impact private insurance, and insisting that only a full-blown "public option" would do the job of driving insurance costs down. They were insisting that we should not let ourselves get side-tracked from the public option solution.

Now suddenly the discussion has become that we need "the public option or some sort of co-operative solution" to compete with the private insurance companies. What happened?

Health Care Mandates

Republicans get all up in arms about the government passing laws that require citizens to do anything, or prevent citizens from doing anything. They are “anti-mandate” to the point that the more wingnutty of them holler, “Keep the government’s hands off of my Medicare.” Really, I swear I’m not making that up.

I’m sort of neutral about individual mandates. I carry a driver’s license with me, and have no real feeling of resentment about the requirement that I do so. I have car insurance, and I would have it even if the law didn’t require me to. I have health insurance, even though there is no law requiring that.

What if there was such a law? Well, I would comply with it, and would comply without resentment because that law, just as is the car insurance law, is consistent with my own self interest. That’s easy for me to say, because I can afford health insurance.

For many years my employees were landscapers, many of them working for minimum wage which was the most we could afford to pay in a viciously competitive business environment. We offered health insurance, but a portion of the premium was deducted from employees’ paychecks and very few of them chose it. It wasn’t that they didn’t want the coverage, they did, but they had to make a choice between that premium and several meals on the table for their families.

That’s a hard choice, isn’t it? Do I gamble with my family’s health, or do I send my kids to bed without supper? Terrible choice; but the government should not make that decision.

We’re being told that adding healthy, presently uninsured people to the insured pool will balance out cost and reduce the cost of insurance, and that to do that we need to mandate insurance, and I have no real argument with that. The reform is purported to offer “subsidies” to people who “have trouble” paying for insurance, and that is more vague than I am really comfortable with. Mandate insurance if you must, but be sure you do it in a manner that does not eliminate freedom of choice.

I’m somewhat less than neutral regarding employer mandates.

During the primary and general election campaigns much was made of the unfairness that employer-provided insurance imposed on our businesses, and how it made those businesses non-competitive in the international market because other nations did not require their employers to do that. It was asserted by all of the candidates that we needed health care reform to remove the unfair burden that is borne by our employers of having to provide health insurance for their employees.

During the discussion of the bailout of the auto manufacturers, it was claimed by Obama that part of the reason that our auto manufacturers were failing was the burden of providing health insurance to their employees, a burden the auto manufacturers of other nations, specifically Canada which now owns a good portion of GM, did not bear. We needed to offer the auto makers this bailout, he claimed, in part because of this unfair burden of providing health insurance for their employees.

Now the health care reform requires all employers above a certain modest size to provide health insurance for their employees. This is, for me, a huge wtf component in the health insurance reform proposal.

After more than a year of prating in his campaign about how unfair it was to employers that they have the burden of providing health insurance; after months of declaiming as President about how the burden of providing health insurance had driven GM and Chrysler (but not, apparently, Ford) out of business; now Obama is willing to mandate that all employers of any significant size be required to be saddled with that same burden.

That is nonsensical and nobody, liberal or conservative, is remarking on it.

More For Less

I tend to view with suspicion any promise that offers to deliver more goods or services for less payment. Sure, that does sometimes happen, but how often do such promises actually deliver?

I favor health care reform, strongly favor it, and I realize that we do not yet know the final details of the reform plan, but I am just a little bit skeptical that the insurance reform that is being discussed is sound even in its basic principle. The government is saying, “we’re going to give you more and it will, eventually, cost less,” without any credible reasons why it will cost less.

Other than, “We’re going to keep the insurance companies honest.” Right.

I actually favor insurance reform, too, and I’m in favor of regulating insurance companies. I’m just skeptical of the claim that it’s going to cost significantly less after we do it.

We’re being told that adding healthy, presently uninsured people to the insured pool will balance out the cost, but all we have is that pure statement in the form of “math without numbers.” I have not heard or read even order-of-magnitude numbers of how that balancing act works out, and I seriously doubt that anyone actually knows. In any case, if that is what’s going to drive the cost down, why does the reform cost $1 trillion more to begin with?

Health insurance is a volatile subject, and people tend to view profits made by insurance companies as evil. Profits made by oil companies are also evil. Profits made by electronics and computer companies, which are orders of magnitude greater than insurance or oil companies, are good. The latest plan to sell the reform is to officially demonize the health insurance companies and their outrageous profits.

Just as a frame of reference, United Health Care, the company that insures me, had a 5% margin of profit last quarter. Yes, the news media is right and their profits “doubled,” up from 2.5% the previous quarter. Awesome. If you sold something for $100 and made a $5 profit, would you feel you were robbing anyone?

Even if we treated the industry as Blue Cross was founded, though, and as the promised “public option” is proposed, as non-profit organizations collecting premiums and delivering service on a break-even basis, there is a direct relationship between the money taken in as premiums and that paid out for services. The idea that the government can increase services and drive down premiums at the same time doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

As one example, insurance will not be able to turn down preexisting conditions; that’s a good thing, and I’m all for it. If, however, an insurance company is having to accept clients with medical conditions costing hundreds of thousands per year to treat, and cannot charge a higher premium to those clients, what does that do to its overall cost? What does it do to the rest of the premiums it must charge to break even; forget profit? Even that horrible, usurious 5% profit that is so decried by Democrats.

I would be a lot more believing if it was said that this reform was going to cost more but that we need to do it in the name of social justice. That raises the question of whether or not we can afford it.

We could afford it a lot better if we stopped fighting wars, of course.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Doing It Again

WTFFor some reason the National Weather Service occasionally puts a link in red text that says "Hazardous Weather Warning" which leads to the above warning. It's comforting, but...

Lesson in Statesmanship

ArrivingNot much has made me feel as good as Bill Clinton bringing these two ladies home Tuesday. That man can be something of a boor, but when it comes time for statesmanship, nobody does it better. He took care to do this as an individual and with President Obama’s blessing, and he didn’t get involved until he was invited.

And he finished it with one final touch of elegance; what’s missing from that picture? Mr. Clinton had the great good grace to leave the homecoming moment to the families.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Health Care Inanity

To indulge in a trivial discussion of another of Keith Olbermann’s inanities, he says that the health care public option is like, "letting the government sell you water instead of relying on the bottled water companies."

Good one Keith. You do realize that the government has been selling us water longer than the bottled water companies have. You do realize that the bottled water companies are making obscene profits selling bottled water, that in many cases they get that water from systems provided by the government, and that their sales pitch is to convince the public that government-provided water will make them sick.

You do realize, Keith, that government water supplies are running dry, are rated D- by the ASCE, and are increasingly polluted and detrimental to the public health.

Are you actually arguing in favor of a health care public option?

Abortion in a New Battlefield

Chris Matthews, in his inimitable and rather sly manner, is helping to take the abortion battle into a new battlefield, the health care debate. He is rigorously anti-abortion, but lacks the courage to come right out and say so, merely keeps bringing the subject up and providing a platform on which others can make the argument for him.

“All the Democrats have to do,” he declaims, “is come right out and say that the health care bill money will not be used to pay for abortions, but they won’t do that. Why not?”

Actually, at least one of them has said that. Barbara Boxer of California made the unequivocal statement that, “Not one dollar of funding provided by this bill will be used to pay for abortion.”

Digby points out in Hullaballoo the other day that “…the public plan as conceived would be paid for by premiums and therefore abortion wouldn't be 'taxpayer' funded at all.” There is the point, however that the public option would presumably be the plan of choice for people who cannot afford health insurance and are therefore being subsidized by government funds. So if the premiums that are paying for the insurance will be government funds, then government is paying for abortions provided by public option insurance.

My argument is that there is no problem with that in a general sense, because abortion is health care in many cases and damn well should be paid for by health insurance regardless of who is paying the premiums.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dysfunctional Media, updated

I’m pretty sure that most of the people reading this would agree that corporate ownership has a pernicious degree of influence on the media. That control remains one of those things that is difficult to prove in any really direct way; can only be inferred by what the media does and motives imputed to those actions. Such “proofs” that are offered usually wind up being spurious, but the inference is really difficult to refute.

Glenn Greenwald went off like a roman candle with solid evidence a few days ago, and I take Glenn pretty seriously. He can be a bit hyperbolic at times, but I don’t consider hyperbole in defense of essential freedoms to be a vice, and he does it (assuming that it is, indeed, hyperbole at all) in a way that makes for great reading. I think using the New York Times as a source is a bit risky, but… That wasn’t his sole source, and Glenn makes a compelling case.

He does note that Keith Olbermann denies the claim of collusion between himself, Immelt, O’Reilly and Murdoch (as did the NYT story itself) and, of course, that particular collusion was only part of the story anyway.

Keith Olbermann has been on vacation and, returning to the air last night, debunked the story in his “Worst Person” segment but did so in a pretty incoherent manner which sort of muddied the water a bit. Nothing really all that new about Keith Olbermann being incoherent, really, but… Onward.

First he gave the bronze to Brain Stelter for running the story even after Keith had told him it was not true, not mentioning that Stelter had cited his disclaimer in the article. Then, apparently to prove that he had not agreed to shut up about O’Reilly, he gave the silver to none other than O’Reilly over something that the guy did more than a year ago. Finally, and this is where things get weird, he gives the gold to Rupert Murdoch for making the deal that he claims doesn’t exist and stifling O’Reilly, even though Immelt didn’t make any such agreement and Olbermann is not being stifled.

So it seems that one side of the deal that horrifies Greenwald does exist, the one where Fox agreed to stifle O'Reilly and not dump on GE, but the other side of the agreement does not exist and Olbermann can and will continue to dump on Bill O’Reilly as before.

The media is even more dysfunctional than I thought it was.

Update: Wednesday, 7:20am
Glenn Greenwald added yesterday to previous information on the subject, saying that the he wrote to Olbermann asking for his input after Olbermann denied the story on air Monday night. Olberman confirmed the "battle of the networks," and even said that nothing in Greenwald's story was "factually inaccurate," but said that he was never "asked to refrain" from attacking O'Reilly. Greenwald claims that as confirmation of his story since Olberman indeed was not "asked" to refrain, he was "ordered" to do so.

Sounds a bit like nitpicking to me, but Glenn Greenwald has significantly more credibility with me than Keith Olbermann does.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Incompetence Abounds

Remember when Obama said a president should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time? Well, not only can he do that, he can dribble a basketball with one hand, wave at the crowd with the other and dribble a soccer ball with one foot while he’s doing it. He’s probably working thermodynamic differential equations in his head at the same time.

I once had an instructor whose IQ was in the stratosphere and actually did that. I couldn’t work the damned things with pencil and paper, and he did them in his head. Obama kind of reminds me of him. I halfway expect Obama to break out into, “So delta Q will be the result of dividing the first differential of the caloric input by…”

The ones who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time is the media. If they talk while chewing gum the gum falls out of their collective mouth.

According to the media Obama is obsessed with the health care thing and is talking about nothing else. (Um, he met with China last week?) The only thing they are going to talk about is the health care thing, and they get it completely wrong; misquoting Obama and everyone else in sight, and bringing on pundits to do further misquoting, lying and providing of remarkably stupid opinions.

If the final health insurance reform includes, "imposing caps on charges for out-of-pocket expenses on private insurers, prohibits dropping coverage for those who get serious illnesses, and bars annual and lifetime caps on coverage," as Obama actually did most recently say, then that will be reform that I can get behind with some enthusiasm.

Can we have another election and elect new media?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

California Fiscal Woes

In a post at, Andrew Leonard bemoans the closing of some of California’s most beautiful bicycle paths, among the many casualties of our state’s fiscal crisis. At the end of it he blames the usual, and wrong, culprit,

As always, I blame Proposition 13. Curse you, Howard Jarvis!

The infamous Prop 13 contains two major parts; the freezing of (actually restrictions on raising of) real property taxes, and the requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass a budget and raise taxes. This proposition is being blamed for all of our fiscal problems, and it actually plays a far smaller role than some other structural problems in our government.

The property tax restriction was in response to irresponsible increases that were, in fact, causing people who owned their homes free of debt to lose those homes due to property tax burdens that exceeded reason. The restriction does not apply when a property is sold, and property tax revenue has increased dramatically since that proposition passed.

It is true that the act has shifted revenue to income tax, and a serious problem arises in that the legislature spends like drunken sailors in boom times and instigates programs that mandate spending even when the boom times pass and income tax revenue drops. That is a major cause of our current crisis, but it is caused by legislative recklessness, and not by Proposition 13.

I would suggest that a tax based more on income than on property values is more fair in any case. The major asset that any person owns is usually their home, and the value of that home after its purchase is influenced by forces beyond the control of the owner. To have the cost of owning that home vary to major degrees at times and in a manner unrelated to the owner’s income is potentially disastrous.

We probably could live with the two-thirds majority vote requirement if it were not for our gerrymandered districting, with its preponderance of “safe” districts, and the closed primary election system. These districts, each carefully drawn to contain a preponderance of one party or the other, and the primary elections in them, are tightly controlled by party bosses who insist on absolute “purity” in voting on the floor of the legislature. The legislators then have to run in primary elections in which a very small number of voters participate, all of whom are not only members of their party but are energetic and polarized members of their party.

Last year the legislature had a tentative deal on a budget that involved modest tax increases; had the necessary two-thirds majority vote aligned. At the last minute one Republican switched his vote to “no” because the party leaders had threatened him with a primary challenge in his district, saying that they would support another candidate and would campaign against him based on his “vote for higher taxes.” He knew he would lose in that primary based on that single vote, regardless of what his record might otherwise be.

Californians, like Americans in general, do have a strong inclination to want the government to provide services that they do not want to be taxed for. Proposition 13 does, to some degree, reflect that shortcoming but was passed in no small part to impose responsibility on our legislature. In that respect it failed.

The fiscal problems that California face are severe and have many causes, and it may be true that solving them will require an almost total rewrite of our constitution. Simply pointing a finger at Proposition 13 is no solution.

Life Expectancy

Interesting little fact that I read, but cannot find now. I have not verified it, but I rather suspect that it's true. If you are 24 years old in America, your life expectancy is 2+ years less than that of a similar person in Europe. If you are older than 65 your life expectancy is almost a year greater than that European person at age 65+.

You might think that the reason has to do with all of our modern medicine and technology, with our geriatric practices and life saving techniques.

Nope. If you're over 65 you're on Medicare. Think about it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

HD Television

Upgraded to HDTV this week, and bought a 37" Samsung. Watched a stock car race, some baseball (which I consider about as exciting as watching paint dry) and NFL highlights on ESPN. Oh my goodness.
I am so ready for the Chargers season to start.

Economic Madness

I am, admittedly, not an economist, but I am astounded at all of the giddy press that is resulting from the published news that our economy shrank by one percent in the second quarter, and especially by the accompanying predictions that a) it means that the economy will grow in the third quarter and b) that we are in the beginning of economic recovery. So the stock market is soaring and people are buying cars literally faster than the government can provide money to subsidize them.

Somebody with a higher forehead than mine will have to interpret the facts that federal government spending grew by 10.5% in the second quarter, state government by 1.5% and that everything else shrank, including the overall economy, and how that relates to economic recovery, because I just don’t see it. When manufacturing decreased by 7% and more than half a million people lost their jobs in any single month of that quarter, I just have a hard time seeing that as indicative of a recovery.

Part of the stock market gain was supposedly due to the drop in the number reported as continuing to draw unemployment; but given that 1.5 million people lost their jobs in that quarter, it should not take a rocket scientist to figure out that drop was not due to people getting jobs, it was due to people’s unemployment benefits expiring.

The CARS program is evidence that “the stimulus is working” except that those cars are being sold from inventory; a goodly number of them from dealerships that are going out of business. How many of those dealers are going to replenish that inventory once the CARS program ends? That huge boost of current sales is all but certainly going to be followed by a huge slump in future sales; the program is not so much creating sales as it is moving future sales into the present.

It's a good enough program, and trading low mileage polluting cars for more efficient ones is a worthy goal, but let's not kid ourselves about this being the "stimulus" to the economy that is going to make things better.

Meaningful stimulus to the economy involves putting people to work, creating projects and businesses which put unemployed people to work and provide them with paychecks (the $2 billion extension of CARS is being diverted from just such programs, in fact) and not “feel good” handouts that stimulate short term consumer spending.

Meanwhile the stock market, like a self-licking ice cream cone, continues to grow based on things such as diminishing unemployment rolls and an economy that shrank more slowly than expected.