Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eyes Wide Shut

Olbermann is back, and he doesn’t seem to have gained any brain cells during his absence, despite new scientific studies that suggests that brain cells do continue to develop throughout life.

In his ongoing comedic attack on the Republican party, he is not even bothering to misquote Senator John Cornyn in order to lampoon him for making a perfectly fairly reasonable statement. Perhaps Keith didn’t actually read the statement before quoting and clowning about it, or perhaps he simply doesn’t know what the “health care reform” bill which Senator Cornyn voted against actually contains.

First, since he did so well for them on the stimulus, they were against it before they were for it, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, Senator John Cornyn, a memo to GOP candidates urging them to take credit for the popular things in the bill and decry the other stuff, like the means to pay for it.

Quoting, “On the trail, it‘s critical that we remind people of the fact that it was Republicans who fought to force insurance companies to compete with one another over state lines for Americans‘ business. It was Republicans who fought for policies that protected Americans with pre-existing conditions and it was Republicans who proposed health care reforms that didn‘t cut Medicare by $500 million and raised Americans‘ taxes by $400 million. It‘s Republicans who continue to believe that we should focus on reforms which actually lower health care costs for Americans, first and foremost.”

Even though all of them did vote against every part of that.

Well, Keith, no actually they did not. The “health care reform” bill does not contain reforms that require “insurance companies to compete with one another over state lines,” so they did not vote against that. It does not contain “reforms that didn‘t cut Medicare by $500 million,” it contains reforms that do cut Medicare by $500 million, so your accusation is off target on that one too.

If you take the word “every” out of your last sentence, Keith, you would be okay, because they did vote against a reform which “protected Americans with pre-existing conditions.”

Although, “Even though all of them did vote against part of that,” doesn’t sound all that damning, does it?

Olbermann’s first question to his guest is, “So, the Republican line will be: give us credit for the good stuff in the bill even though we all, each and every one of us, voted against it?”

That lends credit to the idea that he has quoted Cornyn’s statement several times without actually noticing the words which he is reading. What Cornyn is talking about in his statement, with one exception, are things that are not in the bill and yet Olbermann says that Republicans will be claiming credit for “the good stuff in the bill.”

His guest responds with words to the effect of, “Yes, it’s really idiotic,” and the conversation goes downhill from there. The clown show continues.

Cooking The Books

For political reasons Congress and the President considered it essential that the “health care reform” bill be deficit neutral; apparently we want to help people, but it’s important that we not actually spend any money doing so. If the bill were to impact the federal deficit then it would fail, because the American people would overwhelmingly reject it.

The following dialog occurred on Countdown list night, and I don’t know if the highlighted fact in it is accurate or not, but if it is we've been sold a con job.

Olbermann: How did the banks and the Republicans let the student loan thing sweep by? Because that just cut, he just put a hole in the banks.

Alter: Yes. This was maybe the most inspired move of the last six weeks. Congressman George Miller deserves a lot of the credit for it. Basically, there was this indefensible system where the government was backing these loans but the banks were taking a big chunk. You had Republicans and some Democrats who are defending that ridiculous status quo, even though $68 billion has been saved by the taxpayers, and it was central to the deal for reconciliation for health care, because it brought down the cost of the health care bill and that‘s one of the only reasons it scored properly at the Congressional Budget Office was because of the student loan deal.

The real value of all of this talk about lowering cost is revealed in that statement. We are “reducing the cost” of health care, but only by saving $68 billion on college loans.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Green Shoots = Weeds

The February release from the Bureau of Economic Analysis is out. The item which most of the news is hyperventilating about is that consumer spending increased in February.

Specifics are somewhat less exciting than news stories might have us believe, First, the increase was 0.3% over the preceding month. That is three tenths of one percent, and most retailers don’t hire when their sales increase by that kind of margin. Second, it is the smallest increase in the last five months, is half what the increase was in Oct of 2009, so the pace of recovery is slowing rather than accelerating.

The news is also not mentioning that disclosed in the same report is that personal income in February rose by 0.0% over the preceding month.

So we seem to be going back to an economy not only based on consumer spending, but one based on consumer spending using borrowed money. That worked really well the last time we did it, didn’t it?

"Mission Accomplished"

Not quite seven years ago Chris Matthews was feeling a thrill up his leg and waxing orgasmically on television over the image of George Bush strutting on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier wearing a flight suit. Monday he is similarly enraptured by the sight of Barack Obama strolling the halls of Washington, in his view, wearing passage of “health care reform” as if it were some kind of Superman suit.

The man is a complete idiot, with his endless enthusiasms for the visions of the moment. Somebody needs to point out to him that “health care reform” or not, Obama still needs to use a bridge to cross the Potomac.

If I don’t see Obama as the Caped Crusader after the passage of a bill by Congress that contains enough about health insurance that it can be labeled “health care reform,” maybe that’s because I did not see him as a feeble Clark Kent prior to that event.

In his campaign, Obama said that a president should be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time.” Unlike the morons on cable news, who measure him by the gum chewing alone, some of us have been measuring him by both the walking and the gum chewing. While the cable news has been breathlessly waiting for him to swallow his gum, us grownups have noticed that he has managed to walk quite a long ways and, unlike Matthews, we did not really expect that he that he would swallow the damned gum and so were not surprised that he has not.

Last week, Matthews was droning at great length about the drubbing that Democrats were going to take in the fall elections, a full seven months away. With passage of one bill by Congress, which polls at only 50% in public opinion, he is now saying that the Democrats will triumph because Obama is such a tower of strength.

I’m beginning to think my “I watch him so that you don’t have to” is losing viability. It may be time to devolve that responsibility back to you.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fallen Leaves

The rustle as you stroll through a carpet of fallen leaves, it must be... Wait a minute. Spring?

Yes. My block has Camphor trees. They are deciduous, but rather wierdly so. They stay green all winter, and then in the spring they shed all of their leaves and put on new ones all at the same time. They look like they are dying in the process, because the new leaves look really sickly at first and they come in as the old leaves are just starting to turn color.

Food Blogging: Pulled Pork

Where I come from, "Pulled Pork" means a pig barbecued slowly over low heat for half a day or more, requiring constant attention. It means going to Bryant's in Kansas City, where a huge and rather scary looking guy puts a handful (literally) of meat between two slices of Wonder bread, pours sauce from a Mason jar, and wraps the whole thing in newspaper. So when I read a recipe in the San Diego Union-Tribune for "Pulled Pork" in a damned slow cooker, I was filled with doubt.

I was then filled with some of the best "Pulled Pork" I've ever had. No, it's not Bryant's, but it is wonderful and I highly recommend it.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
3 sweet yellow onions (i.e. Vidalia), chopped coarse
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp, dried oregano
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 boneless pork shoulder roast

Lay the onions in the bottom of your slow cooker. In a small bowl mix the olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Rub that mixture all over the pork roast and place it on top of the onions in the slow cooker. Nope, no liquid required. Cover and cook for 10 hours without ever removing the lid. Warning; the smell will drive you nuts.

Remove the pork roast from the cooker and put it on a plate, cover it with foil and let it sit while you deal with the sauce in the cooker.

Pour the sauce through a strainer into a bowl and put the onions back into the cooker. Separate the fat from the liquid and save the non-fat portion.

Pull the pork roast into shreds with two forks. Actually, it should be really tender and you may only need one fork, but… Put the “pulled” pork back into the cooker with the onions and add some of the sauce back to it, just enough to moisten it nicely. Save the rest of the sauce (it freezes nicely) for making gravy and the like.

Serve the pork with a spicy, garlicky barbeque sauce on the side.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Keynesian(?) Insanity

Paul Krugman comes out with another of his blog posts of the “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit” variety, spouting numbers regarding the national debt that are truly mind boggling in their insanity. I thought he had topped out with his, “we don’t have to repay all this federal debt, we’ll just sit on it and inflation growth will make it go away for us,” but Saturday’s post really outdoes that one.

The Obama administration’s budget (pdf) predicts that by 2020 we’ll have net federal debt of around 70% of GDP and a budget deficit of around 4 percent of GDP. Now, you don’t have to go to a zero budget deficit to make headway on the debt — a budget deficit of 2-3 percent of GDP would imply a steadily declining debt/GDP ratio. So if you believe the administration’s budget estimates, we’ll need to find another 1-2 percent of GDP in revenue or cost savings.

I think his premise is that if you throw enough numbers around that the reader’s eyes will glaze over, and then you can say anything you want and they will just nod.

Here’s the kicker, “find another 1-2 percent of GDP in revenue or cost savings.” That’s like telling your boss that you want a raise of “1-2 percent of his profits,” or Ford saying that they are going to allocate “5% of General Motors’ revenue for contingency planning.” The only reasonable basis for budgeting is one’s own spending basis.

Assuming that government spending is, at that point, 20% of the GDP then to “find another 1-2 percent of GDP in revenue or cost savings” one would have to reduce government spending or raise revenue by 5-10 percent. That’s not the simple, child’s play exercise that Krugman presents with his “1-2 percent of GDP” game.

In what world does "a budget deficit of 2-3 percent of GDP," or a budget deficit of any magnitude, and a "steadily declining debt/GDP ratio" as he states, mean that the debt itself is going away? He's back to the mantra of "growing ourselves out of debt" again, but now he's doing so while insisting that we can do it with ongoing deficit spending.

In personal terms, what "growing ourselves out of debt" means is if you owe $100,000 on your house and have an income of $50,000 per year, then when your income goes up to $100,000 per year you no longer owe any money on your house and no longer need to make any house payments.

Another really bizarre part of this exercise is that Krugman assures us that if the government is continuing to build debt at a 2-3 percent per year rate, that cutting spending by 1-2 percent would not only quit building that debt, it would pay it off.

“Get within hand grenade distance, then just fire a bullet and you’re good.”

Maybe this is the “new math” that I’ve been hearing so much about, or maybe it’s just that I’m beginning to see why “Keynesian Economics” doesn’t work in the real world. By the math that I use, -2 minus –1 is still –1, so that leaves us still increasing debt. The best case, using his “ranges,” is –2 minus –2 leaving 0. That means we would have quit building the debt, but it hardly pays it off.

He goes on to say that we could easily raise taxes by I-2 percent if it weren’t for the Republicans. Except, of course, it would need to be more like 10% which might not be such a snap, and another “of course” is that Obama and Company have been cutting taxes instead of raising them.

That doesn’t even deal with the issue of him assuming that there is no interest on the federal debt, or that the interest rate we are paying now will not increase in the next ten years.

Slim Pickings

In the eight games of the Sweet Sixteen, I picked the winner in 7 of 8.

In the four games of the Elite Eight, Silo Tech is out, but I picked 1 of 4.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Garbage Journalism

Here is a piece from McClatchy, which used to be closer to a real news source than most, which epitomizes garbage journalism. The headline includes the phrase, "Obama may make bold move," but there is not a single word in the article to justify that headline. It makes no mention of what Obama or his administration might do, bold or otherwise.

The article is a hodgepodge of paraphrases, many of them posed as quotations and not one single one of them from a named source. For all of the anonymous sources, only once is the reason for anonymity given and that is the puny "due to the sensitivity of the subject" nonsense.

That's why we call it "media" rather than a "newspaper."

Why Not Jobs?

Since Barack Obama first took office, claiming to be a populist, the highest priority expressed by the people of “Main Street” has been jobs, but the one thing that he and his administration has never addressed with any real enthusiasm has been jobs. Why the hell not?

Yes, I know there was the “stimulus bill” that was his first “big thing.” That, however, was more aimed at consumer spending than it was jobs; it was 42% tax cuts. That part which was aimed at job creation was diluted into small projects and was spread out over two full years, and unemployment continued to climb for many months after the bill passed. They claim that unemployment would be much worse if that bill had not passed, but that statement has to stand unsupported by any actual hard evidence.

Then “health care reform” became all consuming for more than a year, while the economy continued to shed jobs at the rate of 400,000+ per week. The Democrats were more interested in “doing something historic” before the mid-term elections than they were in getting Americans back to work.

Congress did slip through a $17 billion “jobs bill” during the "health care reform" debate, but that was not direct jobs creation, was tax credits for employers who make new hires. No risk on that bill, employers are still shedding jobs at 400,000 per week.

Now that Democrats have their “historic victory” to take to the election campaign, their next press is for “financial reform” which we all know will be more symbolic than real, and still no push for real jobs creation, no real effort to put the American people back to work. Why?

At the end of the Great Depression people could look at the Hoover Dam and other fruits of man's labor and they could say, “Not only did we survive, we built these things.” When, perhaps if, we survive, our only monument will be a massive federal deficit.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rewarding Bad Behavior

As a person who has held a thirty-year-fixed-rate mortgage on my home since we bought it when we were first married, refinancing just once for a lower rate with no cash out, I have a rather jaundiced view of the complaints of homeowners who are “underwater” due to the various forms of tricky mortgage schemes. I cannot count how many times over the years we have been importuned to get into these types of schemes to “save money,” to “reduce our payments” or to “enhance our lifestyle.” Some days there would be a dozen flyers in our mailbox telling us how idiotic we were to be paying so much money for our home when we could be “financing more creatively.”

Well, home prices are going to have to really plummet to drop below what we currently owe on our home, and I’m talking pup tent territory here, and I can’t say that I’m feeling particularly stupid.

Until, that is, I read of the government’s latest homeowner rescue plan.

Not content with rewarding corporate bad behavior, the government is expanding its plans to reward individual bad behavior. If you have been refinancing your home repeatedly, and have been taking out the “increasing equity” each time so that you now owe more on your home than your home is worth, the government has a plan to reduce the amount of that loan so that you can make the payments and keep the home.

Not content with rewarding people who did that, they now have another plan to reward people who took out “home equity lines of credit.” Virtually all of these are for car loans, vacation loans and the like, secured by the home to make the loan easier to get and to make the interest on the loan tax deductible. Essentially, none of them have to with the initial purchase of the home itself, but they do tend to foul up the first plan where the government can redo the basic mortgage. So, from the San Diego Union-Tribune today (emphasis mine, Jayhawk),

And there will be additional payments designed to give banks an incentive to reduce payments or eliminate second mortgages such as home equity loans - a problem that has blocked many loan modifications.

So now I do feel rather stupid. Being fiscally responsible means that I don’t get to have the government hand me a whole bunch of money to reward me for being fiscally irresponsible. My father taught me some really bad habits. Maybe I should start hitting women, too.

Well, maybe not. I think he might be watching me.

Maddest March

How about that Butler?!? They came out of nowhere. I would have preferred that Silo Tech not win, of course, but if they insisted on doing so, at least they made it exciting by letting it into double overtime. My wife went into the bedroom and shut the door. I think she may have been about to call 911.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Meaningless Blather

The first four blogs I read this morning were discussions about the Senate process and Republican antics to "block" the bill that fine tunes "health care reform" that passed last weekend. Countdown last night spent at least fifteen minutes on the same topic.

Why? The fine-tuning bill is going to pass, and if it has to go back to the House it will pass there in a day or so. The Republican antics are totally meaningless and will have absolutely no effect on the final outcome of "health care reform." Why are we giving these idiots so much attention when they are so meaningless as to the outcome of current legislation?

The "Tea Parties" almost certainly have fewer than one million members. That would be well under one percent of the population, so why do cable news and the blogs give them so much air time? They are a radical fringe and will have no significant effect on any future election. They are mentally ill people who crave attention, and the media is giving them that attention. We should do the same thing with them that we do with streakers at football games; deny them the attention they seek and they will, for the most part, go away.

Update: Thursday, 10:30am
I'm not saying that these things should be covered up, or or that they should not be reported as news; I'm saying that they should not be used as topics of lengthy discussions, with endlessly repeated airing of film clips.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chris Matthews Waxes Eloquent

Matthews' "Let Me Finish" segments usually strike me as flowery and silly, but he did one tonight on Vice President Joe Biden. It was eloquent and moving, and I agreed with every single word of it. Well, almost every word.

Legislating & Public Opinion

Glenn Greenwald's writing can be misinterpreted and his post on Monday, regarding the GOP's newfound defense of "consent of the governed" is a case in point. He is talking about the hypocrisy of the GOP here, not about the underlying issue of whether or not public opinion polls should determine the outcome of particular pieces of legislation. From the article, I don’t know how he feels about that, but I certainly know how he feels about hypocrisy.

The issue of hypocrisy is too straightforward to evoke much of a discussion, and even if I didn’t agree with Glenn it’s really hard to argue with him, so I’m going to focus on whether or not public opinion and polls should affect particular legislation. I’m of the sense that the answer lies somewhere between Cheney’s “So?” and the latest rants of Boehner and Pence about “consent of the governed,” but somewhat closer to the former, which I’ll admit requires explanation.

The question is whether or not legislators should pass certain legislation when public opinion, as reflected by opinion polls, is running against that legislation. If you answer "no" to that question then you are, in effect, suggesting that we should adopt direct rather than representative democracy as our form of government.

The founders chose representative rather than direct democracy for a reason. They knew, from history and from observation, that decisions made by what they referred to as “the mob” and we today call “the public” are too often made based on emotions and self interest rather than on the best interest of the community, and they felt that keeping the public adequately informed so as to make them able to make informed decisions would not be possible in what was, even then, a large political environment.

What we are seeing today rather bears out the part about “informed decisions,” witness the sign reading, “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” in the “health care reform” debate. More importantly, it has been widely reported that public opinion was against that legislation until the content of it was carefully explained, at which point a majority then expressed a favorable opinion of it.

So, which group was calling legislators’ offices? Probably both.

Direct Democracy In Action
Some years ago when I lived in Tucson I saw an example of the disastrous effect of direct democracy.

The State of Arizona decided to alleviate the water shortage with a project called the “Central Arizona Project.” This was a rather dubious plan to bring Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson by means of an open trench across 350 miles of the hottest and driest desert in the nation. Evaporation intensified the concentration of salt and other minerals in it, plus animals fell into it and then drowned and decomposed, not to mention other odds and ends that washed into it from the desert along the way, much of it emanating from animals which were not dead, so by the time the water got to Tucson it was, shall we say, more than somewhat unsavory.

Officials in Tucson decided that they really couldn’t put this mess directly into Tucson’s water system, so they decided to “recharge” it; meaning put it into the ground along with the existing groundwater, and then pump it back out as needed. The ground would act as a natural purifier as the water filtered through layers of earth.

But some well meaning nutcase decided there was a risk that the CAP water would not stay in place, but would migrate southward and Mexico would get all of our CAP water. That nutcase may have been more of a racist/nationalist than he was well meaning, but… Since Mexico was not getting any of our existing groundwater, Tucson officials said, that was not going to happen and, in any case, “Trust us, you really don’t want that crap in our water system.”

Nonetheless, the nutcase got enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot and raised enough money to get enough votes to defeat “recharge,” so the CAP water was injected directly into Tucson’s water system.

The immediate effect was a bottled water shortage, as all of Tucson’s water was rendered completely unfit to drink or cook with. People with sensitive skin, in fact, would not even bathe in it. The next thing that happened, in just a few months, was that it began destroying pumps and piping on a wholesale basis, because it was as corrosive as it was foul smelling.

Now, of course, CAP water is being pumped out of the ground as needed, where it has been sitting since Tucson began “recharging” it shortly after the failed experiment of injecting it directly into its water system. Mexico continues to suffer from a total absence of groundwater.

So What About Polls?
The simple answer is that if representatives are going to base their votes on polls then we might as well have, and in effect do have, direct democracy, and the results are going to be frequently as disastrous as Tucson experienced with the CAP water issue.

The more complex answer is that legislators are elected to represent the “best interests” of their constituents, not the “wants” of that constituency. Polls express what the public wants at a given moment, not what best serves the needs of the community.

Those of you who have raised children know that you can keep your kids happy by meeting their “wants” on a day-to-day basis, or you can serve their “best interest” by making sure that they grow up healthy and well educated, in which case they are going to be unhappy sometimes and you are going to be about as popular at times as the Swine Flu. The people of this country should not be considered as children, but the difference between “wants” and “best interest” certainly applies.

Legislators have a responsibility to govern in the best interest of those they represent, but what they mostly do today is serve the wants of those they represent because they are pandering to those who will be voting to reelect them. When the needs of the community and the wants of the electorate are in conflict, we wind up with a failure of government if the legislator abandons responsibility in favor of reelection.

Remember that polls regarding government services are almost always in favor, while polls regarding taxes are almost always opposed. Legislators do appear to be voting based on those polls, which is why we have growing government and growing government debt. Perhaps legislators should pay less attention to what the public wants at any particular moment, which is what a poll represents, and base decisions on what the public needs over the long term.

But, “Call Your Legislator”
One of the blogs I read has several authors, and one of those authors for the last several weeks has essentially posted nothing but “Call your legislator” messages, not only daily, but several times per day. He’s gimmicked them up with polls about how many times you’ve called, posted “if you’ve already called, do it again” types of messages, urged getting your friends to call…

Several liberal blogs are making claims, rather absurd claims in my opinion, that they played a major role in passage of “health care reform” due to the noise they made in general, and specifically due to their influence in getting people to call their legislators.

I think legislators should pay about as much attention to callers as they do to polls; namely, very little. And these campaigns that press for multiple calls to legislators are abusive; all they do is tie up the legislative staff and prevent them form doing useful work. That staff could be doing research to gather facts which the legislator could use to make an informed decision instead of answering the phone to listen to a person voice the same opinion for the twentieth time.

Like the polls, these phone calls represent the public’s emotional wants of the moment and they are not necessarily, by any means, based on facts. Nor do they represent what is best for the community as a whole.

Our form of government is designed such that we elect people whom we trust to represent us; we should then largely leave them alone and allow them to do what we elected them to do. Do you hire an electrician to wire your house and then look over his shoulder and tell him which wires to connect and where to connect them?

We certainly should watch what our legislators do while in office, and if we don’t like the way they represented us while they filled that office we elect someone else. There also is certainly nothing wrong with expressing opinions, and nothing wrong with expressing those opinions to legislators.

But the idea that when a bill arises in which we have a particular interest that we should oust the legislator from his/her proper role and rule on that bill by means of the public vote through polls and telephone calls is a perversion of our form of government. Unfortunately, all to often we do exactly that, and the result is deficit spending running out of control, with blame placed everywhere except on the public that is causing it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Healing The Rift

Headline on MSNBC, "Can Obama Heal The Rift With Israel?" Say what? Why is it up to Obama to do the healing? Who created the "rift?" Who is the senior partner in this relationship? Who needs who in this deal?

Working, Working

I am working on a couple of difficult pieces, so it may be a while before you can read them. Not really all that controversial, really, just ones that I'm having a little trouble putting into words. Now that I've set you up for disillusionment and anticlimax, a couple of excellent referrals for you.

Daniel Larison has a scathing and absolutely delightful piece on Situational Constitutionalists, that is a "must read." A small sample,

Often enough, when people use the word unconstitutional they really mean that something is inconvenient, unwelcome, annoying or otherwise objectionable.

Go read the whole thing; it is very much worth your time.

After saying once more that I share in the sense of achievement and pleasure that passage of "health care reform" brings, I have no illusion about it being any kind of stand against lobbyists or victory over corporate interests. Glenn Greenwald continues on that theme in his post today.

As does Lawrence Lessig in the post referenced by Greenwald. Interestingly, while Lessig is not blinded to the role of special interests, he does seem to have a rather "rose colored glasses" view of the legislation itself, since he begins (emphasis mine),

President Obama will savor, and rightly so, his extraordinary achievement in enacting fundamental health care reform. He has done something few thought possible, and he may well have revived the enormous faith that his election gave millions.

Wow. I just cannot see this legislation as "health care reform" in any degree, and even as health insurance reform it is a long way from being "fundamental." I hope that this legislation restores the "enormous faith,"
but I can't say that it's really restored mine.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Olbermann is Back

Not only does he have "Health Care Reform," he has Cornell in the NCAA "Sweet Sixteen." The man is positively giddy.

And it's good to see him back, "Special Comment" pedantry and all.

No, we do not...

…have “universal health care.” We have done a very good thing in extending the ability to procure health insurance to people who were previously unable to do so, but we do not even have “universal health insurance” with this new legislation. Even according to supporters of the bill, some 12 million legal residents of this nation will be too poor to purchase insurance, even with the subsidies, and they will remain without access to decent health care.

To obtain actual health care, even those with insurance will still be subject to copays and deductibles. This “reform” does nothing about those other than cap them at about $5600/year, there are no subsidies to cover them, so some people will be purchasing health insurance which they will not be able to afford to use.

This bill will not “insure 32 million people.” I do not know the numbers, but it will allow some of those people to purchase insurance who want to do so but have not been able to, and it will force others to purchase insurance who have not done so because they don’t want to. That may be necessary, may even be a good thing, but let’s be honest about what reform actually does.

This bill will not “ensure that you have insurance if you lose your job.” It will ensure that you can purchase insurance if you lose your job, just when you have no money, because you just lost your job. Once again, this is a feature worth having, but let’s be honest about what it is.

I don't happen to believe that the "public option" would have been quite the panacea that it was touted to be, but leaving it out of this legislation was a craven act.

Democrats are cheering themselves about their “historic legislation” and their “great victory.” I am glad we did something, but I’m not applauding what we did. I am disgusted with the president and the legislators I voted for because they took a full year to cobble together a bill that benefits so few people in such a diluted manner. They had the mandate and the opportunity to do so much more, and they failed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Starving The Hand That...

San Diego, like cities across the nation, has a huge budget problem; namely a $179 million hole in a $750 million budget, or about a 24% shortfall. Sales tax and property tax revenues have sunk like the proverbial rock in the millpond. The result is that the city has had to make cuts everywhere, including fire and police protection.

The San Diego Union-Tribune is not particularly understanding of what city officials have been required to do. In writing of a fire that occurred on Friday, where an elderly man died, they use phrases like, “[a] cost-cutting plan that idles fire equipment” and “taking fire engines out of service last month to save money.”

How about “taking fire engines out of service last month because there is no money to pay for them” as an operative phrase? It isn’t about “saving money,” the City of San Diego cannot spend money that it does not have.

The article makes much of the fact that the “fire engine three blocks away” from the fire was “out of service due to budget cuts.” Actually it was in service, but was unmanned on that day because the City does not have the money to pay enough firefighters to fully man all of our equipment.

The fire station itself was open, which the article does not make very clear, its fire trucks were manned, and the fire truck from that station responded to the fire, arriving within one minute. To oversimplify slightly, fire trucks rescue people, fire engines put out fires; so the rescue people and equipment were on scene, from the nearest fire station, within one minute of the fire being reported. The fire engine responded later, from a more distant station.

That doesn’t keep the family of the victim, and the Firefighter Union president, from blaming the unmanned engine for the death. Nor does it prevent the Union-Tribune from making the entire article a feature about those accusations. It briefly mentions unnamed “officials” having said that the death was not caused by the unmanned engine, but promptly returns to lengthy quotations from and discussions about the accusers.

The article does mention, very briefly, that the fire alarm system in the apartment building malfunctioned, and that it may have delayed reporting the fire to the fire department. It does not suggest that this in any way might possibly have contributed to the man's death.

To complicate the issue, the ladder operator of the fire truck that first responded did not know how to operate the ladder, which may have delayed the rescue. The family would have a valid complaint if that is the case, but it would not be that the response was too slow, which is what the article repeatedly claims.

People are lining up at the Tax Assessor’s office to have their property taxes reduced, but they want the City to continue to furnish services at the same level. Where do they think the money comes from to pay for those services? If you want your taxes lowered, then you must be prepared to suffer a reduction in services, and that includes protective services.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ezra Klein Is An Idiot

Ezra Klein is widely regarded as the font of all wisdom and knowledge, writing in the Washington Post and appearing regularly on Countdown and occasionally on Hardball.

He wrote a piece in Friday’s Post claiming that Obama has thoroughly emasculated all of the special interest groups that once dominated Washington. I won’t bother to refute that piece of utter and absolute nonsense, since Glenn Greenwald does a masterful job of that in his post today on the subject. Suffice it to say that special interest groups are alive and well in Washington.

Young Mr. Klein was on Countdown last night to promote a similar view, claiming that Obama’s stand on “health care reform” (see, still in quotes) has dramatically changed the entire Democratic Party. His appearance is not included in the clips posted on MSNBC’s site, and the transcript won’t be up until Monday, so I’ll have to paraphrase, but one quote which I recall clearly is that, “Obama has chosen polarization over triangulation.”

The gist of his argument is that Democrats have a reputation for caving in and compromising, and that in taking his stance on “health care reform” Obama has overcome that reputation; he took a stand and never backed down or compromised, and he has won. (Assuming that the bill passes.)

That’s just idiotic. The whole thing started with a compromise when Obama agreed that single payer would not even be included for consideration, that considering such a plan would be “too disruptive.”

The compromise continued when Obama negotiated in secret with Pharma and the hospital industries before the bill planning even began that drug reimportation, bulk price negotiation and other public cost savings would not be on the table for consideration in return for their cooperation.

The very definition of “triangulation” is Obama saying that he would “favor the public option, but…” while the House passes the public option, more than 51 Senators sign a letter agreeing that they will vote for a public option, and then compromising on a bill that does not contain the public option which 83% of the public wants.

How can you not call it a compromise of principle when Congress adopts methods of passing a bill that it condemned when the Republicans did it, and then use as justification of their actions that “the Republicans did it”?

Klein is one of the few public figures who thinks that “polarization” is a good thing. It was roundly condemned when George W. Bush did it, but now that Obama is supposedly doing it, which is a ridiculous claim, polarization suddenly becomes a virtue.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Life Panels" Maybe?

Sometime this week a clip surfaced which was taken at a rally held to protest the “health care reform” bill, showing a man incapacitated by Parkinson’s Disease being taunted unmercifully by protestors. It is a really sickening clip, and discredits the groups protesting the bill. Do we really have people in this nation who can display that level of inhumanity and cruelty? Obviously, we do and, equally obviously, they oppose even this weak form of “health care reform.”

One of the taunters was carrying a sign for “Americans for Prosperity” and Chris Matthews had a guy on his show yesterday named Tim Phillips who is, apparently, the leader of that group and an absolute asshole. Sorry for the bad word, but no other word adequately describes the man; “smug, arrogant” and “narrow minded” do part of it, but only that one sums him up.

Chris Matthews asks him what the guy with Parkinson’s should be doing, “What should he be doing? He‘s got Parkinson‘s. He‘s sitting on the ground there, engaged in this protest, to the extent he‘s able to. He can‘t stand up, obviously. He‘s got a placard here. He believes in the health care proposal of the president. Why is he different than you, except that he has a need that you don‘t have?”

Tim Phillips replies, “I recommend that he not support legislation where bureaucrat in this government may be deciding whether or not to cover his sickness, because they‘re going to be deciding that.”

Of course no “government bureaucrat” would be doing anything of the sort, but that guy in the clip probably wishes they would. Nobody is “deciding whether or not to cover his sickness” right now, and it is being left without coverage because nobody is making that consideration. Somebody damned well needs to make that consideration, don’t they? Maybe they would decide to cover it, and he would be better off than he is now.

Later, Phillips puffs himself up and huffs, “Here‘s the pitch I would make to him. Do you really want the government deciding whether your quality of life at your age and with the condition you have is worth saving?”

I think the guy would probably reply, “Oh, hell yes.”

March Madness Punditry

Out of the first 16 games, I picked the winner in 7, so perhaps I might better "keep my day job" so to speak. San Diego State kept the gun loaded, cocked, and pointed at Tennessee, but just couldn't pull the damn trigger. At this rate Kansas will finish fourth.

I do my brackets weird; I don't pick the second round until the results of the first round are known, etc. So I'll have 16 teams in the "Sweet Sixteen," but only by cheating massively. I have more fun that way, and I'm not competing with anybody, so I can do it if I want. I linked so that you can see how little I know about college basketball. Blue is for teams I picked to win, red is for winning teams that I didn't pick, black indicates my picks in games that have not yet been played.

And yes, I know I have one of the divisions on the wrong side.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Deem and Pass, Part 2

Karl Denninger at The Market Ticker issued a warning to Nancy Pelosi about the illegality of Deem and Pass, based on Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution. He posted the article with words about “recording Yeas and Nays” and “names shall be affixed to the bill” and claimed that people will revolt if Congress passes any bill in such an unconstitutional manner.

His argument is rendered spurious by the title of that section, which is, “Revenue Bills, Legislative Process, Presidential Veto.” The first paragraph of that section, which is very short, simply says that all revenue bills must originate in the House. The second paragraph, which Karl cites, deals with overriding a presidential veto. No presidential veto has been incurred, so the requirements which Karl has highlighted do not apply.

The section dealing with routine conduct of Congress is Article 1, Section 5; and the operative paragraph reads,

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

(Emphasis mine) So the argument for the unconstitutionality of passage of “health care reform” is based not only on the wrong portion of the applicable section of the constitution, as I suggested earlier, it’s based on the wrong section altogether.

An argument could be made that the bill is not legitimate because revenue bills must originate in the House, and this one originated in the Senate. Since the House passed a similar bill I’m not sure that argument stands up. I think it’s a fairly crappy bill, and passing it without requiring the legislators to display the courage required to actually vote for it rather reeks, but I doubt seriously that either the bill or its method of passage is actually illegal, or even seriously unethical.

What is distrubing is that the Democrats have displayed such willingness to pass legislation using the same forms of manipulation and maneuvering as the Republicans did. I thought we put them into power to provide more honest and open government.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bracketology & Fox News

I am feeling considerably more kindly toward Barack Obama today. He has The Kansas Jayhawks in the center of his brackets. The man rocks.

Update: 9:00pm
And I have an even warmer feeling watching him say, in a level and calm tone, without even the slightest trace of rancor, "I'm trying to answer your question, and you keep interrupting." Snap.

"The Prison of the Nationalist Mind"

I thought Glenn Greenwald was the master of scathing monologue, but I do believe he has met his match in Professor Juan Cole. If nothing else, the phrase he coined to use as the title of his recent piece is a real treasure, "Guarding the Prison of the Nationalist Mind." Small minds and limited thinking as a form of imprisonment; beautiful.

I'm not going to quote from it, go read it. The truth it speaks is powerful, and the craftsmanship of language is exquisite.

Now, Deem and Pass

When the Obama Administration was attacked for deciding to try the "underpants bomber" in a civilian court, the best defense they could come up with was, "Well this is the same thing Bush did with the shoe bomber."

Now the Democrats are defending passage of the "health care reform" bill using "Deem and Pass" so that they can pass an ugly bill without having to be charged with actually voting for it, by saying that Republicans used the same methods 35 times.

This is the new argument for Democrats. Do they really want to do this? Defend their actions by saying, "We're just like the Republicans."

They are, of course, but you'd think they'd want to conceal that.

Update: Wednesday, 8:15am
Karl at Market Ticker posts on the illegality of "Deem and Pass" based on Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution. Do you see the error in his argument? The underlined text about "Yeas and Nays" and names being being attached to the bill refers to the process of over-riding a presidential veto. Original passage of a bill before submission for presidential consideration is merely stated as, "every bill which shall have passed..."

Think before you leap, Karl.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Road Globalization?

I think we are missing a really large point regarding the term globalization. Globalization does not merely apply to the flow of goods working to our advantage, which is how the term is usually applied; what globalization really means is that as communication, travel and trade are facilitated the world becomes subject to something called “entropy.”

Entropy means that, “All systems tend to equilibrium.”

So long as the world was fragmented, nations could live in manners that were vastly different in almost every way; language, culture, and above all standards of wealth and comfort. With globalization comes a blending of all of that; populations mix and intermingle, and poorer nations become aware of the richer nations’ ways.

For something like six decades we have enjoyed a standard of living which is vastly richer than most of the rest of the world; significantly better than other “developed” nations. We have assumed that as globalization advanced and pressure increased to make standards of living more equal, the process would be one of raising the rest of the world to our standard. With us being some 5% of the world’s population, however, and consuming something on the order of 25% of the world’s resources, that has always been a truly idiotic assumption.

We are on a crusade now to find “alternative energy” and are taking other measures to maintain our standard of living and, while I support the first part, I think the second part is a pipe dream. Right vs. wrong aside, the rest of the world is not going to allow us to “hog the benefits” and it is utterly impossible for the rest of the world to live the way we do; the Earth simply does not have the resources to accomplish that.

For all of the world to enjoy an equal lifestyle, ours is going to have to diminish from what it was at its peak, and I would suggest that it is already doing so. We are still the world's premier military power, but in what other respect do we lead the world in quality? We did no better than anyone else in the latest financial crisis, and in fact we actually led the collapse. Our infrastructure is failing badly; how many nations have major bridges collapsing in the middle of their cities? It’s well known that we trail badly in health care, and we lack the will to rectify that with anything other than a patchwork measure than nibbles around the edges of the problem. We have one of the world’s largest divides between rich and poor.

These can all be seen as greed and corruption, but what if they are merely the result of trying to maintain that which is not maintainable? What if these things are merely what is happening because we are Canute trying to hold back the tide of globalization?

In 1800 England thought it was going to be the world’s superpower forever.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Quality Decline

I've had a mini-blind on my window for fifteen years which finally wore out, so I set out to replace it. I don't want anything fancy, just a good quality, plain 1" mini-blind. Dream on. All I can find is shoddy junk. The price is low, I will grant that, but I don't care about price; I am quite willing to pay for quality. Quality seems unavailable; all I can find in stores is crap that I will not hang in my window and that doesn't function properly in any case. Even the demonstrators in the stores don't work properly.

It's all made overseas, and it's all essentially garbage. Sad.

Krugman Is At It Again

Paul Krugman has a piece in the New York Times today, in which he attacks US policy on China monetary policy. Again he bolsters his argument by presenting one side of a picture, saying,

It’s true that if China dumped its U.S. assets the value of the dollar would fall against other major currencies, such as the euro. But that would be a good thing for the United States, since it would make our goods more competitive and reduce our trade deficit. [...] So we have no reason to fear China.

That would be as blissfully unimportant as Paul Krugman implies it is if we were a nation that exported televisions, clothing, computer hardware, communication equipment, tires, furniture and other manufactured goods; and above all if we exported oil. We export none of those things, we import them, so if the dollar falls in value then those things become more expensive to us.

Note the oil part. We import oil, and the cost of oil affects everything we do and everything we make. If the dollar falls then the cost of oil is going to increase and that will affect cost of everything we make here that is affected by oil if only in terms of transportation.

Higher oil cost will increase the cost of fertilizer and water for growing food, the fuel to power the factories for processing it, and the fuel to transport it to market. Higher cost of oil will increase the cost of electricity to light and heat/cool your homes, and to pump the water to your homes. More than half of the electricity in California is used to pump water from where it is available to where it can be used for domestic and agricultural purpose.

Paul Krugman cheers the benefits of increased prices of exports, but we are no longer an exporting nation, and we have not been for many years. He blissfully ignores the effects of a falling currency on the daily lives and the pocketbooks of the people of an importing nation, but the people of that nation cannot really afford to be quite so sanguine.

Krugman touts the aspect of the picture which bolsters his argument, and ignores the aspect that doesn't suit his purpose. It's called "dishonesty."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

And Sometines She's On Target

Hillary Clinton was even more direct in condemning Israel's announcement regarding expansion of settlements than Joe Biden, saying that, "...the announcement of the settlements the very day that the vice president was there was insulting." Well said.

I don't base my like or dislike of her bluntness on whether she is saying things that I approve of or disapprove of. She has a job to do, is an excellent person for that job, and I don't expect to agree with every part of it. This is a case where the Arab world needs to know unequivocally that we do not support Israel's mistreatment of the Palestinian settlement issue, and she makes that point in the most direct way possible. Of course, a withdrawal of financial aid might be a bit more effective, but that's another issue.

When she comes out with statements like "China will find itself isolated"
for disagreeing with us, though, I just have to shake my head. That is not toughness, or directness, that's just idiotic arrogance.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Too Much To Take In

Basketball, that is, and it isn't even officially March Madness yet. Mountain West men's championship; San Diego State is in that one for a certain NCAA berth. (Rumble is they could get one anyway, but...) Mountain West women's championship; San Diego State v. Utah in that one. My sister (Utah alum) wanted to bet me on that one, but I don't make that kind of bet with family. Big 12 men's title: my Jayhawks v. the hated Kansas State. No real stake for me, but Kentucky v. Tennessee portends excitement. Two of the games overlap, so the DVR will get a workout.

Political blogging may be light in March. I have my priorities.

Update: Sunday, 9:30am
To say that the San Diego sports writers are excited, with both men and women winning Mountain West Conference championship games yesterday, might be a bit of an understatement. Nick Canepa relates it to

"... shortly after a giant meteor struck Earth, killed all the dinosaurs and left nothing but neophyte basketball players running around."

Perhaps "giddy" would be the operative word.

Shrinking Brains

No, this is not about politics. Well, maybe it is a little bit.

An article in The Daily Mail (h/t The Political Carnival) informs us that a skull from 28,000 years ago is 20% larger than modern ones, indicating that human brains are shrinking.

Well, anyone watching cable television news would be well aware of that.

The article also says that "No one is suggesting this means our ancestors were more intelligent as studies have found there is only a minor link between brain size and IQ." Well, again I will refer you to cable television news, but I might add that there appears to be no discernible link between IQ and the ability to think rationally either.

The article then goes on to say that the cerebellum, the part of the brain associated with talking, has grown and other parts of it have have shrunk. Which confirms the impression conveyed by cable television news that modern man is talking more and thinking less.

If, that is, we are thinking at all; we are certainly talking.

Update: Saturday, 9:45am
My wife pointed out that an even better example of shrinking brains than cable television news, not to mention more talking and less thinking, would be politicians at all levels of government. Good point.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Where's The Change?

Looking at this president’s promise to change the way things are done in Washington, what I’m seeing is that all he’s done is make the old way, if anything, worse. In the midst of this enormous push to pass the most earthshaking legislation in a century, according to Democrats, he is off on a multi-state fundraising tour. Our troops are fighting and dying overseas, millions of people don’t have jobs, our infrastructure is crumbling, the planet is overheating, and he’s raising funds to help Democrats get reelected. One of the Senators he’s fundraising for isn’t even up for reelection at this point, and another one is a Republican posing as a Democrat.

This “earthshaking legislation” has one big name, but it is a huge basket of small ideas that doesn’t even meet its stated, and limited, goal of “providing health insurance for all Americans.” It doesn’t “provide” health insurance for anybody, it allows them to buy it, and it pays a portion of the premium for less than one tenth of the population. It also leaves five percent of the population right where they would be without the legislation, dying for lack of health care because the “landmark legislation” doesn’t apply to them.

Obama and the rest of the Democrats natter on about “thousands will die every year if we don’t pass this bill.” Yes, and thousands will die every year if you do pass it because of the 15-20 million people you excluded from its benefits for political reasons.

Obama issued an edict outlawing the use of torture. Color me less than impressed by that. We have had very well-defined laws prohibiting the use of torture for more than a hundred years, and his predecessor 43 times removed banned the use of torture in no uncertain terms.

He ordered the closing of Guantanamo. How is that going? If it ever closes, an issue that remains very much in doubt, it will merely move to Illinois.

He ordered the trial of KSM in civilian court. He also ordered the trials of others in military tribunals and ruled that others will continue to be held indefinitely without trial. He also challenged the rights of prisoners at Bagram to have their cases heard pursuant to habeas corpus petitions.

He pursues legislation by dirty dealmaking, cutting deals with special interests including Pharma and the hospital industry, and with legislators; money for Nebraska to get one Senator’s vote for the bill, money for Louisiana to get another, a Medicare carveout for Florida to get another Senator on board.

It is impossible to point to one single thing that Obama has even tried to change. Glenn Greenwald calls it cowardice, but I’m not certain that it is not mere political calculation. Obama is presenting to me a portrait of the typical politician; in it for his own personal power and the maintenance of the dominance of his political party.

This is leadership of the “find a parade and get in front of it” format, which does not require courage, initiative, or intelligence; and it is a terrible waste of the man who was presented to us during the presidential campaign.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Krugman Does It Again

Well, maybe I'm somehow misinterpreting his point in his blog post today, titled 51 Herbert Hoovers, in which he is complaining that cutbacks in spending at state levels offsets an increase at the federal level, implying that states should not be cutting back. He sort of misses the point that, unlike the federal government, states cannot print money, and most of them cannot borrow it either. How are they supposed to not cut back? California tried paying with IOU's at one point and they were, to say the least, not at all well received.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

US Navy Orgies

Eric Massa is making much of his former service in the US Navy with respect to his groping of male staff members; saying that he, perhaps, failed to separate his Navy habits from his civilian behavior. Oh my.

We will toss out a couple of submarine jokes here, just for fun and assuring you that they are merely jokes.

"The submarine service is the only place in the Navy where you get
 paid by the Navy for going down."

"Seventy six men go down and thirty eight couples come up."

Okay, now that we have that out of my system; Massa was an officer and was surface Navy, while I was neither in the wardroom or on the surface, but I can assure you that social norms did not include any groping.

Marja: Fact or Fiction?

I’m not entirely certain of my facts on this; it is entirely unreported in the American media and is not all that widely circulated on the Internet. It has persisted long enough for me to comment on it, however, and it does sound rather like the kind of thing that our military might do, because it has done it in the past. Think; "the rescue of Jessica Lynch."

For weeks we heard of a massive buildup for a major offensive against the city of Marja in Afghanistan, cited as having a population of 80,000 and posing the need for “urban fighting” on a significant scale. It was painted as being a command center for the Taliban, and we were told to expect heavy fighting of rather lengthy duration. The Army told us that it had warned civilians to evacuate the city, and told those who did not evacuate to hunker down as we moved into the city with heavy artillery. Many comparisons were made to Fallujah in Iraq.

One thing that seemed a little odd to me during that buildup was that they were talking about facing 800-1000 Taliban fighters. That seemed like an awfully small force to be holding a major city which was central to an entire province, and it seemed to me that a battle with odds of 20:1 in manpower when the larger force had artillery and airpower and the smaller one did not was seriously unlikely to produce the “heavy and prolonged urban fighting” that was being forecast.

Nonetheless we had television clips from embedded reporters of soldiers smoking nervously in their foxholes on the eve of battle, followed by armored troopers blazing away with machine guns at an unseen enemy. The invasion of Marjah was on, although the environment looked more like farmland to me, and remarkably un-urban.

According to IPS news which has a lot more detail about this, Marjah actually is farmland for the most part. What passes for the town is nothing more than what would be called a crossroads in Midwestern America. Why would our military dress up such an advance as the invasion of a big city, when all it is actually doing is advancing into a barely-occupied valley?

The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that the decision to launch the offensive against Marja was intended largely to impress U.S. public opinion with the effectiveness of the U.S. military in Afghanistan by showing that it could achieve a "large and loud victory."

Stanley McChrystal is new in command of a war zone that is declining in popularity at home, and that is being subjected to a “surge” of troops at his request. Whether this story is true or not, and I’m inclined to suspect that it is, it is entirely consistent with the kind of deception that I have come to expect from our military.

The next question that enters my mind; if this was a deception of the American public, was it done with the knowledge and approval of President Obama? One has to think it would be difficult to do so without that knowledge and approval, and that makes me uncomfortable. They could, however, have been deceiving him as well, and that makes me even more uncomfortable.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Passing "Health Care Reform"

Interesting segment on Hardball yesterday, which featured a clip of Arlen Specter emerging from Air Force One with President Obama. Obama is in Pennsylvania campaigning to help a Republican win in the Democratic primary against a Democrat, Joe Sestak, which is part of the dealmaking that Obama has made to get his “health care reform” passed. Sestak was a guest on Hardball.

Matthews: What do you make of the Democratic Party right now having a problem, where people on the left are giving the president a hard time, people on the right are giving him a hard time? Is he having a problem getting people to realize that if you lose this health care bill, everybody‘s going to be branded as a loser? Is he going to get that message across in the next two weeks?

Sestak: Chris, I don‘t think that‘s the right message he should get across. This isn‘t about scoring a political victory. These Democrats, me, we were sent to Washington with an opportunity to lead, not with a mandate. And it got off track because Ben Nelson grabbed a goody bar. They thought with the 60th vote from Arlen Specter that political calculation would achieve the health care bill. It got us nowhere. No, what the president‘s message has to be is, This is the right thing to do, Democrats. Stand up and work for working families. And that message better come through, not about politics.

That was remarkable, considering how badly this president is screwing Sestak, and throughout the interview the man comes across as a thoughtful and gentlemanly person. He is, of course, a retired career Navy officer in the tradition of John Paul Jones.

“It is by no means enough that a naval officer be capable. He should be a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.”

Throughout the segment Matthews and his guests present the scenario that if “health care reform” (and I will never use that term without quotes) passes the Democrats will smell like roses and if it fails they will be labeled as losers. While I favor its passage, I see the Democratic Party and President Obama as smelling rather odious regardless.

Obama is on board with a message of “this is the right thing to do” now, but for more than a year he has been backstage making deals, and some of those deals have smelled like dead fish. The first deal was with Arlen Specter, and he is paying off on that one now; campaigning in a Democratic primary election for a Republican. Other deals smell even worse; with pharma to prevent reimportation of drugs and with the hospital industry to protect their profit margins.

A solid year of dirty deal-making followed by a pious “this is the right thing to do” does not smell like roses to me even if the bill passes. The good that it does may outweigh all of the dirt that was dealt doing it, but it does not wash the dirty hands that were soiled in the process.

The promise is made now to pass a “rider bill to undo the dealmaking” and clean up the bill. My first objection is that it would have been better to have not done the dealmaking to begin with; the end does not justify dirty means.

In any case, it cannot be done when the whole damned bill consists of nothing but deals; undo all of the deals and the bill vanishes. Even the number of those it will insure is a “deal.” There are more than 40 million uninsured, and the bill will insure 30 million of them through a deal that was made to arrive at that number. I wonder how the millions of people who will be left uninsured feel about that deal.

It should be pointed out that the bill does not "insure 30 million people." It gives those people the chance to buy insurance with money that they do not have because they have no jobs and their unemployment has run out.

Pass the damned dirty bill, but don’t expect applause from me.

Aftermath is Irrelevant

The US is celebrating democratic elections in Iraq this week, bringing back the discussion of the “achievement of victory” in that country and the discussion of the worthiness, or lack thereof, of the war. The elections are pointed to as justification of our actions and the idea that we have been “spreading democracy,” even if that wasn’t the initial reason for the invasion.

None of that matters, because one central fact remains; we committed a war of aggression. We invaded and destroyed a nation that was not a threat to us. What we do after that does not alter that central fact, and in such a war there can be no victory.

If you burn down a house you cannot say that it “turned out well” because you killed some termites; the fact remains that you burned down a house.

We did not do and are not doing any kind of “good thing” in Iraq. We invaded, destroyed and killed for no valid reason. Nothing can change that. We cannot undo that. We can atone for that, but we cannot do so with an army of occupation.

This is not about sack-cloth and ashes; not about guilt. This is about letting go of self-righteousness and self-justification. One need not say that what we did was wrong if it is too hard to do so, but it is unseemly as hell to stand on a pile of rubble waving a flag and proclaim what a favor we have done for those who are buried beneath it.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Liars Calling Liars Liars

I was thrilled when MSNBC gave Rachel Maddow her own show, until I watched it a few times. I found her endless giggling and snark became tiresome rather quickly; she is not nearly as funny as she thinks she is. More to the point, I find that dishonest partisan quackery annoys me just as badly coming from my side of the aisle as it does coming from the other.

A prime example came last Friday night, in a segment I watched because I was referred in much the same way as the TNR article I wrote about earlier today. Again, I watched her so that you don’t have to (it’s about 5 minutes in), and you can read the discussion in greater detail at Bob Somerby’s place. First what Orrin Hatch actually said last September,

For instance, he was saying, basically, that they're going to have a public plan, one form or another, that they're going to have an employer mandate, and see, I have a lot of problems with that because with an employer mandate, the employers are penalized if they don't provide health insurance. Guess who is going to get hurt the worst? It's going to be the low-income employees that are either going to be cut back on their salaries, lose their jobs or the companies are going to go overseas.

And then he says we're going to have an individual mandate. He said there would be no tax increases. Give me a break! Families earning $66,000 a year, if they don't have health care, they're going to get assessed $3800. That's a tax whether you like it or not. And you can go on and on, you know, he's not going to—they're going to move people into Medicaid. One of the big goals of the Democrats, at least in all the bills that I've seen so far is to move as many people into Medicaid as they possibly can and thus go towards a single-payer system that way.

And look, Medicare, you know, they're not going to do anything to hurt Medicare? My gosh, they're going to take $130 billion out of Medicare Advantage, which most seniors really like, especially in the rural areas. And there's only one reason they're doing that in my opinion and that's because they consider it a Republican part of the original Medicare Modernization Act.

Well, these are taxes. These are more burdensome rules. The expenses are going to be high. They've said, you know, he said last night that it's going to be less than $1 trillion. Well, they don't even count the first three years, up to four years up to 2013. So it's really not a ten year score when you come to $880 billion or $1 trillion. It's really $1.5 (trillion) to $2.5 trillion, no matter which way you look at it if you use a full ten-year score without deleting the first three or four years.

He had a lot of problems with the proposal, didn’t he? Maddow on Friday,

Maddow: Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah also appears to be unembarrassed about his own inexplicable self-negating pronouncements on health reform. Back in September of last year, when pretending to want some kind of health reform was still OK for Republicans, Senator Hatch appeared on Andrea Mitchell’s show and agreed with President Obama’s assessment that Democrats and Republicans were, in fact, in agreement on 80 percent of the health reform proposals that were on the table:

Hatch (videotape): He made the point that about 80 percent of what they’re talking about we probably could agree on. But it’s the 20 percent where all the money is [chuckling] where we have a lot of disagreements. For instance, he was saying, basically, that they’re going to have a public plan, one form or another, that they’re going to have an employer mandate—

Maddow: OK, fast forward to this week. Now that the Democrats have compromised substantially on that pesky 20 percent where the all-important disagreement was, according to Orrin Hatch; now that the president’s plan doesn’t even include a public option and there is no employer mandate, which are the two things that Senator Hatch was complaining about in that problematic 20 percent; now that that’s all been resolved, presumably to Senator Hatch’s satisfaction since those are the things he said he didn’t want…

Even disregarding the issue that the plan does actually penalize employers who don’t provide health insurance to their employees, making her claim that “there is no employer mandate” a bit questionable, Hatch had a long list of objections and she is questioning why, since two of them have been dealt with, he is not on board with the reform bill.

In general, like Bob Somerby, I believe that my ideas should be sold on their merits and not by merely criticizing my opponents; but if my side is going to criticize I at least want the criticism to have some semblance of honesty. When my side is accusing the other side of lying, and are themselves lying in the process, what chance is there for any kind of desirable outcome?

Verdict On Iraq

I seldom read The New Republic, only when I’ve read references to an article and feel the need to go read the article itself. I usually feel the need for a shower afterwards, or at least washing my eyeballs out with soap, but before commenting on an article such journalistic integrity as I may pretend to have requires that I first actually read the damned thing. I read it, the saying goes, so that you don’t have to.

Anyway, one Marty Peretz, whom you don’t want to know anything about, wrote a piece in what would be called “that rag” if it were print medium rather than on the Internet titled, “Sorry, But The Verdict Is In On The Long American Excursion In Iraq. And It Is Favorable.” The article itself is as long-winded and execrable as the title. And by “Excursion,” of course, he means “War” or, perhaps, “Exercise in Death and Destruction.”

He does have some small reservation, "Of course, Iraq hasn’t turned out that well," in that, "Sunni jihadniks are still routinely murdering pious Shi’a on pilgrimage to Karbala." He finishes that little gem with, "Still..." letting the ellipsis indicate that he isn't going to let a minor detail like the routine murdering of "pious Shi’a" detract from his "favorable verdict" on the wonderous thing we have accomplished in Iraq.

Click here to read it, but don’t do so right after lunch. I usually link the post title in these cases, but… I mean, really, look at that damn title. Anyway, his lengthy screed can be summed up in three “especially compelling personal testimonies”; which I will summarize for you, following each of them with my thoughts on the validity of his horse manure analysis.

 The last “testimony,” which he discusses first for some reason and which might reveal the validity of his logical thinking ability, comes from none other than Gordon Brown, who visited Iraq and says to this day that we did a good thing for the right reason. Brown even says so, Peretz points out, in nothing less than the New York Times.

Well, la di da. George Bush, and Dick Cheney along with his lovely daughter also say we did the right thing for the right reasons, and they say it in the New York Times, too. It doesn’t seem to occur to the illustrious Peretz that there might be some ass covering going on here, including by the New York Times.

I’d like to point out that Scott Roeder, the guy who murdered George Tiller while he was praying in church, also maintains that he did the right thing for the right reason. I do believe his ass is rotting in prison at the moment.

 The second “testimony” comes from Tom Ricks who wrote a book entitled Fiasco about how badly we bungled the invasion of Iraq. The book made a hero out of Tommy Franks and, especially, David Petraeus, and he has been close buddies with Army high command ever since, so those of us with functional brains take his pronouncements with a grain of salt. Peretz, of course, does not fall into that category so… Tom Ricks says that we need to keep between 30,000 and 50,000 troops in Iraq for many years.

Anyone with an IQ higher than room temperature would see that as definitive proof that invading Iraq was a boneheaded idea of the first water so, of course, Peretz cites it as proof that the invasion was a good idea.

Unless there is something about tying up a significant portion of our fighting forces and spending billions of dollars in ways that contribute nothing whatever to the American people that is beneficial in a way that I have missed. Ricks is having fun over there and making a lot of money, so maybe he thinks that all of our “troops” are doing so as well.

 The third “testimony” is a bit vague, but boils down to “we got rid of the Ba’ath party,” much the way we got rid of the Nazis after World War Two.

Here we go with the Nazis again, the right loves to talk about the Nazis, but we did not face the kind of ethnic and religious divisions in Germany that exist in Iraq, and people who have lived and worked in Iraq are considerably less than sanguine about the prospects for peaceful government in that nation; witness Ricks saying we need thousands of troops there for many years to prevent civil war. So much for the wonderful government we installed. Daniel Larison phrased it very well when he said,

I suppose there is some kind of brutish justice to having the oppressed assume the role of the oppressors, but it is hardly noble.

Yeah, for me at the very best the verdict on Iraq just might boil down to “brutish justice.” It certainly would not be anything like “favorable.”

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Debt Is Never Cheap

Paul Krugman is back at work reassuring the public that limitless debt is perfectly okay in his blog post Friday. We can, he says run up debt pretty much forever because even long-term interest rates are currently very low, and paying the interest on the debt will cost us very little. His assurance is based on the cost of those loans being only in payment of interest, and that the principle needs not ever be repaid.

But, he's talking about bonds, and they mature after a certain number of years, at which point we have to give the money back to the parties holding the bonds. That is not optional. No problem, we just sell more bonds. Great, and what is the interest rate at that point in time, Paul?

How did those low introductory "teaser" rate home mortgages work out, again? What happened after the initial period of low payments of interest only at a low interest rate, when the interest was adjusted upwards? Oh, right, the grits hit the fan.

There is no free lunch, whatever Paul Krugman believes.

Another "Evil Insurance" Meme

There was a column in the New York Times yesterday that at least one blogger supporting “health care reform” is quoting to support his position the health insurance companies are evil. The first caution is to remind him that this is the same paper that carries columns by Frank Rich, and which screamed warnings at us about the dire danger of WMD’s in Iraq. But to demonstrate a few examples of the incoherence of the column that is being used as “proof” that insurance companies are the problem:

To bolster the case for a far-reaching overhaul of the health care system, the Obama administration is seizing on a new analysis by Goldman Sachs, the New York investment bank, recommending that investors buy shares in two big insurance companies, the UnitedHealth Group and Cigna, because insurance rates are up sharply and competition is down.

Any broker who gave those reason for buying should be fired, and any buyer who bought for those reasons deserves to lose his money. How are the profits for those companies? According to their filings, UnitedHealth had an operating margin of 7.3% in 2009 and a net margin of 4.3%, which would indicate something less than a monopoly.

And officials will point to a finding that rate increases ran as high as 50 percent, with most in “the low- to mid-teens” — far higher than overall inflation.

Cherry pick a few 45%-50% raises, and admit that most are in the 15% range while phrasing it to hide that fact. And companies don’t base their prices on inflation, they base them on their actual costs, the ones they are actually paying. More on that in a moment.

The analysis could be a powerful weapon for the White House because it offers evidence that an overhaul of the health care system is needed not only to help cover the millions of uninsured but to prevent soaring health care expenses from undermining the coverage that the majority of Americans already have through employers.

But, of course, this bill is not “an overhaul of the health care system” at all. It does not affect hospital pricing or sale of medications; in fact it specifically omits anything that affects those costs to the medical consumer. This paragraph also talks about preventing “soaring health care expenses from undermining the coverage,” coverage being health insurance, which this bill does not make any serious effort to do. How does one use that to paint insurance companies as evil?

In the call, Mr. Lewis noted that “price competition is down from a year ago” and explained that his clients — mostly midsize employers seeking to buy health coverage for their employees — were facing a tough market, in which insurance carriers are increasingly willing to abandon existing customers to improve their profit margins.

[emphasis mine] His statement is certainly colorful; but it’s more inflammatory than informative. If you are losing money and seeking to reverse that into profitability then you are “seeking to improve your profit margins.” His statement would mean more if he would state what the margins are which they are seeking. In fact, they are seeking 7%, which is their historic average and which they have sunk below due to rising health care costs which they pay to hospitals and drug companies.

And they are not “walking away from customers.” They recognize that, in raising prices they will lose a certain amount of business, but they are unwilling to keep business which is not profitable. Hardly unreasonable, since they are a “for profit” corporation.

The problem is both with the journalist who writes drivel like this, making statements which are vague, uninformative or just plain inflammatory, and with the enthusiast who reads the piece through the lens of his ideology and believes that it proves his point, and then uses its misleading statements in support of a flawed argument like, “Health care costs too much so we need to cut the cost of insurance.”

Much like, "Cars cost too much, so we need more and smoother roads."

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Students Protest

Thousands of students marched throughout California Thursday to protest cuts in student programs and increases in fees, steps made necessary by reductions in funding from the state. My reaction is to put that in the “you have to be kidding me” department.

The elderly are having medical programs slashed, food programs for the needy are being cut, cities are laying off firefighters and policemen, unemployment just went up last month to 12.5% in this state, and these babies are upset because they can’t get the class that they want at the hour that they want it. There are young people rooting through garbage dumpsters for food, right here in this land of plenty, and these spoiled brats are holding marches in protest because student union fees were increased.

People who have paid taxes all their lives are having benefit programs cut, and they bear the loss with good grace because they know that hard times demand sacrifice. People who are paying taxes now bear the reduction of social programs and services because they understand that those things cost money that the state government does not have. But these pampered children, who have never paid a dollar of tax in their lives, are upset because their precious “higher education” entitlement is being reduced.

It’s a good thing that these idiots didn’t bring their ridiculous march down my street, or I might have started a riot. And I take great pride in having voiced this without one single unprintable word. It was not easy.