Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oh, Goody

With reference to the Petraeus hearings yesterday, it now seems that the President's withdrawal date of June 2011 from Afghanistan is "conditions based," or "subject to conditions on the ground."

Where have we heard that before?

Representing Liberalism

Keith Olbermann used to be a bastion of liberal journalism, but watching him today is like watching a nightmarish version of The Daily Show. He is almost totally devoted to presenting the “News and Commentary” as a mechanism for illustrating how intelligent and witty he is, something that he presumably developed from his protegee Rachel Maddow, and which would be more successful if he were as intelligent and witty as he thinks he is.

Last night he was ranting about how “BP‘s prime interest remains to protect its bottom line,” as if any for-profit corporation should have any other prime interest without risking having its management ousted by stockholders.

He also had Rick Steiner on, a supposed environmentalist, who claimed that the 40-knot wind threshold established for discontinuing drilling of the relief wells was too low and that they should not stop unless winds reached at least 60 knots. I love it; after criticizing BP for weeks about inadequate safety practice, he is now criticizing them for too much safety practice, and Olbermann is nodding and providing sage approval.

Olbermann also suggested that Former President Clinton had said that we might want to kill the Macando well by blowing it up. I saw a clip of him making the statement on a real news show, and what he actually said was, "Unless we need to blow up this well ... the Navy won't need to participate." [Emphasis mine, J] So yes, Keith, Clinton does know what he's talking about; it's actually you who does not.

As to Rachel Maddow, I liked her a lot during the presidential campaign, but survived only a few of her shows before her blatant bias, demagoguery and the endless giggling and snark caused me to decide I had better ways to spend my television watching time.

Once in while one of her clips makes the rounds of the blogs I read, touted as “ooh isn’t this wonderful,” and I break down and watch the clip. It’s usually… Well, she’s certainly, um, liberal. Being prepared and armed with facts is not her long suit, though.

In this piece about Obama’s presidency, in which the only accomplishment she failed to tout was that he walks on water, she actually starts by saying, “With the passage of financial regulation in Washington today…” She might want to check with Congress about what they actually did, perhaps. The financial reform measure is facing a final vote next week, and is actually in serious danger of failing to pass.

She declaims grandly that, “He passed health reform, which, for the first time, establishes government responsibility for the health care of American citizens,” a claim which goes beyond the usual Democratic hyperbole about this bill as being “historic.”

I’m not sure where she gets the part about “government responsibility” for anything. Insurance companies remain, for the most part, responsible for the health care of American citizens or, since they pay for that insurance, American citizens remain responsible for their own health care.

Of the stimulus bill, not only does she fail to mention that Obama allowed the Republicans to trim it by a third, she blats that, “It also pumped about $100 billion into the crumbling embarrassment of our national infrastructure and transportation system.”

That would have been a lot more impressive if that $100 billion had not lost much of its simulative punch by being spread out over several years, and for the fact that our infrastructure is in need of $7 trillion, so that amount was about 1.5% of the need.

She went on to say that the stimulus bill, “also included an unheralded but giant investment in science and tech,” which actually just proves what a confused and incoherent piece of legislation that bill actually was. Stimulus and investment are two entirely different things and do not belong in the same bill. Investment dilutes and detracts from the impact of stimulus.

She finishes with, “..the list of things he has yet to do – ‘Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,’ closing Guantanamo - in each of these things, there is room for liberal disappointment. I sing a bittersweet lullaby to the lost public option when I go to sleep at night.”

Um, “he has yet to do?” How about, “things he has failed to do,” and in the case of closing Guantanamo, “things he almost certainly not going to do.” Not to mention the "public option" which she even mentions and which is far from a "yet to do" item.

So that’s what we have as representatives of liberalism in our television “News and Commentary” these days; buffoons.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Selective Vision

Again Paul Krugman makes an argument in the New York Times that he is right and the rest of the world is wrong, and again the left embraces him as if every theory that he pronounces is not a theory at all but is a fact cast in stone. Paul Krugman may have a Nobel Prize, but that does not magically turn his theories into facts.

I’m not arguing that he is wrong; I’m not qualified to say that he is wrong. I do say, however, that Paul Krugman uses history to make arguments that are convenient rather than necessarily accurate.

He cites, for instance that after some five years of deficit spending in the 1930’s when FDR made a “premature” effort to begin balancing the federal budget the economy slid back into recession, and uses that as proof that deficit spending is necessary to “restart the economy” now. I might suggest precisely the opposite; that if cutting off the stimulus after five years resulted in collapse, then it had not “restarted” anything; that the five years were lost years, permitting the economy to remain dormant with no reason to regain momentum so long as government spending was propping it up. So I see the moment which Krugman cites, in fact, as evidence that deficit spending does not "restart the economy."

My interpretation may be wrong, but it is just as reasonable as Krugman’s.

In any case, Krugman goes on to talk about the recovery period and deficit reduction in the 1950’s as justification for the Keynesian theory of government spending to “restart the economy,” without considering the effect of a four-year, immensely destructive, world wide war. I’m not referring to the government spending of war production here, but of the effect on the post war period of the 1950’s when the economic boom occurred. We were the sole nation able to produce the goods needed to rebuild a world reduced to rubble. We were an economy with an almost unlimited market and absolutely no competition.

In light of that, the connection between the economic boom of the 1950’s and government spending in the 1930’s with a world war in between might be a little tenuous.

Krugman has argued that the timing is good to incur debt because interest rates are low and so the government can run a large deficit without burdening its budget with major interest payments on that debt. This debt, however consists of term-limited bonds which must at some point be paid off or refinanced. What the interest rate will be when that happens is, of course, unknown, but it’s highly unlikely that it will be as low as it is now. So the budget impact of deficit spending might be low now, but it could become seriously crippling in the future.

There is a very valid and powerful argument to be made for interim spending as a “holding action” to serve the population presently devastated by the economy, but it should be done thoughtfully and with regard to its future consequences, and it should be accompanied by reduction of other, less necessary spending. Justifying the reckless increase of debt without end by selective arguments and interpretive history to support pet theories is not the answer.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mission: Fail

The mission in Afghanistan is still as amorphous as the one in Iraq was in the days of George Bush. What we are doing and why we are doing it seems to depend on the day of the week, the person speaking on behalf of the government, and possibly the phase of the moon. One of the most popular, though, is the most absurd and least believable of all, but it is the one that most appeals to the fears of the American people, as stated by CIA Director Leon Panetta on ABC’s This Week,”

“Our purpose, our whole mission there, is to make sure that Al Qaeda never finds another safehaven from which to attack this country. That’s the fundamental goal of why the United States is there,” he said. “And the measure of success for us is: do you have an Afghanistan that is stable enough to make sure that never happens.”

That absolutely infuriates me. The attacks of 9/11/2001 were planned in Hamburg, Germany and in two cities in the United States. The actual perpetrators came mostly from Saudi Arabia; not one of them came from Afghanistan. They did not train for their mission in Afghanistan, they did that in Ft Lauderdale and San Diego.

The only role that Afghanistan played was that Osama bin Laden lived there at the time. His organization provided funding, using banks located in nations other than Afghanistan, and he authorized the final go-ahead for the attack. He could have done that from anywhere in the world. He could have done it from downtown Washington, DC.

Osama bin Laden is no longer in Afghanistan. We think he is in Pakistan, but we don’t really know where he is, and it apparently doesn’t matter. The original invasion of Afghanistan was for the purpose of destroying that man and his cadre, but after that mission failed we did not leave, we simply changed the mission to God only knows what and stayed.

Since none of the reasons we keep making up for conducting a military occupation of Afghanistan make any sense, we keep having to make up additional reasons, which also make no sense. We keep, therefor, returning to the reason which most appeals to American fears, the “safehaven from which to attack us” reason. This reason is usually accompanied on television by pictures of Arabs with rifles doing calisthenics or playing on some sort of jungle gym; presumably in their “safe haven” and in preparation for their attack on us.

The latest attack on us was the Times Square incident, which was planned in this country, by one of our own citizens, with training provided by the Taliban in Pakistan. And still we are “at war” in Afghanistan to “deny al Queda safehaven from which to attack us.”

Wrong country, wrong group, wrong goal, and still we trumpet this mindless fear mongering drivel in justification of endless war.

We have this insane goal of keeping al Queda out of Afghanistan, as if it could not harm us from any other location. If it gets back into Afghanistan we are doomed, but as long as it is hiding somewhere else it is harmless. Either it cannot plan attacks anywhere other than in Afghanistan, or the attacks it plans elsewhere will be feckless affairs doomed to failure and which we need not fear. We need only keep them out of Afghanistan and all will be well.

The Times Square attempt would seem to disprove this theory, but...

Senate Insanity

A the risk of being seen to lack sympathy for Senator Byrd's family and constituency, why does a state elect to the Senate, for a six-year term, a man who is 89 years old, visibly frail, and known to be in poor health? There is, of course, the question of why the man continued to seek that office, but why would the voters choose him?

I don't doubt that the people of the State of West Virginia loved the man, but electing a Senator is serious business. I love my cat, too, but I'm not going to vote for her as Senator from California. I want somebody who represents my interests and whom I know can serve out the term of office. His most recent election has baffled me since it occurred.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The More Things Change...

Danica Patrick returned to "stock cars" yesterday, and the result was familiar. She was "advancing to the rear" when she tangled with Morgan Shephard early, which sent her to pit road for new tires and minor repairs. She wanted Shepard, who was racing stock cars before she was born, penalized. "Don't you get some kind of penalty for that or something?" she asked crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. No, not when you do not give another car enough room to maintain his line and he hits you.

She went a total of five laps down to the leader after that, and of course blamed the car. "At least we were able to keep racing. But I think it may have changed the car. I didn't have any bite in the corners after that."
I guess that depends on how you define "racing," but there was some inconsequential sheet metal damage to the fenders on her car; Loudon is not a high-speed, aerodynamic track.

The Queen of Hype now has 4 "stock car" races with a best finish of 30th.

The Fallacy of History

Like most people of liberal bent, which may be an oversimplification, I have long liked and admired Paul Krugman. He is, however, beginning to wear a bit thin on me as his writing strikes me more and more as taking a tone of certainty that suggests that his theories are not theories but are facts, and that anyone who disagrees with him is on the same order as people who believe that the Earth is flat.

His main point of contention is that the government needs to spend large amounts of money to “restart the economy,” and that doing so will replicate the results of FDR’s “New Deal” which, Krugman maintains, brought the country out of the Great Depression.

I don’t have a Nobel and am not really qualified to dispute his theories, but he supports his theories more with history rather than logic, and I can read history every bit as well as he can. In using history to support his assertion, he bases his argument on the assumption that because two things happened in sequence then one of those things necessarily caused the other. I don’t buy that assumption, and in any case if one looks closely the two things that he juxtaposes, they did not really happen in quite the precise manner that he claims.

The “New Deal” certainly reduced unemployment, but did it “restart the economy” as Krugman claims? The reduction of unemployment consisted of the make-work jobs provided by the WPA projects and the CCC camp projects, which provided a way for workers to feed their families and get off of the “dole.” But was this nation experiencing any king of surge in manufacturing, or production of any kind, prior to World War Two? If so it doesn’t show up in any of the history books that I read, and that doesn’t look like a “restarted economy” to me.

World War Two certainly didn’t “restart the economy” in any meaningful way. The economic energy of the nation was entirely devoted to the war and from a consumer standpoint the economy got, if anything and in some ways, worse. There was something approaching full employment, of course, but nothing much to buy with the proceeds of that employment.

The phenomenal recovery and growth that Krugman cites, and the period that he uses as evidence that national debt is not problematic since the economy can grow at a pace that renders it irrelevant, is post-war 1950’s.

To suggest that we can replicate that today requires thinking that is on the order of delusional. That was a time when the entire industrial world was in rubble with the exception of The United States. The world needed to rebuild and was hungry for goods, and we were the only nation which had the means of producing those goods. We had an unlimited market demand and absolutely no competition. Of course we experienced phenomenal growth.

Today we are faced with a world saturated with both goods and the means of producing them. We are faced with almost no present market demand and enormous competition. Our competitors are eager and aggressive to secure the gain of filling what little demand there is remaining, and they have the wherewithal to do it.

So I see Krugman’s historical evidence coming unhinged on two grounds.

It was not the “New Deal” that “restarted our economy,” but rather the need to rebuild a world shattered by war. It seems to me that the “New Deal” was nothing more than a holding action which allowed the country to manage its affairs until other causes turned the tide in our favor. Such a holding action may be needed now, providing temporary jobs to allow presently unemployed workers to feed their families until other factors change the economy, but in terms of that spending “restarting our economy” I do not think that history proves it.

The other fallacy is that history proves anything when conditions are so vastly different. What we were able to do in a war-shattered world as the sole producing nation is by no means illustrative of what we can expect of our economy in today’s environment, and to suggest that the times do not change the theory borders on idiotic.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ah, Springtime

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz,
I wonder where the Zonies is.

I'll tell you where the Zonies is; the Zonies is in San Diego escaping the heat. "Zonies," for those of you who don't know, are people from Arizona visiting San Diego during the summer.

After our City Council passed a resolution condemning Arizona's new law regarding the authority of police to request residence papers, our local paper and tourism council got many letters from people that state saying that they no longer liked our city and would not visit us any more. Then the temperatures in Arizona topped 100, and I am seeing a great many Arizona license tags in San Diego. Seems their outrage has been tempered by the Arizona summer heat. Color me amazed.

Getting The Picture (updated)

Yesterday I spoke about the lack of informational leadership. Today we have a sample of just how difficult it is to get an accurate picture of what is actually happening in the Gulf of Mexico, as the news media distorts the picture in both directions. Some want to scare us to death with the hysterical rantings of idiots, and some seek to calm the public with soothing platitudes and inaccurate reassurances.

Case in point, an AP story headlined on Salon as, “Tropical storm Alex not on track for Gulf.” In the article itself they approach slightly closer to accuracy, saying that, “prediction models no longer have it going across the oil spill,” but they make no mention of it having any effect on the management of the crisis.

imageHere is NOAA’s storm track prediction, which clearly belies Salon’s headline; Alex is certainly headed for the Gulf. While the likely track does not directly impact the Deepwater Horizon site, a storm’s effects are felt for many miles and if the storm strengthens, as it is predicted to do over the warm waters of the Gulf, winds and waves could seriously affect control efforts with the storm track as shown.

We get significant sea effects in San Diego from tropical Pacific storms that are much farther away than the track projected by NOAA for Alex, and the article as published by Salon utterly fails to convey any sense of a need for concern about this storm as to either well control or cleanup efforts.

My point here is not the possibility of problems presented by the storm, but the nature of the article as published by Salon, which conveys a sense that the storm is a non-issue with respect to Deepwater Horizon and that it is symptomatic of the lack of real coverage that we are getting. That is why leadership in terms of providing information to the public matters, and why the lack of it today is so serious.

Update: Saturday, 2:45pm
The latest track from NOAA shows Alex tending much more westerly, which lessens the liklihood of it impacting Deepwater Horizon and is very good news. That does not alter my point about the nature of AP's and Salon's reporting.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Leadership and Information

San Diego has had two major fires since 2000. The first was in 2005 and the Fire Chief was a man named Jeff Bowman. He would conduct daily briefings which were shown on television and which I found helpful and reassuring. He stood in front of a large map which showed the current boundaries of the fire and would point out precisely where the fire was presently advancing, where his crews were, where he was moving them and what they were doing. He would say things like, “We have the fire at a stop here and are doing cleanup operations, so we have moved most of those crews over here where the fire is still advancing at five miles per hour.”

In 2007 the Chief was a woman named Jarman who was undoubtedly well qualified, but she communicated very poorly. She stood in front of a map on which the fire lines seldom changed at all and were poorly defined, never referred to the map other than in very vague terms, and used technical terms that few if any of her audience understood. As a result, I was frustrated by not knowing where the fire was at any given time and having
no idea where it was going. Was it approaching my neighborhood?

I was reminded of the difference between the two when listening to Obama’s White House address regarding the Gulf oil disaster. That speech left me restless and discontent. That disaster had been unfolding with rumor and accusation, and there is no clear sense of the actual scope of the disaster itself or of the response to it. When the address was announced I thought that maybe we would finally get some clarity on the situation, but all we got was some platitudes.

Matt Zoller Seitz, in a Salon article Tuesday which was about the Daily Show, had a statement that partially said it,

Stewart's remarks suggested (accurately, I think) that what the nation really wanted and needed was a frank assessment of the oil spill: how bad it was, how bad it was going to get, whether BP or the government could do anything about it in the short term, and if so, how long it might take. The lead "action" in Obama's report to the country was the creation of a blue-ribbon panel to study the problem and recommend long-term policies on drilling and environmental safety.

So as the Deepwater Horizon disaster continues to unfold the public continues to be “informed” by rumor and sensationalism, because our leadership is too busy being cautious and politically correct to provide us with real, unbiased information.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Keith Olbermann is a Jackass

Of course Olbermann discussed the McChrystal replacement story at great length last night without ever once mentioning or referring to his "Special Comment" of the night before in which he recommended the brilliant stroke of not replacing McChrystal. Last night the acceptance of McChrystal's resignation was not only a masterstroke of genius on Obama's part, it was the only possible choice available to him. How it could be both of those things at one and the same time is a bit unclear, but then we are dealing with the mind (?) of Keith Olbermann here.

He also touted a story posted on "The Oil Drum" which describes and prophesies an Armageddon-like doom scenario in the Gulf of Mexico. He admitted that they had no idea of the identity or credentials of the author of the piece, but nonetheless managed to lend considerable weight to it. I follow that website regularly, and had already read the piece and discarded it as the hysterical rantings of an idiot with a smattering of knowledge and no real expertise, but I guess we cannot expect Olbermann to be as discriminating when the prospect of dramatic "news" is in the offing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Getting It Right

I’d say President Obama got it just about as near perfect as could be expected. My preference would be for him to reject McChrystal’s resignation and fire him, but if he believes that this better serves his relationship with the military that is certainly his call and I’m not prepared
to question his judgement on it. That’s why he is president and I’m not.

His naming of Petraeus as replacement is very interesting indeed, and probably also a really good choice in that it provides continuity not just for the war itself, but with regard to our relationship with the Afghan leadership. The latter is not a small consideration by any means, and serving that purpose without actually stating it is excellent.

The former is something that I actually regard as a disadvantage, because I am among those who regard counterinsurgency as a failed doctrine, and naming Petraeus means the doctrine will continue in Afghanistan. (That comes as no surprise, of course, but one could always hope.) It worked, more or less, in Iraq because we were able to bribe the Al Anbar tribes to join our side, but that was not part of the doctrine itself, and it is not something we are going to be able to do in Afghanistan.

That’s a different subject, though, and as to the McChrystal situation itself, I’m more than happy with the way Obama has resolved it.

Tropical Storm Potential

oh ohOnly 30% at this point, but moving West and/or Northwest.

Olbermann is Delusional

Keith Olbermann delivered himself of a Special Comment last night that was as thoroughly delusional and incoherent as anything I have ever heard him say. It is redundant to say that Olbermann “doesn’t get it,” because that is almost always the case with him, but this comment contained so much contradiction and delusion that even coming from him it had me staring at the screen in slack-jawed amazement.

First he roundly condemned McChrystal for his violation of a principle of American governance, talking about the revelation of McChrystal’s reported discussion of his superiors as reported in Rolling Stone.

…that the comments are inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between military and civilian authority and are thus intolerable. We can honor his service, the way we honor the service of General Curtis LeMay, or the way we honor the service of General Douglas MacArthur, forever blemished, forever compromised, forever instructive that however much credit each heroic soldier deserves, he and his comrades are not the masters of this country, but its employees.

It is the fundamental tenet on which this nation rests; it is what has kept us from any serious dalliance with a militaristic government in all our long history; it is the simple balanced poetry that has saved us from the threat of military overthrow and dictatorship for 234 years, while nearly all the other great nations of the world, from Germany to Japan, have succumbed to it, again and again.

Long-winded and pretentious as it is, it is also very true. He then goes on to say, in a rather incredibe stroke of self-contradiction,

And that is when, Sir, you should take General McChrystal‘s resignation, and fold it up, and put it in your top drawer, and tell him that that is where it will remain, and that as of now you are not accepting it.

Does Olbermann know the actual meanings of the words that he uses in these “Comments,” or does he merely look them up in the thesaurus and throw them in there because they sound good? Does he know the meaning of the word “intolerable?” Having referred to McChrystal’s actions as “intolerable,” he then says that Obama should tolerate them; that he should not accept the general’s resignation. There seemed to be several reasons for this rather bizarre suggestion.

First came the “he‘s not getting out of this morass he helped create.” I think that’s related to Colin Powell’s “Crate and Barrel” thing of “you broke it you own it” or it may be a less noble concept of “you aren’t leaving me stuck with this mess,” but in either case it’s nonsense.

Then there’s the political angle, right up Olbermann’s alley and something that only he, or perhaps Chris Matthews, could come up with,

And then, Sir, you sit back and watch the political world‘s collective jaw drop. This would not be mere contrariness, nor even the satisfying destabilization of the entire political climate, although those would be fun, too.

Oh, sure, watching the abrogation of a fundamental principle of American governance would be “fun.”

Olbermann then spends what seemed like twenty minutes declaiming, in a dazzling non sequitur, that Obama should not fire McChrystal because Bush did fire a lot of generals who disagreed with him. Olbermann fails to note that Bush’s generals did not refer to Bush and his staff as “clowns” and such, they respectfully offered input prior to decisions having been made which Bush did not want to hear. Not quite the same thing as a general who is repeatedly told to quit stating publicly that he disagrees with presidential decisions and refuses to do so.

He then says that by not firing McChrystal, Obama would have him in the palm of his hand; that McChrystal would then become beholden to him in a fashion that would assure future compliance. Not only would he earn McChrystal’s undying loyalty, but the entire military establishment would then see Obama in a new light.

You would be the President who defended General McChrystal after he humiliated himself. You would be the leader sensitive to the military, and its needs, and its failures, and its pressures.

That is utterly delusional. One does not obtain the respect and loyalty of one’s subordinates by allowing those subordinates to openly disrespect you and walk all over you, allowing them to disobey your orders, and then say all is well and we will move forward from here. The problem with McChrystal is not his actions, it is his attitude, and orders may change his actions but they will not change his attitude. And McChrystal didn't "humiliate himself," he disrespected his superiors and dishonored his uniform.

Olbermann then babbled something about “listening to his generals.” I think the gist of it was that Obama should not fire McChrystal so that he would be listening to his generals because Bush listened to his generals, but that is sort of in conflict with his earlier thing about how he should not do what Bush did do. I was having trouble keeping up with him by the time we got to this point, partly because he’d been abusing the thesaurus too much.

Finally there was the inevitable thing about President Lincoln; in this case about Lincoln appointing a general who was a liar and a braggart. McChrystal is certainly no shrinking violet, but where did the “liar” thing come from? If he's intimating that the Lincoln principle of "I need capable generals, not polite generals" applies, that is rather at odds with his earlier, “he‘s not getting out of this morass he helped create.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

POTUS v. McChrystal

I need to reflect on this at more length, but my initial reaction is that Obama should definitely not accept McChrystal's resignation. He should reject the resignation and then fire him. I'm inclined to think he should withdraw his commission. Military respect for civilian authority is too important to trifle with.

Left Wing Demagoguery

Olbermann and others on the left have been hyperventilating about a BP memo discovered recently which "discloses that they were lying about the amount of oil leaking" from the blown-out well in the Gulf. It is claimed that, rather than the 1000 barrels per day, later revised to 5000 bpd, and then higher yet, the memo shows that they knew that it was actually 100,000 barrels per day from the beginning. What the memo actually says,

A BP estimate made after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon noted that as much as 100,000 barrels per day could leak into the ocean if the blowout preventer and wellhead were removed, a higher worst-case scenario than previously reported.

[Emphasis mine.] That's a little different than "they knew that it was actually 100,000 barrels per day from the beginning."

I have no problem with criticism of BP, in general or for their actions with respect to the Deepwater Horizon and its aftermath, but there are plenty of legitimate arguments to be made against them. Making stuff up is just not needed, and I dislike demagoguery as much from the left as I do when it comes from the right.

The Magic Word

The magic word is “terrorist.” Put that word in a piece of legislation and it is guaranteed to pass, regardless of what the legislation actually does. Use that word in a political speech and the public and media will support you wholeheartedly, without regard to whatever else you say in the speech. Incorporate that word in a law passed by Congress and the Supreme Court will uphold the law regardless of its actual content.

First Amendment free speech has always had some limitations. You may not, for instance, falsely scream “Fire” in a crowded theatre, and you may not directly advocate the performance of illegal activity. Until a recent decision by the Supreme Court, though, it has never been against the law to speak in a perfectly legal manner and have it be deemed against the law merely because you are speaking on behalf of a group that the government has deemed to be a terrorist organization.

To be in “support of terrorism” you had to be speaking in a manner that actually supported the terrorist activity, but no longer is that the case. If you support the fully legal activity of an organization that also performs terrorism you are, according to the Supreme Court, guilty of supporting terrorism.

Osama and Company have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, and they have convinced the American people, American military, American government, and now the American Supreme Court to act with terror-stricken, irrational, fear-driven behavior.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fiscal Responsibility

A couple of things which seem to be baffling the likes of Paul Krugman is, first, that politicians are talking about cutting spending balancing the budget in the face of a still-fragile economy and, second, that they are doing so despite public opinion that is overwhelmingly more worried about jobs than they are about the federal deficit.

Krugman is not the only one wondering about this, I’ve seen quite a lot of commentary regarding the second puzzle. People in these polls expressed little concern about the deficit, but the jobs issue is high in the polling, and yet government is suddenly talking about “financial responsibility” and these pundits cannot understand why. One California editor commented that since the primaries are now past, the rhetoric could swing from all of the “partisan cost cutting nonsense” and return to a focus on generating jobs. It has, of course, not done so.

The answer to that puzzle is that first, the poll asks about the federal deficit, and people truly do not care about the federal deficit. They care about trash collection, potholes in their streets, ballpark construction and clean beaches; they do not care about the deficit.

Taxes now, they care about taxes. They are against taxes, and that’s what all of this “financial responsibility” talk is about. Is there a connection between federal spending, taxes and the federal deficit? No, not in the mind of the average voter. Hell, in the mind of a significant number of voters there is not even a connection between federal spending and taxes.

California’s governance is almost entirely done by public initiative now; voters pass some 90% of spending initiatives, and they vote down 100% of tax initiatives. Those which are revenue neutral, ones which spend money but also raise a tax to provide the money to fund the project or charge fees for it, fail at about an 95% rate.

Americans want the government to provide services, protection and facilities, but they do not want to pay taxes. Voters may not be worried about the federal deficit, but they are worried about taxes. There is a constant clamor for increasing the provisions and decreasing taxes. That clamor is fed by the politicians of both parties, who endlessly promise in every campaign at every level to do precisely that.

No, the voters don’t want the budget balanced and they don’t care about the deficit. They do care about “fiscal responsibility,” though, when that phrase is used as code for “low taxes.” At this point the public does want the government to provide jobs, and health care, and unemployment benefits, and clean seas. They also want taxes reduced and lower gasoline cost. And free lunch; don’t forget the free lunch.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Don't Get It

Right now there is a war in Afghanistan which by most accounts is going badly; there is horribly increasing violence in Iraq; the economy is still on very shaky footing; and the outrage of the day is that Tony Hayward went to a freaking yacht race.

Instead of doing what, precisely? How would his eschewing watching the yacht race have in any way affected cleanup of the oil disaster in the Gulf?

President Obama watched a baseball game and played golf; where is the outrage over that? Not that I think there should be, I think it is perfectly appropriate for him to do that; as do, apparently, all of the media mavens. We do not expect a president, with the weight of the entire nation and trillions of dollars in his hands to work 24/7/365, but apparently we do expect the head of a corporation a fraction of the size of a nation to do so.

There are plenty of legitimate grounds upon which to castigate Tony Hayward, for heaven's sake, we don't need to indulge in this kind of nonsensical posturing. Indeed, when we do so we diminish the impact of legitimate complaint.

Such is the nature of our political discourse today. We engage in so much nonsensical posturing that the real critique gets lost in the noise.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Feinstein is a Democrat

"We have 99 weeks of unemployment insurance now. The question becomes how long do you continue it before people just don't go back to work at all?" Sen. Feinstein said.

She did vote for extension of benefits, but...

Keynes Was An Idiot

Krugman’s theory, that we need government spending in order to restart the economy, seems to be bolstered by history but fails the test of logic. FDR’s spending program did not restart anything, it merely allowed an economy to stay the course until WW2 came along, as is pretty much confirmed by Krugman’s editorial in today’s NY Times.

It raises memories of 1937, when F.D.R.’s premature attempt to balance the budget helped plunge a recovering economy back into severe recession.

To me that suggests that the recession is at held bay only so long as you continue the government spending, and that is not a recovery at all. FDR's spending had been ongoing for more than six years, at what point would his attempt to balance the budget not been "premature?"

Krugman suggests that consumer buying will restore the economy, that it is the economy in fact, but if it is the government’s money they are using for that buying then the economy survives only as long as the government continues to pour money into the mix. Recovery from the depression of the thirties didn’t really occur until American production powered the rebuilding of a war-shattered world in the 1950’s.

Recovery of a real, sustainable economy is not going to occur until we are producing, and I don’t pretend to know precisely how that happens. I certainly don’t imagine that is going to occur as a result of the government providing temporary jobs, or pouring money into an economy based on credit and consumer spending.

Government provision of jobs may be, and I think is, necessary as a stopgap measure but not, as Krugman suggests, as a means of “restarting the economy.” If we’re going to do it, we should be focused on what we are trying to accomplish with it. In losing the focus on its purpose, we wind up doing it badly, and spending money that serves little purpose at all.

High speed rail projects are a case in point. That kind of project expends far too much on real estate and raw materials acquisition, which add essentially nothing to the economy, and provides relatively few jobs for the amount of money expended, which is the baseline purpose of the stimulus to begin with. It may be good social policy when money is available to do it, but it’s a damn poor means of providing jobs pending an economic restart.

Other nations seem to be focused on subsidizing manufacturing, and we complain about that. Boeing complains about the Air Force tanker deal because the EU subsidized the builders they were competing against. Our steelmakers complain because the steel we import is subsidized by the government of the countries in which it is made. We just complain, and focus more on how our government needs to spend more on “providing jobs so that consumers can spend,” and wonder why our factories aren’t building anything.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Call it the "Pacific Conference"

So Utah has now joined the Pac 10, giving it 12 teams and making it no longer the Pac 11, which it was before it became the Pac 12 while still being called the Pac 10 for no discernable reason.

Note that the Big 12 now has 10 teams, while the Big 10 has 11 teams.

So the Big 10 is a larger conference than the Big 12. Okay.

I recently found out that in order to have a "championship game" a conference must have twelve teams, which is about as logical as most NCAA rules, but no one has yet suggested that the Pac 10, with its 12 teams, will have one or than the Big 12, with its 11 teams, will drop its championship game. Rules; it's all about rules.

Why Regulate?

Let’s think back to Three Mile Island for a minute. Since that event there has been no accident of any significance at any nuclear plant in the United States. Do you think that is a coincidence? It’s not.

There have been minor infractions of safety regulations at nuclear plants, and when they have occurred the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has paid attention. They have, in fact, paid attention to those infractions like a flock of ducks pays attention to a June bug infestation. They not only issue fines and institute corrective measures, they set up a process of follow-up inspections to assure that the corrective measures are being met.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune recently, in an article regarding the San Onofre nuclear power station just north of here,

The commission placed San Onofre’s Unit 2 reactor on “regulatory response” in 2009, and has added inspectors until the plant meets the NRC’s standards. The plant’s other reactor, Unit 3, has no significant problems.

“None of those (problems) are close to the kind of concerns that would cause us to shut the plant down or anything like that,” Jaczko said in an interview. “Right now we’re not seeing any significant safety violations, but we’re seeing some things that if they’re not addressed soon could lead to performance challenges, and that’s why we want to address them early.”

There have been many “minor” accidents in the oil industry over the years, and no regulatory agency has addressed them. That’s why we have the Deepwater Horizon event today. We have not had a Three Mile Island event, or anything even close to it, because regulation and inspection works.

And for anyone who claims that the government can't do anything right? Three words; Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Very Wierd Speech

The President jarred me from the very beginning of his speech by reminding us that “our top priority is to recover and rebuild from a recession that has touched the lives of nearly every American” and that “our brave men and women in uniform are taking the fight to al Qaeda wherever it exists.”

It sort of put the subject of the speech in the role of side show, and in any case the main battle ground for “our brave men and women in uniform” is Afghanistan today, and our enemy there is the Taliban because al Qaeda
is located almost everywhere except there.

I had to wait for the text of the speech to become available, so that I could go back and read it to see if it really was as vague and filled with platitudes as the impression I got when watching it live. If anything, it is worse, since his personality and presence lent it weight beyond the content of its words.

He starts the content of the Gulf disaster part of the speech with how he’d “like to lay out for you what our battle plan” is going forward for the Gulf oil crisis, and the generalizations and platitudes begin.

We get a discussion of what has been done from the “very first day,” and in general terms what thousands of troops are doing today, which is not a “plan going forward.” We get told about the millions of feet of boom that have been laid, not mentioning that most of it has been laid improperly and purely for show. Then he promises that “we will offer whatever additional resources and assistance our coastal states may need” and that if any mistakes are made, he wants to hear about them.

If we had a battle plan like that in WW2 we would all be speaking German.

Do you think I’m being unfair or overly critical? That, perhaps I’m editing to cast him in a poor light? The entire text of his speech is presented here in the New York Times, read it for yourself and see if you see any “plans going forward” other than the phrase “we will offer whatever…”

Then he speaks of “focus[ing] on the recovery and restoration of the Gulf Coast,” and the generalities and platitudes continue.

Here we get a fund provided by BP and administered by a third party, which is at least delivered with a touch of firmness that might even be anger at the perpetrator of this disaster, and a “long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan” developed by “states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists and other Gulf residents.” That's it for restoration.

You know what a camel is, right? It’s a horse designed by a committee.

He does get somewhat specific when it comes to dealing with what went wrong, and for once he did not specifically blame George Bush or the Republicans. As an accountability moment it fell a little short, though,

A few months ago, I approved a proposal to consider new, limited offshore drilling under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe –- that the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken. That obviously was not the case in the Deepwater Horizon rig, and I want to know why.

Approval of a plan which massively blew up in his face, and all we get is “I want to know why.” We want to know why he approved the plan, but he isn’t going to discuss that. We want some resolution of a massive presidential and national embarrassment, that something like this could happen and we were so blind to its possibility that we had just announced an expansion of the process, and he isn’t going to address that. And the promise of a “commission” to study the problem is certainly less of a solution than I was hoping for.

I’m not convinced that turning one federal bureaucracy into three of them is going to solve the problem, but it is action and it is specific. Also the guy he selected to oversee the bureaucratic cleanup looks like a good choice, so this area was definitely a high point in the speech.

But then he devolves beyond professorial and into a degree of vagueness that defies description as he segued into his ambitions for some sort of process for some sort of change for some sort of future, which he refuses to accept us not doing. The only part of it that was in any way clear was his refusal to accept us not doing it.

He referred to FDR marshalling known technology to build ships and planes specifically to defeat Nazi Germany. He referred to JFK marshalling known technology for the specific goal of placing a man on the moon in a specific time period of ten years. He then compared those two things to plunging forward with some sort of process and going someplace,

Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet know precisely how we're going to get there. We know we'll get there.

Assuming that we do get there, how will we know we’re there?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rock and Roll

quake mapThe folks down in Ocotillo got the stuffing beat out of them last night. We got seriously rattled by a 5.7 at 9:30pm, and in the next 20 minutes that same fault produced two more at 4.0+ and 11 that were over 3.0 in magnitude. All in 20 minutes.

The major one briefly disrupted a Padres-Toronto baseball game at Petco Park, with the Canadian players looking significantly more uncomfortable than the Padres did.

We have visitors coming from North Carolina who arrive tomorrow, so we're trying to pretend that earthquakes don't really happen here. That shaking is, um... Well, never mind.

Update: The Padres lost 6-3 last night and the Union-Tribune headline this morning was "Shaky night for Padres." Sigh.

The Reich Delusion

Robert Reich was on Countdown last night, still spouting his delusional ideas about presidential powers for handling the Gulf oil well blowout. Keith Olbermann was nodding sagely and interjecting an occasional “Uh huh” as Reich ranted on,

I think it‘s very important that the president demand—not request, not negotiate with, not be all that polite—but demand that BP set aside an escrow account of something in the order of $20 billion so that BP cannot otherwise seek protection under the bankruptcy laws or otherwise just say, too bad.

Let’s clarify that point before we continue. We do not live in a tinpot dictatorship or a regency; Obama does not have the power to enforce such a demand of a U.S. corporation, much less a British-owned one. The fact the BP is operating in U.S. waters and has many U.S. stockholders is irrelevant; it is still a private corporation, and a British one to boot, and the President has no direct power over it.

And again Professor Reich returns to the receivership idea,

But also, that the president use some sort of legal mechanism—I think the easiest is sort of a temporary receivership, to assert control over the resources of BP.

I love the “some sort of legal mechanism” part. Olbermann asked him how that receivership would be imposed, what authority the President might use.

What the courts do if a particular company just may not have enough money to pay off claims, the courts are receptive to an injunction or receivership, or some sort of escrow account, under the mandate of courts. What the president could do, and I think he could very easily use the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 as his pretext, would be to force BP‘s hand on this. Say, BP, look, we have the power to force you to do this. We could negotiate, but we‘re actually going to do it.

"What the courts do..." Actually, professor, the courts don't. Am I the only one cringing when an Obama supporter is suggesting the our president do something under a “pretext?”

The “courts” to which the good professor refers are specifically bankruptcy courts, and it is they, not the President of The United States which would place a company into receivership. Further, the “receivership” which he is so fond of is a fairly complex process which is part of the bankruptcy proceeding and, just to drive the nail into the coffin of the Reich Delusion, British corporations are not subject to the jurisdiction of this nation’s bankruptcy courts.

As Olbermann would (should) say, “That man is an idiot.”

Delusional Analogy

Bob Herbert, who frequently makes a good bit of sense, starts his editorial in the New York Times today with a analogy that he dug up from some asylum somewhere,

Imagine that you’ve got the gas pedal to the floor (or almost to the floor) as you try to get your vehicle to the top of a mountain, where the road will level off. You’ve made real progress, but the vehicle is straining and wheezing. You’re not there yet.

Why in the world would you lift your foot off the gas and risk rolling back down the mountain?

He goes on to wax rhapsodic about stimulus spending getting us to the “top of the mountain” where a recovered economy holds the promise of jobs for everyone and to, presumably, Paul Krugman’s economy which is growing so fast that the deficit disappears in some magic process of relativity.

Why is he talking about “real progress” when total unemployment has gone from 17.6% down to… Oh, wait, it’s still at 17.6%. Stimulus spending is specifically about creating jobs, so how, precisely is he talking about how we “have made real progress” in the first place?

How does he maintain that we have “the gas pedal to the floor” as well? The first thing that Congress did, with Obama’s approval, was cut the stimulus bill from the original $1 trillion to under $800 billion, a 21.2% reduction. Hell’s fire, we started out by lifting our foot off of the gas pedal.

How does he know that the road “levels off” either? How does he know but what after the top of the hill the road tops off and goes straight down hill again? We spend like crazy to create jobs to get people spending to buy houses and cars on credit and what have we done? We’ve rebuilt an economy based on consumer spending and on credit, exactly like the economy that just failed us; an economy that’s based on people buying things and not on people building things.

His premise may or may not be right, I’m not an economist, but his analogy sure as hell needs some work.

Selling The War?

The discovery of resources wealth in Afghanistan is another subject on which I am reluctant to jump, but it just strikes me as suspicious. The New York Times article mostly cites anonymous "government officials" as sources, but it does say that the discovery is military. The only sources named are General Petraeus and an undersecretary of defense.

It comes at a time when the news of progress in the war is increasingly bad; that our presence is increasingly unwelcome and our tactics and strategy are failing badly. This just seems timed nicely to sell Congress on reasons why we need to continue. Additionally, the more I read the more it seems that this has all been known about for many years which, along with the source of the release being the military, adds to my suspicions as to the timing of this "big deal" news release.

Steve Hynd has a more exhaustive discussion at Newshoggers. I'm getting tired of thinking that my government is deceiving me, but in particular I'm getting tired of all of this publicity from the military, most of it self-adulatory and a great deal of it based on falsehood.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Leading the Parade

Obama is more and more confirming my impression that his form of leadership consists of waiting for a parade to form and then jumping to the head of it and serving as its leader. In 2008 he saw the clamor for “change in Washington” and capably led that parade. He is an excellent parade leader, but he does not excel at leadership when there is no existing parade for him to lead.

He got a stimulus bill passed that was the road most easily traveled, leaving the content mostly to Congress and negotiating the stimulus portion into oblivion. The bill wound up being smaller than promised, 40% non-simulative tax cuts, 40% long term social policy, and only 20% actual, current job stimulus. The public didn’t tell him what they wanted in the stimulus, only that they wanted one, and so his leadership consisted only of demanding the bill itself and nothing in terms of the bill’s content.

There was a clamor for “health care reform,” so he kicked that ball into the air and then stood aside to see what would develop. What developed was not real reform of the health care system itself, but the far easier demagoguery of the health insurance industry, so he jumped to the head of that parade. He demonized the health care industry with the best of them, gave lip service to everything else and got health insurance reform passed instead of meaningful reform of the health care delivery system.

He listened then to see what was next on the agenda and it turned out the clamor was more for financial reform than for the energy bill that he had been promising to pass, so he jumped to the head of the “let’s demonize Wall Street” parade, and let the energy bill get moved off of the stove.

In an effort to revive energy he started by giving Republicans a “drill baby drill” policy that promptly blew up in his face when Deepwater Horizon sank. His handling of that has been totally reactive to media pressure. He hears that he has not been in charge, so he has the Coast Guard start issuing press releases. He hears that he has not visited the Gulf so he makes a trip. He hears that the trip was too short so he makes a two-day trip. He hears that he has not shown enough anger so he talks about finding out whose ass to kick. He hears that he has not addressed the nation so he schedules an address to the nation from the Oval Office.

When he was elected to office he promised to close Guantanamo within a year. That he has not done so is a fault that lies with Congress rather than him, but where is his demand to Congress that they work with him on closing that blot on our national escutcheon? There is no national clamor to close that place and so he has no motive to lead on that issue.

There is no “close Guantanamo” parade for him to get in front of.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We Don't Need Hysteria

There’s a rather hysterical rumor going around, written up at Zero Hedge, being spread by Senator Ben Nelson of Florida and getting some play on Countdown, about the blown oil well in the Gulf having been damaged beneath the sea floor. The theory is that the well casing itself is ruptured and that the well cannot be shut off. Some doomsday prophets are even taking it to the point that it means that the relief wells currently being drilled will not work as planned.

The purveyors of this rumor are saying that the only possible end game, then, is to somehow “implode the sea floor” over the well, whatever the hell that means. I’m guessing they are back to the suggestion of employing nuclear weapons on the fool thing.

Well, everybody just calm the hell down. The relief wells are planned to intersect the blown well where it taps into the reservoir, so any damage to the existing well casing is irrelevant, assuming that it exists, which may very well be the case. It isn’t going to effect plugging the well, because the plan is to plug it at the bottom.

My concern is that the relief wells, after drilling down some 18,000 feet and aiming for a well bore which is only some 20 inches in diameter, might miss the damned target. There have been a few mentions from oil company representatives that hitting the bore is by no means guaranteed on the first try, but nobody is talking about that. I guess we are operating on the principle that brave talk, how the relief wells are the final answer that will solve the problem in August for sure, will prevent failure.

In any event, the well will be plugged, ruptured casing or not, and we definitely and absolutely do not need to use any nuclear weapons to do it, nor do we need to “implode the floor” of the Gulf of Mexico by whatever means.

More Shaking

Oh goody. Movement well to the north of recent activity, and on a different fault line. A 4.9 last night, followed a minute later by a 4.5 which we barely felt. We sure as hell felt the first one; the cat sank her claws into my leg, and didn't settle down for almost half an hour. This fault line is closer to the San Andreas, about the same distance from it as it is from the one that has been bumping. Can't say I'm thrilled by that.

Another "Jobless Recovery"

We keep being told that we are recovering, but that “unemployment will remain high for a prolonged period.” How does recovery not include jobs? How, why is recovery not defined by jobs? How does 400,000 temporary jobs, working for the government and ending in three months, represent “progress toward recovery” as Obama claimed last week?

Unemployment rolls dropped last month, but looking at jobs data reveals that it did so only because people stopped looking for work, or because their long term unemployment benefits ran out after 99 weeks. When your benefits run out you are no longer defined as unemployed.

Our government is playing games with us, and that is becoming so apparent that we are increasingly unable to continue ignoring it. We could, for instance, reduce unemployment to somewhere around 1% pretty much overnight be simply redefining the word again, as our government has done so many times to this date. Define it as people older that 18 but younger than 19 who have formally applied for at least five jobs per week for the past year, and I guarantee you unemployment would be below 1% in a heartbeat.

Is there any reason to define it in that manner? Of course not. But is there any reason to exclude from the count people whose benefits have expired? Other than to make the count smaller and reduce pressure on the politicians who take heat when unemployment is high, there is not. That didn’t prevent the politicians from creating the exclusions to lower the unemployment number and reduce the pressure on themselves.

Unemployment is 9.7% now, but if we defined it as, “everyone who wants to have a full-time job but is unable to obtain one,” unemployment would be very close to 20% and we would have to be calling this a depression. That’s how unemployment was defined in 1930, and using that definition unemployment was between 17% and 20% and they not only called it a depression, they called it the “Great Depression.” We avoid calling current times a depression because more than half of the actual unemployed are not defined as unemployed.

It’s hard to solve a problem while not admitting that you have a problem.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chris Matthews is an Idiot

I watched his "Let Me Finish" last night, which is a bit unusual. Those things are so childish that I usually switch off as soon as I hear "Let..."

Apparently he is feeling that infamous "thrill up his leg" again, because he is now claiming that "Sarah Palin has a serious future in presidential politics." He goes on to compare her to, wait for it, Richard Nixon, because Nixon was at one time flat on his face and wound up winning. Matthews is so thrilled with this unique political insight that he is not limiting it to a one-evening speech; he has a blog at his website about it.

Except that, before he was flat on his face, Nixon was at one time taken seriously, too. He actually finished the terms of the offices to which he was elected. He knew where Guam is.

I should have stuck with my policy and cut him off at "Let..."

Disaster Environmentalism

The momentum for passing an “energy bill” now, using the Gulf disaster as leverage, is gaining ground, and the more heated the rhetoric becomes the more firmly I remain opposed to any such idea. Increasingly the idea is to “punish” oil companies, and to eliminate oil altogether, replacing it with wind and solar power.

Chris Matthews had a couple of guests on Hardball yammering on the subject yesterday, one demanding immediate and dramatic action, and the other against it but for the wrong reason, saying that no energy legislation was needed at all. I had to turn the sound off until they finished. Legislation is most certainly needed, but not until emotions have cooled down and it can be done rationally.

When capitalists made use of disaster to serve their purpose that was bad, but for environmentalists to make use of disaster to serve their purpose is a good thing. Whether an action is right or wrong is not a function of the action itself, but whether “we” or “they” are doing it; wrong if “they” are doing it, but natural and proper if “we” are doing it.

Perhaps it sounds better when phrased as the action is wrong if it serves “their” purpose, but proper and moral if it serves “our” purpose. Never mind that it’s the same action. Our purpose is noble and righteous, and their purpose is evil and destructive.

Never mind that “their” purpose, while generating profits for corporations, also provides jobs for workers and powers our homes and transportation.

Never mind that “our” purpose, while noble in its effort to save the environment, does not provide the fertilizer needed to feed the population, the fuel to power the trains and trucks to move that food from where it is grown to where we can consume it, nor the millions of products which are derived from petroleum.

Balance must be struck between the desire to leave the planet untouched, the need to minimize depletion of the planet, and the essential provision of resources to support life for the human population of the planet. That balance will not happen when legislators are being bombarded with howls of outrage and cries to punish the petroleum industry.

Disaster Environmentalism has decided to emulate Disaster Capitalism.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Jayhawk Is An Idiot

There will be a temporary departure from my usual penetrating analysis and trenchant discussion of current events while I get my wits back together. I was recently notified of a new post at Tom Dispatch, the title of which was listed as “Juan Cole, Israel’s Gift To Iran’s Hard-liners.”

I was baffled by that in more than one dimension. For one thing, Juan Cole is not from Israel. For another, I read Juan Cole’s Informed Comment daily, and how anyone could regard him as any kind of “gift to Iran’s hard-liners” struck me as deeply weird, since he has always written of Israeli and the US policies toward Iran as being insane and quite stupid.

Of course I went to read the article; any article at Tom Dispatch is worth reading regardless of how confusing its headline might be. It didn’t take long to resolve my confusion. The article was not about Juan Cole as being any kind of gift to anyone, it was written by Juan Cole regarding Israel giving a gift to Iran’s hard-liners with their ill-conceived and poorly executed raid on the Gaza relief convoy. Ah yes, silly me.

Read the article. Both Informed Comment and Tom Dispatch are regular hits for me, and I recommend them to you. Even if Tom Engelhardt does mess with my mind once in a while.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Short Memories

Last week economic news was thrilled by 431,000 new jobs, but cautioned that 400,000 of those were temporary jobs at the Census Bureau.

This week the thrill is a reduction of 255,000 in the numbers of filings for continuing unemployment claims. This is, apparently, wonderful news.

Nobody seems to connect the two facts. Last week 400,000 people get temporary jobs at the Census, this week 255,000 fewer filed continuing unemployment claims, and this is good news? It seems to me that if the 400,000 who are now working at the Census did not file, and one certainly hopes they did not, then at least 400,000 fewer claims should have been filed, but only 255,000 fewer claims were filed, so in effect 145,000 new claims seem to have been filed.

Short memories and disconnected facts do make life easier, but…

Unthinking Action

Last Sunday I wrote an opinion that enacting laws immediately following a crisis was folly wearing the disguise of affirmative action, and yesterday digby at Hullabaloo had a piece that seems to be a case in point,

We are witnessing the most horrific oil spill catastrophe in history. It is ongoing, nobody knows if they will be able to stop it, even months from now. It's impossible to estimate the damage to the environment. The public horrified and has never been so critical of the oil industry or more worried about the future. And all of this is happening within the knowledge that our dependence on fossil fuel is drawing us into wars around the world and that global warming is reaching a tipping point.

Common sense would seem to tell you that there has never been a worse time to defend the oil industry or obstruct a clean energy policy. You would think politicians would be petrified to face voters as supporters of those who are to blame for this unprecedented catastrophe and that it would be very easy to garner a super majority, a la The Patriot Act, to get something passed. Instead, Lisa Murkowski --- with the help of key Democrats --- is going to try to prevent the president from using executive power to enhance the Clean Air Act,

Emphasis mine. I would bet that when the Bush Administration used executive power to have the EPA declare that CO2 is a harmless gas that would not be regulated, digby was howling in outrage about his abuse of that power. Now, after speaking with high emotion of the present “unprecedented catastrophe” in the Gulf (read again that first quoted paragraph), digby wants Congress to stand by and allow Obama to “use executive power to enhance the Clean Air Act.”

This is exactly what I was talking about when I described “emotions running high and hot” and overwhelming reason. The Clean Air Act was passed by Congress, and if it needs to be enhanced then such enhancement must be made by Congress, not by Presidential fiat. I’m sure digby does not want the President changing acts of Congress with the infamous “signing statements” of portions which he will not enforce; why should he be allowed to “enhance” them with statements of additions which he will enforce?

Digby even references the Patriot Act; did she applaud that act at the time it was passed? Or did she, like me and other defenders of civil liberties, deplore it even at that time as an overreaction to fear and war hysteria?
That act would never have gotten out of committee in 2000, but that such a horror passed easily in the aftermath of 9/11 makes my point.

If reason prevailed then Congress, including members of both parties, damned well would act to prevent the President from “using executive power to enhance the Clean Air Act,” but everyone is all pissed off about the Gulf disaster and something must be done, even if it is the wrong thing, a violation of our constitution and against our long term best interests.

There is an old saying about, “Don’t just stand there, do something, even if it is wrong,” and whoever said it was an idiot.

Update: In a subsequent post, which is on another topic, digby reiterates the belief in unlimited presidential power,

And, by the way, going to this length over Blanche Lincoln who is about to sign on to Murkowski's move to limit presidential power to regulate on behalf of the environment is just too ironic. What exactly are these guys fighting for?

When the president is a Republican we scream and object about "abuse of power," but when he is a Democrat we rant about Congress being wrong to "limit presidential power." So anything is right if it is the right side doing it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

We Called It Jitterbug

Believe it or not, I used to do this kind of thing; won a few contests, too.
Our routine included me pulling my partner between my legs like that and tossing her over my head, too, only she was wearing a skirt with a bunch
of petticoats. Needless to say, I can't do that any more, but I was at least as good as this guy, and I think my footwork was a bit better. The girl here is awesome.

My Own Election Analysis

So much for the anti-incumbent mood which has been so hyped by the press. It was hilarious to watch the national punditry backtracking from their earlier gravedigging for Blanche Lincoln. In California at least, to my knowledge, not one single incumbent in either party lost to a challenger.

So much, in fact, for MSNBC’s poll which showed i.i.r.c. that only 29% of voters “favored retaining my congressperson.”

Whitman and Fiorina, both of whom I voted against, won but I’m not sure that really matters. I doubt either can win in November, although it can certainly get ugly. Each spent more money in her primary campaign than has ever been spent in the respective general election for the office, Whitman exponentially more, so pretty soon we will be spending more on elections in this country than we do on wars.

The race for California Secretary of State features, unbelievably, Orly Taitz. She is still claiming that Obama was born in Kenya, but I’m unsure how she thinks that winning this office is going to further that claim for her. Lawrence O’Donnell, who lives in California, was on Countdown last night to analyze this race, and the segment was well worth watching. Hilarious.

All of these idiotic media and pundits will be supremely unembarrassed by having 100% blown the predictions for election outcomes in yesterday’s primary. They will, in fact, pretend that they did not blow those predictions, offering reasons for victory and defeat, pretending that they knew those reasons prior to yesterday, and blissfully citing results as if they had predicted them all along.

“Of course Blanche Lincoln won yesterday because she was anti-union in a right-to-work state, where unions are not popular.”

The day before, of course, her anti-union stance was not in her favor, because the very powerful unions were backing Halter and vastly enriching his campaign. Between the money he had amassed and the power of the voting union membership, she was toast.

Back to California, the “Election Reform” proposition passed, and the “Taxpayer’s Right To Vote Act” is too close to call, which proves that Californians base their proposition votes on the title of it and never bother to read the damned things. The former one means that in some districts there will be two Republicans on the general election ballot and in others there will be two Democrats, which hardly serves the purported purpose of reducing the impact of partisan politics. Passage of the latter means that PG&E has a permanent monopoly on utility delivery in the state. Sheesh.

In San Diego the “Strong Mayor” form of city government was approved, proving once more that titles of bills matter more than content, and that emotion triumphs over common sense every time. The change means adding another district at an additional administrative cost of more than
$1 million per year, and it puts the checkbook in the hands of an elected politician rather than a person who actually has an education in the management of cities.

"We want a strong city, so we need strong mayor government."  Gack.

An anti-union measure passed in Chula Vista, suggesting that the ongoing decline of labor unions is not entirely due to government policies, but is partly due to declining popular appeal. I blame the abuses committed by public unions for much of that, with their inability to recognize the effect that their greed has on their fellow citizens. Public unions doom the overall labor movement by failing to acknowledge that their excesses takes money from the men and women who create public policy in voting booths.

A lot of noise, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Update: Orly Taitz was crushed, losing 77%-23% to Damon Dunn, former Jacksonville Jaguars football player, who didn't even actually campaign. Californians, it turns out, do retain some small shred of sanity.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Exciting Day

Lee ChildExcitement almost uncontainable today. Got to vote against Prop 16 and Carly Fiorina. The rest was fairly trivial, those two votes were fun.

And discovered a new Jack Reacher novel has hit the stands, one that I did not even know was pending. Wow! No waiting for the paperback of this one. Forget Spenser and Hawk, Jack Reacher is the man. I probably will not sleep or eat until Reacher wins the day again. I may have to take extra heart medication.

I will attempt to maintain regular blogging, but if you don't hear from me you'll know why.

Update: If I wanted to help Barbara Boxer in the general election, which I actually do, I would vote for Fiorina. Tom Campbell would have a chance of beating Boxer; Fiorina, I think, has none. Still, voting for Fiorina... No.

Who's In Charge?

We are assured by the President that the government is completely in charge of the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet the only information released by the government is that between 11,000 and 25,000 barrels per day are leaking from the blown well. As to the amount being captured…

“BP says that they captured…” is the daily release. “BP says they will…” in terms of what will be done next. “BP announced…” as to what is ongoing.

Even the ridiculously erratic range of estimates of amount being released is based on data provided by BP and views from video released at BP’s discretion. In the media, article after article calmly states the uncertainty about the degree to which our waters are being fouled and not one of them takes the next, logical step; asking, “Why the hell do we not know?”

If the government were in charge, as is claimed, then we would not be reading media reports which begin, “BP says.”

Idiocy In The Punditry

Another in my ongoing “Idiocy” series…

Howard Fineman was on Countdown last night, expounding as an expert on the company which is infamously dumping oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Interestingly, in the course of his research on that company he discovered what town it is headquartered in, how many millions it has in cash reserves, the name of its chief executive, how many British ministers it has bribed and that the list included Winston Churchill. What he did not discover is that the name of the company is not “British Petroleum.

British Petroleum merged with Amoco in 1998 and became BP Amoco plc. In 2001 the company formally renamed itself as BP plc, so it has not been “British Petroleum” for more than ten years, and that name appears nowhere on its website. To judge by its own Internet presentation, it has apparently never been known by that name.

I would also challenge his statement about "buying off Winston Churchill in 1925" as being a bit hyperbolic. As Anglo-Persian Oil Company, they paid him to lobby on their behalf, but he was not holding public office at the time, having lost in the 1923 election.

Olbermann has called them erroneously by that name in the past, but I think has learned the error of it, as he was careful to refer to them throughout as “BP.” He did not, of course, correct Fineman’s usage; that would have been against the “code.”

As a result, they both looked like blithering idiots.

Update: Okay, so both of them actually are blithering idiots. That doesn't mean they have to make quite such a point of displaying it.

Monday, June 07, 2010

More Wierdness From Reich

First Robert Reich was suggesting, on Countdown and elsewhere, that Obama should place BP into receivership, with the government confiscating all of its income for oil spill cleanup. Now, since Obama didn't heed that wierd governmental policy advice, he is advising another bizarre plan involving the cleanup.

The President should order BP to establish a $5 billion clean-up fund, and immediately put America’s army of unemployed young people to work saving the Gulf coast. Call it the new Civilian Conservation Corps.

Emphasis mine. The man actually worked as an advisor to President Clinton, so you would think that he would have some inkling as to the limits of presidential authority, but apparently not. Of course, he is now a professor at the University of California, so that might explain a lot.

In addition to Obama having a seriously limited ability to "order" any corporation to do anything, even a domestic one let alone a foreign one, the "new Civilian Conservation Corps" would certainly need to be an act of Congress, so Obama's ability to "immediately put" anyone to work is questionable at best.

Thanks to Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice for the reference.

Discerning Motive

It is undoubtedly true that some of the people decrying illegal immigration are racists; they see it as a problem because most of the illegals are Latino and either they hate Latinos or are afraid that the increasing numbers of them will cause whites to become a minority race. Some people, however, see illegal immigration as a problem because of the depressing effect that it has on wages and other actual financial problems it imposes on society.

I don’t know what can be done about that, because nowadays if you oppose illegal immigration at all it isn’t going to matter what your actual reasons are; you are going to be labeled as a racist. It is going to be assumed that you do not oppose the illegal entry of white people, merely that you oppose the illegal entry of people with dark skin.

Witness today’s editorial in the New York Times by Timothy Egan regarding current discussion of the fourteenth amendment, which awards citizenship to anyone born on American soil, and those who favor changing the part of it which includes doing so to children born to people who are here illegally.

This time, they want to exclude an ethnic minority, rather than include one. Their target is Latinos, particularly babies born to illegal immigrants who become citizens by their birth.

Actually, I have not heard anyone suggest that babies born to Latinas who are here illegally should be denied citizenship. I have heard it suggested that babies born to anyone who is here illegally should be.

Of course, race has nothing to do with it, these situational constitutionalists say. But you have to wonder if their concern over citizens-by-birth would have extended to big Irish Catholic families of 100 years ago, some of whom came to the United States through illegal border crossings from Canada.

Would he believe the proponents of the suggested change if they told him that they would extend their ban to Irish Catholics who were here illegally? He assumes that they would not do so, and implies that in his editorial, but he has absolutely no basis for that suggestion other than his assumption that the basis for their desire to make the change is racist in its motivation.

And perhaps, at least for some, it is. For some it may be that the law as it stands creates serious legal complexity in dealing with the status of the parents who are here illegally, in finding a way to avoid being forced to let that illegality stand. Unless they state it openly, only the people who are making the suggestion know what their motivation is for making it.

Unless you're Timothy Egan; he knows they are all racists.

Update: afterthought
No, I dont have any real position on the issue itself. I don't really favor such a change, and would probably oppose it if it were proposed.

The 14th did not consider the legality of the parent's presence at birth for the simple reason that when it was passed we did not regulate immigration and there was no such thing as an "illegal immigrant."

I can see a certain logic to granting citizenship only to babies born to persons here legally, but aspiration to freedom offered by this nation is so basic that I don't favor reducing the opportunity for it. I also see danger in creating a mechanism where citizenship can be questioned later in life.

It's not an easy point, but for me it's an issue best left alone.

Update 2: another afterthought
Wow, that is the really huge pitfall, isn't it? As an adult you get challenged with, "You aren't really a citizen, because your mother was not legally in the country when you were born." The burden of proof then devolves upon the person to prove the legality of his parent's entry, say, fifty years earlier to verify his own right to vote, etc.

Turns out I do have a position; no way do we want to go down that road.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Voting On Discrimination

There was a letter to the editor in the San Diego Union-Tribune the other day, which I can no longer locate and so will have to quote from memory, which struck me as quite eloquent,

Whites did not get to vote on the manner in which blacks would be incorporated into military service, men did not get to vote on the manner in which women would be incorporated into military service, why are straight people being allowed to vote on the incorporation of gays and lesbians into military service?

I would also like to speculate as to whether or not men serving on submarines were asked to vote regarding the incorporation of women into that service. Forgive me if I sound cynical, but I strongly suspect not.

Small memory regarding my father. When he died Davis-Monthan Air Force Base sent a detachment to participate in his memorial service before he was flown to Washington for burial at Arlington. Three of the pallbearers were women, and I was very pleased with that. Dad was very proud that the Air Force had been leading the way in incorporating women into the full spectrum of military service.

He would have wanted them to do likewise with gays and lesbians. He did not like discrimination in any form. Nor do I.

Disaster Politics

As we watch the Deepwater Horizon disaster unfold there is a chorus that this should be a lesson learned; that this is the perfect opportunity to leverage a new energy policy. I’m pretty sure that this is the very worst time to do such a thing.

Naomi Klein wrote an entire book, entitled “Shock Doctrine” if I recall correctly, about capitalism’s policy of using natural and man-made disasters to change government policies, and entire governments, to benefit the corporate culture. I read the book, and some of it struck me as hyperbole, but there was enough solid fact in it to keep me alert to the aftermath of disaster today.

Even before reading the book, though, I have tended to disfavor passing laws in the immediate aftermath of horrible events, at times when the emotions of lawmakers and the public are running high and hot. It tends to lead to over-reaction and bad laws. It leads to laws which remove a judge’s discretion in labeling for life as a sexual predator an 18-year-old who had consensual sex with a girl one month shy of the age of consent. It leads to “three strikes” which sends a youngster to prison for life without parole for stealing, metaphorically, a loaf of bread because it is his third felony.

Using disaster for the pursuit of policy enactment is no better merely because a significant sector, or even majority, of the population considers the policy to be generically good. The aforementioned examples were well meaning; they are over-reactions to what was and is a real problem. They do not solve the problem. Passed when emotion ruled, they made the problem, in some ways, worse.

Now may not be the best time to consider energy policy. Emotions are too high. Feelings are such that policy passed now could shut off resources that might be better reduced or modified rather than eliminated. Policy passed now might well tax resource production punitively rather than in a manner protective of the environment.

Naomi Klein made a very valid point; people and organizations should not be using disaster to serve their own ends. That principle should be universal, applying to causes as well as corporations.