Saturday, February 27, 2010

New Number One

I don't know how much of either game you might have watched, but I watched Kansas (losing to Oklahoma State) and Syracuse (demolishing Villanova), and those two teams exist in two entirely different universes. One plays basketball and is now ranked #1, or will be Monday of course, and I don't know what the hell it is that the other one plays. Lazyball? Sloppyball? Reboundlessball?

The Syracuse game looked like a polar bear beating up on a chipmunk. On some days Kansas looks like Syracuse did today, but today they looked more like, "What am I supposed to do with this round thing in my hands?"

Saving You Money

Salon.Com, which features Glenn Greenwald among others, had an interview with Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J conducted by Alex Koppelman. The piece is worth a read, but a couple of excerpts of what Mr. Andrews had to say merit comment.

“And he's afraid he's going to lose his job, and if he loses his job, he told the senator, it would cost $2,000 a month for health insurance. […] It occurred to me that what people ought to focus on is that man and what the two sides are offering here. What we would say to him is, number one, we're working like heck to make sure you don't lose your job…”

He goes on the say words to the effect of, “...and if you do, that you can still get health care." I might take a little issue with just how hard Democrats are actually doing the first part, but the second part is an argument that needs to be made more often in explaining why this “reform,” as pathetic and ridiculous as it is, is needed. You may think you are sitting pretty with your employer-provided health insurance plan, but even Japan no longer guarantees jobs for life any more.

“The political issue is not simply the uninsured. It's how the cost of the uninsured affects those with insurance.”

This one is the monster argument. When a hospital treats a person who has no insurance it bills them more money than they can possibly pay. The hospital does not take that as an unpaid loss, they pass that cost on to the people who do have insurance and who do pay for their treatment. The more uninsured people there are, the more that cost-padding to the paying customers becomes.

So while I take issue with the idea that this legislation “reduces the cost of health care,” this article makes powerful argument for passing it. It reduces the number of uninsured users of health care, which benefits the insured as well as the uninsured.

The "cost of health care" is not going to change; this legislation does not deal with that in any significant way. But that cost is born not by the people who use it, but by a smaller number of people who pay for it, the ones who have insurance. As the number of insured becomes smaller, the cost to them becomes larger, and vice versa, so increasing the number of insured means that each insured person pays less.

Not because costs are less, or because the health insurance companies are "behaving better," but merely because of numbers.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bending The Curve

There was a considerable catfight at the “health care reform summit” yesterday over whether the CBO report said that the reform legislation would raise health insurance premiums compared to what would happen under current law. Consensus was that President Obama came out on top, which wasn’t really as big an accomplishment as it might seem; he was outnumbered, but it seems he had the truth on his side. Truth doesn’t always win, but when it’s Obama wielding it…

You can read the report for yourself; it’s remarkably concise for a government document, and it seems very clear to me that those arguing with Obama yesterday were producing something that normally comes out of the south end of a northbound horse.

Something got lost in that catfight, though, paraphrasing,

“If we do not pass this legislation the cost of health insurance will continue to skyrocket out of control. Before long you will be paying more for insurance than you do for your house. We must pass this reform to bend the curve of health care costs.”

What the CBO report compares is not what premiums will do compared to current premiums, it predicts what premiums will do under reformed law to what they will do under current law, and it clearly says that the “reform” legislation in its present form will not significantly reduce health insurance premiums compared to current law. If premiums are set to “skyrocket out of control” under present law, then they will “skyrocket out of control minus 3%” under the reform. At best.

There’s little question that the legislation will extend insurance to 30 million people who don’t presently have it, and that is a worthy goal. It may very well be worth 2400 pages of legislation and the expenditure of $900 billion. We’re not going to add that to the national debt, but we are going to spend it. I support the goal, and would not argue with passage of this bill pursuant to that goal, but I would prefer that we do it in a more direct and less unwieldy manner.

But let’s be honest about what the “reform” does; it does not reduce health care costs. The CBO report clearly says that it does not reduce health care costs; that at best it slows the growth of health care costs by 3%. It does not prevent the increase of health insurance cost; at best it slows the growth of health insurance cost by 3%.

Talking Points

Do the Republicans have any idea at all of how idiotic they sound when Frank Luntz gives them phrases to use in their speeches and every one of them uses those same three or four phrases in the same meeting? The idea of "talking points" is that they will be used back home in front of different audiences, where each audience will hear each phrase from one person; one talking point, one audience, one speaker. When they all mindlessly parrot them in the same meeting, one talking point, one audience, a dozen or more speakers, they sound like total idiots.

"A clean sheet of paper, start over, step by step..."

And just to make themselves sound even dumber, most are reading from a sheet of paper, and half are stumbling over the rehearsed and written words. You had it prepared for you, you have it on a piece of paper in front of you, presumably you've had a chance to look at it before the meeting, and you can't even read the damned thing without tripping over your tongue.

Not that the Democrats dazzled us with any real brilliance. The only person in the room that ever made any real sense was the President, and he only made sense on rare occasions, but at least the Democrats babbled on in original, or at least different, phrases.

Maybe the Democrats just have more than one "Frank Luntz."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

All The Best, Keith

For all the the shots I take at Keith Olbermann, I probably should comment more often on the times that I agree with him, and I do enjoy his passion. I have always enjoyed people who do not stand idle on the sidelines, and you certainly cannot accuse Olbermann of that.

He was missing from the "HCR Summit" analysis for, as Chris Matthews put it, "deeply personal reasons" tonight. One must assume that means his father has taken a turn for the worse, and I wish him well in a very trying time.

Demagoguing Profits

In his ongoing war against insurance companies, Keith Olbermann took another cheap shot last night. The written word does not really do this justice, you really need to listen to the clip to hear the sarcasm and contempt with which he delivers this little treasure of contumely,
(emphasis is mine, and this is about 2:40 into the clip)

Chairman Waxman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee revealing that his investigators had found internal WellPoint documents which proved the company was raising premiums merely to pad its profits to a target of 7 percent. Yesterday at a hearing, in California, a company executive having testified that the company had no interest in anything other than slimmer profits of 2 percent to 5 percent, you know, nothing at all, next to nothing—only $2 billion to $4 billion. WellPoint‘s CEO Angela Braly arguing that her company‘s profit margins are modest compared to other sectors of the economy—you know, like Europe.

I can find no quote from any WellPoint executive to the effect that it “had no interest in anything other than slimmer profits of 2 percent to 5 percent.” I did find a couple saying that it projected those profit levels, but none saying that it was happy and delighted with them, and I would be astonished that any business would accept that level of profit. The only business that I know of right now which is operating on that slender of a margin is the grocery business, and grocery chains are notoriously on the brink of disaster.

As to “other sectors of the economy—you know, like Europe,” well, how about other sectors of the economy like General Electric; the company that Keith Olbermann works for. According to Reuters on Jan 22, the 7% that Olbermann decries is the profit margin that GE achieved in 2009, and that was a decrease from the preceding year. The numbers are not entirely clear in the article, but it appears that in 2008 GE made about 13% profit margin, and the forecast for 2010 is for a 21% profit margin.

According to The Street, most health insurance companies make less than 7% profit, and virtually all of them spend very close to 90% of the premiums they take in on medical bills for the people they insure. Hospital companies, on the other hand, average 30% profit margins, and pharmaceutical companies average 50% profit margins.

But certainly health insurance is the “evil empire.” And the 7% margin that represents an outrageously high profit for insurance companies is an unacceptably low profit for the company that employs Keith Olbermann. Somebody will need to explain that logic to me, because I don't get it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Celebrity Drunks

Vincent Jackson, wide receiver for the Chargers, received his sentence in court yesterday. He had a conviction for DUI in 2006 and was still on probation for that one when he was arrested again with a BAC of 0.17% in January 2009, more than twice the legal limit. He was allowed to have his sentencing delayed until after the football season was completed, despite being arrested for driving with a suspended license after the second DUI.

His sentence for the second DUI? He will pick up trash along the highways for two weekends. It’s called “community service.”

Here’s the horrifying part; that is apparently the standard sentence for a second offense, even when committed while on probation for a first offense. From the San Diego Union-Tribune,

Jackson’s DUI sentencing was standard punishment for a second DUI, Casey [Jackson’s attorney] said. Court records show that Jackson didn’t get a jail sentence but is to serve 96 hours in a Sheriff’s work-release program, which in similar cases often constitutes roadside trash pickup over two weekends.

The NFL will likely suspend him for two games. The Chargers have made no comment other than at the time of his arrest, when they merely said that they would let the system deal with his issue. Since that time the coach and management have been praising his “work ethic” on the football practice field and his skill as a wide receiver.

Vincent Jackson’s statement after being arrested twice for DUI and a third time for driving without a license was in a radio interview,

“I’m sure that once it’s all said and done, we’ll definitely get the last laugh and hopefully our law enforcement will definitely continue to support us in the way that they have.”

I imagine that the deputies assisting him with trash pickup during his “community service” will ask for his autograph. I don't want his autograph, and I just hope that the next time he drives while blind, staggering drunk
the only person he kills is himself.

Overusing Health Care

I’ve always been fascinated by the argument that our high health care costs are, in significant part, “due to overuse because costs are concealed from the consumer.” We only pay $20 for an office visit, it is claimed, so we go to the doctor more often. We don’t see the cost of that MRI, so we tell the doctor that we want an MRI and he says okay and orders one. It is argued that if consumers were paying out of their own pockets for all of these medical services, we would be using less of them, we would shop around for the most favorable pricing, and our health care costs would be lower.

Okay, then explain this. In France the consumer doesn’t pay anything. Not a penny, or whatever passes for a penny in France. France spends about one-third what we do on health care, and it gets better results in every category that can be measured.

So why aren’t the French overusing their free medical services?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

World's Best Military

General Casey of the Army and General Schwartz of the Air Force testified before Congress today on the inherent risk of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in our military. They were of one mind.

"I do have serious concerns about the impact of repeal of the law on a force that is fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for 8 1/2 years," Casey said. "We just don't know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness." [emphasis mine]

Oh, yeah. The best and baddest military in the world. Afraid of queers.

Defending the Mandate

Chris Matthews once again used car insurance requirements in defending the “individual mandate” portion of “health care reform” on Hardball yesterday. I actually have no problem with the mandate, recognizing that it is an essential component of insurance reform, but it is by no means the same thing as requiring that drivers of automobiles carry liability insurance.

The first invalidity of that comparison is that not everyone is required to carry auto insurance; it is a requirement for a permit to operate a motor vehicle. The health insurance mandate requires you to carry insurance not as a result of your choice to do anything, but merely due to your existence.

The second, and even larger invalidity is that auto insurance is not for your own benefit; or at least that is not the reason that it is required. State laws requiring auto insurance are known as “financial responsibility laws,” and they are in place to assure that if you choose to operate a motor vehicle you are in a position to be financially responsible for any adverse consequences which that decision might impose on others; to assure that your actions with that motor vehicle do not cause financial loss to others.

Lenders typically require collision/comprehensive insurance to protect them against loss, but state laws in general do not require that form of insurance.

But the “individual mandate” for health insurance is a law that requires you to purchase insurance that protects only yourself; on the face of it sort of a “nanny state” concept gone berserk. It is, however a law needed to facilitate certain regulation of insurance which is designed to have an effect which is generally beneficial to society as a whole.

There is a more generally social assurance in mandating health insurance as well. If you are injured or become sick the cost of making you well will be taken care of by your self-provided insurance, and not passed on to become a societal cost.

So the individual mandate is, in my opinion, quite defensible; but comparing it to car insurance is neither valid or necessary.

Misdirected Fire

“Ready on the firing line, lock and load, fire, aim.”

WalMart, a company which my wife despises so thoroughly that she won’t go into it, buys goods from others and sells those goods in their stores. WalMart is the middleman in this picture. Its selling prices are determined by the prices charged by the people making the goods, and a large part of WalMart’s success has been its ability to find and create places to buy goods at low prices. The result is low prices at the consumer level.

Health insurance companies are the WalMart of the health care system; they buy health care from doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and a host of other “providers” and they sell that health care to people who are sick. They do not generate health care costs; the companies that they buy from do. Their pricing is, of necessity, determined by the prices charged by the firms that supply health care for them to sell.

I was initially all for health care reform; in fact it was his rhetoric on that topic that, in part, led me to vote for Barack Obama. But the more this inane and illogical “debate” has gone on, and the more pandering that has gone into the makeup of it, the more tepid my support has become.

As a procedure for creating his “health care reform” Obama first sat down with the pharmaceutical industry and made a deal with them that if they would not spend money attacking his reform plan he would not reduce pricing on their products. His second step was to sit down with the hospital industry and make the same deal. His third step was to attack the health insurance industry as his version of the “evil empire” and base his reform package on driving their prices and profits downward.

Make deals to support the pricing and profits of the industries that create health care costs, and attack and demonize the industry that serves as a middleman, paying health care costs and passing them to the consumer.

Finally, having made deals that assure no restraint on what insurance companies are paying out, Obama announces his intention to regulate prices that insurance companies will be allowed to charge in premiums.

Obama to the pharmaceutical industry,
spacer“I will not challenge your pricing or profitability.”
Obama to the hospital industry,
spacer“I will not challenge your pricing or profitability.”
Obama to the health insurance industry,
spacer“I am going to gut you like a dead fish.”

During the oil crisis the “evil empire” was oil companies and their “filthy and excessive profits.” Except that after the dust settled it turned out they had not been making excessive profits at all. The culprits all along were the speculative commodity traders and the nations from whose ground the oil was being extracted. The oil companies were the politically easy target; the visible enemy which was easy for the media to demonize. They were not the problem, and all of the spewing of hatred aimed at them during the crisis did nothing to solve the problem

Today’s “evil empire” is health insurance, and the problem will grow worse while we continue this childish war of words against the wrong target. The correct target is the entire "for profit model" of health care delivery.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Choke Proof Hot Dogs

Yes, really, the headline is that hot dogs can kill your kid.

Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics wants foods like hot dogs to come with a warning label — not because of their nutritional risks but because they pose a choking hazard to babies and children.

Here's a thought. Old fashioned, perhaps, and not for the faint of heart.
Hey, Mom, keep an eye on your kid while he's eating his damn hot dog!

Yes, Bombing Civilians

On Friday I discussed a NY Times op-ed about the "inadequate use" of air strikes in Afghanistan which was written by, as I put it,

Lara M. Dadkhah, who apparently is an “intelligence analyst,” although for or with whom The New York Times does not say.

Well, Ms. Dadkhah must be quite happy, since we called in an air strike today which killed 27 civilians. Military spokesmen say that it was a "mistake." I should certainly hope so. For once, they did not claim that no civilians were killed, which I guess is progress of a sort. I am not joking here, or being facetious; I am disgusted by this ongoing sort of "mistake" being made in the name of "keeping us safe."

Glenn Greenwald has a great deal more on just who that Dadkhah character is, and how her crap came to be published in The New York Times. Read it and weep; it will curl the hair on the back of your neck.

Citizens United Fallacy

The Citizens United decision continues to reverberate as Congress tries to decide how it can overrule the Supreme Court on constitutional law, which is in itself an interesting concept. In case you’ve forgotten, that is the Supreme Court decision removing limits on corporate campaign donations.

My initial reaction was dismay, but reading Glenn Greenwald on the subject lent some balance; the right to free speech is a vital component of what we call “freedom.” Then Lawrence Lessig pointed out that corporations, unlike persons, are a creation of the state and might therefor not be considered to have the rights of persons who are created by “their Creator.” Except that courts have determined for more than a century that corporations have the rights of persons, and in my view the right of political speech is implied in that it is specifically traded for tax exemption in the case of 501(c)3's.

At any rate, all of the horror over the impact of this decision, being that corporations will simply flood the airwaves with advertisement and "buy" elections for their favored candidates, has one basic flaw. It assumes that all that is needed to win an election is sheer volume of advertising. Apparently voters have some sort of counters in their heads and whichever candidate trips the counter with more advertisements gets their vote. The voter stands in the voting booth and says, “I have seen 874 commercials for Candidate A and 623 for Candidate B, so I will vote for Candidate A.”

If that is true, then democracy (small d) in this nation has already failed and the Citizens United decision is irrelevant, because we are championing a form of government in which the governed receive the benefits of a free society without accepting any responsibility for maintaining it. It is only a matter of time before such a society becomes, at best, an oligarchy.

There is considerable evidence that voters in this country have, at best, poor voting habits anyway. We talk about the “low information voter” as if that meant, maybe, what color shirts they wear rather than that they represent a failure of democracy. Same for the “single issue voter” who votes for a candidate because of that person’s stance on, say, abortion, without knowing or caring about that person’s stance on any other issue facing the governance of this nation. In polls, a person calls himself a “conservative,” but when questioned on individual policies he gives the liberal’s answer on each one of them. People carry signs saying “Keep government’s hands off my Medicare.”

But voting based simply on counting the numbers of commercials?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

California Comedy

What you do is spend millions building a speedway in California, spend millions putting on and promoting a stock car race, and about 26 people come to watch it. Which is understandable, in a way, because they aren't stock cars, and they don't actually race, and it isn't really a speedway; more of a circular freeway.

So you get a 5' 2" swimsuit model/Indy Car driver to drive one of the non-stock cars, and she finishes three laps off the pace. But that's okay because she enlarged the crowd to, maybe, 38 people watching the non-race of the non-stock cars on the non-speedway.

It's claimed that she started 36th and advanced her position to 29th. Actually some cars wrecked and others "advanced to the rear" past her. She was, after all, three laps behind the leaders.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympic Update

America is to curling what Jamaica is to bobsledding. The men's team is now 0-4, having reached a winning shot four times in the last three games and missing all four times. The women's team is 0-3, missing a shot to tie in the last end against Denmark last night. Denmark's coach is Canadian, because nobody in Denmark knows how to curl.

Still, what sport can be more exciting than one in which the women who are competing scream, "Hard, hurry, harder, harder," or "More, more."

Update: John Shuster is a classy guy
After being benched with his team down 0-4, John is in the house cheering his team and participating with the coaches. Complete with smiles. The new line-up wins Team USA's first game in a real heartstopper. The women won too.

Update: John Shuster is a very classy guy
Back on the ice, still in charge but not throwing last rocks, John Shuster adopts the more democratic style that worked yesterday, is cheerful, throws very well as third rock, and men's team wins again in a cliffhanger. Women's team beats Great Britain, which the announcer keeps referring to as "Scotland," in another cliffhanger. Good stuff.

Bombing Civilians

Lara M. Dadkhah, who apparently is an “intelligence analyst,” although for or with whom The New York Times does not say, has an op-ed in that paper yesterday that rather stunningly asserts that we are not doing a sufficient amount of bombing civilians in Afghanistan. Emphasis added by me,

So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim.

To me this is an example of a danger of all of the “war” rhetoric that is being flung around; things like, “we are a nation at war” and “we are fighting two wars.” We tend to lose sight of just who we are at war with.

In conducting war against Germany in the 1940’s, we were attempting to defeat the nation of Germany. That nation and everyone, everything, in it was our enemy or belonged to our enemy and, as such was legitimately subject to death and destruction.

We are not at war with Afghanistan. Killing the people of that nation, destroying their homes and their infrastructure would be one thing if we were at war with them, but we are not. We are fighting a war against someone else in their country.

Dadkhah is suggesting, in effect, “We killed German civilians when fighting Germany and it was not harmful to the conduct of that war, so killing civilians in Afghanistan is okay, too.“ It is not a valid comparison, and it is utterly absurd to suggest that killing unarmed civilians of a nation with which we are not at war is not harmful to our interests.

Far from needing “compelling proof” of an assertion about “dead civilians,” it seems blindingly obvious to anyone with an IQ of more than two digits that when one is trying to secure the cooperation of the indigenous population, dropping bombs on their houses and killing them is “harmful to the conduct” of that ambition.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The President's Commission

David Corn, editor of Mother Jones, on Countdown last night, referring to the President’s bipartisan commission for finding ways to cut the deficit,

And I‘m not a big fan of the deficit commission. I believe that Congress and the White House should man up and woman up and deal with this without a commission. I don‘t like the way that too often people run to commissions when there‘s a tough problem here.

Wow, not only Countdown, but Mother Jones, and I’m agreeing with him.

The problem is, of course, that Congress and the White House won’t “man up and woman up and deal with this without a commission,” any more than they were able to do so on the issue of closing military bases. So how did that “commission” work out?

It’s really hard to tell. It did get bases closed and reduce the expense of maintaining domestic bases which clearly were no longer needed. How well it removed politics from that process is, in my admittedly rather limited view, a bit questionable. I say limited, in that I really do not have access to all of the facts involved, which does not prevent me from having questions.

The commission process put New London Submarine Base on the closure list and then, after a hue and cry and some prating by politicians, took it back off again. Disclosure requires that I admit to an emotional connection to that facility and a major sense of relief when its closure was cancelled.

The Navy had three basic training facilities; Great Lakes near Chicago, San Diego, and a new one in Orlando. Deciding to keep only one, they kept Great Lakes. I went to boot camp there, and that place was a dump even then, so I have a very hard time imagining why it was a better choice than either of the two that were, ahem, on the coasts. You know, where Navy ships are. The San Diego facility certainly looked to me to be in better shape, and the Orlando one was almost brand new. It may be that sales values of the land were a factor, but still…

Mirimar Naval Air Station is a piece of prime land in the middle of San Diego, and the Navy didn’t really need it any more. So you’d think they would close it and recoup a lot of money selling it for development, or let San Diego build a new airport there. No. They close a Marine Air Station that is in the middle of nowhere, worthless land, and move the Marines to Miramar. Again, that may have made very good sense, but didn’t look like it to a lot of citizens of San Diego who wanted a new airport.

I don’t really know that those were bad decisions; they may not actually have been. And in any case, the commission did get done something that Congress was not getting done; it reduced the expenditures for domestic military bases. So, while like David Corn I’m not “a fan” of commissions, if that’s what’s needed to get action taken by Congress, then by all means let’s have commissions.

And I applaud Obama for stepping in where Congress pulled a balk.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Afghanistan Confusion

Immediately after it was apparent that Iraq had no “weapons of mass destruction” we began to hear an astonishing variety of reasons why we had invaded that nation. There were too many to list here, but fear of the “mushroom cloud” was conspicuously absent from that list.

What are we doing in Afghanistan? Well, what day of the week is it?

Sometimes we are freeing that country from the evil grip of the Taliban. Why we are doing that is unclear, since the Taliban have never done any bad deeds against us, never threatened to do so, and have no interest in us.

About the time that point becomes bruited about in too common a fashion for comfort, we suddenly are not concerned about the Taliban, but are in Afghanistan to eject and/or capture and/or kill al Queda. Then someone points out the there is no more than a handful of them in Afghanistan, and that Bin Laden is in Pakistan, a nation which we really cannot invade.

So then we are in Afghanistan to “deny al Queda a space in which to plan attacks” on us, as if they were not capable of doing that in Pakistan. Since attacks actually are being planned on us it seems they are doing it in Pakistan even while we are committing all this war activity in Afghanistan where they aren’t doing any such planning.

Now we are back to “driving the Taliban out” of Afghanistan, so it must be Wednesday again.

Some 15,000 of our troops and God knows how many British and Afghan troops have been on a massive push to drive the Taliban out in the south. So far reports indicate they have killed 27 insurgents and 30 civilians. Presumably the former were deliberate, and the military claims the latter were a series of accidents, which I don’t dispute.

The plan is that we are going to “hold” this area and “win the hearts and minds” of the locals to make them loyal to the Karzai government; doing so by first coming in with guns blazing and killing 30 of them, following that by filling their streets with American tanks and armed soldiers.

That does not strike me as particularly clear thinking and, unsurprisingly, it does not seem to be working. The locals are unwilling to be seen talking to Americans because they believe the Taliban will be back, and will punish them for “cooperating with the American invaders,” which actually does strike me as fairly clear thinking.

What I do know, and this is blindingly obvious if you think about it, is that if someone is giving you multiple and varying descriptions of what they are doing and reasons why they are doing it, either they don’t know what they are doing and/or why they are doing it, or they are doing something they don't want you to know about for reasons that they don't want you to hear.

So, what are we doing in Afghanistan, and why are we there?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Keeping American People Safe

I do not agree with all of the rhetoric about "national security," but to the extent to which terrorism represents a danger to the people of this nation, and it does, Obama is certainly doing a vastly better job of defending us than the previous administration did. That applies at every level, from gathering intelligence, to defense of territory, to preventive measures. The difference is as marked as that between night and day. It is not even close.

Misplaced Fears

The numbers have not been reported for 2009 yet, but in the year prior to that 52,167 people died violently in this country. The number of those who died at the hands of foreign terrorists was zero. The toll almost certainly did not decline in 2009, at least not to any major degree, and once again foreign terrorists killed zero.

There were 290 people on the airliner that the “Christmas Bomber” attempted to bring down over Detroit. Had he succeeded, we should note; that many people die every 75 hours, every 3.1 days, in car accidents on our roads. If you want to be afraid of something, be afraid of getting in your car and driving on one of our freeways; there are drunk drivers out there trying to kill you. One person dies every 15 minutes.

And yet, almost every person who reads this will have no qualms about getting in a car, entering a freeway, and driving ten or more miles per hour above the speed limit. Many will also insist that young men and women of our armed forces be sent to fight and die in foreign lands to keep them safe from the foreign terrorists that they fear.

Tom Engelhardt has a piece entitled Hold Onto Your Underwear on this topic, in which he says, as I have been maintaining for years, that while foreign terrorism is a great evil and needs to be defended against, it is not any kind of national security issue.

Had the 23-year-old Nigerian set off his bomb, it would have been a nightmare for the people on board, and a tragedy for those who knew them. It would certainly have represented a safety and security issue that needed to be dealt with. But it would not have been a national emergency, nor a national-security crisis. It would have been nothing more than a single plane knocked out of the sky, something that happens from time to time without the intervention of terrorists.

To take that even one step further; in a worst case scenario, where a terrorist gets a nuclear device and destroys a city. That would be a disaster and human tragedy of unparalleled scope, but would it endanger this nation’s ability to function as a nation? Would it destroy freedoms, and civil rights and democracy that are at the core of what makes America the nation that it is? Of itself, no; only our reaction to such a tragedy could do that, and the cause of those losses would be us, not the event itself.

What we have to fear is not the event, for the chances that any individual one of us will be harmed in such an event is vanishingly small. What we have to fear is the cynical use of such an event by our own leadership for personal and political gain; preaching a sermon of fear to entrench themselves in power. We know that can happen.

It already has; in this nation in the first decade of this century.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sports Update

The Americas Cup has returned to the United States. Okay. That would matter to me if it were still a sailing trophy. The Americans spent more money than the Swiss did. Whee.

The Olympics are on. Okay. Skating used to be one of the favorites for my wife and me, but it’s now what I call “helicopter competition.” The skaters jump up in the air, and whoever makes the most number of rotations before landing wins. Whee.

But the curling starts tomorrow, so that will be good. No, actually, that isn’t a joke. For some odd reason I find curling rather compelling. Maybe I have some Canadian in my heritage or something, because Canadians go nuts over curling. Short track speed skating is pretty cool, too. I have no idea how those dudes keep from running into each other; and sometimes, of course they do collide.

NASCAR ran the “Great American Race” yesterday, with long pauses to repave the track. That was really impressive. The official is out there testing the pavement patch with his fingertips, preparatory to having 3500# cars drive over it at 200 mph. “Does it feel hard yet, Larry?” Unsurprisingly, it did not hold up. Please note that these cars have carburetors; technology last used on actual cars at least two decades ago, so I guess none of this should be surprising.

The hype over Danica Patrick was so high that they were running film clips of her wrecking, even though she was not in this particular race. That race, and wreck, was the previous day. They also showed her being swarmed by the media; again, the previous day.

On the other hand, the track paving "action" was a bit boring, so…

Global Warming Starts Here

I got up this morning and headed for the kitchen to start my coffee, idly noticing that the furnace was running. As I went through the living room, I realized why the bedroom had been so uncommonly nice and toasty; the living room windows were open! (The thermostat is closer to the living room than it is to the bedroom.) It was so nice yesterday that we had opened them, and after watching the Olympics until 11:00PM, I forgot to close them when I went to bed. That might suggest to you that it was still rather mild even that late in the evening.

Weather service is promising more of the same; just slightly cooler by the end of the week.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

When Gravity is Bad

The big news for health care reformers is that Anthem Blue Cross is raising premiums for people who buy policies individually, proving that health insurance companies are evil, heartless and greedy to the extreme.

Look, I’m not defending health insurance companies, per se, but the whole discussion is insane, and so is the system itself.

First, arguing for reform, you decry the number of people who are dying because they don’t have insurance; thereby presenting health insurance as a life-saving institution. Then you go on major rants about health insurance denying treatment; even calling them “the real death panels.” So your idea of reform seems to be to enroll more people in death panels; sign them up to pay money for something that will not provide them with health care.

As to the issue of the Anthem Blue Cross premium increase. Do you really believe that they did this with the expectation of making huge profit and a mere desire to make their profits even more huge?

People have been losing jobs at a rate of 400,000 per month and, as a result, been losing health insurance. The result is that insurance companies are dealing with a smaller “risk pool” of insured persons, and that means that each person in that risk pool must contribute a higher amount to that pool to keep it solvent. Anthem Blue Cross did not willingly decrease the size of its risk pool, did not create the risk pool principle, and is as helpless in the face of that principle as are the people who are in the risk pool and paying the premiums.

As a result of greater numbers of uninsured, hospitals are having to deal with more people who do not pay for their medical treatment. They pass that cost on to people who do pay for treatment, and the actual payer of that treatment is health insurance companies. So when the cost of a hospital visit goes from $800 to $1050, where is Anthem Blue Cross supposed to get that additional $250 from? There is only one place it can get it from: increased premiums.

Current reform arguments are like being overweight and cursing gravity.

The problem isn't the players within the model, it's the model itself. If you want to retain the present “for profit health insurance” model of health care distribution, then you have to accept the nature of the way that model works. If you don’t want to live with the way that model works, then change the model. There are many models to choose from, all of which work better than this one. Single payer is one, and has been rejected, but there are others that also work very well.

But stop with this nonsense of being overweight and blaming physics.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Americas Cup

I hesitate to even use the title; these are not sailboats. I didn't watch it because ESPN360 does not work properly on my combination of Cox Cable, Vista, and 2GHz of RAM using either Firefox or IE. I don't know why I would expect anything connected with ESPN to be worth a damn.

At least Oracle won it, but from what I read even with actual sailboats it would have been pretty ugly. The Swiss crossed early at the start and the American boat missed stays on a tack and stalled. These are the best sailors in the world? I guess I should cut them some slack, considering that they were not actually sailing; you know, in sailboats.

Chris Matthews Interviews Idiots

Updated below, Sunday am
To the extent that Republicans gain in this year’s election, I am of the opinion it will not be due to increased popularity of that party; it will not be anger at the Democratic Party; it will be that the people of this country are utterly disgusted with Congress as a whole and simply want to throw both parties out. Both parties are failing to get that message, of course, and each is blaming the other for the unpopularity of Congress.

Chris Matthews had two guests on Hardball yesterday to discuss this poll:
throw Congress the hell out

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz responded that the poll might be right overall but that, “We have many, many individual legislators who are connecting with their constituents very well, Chris, and they will be just fine.”

She is counting on the historical pattern of Congress being approved of by only 15% while “my guy” is approved of by 89%, and “my guy” is reelected in droves. Everybody is “my guy” to the people who elect him, of course; otherwise known as, “All politics is local.” It has worked, mostly, so far.

I suspect that her response actually translates to, “I don’t know about that poll, Chris, but I’m going to get reelected, so who cares.”

Rep. Chaka Fattah was somewhat more fundamental in his approach; he simply said that the people who responded to the poll were wrong, and cited an editorial by Norman Ornstein which claimed that this Congress is the “most productive in more than four decades.”

Fine, can Ornstein cast enough votes to reelect the present Congress?

Meanwhile, Democrats are accusing Republicans of being the problem for obstructing everything; Republicans are accusing Democrats of being the problem due to their inability to exercise leadership while in the majority; the house is blaming the Senate; the Senate is… Well, okay, the Senate isn’t actually blaming anybody, but is just sitting there emulating a root vegetable. The President is sort of fecklessly waving his hands and saying, “Now, now, let’s all just get along.”

This would all be funny as hell, if it didn’t risk putting Republicans back in power, which is a rather daunting prospect.

Update: Sunday, 7:00am
The New York Times offers Frank Rich today with yet another reason for the Republican advance in popularity; Sarah Palin's (literally) handwritten notes at her Tea Party convention.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Olbermann's Health Care Lies 2

A commenter on my earlier post is saying that the treatment for Kyler Van Knocker is not experimental, that it is approved and normal and that other insurance companies do pay for it. That may very well be true, and if so then a wrong is indeed being perpetrated that needs to be made right.

But my comment was not on the underlying story, but rather on the story as reported by Keith Olbermann, which was that experimental treatment was being wrongfully denied based on cost. Olbermann is maintaining that insurance companies are evil if they deny experimental treatment, because in doing so they are putting their profits ahead of peoples lives, and my post was to refute Olbermann’s claim. And that was his point; he did say that the treatment was experimental/unapproved in his Tuesday night comment:

Kyler Van Nocker has cancer. It was in remission, it‘s back now. The doctors have a do-or-die treatment that his insurance company considers investigational/experimental so it will not pay for it. This is particularly odd because the insurer is HealthAmerica, covered two earlier investigational/experimental therapies for Van Nocker, stuff that had not been approved yet by the FDA.

He repeated that in his Thursday night commentary:

When he contracted veno-occlusive disease, they asked his insurance company, HealthAmerica, division of Coventry, to cover a drug not approved by the FDA. Thumbs up from HealthAmerica, Coventry on that.

And in the Thursday interview:

This insurance company, HealthAmerica, Coventry—what was its reason that it gave you for not covering the cost of this?

VAN NOCKER: They deemed the treatment to be experimental.

OLBERMANN: Didn‘t they—didn‘t they—isn‘t it not, in many respects, the same kind of experimental, not FDA approved treatment that they approved previously that just happened to cost a little less?

He never attempted to refute the insurance company’s claim about the nature of the treatment. Indeed he seemed to fully accept that premise that it was experimental, and merely insisted that it should be paid for by the insurance company despite that fact. That is the “lie” which I decried; the claim by Olbermann that the insurance company is evil because it is refusing to pay for experimental treatment. If the treatment is, in fact, not experimental then he should report that and argue that case, not make these rants about refusal to pay for experimental treatments.

He also claimed that the Van Knockers were being ripped off by the insurance company, paying more in premiums than the insurance company was paying out in medical bills:

The company reporting a loss ratio of 82 percent—meaning 82 cents of every dollar they got from the Van Nocker family went to treatment and 18 cents went to things like Wise‘s $23 million compensation.

That is patently false. The family has paid a very small fraction of the medical bills incurred by their child, and Olbermann knows that.

I would not disagree with the point of view that the Van Knockers should not be bankrupted by this tragedy, but that is a different topic, for another day.

Olbermann Lies for Health Care

For weeks, months, Keith Olbermann has denounced those who have told lies in opposition to “health care reform.” He himself has at times been guilty of some exaggeration in his denunciations, and has exaggerated in his support of that program, but this past Tuesday night and Thursday night he has outright lied in support of “health care reform” and has callously used a five-year-old in the process.

He tells the story of Kyler Van Nocker, who has cancer. The insurance company, Olbermann tells us, is callously refusing to provide the medical treatment that will cure him because it costs $110,000. He refers to the insurance company as “real death panels that run our health care industry,” a phrase which he uses repeatedly throughout both nightly segments. The second night provides more details. Kyler has had this cancer, along with other diseases related to the cancer for three years. He has run the course of standard treatments, and has two rounds of experimental treatments, all of which the insurance company has paid for. His parents want a third experimental treatment and the insurance company has said no, making them a “death panel.” The insurance company is reporting a “loss ratio of 82%,” which Olbermann tells us means that 82¢ of every dollar that the Van Knockers have paid them has gone to Kyler’s treatment and the rest has gone to things like the CEO’s multimillion salary.

To correct Olbermann’s last lie first, the “loss ratio” means that 82¢ of every dollar in premiums that the insurance company has collected from its millions of policy holders has gone to pay the medical expenses of its millions of policy holders. The Van Knockers have paid to the insurance company a very small fraction of the amount that has been paid out in their behalf for their child’s medical expenses.

The bigger lie is the story itself. A medical company is developing a new treatment and wants to test it. Its effect on Kyler is unknown; it may cure, it may make him worse, it may do nothing. It is a test of a new and unknown treatment. The medical company does not want to pay to test its own experiment. The Van Knockers are desperate, and they want the hope that the experiment offers, but they cannot pay for it. The hospital does not want to pay for the experiment.

The company making the tested product does not want to pay to test the product. The company conducting the test does not want to pay to conduct the test. The guinea pig does not want to pay to be the guinea pig. Everybody wants the insurance company to pay for this experiment, but there is no reason for an insurance company to pay for experiments.

Every health insurance contract says that it will not pay for experimental or unapproved treatments, and that is a reasonable and necessary clause. Without it, insurance would be paying for modern versions of snake oil and the cost of health insurance would rise to a level that would make it unaffordable to all but the most wealthy. The clause is, as to experimental treatments, quite reasonable. If a drug company wants to make new products that need to be tested and from which they will eventually profit, they should pay for the testing. Why should insurance companies pay for testing and then pass that cost on to every individual who buys a policy?

The insurance company for Kyler Van Nocker went farther than it actually should have done; it has already paid for two experimental treatments that by its contract it did not need to pay for. The Van Nockers should be thanking them, and instead they are engaging Keith Olbermann to go on national television and accuse them of running “death panels.”

Keith Olbermann is not just a buffoon, he is an arrant liar.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chris Matthews is an Idiot

My wife wants to know why I watch him every day. Well, duh. So that I can write posts titled, "Chris Matthews is an Idiot."

Anyway, Chris was having a bad case of the vapors over the fact that Washington was unable to clear the product of a once-per-decade snow storm. He included in his rant that northern cities have this kind of blizzard and allow business to proceed as usual.

First, I have lived in Milwaukee, WI and, when 30" of snow fell in 24 hours, business did not proceed as usual. It wasn't as bad as what you see in Washington today, perhaps, but it most decidedly was not normal. I was driving on the freeway one day during a blizzard, commenting to myself about how little traffic there was, and when I exited discovered that the freeway was closed. Yes, the closure was due to inability to clear snow.

Second, it would be nuts for Washington to be equipped to be able to keep the city clear during a once-per-decade event. That would mean purchasing equipment that would sit idle for 3,645 days and used for 5 days. Talk about government waste!

Barney Frank Explains It

Seldom do I post YouTube clips, but this is priceless. Watch the clip.

Krugman is Outraged

Paul Krugman is so outraged by Obama’s support for bankers bonuses that he has written two days in a row to express his dismay that our President can “be so clueless.” Part of me has to wonder why he is just now noticing that; I have been aware of Obama’s ability to come out with marvels of tone deafness since his remark about “clinging to guns and religion.”

But I am more amazed by how puerile Krugman can be when he leaves his field of expertise, which is economics, and expounds on things that he knows little about, such as finance or politics. In this case he is comparing the “government supported banking business” to the baseball industry, which “isn’t the beneficiary of a massive and continuing taxpayer bailout.” He thinks it’s okay for the baseball players to make those huge salaries, but not for the bankers because the banks are supported by government (taxpayer) bailouts.

Well, Professor, baseball is the beneficiary of a government sponsored monopoly which allows it to spend as lavishly as it does. If it did not enjoy that exemption from anti-trust laws, an exemption which benefits no one other than baseball owners and the players who draw those lavish salaries, then New York would have at least eleven major league baseball teams and a whole bunch of minor ones, just as London has eleven major league soccer teams and a whole bunch of minor ones. Owners and players would not become multi-millionaires, and tickets to games would be priced such that high school kids could buy them weekly out of their allowances. One would not have to have the salary of a Paul Krugman or Keith Olbermann in order to attend New York baseball games.

So, Professor Krugman, the government is as supportive of those baseball millionaires as it is of the bankers you despise so much. Obama being okay with both baseball players and bankers receiving wealth is both consistent and unsurprising. He will be running for reelection in a few years, and his campaign cash comes from people who have money, Professor, not from people who don’t have jobs.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gays, The Military and Y2K Events

If we are going to ban gays in the military, which the present policy effectively does, I wish that we would at least be open about our reasons for doing it. The “unit cohesion” and “good order and discipline” things just don’t sell well with me.

For one thing, they are precisely the same arguments that were used to prevent integration of people with skin the color that we didn’t like from serving in other than servant roles. Now I see black guys and white guys hugging each other, and a white guy weeping openly when his black buddy gets killed. So much for that theory.

Our own Duncan Hunter came out with the “close quarters in combat” thing and gays seeing their… Oh, it’s just too comedic. One envisions an operation coming to a halt because in the heat of combat a gay soldier could not resist dropping his rifle to grope the guy next to him.

I don’t think there are any quarters closer than a diesel submarine, and we had some gay guys in the boats. Any sexual activity would have resulted in their discharge, but their preference was never really all that secret and I don’t recall that it was ever an issue. A few guys disliked gays and would harass them and the rest of us would tell them to knock it off.

The argument is made that half the military men hate gays so bad that they will quit, and that enlistment will plummet when all the macho men who are enlisting now refuse to do so when they find out that they will have to serve with gays. That’s what was predicted in Canada and Britain as well, but it turned out to be a Y2K event. From Steve Chapman at,

In Canada, 45 percent of service members said they would not work with gay colleagues, and a majority of British soldiers and sailors rejected the idea. There were warnings that hordes of military personnel would quit and promising youngsters would refuse to enlist.

But when the new day arrived, it turned out to be a big, fat non-event. The Canadian government reported "no effect." The British government observed "a marked lack of reaction." An Australian veterans group that opposed admitting gays later admitted that the services "have not had a lot of difficulty in this area."

The truth is we don’t allow gays because the legislators in Congress have a majority who are Christianist fundamentalists and are morally opposed to homosexuality. If that is the will of the nation, which we all know it is not, then so be it. Come right out and say that we don’t allow gays to serve in our military because we are a “pure” nation that doesn’t want to be defended by a bunch of people with “immoral, disgusting and vile sexual habits.”

Um, you do know that is sarcasm, right?

Is it Just a Piece of Paper?

The fifth amendment to our constitution is most famous for its use by criminals to avoid testifying against themselves, but it's actually a fairly lengthy piece of work, and the self-incrimination part of it is by no means
its most important feature.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Allow me to restate one clause of that as if it stood alone, so that there can be no ambiguity about it because, while some parts of our constitution can be construed as ambiguous and be the subject of argument as to the founders’ actual meaning, this one is crystal clear.

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

It is talking about what will not be allowed to happen under the auspices of the nation being governed by this document. It does not discuss who is doing the depriving, the type or nature of the person being deprived, any prior actions of such person, or the location of such deprivation. A person acting under the authority of this document to deprive anyone of life, liberty or property must do so in compliance with due process of law. Slapping handcuffs on a person is depriving them of liberty, and as such the procedure of “due process” must be put into place.

So all of this argument about how the “Christmas bomber” should be dealt with is utter nonsense. It doesn’t matter how safe we imagine it keeps us or not, it doesn’t matter how much or how little information we gain from him or how much or how little value that information might have. All of that is completely irrelevant. Who he is, what he is entitled to, where he came from, or what he has done are all irrelevant. We are required by law to do certain things, and so we must do them; not because we want to, or because they serve our purpose, but because doing so is required by the law of our land.

What part of that is so hard to understand?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Thinking Big With Small Ideas

Ezra Klein wrote a piece in the Washington Post last month about the failure of the public to “get” what Obama is trying to do with “Keynesian economics” in stimulating the economy. He explains that when individuals and businesses stop spending money, then the government needs to step in and do so to replace them, ala Paul Krugman, so that money is flowing and people have jobs.

I don’t know if that theory is correct or not, but the thrust of Klein’s article is that Obama has been unable to convince the public that it’s valid. Klein and Krugman have also been unable to convince the public.

Key to this whole theory is that the government should act "counter-cyclically": In good times, it should save and store, and in bad times, it should spend and borrow. The exact opposite holds true for businesses and individuals, which makes the whole project pretty unintuitive.

Students in macroeconomics classes learn all this in the first week of September. After a year of trying to explain it to an economically distressed nation, however, Obama basically gave up.

Turns out Obama has not quite given up, because he’s out with another “jobs bill” proposal. I don’t think this one is going to convince anyone either, but not because the theory is wrong. I think the public is on board with the creating jobs thing. What I don’t think they are buying is that government is actually doing much of anything other than the "sounding brass” kind of thing; “full of noise and fury, signifying nothing.”

The “stimulus bill” was a huge package of small ideas, and that’s what government is today. Government’s vision of a big idea is a big package of small thoughts. The “health care reform” bill is another such; a thousand-page-plus bill filled with small-minded details. The public is not so much opposed to “health care reform” as they are simply not really "for" it, they see it as sounding brass.

The CCC was a big thing, 2 million people with jobs that started in a matter of a few months, and it built things that we are still using today. The WPA was a big thing; it built Hoover Dam and huge electric transmission lines, and people saw them rising even as the project was being talked about.

The “stimulus” bill? That is nothing but some signs added to small projects that were already in progress and some teachers who did not get fired. How many? Nobody knows; maybe 10 in one state, a dozen in another, 3 in my town. One lane got added to two miles of freeway. A railing got replaced on a bridge. Some plans were drawn up for a high-speed railroad that might get built someday.

Shoveling a lot of small ideas into one big hopper is not “thinking big.”

Inconsequential But Fascinating the media. Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann each spent a great deal of time, bringing in guest commentators in both cases, discussing how inconsequential and irrelevant Sarah Palin is; which makes me wonder why they spent so much time discussing her. Seems the most noteworthy thing about her is that she writes notes on her hand. Apparently that proves that she is stupid.

Well, they would know. Both of them talked about her remark that Obama might "use the war card" and "declare war on Iran," criticizing every aspect of her blather on that subject without either one of them mentioning that the President cannot declare war. In all of the critiques I've heard and read regarding her rather silly statement, no one seems to have picked up that she appears not to know that only Congress can declare war.

Update: Tuesday, 5:20pm
Okay, Chris Matthews talked about her again today and did mention that "presidents don't declare wars." He went on to say that Iran "has a modern air force." I know that I'm quibbling here, but please; Iran has F-14's that they cannot get spare parts for.

Monday, February 08, 2010

This Is The Way To Do It

Congressman Tom Perriello (VA) and Betsy Markey (CO) are introducing a bill in the House this week that does one thing and one thing only; removes the anti-trust exemption from the health insurance industry. The bill is two pages. It does not attempt to reform society or be the greatest thing that the Democratic Party has ever done. It is not a grand, magnificant social statement. It is one simple act that will change the lives of working people in this nation. These two people should be reelected.

This is how government should be done; one doable step at a time.

Super Bowl Blecch

It was nice for New Orleans (the city) to complete its rebirth by winning the Super Bowl, but it would have been nicer if they had beaten a good team. They did not; they beat the Colts. It's hard to imagine how the Colts won even one game this season, let alone however many they did. They took us back to the days of lopsided and boring Super Bowls. Gack.

Jim Nantz had some utterly absurd explanation how failing to score on fourth and goal near the end of the first half was to the Saints' advantage; something to do with "taking a full minute off the clock" (one play can do that?) and "preventing Peyton Manning from scoring." I actually think the Saints defense did the latter, not the offensive failure to score. It sounded to me like Nantz had his brain disengaged and was simply babbling.

Even the commercials were lame, so if you were watching the game for the commercials there was nothing for you there, either. Although the Google ad was was sort of cool. What was with all of the people in underwear? I have no moral objection, really, but damn! People, or at least the ones they used, are a hell of a lot more attractive with their clothes on.

Even the Budweiser Clydesdales were a bust. What was that about?

On a final note, this San Diegan does need to point out that Drew Brees is the quarterback the the Chargers were in such haste to get rid of, and is not the first signature player to leave the team and secure a Super Bowl ring elsewhere. Please make a note of that, Ladanian Tomlinson.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Luck Runs Out

Southern California alternates between fire season and rainy season, and the combination can be bad. Mountain slopes denuded by the fires can produce deadly mud slides when heavy rains come. We have been fortunate for a while in that the really bad fires have not been followed by heavy rains, but luck has run out for towns north of Los Angeles. Not only has heavy rain been hitting the fire areas of 2009, but after a series of storms soaked the ground another storm caused serious mud slides this weekend. Dozens of homes destroyed but, thankfully, no lives lost. Heartbreaking.

Lending as Stimulus

Obama and Company keep bleating about the “problem” of banks not lending to small businesses, about the small businesses who “cannot get the loans they need to meet payroll and buy inventory and expand.” I have been listening to this without comment for a while, and Karl at The Market Ticker has put voice to something that I have been thinking all along.

After leaving the Navy I went to work in major industry, first in the plant environment, but then in management where my tendency to chafe under the constraints of conventional thinking created problems for me. (Um, long story.) That led to me striking out and running a series of small businesses, on my own and in partnership. It was a series of them not due to failures, but because I tended to get bored doing one thing after a while and would start something new.

What I did not need for these business was loans; certainly not to “meet payroll and buy inventory.” Needing loans for those purposes would be a signal to me that I not only was failing, but that I had already done so. If a business cannot meet payroll with cash flow, and cannot replenish inventory from the proceeds of inventory it has sold, it is a failed business and no bank should be willing to lend money to it.

I did once obtain a loan to buy a piece of equipment for the expansion of my business, but if you think I would be considering a business expansion in the present economic climate you need your head examined. Any bank which would consider lending money for business expansion in this climate should be closed for the insane practice of lending to idiots.

If you talk to the banks, which the media is not doing of course, you will hear that they are getting hammered from both sides. The politicians are hammering them for not lending, but the people who they are supposed to be lending to are saying they have absolutely no interest in borrowing.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Short Post

Stock car racing, such as it is now, returns today so I'll keep this short.

All and sundry are talking about how our government is broken and needs to be fixed, pointing at elected officials and demanding that they change their behavior and govern more effectively.

How about us voters throwing the bastards out and electing new ones?

Won't happen. They are behaving this way because they want to get reelected, and because doing so will get them reelected. With minor exceptions, we will overwhelminging reelect them, and they will continue to behave this way until we stop reelecting them on a wholesale basis. Which we will not do. Endless circle, repeated endlessly.

Friday, February 05, 2010

OMG - Run For Your Life!

Volcanic Excitement

Negative Discourse

The expand on my earlier post, the President is asked what he's going to do about the deficit and the first thing he does is not to provide any kind of answer to the question, but rather spout rhetoric to blame it on the Republicans. My issue is not with the deficit, with cutting it, or not cutting it, or deepening it, but with the knee-jerk reaction to blame and/or bash the "other guy" with every opening of the politician's mouth.

The "blame the other guy" discourse is getting really old, and both sides are doing it. One side accuses the other of being "nazis" and "socialists," and the best response that we get is that the others are the "the party of no" and that "well, we're better than the other guys."

Undoubedly Tuberculosis is worse than Swine Flu, too, but that doesn't mean that I want to get the Swine Flu. You people are giving me a ballot where the only vote I want to cast is "none of the above."

Placing Blame

Sometimes one can get sort of “lost” in how intelligent our President is and how well he speaks, and in so doing lose track of exactly what he is saying. I’m not sure if he does this on purpose, or if he gets as carried away by his own intelligence as his audience does. Consider this, at his conference with the Republicans the other day,

“The fact is, 10 years ago, we had a budget surplus of more than $200 billion, with projected surpluses stretching out toward the horizon. Yet over the course of the past 10 years, the previous administration and previous Congresses created an expensive new drug program, passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and funded two wars without paying for any of it -– all of which was compounded by recession and by rising health care costs. As a result, when I first walked through the door, the deficit stood at $1.3 trillion, with projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade.”

To take them in order. In its three years of control of Congress, your party has not suggested reducing or paying for that drug program in any way, and now is proposing to actually expand it as part of “health care reform.” When the House wanted to pay for that expansion with higher taxes on the wealthy, you agreed with the Senate that you’d rather pay for it by making people pay more for health insurance.

As to the Republican tax cuts of which you are so critical, in your State of the Union address you said this,

“Now, let me repeat: We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college.”

If you are so opposed to cutting taxes, why are you not only doing it so massively, but patting yourself on the back for it and, when Republicans did not applaud, asking that they do so? And even now you are proposing yet more tax cuts on top of those you have already made.

Finally, where have you come to the American people and presented them with the bill for the two wars that we are still fighting, including the one which you expanded? Further, where is the action on the part of your party to reduce the scale of either of these wars? The war in Iraq is scheduled to wind down, but that is a result of agreement between Bush and the Iraq government, and not as a result of any legislation passed by three years of a Democratic Congress or any executive order issued by you.

I'm not arguing as to the validity or otherwise of these policies or actions, but to the hypocrisy of continuing the exact same policies that you decry as being at fault for today's problematic environment.

Your words of blame, Mr. President, sound all very well and are true enough as far as they go; but after three years of your party in control of Congress and one year with you in office, there has not even been an attempt to reverse course on one single part of the issues for which you blame your predecessor. I will be more interested in hearing that finger-pointing when you have at least made an effort to change the course that he and his party set, when you and your party are not travelling the exact same road.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

This is Pathetic

From the Online Mail, we get a story about a British military cook whose unit was cut off from supplies and fed his troops for a horrendous, entire six weeks on Spam.

An Army chef said today that he fed troops in Afghanistan on Spam-based recipes for six weeks after the Taliban shot down their food supplies.

While most chefs enjoy the luxury of varied ingredients, Corporal Liam Francis was forced to improvise dishes using the tinned meat.

Oh, how utterly ghastly for them.

The Submarine Service that I served in was famous for getting the best food in the Navy. That reputation was well deserved so long as we were in port, and for about 14 to 18 days after we went to sea. After that we ate baloney, beans, dried peas, powdered eggs and Spam. Lots of Spam. Our cook had many ways of preparing Spam, but it was always still very recognizably Spam, and we often stayed at sea for three to four months.

So a long period of eating Spam was not a one-time event. We survived.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Sinister Plots Abound

I normally don't pay much attention to Michele Bachmann. Her district is in Minnesota which is a very long way from where I live, for one thing; and her mind is on Pluto, which is an even longer way from where I live, and is no longer even a planet. I have a lovely niece who lives in Minnesota, and I'm very fond of her, but she lives in Rochester, which is quite a long ways from Bachmann's district.

Ms. Bachmann is now presenting her fears, and she has lots of fears, that Obama is going to make us like the Japan that a "man told her about," where if you speak critically of the health care system you get "put on a list and denied care." She says that's not "the kind of country we want to be."
I actually agree with her on that but, unlike her, I'm not concerned that we might... Oh, never mind.

I bring this up, however, because there is a bigger and more sinister plot that even Ms. Bachmann is unaware of, and that I have become privy to. Remember that you read it first here; not even Politico has this one yet. This is big, and I am not at liberty to reveal my multiple sources, who have demanded anonymity because they don't want their names to be known.

Obama has a White House office that reads blogs and looks for those who criticise his administration. Any such persons are put on a list of people who he will stop protecting from terrorists.

I fear that I am on that list even as we speak, so if you hear a large "boom" in San Diego, you will know what happened. The government will probably claim it was an earthquake, but...

Update: Wednesday, 1:30pm
Well, yeah, I lost my head there. I forgot that President Obama is not actually protecting anybody from terrorists and that, in fact, he wants the terrorists to win. That had escaped my mind for a moment.

Chris Matthews is an Idiot

My wife and I went to see Avatar on Sunday, and I recommend it to you. Chris Matthews said on Hardball yesterday that it had to do with "the White Man and American Indians during the settling of North America." At best he was babbling about a movie he has not seen, which is ignorance, but there has been so much written about that movie that his comment steps well into idiocy territory. Familiar territory for Matthews.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Hyperbole Abounds

Is there any sanity left anywhere? We have one group, and it is large one encompassing both left and right, claiming the Congress is broken beyond repair and incapable of accomplishing anything whatever; and then we have Norman Ornstein claiming in the Washington Post on Sunday that,

There seems to be little to endear citizens to their legislature or to the president trying to influence it. It's too bad, because even with the wrench thrown in by Republican Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts, this Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president -- and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson. The deep dysfunction of our politics may have produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record accomplishment.

“Record accomplishment?” Oh, please, are we really going to claim that this Congress has accomplished greater feats the Congress that passed Civil Rights legislation? If one reads his discourse without the lens of partisan loyalty, almost all of the “record accomplishment” to which he refers is contained within the one “feat” of passing a watered down “stimulus bill” that was actually too small to fully accomplish its intended purpose.

Not willing to counter the “useless” argument with pointing out that this Congress has, indeed, passed some useful and worthy legislation, that it has both successes and failures in its efforts to date, this idiot has to discredit himself by going to the opposite extreme and claiming that which is on the face of it outlandishly untrue. Such is the nature of political discourse today.

Republicans cannot say that Obama has policies that are more liberal than they like, or merely say that they disagree with his proposals; they have to scream that he is at one and the same time a “nazi” and a “socialist,” terms which to any rational or thinking person are clearly mutually exclusive.

Democrats cannot admit that they are, in fact, incorporating some conservative ideas into the legislation that is being adopted while rejecting other ideas; they have to prate away about how stupid and obstructionist the Republicans are, and make the spurious claim that all they ever do is say “No” to everything.

And none of them can imagine why the electorate is disenchanted.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Cats Don't Like Earthquakes

Molly was on my desk when a 5.0 4.8 4.4 occurred about 15 mi out to sea. It produced three distinct bumps here, and she literally "spun her wheels" leaving my desk. You know those cartoons, where the legs are flailing but the body is not moving? Well, that was my calico cat. When she finally got traction, she dematerialized and reappeared out in the hall, with her eyes like dinner plates. She seems, now, to be spending the day on a shelf in the bedroom closet.

Investigation and Accountability

Andrew Sullivan is one of more than a few bloggers praising Britain for its commitment to “accountability” regarding the false claims made which led to that nation following America into the Iraq War. Daniel Larison has a different take, claiming that airing all of this dirty linen without producing any indictments or sending anyone prison is not “accountability” at all.

I think I’m with Larison on this; not that I often agree with Sully anyway.

In light of that thought, Obama may just be doing us a favor with his “looking forward, not back” thing. Conducting the kind of Congressional hearings that are typical in this nation, or the kind of investigation that is common, where we wind up with all kind of nasty secrets out in the open and then a conclusion of, “Well it’s all too murky to actually bring anyone to trial,” would be the worst possible outcome. Such a result would more than ever firmly entrench the certainty that our highest officials can act as they wish with total and absolute impunity.

Consider the recent investigation into the actions of John Yoo, with the conclusion that he was guilty of nothing worse then “poor judgement.” The man is working comfortably today as a professor of law at a prestigious university. Well, okay, a law school in California, but still.

This is investigation, but it can hardly be called “accountability.”