Monday, November 30, 2009

Pragmatic Progressivism

Blogger Jim Arkedis of the Progressive Fix, subtitled “The Place for Pragmatic Progressives,” is rather frantically defending Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, even before Obama announces that escalation. He is urging Democrats to be loyal and get behind the President’s policy.

Whatever course he chooses, the President will need his party's understanding and support to succeed. If Democrats fall out over Afghanistan, he won't be able to sustain a coherent policy, and the public will likely lose confidence in the party's ability to manage the nation's security.

News flash; a half trained second lieutenant could “manage the nation's security,” because there is no nation or organization on Earth that is capable of posing a threat to this nation’s security. To paraphrase Colin Powell, a man this nation at one time practically regarded as godlike,

“Can they blow up a few buildings? Sure. Can they kill quite a few people? Certainly. Are they a threat to the nation itself? Not even close.”

Should we be taking measures to prevent crazed thugs from blowing up our buildings and killing our people? Certainly we should, but don’t call it “national security” because the security of our nation doesn’t depend on it. What depends on it is lives, the lives of less than 1% of our population. Those lives matter, but the fate of the nation does not rest upon them.

Mr. Arkedis refers to his blog as “The Place for Pragmatic Progressives.” So far more than 5000 men and women have died to avenge 3000 who died on 9/11. I’m not sure how pragmatic that is. Nor do I regard as pragmatic the theory that holds that because one is a Democrat then in all cases one supports, “It’s okay when Obama does it.”

Losing Bin Laden

There is a new report out, one that concludes that we screwed up and allowed Osama Bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora in the original invasion of Afghanistan. The report is getting a lot of discussion in the media and is raising a great deal of interest.

Why? This has been common knowledge for half of a decade. As I recall, we knew this before 2004, before the election of Bush to his second term. And we reelected him anyway.

Why is it suddenly interesting now? Do we think we are going to undo that blunder by sending thousands of more soldiers to their deaths in that country now? If anything, the fact that he is not in Afghanistan, may even be dead, should point out the absolute futility and waste of blood and treasure that our adventure there actually represents.

Lethal Weapon

The Chargers' lethal weapon does not wear a number on his jersey; he stands on the sidelines calling plays. I have never been part of the mob calling for Norv Turner's head, although I have at times questioned his ability as a disciplinarian. Either I overestimated the need for disciplinarianism or I have underestimated Norv; this team is playing with a greater degree of cohesion than I have ever seen in the past few years.

As Nick Canepa put it today, "And the defense, while allowing yards, continues to make the big plays when needed." That's what an aggressive defense does, and it wins games. Passive defense, the kind we had before Ron Rivera got this group going, loses games.

I am beginning to really enjoy this season.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Defending the Guilty

There was a discussion at the Washington Monthly the other day about why a lawyer would defend someone like Major Hasan, the man accused of gunning down thirteen people at Fort Hood. The standard argument is offered; that every person is entitled to a vigorous defense. The argurment is offered in some detail and presents a compelling case, but it I think leaves an opening for an individual lawyer to decide that an individual is so obviously guilty and the crime so heinous that defense of that person by him is not justified.

There is, to me, a larger argument, one that goes beyond the individual crime or person. I believe there is an argument that the integrity of the system itself requires that even the most obviously quilty criminal should be defended by the best lawyers available and should be provided with the greatest possible defense in every single case.

Defending one bad guy is not about that one bad guy; it’s about maintaining the integrity of our entire system of justice. It’s not about who that bad guy is; it’s about who we are.

Back when I first entered sales I had a manager who told us never to denigrate our competition; never to think ill of them. “It is your competitor,” he would say, “that requires you to be as good as you are.” He would point out that we produced excellence and that we took pride in doing so. If we had no competition we could produce shoddy product and sloppy work and be successful, but we could not take pride in it. Our competition, he would remind us, was our best asset, our quality control.

That vigorous defense of the obviously guilty is the justice system’s competition, its quality control.

That we have high caliber defense lawyers is why the police investigating crimes and the attorneys prosecuting crimes can never pick the easy or obvious candidate for a crime and convict them on slack evidence. They will never bring to trial someone who “probably” did a crime, or is the “most likely” criminal; they will each and every time make certain to the absolute best of their ability that they “have the right guy.”

Defending one bad guy is not about that one bad guy; it’s about the integrity of the entire system of justice. For the system to work there has to be that defense every single time. If the legal system did not defend the “obviously guilty” then the system would fail altogether because the innocent could be made to appear “obviously guilty” and they would not be defended. The case that is presented in court is researched and tested by the prosecution for one reason.

Because they have high quality competition, every single time.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Went to see the movie 2012 yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I did have to wonder if it was a political statement that the aircraft carrier which landed on and destroyed the White House in the tidal wave was clearly identified as the John F. Kennedy or if, perhaps, it was merely an attempt at irony.

Probably the latter, but Kennedy isn't the only presidential carrier available.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

MSNBC "Noise"?

Keith Olbermann rants endlessly about "Fox Noise," and accuses them of sleazy journalism, but he made them look like a bastion of responsibility with his rant on Sarah Palin last night. Talk about quoting out of context and half-baked nonsequiter editorializing... Even for a left wing radical wingnut, that was over the top.

And he thinks that first-year House member Alan Grayson is right on target for telling the Senate how to conduct its business. Grayson is almost as full of himself as Olbermann is.

500th post for 2009. I think I need a life.

Little League Jockism

It has been announced that the Little League National Champions, Chula Vista's baseball super heroes from San Diego's southern suburb, will also be going to the White House. Their air fare, hotel and meals expense is being picked up by corporate sponsors, to be honored here as soon as I get the names.

Those are some excited young men. I watched them all the way through the series; it was quite an experience, and I don't even like baseball.

Health Care Hypocrisy

Ron Beasley wrote a post at Newshoggers last Friday entitled American Medical Consumerism, which was short and very much to a point. It will take you but a moment to read it, but he begins (emphasis mine),

Here in my State of Oregon it was announced this week that health insurance premiums will be going up 16 percent in 2010. Some employers will increase the amount of the employees share while some small and medium sized businesses will be priced out and have to drop coverage. The reason for the increase is the runaway cost of health care.

Health care reformists are complaining about the cost of health insurance, and the large part of the focus of that “reform” is reducing insurance premiums; not by influencing the cost or use of medical care itself, which insurance pays for, but by legislating the actions of insurance companies. Yet insurance companies in Oregon are raising premiums because of “the runaway cost of health care.” Ron finishes by saying that, “The changes that need to be made will be labeled rationing and that label will stick until a majority have no health care at all.”

Last week the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new suggested guidelines for breast cancer screening, based on the cost effectiveness and the number of lives that are statistically saved by that process. The standards they suggested are essentially the standards used by the rest of the world and were provided as guidelines for women who are not known to be at elevated risk.

The public not only rejected that guideline, they were outraged by it. Consensus appeared to be that concern over cost effectiveness was misplaced, and that if any lives at all were saved then it was callous and outrageous to be concerned with saving money.

That may very well be a completely valid position, and I would not argue with such a consensus, except that this “health care reform” that we are insisting that Congress must pass is in large part about reducing the cost of health care insurance. The first time that any concrete method of actually reducing cost is suggested, it is rejected so forcefully that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is forced to go on television and tell the public to ignore the suggested guideline.

We want insurance companies to pay for 1,357 mammograms that will save one life, but we don’t want to cover the cost of those 1,357 mammograms in our health insurance premiums. Is one single life worth the cost of 1,357 mammograms? I’m perfectly willing to accept a consensus that it is; but if we conclude that then we must be willing to cover that cost in our insurance premiums. Conversely, if we are not willing to pay those insurance premiums, as is suggested by our demand for “health care reform” and lower health insurance rates, then it is hypocritical to say that we place any value on that one life.

Somebody has to pay for those 1,357 mammograms, and it isn’t going to be that one person whose life was saved. We, as a society, are going to have to bear that cost. We say that we are willing to do so, but when we get the bill we raise all sorts of hell about the cost, and we blame the insurance company. That cost is because of the choices that we have made. The insurance companies did not arbitrarily decide to pay the cost of those 1,357 mammograms, they paid it because we demanded that they do so.

Either we value that one life, or we value money. If the former, we have to decide whether or not we have sufficient resources to in all cases save that one life. Decision time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kidding Ourselves On Costs

The “health care reform” debate started out being a move to extend health insurance to the people who don’t have it. At the time, I had a hard time understanding why that was called “health care reform,” but that’s the way of politics; “health insurance extension” would certainly not have garnered many votes for president.

When it became transparent what the “health care reform” was really about, it had to be reformulated to “bend the curve of health care costs” in order to appeal to the vastly larger number of people who already have health insurance but believe they are paying too much for it. Or can be made to believe that they are paying too much. It is still unclear to me how lowering the cost of health insurance can be called “health care reform,” but it’s also unclear to me how any of the ideas which are being presented are expected to lower the cost of anything.

Realistically, of course, they are not expected to lower the cost of anything; they are only expected to get Democrats reelected.

But the idea of “lower costs” always appeals to the American people, so “health care reform” became a big hit, especially the “public option.” Nobody knows what that actually is but it doesn’t matter because, whatever it is, it will be there to “hold insurance companies accountable,” whatever that means, and “give Americans a choice.”

In fact, the “public option” was originally a nation-wide coverage plan based on Medicare, a proposal which was killed off months ago and has been replaced with “insurance exchanges,” which were themselves pronounced ineffective and unacceptable at the time that the original “public option” was being proposed. These exchanges are now the ideal solution and have even been renamed the “public option,” taking on the name of the former “only possible solution” that was rejected earlier.

It doesn’t matter what the “public option” actually is, so long as there is something in “health care reform” which Democrats can call a “public option.” What it actually is or what it actually does is essentially irrelevant. One Senator after another has gone on talk shows and sworn to defend the “public option,” saying that the final form of it doesn’t matter; it can be “opt out,” or “opt in,” or have “a trigger,” or even as of yesterday have a “hammer” mechanism, so long as they get the “public option” in the bill in some form.

Is a bad bill better than no bill? I don’t really know; if it gets people covered by insurance, it probably is. But we are seriously and massively kidding ourselves if we think that government intervention is actually going to reduce costs.

Beyond Jockism

Winners of the NCAA basketball tournament are invited to visit the White House, meet the President, and have their picture taken giving the President a team jersey. The winner of the NASCAR stock car racing championship is treated similarly, as are the Super Bowl winners. All those athletes and jocks have been hobnobbing with the "prez" for many years.

Well, Obama just added a category; National Science Fair winners.

Republicans are undoubtedly going to regard that as elitist and arugula-eating snobbery; maybe outright geekery. They will also almost certainly be even more disgusted to learn that The Mythbusters, absolute geekiest of supergeeks, were invited to the White House announcement.

I think that all of it is just awesome.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"We're Not Japan"

Paul Krugman, a pretty loyal Barak Obama cheerleader, is getting pretty perturbed in a New York Times op-ed today with recent talk from the administration about reducing the national deficit. I am with Krugman on both points; his liking for Obama and his frustration at Obama’s recent focus on deficit reduction. Well, I actually am in favor of deficit reduction, but for God’s sake, not now.

Krugman’s problem is that he seems not to understand “popular political thinking” methods. I don’t either, of course, I think they are idiotic, but I recognize that Paul and I are not going to defeat them with logic. Paul keeps trying to defeat them with logic. Hmm, so do I, come to think of it.

It takes him several paragraphs to reach the point that he thinks that Obama is getting his economic views from Wall Street, which leaves me rather at a loss for words. Oh, really? Has Paul noticed who the Secretary of the Treasury is? Or, perhaps, who the President’s Chief Economic Advisor is? “…getting his advice, directly or indirectly from Wall Street.” Really, Paul, you think?

He then goes on to say that, “A better model, I’d argue, is Japan in the 1990s, which ran…” Well, read it for yourself; it's about interest rates.

The argument against that, Paul, is simply, “We’re not Japan.”

I know that doesn’t make sense to you, Paul; it doesn’t make sense to me either, and it probably doesn’t make sense to the people who use it. That doesn’t keep them from using the argument. That’s where you and I diverge from politicians, Paul, we require that our arguments make sense.

Remember the health care issues; we reject the European model because, “We’re not Europe.” Not because of any of the features of that model, or any of the constructs of our society versus that society; we simply make the argument, “We’re not Europe,” case closed.

So, economically, “We’re not Japan,” and your goose is cooked. Move on, which he does with this silliness,

Still, let’s grant that there is some risk that doing more about double-digit unemployment would undermine confidence in the bond markets. This risk must be set against the certainty of mass suffering if we don’t do more — and the possibility, as I said, of a collapse of confidence among ordinary workers and businesses.

Oh, how hysterical. He is comparing the interest of the bond market to the “mass suffering of unemployment.” Let’s run that past the laugh meter one more time; the bond market weighed against “ordinary workers and businesses.” Do you really think there is any contest there, Paul? Whether Obama cares or not, and he might, do you really think Congress does?

And he closes with the truism about it being, “much riskier to do too little than it is to do too much,” which may be true in economics, but is death in politics. The public, and a politician’s opponent, will always ignore what a politician didn’t do. Any action, however, whether taken for good or ill purpose, will be used against you in your next campaign.

Brilliant at economics, Paul Krugman is no politician.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Football Weekend

I started watching the San Diego State vs. Utah thing but decided to watch a college football game instead. LSU's defense has been a disappointment all year, but what was that nonsense during the last 49 seconds? 3 plays in 48 seconds and then spiking the ball when there's one second on the clock before you line up; really? Georgia hawked up a big hairball in the second half, and Kansas fared even worse than SDSU. Arizona lost a squeaker.

I can only hope that the Chargers don't similarly wrap things up.

Evening update:
How pathetic are the Ravens? Seven, count 'em seven, trips in the red zone and all they get is five field goals. Did Dallas just win over Washington by a mere 7-6? Really? And did the Raiders beat the Bengals on the same weekend that the Chiefs beat the Steelers? The NFL is getting wierd.

We Won

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Spurious Arguments

I don't know why I keep being flabbergasted by dumb arguments.

Chris Matthews cannot understand the “downside” to voting to allow debate in the Senate even if you are against the bill itself and will in due course vote against it later when it comes to a vote.

He has a very short term memory and doesn’t recall, “he was for it before he was against it,” and “he flip-flopped on health care reform.” I would say losing an election because your opponent hammered you for six months as being indecisive is a definite “downside.”

A commenter on another blog said that he was certain that the CRA was the cause of the housing bubble and the current financial crisis because,
"I worked at a bank that was subject to the CRA, and I saw it at work."

The would mean that if you lived in a house that fell down because it was eaten by termites you could be certain that the Loma Prieta earthquake, during which houses fell down, was caused by termites.

"Savings In Medicare"

Has anyone other than me noticed the juxtaposition of two actions by Congress this week? Action one is debating “healthcare reform” that will be paid for in most part by $500 billion savings in Medicare. The other is passage of a bill that eliminates a $200 billion reduction in Medicare spending. "Hello? Anyone home?"

The Medicare reduction that Congress is in the process of eliminating is part of a bill that was passed years ago in response to public outrage over runaway Medicare costs. Congress said, “Okay, we will mandate reduction in payments to doctors to reduce cost,” but made the reductions a phased-in process over many years. As each reduction has come due, Congress has cancelled it. The outrage over excessive spending has long since been forgotten, but the outcry over “unfairness to doctors” is current. That outcry is, of course, coming from doctors rather than the public, but…

That’s what Congress does. It legislates in response to the public outcry of the moment, but then sets the implementation of that legislation far enough in the future for two things to happen.

The first is that at least one national election will have passed so that if the legislation backfires when it goes into effect the party in power will still have retained the White House and control of Congress for another term.

The more important advantage to delay is that prior to implementation the legislation can be modified in whatever manner is needed to suit special interests, because the original passions of the public at large will have faded. As proof that the practice works, notice that Congress is eliminating $200 billion in Medicare cuts that it passed years ago in response to public pressure, and the public response to that is a big yawn.

In line with usual practice the current “healthcare reform” is being planned for implemention in 2013 by the House and in 2014 by the Senate. The public should be asking “Wtf?” about this, but of course they are not because this is simply business as normal. Barack Obama said something in his campaign about “changing the way things are done in Washington,” but even he is not suggesting a more rapid schedule for implementation of “healthcare reform” because, I suspect, the deal suits his purpose very well. If the implementation turns into a nightmare it will do so after he has assured a second term in office.

Congress will pass a “healthcare reform” bill because Keith Olbermann et al are shrieking hysterically every night on television about the heinous crimes being committed by the health insurance industry, but by 2013 Olbermann will be hyperventilating about something else altogether and the “reform” can be safely altered to a form much more suitable to the special interests that continuously enrich our legislators.

As for paying for “healthcare reform” by saving $500 billion in Medicare, we can be absolutely certain that it will never happen. That process may be in the bill, but between now and implementation of the bill it will almost certainly be legislated out and, failing that, when it comes time for the cuts to actually be made, Congress will cancel them.

Just as it is now cancelling Medicare savings that were passed earlier.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chair Issue Continues

My chairMolly really does have a thing about this damned chair. There are times that she will be sitting in the doorway to my room and when I go to enter the room she will race me to the chair, looking over her shoulder to monitor progress, and leap into the dratted chair just before I reach it.

Yesterday I was in the room doing something else and she was snoozing contentedly in the chair. I left momentarily, was gone only a matter of a few seconds, and when I returned she was just inside the door, in the process of leaving the room. As soon as she saw me coming she raced for the chair and jumped back into it, sitting down and staring at me with that inimitable feline look of disdain.

I’m not sure if she likes the chair, or if she just likes keeping me out of it.

Employer Tax Credits

What does an employer need in order to hire another employee, that is to “create a job”? How about more business for that employee to be doing. How about more people buying his products. A tax credit? Give me a break.

It’s clear these idiots in Congress have never owned a business. “Small businesses need this,” they say, and “small businesses need that” as if they had the slightest clue what any kind of businesses need. So they propose an employer tax credit to create new jobs. “Hire another employee,” they say, “and we’ll give you a break on that employee’s payroll taxes.”

Great. Are you going to pay his wages too, while he stands around reading comic books because I don’t have any work for him to do? The economy is crap, my business is down and shows no signs of being better, and you want me to hire new people not because I have anything for them to do but because the payroll tax on them will cost less.

That’s sort of the inverse of my grandmother’s, “These biscuits didn’t cost me anything to make because I already had all of the ingredients.”

The consumer’s equivalent is that “I’m going to buy a new car because it’s on sale. I don’t need a car and cannot afford one, and I’m taking out a loan that I can’t make the payments on and that will wreck my credit record, but the price on the car is too good to pass up.”   ("Cash for clunkers.")

The kind of businessman that will create new jobs based on the tax credit is, “I can make a new hire because it’s cheaper than usual. Do I need a new hire? No. Do I have anything for the new hire to do? No. Can I afford the new hire? Well, I can borrow to pay for the new hire; the price is too good to pass up.” They will be temporary jobs, because the businesses that fall for this are run by people who are so damned stupid that they will go out of business.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

End Of The World

Forget about the world ending on Dec 12, 2012 because of the Mayans. Actually it ends on Dec 31, 2009 because I just checked the calendar on my wall, and that's the last day on it. Party time.

Inanity Abounds

Chris Matthews, Joan Walsh and Nora O'Donnell spent ten minutes on Hardball yesterday talking about Sarah Palin, and I swear it sounded like three people competing to see which one could more rapidly diminish the collective IQ. Certainly the apparent mentality of the group declined with increasing speed throughout the discussion.

Update: 8:50am
It has been pointed out that the collective IQ wasn't that high to start with.

Churning The Market

The numbers for housing starts in October are in, and the housing market “green shoots” seem to be suffering from a slight case of over-optimism. Expectations ranged from a high estimate of 630,000 to a low of 570,000, and the actual number was 529,000.

The government is doing everything it can to reinflate the housing bubble, lobbying itself to extend the $8000 home buyer’s tax credit, extending FHA loans with as little as 3.5% down payment and allowing the tax credit to be used as down payment, and keeping the bank lending rate at zero which keeps mortgage rates at historic low levels.

Congress is also considering extending the tax credit to buyers who are not first-time buyers, and it has recently created a $6500 tax credit for people who already own a home and are buying a different one.

The tax credit for first-time buyers can be defended, albeit questionably, as “encouraging home ownership,” but extending it to prior owners and creating a tax break for present owners to buy different homes is pure pork; tax incentives which do nothing but “churn” the housing market and stimulate sales for the purpose of creating artificial economic growth.

This is part of the mechanism whereby we see an increase in the GDP and upturns in the stock market, both of which are beneficial for Wall Street, while unemployment continues to climb and Main Street suffers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

China as "Our Bank"

Amid the hyperventilating about Obama being in China as a “supplicant” this week because “China is our banker” and “China owns our debt and therefor owns us,” maybe we should step back and look at what that situation really is. I didn’t notice Obama bowing to the Chinese Premier.

China actually owns about one-fourth of our foreign debt, but not all of our debt is foreign owned. In fact, not much of it is, but of the portion that is, China does not even hold a majority of that portion.

China holds about $1.25 trillion of our current total debt of $12 trillion. Well, dog my cats, that’s a whopping 10% of our total debt. The idea of China as “our bank” just got a little less scary.

Further complicating the picture is that China is not a very big bank. The small portion of our debt that they hold is a pretty large portion of their “cash on hand,” and they are in no position to play cowboys and Indians with us by trying to sell it. The minute they sell the first part of it, the rest of it drops sharply in value and they can’t afford that.

So “our bank” may have a lien, but they sure aren’t going to foreclose.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Productivity Myth

In a speech this week, translated into English for us by Karl Denninger here, Ben Bernanke spoke of recent productivity gains as if they were somehow praiseworthy. Karl translates that into “work harder or die,” but
I have some further thoughts, of course.

Many years ago I was down in Mexico with a friend of mine who was a contractor. We had a sort of informal “guide” with us, and one day the three of us were watching a construction project. I don’t recall, after all these years, the details of the project or the conversation, but “peons” were carrying concrete in buckets up ladders, and there was no construction equipment of any description on the jobsite. There were a hell of a lot of peons. My friend asked why there was no equipment and was told that the government did not permit it; that work was required to be performed by hand. My friend was astonished and declaimed at some length how stupid that was and how he could not make a profit under those circumstances, and finally asked why the government would pass such a stupid law.

“Because,” our guide replied, “the government does not care about the profits of businesses. The government cares that all of these men have jobs and can feed their families."

Our government, obviously, cares about the profits of businesses and so considers increased productivity to be a good thing.

Bernanke said, “It may seem paradoxical that productivity growth--which in the longer term is the most important source of increases in real wages and living standards--can have adverse consequences for employment in the short term.”

He is not alone in believing that productivity leads to “increases in real wages and living standards,” and those who believe that are dead wrong. Collective bargaining leads to increased wages, and productivity growth is one of the levers that the bargainers use to secure those higher wages. Without collective bargaining, productivity growth leads to nothing but increased profit for the employer. Before the advent of collective bargaining represented by labor unions, business made every effort to obtain more production from their workers, and higher wages were never a result.

Henry Ford paying higher wages was the result of an industrial revolution, and he paid those higher wages so that the workers could buy his products. He did not raise wages simply because his workers were producing more product; he did so because he was introducing an entirely new business model. Once that model was established he didn’t raise wages until labor union collective bargaining required him to do so.

Bernanke completes his paradox about the possible adverse consequences of productivity growth, “But, when the demand for goods and services is growing slowly, that may be the case.”

Indeed. Like for the past thirty years when productivity has grown steadily and significantly and the real income of the working man and woman has declined as labor unions have lost ground and the number of workplaces subject to collective bargaining has decreased.

The other myth is that productivity in the long term leads to more jobs, and that one also is completely untrue. Productivity growth by definition leads to fewer jobs. One of the arguments used in the collective bargaining process is fewer jobs; that because there are fewer jobs the business can pay higher wages to each of those fewer jobs.

In a micro sense, a single employer may gain jobs due to productivity growth. With a more competitive product, the employer achieves a bigger market share and grows the business, hiring more workers. Those increased jobs come at the cost of jobs lost at other employers and the overall effect of that productivity growth is jobs lost.

In any case, define the "more jobs" that exist. It may be more than there were to begin, but it is fewer jobs than would exist without the productivity growth. That's not to suggest that we go back to having peons carrying concrete in buckets, but...

In praising productivity, Bernanke is not the working person’s friend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mandates and Reform

Supporters of “health care reform” are outraged, simply outraged, by the suggestion that requiring employers to provide health insurance to their employees or pay a “head tax” is going to affect job creation or the reduction of unemployment. If you suggest such a thing, they say, you are a heinous person who believes that corporate profits are more important than people’s lives because people die when they don’t have insurance.

I don’t have a dog in this hunt, because I am neither an employer nor a prospective employee, but how can it be possible that adding to the cost of having employees does not adversely affect the process of increasing employment? How, in fact, can raising the cost of employment fail to reduce the number of jobs?

Let’s postulate an employer with 50 employees; not currently providing health insurance because he cannot afford to. He is breaking even and barely getting by personally on what he is making from the company. He has cut costs in every way that he can, and the market is shrinking rather than expanding. He gets told that he must pay an 8% tax on his payroll. What can he do? He really has no choice but to release four employees as a result of that 8% tax.

So 46 people get health insurance, but 4 people lose their jobs.

Is that a fair trade? I guess that can be argued, but I know that there will be four people who will say that it is not. Probably some 17.5% of the people in this nation will say that it is not; the people who are unemployed or underemployed. I don’t think you will convince them that by making it more costly to add jobs you are not reducing the pace at which jobs will be added.

Politicians talked about how auto manufacturers had to be bailed out because they had the “unfair burden” of providing health care for their employers; a burden that foreign manufacturers did not bear. They talked about the burden of high health care costs that Americans bear. And then where do they put the burden of paying for reform? They create an “individual mandate” and an “employer mandate” to pay for reform.

Division Leaders

imageJust a few weeks ago we were written off; the Chargers would be done the last week of the regular season. Now we are tied for the division lead. Next week we play our co-leaders for sole possession of the division title, and we will be favored to win.

Sure the defense gave up a lot of passing yards yesterday, but that was no bumpkin wearing a QB number; that was Donovan McNabb. We ran, we passed, we played defense. The Chargers seem to be getting it together.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Amtrak = Fail

parked The drive between San Diego and LA can be as little as two hours, but on holiday weekends it is not unusual for it to take four hours or more, so when I was invited to visit my nephew on Thanksgiving weekend, I had the bright idea to ride Amtrak.

It started out to be a good idea. There are twelve trains daily, the fare is quite reasonable, and the ride is about 2.5 hours station-to-station. Okay, excellent. “Hmmm, what’s this ‘Service Notice’ thing?”

The “Service Notice” turns out to be that the train is only running from Los Angeles north from now until an indefinite date in the future, and between Los Angeles and San Diego service will be provided by bus except on four days; Nov 28, Dec 5, Dec 26 and Jan 2 of next year.

So that train you see parked there? Yeah; it’s parked.

Degrees of Evil

Health insurance is in need or reform. I do not for one moment question that assertion, and I am in favor of some of the reform that is being proposed. But insurance is not the only problem in our health care delivery system, it is not the biggest problem, and in some respects it is part of the solution. Consider the following.

We paid total insurance premiums, employer and employee combined, of $7,285 this year because my wife works for a very large company and they have good purchasing power. It is an average policy, with significant deductibles and copays which are higher when we use medical providers that are not “in plan.”

Our out-of-pocket costs have been $2,870 and the insurance company has paid $4,234 on our behalf, for total medical costs incurred of $7,204 paid to medical providers.

Two things sort of leap out here. First is that the insurance company took in $3,051 more than it paid out, which is highway robbery. But that’s really none of my business. When I buy a product I decide if the price I’m willing to pay is justified by what I am receiving and, if it is, then I buy the product. How much of that selling price is profit is not relevant to its value to me. When you buy a bicycle at Sears, do you ask them how much profit they are making on that bicycle?

One also needs to consider that health insurance is a “risk pool” business. How many policies did that company issue where it paid out $3000 more than it took in?

The other thing in those numbers is that it would appear that we could have saved $81 by not having insurance and paying cash for our medical care. That appearance is deceptive. That appearance is very wrong, in fact.

The $7204 was the discounted amount billed by the providers to the insurance company. Had we been cash customers, that amount would have been $15,529 instead, more than two times as much. The insurance company saved us $5374 by demanding deep discounts from medical providers and passing that discount on to us.

Costco charges an annual membership fee to buy merchandise at a reduced cost, made possible by their enormous purchasing power of buying in very large quantity. Health insurance companies offer that same benefit to their clients, they demand deep discounts from medical providers, and they don’t pocket that discount; they pass that savings on to the people they insure. That’s really evil, isn’t it?

On the other hand, hospitals, doctors, and testing labs charge well over twice as much to cash customers as they do to insurance companies. What does present reform do to address that terrible inequity? Nothing.

These insurance premiums are made up, by the way; the medical bills are not, they are actual medical bills and they were not selected. Medical providers routinely do bill cash customers more than twice what they bill insurance, and that is an outrageous practice. I am appalled at the lack of attention that such a usurious policy is receiving.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Free To Lose

Paul Krugman has an op-ed today in the New York Times in which he reverts to the form where the brilliant economist writes brilliant ideas so forcefully and with such clarity that anyone reading them who has more than, say, a grade school reading comprehension should react with the thought of, “Oh wow, we should really do that.”

They won’t of course. As with the health care issue, people will say, “Well, that may work for Europe, but we’re not Europe.”

Naturally those people will not have the slightest idea in what way we differ from Europe, or how those differences would prevent what Krugman suggests from working here. They will, however, be perfectly willing to have our unemployment remain above 10% indefinitely in order to prove exactly how “not Europe” we are. Just as they are willing to pay twice as much for health care in order to prove that single payer will not work here, by the simple expedient of not trying it.

I actually like the WPA or CCC idea, and would even be willing for them to wear brown shirts just to watch Glenn Beck foam at the mouth. I am less inclined to favor “employment tax credits” for the simple reason that we have used those in the past and results have been very much less than a success. I have no reason to believe that we would do it any better now than we did then.

I am totally in agreement with Dr. Krugman on the basic point, though, and that is that indirect action is all too prone to be limited to the initial part of the program leaving the second part, the actual goal, unrealized. The idea of “trickle down economics" was to create wealth at the top of the heap and let it trickle down to the working class, and we know how well that worked out. Creating jobs by “growing the economy” is not working, and when something isn’t working the solution may or may not be to do something else, but it sure as hell isn’t to simply do more of what you’re doing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pushing for Decision

Generally speaking, the harder someone presses me to do something, the more I delay decision and, if they press hard enough long enough, I will decide against them merely because of their pressure. I am always suspicious when someone is unwilling to back off and allow me to think about a decision; to reach my own decision.

Apparently Obama has that same disposition. Quite a few people are trying to steamroll him into sending more troops into Afghanistan, and the more pressure he gets the more he seems to be "studying the alternatives."

I think that is a very good quality in a President.

Picking Your Argument

Paul Krugman despairs of the lack of “rational political discussion” in a post Tuesday, in which he refers to a statement by Dick Armey that compares the “health care reform bill” to the banking crisis.

Armey claims, “We saw what happened in housing when they ordered banks to make loans to people who weren’t qualified,” and Krugman quite properly tears his hair out about the idiocy of that argument. He points out that the vast majority of the bad lending came from places not subject to the Community Reinvestment Act, and says that the claim that government forced that bad lending is completely spurious.

Krugman’s criticism of Armey’s odious critique of the “health care reform” bill is correct as far as he goes, but what Krugman fails to acknowledge is that while the cause is bogus in Armey’s comparison, the comparison of effect is actually quite valid.

Whether the bad lending was voluntary or by fiat, it did occur; lenders adopted the position that they would make a mortgage loan to anyone who walked in the door and asked for one. They would not be selective, they would not be concerned with whether or not that loan would be profitable; they would simply grant mortgage loans indiscriminately.

Krugman doesn’t address the issue that this “health care reform bill” of which he is so strongly supportive requires that all health insurance companies adopt that same business model.

Actually, it’s an even worse model. The mortgage lender always had a chance, however poor, that the mortgage might be paid. Under this reform, if a person walks into an insurance company with a health condition that costs a million dollars per year to treat, that company must sell insurance to that person knowing that it will lose a large amount of money on the sale.

How can such a business model fail to have negative consequences?

I’m not suggesting that the health insurance industry is not in need of reform; it certainly is. It is, however, in need of sensible reform, not just unthinking reaction to consumerism.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two Presidents

I'll bet you thought Barack Obama was the President of The United States. I'll bet you thought that he was the only President of The United States. You would be wrong. According to Keith Olbermann on Countdown, we have two of them. I lost count of precisely how many times yesterday he told us what "President Clinton" was doing at the Senate, and blathered on about what "The President," referring to Clinton, had said.

I voted for Clinton, but didn't intend to elect him "President For Life."

Update: Not to mention his endless prating about how useless and stupid the Republicans are. I know he is not alone in this but he goes to really ridiculous lengths and is becoming really tiresome. Someone please tell him how tasteless it is to build one's self up by denigrating one's opposition.

Generational Character

In his speech at Fort Hood yesterday, President Obama said this,

But as we honor the many generations who have served, all of us — every single American — must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who’ve come before.

I cannot let that go unchallenged.

A generation does not consist of the 1% who put on the uniform and go off to war, and this war effort is the exclusive province of that one percent. The people of this nation are not even contributing the taxes to pay for this war; they are cheering from the sidelines and putting magnets on their cars.

My parents’ generation held drives to collect materials that were in short supply, they held rallies to sell war bonds, they practiced civil defense drills, they formed lines at enlistment centers and signed up faster than the services could train them. Factories that produced civilian goods were converted to making war machines, and they were staffed by the women who sent their husbands off to war. People put their cars up on blocks, took the tires off, drained the gas tanks and contributed those tires and gas to the war effort.

Not to denigrate what our soldiers do today, but to compare four hundred thousand lives lost in combat so brutal that it was carried out walking on the corpses of fallen comrades, fighting on in the face of massive fire and carrying the day, fought not for twelve-month tours but for the duration of the war, to the way combat is done today is an insult to the soldiers of my father’s generation.

And to compare the national character of then to a people today cowering in foxholes, quivering in fear of terrorists and whining for daddy government to keep them safe at any cost is simply sickening.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mayo Clinic Again

My neurologist decided he wanted to see an old MRI and asked me if I could get the Mayo Clinic to send it to him on CD, so I went to their website and found the number for medical records. I called and got a very nice lady who told me I just needed to fax them a form and directed me to where I could download the form. I told her it might be back in 2004 or so and asked if that would be a problem and she very pleasantly said it would not. Her tone of voice was sort of, "Why would you think that's a problem? Have you never heard of computers?" My doctor got the CD in a few days, and there was no charge for the service.

I don't think any of this is actually all that remarkable; I am familiar with computers. I just think it's rather pleasant. I have a nephew who works at Mayo and says he likes it, and I keep seeing examples of why he does.

Arugula is Thriving

Paul Krugman has been touting the recovering economy for some time, easy to do when you see only numbers and are unaware of, you know, people. So he has decided to walk around the neighborhoods for his blog post today, but apparently his purpose was not to actually see any people because he chose to walk around Princeton and New York City so that he could observe the "home remodeling, tear-downs replacing old houses" that also spells recovery to him in an upscale area that even he admits, "are likely beneficiaries of the return of big Wall Street bonuses, making them unrepresentative." Which doesn't keep him from waxing optimistic.

So he concludes, "walking around, things look better than I expected."

Fatuous commentary like that gives real credence to the supposition that this nation is governed by a wealthy, isolated elite that is unaware of and uncaring about the underclass that they "rule."

Meanwhile, In South America

The United States recently completed an agreement with Columbia for the use of military bases in the nation; and agreement which includes diplomatic immunity for all civilian and military personnel while anywhere in Columbia. The news item doesn’t say so, but this sounds like one of our typical “status of forces agreements” to me.

Otherwise known as a military occupation, which is what the Colombian people seem to think it is. They were not advised, apparently, that the deal was pending and didn’t know about it until it was a done deal. They were somewhat less than thrilled.

The purpose, according to a US spokesman quoted by Bloomberg, was to “strengthen and increase ties with countries in the region.”

That doesn’t seem to be working out very well. Venezuela, it turns out, is preparing for war based on the conclusion that having the United States occupying military bases in the neighboring country is not a good sign.

This is, of course, Hugo Chavez, so his view of our intentions needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe an entire pannikin of salt.

Still, it seems odd to feel that we can “strengthen and increase ties” by placing military forces in the immediate vicinity of the area with which we are trying to improve relations. I would think that diplomatic means would be a bit more effective for that purpose, and that adding military forces would have something of the opposite effect.

I guess that’s why I’m not running our government.

Monday, November 09, 2009

No More Deep Pockets

San Diego faces a $179 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year. That's against a budget of $736 million, so that is not a trivial problem. I make that something like a 24% shortfall.

Will privatization solve that problem; or even help? Notwithstanding my snark at our City Council last week, I doubt it. I don’t really favor privatization, and was merely being critical of the City Council’s spurious arguments against it. In reality, it has not worked out very well here.

After the fires of 2007 the City hired private contractors to clean up the debris from some of the homes that were burned in Rancho Bernardo. Not only did cleanup by the private contractors cost up to five times what cleanup by city contractors cost, the private contractors made no serious effort to conceal the fraud that they were engaging in to run up the costs.

The NIMBY’ism that San Diego people are indulging in is certainly not going to solve the problem. Teachers are holding marches to protest larger class sizes, students are holding rallies to protest reductions in student programs and fewer classes, government employees are holding marches to protest layoffs… Everyone has the same viewpoint, “Yes, cut spending, but don’t cut my program. Cut something else.”

Reality bites, people. When funds are reduced by one-fourth, everything has to be cut. The entire population of this city, like every city in this country has to suck it up together and work as one people to get through this. There is no more letting somebody else pay the price; the price has risen too far for that.

No more deep pockets; they are all the same depth now.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

How Sweet It Is

The only thing better than beating Eli Manning the Giants is doing so by means of a Philip Rivers touchdown pass with twenty seconds left in the game. When the Giants settled for a field goal to take a six-point lead I knew we had the game won. Actually I was all but certain of a Chargers victory when the penalty made it first and goal at the Chargers' fourteen
yard line instead of the four.

Note to Keith Olbermann: "fill" is what one does with a garbage truck.
Our quarterback's name is Philip Rivers, you fathead.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

College Football Today

From a comment at Balloon Juice

Geaux Tigers!

Oh, man. It was too good not to post it.
The Tigers didn't "geaux." Or, where they went wasn't geaud.

Sunday: Chargers/Giants today. Giants are coming off of three straight losses, Chargers off of two wins. So either we are facing a crappy team, or a good team that is going to be really pissed after three losses. We probably think the former, they probably think the latter. I think, um...


Remember the Bush years of hyperventilation about “weapons of mass destruction” that weren’t there, and waiting for the dreaded "mushroom cloud" to show up? And when it didn't we started a war nonetheless. Remember all of the dastardly terrorist plots that were averted just one moment short of Armageddon? Like the guys in Florida who were holding close order drill and requesting combat boots in preparation for blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago. Or the guy who was going to blow up the Mackinac Bridge with all the cell phones he had, but it turned out he was merely bootlegging cell phones.

Well either we have Bush leftovers or Obama is into the same thing.

First we have the two, apparently unrelated, terrorists who are mouthing off in bars about wanting to blow things up until the FBI hears about them and sells them some play-do, teaches them how to wire it up with a cell phone, and then sits back and watches them dial the number. So they saved us from two play-do bombers in one day.

Then we have a guy who aspires to be the next Osama so he goes to Pakistan for training, but they send him back home because he’s as dumb as a sack of hammers. The FBI follows him around and watches him buying hair care products until they suddenly realize he’s flying back and forth between New York and Denver and, apparently, buying hair care products both places. So they bag him and stand at a podium prating about having stopped the “biggest thing since 9/11.”

The only problem is, we can’t find any bombs. Turns out he hadn’t actually learned how to make any and, while hair care products do contain some of the ingredients used for making bombs, you can’t really make bombs out of hair care products. Which shouldn’t really surprise anybody, but somehow manages to surprise the FBI.

All of which would be fine, if they just bagged these guys and had a trial to put them out of business. All of us would just say, “Okay, good job.”
The problem is all of the ballyhoo and hot air about what they think they stopped. “The biggest thing since 9/11?” It was a wingnut trying to make a bomb from retail purchases of hair dye!

Finally, we have the astonishing and terrifying discovery of an Iranian nuclear facility, one which “appears too small to fuel a nuclear power station but enough to yield fissile material for one or two nuclear warheads a year.”

This means war! No more diplomacy with these, these….

Oh, actually, there’s no “there” there. Iran tells the nuclear oversight committee they can come look at the new site and they report, "The idea was to use it as a bunker under the mountain to protect things," ElBaradei said, “It’s a hole in the mountain.”

This is your Bush Obama government protecting you.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Starting the Car

Earlier today I decided to start my car and lower the driver's window at the same time. Instead of releasing the starter and holding the window button, I released the window button and held the starter. Let's see; how can I best put this to you? Don't do that.

Update: Saturday morning
Yes, the car is fine. It just made a seriously disturbing nouse.

Humble Foreign Policy

I am a supporter of Barack Obama, and I do not go out of my way to seek opportunities to be critical of his words or actions. I think he is a good man with good intentions, but sometimes his words just land in my head with something like an explosion that makes me wonder what kind of country I live in, whose leader can speak with such incredible arrogance.

In speaking today of the anniversary of the seizing of the embassy in Iran, and the taking hostage of the American staff of that embassy, President Obama included this statement,

"This event helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation. I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past..."

He doesn’t mention, glosses right past the fact, that “this event” was one part of a revolution against tyrannical government resulting from the violent overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government by the United States and the installation of a dictatorial Shah put into office and maintained there by American support.

That is parallel to two neighbors feuding. I throw paint bombs on my neighbor’s house, and he responds by egging my car. I attempt to resolve to feud by saying that I will quit calling him names and will forgive him for egging my car, so let’s just move past all of this. We will just omit any mention of my paint bombing his house; that never happened.

So much for “a less arrogant foreign policy.”

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Check This Out

Book SaleThe thing isn't being released for almost two more weeks, and it's already down to $9.00, with free shipping. Oh, crap, I'm advertising her book.

Judging Others By Ourselves

America is “The United States of America,” meaning that as a Californian I am first an American. We have this neat flag, with red, white and blue colors; everybody stands up and gets all emotional when it is waved or goes by in a parade. We have this neat anthem that nobody can sing; but everyone stands before the football game while someone tries to sing it, and fails miserably but still draws thunderous applause, presumably for having the courage to try singing it. A whopping 1% of our youth sign up for our armed forces to “defend our nation” from some vaguely defined enemies.

But suppose that were not the case; suppose we didn’t have that neat flag and unsingable national anthem. Suppose that the only thing that I cared about was my state of California.

If you invaded California, I would take up arms and fight like a demon to drive you out, but if you invaded, say, Missouri my reaction would be complete indifference. “I could care less about Missouri,” I would say, “Missouri is Missouri’s problem.”

We would be Afghanistan.

Suppose, in that scenario, a foreign force occupied all of our states and tried to drum up support to turn us into a nation called “The United States” that none of us cared about. They wanted all young Californians to join an armed force that would bear arms in defense of that “United States” and told us that those troops, once enlisted, might be going to Missouri and maybe New York to defend Missourians and New Yorkers.

What or whom we would be defending those Missourians and New Yorkers against is a little bit unclear, actually; something or someone that the invading force is very fearful of, but which is not really potentially harmful to us and which we don't actually dislike all that much, even if they were in California, let alone Missouri or New York.

I think our young Californians would sign up for that armed force, get the weapons and training and then, instead of going to Missouri to defend Missourians from God-knows-what, would defect and use the weapons and training to try to drive the foreigners the hell out of California.

Which is what's happening in Afghanistan.

We think that because we place nation over locale that all peoples do the same. Many do, but not all, and Afghans don’t. Afghans’ first loyalty is to their tribe and village. Afghanistan is a vast and very poor country; they barely know that their national government exists and, to the extent that they are aware of it, they don’t trust it to serve their interest.

Not that we should trust our government to serve our interest, but…

The point is that we keep basing our strategy on judging peoples as if they were precisely like us, as if they have the same priorities and same ambitions as us. What creates the problem is that peoples react not just to what we do, but in terms of how their culture leads them to interpret what we do, and when we act without attempting to understand their cultures we do not serve our own best interest.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

San Diego: Political Nuthouse

San Diego voters passed a measure two years ago that required the city to examine outsourcing all city services except police and fire protection. The measure has a clause that existing city departments should be allowed to bid against private contractors, and that the private contract should not be awarded unless their bid was at least 10% below the city workers' bid.

The mayor has been pursuing that effort but has been blocked by the City Council. All but one City Council members are heavily financed by, wait for it, public workers' unions. I'm sure that comes as a big surprise to you.

Now the City Council has come up with a new reason for blocking private companies from bidding. They say it would be unfair because the private companies do not have to pay union wages and are not subject to the high pension contributions that the city is required to make for its workers. So private companies should not bid because, wait for it, they cost less.

Voting Problem

There is a serious problem with our two-party system. It is becoming more and more apparent that neither party is able, or willing, to govern in the best interests of the people it represents. Every time we throw one party out, the other party acts very much like the party we just evicted.

The solution is to throw out everybody; mount a "dump the incumbent" movement and just vote against the person in office, regardless of party affiliation. That would, maybe, send a message that the voters are reasserting their control of government.

My problem is that all of my elected representative are Democrats. Doing any kind of write-in is a farce, and the idea of voting for a Republican just fills me with revulsion. What to do?

More of a Better Thing

Paul Krugman’s column in Sunday’s New York Times opines that the stimulus bill is working and that the only problem is that it was “too little of a good thing.” While I am normally a supporter of a balanced budget, I am certainly on board with him that now is not the time for that, and I would agree that more stimulus on the jobs front would be good for the nation. I do have a few reservations regarding the “ivory tower” flavor of his column.

First he talks about the purpose of the stimulus, in rather vague terms, being to break the “free fall” of the economic downturn. Then he says, rather optimistically, “The stimulus didn’t completely eliminate these effects, but it was enough to break the vicious circle of economic decline.” And, “And the free fall has ended. Last week’s G.D.P. report showed the economy growing again, at a better-than-expected annual rate of 3.5 percent.”

"The free fall has ended." Well, not quite; the free fall in employment has not ended. During the quarter in which he celebrates the rising G.D.P. job losses once again actually took another upward turn, and the forecast is that they will continue to climb again this month. Both Obama and Krugman hailed the stimulus as a job creator, and here they are singing of its success in terms of G.D.P. growth while joblessness continues to climb.

Then he does an analysis of long term jobs recovery which concludes that, “…at current growth rates we’d be lucky to see the unemployment rate fall by half a percentage point per year, meaning that it would take a decade to return to something like full employment.”

Spoiling that premise is that “at current growth rate” unemployment is not falling at all, it is still rising, so the jobs recovery has not yet even started. Krugman is projecting the rate at which something will happen; something which has not yet begun and we do not know when, or even if, it will.

Finally is a point which Krugman does not include, which is that the “current growth rate” itself may be an illusion because of the nature of the stimulus which was passed. A significant portion of that “current growth rate” was the “Cash For Clunkers” program, a one-month program which will not exist in subsequent reporting periods. Too much of the stimulus was short term, temporary spending.

Spending not only needs to be long term, it needs to be now, not ten years from now. For all of the criticism it received, the high speed rail project was the kind of spending we need except that it is too far in the future, with jobs that will not be created for at least five years or more. This country has a crumbling infrastructure, much of which needs to be replaced. The USCE knows what those projects are and could have them underweigh in months once funding was provided.

The stimulus was not merely, as Paul Krugman suggests, too small; it was filled with too many short term projects designed to stimulate consumer spending on credit, and too many very long range projects which constitute social policy rather than stimulus. We can’t just be throwing money into the economy for the sake of throwing money into the economy, we need expenditure which specifically and promptly produces long term real jobs.

Cheerleading Obama
In his blog today Krugman responds to a question from a reader about when he is going to “blow his top” over a statement by Barack Obama that now is the time to “get serious” about reducing debt. His response is that he is not concerned, that he knows Obama is merely saying that to appease “centrists” in his party and does not really mean it; that Obama has no intention of actually doing anything silly like that.

So in Paul Krugman’s opinion it’s okay for the President who promised to “change the way things are done in Washington,” the President who promised a new level of “honesty and transparency” in government, to say what people want to hear rather than to promise what he actually intends?
It is perfectly okay for the President to describe his policy with every intention of doing nothing of the sort.

I think Paul Krugman is becoming the Bill Kristol of the left.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Football Wrap

Okay, finally Florida looked like a #1 team; what they did to Georgia should be kept private, not shown on national television. Sympathy to all of my friends in Atlanta.

The sports headline in San Diego today was "Sweat 'N' Swagger." Oh, really? Over an 8-point win against an 2-6 opponent? Our four wins have come against Miami, Oakland x 2, and Kansas City. I think "swaggering" needs to wait until we beat a team which has a winning record.

Whose Foreign Policy?

I have, to this point, been impressed with and supportive of Hillary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State. This past week she has said a number of things that have given me rather serious pause.

I was not taken with her aggressive rhetoric in Pakistan. It reminded me far too much of the “for us or against us” attitude of the Bush years. I voted for Obama in no small part because I wanted this nation to move away from that kind of foreign policy, and I have been very happy with our progress in doing so. Clinton has been part of that to now, and I take a dim view of her embracing this kind of attitude now.

I especially disliked her response to the question from a journalist about whether the use of missiles from unmanned drones in noncombat areas was terrorism. Her response was a terse and unamplified, “No, I do not.”

I would not go so far as to call that practice terrorism, but I am appreciative of the Pakistani attitude toward our attacks within their borders, and I think the question deserved a more diplomatic response. To me her answer showed a lack of sensitivity that did not serve our nation well.

Then she has been trying to put a favorable spin on the Afghan election mess. After being informed that Abdullah was likely to withdraw from the runoff election, which he has since done, she said that such an event would not affect the legitimacy of the election. "We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward. I don't think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election."

Yes, we have elections in this country where one candidate runs unopposed, but they do not occur as the result of open and unabashed fraud, and they most certainly do not happen for the nation's highest office. For Clinton to compare the two in an effort to justify our occupation of that benighted nation is disgusting. I was hoping that kind of self-serving transparent dishonesty had gone out with the Bush gang of thugs.

Finally, after Obama called for a freeze on Isreali settlement building in the occupied territories of Palestine and had that rejected by Israel, Clinton is calling for a resumption of peace talks and sanctioning, even praising, the continuance of building in violation of international sanction at “a reduced pace.” The Arab world, not without rather good reason, is taking her words as a signal that America remains an unapologetic supporter of Israel and is no friend of the Muslim peoples.

Bucking what seems to be the prevailing American sentiment, I would like for the world to see us as a responsible member of the community of nations and not as a military bully imposing its footprint on civilization. I thought we had been making progress in that direction, but either I have been mistaking Obama’s intentions, or Hillary Clinton has embarked on her own agenda.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

In the "Yeah, Right" Department

I was at one time a big fan of stock car racing. I probably would be if they still raced stock cars, meaning a car bought from a dealer's stock, rather than these blobs with a huge wing on the back and decals on them to identify the supposed manufacturer. They are so aerodynamically fragile that they cannot pass each other, so it's hard to call what they do "racing."

They are having their high speed parade at Talledega this week, which used to be one of my very favorite tracks. Bill Elliott set a stock car speed record there that still stands, and Dale Earnhardt used to keep appearing at the front of the pack sort of by magic. It was at Talledega that Dale's car got completely sideways without wrecking at more than 200 mph and, when asked on the radio if he was okay, he replied that he was okay but that the car was "a little loose."

Then drivers started "bump drafting," a form of cheating where one car, a teammate or driver with similar interest, physically pushes another for faster speed. Unfortunately, while it does make cars go faster, it is awesomely dangerous. The rear car often slams into the front car hard enough to wreck him, particularly when the rear car is stupid enough to do it in the turns. Usually a dozen or more cars pile into the wreck, and more often than not the pusher comes out unscathed. Needless to say, the other dozen or so drivers, whose cars are rubble, are a little pissed off.

NASCAR keeps saying they are going to penalize drivers who "overdo" the bump drafting, and this year they have said that they are really going to clamp down and disallow it altogether. Yeah, right. If they really wanted to prevent it, they could reduce the reinforcement allowed in the noses of the cars so that anyone pushing on the car in front of them would get the front of their own car smashed in.

The other maneuver is "blocking," where if someone behind you is coming up and tries to pass, you swerve in front of him to prevent him from passing. It sounds stupid and dangerous, doesn't it? Especially at 210 miles per hour in a car that you cannot see out of and have to have somebody up in the grandstand describing to you the positions of other nearby race cars, which are also doing 210 mph?

Think about it; swerving at 200+ mph in front of an oncoming car that you cannot see, hoping that a guy half a mile away looking through binoculars is giving you the "swerve now" signal at precisely the right moment.

That's why other forms of racing ban the practice and impose penalties on drivers who violate the rule. Not NASCAR, whose drivers not only okay it, they regard it as exemplary behavior. When a massive wreck results, the blocking driver merely blames the driver who was trying to pass him and claims that blocking is his prerogative to protect his win. Except that he didn't win, of course, both he and the guy who was trying to pass him for the win wrecked and somebody else won. That seems to escape these geniuses. Everything is somebody else's fault.

All of which is why I barely pay any attention these days.