Friday, April 30, 2010

Democratic Military

I’ll tell you what, the military has sure changed since I served in the 1960’s. Back then we would have been utterly confounded by a statement from the Secretary of Defense, as quoted in the LA Times, that something would,

"…send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns, and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families."

I can just see it now. We are in North Atlantic, off the north coast of Russia, and are spotted by a Soviet aircraft. Before diving the boat the Captain decides that he needs to obtain the “views, concerns, and perspectives” of the crew on whether or not we should pull the cork. I think not.

Back then we had a “chain of command” not a “chain of suggestion.”

Make Our Points With Truth

Keith Olbermann is doing the same kind of hatchet job on oil companies now that he has been doing on insurance companies for the past year, and is showing the same casual disregard for the truth in this war on capitalism as he has shown in the previous one. I have no burning desire to defend either industry, but I dislike the use of such blatant dishonesty in the name of liberalism. Case in point is his segment last night on the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico,

Joe Romm, Thanks for having me, Keith.

Olbermann: BP originally said it could handle a spill by itself. It originally said it would just be 1,000 barrels a day. How has that affected this whole thing, what they said?

Romm: Yeah, well BP gave us—you know, they said trust us. And they said—they gave us a low ball estimate for the spill rate, and left everyone with the impression they could take care of it themselves. I think, thankfully, the Obama administration didn‘t trust them. NOAA did their own calculation and realized that this spill rate was five times what BP said. It‘s 200,000 gallons a day.

And so Obama declared all hands on deck. And he sent out the Coast Guard, EPA and Interior. But I think BP‘s initial reaction has been—has made this mess a lot tougher to clean up.

Olbermann: The—the cause of the explosion is yet to be determined. The cause of the safety valve not engaging fully yet to be determined. But does that mean it‘s too early to determine whether or not regulation was an issue here?

Romm: Well, you know, you had the quote from Palin, everyone said this is clean, this is safe. The fact of the matter is that BP was not using the latest technology. Brazil requires this backup cutoff switch that BP was not using.

There are many legitimate criticisms that can be made of BP and its history with regard to cost cutting and safety, and in fact that was the subject of the very first post that I wrote on this blog several years ago. It was the oil spill from a ruptured BP pipeline in Alaska and my outrage over the disclosure of BP’s costcutting on maintenance which led to that rupture which, in part, caused me to become a blogger.

To spread distortions and untruths about BP reacting to a sunken oil rig with indifference is unnecessary, and that kind of distortion weakens the impact of the truthful criticisms that can be leveled against what is actually a horrible company.

The original estimate of 1000 barrels per day came from the Coast Guard, not from BP, and the Coast Guard was on station immediately, not in response to any order from Obama “only after BP had failed to solve the problem.” I would like to see the reporting where BP said that they could handle the problem themselves and declined any help, because I have been following this story very closely and have not seen any such thing.

To claim that "BP‘s initial reaction has been—has made this mess a lot tougher to clean up" is utterly absurd, and this is the only place that I have heard this ridiculous claim made.

The “backup cutoff switch” which Brazil requires is a bit misleading. What he is talking about is an acoustic activation device for the wellhead cutoff device, which serves as the fourth backup if the first three methods for shutting the cutoff fail. While Brazil does require it, it might be useful to know that no other oil-producing nation does, and that it is not altogether reliable and has a nasty habit of shutting the cutoff during normal operation, which is not only costly but itself has the potential for causing harm.

I don’t recall the precise years, but BP experienced a severe refinery fire which caused numerous deaths and resulted in criminal charges for negligence in their maintenance and safety procedures in the plant. They were hit with criminal charges for the neglect in maintenance procedures leading to the pipeline rupture and oil spill in Alaska. It is by no means unreasonable to assume that the operation of this oil platform may have placed cost and speed above safety to personnel and the environment, but that needs to wait for investigation and the ability to make charges based on actual discovered facts.

Let the other side use their “death panel” slogans and fight their battles with slander and dishonesty. We are the good guys. We fight our battles with the truth.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arizona's New Law

I’m finally going to have to comment on the Arizona law, I guess, not in support of it but in response to the worst of the hyperbole regarding it. Hardball has a graphic which they use every time it is the topic which is particularly horrible, a group of jackbooted soldiers carrying weapons, who look suspiciously like Hitlerian storm troopers. Chris Matthews keeps talking about “women and children on their way to Sunday school” being stopped simply because they are Hispanic.

The law does not call for, or even permit, anyone to be stopped merely for the purpose of investigating the legality of their presence in this country. It merely says that such legality may be questioned “upon reasonable suspicion” if they are stopped for any other lawful reason. The phrase “reasonable suspicion” is not unique to this law, it exists in many laws in Arizona and throughout the nation, and has been found to be permissible. This law says specifically that ethnic origin may not be used as the basis for that reasonable suspicion.

Of course Olbermann, Mathews and such ignore all of this and refer to the law as the “racial profiling law” or, in Olbermann’s case, the “death panel” law. By all means, let’s not allow facts to get in the way of our hysteria.

Another alarmist feature of the law seem to be that it treads on grounds reserved to federal jurisdiction. That strikes me as somewhat laughable in the face of the federal government mandating state highway speed laws and issuing dozens of spending mandates for individual states. In any case, the federal government has abdicated this area of it’s responsibility for decades, and if it is unwilling to fulfill its responsibility then it has little room to complain when the states step up to protect themselves.

That is not to say that I support this law. I most emphatically do not. It certainly does open the door to abuse that can lead to ethnic tensions. It injects local law agencies into an additional realm of enforcement that adds to an already heavy burden and strains budgets that are already at breaking point. It has significant potential to create friction between federal and local law enforcement agencies.

But using hysteria to argue against it is hardly useful.

Nice Finish

Jimmie Johnson is the celebrated racer from El Cajon, but he never raced here, he came up in national Motocross, which is motorcycles. There is another local guy who is far more deserving of recognition, a kid named Johnny Borneman III. He has raced stock cars locally since he was a little kid, and he is the third generation to do so. Both generations before him won championships at El Cajon Speedway, and I used to watch his father race there before it closed some years back.

Johnny ran at Talledega last weekend in the Nationwide Series race, and Bill Center has the story in today’s San Diego Union-Tribune. It’s quite a heartwarming story. Go read it but, long story short, he finished fifth despite not having enough money to afford a full pit crew. Helluva job.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Criminal Cooking

burger?You can click on the picture for the full recipe, it’s at Paula’s Home Cooking and she calls it "The Lady's Brunch Burger," but I strongly suggest that you don’t do that. It’s basically a hamburger with bacon and egg, using a Krispy Kreme donut as a bun. Actually, if she’d used a patty sausage instead I might be on board.

Paula is reputed to be a Southern Cooking guru, but the above treasure is Southern only to the extent that Krispy Kreme began in Winston-Salem NC. Betraying her lack of any kind of cooking credentials is this in the recipe,

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

My grandmother rose up out of her grave and smacked me on the head merely for reading that heresy. I heard a clatter in the kitchen, and went in to discover my skillet trying to jump off of the stove.

Anyone who puts non-stick cooking spray on a perfectly good cast iron skillet has no claim to being any kind of cook or any kind of Southern anything. Such a person not only should not be allowed to publish recipes, they should not be allowed to use recipes. They should not be allowed to cook, and I’m not sure they should be allowed to eat.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Leading the Parade (updated)

There are two basic kinds of leader; there is the kind motivated by his own internals who charges ahead and expects everyone to follow, and the kind who looks for a parade to get in front of. I call the first the “Light Brigade” type; “Into the Valley of Death rode the six hundred.”

Barack Obama is the second type, and that is not intended as an insult; it takes courage to get in front of a parade, and it requires leadership to keep a parade organized, moving and going in the right direction. This is the only kind of leader who can get elected in today's political climate, and it is the kind of leader who wins for this nation in the long haul. He doesn’t lead us into the “Valley of Death,” he leads us where we want to go.

The problem with our government does not lie in Washington, and the failure to achieve change is not on Obama himself. Here’s the failure:

We the people are not providing the parade.

Barack Obama told us that in his campaign. “I am not going to change Washington,” he said to us repeatedly. “You are going to change Washington and I am merely going to be your agent.” Again and again he warned us that change would mean work. “If you are ready to go to work
for change,”
he said, “then vote for me.”

We voted for him, and now we are sitting on our hands. That was not the deal; that was not what he promised. Obama made the promise to close Guantanamo, he ordered the closing of Guantanamo and he is being obstructed in that objective. He is not fighting the Republicans on that obstruction or on others; that is not his job, that is our job. He did his part, and we are not doing our part.

If we want these policies implemented then it is our job to remove the blockage. If those who we elected are not governing in accordance with the will of the voter, then it is not Obama’s responsibility to change that governance. It is the voters’ responsibility to either change the way the legislators do their job, or elect new legislators who will be more responsive.

We demand change, and then we keep electing the same people. After 29 years in the Senate as a Republican, a man decides he cannot get reelected in that party, switches parties and is now favored to be reelected to the Senate as a Democrat. Can anything more clearly illustrate the total dysfunctionality of the electorate of this nation?

Insanity; doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Update: Wed, 10:00am in response to a comment.

"Voters have rights. But politicians need to heed the will of voters as well."

Let me see if I can make my point a little more clearly; when they do not heed the will of the voters we need to vote them out, and we do not. We reelect them and complain that "Washington is broken." Voters need to be more concerned about their responsibilities and less concerned about their rights. Politicians have absolutely no need to heed the will of the voters unless the voters express that will and hold the politicians accountable, which they have not done for decades.

I read a day or so ago of a 51-year-old woman in Washington state who, by her own statement, has never been engaged or interested in politics until Sarah Palin came along. Palin captured and excited her, and now she is an activist. This woman has been voting for 33 years with a degree of interest that could only be stimulated by the likes of Sarah Palin, but it is Washington the city that is supposedly broken, not Washington the state.

There is absolutely no logic why a Republican should be leading in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary election based on campaign ads claiming falsely that Joe Sestak was "relieved of command" as a three-star Navy Admiral. But he is because Obama and Biden are endorsing that Republican, and the voters are following like sheep. But it is supposedly not the voters that are causing democracy to fail, it is Washington.

The "political elite class" can remain in power only if the electorate massively fails in its responsibility to use its franchise intelligently, which it is doing and has been doing for many years. The failure of democracy is squarely on the shoulders of millions of voters, who honk endlessly about their damned "rights" and overwhelmingly ignore their responsibilities.

Arizona Hyperbole

I have been away from Arizona for some years, so the nature of the state and its people may, may have changed radically since I left there. I have not, of course, read the law in question but from listening to discussions of it on cable and reading same in the blogosphere, I can tell you there is one whole hell of a lot of hyperventilating going on that is pure hyperbole.

I do not for one minute believe that Arizona law enforcement is going to start wearing jackboots and brown shirts. I do not believe that the law was written for the express purpose of racial profiling, nor that women and children "on their way to Sunday School" will be stopped and required to show papers.

I do not think this is a good law, and I do not support it at all, but all of this hysterical screaming and yelling is not helping matters.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Economic Hyperbole

There is a good bit worth pondering in an article today in the Wall Street Journal, an article seemingly filled with enthusiasm over a recovering economy and troubled only about a government which might interfere with that recovery by regulating it to death.

First is the thrilling data about Caterpillar, all about its improvement in profits in the first quarter of this year and the effect of that news on the stock market. Not mentioned is that Caterpillar’s revenue decreased 11% in that same quarter; they made more profit while selling fewer engines and less equipment. Their profit improvement was due to cost cutting, which is rather an old story. How, precisely, does that signal a recovering economy?

The article then goes on to describe increased manufacturing in Texas, Whirlpool seeing increased revenue in consumer appliances, and Alcoa improving as metals futures prices rose, all of which actually are signals of an improving economy. First it indulges in hyperbole about profits from diminished sales, and then it just sort of brushes by actual improvements with a casual mention.

The caution it sounds is that Wall Street is concerned about the regulation of derivatives. Apparently the economy of making things, producing actual goods and people buying real tangible products could be unraveled by government regulation of the trading of pieces of paper which provide high profits for the traders on Wall Street.

I’m certainly glad that we’ve been warned of that impending doom.

Epistemic Closure

It's the latest rage among us liberal bloggers, so I have to write a post on it so that I can be part of the throng. The "other guys," the conservatives and the Conservatives (big C and little c), do it and we liberals don't, so it seems that it is a bad thing. The effect that it has on them is uncertain. I have read that it makes them stupid; I have also read that it is the result of stupidity. Since I have not done it, I remain open as to its effect. Or its cause.

As for me, I'm not sure I want to know what my epistemic is.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Space Is Not Empty

The Hubble Telescope cannot really be twenty years old. Can it?

Emergency Management

I often watch the afternoon court television shows. I know, it drives my wife nuts, but they come on at a time of day when I am usually tiring and in need of a break and, frankly, I enjoy them. Anyway, once in a while the battle is over the division of funds received from FEMA following Katrina or some other disaster.

I’m getting a picture of FEMA that is a very mixed bag. News media tells of FEMA that is missing in action; people unable to get compensation, and credit cards being used by government employees instead of victims. Then there are the idiots on these daytime court television shows.

One couple had lived in a one-bedroom apartment, moved to another city and received $24,000 for “housing allowance.” Another person had an eight-year-old car that, being as it was paid off, was insured only as to liability and received $8000 compensation for its loss.

Given that private insurance companies are not writing flood insurance policies, I am quite comfortable with the government providing relief for people who lost their property in a flood. I am entirely comfortable with the government providing temporary housing for people who have lost their homes to any natural cause beyond their reasonable control.

But a $24,000 “housing allowance” to someone who had been living in a rented one-bedroom apartment? Replacing an automobile for someone who had made a decision not to insure it?

Another hurricane season is nearly here; is there more of this kind of blend between tight-fistedness and money-throwing carelessness in front of us?

We need, are entitled, to better emergency management than that.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Silk Oak Time

Silk OakSouthern California is famous for the purple of its Jacaranda trees, which bloom in May and/or June, but what's blooming now are the Silk Oaks. Most do not bloom quite as spectacularly as this one (click on it to biggen the view), but even with fewer blooms they are eyecatching. Do not even think of planting one in your lawn though; at best they are messy buggers, and if overwatered by even one drop they will shed leaves all year as if they had some ghastly autoimmune disease.

Meanwhile, after a just couple days of sun, we are being told another system will keep us wet for four days or so.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Horses and Barn Doors

Well, the “health care reform” is certainly working out well. Congress is worried that with all of the reforms requiring more payments by insurers insurance premiums are going to rise (now is a really good time to think about that, isn’t it), so they are considering legislation to regulate premiums. Where have we heard this before?

Well, one place we heard it was during the Nixon Administration. He didn’t like rising prices so he tried imposing price controls. That, of course, led to massive shortages and rationing. Who could have predicted that if producers could not sell their goods at a profit they would stop producing their goods?

More recently we have seen it in Massachusetts and, amazingly, specifically with respect to health insurance. That state implemented a “health care” plan that is remarkably similar to the one just passed by the U.S. Congress and their legislature has been horrified to find that, as insurance companies have paid out more and more to cover medical bills, they have raised premiums for health insurance. That, of course, was not predicted so their legislature did what the U.S. Congress is now doing, imposed legislation to reject premium increases. The result was entirely predictable to everyone except the Massachusetts legislature; insurance companies stopped issuing new policies.

Just as no one in the Nixon era predicted that producers would not sell their goods at a loss, no one in this era has been able to predict that insurance companies will not sell policies at a loss. We have some real geniuses in our legislative bodies.

Of course, some of our columnists are not all that bright either, as the old business about health care costs and consumer payments keeps cropping up. From Becker and Posner we get the old argument that the reason this country spends so much on health care is that the consumer pays too small a portion of the cost; that if the consumer had to pay more out-of-pocket he would be more aware of the cost and would not demand as much in the way of medical care services.

Yeah, right; rectal exams are free, so I want two of them.

The most important needed reform is an increase the fraction of total medical costs that come from out-of pocket expenses in the form of large deductibles and significant co-payments. Out-of-pocket spending accounts for only about 12% of total American spending on healthcare, whereas the share of out-of–pocket spending is over 30% in Switzerland, a country considered to have one of the better health delivery systems.

I’m not sure how they argue that if a family cannot afford the $1800 annual cost of health insurance they will be better off paying 40% of the $30,000 hospital bill to repair a broken femur.

If their theory were true, then health care spending in France would be far higher than ours, since the consumer portion of the cost is precisely zero, but it is actually about one-third of what we spend. Canadian out-of-pocket is zero, and they spend far less than we do. British contribute zero, and spend less. Japanese out-of-pocket is zero and they spend about one-third. And all of them get better results than our system does.

We keep trying to drive down cost by arguing about who will pay.

Think, for a moment, about how truely absurd that actually is. If a bunch of us go to lunch at the Waldorf, are we going to make the total cost of that lunch cheaper by splitting the bill? Will it be cheaper if Bill pays the tab rather than if Tom does? Will it cost more if I write a check than if I pay by cash? Might it have been cheaper if Jack had worn a blue shirt rather than that awful red thing?

That the Waldorf charges outrageous prices never enters the conversation.

Killer Lines

Sometimes Obama cracks me up, usually when he is not actually joking,

"Another thing this bill does not do," he said to the Wall Street crowd, "is provide for endless taxpayer-funded bailouts. That makes for a nice sound bite, but it's not factually accurate. It's not true."

I love that, "it's not factually accurate," especially delivered with that lazy little half smile that he is so good at.

That "thud" you hear is Republicans dropping like flies.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Still Shaking

And actually moving North. After the 7.2 magnitude quake on April 4th, which was some 30 miles South of the border, aftershocks are still ongoing and some can be felt here; including today a 4.6 at 7:22am and a 4.7 at 10:12am, both of which were on the same fault line and right on the border. Hmmm.

Loans and Ownership

GM announced that it is “paying off” its government debt of $8 billion, and is doing so five years ahead of schedule. Obama said something the other day to the effect of, “Ha ha, I told you so. We have our money back. This is a good deal for the taxpayers.”

Well, no; we actually lent GM some $52 billion in that infamous bailout.

So what happened to the other $44 billion you ask? It’s called bankruptcy. It’s complicated, but the GM we lent the money to is sort of an empty holding company selling off junk that isn’t worth anything, and the GM that paid back $8 billion is a new company with the same name. The missing $44 billion was converted to ownership (stock) in the new GM.

One thing the new GM had to keep was the union pensions, and those are underfunded by some $27 billion. At least $12 billion will have to be put into them in about four years or so, a problem that the new GM is ignoring in the hopes that it will go away.

The new GM is also operating at losses nearly as great as the old one was, so instead of our $43 billion loan back, taxpayers get 61% ownership in a money-losing manufacturing company.

And as Paul Harvey used to say, "Now you know the rest of the story."

Bartering for Health Care

In all of the brouhaha about the Nevada candidate suggesting bartering for health care as a policy, "bring your doctor a chicken," no one has pointed out that organized barter systems can be illegal. They circumvent income taxes and the IRS can jump down your throat, figuratively speaking of course, for participating in them.

Inquiring minds want to know; is Lowden suggesting income tax evasion?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Remaining Engaged

I am finding it more and more difficult to stay connected to the political environment these days. It’s not that I don’t care, or that I am blissfully happy now that Obama is in office, obviously such is not the case. It’s that the political conversation has taken such a turn toward the inane and meaningless that it is difficult to remain engaged in it.

I don’t care about the “Tea Party” that the media and Internet is so fascinated by. I see them as a noisy minority of angry people, no two of whom are angry about the same thing. They cannot agree sufficiently with each other, let alone get affiliated with anyone outside of themselves, to accomplish anything that means anything.

I’m not interested in gloating and crowing about how self destructive the Republican party has become, nor in discussing the scope or meaning of its current “purge” of membership. It is out of power and will remain out of power until it can develop a coherent message on which to run.

Unlike Chris Matthews, I am neither surprised nor confused by politicians “pandering to their base” at the moment. He wonders why they are doing that when it will not win for them in a general election, apparently unaware that they are currently running in primary elections which they must survive before they can even think about the general election. Pandering to the base is exactly what they must do to win in the primary, and it rather astonishes me that he does not know that.

Of course “Chris Matthews is an Idiot” is a title I use frequently.

If you aren’t interested in the Tea Parties or flogging the Republications, the only thing left being discussed is who will win in November and a) I’m perfectly willing to wait and see who wins and b) I recognize that it doesn’t matter in the least who wins.

Remember the election of 2006, when Democrats won both houses of Congress and everything was going to change? We were at long last going to bring to an end the horror of the endless war in Iraq, right? We got the “surge” of 2007; acquiesced to and funded by a Democratic Congress.

The Democrats brought us “health care reform” did they? They provided health insurance for William Mann of Pittsburgh, for which the government pays $2756 while he must contribute $1845 per year. He says he cannot afford that and will pay the smaller fine.

“I just can’t put that kind of money out for a ‘maybe’ — maybe I’ll get sick and use it,” said Mr. Mann, who makes just over $25,000 a year as an administrative assistant at a small wine distribution company. “That’s a lot of money. The people who make all these decisions don’t live like the way I do,” Mr. Mann added, echoing other uninsured people in his income group. “They don’t live like the rest of us.”

Whether the elite governing class labels itself Democrat or Republican is a matter of little moment. They don’t live like the rest of us.

Supernatural Squared

I normally ignore Glenn Beck, as I do Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person" nonsense. Last night, however, the whole thing reached a new level of absurdity on the first person's part, and of obtuseness on the second's.

Olbermann aired a clip of Beck speaking on radio of hearing a voice from God, and Beck repeatedly spoke of saying that "I almost said" this and that to his associate, Bob. He even went to far at one point as to say, "I didn't speak because I didn't want to say something like this without thinking it through," and then describing what he didn't say to his associate.

Olbermann fails to observe that Beck goes on to describe ensuing events unfolding as if Bob had heard and acted upon what Beck didn't say, so we have not one but two supernatural events going on there.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dumb and Dumber

The first segment on Hardball last night had to do with a march in Washington, and I really think Chris Matthews needs to rename his show Goofball if he’s going to keep up with this sort of thing. The promo at MSNBC says that “A Hardball panel talks about the effect of pro-gun rallies on anti-government sentiment around the country.” If that’s what they were talking about, you could not have proved it by me.

The “panel” was, in addition the ineffable Chris Matthews himself, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America and Skip Coryell, founder of the 2nd Amendment March. A.K.A. Larry, Curly and Moe.

Chris asked Skip what rights were being denied to him at the moment, and Skip said that normally he would be carrying a sidearm but that he was presently on the Washington Mall and was not being allowed to carry. I thought that was actually a pretty decent answer, and he delivered it in a very civil tone, but things went sharply downhill from there. Chris immediately started yelling at him about how big of a firearm did he think he should be allowed to carry in this country; did he think he should be allowed to carry a bazooka for self defense? Skip asked him what he was talking about and said that he wanted to carry a pistol, and Chris seemed highly offended by that for some reason which he never made clear.

Needless to say, I clarified that conversation considerably here by condensing it. There were no complete sentences in it, and every time Skip tried to answer Chris shouted him down, repeating and amplifying his question about bazookas.

Meanwhile in the background Larry was running on about how everyone, throughout history and in present time, was and is a socialist, including Chris Matthews himself. He did admit to uncertainty as to the politics of
J. Edgar Hoover, who entered the conversation by means of confusion between him and a president of the same last name, which might give you an idea of how clear that part of the segment was.

The segment was rather fun, but certainly lacking in clarity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Feline Thermodynamics



Obama has been touring the country, off and on, selling his "health care reform" package, asking the Republicans where the apocalypse is and saying that, "The Earth hasn't opened up."

Um, he might want to check out Iceland.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Update This!

Do you get as tired as I do of some damned thing or another announcing on your computer that it needs to be updated? I am 67 years old, for heaven's sake, what do I care about being up to freaking date? If I could buy a computer that would still run it, I would still be using MSDOS 3.11.

Option to Death Penalty

I have long had profound misgivings regarding the death penalty. I don’t argue against it on moral grounds since I do not believe that arguments regarding laws should be made, pro or con, on a moral or religious basis. Laws are (or should be) made only for the purpose of maintaining an orderly and safe community, and arguments regarding their implementation should be limited to that realm.

The imperfection of the application of the death penalty is a powerful argument against it for me, as is the risk of putting to death an innocent man, but in a more general sense the death penalty seems just basically uncivilized. Then, however, someone comes along who is so fundamentally evil and commits crimes which are so horrendous that extermination of that creature seems like a perfectly reasonable act.

Yesterday in San Diego, a guy named John Gardner confessed to raping and murdering three young women, girls, and will be sent to prison for life without possibility of parole. The city will be spared the cost of a lengthy trial by this plea bargain, which was agreed upon in lieu of pursuit of the death penalty, and the families will be able to put their daughters to rest. Without the plea deal, he might have escaped conviction for at least one of the crimes, for which there was no solid evidence other than his confession.

So maybe this is a good reason for the death penalty; having it in place to use as a bargaining tool.

Advertising and Elections

I found this comment on another blog, and I quote it not because it is rare, but because the sentiment which it expresses is so profoundly common, not in what the Court wished to do, but in what it actually did,

I would understand that the Supreme Court did not wish to turn control of elections over to domestic and foreign corporations. But they did.

So in this person’s view, the American is a helpless unthinking automaton, who cannot decide for himself how to vote, but rather must mindlessly cast his vote for whatever candidate has received the highest volume of advertising paid for by the powerful "domestic and foreign corporations."

The voter can only vote based on the sheer number of advertisements to which he is exposed, because he is incapable of actually watching those advertisements in terms of content and making decisions based on the content of the advertisement rather than on the sheer volume of them. The voter is incapable of deciding for himself whether or not the advertisements represent truth, whether or not the ideas presented in them are in his best interest, or whether or not the policies advocated by them are policies he particularly wishes to espouse.

If the voter is exposed to 3000 advertisements for candidate Alpha, and only 2000 advertisements for candidate Bravo, then the content of those 5000 advertisements is irrelevant; the voter must vote for Alpha because he has seen 1000 more advertisements for him than he has seen for Bravo.

This does not apply, of course, to party loyalists who will vote for their party’s candidate regardless of any amount of advertising; will do so even if that candidate is dead. That has happened, in fact; a person won a election in a “safe district” several weeks after he died. To complete the comedy, his wife claimed the right to serve in his place. A party loyalist will vote for a Poodle if it is labeled as a candidate of the party; no advertising required.

If those who believe that the Citizens United decision “turned control of elections over to corporations” are correct, then our democracy is so badly broken that it hardly matters what the Supreme Court decides regarding elections.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Meaning of Elections

Much is being made of whether the Democrats or Republicans are going the win the midterm elections, and what it will mean for the parties and for Obama in the event that whichever one wins wins. I maintain that it doesn't matter which one wins, and which ever one does win the win will be totally and completely misinterpreted.

I base that on a Congress liked by less than 20% of voters.

The "base" will vote for its own party, as it always has and always will. The base will vote for a dead man, and has literally done so; elected man to office after he was dead. The "base votes" mean nothing; these voters vote as their party leaders tell them to, based on slogans rather than issues.

Many independent voters will vote against the incumbent. That vote is always, always seen by the politicians as a vote in favor of the party currently out of power, and it is not; it favors nobody, is a vote against the status quo. That voter despises everybody and is simply voting to throw out the person who is in. Politicians simply cannot comprehend that and the winner says, "Thank you for voting for me."

If Democrats win in November it will be seen as validation, but it will actually only mean that the party has not been sufficiently repulsive to totally alienate the "base" and, to a larger degree, that their opposition was simply not capable of delivering a captivating message.

If Republicans win it will be see as a repudiation of Democratic Party principles and/or a validation of Republican ones, when in actuality it will reflect a desire to change the status quo and a rejection of corporatism and cronyism that rules our governing process today.

In neither case will it change Washington in any significant manner.

Standing Up(ish)

It's good to see President Obama standing up and calling out on the Tea Party/Republican/Conservative nonsense and slander. Apparently he has finally decided that he cannot charm them with his smile so he is going to bewitch them with his boot.

So he's doing things like the reconfiguring the manned space program, issuing executive orders regarding hospital visitation, telling the opposition to shut up about financial regulation because their crap is wrong... In short, being the left of center leader that we elected him to be. A couple of points.

I wish he would quit with this act he has on tax cuts.

"We cut taxes for this group, we cut taxes for that group." [applause] "We cut taxes uptown, we cut taxes downtown." [applause builds] "We cut taxes left, we cut taxes right, we cut taxes middle. In fact, we cut taxes for 95% of America." [thunderous applause]

The day before this he was blasting the Bush Administration for cutting taxes and digging us into the disastrous economy that he is having to rescue the nation from, and the next day he will be blasting the Bush Administration for... wait for it, yeah, the crime of cutting taxes.

At the same time that he's cutting taxes for everybody, he's "freezing spending" in a frenzy of fiscal sanity. What's frozen are mostly programs that help communities and common people; what's not frozen is spending on a war for which he cannot explain the reason or define victory.

So he is the second president to increase war and decrease the ability to pay for war, exactly what he freely criticizes his predecessor for doing.

He's madly selling "health care reform" after it has been signed into law, largely by telling people on Medicare that they will get a check for $250 this year to "fill a donut hole" that is $3700 wide.

After his "health care reform" success, his next big move is financial reform because, apparently, people are really mad at banks on Wall Street. Undoubtedly true, but polls have quit asking about people's priorities, because the polls kept revealing that the employment issue was first on the list, not health care or financial reform. Seems all the millions of jobless people don't have a lot of money in Wall Street banks. Fancy that.

So while "jobs" was the hoi polloi's first priority, Obama tackled "health care reform" and won big, but couldn't figure out why his and his party's popularity didn't soar. Now while "jobs" is still the hoi polloi's first priority, Obama is tackling financial regulation.

Meanwhile there were 16,000 new jobs last month, and 284,000 new claims for unemployment. And what is he actually doing about jobs?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Weapons of Ash Destruction

First Icelandic banks collapse, costing British investors something like $5 billion in losses, and now those cheeky Icelanders have the nerve to pop off a volcano and ground British air traffic. How terribly uncivilized of them.

The Christain Science Monitor headline reads, "Volcano in Iceland: Brits add it to their grievances toward Viking republic" (who knew that the Vikings came from Iceland), and the subhead is a real kick,

Still smarting from the Icelandic bank meltdown that parted many from their investments, Brits are none too happy about the salvo of volcanic ash that's grounded their air traffic.

As if that weren't enough, they go on to say,

Could the volcanic ash cloud currently paralyzing Britain's air traffic and exacting a heavy economic toll on the country be Iceland's latest strike in a curious and long-running spate of hostilities between the Viking republic and Her Majesty's Government?

Again with the Vikings but, really, anthropomorphizing a freaking volcano?

Not to mention that both events would be something on the order of a nation dropping a nuclear bomb on itself to piss off its neighbor with the fallout.

Obama on Manned Space

My initial reaction to early reports of Obama's plans for the space program were pretty negative but, unlike much of the blogosphere, I try to wait until he actually announces something before I pop off, and then I try to make it a response rather than a reaction. That tends to make me a little late to the party, but it sometimes saves me a bit of embarrassment.

Cancelling a return to the Moon turns out to be true, but put in the context of his larger plan I find that I rather like it. When you put in its place the idea of reaching for bigger and better things, that strikes me as a worthy goal. It got me rather excited. I'm reading some of the "Oh that is nonsense, we won't be able to do that," sort of thing, but many were saying that about our efforts to put men on the Moon. We did it, though.

I have to admit that privatizing ISS support to the tune of $6 billion strikes me as sort of a Republican horror, but I'm not sure what real choice he had. Think about it for a minute; if NASA could do it at all, could they do it in the time and price range he described?

And surely MSNBC pre-interviews their guests on Countdown. Who, last night, failed to realize that Buzz Aldrin has reached an age where his mind is not what it once was? That interview was embarrassing and painful, and Countdown should be ashamed. Age comes to us all and this fine man, this hero, should have been treated far more kindly than he was.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

San Diego Gets It Right

affordable towerWhat do you do if you are building a luxury condo tower in downtown San Diego and the market tanks? If you are KB Homes, you arrange for the city to take over the project, reconfigure the project and turn it into affordable housing. This is a remarkable example of cooperation between private and public enterprise that winds up benefiting everybody.

Multiple agencies cooperated in the project to provide something that is in short supply in this city; a decent place that working men and women can afford to live in the same neighborhood where they work. This tower sits right beside other downtown luxury condo towers, only those towers are significantly empty.

The Centre City Development Corp., which had approved design plans for the KB project, ultimately authorized a deferred, low-interest loan of $34 million, the largest one-time subsidy it has allocated for an affordable project. The CCDC loan, along with other state subsidies and contributions from tax-credit investors, allowed Affirmed to offer rents as low as $535 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

Not only is affordable to the people who will live there, but it uses the latest technology to make it affordable to the planet we live on.

In an effort to keep Ten Fifty B’s construction and operating costs manageable, the project used recycled construction materials and energy-efficient lighting, as well as rooftop photovoltaic and solar hot-water panels. More than half the units have balconies, and large, landscaped terraces on the seventh and ninth floors are equipped with barbecues, fire pits and play areas for children.

“We used many aspects of KB’s initial design but made significant alterations to the building,” said Affirmed President James Silverwood. “We increased the number of units by reducing the square footage of each unit, and we reduced the height of each floor by 8 inches, which created enough room in the building to insert an additional floor.”

It is just really neat to see the city working like this to turn what would otherwise be a failed, empty building into a thriving place where working men, women and families live.

A house is just a place to live

A story at another blog bewails the victim of a “predatory lending” system and begins, to just slightly shorten some of the flowery wording,

Alicia and her family have now become the victim of the same predatory lending and harvesting practices that have become so common…

Long story short, our sister in arms has been living in the same house in Sherman Oaks, CA for nearly 20 years. It’s a house that was first bought by her husband in 1983. Well, some time ago, her husband took out a loan on the house to the tune of $400,000 (far more than the house has ever been appraised).

The deal was, you pay back the loan by making obscenely high mortgage payments for a year and a half ($3500 a month), every month without fail, and we’ll modify your loan and renegotiate your mortgage. To paraphrase Alicia, they pulled the money out of their asses even when they didn’t have it and didn’t miss a payment.

And the renegotiations didn’t come through, resulting in foreclosure.

You know what, I feel as sorry for Alicia and her family as I do for people who have fallen for the Nigerian email scams. The con man relies on the greed of his victim; if his victim is not sufficiently greedy the con game fails.

If Alicia felt that mortgage payments of $3500 per month were "obscenely high," why did she sign an agreement to pay them?

And what, exactly, did they lose? Alicia’s husband took out a loan, on a home he’d owned for more than 20 years, for far more than any appraisal than the house had ever earned. He was part of the con game, and when the scam fell apart he happened to be the one holding the bag. But it wasn’t an empty bag; Alicia and her family got $400,000, paid back $63,000 and are walking away $337,000 to the good.

Minus a 26-year-old house of unknown actual value.

Update: Here's another one, from a different site,

In December of 2008 I missed my first mortgage payment on my Option ARM loan because it had increased due to the addition of an escrow account to cover the property taxes. True enough, I hadn't paid my property taxes, but that was because my husband had lost his job the previous January and my home business wasn't doing very well. We could only afford to pay our mortgage payment, the utilities, and get food. I explained all of this to my servicer, IndyMac, but they refused to listen and attached the escrow anyway. The irony of this whole thing is that if they had refrained from attaching that escrow account, I would still be current. In California, there is no danger to the property unless you go 5 years without paying.

Does it matter to her that if the property taxes are not paid then the mortgage holder is required by law to attach escrow to the monthly payment? Not to mention that her husband has been jobless for more than a year, her "home business" is failing and she wants to keep the house while running up five years worth of property tax arrears.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Forty Seven Percent

Tax day is upon us and the big news is the 47% of households have incomes which fall below a threshold which means that they will pay no federal income tax. That has raised a hue and cry in all directions, from incomes being too low, to people getting “free rides,” to tax rates being fubar, to the rich being overtaxed…

Bob Somerby and David Leonhardt both “debunk” the outcry by saying that it’s okay for those households to pay no income taxes because they pay other taxes. Leonhardt even talks about capital gains taxes, which strikes me as a little odd. I wonder how many people whose income is so low that they are not paying income taxes have capital gains.

So what if they are paying other taxes? The topic is income tax and the cost of government. Again we have a situation which may not be altogether wrong, being defended by non sequiter arguments which are utterly spurious. Leonhardt claims,

But the picture starts to change when you look not just at income taxes but at all taxes. This average household would have paid 0.8 percent of its income in corporate taxes (through the stocks it owned), 0.9 percent in gas and other federal excise taxes, and 9.5 percent in payroll taxes. Add these up, and the family’s total federal tax rate was 14.2 percent.

Corporate taxes through the stocks it owned? Taxes are not paid on stocks one owns; taxes are only paid on the gain one realizes from selling stocks. How many low income families are buying and selling stocks and making profits on doing so today?

Federal excise taxes on gasoline are dedicated to pay for highways.

The “payroll taxes” are Medicare and Social Security and they do not contribute to the general revenue stream for operations of the government. Leonhardt’s claim on payroll taxes is particularly weird,

People do not receive benefits equal to the payroll taxes they paid. Those who die at age 70 will receive much less in Social Security and Medicare than they paid in taxes. Those who die at 95 will probably get much more.

The different kinds of federal taxes are really just accounting categories.

That’s like claiming that people who stay healthy and receive no benefit from their health insurance should not have to pay for the gasoline that goes into their car. They paid all of that money into one program and received no benefit from it, so they should receive unpaid benefits from an entirely separate program.

Social Security and Medicare taxes are set aside in trusts to fund those programs. The government borrows that money to run the government, but doing so does not decrease the deficit; actually increases it, since interest is paid on the loan. Social Security and Medicare are programs specifically separate from general government operation. To claim that they are merely “accounting categories” is absolute nonsense.

In terms of individuals paying for things like national defense and the National Park System, for the individual only the income tax does that. All other federal taxes are dedicated revenue, and the funds are allocated to specific programs. So that 47% whose deductions eliminate their taxable income and who therefor pay no federal income tax are, in fact, benefiting from the things provided by the federal government and are not paying any part of the cost.

There may be nothing wrong with that. The idea that the wealthy are bearing the cost of operating the government is by no means an unreasonable one; it is why we instituted the progressive income tax. The degree to which that has shifted, and the desirability of it, can certainly be argued, but let’s not pretend that such a shift has not occurred.

Have the courage of our convictions and defend the progressiveness of income tax. "Yes, the wealthy are bearing the cost, and it is fitting and proper that they do so. When the economy improves, then more people
will participate in paying the cost."

Landmark Leadership

To date I have been underwhelmed by Obama’s leadership efforts. He has not led on principle but by appealing to fear and greed. “Health care costs will bankrupt you if we don’t pass this bill,” and “You will like this bill when you get a $250 check this year to fill the Medicare prescription donut hole.”

The legislation he has championed has been watered down by catering to corporations and conservatives; a “stimulus” that was 42% tax cuts, and “health care reform” with no public option and no reform of pricing on prescription medication.

International leadership has consisted of pretty words accompanied with continued war, bombastic rhetoric about “keeping America safe,” bombing villages from pilotless drones in nations with which we are not at war, and an endless drumbeat of threats against Iran.

Finally he has brought off something that makes me proud of having elected him. Convening a meeting of heads of state and bringing together agreement on reducing stockpiles of nuclear materials is a landmark accomplishment indeed. The details do not matter; that he created the meeting and the agreement is a major accomplishment, and it reflects the esteem that the world holds for him as a person and as a world leader.

This is not just pretty words or a fine speech. Even if the agreements are voluntary, and even if they are in principle rather than to reach a specific four-year goal as has at times been misreported, this is a very big deal.

This is world leadership that reflects credit on our nation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chris Matthews is an Idiot

Chris Matthews has spent the past couple of days decrying the tendency of politicians to “spout BS” and even finished today with a “Let Me Finish” segment on the subject. He takes pride in nailing people who do that sort of thing on his program, of course, but only when such BS runs counter to his narrative of the moment.

For instance he is promoting the “health care reform” legislation as a historic moment, so when Debbie Wasserman-Schultz declared that the legislation had not done anything so heinous as to force anyone to buy health insurance against their will, but merely created some new income tax wrinkles along the lines of marriage, home ownership, or having children, his only response was, “Okay.”

Today he was hyperventilating about terrorists destroying an American city with a nuclear weapon, and had as guest Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund who said, among other things,

“Osama bin Laden is about 60 kilometers away from nuclear weapons material. If something happens to that government, if it destabilizes, he‘s going to make a run for those weapons.”

If Cirincione knows where Osama bin Laden is to within a kilometer, he’s doing a lot better than our combined intelligence services. Osama bin Laden may, in fact, be dead but if not he is supposedly in a territory of several hundred thousand square miles, the southern border of which is 60km from the capital of Pakistan. Of course the nuclear weapons material is not stored at that capital, it is dispersed some distance away, and that 60km consists of nearly impenetratable mountain range. Not to mention that regardless of the state of the government, the military of Pakistan consists of some 550,000 very well armed dudes who are going to take a very dim view of Osama bin Laden swanning off with their nuclear weapons.

So Cirincione spins a very scary story which is utter bullshit, but it suits the narrative that Matthews is promoting, so he calls him on none of it. Chris Matthews is opposed to bullshit, okay, but only when it runs against his chosen narrative.

Massive Media Snit

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has his panties in a wad over Obama expelling the press from international discussions regarding nuclear weaponry. The headline reads, "Obama's disregard for media reaches new heights at nuclear summit." Can you imagine? Obama does not allow the Washington Post to sit in on discussions regarding nuclear weapons secrets. I am just shocked; shocked, I tell you.

Just Saturday morning he hauled ass from the White House ahead of schedule without telling the press where he was going, so the Washington Post missed seeing him with his daughter at a soccer game. That without question shook the very foundations of the free world, and now this.

Definitely a socialist sort of presidential behavior.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nine Long Years

For nine long years American men and women have been in combat in foreign lands, with no end in sight. To what end? Increasingly, it seems they are there simply because that is what America does; it fights wars.

The "Wikileaks Video" has shocked and surprised many, but it has done neither to me. I remember Vietnam all to well; this video clip is simply what war is. That is not to say that what we see in that video is acceptable; it is not. What we see in that video is exactly why this nation should be so reluctant to engage in war, and why it should disengage as promptly as possible when it finds itself so engaged.

And so what we see in this clip happens, and to maintain the status quo it is carefully and aggressively concealed from the 99.5% of the people of this nation who are not engaged in making war. As Andrew Bacevich says to Bill Moyers, this is the result of abandoning the concept of the "citizen soldier" and embracing a professional armed forces. America is not at war, America is uninvolved because the war is carefully hidden from view; only the military, about one half of one percent of America, is at war.

All of America should hear what Andrew Bacevich has to say, and the extended conversation contains much more. That conversation concludes with a discussion of the aftermath of the 2006 election, when voters gave the Democratic Party a mandate to shut down the war in Iraq and they failed utterly to follow through on their promise to do that.

Bill Moyers: But what do we make of that?

Andrew Bacevich: I think what we what we make of that is that the militarization of our political class is far more advanced or far deeper I think than most of us appreciate.

I think Andrew has it exactly right.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

War Between The States

Much is being made of the Governor of Virginia declaring April as a month to celebrate the Confederacy. Having grown up in the South I am astounded by how much the media and blogosphere does not know about the Civil War, and by how much of what they think they know is wrong. No, I do acknowledge that slavery was a central issue in that war, but the amount of misinformation flying around is simply staggering.

We are all agreed that the Civil War cost many lives, threatened the integrity of our nation, and that it was not a good thing. I believe we have consensus on that.

That war ended more than 140 years ago, and now we are engaged in a new “War Between the States” that is far more deadly than that one and which, even more seriously than that one did, threatens the integrity of our nation, threatens to destroy us.

That war had two sides, it pitted one group of states against another group of states; this war pits one state against forty-nine, fifty times over. That war was fought with guns and artillery; this one is fought with money and power. Legislators sit in the halls of the national seat of government and bargain for the benefit of their individual states to the detriment of the nation as a whole. They give lie to the word “United” in the name of our nation.

Barry Goldwater once famously said that he was not the Arizona Senator; he took pride in being the United States Senator from Arizona. He conducted business in the Senate in the best interest of the nation. Asked one time why he was opposing the Apache helicopter, which would be built in his home state, he replied, “They could build the damned thing in my living room and I’d oppose it until they get the price right.”

Today we have legislators in Washington who plainly say that they have come to the halls of national government for one specific purpose, “To serve the people of my state.” A national legislator has no qualms at opposing legislation until terms are inserted into it that openly amount to bribery, and even take pride in having done so. The “Louisiana Purchase,” the “Florida Carveout” and the Nebraska deal in “health care reform” come to mind.

A national legislator is elected to represent his constituents' principles in governing for the national interests, not to cater to the comforts and greed of those who elected him. They are elected to serve the people of the nation.

It’s not just the legislators, it’s the people who elect them. Barry Goldwater was reelected by an overwhelming margin after that helicopter incident, not once but several times. He was loved and admired in his home state. Today he would be ridden out of town on a rail for saying anything like that. How dare he not bring home the maximum amount of federal money?

Who was it with the famous “united we stand, divided we fall” quotation? The “U” is gone from “USA” today. We are divided, one against forty-nine fifty times over, and we are in serious danger of falling.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Political Catfights

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed President Obama on Thursday, and in that interview was this gem,

Stephanopoulos: I want to get to some of those broader issues. Because you're also facing criticism on that. Sarah Palin, taking aim at your decision to restrict the use of nuclear weapons. Your pledge not to strike nations, non-nuclear nations, who abide by the nonproliferation treaty. Here's what she said. She said, "It's unbelievable, no other administration would do it." And then she likened it to kids on the playground. She said you're like a kid who says, "Punch me in the face, and I'm not going to retaliate." Your response?

To Stephanopoulos, Sarah Palin’s sound bites constitute “broader issues.”

Obama: I really have no response. Because last I checked, Sarah Palin's not much of an expert on nuclear issues.

Now, if I were Stephanopoulos, I would have blushed and apologized for asking such a stupid question but, of course, Stephanopoulos and every other media person who viewed this interview read it as Obama “picking a fight” with Sarah Palin.

I read it more as, “Do you have any actual questions to ask me, George, or are we just going to play word games with Sarah Palin's latest sound bites?”

But no, Stephanopoulos felt the need to follow up,

Stephanopoulos: But the string of criticism has been out there among other Republicans as well. They think you're restricting use of nuclear weapons too much.

Obama: And what I would say to them is that if the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I'm probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.

Stephanopoulos: But not concerned about her criticisms?

Obama: No.

It took three tries for the President of The United States of America to get Stephanopoulos to quit asking idiotic questions based on the opinions of a half-term failed governor of a rural state and ask about actual, real life world affairs. And what the media and its punditry takes away from this is that “Obama picked a fight with Sarah Palin.”

Friday, April 09, 2010

Nonsensical Hair-Splitting

I have long admired Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Although I was not a supporter of Hillary Clinton, of course, I admired the enthusiasm with which Wasserman-Schultz supported her, and the way that she did so using thoughtful arguments for the most part rather than ideological sloganeering. When Obama won the nomination she backed him with all of the cheerful enthusiasm that she had earlier devoted to Clinton. And she did all of this while undergoing multiple surgeries for breast cancer.

So I always take notice when she is a “guest” on cable news, and am seldom disappointed in what she has to say. Then I watched Chris Matthews engaging her yesterday in the following question and answer.

Matthews: Congresswoman, let me ask you this question. It seems to be the issue that’s grabbing people right now, is not the cost of the fiscal issues or all the complicated issues of medical care, but this libertarian argument you are beginning to hear: "I don’t want to buy health insurance. You can’t make me."

Wasserman-Schultz: Well, at my town hall, I did get that question, you know, the “What gives you the right to force me to have health care?” question. And what I explained—and a lot of people appreciated this explanation—was that we did not require in this legislation Americans to have health care. What we did was, we established a different treatment via your tax return, just like the difference between married people and unmarried people or people who have children and don’t or homeowners and renters. So, if you choose not to have health care, you can do that, but you just need to understand that you are going to be treated differently on your tax return at the end of the year, and you are going to have to—you will be assessed differently than you would have if you carry health care. So, it was a pretty simple explanation, and a lot of people appreciated it.

That is utter nonsense. It is just crap on a stick. The case in point is known universally as “the individual mandate,” and it absolutely has to do with requiring individuals to join the insurance pool.

I dislike the individual mandate, but I also recognize that it is a necessary component of the legislation which was passed. To do something which is necessary and justifiable and then weasel out of defending it by using this kind of hair-splitting nonsense, and claim that “a lot of people appreciated it,” is political sophistry worthy only of Tea Partiers and the more idiotic class of Republicans.

Noteworthy Nobels

One recent Nobel Peace Prize recipient just issued an assassination order on an American citizen, and a recent Nobel Economic Prize recipient is still touting inflation as a valid method of reducing national debt. Wow.

Of course Nobel himself invented dynamite.

Paul Krugman Is An Idiot

Paul Krugman is back to promoting his theory that national debt is not a problem because we can “grow our way out of it.” I once characterized his theory as being that if you had a $50,000 income and owed $100,000 on your house, then when your salary became $100,000 your house mortgage would disappear and you would no longer have to make payments. In all fairness, I was being hyperbolic, and that’s not what he’s saying, but I still think he’s full of it.

In his NY Times op-ed today he mentions that “in 1946, the United States, having just emerged from World War II, had federal debt equal to 122 percent of G.D.P.” He adds that by 1981 it was down to 33% of G.D.P.

So how did the U.S. government manage to pay off its wartime debt? Actually, it didn’t. At the end of 1946, the federal government owed $271 billion; by the end of 1956 that figure had risen slightly, to $274 billion. The ratio of debt to G.D.P. fell not because debt went down, but because G.D.P. went up, roughly doubling in dollar terms over the course of a decade. The rise in G.D.P. in dollar terms was almost equally the result of economic growth and inflation, with both real G.D.P. and the overall level of prices rising about 40 percent from 1946 to 1956.

He assumes that doubling a national economy is an infinitely possible process; having doubled it once, a nation can double it again, and again. But doubling it a second time requires twice the amount of growth that the first time did, and the next doubling requires four times as much. So his blithe assumption that we can double our economy in the next 10 years as we did in the 10 years following WW2 is a little hard for me to swallow.

The starting point of that growth makes it even more difficult to swallow, because the starting point for the “growing out of debt” that he cites was a world essentially in rubble, devastated by a world-wide war and in need of a complete rebuild. We were the only nation sufficiently intact to provide what was needed for that rebuilding effort, and we had no competition for resources. The starting point for this “growing out of debt” is a world glutted with the products of wealth and many other nations which have developed economies poised for growth and competing with ours for both markets and diminishing resources.

He finishes with, “America’s public debt will be manageable if we eventually return to vigorous growth and moderate inflation.” The “vigorous growth” is doubtful, and only an economic theorist can find “moderate inflation” to be a desirable goal. Historically, inflation means that prices for goods, services and commodities rise while wages remain stagnant, so the corporate environment thrives while the working man and woman suffers.

Perhaps Krugman would not be so blithe about debt and inflation if he were a working man paid by the hour.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Policy of Assassination, Part 1

I am quick enough to be critical of Keith Olbermann, fairness dictates that I give equal time to giving him credit when he is on target. His first segment, the #5 Story, last night regarded the presidential targeting of an American citizen for assassination by U.S. forces.

Good evening from New York. President Obama has reportedly authorized the death penalty for an American citizen who has not been convicted of any crime—the evidence against whom has yet to see the light of day—who denies his guilt and who has not been given the due process, including trial guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. It is a power not even claimed by the Bush/Cheney administration, extending far beyond Bush/Cheney claims which even the most conservative Supreme Court justice rejected.

There is a slight muddle in the presentation in that he and Rice introduce the element of not knowing for certain whether or not the subject is actually guilty and, right at the very end, introducing an implication that if we actually are certain then this would be permissible. The element of doubt is not the issue, however. The issue is the ordering of extrajudicial killing; of execution without the filing of charges and a trial by a jury of his peers, with an opportunity to confront witness and to protest his own innocence.

Glenn Greenwald has more on the subject, noting that the Supreme Court ruled that an American citizen could not even be imprisoned without a trial. He concludes, as do I, that such ruling would surely extend to mean that a citizen could not be summarily executed without a trial.

He also notes that, as a candidate for the office he now holds, Obama repeatedly stated on film and in writing that the President did not have the power to imprison a citizen for any reason whatever without charges and access to habeas corpus. Obama is now claiming the right to order the summary execution of a citizen with no charges or trial.

Greenwald also calls out the Liberals and progressives who decried the abuses of power and assaults on the constitution committed by Bush, and who are now standing silent when those same abuses and assaults, and worse ones, are being committed by a Democrat. They remain silent out of loyalty to Obama, but supporting wrong acts by a person whom one supports is not loyalty.

I repeat; when someone you know is doing the wrong thing, supporting that wrongdoing is not loyalty. It is betrayal. Obama himself told us to “make him” keep his promises, and among those was to restore the constitution. If we stand by silent while he does this sort of thing we are not being loyal. We are not, as he asked us to do, “making him keep his promise.”

Policy of Assassination, Part 2

The hue and cry over the policy of assassination, such as it is, seems to be addressing it in the context of its application to an American citizen. Many seem to take the attitude that the President should not be ordering the killing of an American citizen without a trial, but that it’s perfectly okay for him to order the killing of someone who is not so privileged as to hold citizenship in this nation. Really?

Where in our constitution does it say that our administration of justice is limited to citizens of our own country? The way I read that document is that it is a statement of the way that justice will be administered by this nation, period. I do not see any limitation as to who, or when, or where. It simply says, “this is the way we will do things when it is us doing them, because this is who we are.”

I find myself profoundly uncomfortable at the idea that my country uses assassination as an instrument of “national security.” I am baffled that the leaders of my country are so cowardly that they must kill individuals to, in their fearful minds, prevent the nation from being destroyed. I want to know how we can talk about “leadership among nations” and roam the world with pilotless drones, killing at will without regard to borders or national sovereignty, and without “due process.”

It has been claimed that “during war the enemy can be killed anywhere,” but there are problems with that. We are not at war. It is not a semantic game, Congress has not declared war which must, in any case, be declared against a state. So justification of something by citing the “laws of war” can only work when those laws are in effect, and they are not.

As with the “torture debate,” this is not about the targets of assassination, this is about us, about our character as a nation, about who we have become in the aftermath of 9/11. It is not about “them,” it is about who we are. It is about a nation becoming less and less about freedom and civil rights and more and more about "self defense" and killing.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Tiger at Augusta

Martha Burk says in Sporting News that Tiger Woods appeared insincere. Well, duh. Tiger Woods appeared insincere because he was insincere. Tiger Woods would not recognize sincerity if it fell on him and squashed him flat. Tiger Woods is a self-centered hypocritical control freak.

And Augusta National, a club which does not allow women to become members or even to play golf, is a perfect place for him to make his return. They will protect him as one of their own, because they are as far removed from decency as he is, and are every bit the same type of control freaks.


Many think the “hubris” is just another word for pride, but it’s really more than that. Hubris includes a sense of self so prideful and arrogant that it excludes acknowledgement as influential anything other than self. American governance is becoming prone to hubris at all levels.

Republicans view the increasing unpopularity of Congress and believe it bodes well for them because Democrats are the majority party in that body; that it indicates that what they are doing is working. They preen and strut as winners, while in reality that are merely the “other choice of the moment” and are as thoroughly despised by the general public as are the Democrats. They are loved only by their “base,” the unthinking few who believe their slogans and cant.

Democrats are strutting in triumph in the seat of the power of the majority, but it takes them more than a year to pass a watered-down version of their signature legislation, and then their President has to go on a national tour to “sell” that legislation even after it has been signed into law. They spend all of their time mocking their opposition and calling them foolish, and never look at what they can do to better their own performance in the face of overwhelming unpopularity of the body which they control.

Internationally, we make grand statements about not using nuclear weapons on nations which do not possess such weapons themselves, as if such a statement conveyed some sort of generous nobility rather than being simply obvious humanitarian principle. We make statements to international gatherings about what other governments should be doing, such as “reducing corruption” and “curbing drug trade,” as if our own government never heard of lobbying and as if there was no drug use in our own country. When the leader of a nation of which we are in military occupation refers to us as “foreigners” we counter with statements to the effect that he is “unstable” and “probably a drug user.”

Hubris is the pride of comparison without self examination. It is the pride that builds up self by deprecating others. It acknowledges only perfection within self and only faults within others.

Hubris can be, often is the pride that precedes a fall.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Disaster In The Mines

Time for recrimination will come later. Right now is the time to feel for the brotherhood of men and women who go daily into the bowels of the earth to supply the nation’s need for energy. Yes, that need may be excessive, it may be greedy, but it is real, and the men and women who labor to fill it are unsung heros. They have suffered a loss, and as their labor has served our need for all these many years, we share that loss.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Rock and Roll

About ten seconds after the house began shaking I was beginning to think, “Man, this is a big one.” And then it really did get big. There are a few disadvantages to living in a frame home where only a garage and small library are on the lower floor; one is that being on the second floor amplifies the shaking during a quake. It was severe enough to knock a few pictures off the walls, and I’m told it lasted about 45 seconds. It seemed a lot longer.

As soon as it quit I went outside to discover that people walking their dogs didn’t even know anything had happened, and were wondering why everyone was running out into the street. We told them, of course. I think the reason it was not felt more outdoors was that, unlike the one a few months ago which was sharp vertical bumps, this one had no vertical component; it was just horizontal shaking.

I finally found Molly, our calico cat, on a top shelf in the closet, looking utterly freaked out.

Magnitude 7.2 is a huge quake, twice the size of the Haiti one, and yet damage has been minimal. Maybe all this “big government regulation,” like building codes, has some value after all. There have been many quakes following the first, some of which would have seemed pretty big before yesterday. I was awakened by one this morning, and another shook us as
I have been writing this.

And it's cloudy with rain today. Remind me why I live here, again?

Update: Monday, 10:05am
Best comment so far, at another blog, "I’m surprised that no patriotic Americans shot the earthquake as it sneaked across the border from Mexico. Where are the Minutemen when you need them?"

The "Big Government" Myth

In the political conversation, when someone says that the government should provide, for instance, unemployment compensation to those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own, that person is said by Conservatives to be “for big government.” One hears that phrase very frequently in Conservative speeches and advertisements, that an opponent is “in favor of big government.”

The minute that one suggests that the government should do anything of a non-military nature, one is branded as being in favor of “big government,” while expansion of the military is, of course, not “big government” at all. Laws regulating moral behavior of citizens is not considered to be “big government,” while laws regulating anything else is “big government.”

Do not accuse Conservatives of being inconsistent; illogical, yes, but not inconsistent.

I don’t usually write in the genre of disparaging the opposition; there is a reason for that which is significant but is for another day. This phrase “big government” needs discussion, however, because it is often central to the debate and is used more as an epithet than as an argument; and it is an accusation often hurled falsely.

Because I espouse causes usually considered liberal, safety net and regulation issues, I would draw the accusation of being in favor of “big government,” and that would be entirely false. I believe that government should be as small as it can possibly be. I believe that the government should have the minimum possible impact on the day-to-day activity of people and businesses in this nation. I believe that the government should not collect one dollar more in taxes than is absolutely necessary to provide the necessary services it provides.

The question is, what are the “necessary services” that it should provide?

The answer to that is complex and each of us will, in any case, answer it differently. For me, though, the size of government is not an issue determined on its own merit, but is determined by the answer to that question. The government should be only as “big” as it needs to be in order to provide those necessary services.

The worthiness of each social program needs to be weighed on the scale of governmental impact; is the societal benefit of the individual program worth the cost in taxes and size of government? I’ve seen many where the answer is clear that it is. In other cases the answer might be that the good that would be done is outweighed by the harmful effect of creating more taxes and “big government” than can be justified.

But the question is not simply what size the government should be.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Chasing Cassandra

I finally read one too many “but they’re just temporary jobs at the Census” comments somewhere and sort of hit critical mass. Look, jackass, I’m as much of a doomsayer as almost anybody on this economy thing; I’m still bemoaning the effort to recreate a spending economy based on credit. But let’s not be all Cassandra to the degree that we can’t even think rationally.

Yes, the Census employs well over 100,000, but it only hired 48,000 in March, less than a third of the reported new jobs and leaving the number of permanent jobs at 114,000. That’s not exactly chicken feed.

Let’s not be the kid who is given a two-scoop ice cream cone and cries because it isn’t three scoops. Before unemployment can shrink it has to stop growing and, hello, it stopped growing in March. Yeah, there were snow storms, some of the jobs are temporary... Blah, blah, blah. The bottom line is that 162,000 more people have jobs today than had them a month ago, and we have not been able to say that in a very long time.

Don’t try to rationalize that away; celebrate it.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Keith Olbermann, Storyteller

The "Grand Experiment" on Countdown was last night, and it turned out to be Keith Olbermann sitting in a chair and reading a James Thurber story aloud to us. I wasn't all that crazy about the particular story he chose but he reads pretty well, which is not surprising. I found myself enjoying it. I'm not sure I'd want him doing it every Friday, but I'd welcome him doing it from time to time.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Battling The Beaver

My niece posted some pictures on her blog of a place where some wildlife was trying to turn forest into pasture, and it reminded me of a episode on a family vacation some fifty years ago or so, back when my father and I fly fished together on vacations in the Colorado Rockies. We were dry fly stream aficionados, but sometimes when rains had muddied the streams or drought had dried them up we fished still water, and often that meant beaver ponds. It was not all that unusual for the pond to be inhabited, and for the most part the citizens of the pond pretty much ignored us.

One day we were fishing an inhabited pond, and Dad was apparently too close to where one of the beavers wanted to be doing something so the beaver sat on the bank and started quite clearly swearing at Dad. I was maybe thirty feet away or so, and let my line drift and watched as Dad reeled in, hooked his fly to the reel and, instead of leaving, struck up a conversation with the beaver. Dad was in the water, a little more than knee deep, and the beaver was on the bank, and they were probably 10-12 feet apart. The beaver was more than a little agitated, Dad was speaking calmly to the critter, and they went back and forth for several minutes.

I was cracking up, watching Dad standing there talking to a beaver as if the creature could understand what he was saying, but Dad did things like that all the time. He conversed with our cats regularly.

Eventually the beaver went in the water and started swimming in an arc around Dad, and I could see that he was a little uneasy about that, but he stood his ground and the conversation continued for a couple more minutes. Then the beaver turned his back, raised his tail, brought it down with a mighty slap, and utterly drenched the old man. I was cracking up, but Dad didn't think it was all that funny and started swearing at the beaver, which made it funnier yet; here were Dad and the beaver, both of them now swearing at each other. What capped it off was when Dad started using his free hand to splash the beaver with water, at which point I was laughing so hard I almost dropped my flyrod.

He finally looked over and saw me heading for the bank and laughing my ass off and realized the insanity of his position, made placating noises to the beaver and left the pond. We met on the bank, by which time he was laughing, and he asked me something like, "Was I really trying to splash that guy?" We were, as I recall, pretty much done fishing for the day.

Olbermann Does It Again

I sometimes think English may be Olbermann’s second language. The following is an excerpt from his “Worst Person" award from last night, and the underlining is added by me.

Olbermann: But our winner, Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, desperately trying to stave off the challenge of the state‘s lieutenant governor Bill Halter in the Democratic primary. See if you notice any differences in these two campaign ads of hers. The first is from about March 4th.

(Begin video clip) Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), Ark: This is why I voted giving against more money to Wall Street, against the auto company bailout, against the public option health care plan. (End video clip)

Olbermann: And this is her new radio ad in which an announcer claims

(Begin video clip) Unidentified Male: Blanche Lincoln, our U.S. senator, stood with our president to pass health care reform. And even though the Tea Party and insurance companies attack Blanche Lincoln, she never abandoned our president, nor you. (End video clip)

Olbermann: Now, if I didn‘t know any better, I‘d say in the first ad she has claimed she opposed health care reform, and in the second ad, she‘s claiming she supported health care reform. I‘m sure it‘s just a typo.

For someone who made such a firestorm over the “public option” himself it is astonishing that Keith Olbermann can so blithely skip over those words in the first video clip. Well no, actually, he does this sort of thing all the time. Really, Keith, in the first clip she said that she voted against the bill which contained the public option and in the second clip said that she voted for the plan which did not contain it. There is actually nothing inconsistent about that at all.

One could argue a conflict between “stood with our president to pass” and “voted … against the public option” if one took the position that Obama supported the “public option.” One would need to have a rather creative imagination to take such a position; the most fervernt thing I recall him ever saying was to the effect of, “Ideally, the public option would be a good thing to have.”

So once again Olbermann is, shall we say, “creative” in his “Worst Person” choice.