Saturday, July 31, 2010

Masterpiece of Ego

Shawne Merriman did not report to Chargers training camp on schedule yesterday, giving as his reasons that he wants assurance that he will not be traded and that he wants to be sure that he will "be with a team that will build its defense around me."

A.J. Smith, who doesn't usually comment on contract issues, said today that the team will not guarantee not to trade Merriman, and that it will not build its defense around him. Given Merriman's level of performance last season, I'd say that represents very sound judgement.

It will be interesting to see when Merriman reports to training camp.

9/11 Health Care Failure

Lawrence O’Donnell was bemoaning on Countdown last night the failure of the House to pass a bill which would have provided health care funding for the rescue workers at Ground Zero on 9/11. The presentation was something of a comedy, which I will get to, but first the failure itself which O’Donnell blamed entirely on Republicans, since only ten of them voted in favor of the bill.

Normally, the Democratic majority in the House is enough to pass bills without any help from Republicans. However, the House is getting close to a recess and the Democratic leadership wanted to hurry things along.

Republicans were threatening to add an amendment to this bill regarding illegal immigration. Democrats could have voted that amendment down, of course, but they wanted to move this bill in a hurry and, more important, they didn’t want to have to vote on anything about illegal immigration before the election this fall, so to foil the Republican plans they used a plan of their own and brought this bill to the floor in a manner which prevented any amendments. It also required a two-thirds vote for passage.

They didn’t get it, which was entirely and completely predictable, and the bill failed. Lawrence O’Donnell is blaming Republicans alone for that, ignoring the fact that if the Democratic leadership had brought the bill to the floor in a normal manner which required a simple majority vote it would have passed. The only cost would have been that Democrats would have had to vote down a Republican amendment regarding illegal immigration, but the bill would have passed.

This failure is not on Republicans so much as it is on Nancy Pelosi.

Getting back to the Countdown presentation, O’Donnell first introduces a clip of Republican Peter King speaking and says that King makes it clear that, “his fellow Republicans would not be voting for the bill, ostensibly for procedural reasons.”

Watching the clip makes it clear that King is saying nothing of the sort. He says that he will be voting for the bill and that he is angry with his Republican colleagues for voting against it, and the gist of his tirade is that he is angry at the House leadership for bringing the measure to the floor in a manner that requires more votes than it will get. I see nothing there or anywhere else that suggests that any Republican was prepared to change his vote for this bill based on how it was brought to the floor.

O’Donnell than pontificates about “moments that try the patience of honorable members” and introduces a clip of Democratic Rep. Wiener.

The clip of Wiener pitching a hissy fit on the floor of the House is highly entertaining, but Wiener is loosing his cool over something that was not actually said. He is freaked out because the Republicans would presumably vote for this issue if it had been brought to the floor under a different procedure, but will vote against it due to the procedure that was used, but King did not say that and no other Republican has claimed that.

Republicans are voting against the measure because it raises taxes on corporations to pay for the benefits. That is pathetic, but there is a nasty little suspicion in the back of my mind that suggests to me that Democratic leadership was willing for the bill to fail for exactly that same reason.

Epistemological Nonsense

When this word first came out I had no idea what it meant. I have read its definition, in fact I have read several definitions, and I still don't know what it means. I have read many articles in which the word is used, and it is clear that the people who use the word also don't know what it means because no two people use it the same way.

Somebody made this damned word up, and it took off like wildfire in the punditry and blogosphere because it is such a cool-looking and meaningful-sounding word. Anyone using this word is bound to sound intelligent and insightful, and his readers will know that the writer is smarter than they are because they don't know what it means and he does. Obviously he knows what it means - he used it in a sentence, didn't he?

One thing has been consistent; every article that I have read which has contained the word "epistemological" has also contained not one grain of intelligent thought. Probably including this one, but...

Such is the stuff of what passes for modern journalism.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hardball and Countdown

First Hardball: I was reading this morning where Chris went sort of batshit crazy at Howard Dean over the Breitbart thing yesterday and I’m thinking, “Gee, I don’t remember that.” I recalled that he had some idiot from Politico on for that topic, and I was quite confused. Well, it turns out I didn’t see what they were talking about after all. I watch the 7:00pm show because it airs at 4:00pm in California, and I always thought it was just a rerun of the same show that airs at 5:00pm. Apparently it usually is, but not always.

It turns out that Joan Walsh and Howard Dean got into something of a screaming match in which they disagreed with Chris Matthews. Nothing terribly unusual so far but, amazingly, Matthews turns out to have been correct. The whole thing was so muddled though that they redid that segment with the Politico guy replacing Howard Dean and, to make it even more confusing, they omitted the specifics that caused the snit fit.

In the last segment Matthews is promoting a movie which wants to terrify us about the prospect of terrorists and nuclear weapons. (Yes, that wording was deliberate.) As is usual when people are spouting talking points, though, Valerie Plame manages to contradict herself and presents not one but several scenarios which she considers to be “most likely” to provide Osama bin Laden (who is probably dead) with a bomb. Early on she claims,

And, in fact, in the republics of the former Soviet Union, it is really very much a free-for-all. There‘s a great clip in the film where one of our experts talks about potatoes are guarded better than highly enriched uranium, which is, of course, a fissile material used in nuclear weapons.

She then goes on at great length about Iran’s “proven” determination to obtain a nuclear bomb and, just minutes later when Chris asks her which is the most dangerous prospect she replies,

I think Pakistan is very worrisome because it‘s such a volatile region. And we cannot have a lot of confidence in their command and control.

She simply cannot decide what presents the gravest threat. Fear, fear, fear.

Then on Countdown Lawrence O’Donnell wades in with a somewhat incoherent evaluation of the Bush tax cuts scenario.

Bush ran on tax cuts, saying that‘s what you do with a surplus. He still pushed tax cuts in the recession, saying, that‘s what you do with a deficit. But he lacked enough support to beat a filibuster. … So, Republicans used—right—reconciliation, which allows a simple majority vote. But it does not allow you to increase the deficit beyond 10 years. That‘s exactly what these cuts did and would do. And that‘s why, legally, they had to expire now. In other words, Republicans created this coming tax hike of historic proportions. And, now, they want to stop it by increasing the deficit to historic proportions.

But what is the fair way to label the expiration of tax cuts? Voted into law by Republicans, the Republicans wrote the expiration date into law but a Democratic Congress plans to take no action to extend those tax cuts on the richer taxpayers. So, whose tax increase is that? Is that a Republican tax increase or is that a Democratic tax increase?

Oh, come on. Republicans did not cheerfully put an expiration date on the tax cuts. The cuts were blocked by Democratic filibuster and the Republicans resorted to reconciliation, so the expiration was the result Democratic interference with the tax cuts’ passage. Now O’Donnell comes up with this demagoguery to say somehow that “it was the Republican’s idea for tax cuts to end and now they’re blaming the Democrats.” Give it a rest, Lawrence, the expiration was not of the Republicans’ choice.

He then introduces Ezra Klein who recognized that O’Donnell has just shoveled a huge load of poop onto the floor and expects him to dance in it, so he tries to throw himself a plank to walk on and keep his shoes clean,

And there are two reasons for that. One is what you said. You can‘t increase the deficit outside of 10 years using reconciliation. But the other is it made the long-term budget look better. If you would have eternal tax cuts going on, essentially, Republicans would have increased the deficit by many, many, many trillions of dollars. But as long as it expired after 10 years, when CBO does its calculation, CBO has to say, well, these are gone after 10 years so they‘re not that big.

Ezra, don’t pee in my ear and tell me it’s raining. Republican or Democrat, no budget has ever gone beyond ten years, no politician has ever cared what the next decade looks like, and the CBO never scores anything beyond ten years under any circumstances.

All of that being said, the rhetoric around whether or not the Bush tax cuts should be renewed, thereby becoming the Obama tax cuts even though they will still be called the Bush tax cuts, has been asinine to say the least.

Democrats want to “renew the tax cuts for the middle class but not for the rich,” adding to the tax cuts they have already extended to the middle class, making them the party of tax cuts along with the Republicans.

Republicans want to “renew the tax cuts to invigorate the economy” which is even more idiotic than the Democratic argument because the economy went in the crapper while the tax cuts were in place, so how are the tax cuts going to reinvigorate it?

It used to be we have one party that was for tax cuts and against spending, and the other that was “tax and spend,” but now they are both competing to see who can propose the most tax cuts and spend the most. They are mostly demonstrating that they are equally idiotic.

More Executive Power

In the first decade of this century liberals, pardon me, they call themselves “progressives” now, were up in arms about the accumulation of power by the Executive Branch of our government; a product of the ineptitude of Congress and the desire of the Executive to accrete that power. To what degree that was a desire to maintain the integrity of our constitution as opposed to the fact that there was a Republican in the White House was not entirely clear, although the former was always claimed as the motive.

Eighteen months into the Obama Administration, it’s beginning to appear that the objection was more political than constitutional, as progressives are entirely silent when a Democrat is in the White House and does much the same things with respect to presidential power that his predecessor did.

We can start with escalating wars and financing them “off budget” and with borrowed funds despite very specific campaign promises to include war-fighting costs in the annual budget. That is complicated, of course, by the fact that Congress has so thoroughly abdicated its responsibilities that it has not even attempted to pass a budget this year as required by the constitution.

There is no comment from progressives when Obama signs into law a provision that exempts the SEC from disclosing information under the FOIA, despite his campaign promises for greater openness in government and notwithstanding his statements about how the new legislation is all about “more transparency in the financial markets.”

Progressives were all up in arms about the Bush Administration’s efforts to spy on Americans, but remain silent when the Obama administration seeks the ability to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order.

And then we have “financial reform” which, according to President Obama, “creates a consumer protection agency.” Actually, it does nothing of the sort, it directs the Executive Branch to create such an agency, to write the rules under which it will operate, and to revise those rules in the future as it deems necessary. Progressives seem to be completely unconcerned that citizens' financial dealings will be governed by executive order.

I do not find that disturbing because I distrust Obama; I actually have a fairly high level of trust in him as a person and as president. What bothers me is the continuation of the shift of power to the Executive Branch of government and the evidence that, increasingly, this nation is being run, not by the Congress elected by the people of this nation, but by non-elected officials appointed by the nation’s Chief Executive.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

O'Donnell on Countdown

Lawrence O'Donnell is still filling in for Olbermann on Countdown, and he is still ranting about the eleven men killed on Deepwater Horizon. He is the only one still talking about them any more, and he mentions them over and over whenever he speaks about the event. He is really pissed off about those deaths. Good for him.

He gets his own show this fall, and I intend to watch it.

And I agree with Ed Rendell, as quoted on Hardball, that Obama appearing on The View is an utterly idiotic idea. I don't agree with Chris Matthews, however, that he should appear on Hardball.

Social Security and the Deficit

Here’s another chapter in the series, “Things everybody knows, but which are absolutely false as to actual fact.” This one, as with preceding chapters, is not limited to Republicans but is echoed by many Democrats and is sometimes stated due to simple error rather than malice because it is a lie that has been spouted so many times that it has attained the status of “common knowledge.”

Graph OneGraph Two

One of the largest single items in the federal budget is Social Security: it consumes more than 20% of federal revenue, and in order to do anything about the federal deficit and the national debt we will have to reign in Social Security spending.

That statement, and those charts, are totally false in every respect.

If Social Security payments stopped completely, if the program were eliminated in it’s entirety overnight, it would have no effect whatever on the actual current federal deficit, and it would not reduce the national debt by a single penny. It would reduce the apparent federal deficit, but that would merely be the removal of an illusion perpetrated by the government.

Let’s use a simpler analogy, one not complicated by political rhetoric and the issue of government bond purchases made by Social Security.

Suppose a lawyer wins a $1 million case for a client on a contingency fee basis, where his fee is 33% of the judgement. The defendant pays up and the lawyer puts that entire $1 million into his own account, pays out money to his client from time to time as the client needs it but meanwhile uses the money as if it were his own. What would happen? The lawyer would be charged with “commingling funds,” would lose his license to practice law and would probably go to jail.

The proper way to handle that money is for the lawyer to put that money into a “trust account” and then to pay himself the 33% fee from that account, along with his expenses, and then hold the rest of the money in that trust account for the client where it is safe for the client’s exclusive benefit. That is, in fact, the way that legitimate lawyers do it.

The Social Security funds deducted from paychecks are held in a similar trust account for the future payments of benefits to retirees and disabled persons. The government has borrowed from that trust account, in fact the SSA is required to buy government securities with any excess funds it collects, but that does not eliminate the separate nature of the cash flow; in terms of revenue and spending the money is separate from the federal government's general budget.

At some point the government decided to report them as combined cash flow because the SSA revenue generates excess cash flow and combining them makes the deficit look smaller, but that is merely a matter of appearance. The national debt is still getting larger at the same rate, the amount of negative federal revenue, and the SSA trust fund is increasing by the amount of excess SSA cash flow.

In the table above, the government would like you to think that the deficit was only $1.6 trillion and that the national debt only increased by that amount, but in reality the national debt increased by $2.17 trillion, the actual amount of the federal deficit, and the SSA trust fund increased by $570 billion. In the Clinton years of “budget surplus” claims, so much of the “surplus” consisted of excess Social Security revenue that the national debt increased every single year.

So altering the payments of Social Security benefits cannot affect the true federal deficit, and has no effect on the national debt; it can only affect the balance of the Social Security trust fund. The claim that “to control federal spending we need to get a handle on Social Security” is utterly false, because Social Security is not part of federal spending.

Medicare is a similar situation, although it is not fully funded by the trust fund and so there is a portion of the Medicare cost that is covered by federal revenue. I haven’t studied that issue, so I don’t know the precise numbers, but a large part of the reported expense and revenue for Medicare is false; it is actually trust fund cash flow on the same principle as Social Security.

imageAn actual pie chart for federal spending would look something like this. I’m not certain as to the precise accuracy of this one, but I believe it accurately shows that more than half of actual federal revenue spending is devoted to present and future military costs, which I find more than a little bit frightening and should probably write at length about in a future article.

So, anyway, why do politicians seem so hell-bent on gutting Social Security? Well, you’d have to ask them to be certain, and they’d probably be less than entirely honest about their reasons, but I do have one suggestion as to motive.

We are nearing the point were SSA cash flow will no longer be positive, and that excess will no longer be available to conceal, or at least partially conceal, the federal deficit. Furthermore, immediately after that happens the government will begin having to repay the money it has borrowed from the SSA trust fund, making the deficit even larger, because those repayments will contribute to the deficit. The politicians who are in office cannot be certain that they will have retired by the time that happens.

If they can reduce SSA benefits they can reduce the need to repay that debt. That is to say that if they can make Social Security renege on the promises it has made to those for whom it holds the money in trust, then they can renege on part of their debt.

I don’t think the politicians would phrase it in quite those words, and I’m not sure how wise that policy actually is; renege on part of your debt hoping that the rest of your creditors won’t notice and will keep lending you money.

And the numbers in the budget table have no basis in fact; they are merely ficticious numbers that I pulled out of... Well, wherever.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Global Warming My...

San Diego is experiencing its coldest July since 1933, 77 years ago.

I blame Obama. Everyone is comparing his accomplishments to FDR and the last time San Diego was this cold in July, FDR was in the White House. FDR is also the last Democrat to win San Diego County in a presidential election prior to Obama, in 1932. That is not all coincidental.

Somehow, it's all related to Hell freezing over.

My Thoughts on WikiLeaks

No post yesterday because I was looking at the WikiLeaks thing and studying reactions, and (mostly) overreactions, to it. My overall impression was to be mostly unimpressed.

A “modern Pentagon Papers” this is not, nor even close. That document revealed the political deception being perpetrated on the nation at the highest level, while this is merely low level, day-to-day operations, many of which went bad. A modern version of the Pentagon Papers would be a document with George W. Bush admitting that he knew in advance that Iraq had none of the infamous weaponry.

The participation of Pakistan with the Taliban appears to have occurred before Pakistan’s government changed, and a change of government in that country is a lot more meaningful than such a change here, so I don’t know to what degree those episodes reflect the current situation. I don’t think we should be changing course based on what happened in the past, but rather on current conditions, so I don’t see how these documents help us make any decisions with respect to Pakistan’s involvement.

As to the rest of it, if you don’t want your nation killing people in foreign lands, then you need to persuade your leadership not to be fighting wars in foreign lands, because that’s what wars do. I have been opposed to all of the wars that we have fought since Korea, but have been out voted. Since I spoke out openly against those wars before we engaged in them then I have a right to complain about the havoc we are inflicting on the peoples of those nations. If you spoke in favor of those wars, then shut up.

I’m not particularly surprised or dismayed by what I read in these reports, as I’m not prepared to tell my military, “Go fight a war but don’t kill anybody.” If we are going to ask them to do a job, then we are going to have to let them do their job. Those soldiers are doing precisely what we pay them to do. If you don’t like it, they persuade your leadership to end the wars and bring the soldiers home.

I am disheartened by some of the revelations of leadership incompetence, such as the Camp Keating affair where an outpost was set in a militarily indefensible position. It was within the field of fire of buildings not controlled by friendly forces, was sited on low ground, surrounded by high ground controlled by the enemy, and was almost a hour’s flight away from air support. The situation of that base was an invitation for disaster, and the Taliban accepted the invitation.

The other thing that disturbs me is the degree to which the military itself engages in political cover-up and propaganda to make the war palatable at home. That seems to me a failure in a certain sense of honor that has always been a part of the military culture.

Ending The Senate Filibuster

Ezra Klein was on Countdown last night, discussing with Lawrence O’Donnell something that left wing progressives have been drooling about since 2006, ending the filibuster in the Senate so that minority Republicans can no longer prevent the Democrats from carrying out their ideas unobstructed. The discussion was remarkable primarily for its failure to address the real impact of doing that.

Klein went on at length about how the danger of talking about it and not doing it was that if Republicans achieved majority that they would do it and then Democrats would be the powerless minority that they had talked of turning the Republicans into. He failed to mention that the same result would be achieved by the Democrats ending the filibuster rule and then losing the majority, which they will inevitably do sooner or later.

The point is that ending the filibuster means that the party in the minority is rendered utterly meaningless, almost to the degree that it is pointless for them even to bother to attend sessions of Congress, which is a very good idea only if you are in the majority. When, as will undoubtedly happen sooner or later, Democrats lose power, they are going to bitterly regret having ended the filibuster.

The point is that the filibuster rule is not bad in itself; it provides the minority with a voice, and assures that the minority is allowed to remain a part of the governing process. It provides balance in governance, preventing ideology from running rampant.

There is no question that the rule is being abused at this point, but that does not mean that the rule should be abolished, thereby damaging the integrity of our governance. The problem is not the rule itself, the problem is the current abuse of the rule. There should be found some way of preventing the abuse of a rule that has served us well for a very long time.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The "Brickyard 400"

I watched what passed for a stock car race at Indianapolis earlier today. I should say that it was on the television while I read the Sunday paper, etc; not sure how much I actually “watched” it. To the extent that I did, I kept hoping they would interrupt more often for commercials. Maybe something about Internet websites, or auto repair shops or, shit, nose hair clippers.

ESPN kept trying not to let us see the grandstands, but they slipped up occasionally. Yikes, I think eleven people were in attendance. No there were six more in stands at turn four, so make it seventeen. Seriously, I believe there were more race cars than spectators.

Actually this time my wife had it right, I watched “cars driving around in a circle.” They never showed more than one car at a time, but it wasn’t because they were doing close-ups; no two cars ever got close enough together to get more than one at a time in the camera shot. The only excitement was when one car got a flat tire. News flash; the San Diego freeway is pretty exciting when a car gets a flat tire.

San Diego freeway drivers are certainly more competitive.

Pay As You Go (updated)

One of the canards regarding the Social Security system is that it is a “pay as you go” system, and that today’s workers are paying for today’s retirees. The problem, the saying goes, is that we used to have a couple dozen workers paying for each retiree, and now we have only a six to one ratio and even that is diminishing, or something like that.

The problem is, that the picture is simply not true. I have been paying into the Social Security trust fund since I was eighteen. I just looked at the statement of my payments over those years provided to me by the SSA, and with even minimum interest accruing on that payment amount I can draw on that balance at my current rate until I am 87 and not use it up. Nobody working for a living today is contributing to my Social Security income and, with my health complications, nobody is ever likely to.

And yet that talking point continues to echo, not just from Republicans but from Democrats as well. We need to trim Social Security, supposedly, because retirees are outnumbering workers and today’s workers cannot continue to pay the freight for all of these current retired people.

As people live longer we may need to do something about rates withheld, or maybe we need to develop some kind of graduated retirement process. I don’t pretend to have the answers for the issues raised by longer life, but the argument about the ratio between workers and retirees is bunk.

Social Security is not and was never designed to be a “pay as you go” system. It existed that way initially only out necessity and is functioning now, as it was designed to do, on a trust fund basis. The funding ratio of that trust may need adjustment, it certainly appears that it does, but it has nothing to do with the ratio between former and current workers.

Update: Monday, 6:30am, responding to comment

But isn't the trust fund at a zero balance, because the politicians raided it &/or used to to mask budget deficits?

No. The balance in the fund is the largest it has ever been because from the day it was created it has been collecting more in payroll deductions than it has been paying out in retirement benefits. It has been claimed that due to the current spike in unemployment that has finally reversed, but I'm not sure I believe it.

Politicians have used SSA cash flow to mask the deficit by counting that cash flow as federal revenue, allowing the SSA excess to "pose" as an offset to the federal revenue deficit, but that has had no functional effect on Social Security at all. (I'm actually writing a post on that for today or tomorrow.) The "surplus" of the Clinton years was, in fact, just such a ploy and his budget was actually deficit spending, albeit the smallest functional deficit in decades.

and the $$ in the trust fund is replaced by IOU's from the treasury?

Yes, and your point is? The government is borrowing to fund its operation and it has borrowed some of that money from the SSA. Conversely, the SSA needs to invest its funds and needs to invest it in a safe manner, and nothing is safer than "IOU's from the treasury" which are called US Treasury bonds. So where is there a problem?

Did you think the SSA was going to just keep that cash under a mattress?

It is going to cause a massive problem for the government when the SSA says, "Hey, we need to start getting our money back." Not only will the government actually be spending more, but it won't have the cover-up of the SSA surplus any more and will have the repayment to boot, and the visible deficit will be huge and really unpopular. Current politicians don't care about that, of course, because they will be retired by then and different people will have to take that on.

And the number of payers-into may be decreasing, while the number of payees-out is increasing and will become huge in the coming years. The baby boomers born in 1945 are now turning 65 and it only gets bigger from here.

Again, where is the problem? Do you think that the people who designed Social Security were stupid? This is precisely how it was designed to work. That the fund would at some point be paying out more than it is taking in is absolutely part of the plan. That point is getting closer; last I heard it was 2035 but, again, claims are being made that high unemployment has not only moved that date forward but has brought it upon us. I have my doubts about much of that, regarding it mostly as fear mongering. That's when SSA says, "Hey, we need to start getting our money back," by the way, and when people in Congress start announcing retirement on a large scale.

The people responsible for running it now are stupid, of course, because as things change the ratios need to be "tweaked" and modern politicians have been willing to do so for the payments but not so much for the collections. As a result the fund will at some point in the not terribly distant future run out of money. So rather than the minor adjustments that we should have been making all along we need to make some significant ones now. But we don't need to massively alter the system, and none of what is happening now has turned a trust fund system into "pay as you go."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

President's Weekly Address

In his weekly address to the nation this week President Obama started out by patting himself on the back for signing the “historic” economic reform bill passed by Congress, and pegged my bullshit meter by trying to pass that off as a measure to improve the economy and reduce unemployment;

Wall Street reform is a key pillar of an overall economic plan we’ve put in place to dig ourselves out of this recession and build an economy for the long run.

Even Chris Dodd admitted on Hardball that the reform which Obama signed and which bears his name is not going to do much about the present recession, but is designed merely to deal with future crises down the road.

Obama also outlined what government has done prior to this reform on his watch toward restoring the economy;

Already, we’ve given small businesses eight new tax cuts, and have expanded lending to more than 60,000 small business owners. […] Our economic plan is also aimed at strengthening the middle-class. That’s why we’ve cut taxes for 95% of working families. That’s why we’ve offered tax credits that have made college more affordable for millions of students…

So the Democratic plan is tax cuts, tax credits and lending to business, tax cuts to individuals and tax credits to students; as opposed to Republicans whose policies consist of… Oh, right; tax cuts, tax credits, and lending to pretty much everybody. I’m glad we got that straightened out.

Student tax credits, of course, fail to offset the mountain of debt that those students incur in the form of student loans to get degrees which turn out to be useless in terms of employment opportunities. So we have a lot of really well-educated unemployed people.

But I am confident that we are finally headed in the right direction. We are moving forward.

Uh huh, tell that to the 460,000 who filed unemployment claims last week, and the average of 460,000 per week who have been filing unemployment claims for weeks and weeks before that. Tell it to the millions who didn’t file unemployment only because, even with the extensions, they’ve used up all of their eligibility.

I don't expect him to preach doom and gloom, but...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Idolizing Obama

The refrain goes that Obama is failing to get credit despite having "one of the greatest Congressional achievement records of any modern Executive," and I'm just not sure how this claim keeps getting made.

Bush got Congress to give him authority to start two wars, he got two massive tax cuts, he got massive financial deregulation, he got torture and domestic spying legalized, he got permission to detain persons without cause or time limits, he got Medicare Part D, and he got countless war spending bills passed without hesitation.

Obama got a stimulus bill that nobody can really prove was terribly effective, he got "health care reform" that didn't include a public option, drug reimportation or Medicare drug price negotiation, and now he has financial reform that is appearing to be a bit questionable in its scope.

Granted the things that Bush got passed seem pretty destructive in retrospect, but let’s not confuse action with outcome; they were things he and his supporters wanted done, and getting Congress to approve them counts as "Congressional achievement" on a pretty massive scale.

Not only did he achieve the things he wanted to achieve, but he got his bills through Congress one whole hell of a lot more easily that Obama has managed to do, and he did it both when his party was in the majority and when it was not.

When Bush wanted a bill passed it went to Congress and it got passed, largely unchanged, with the features he deemed important, and in fairly short time. Democrats never blocked any of his bills, and they seldom even attempted to significantly change any of them.

Obama wants a bill and he concedes part of it before it even goes to Congress, where it gets fought over for up to a year, and then passes in a watered down manner with concessions to the minority party added on top of the ones that were made before the process even began.

And yet we continue with this mantra of Obama having "one of the greatest Congressional achievement records of any modern Executive," as if what Bush did was not reform, or somehow “didn’t count.”

Just because you don't like it, doesn't mean it isn't reform. The word consists of "re" as in do again or change, and "form" as in shape or substance. Whether you are making them bigger or smaller, you are changing the shape and substance. When you change the rules, it is reform. If you add to the rules it is reform, and when you diminish the rules it is reform. If it turns out well it is reform, and if it turns out badly it is reform.

How is it possible that Obama has such a record for “Congressional achievement” when Congress itself has such a poor reputation for achievement that only 11% of America approves of it? How is Obama such a terrific leader when the body he is leading is overwhelmingly met with opprobrium?

Look, I like Obama, I like what he is doing overall, and I despised Bush; but swooning in awe of everything that Obama does merely because he’s the one who did it is the stuff of teenaged idolatry rather than political discourse.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No Beer Summit

The subject of Henry Louis Gates has finally arisen, which I've been waiting for, but not quite in the manner that I expected. The context seems to be "the President blows it again on the race issue," which strikes me as exceedingly odd. I was expecting something like, "no matter what he does he's wrong," but I probably should have known better.

You may recall that in the Gates issue he commented that the police "acted stupidly," which was actually pretty accurate, but which got him castigated by all and sundry for a) automatically "siding with the black guy" and b) daring to be critical of our valiant defenders of civil order.

This time his administration, not him but his minions, goes the other way and he is accused of reverse racism. I really like the "reverse" part. It's actually just racism, folks, and he didn't in any case.

What it all proves, I think, is that the media is pretty much going to fling feces at Obama no matter what he does, which is kind of liberating, really.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Snow Tires Won't Help

road blockedand neither will a "Bush Hog."
bad wood

Extending Unemployment

I don’t normally watch The Ed Show, we’ll skip the reasons why not, but I caught the last part of it yesterday when I tuned in the watch Hardball. He had on as guest a woman named Beth Clark who is unemployed, and whose benefits ran out in April. Emphasis in the following exchange has been added by me.

Schultz: Are you offended in any way by the way the Republicans are saying that would you rather sit home and take the benefits than to go look for a job, that it‘s a disincentive? What about that?

Clark: I‘m absolutely offended. That‘s not me.

Schultz: Would you take any job at this point?

Clark: If it was in my field, yes, an office administration. I would take any job if it provided insurance benefits.

I have been thinking, and repeatedly saying here, that we should extend unemployment benefits, but if this is who we are extending them for then I may need to rethink that.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been unemployed once. I was working at the time as a maintenance electrician, which was a high paying and highly skilled trade. The job I took, to get my scrawny butt off of the unemployment line, was as a machine operator in a steel plant. It turned out well, but it was one hell of a comedown from what I had been doing and it paid quite a lot less. I didn’t care; it was a job.

If Ed Shultz is using this woman as an example of why we need to extend unemployment benefits, then maybe we don’t need to extend them. On the other hand, it’s Ed Shultz who is using her as the example, so maybe my mind should remain open.

Yes, family readers, my butt was scrawny once. We won’t get into a discussion of what it is now.

The Shirley Sherrod Story

The Shirley Sherrod story is the kind of political posturing that I tend mostly to ignore, but I’m going to comment on it for a couple of reasons, the first of which is the incredible cowardice displayed by the Obama Administration. I doubt that Obama himself participated in the decision to fire this lady, but these are the people he chose and over whom he presides, and it is he who sets the tenor of their actions. Nothing describes their reaction to this incident other than sheer cowardice, and they reacted so badly that I believe their action is unrepairable.

The greater point is that Ms. Sherrod’s story illustrates a tenet that I have long held, one also illustrated in a couple of my favorite movies, Remember The Titans and Driving Miss Daisy. The movies are fictional, of course, but Ms. Sherrod’s story is real and the point is this,

When persons of different race are placed into circumstances in which they are required to get to know one another, human nature overcomes bigotry.

I’m sure that it doesn’t always work that way, but it does very many times. I have seen it often, and I have seen it at times that one would never in a million years have predicted it. Human nature is natural, it is built into us, and bigotry is learned behavior, it is not part of our natural makeup. Bigotry was taught for the purpose of perpetuating slavery, so why on earth would we unlearn the slavery part of that equation and fail to unlearn the rest of it?

It took courage for Shirley Sherrod to stand up and tell her story, and even greater courage to stand with such grace against the smear merchants she faces now. We can become a better people from it, if we will.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Giving Us A Choice

This is from a clip of President Obama, shown on Hardball last night,

It‘s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It‘s time to do what‘s right not for the next election but for the middle class. We‘ve got to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work. We‘ve got to extend unemployment insurance. We need to pass those tax cuts for small businesses and lending for small businesses. Times are hard right now. We are moving in the right direction. I know it‘s getting close to an election, but there are times when you put elections aside. This is one of those times.

It’s interesting how politicians have key phrases that their speech writers use over and over. Bush had them but, happily, my mind has discarded them so I can’t quote them at the moment. Obama has “hostage.” People were being “held hostage by health insurance companies” during the “health care reform” debate. Then they were being “held hostage by the financial industry” during the “financial reform” debate. Now, “It‘s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics.”

What happens for me, when I hear the same phrase in multiple settings, is that I no longer feel that the man is talking to me, I no longer feel that his words have any personal meaning to him or to me; he is just giving a speech that someone else wrote for him to read.

After two years of campaigning and almost two years in office ranting against the Republicans for all of their taxcutting, the first major bill Obama urged was a stimulus bill that was 40% tax cuts, he has stumped about how his party has “cut taxes for 90% of Americans,” and now he is urging that, “We need to pass those tax cuts for small businesses,” which is right out of the Republican playbook.

He’s adding to that, “…lending for small business,” apparently unaware that there are no small businesses in this country that want to borrow any money. They are not using the capacity they have, and they have no interest whatever in expanding in a market that they do not feel warrants that expansion. How he thinks that putting pressure on banks to lend money is going to do anything is beyond me, when the mood of the country is contraction rather than expansion of debt.

Finally, he’s certainly not winning many friends in Congress with, “I know it‘s getting close to an election, but there are times when you put elections aside. This is one of those times.” That’s easy for him to say when he is not up for reelection, and it sounds hollow to me.

Many writers and pundits are thrilled that Obama has finally “gone on the attack” against the Republican Party; that he is making the upcoming election a “choice” between the two parties. Obama is no longer talking much about what Democrats have done so much as he's just warning us about what the Republicans will do if we elect them.

But that is what the party out of power has traditionally done, and this is the first time in more than forty years of following politics that I have seen the party in power make the central theme of an election “we’re not them” rather than the policies that they have implemented while in office.

Democrats have passed a stimulus bill, “health care reform,” and “financial reform” in this term, but all have been so badly flawed and so nasty in the process of passage that they cannot run for reelection on them.

And so in November we will have two choices at the poll, both of whom will be offering as a reason to vote for them, “We’re not the other guy.”

Krugman Does It Again

You will recall that, according to Paul Krugman, FDR’s spending which ended in 1937 causing a recession, nonetheless somehow managed also to trigger the postwar economic boom in the 1950’s, fifteen years or so after it ended. Well he has come up with another in his “magical economics” series, one in which that massive spending also did not cause any debt, blaming the debt that was left at the end of that spending on FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover.

You can read the whole thing, complete with graphs and discussions of numerators and denominators and statements that, in effect, call everyone other than himself an idiot.

First is a chart showing debt as a percent of GDP, which people with Nobel Prizes know is a very important number, one that matters a lot more than actual debt because it can be made to magically vanish a lot more easily than actual debt can. The bars for Herbert Hoover years are very short and the ones for FDR years are very tall, which would seem to create a problem for Krugman’s theory. But don’t worry, he has another chart.

This chart is the “numerator chart” or, to those of us without Nobel Prizes, the debt in actual dollars. Those are harder to make disappear, but Nobel winners will use them at times of need, and apparently this of one of those times. But there’s a problem with this chart too. The Hoover bars are very short and, omigod, look at those FDR bars!

Krugman is undaunted by any of this. Numbers are nothing to a man with
a brain like his; mere toys to be played with and maneuvered like lead soldiers on a papier mache battlefield.

Nonetheless, the fact that virtually all the deterioration in the US debt position from 1929 to 1939 took place under the tight-fisted Hoover rather than under FDR is an object lesson in the crucial importance of growth in dealing with debt. And the Hoover experience also provides a nice illustration of self-defeating austerity — not only didn’t austerity produce economic recovery, it didn’t even improve the fiscal position.

FDR spent way more money both in actual dollars and as a percent of GDP, and left the nation with a higher debt at the end of the period, both actual debt and as a percent of GDP, and yet, “virtually all the deterioration in the US debt position...”, etc. That’s how you deal with numbers that don’t suit you; you merely state your theory in the form of a conclusion, as if it had been proven by the charts that, at best, have nothing whatever to do with that statement and at worst totally disproves it.

This is “Voodoo Economics” writ large. You give credit to your hero for success, regardless of when that success occurred or where he stood with respect to it, and you blame his predecessor for any problems, no matter how the problem arose and what office the predecessor held at the time.

Krugman, just today in another article, says he might try standup comedy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Result of Half Measures

There is a big problem with the concept of “this is not as good as it could have been, but it’s better than nothing” that was used to justify the stimulus legislation which we got last year, the “health care reform” legislation which we got earlier this year, and the financial reform which we got this month. Ian Welsh sums it up, excerpted a bit,

What matters is whether policy works. It does not matter if what Obama did was more left wing than anything that’s been done in a while, what matters is if it was left wing enough (big enough stimulus, smart enough health care plan) to improve people’s lives enough that they noticed. It wasn’t, and that’s all that matters.

Therein lies the real problem. The real reason we can’t have a second stimulus is that no one can really point to the first one and say that it changed anything. Democrats are frantically trying to do that, but they are having little, if any, success. Unemployment is still the biggest problem facing the people who make up the electorate, and nothing the Democrats have done has made the slightest visible dent in that problem.

Democrats spent a full year in a nasty fight over “health care reform” and not only were they not addressing unemployment while doing that, but the fight wound up giving in to corporate interests on several high-profile items that could have saved the working man and woman money on health care, like reimportation of drugs, cancelling anti-trust exemptions, and negotiation of drug costs by Medicare.

Democrats are wondering why “Obama is not getting credit for the legislative triumphs” that he has achieved since taking office, and the answer is that those “legislative triumphs,” for all of their supposed progressiveness, have not tangibly changed people’s lives.

Worse than that, because they were half measures that have not had measureable effect, they have provided ammunition for those who deny the principles which those measures reflect; those who claim that stimulus does not work and those who claim that government participation in health care is ineffective.

These “legislative triumphs” certainly haven’t effectively changed our war status; simply moved it from one Middle East country to another. We still have the same SecDef and the same general in charge. The only things visibly improved are the stock market and corporate profits; not exactly bellweathers for the average voter.

Ian adds, “Sometimes half doesn’t work. Half-assed rarely does.”

I am reminded of a phrase from a reading in a certain support group; a reading that is suggesting commitment to the course of action,

“Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at a turning point…”

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Saw the movie this afternoon. Do not, repeat, do not wait for the dvd, even if you have a large television. See this one on the big screen.

The Sky Is Okay, But...

Hmmm, I didn't post anything yesterday. I'll have to check how long it's been since I skipped a day. Unlike some bloggers, I'm not going to apologize for slacking off, since I doubt that I harmed you by doing so.

Anyway, the East Coast has unusual snow storms this spring and climate change deniers use that as "proof" that global warming is a hoax. Now the East Coast, followed by the West Coast and Europe, are having record-breaking heat and no one is saying, "Aha, that proves global warming."

That suggests to me that global warming proponents are using scientific principles, and that deniers do not know the difference between climate and weather and are idiots. I could be mistaken about that.

On second thought; no, I'm not mistaken about that.

No Oil Into The Gulf

Olbermann has been prophesying doom from the day this well blew and, even as this cap was being put in place, was focusing on the possibility of it blowing up the wellbore rather than how it might stop the disaster. Well, here’s what the new cap is actually doing at this point. The little flecks you see are fish swimming around.

No Oil Today
Even now he is talking about the pressure in terms of how it might yet meet his expectations of failure, proving that he is a disaster journalist rather than any kind of newsman. Interestingly, he keeps referring to the pressure as “pee ess eyes,” in some sort of pluralized version of “pounds per square inch,” something that an average high school graduate would know is an error. I don’t expect much from Olbermann himself, he is clearly an idiot, but doesn’t he have a staff to advise him?

Oh well. (Pun not intended.) Apparently come Monday they are going to return to collecting the oil rather than leaving the well shut off. Hopefully some sane news show will provide an explanation for this which will not involve speculation about oil company profits.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Helluva Good Answer

Chuck Todd was guest-hosting Hardball tonight, and he showed a clip of his interview with President Obama in which he asked if Obama was frustrated by the lack of good poll numbers in light of the legislative victories he has achieved to date; the stimulus bill, health care reform, and now financial reform. Obama replied,

"No, because we were in such a deep hole that even if we get three quarters of the way out people feel that we are still in the hole."

You have to see the clip to really appreciate the response, but I don’t think I've ever seen Obama say anything that made me admire him more. He delivered that line calmly and non-defensively, with good humor, and the word that came to my mind was that he was “undaunted.”

And I think he made a good point. That we are not yet all of the way out of the hole is not reason for discouragement. We do seem to have stopped digging.

American Hubris

I don’t recall now where I heard this most recently, but it’s so common a meme that it doesn’t matter, so I won’t bother with a citation. The theory is that we should be aware that to be poor in America is not so bad because, relative to many other places in the world, it is actually rich. Other places in the world people live under a sheet stretched between poles and get by on $1 per day. Of course, when using this meme, being “poor in America” usually remains conveniently undefined.

Poor might, for instance, mean being homeless; without even a sheet to stretch between poles or a place to do that. There are people in this country who fit that definition, you know; quite a lot of them. There are private charities who care for them on a rather hit-or-miss basis but, as a nation, we do nothing for them.

Poor might mean living in a one-bedroom house and feeding a family on, say, $10 per day by working at two jobs, neither of which provides what we call in this country “benefits.” That certainly is better than the person living under the sheet on $1 daily, but if the person comes down with a preventable illness and dies from it because they could not afford medical treatment, what good does the one-bedroom house and the $10 per diem do them? They are unnecessarily dead.

Being poor is not good. It does not matter where you are poor, being poor is a miserable and unsustainable condition. A great nation does not tolerate it.

Chris Matthews is an Idiot

The drumbeat goes on about how unemployment compensation causes people not to look for jobs. I don’t really know the truth of that, but I can tell you that my own experience would certainly debunk it. I was laid off once many decades ago and drew unemployment for a few weeks before I found a new job, and it was the worst weeks of my life. I found it humiliating and was in a desperate hurry to find a job.

Some guy was on Hardball saying that unemployment does permit people to be a little more choosy about the kind of job they seek, and that they might be turning down available jobs that they feel are not worthy of them until the unemployment benefits run out, and his argument made a certain amount of sense to me.

Chris Matthews was outraged by it however. (Yes, I’m still watching his show so that you don’t have to.) Citing his son who is an actor and who works as a busboy when he is not actively in an acting role,

They announced a job like at a restaurant for busboys, which is a fairly an entry level job. Not waiter which could be pretty professional obviously, a busboy. The lines go around the corner. They‘re like trying to get an acting job. How you can say that there aren‘t people looking for work at pretty much at the entry level job? Not the perfect job, the highly or semi-skilled job, but basic work. And these jobs have lines around the corner. Every time a hotel opens, the lines are around the corner for two or three blocks. Why do you say there aren‘t unemployed people that really want to work out there, who don‘t really want to work?

His rant went on at great length and, as is usual with him when he’s ranting, it became more and more loaded with adjectives and adverbs to the point that it became essentially unintelligible. I was at times a little confused as to whether the line was for a busboy job or an acting job. At some point he drew a deep breath, as is his wont, and told his guest, “But… Go ahead.”

This is a typical Chris Matthews argument; the evidence in front of you means that there is no evidence which is not in front of you. In this case, the fact that thousands are applying for jobs as busboy is proof there are no other people who are not applying for jobs as busboy. You got that?

Me, I suspect we should extend unemployment benefits, but not based on Chris’s arguments about who is in lines for jobs as busboy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Olbermann Misses Irony

Keith Olbermann is touting the free health clinics that are being held in New Orleans and elsewhere; clinics to benefit people who do not have health insurance. He doesn't mention that this is still necessary some time after Obama dealt our health care system the "most fundamentally reformative legislation in generations," and forever changed the way health care is managed in our nation. We have to wait until Obama is reelected to see if it will work, of course, or if it actually is reformative. That was in no way a political calulation or anything, you know; "Let people continue to do without health insurance until after I'm reelected."

The "Bush Tax Cuts"

The media is starting to talk about what happens to these tax cuts at the end of this year, and is showing charts that depict their effect on the deficit into the next few decades if "Obama does not rescind them" in January. They are labelled as being the "Bush Tax cuts" well into 2030.

Obama and Congress are, of course, avoiding the subject like the plague until after the November elections, but that's another topic.

There are a few problems with all of that. Obama does not have to rescind them, they self destruct, as in all by themselves, as in expire. In order for them to continue he would have to actively renew them. In which case...

Come 2020 on your fancy charts which show the nation going down in flames due to these tax cuts, your label is inaccurate. Those tax cuts would be the "Obama Tax Cuts" at that point.

When Bush passes a tax cut you can blame Bush for it and call it the "Bush Tax Cut." I guess there is some legitimacy in continuing to call it that after Obama is in office, even though he could have reversed that tax cut once in office and decided not to do so. But when a tax cut is passed while Obama is in office it needs to bear his name. Labelling a tax cut which was signed into law by Obama as the "Bush Tax Cut" is carrying the blame game a bit too far.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Worst Cooking Show Ever

The local cooking guy did a show to help reduce fat in my diet this evening.

First he suggested that I replace the bear claw that I eat for breakfast by having oatmeal instead. Okay, I don't have a bear claw for breakfast and anyway, oatmeal? Yeah, right. I have an idea, I could eat sawdust for my breakfast; that's really low fat.

Then he introduced tuna salad sandwich, replacing the Mayo with - wait for it - cucumbers. Really? Yes, really. Tuna, mustard and cucumbers on whole wheat toast. I don't think I'll try that.

Finally, I've always thought that putting sour cream on one's baked potato was barbaric, given that it's, well, sour cream, but he went all positively Genghis Khan. He pointed out that yogurt has less fat than sour cream and said I should put yogurt on my baked potato instead of sour cream.

Oh, good God. I need a different cooking show.

Changing Congress

I received an email the other day, one that is apparently “making the rounds” that suggests we need to do something about the way that Congress is abusing its power by passing so many laws that apply to the citizenry of the country but not to its own membership. After a fairly lengthy and rather flowery rant it says,

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution -

"Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States."

Oh, for God’s sake. It never fails to amaze me, the lengths that American voters will go to in order to avoid taking responsibility for their own destiny.

In the first place, if members of Congress are abusing their power we don’t need a constitutional amendment to change that, we need voters who are paying attention and will vote them out of office or, better yet, call for their impeachment. But the voters don’t do that. They accord Congress a 20% approval rating, complain about how it “never gets anything done,” rant about it being “unaccountable to the people” and then reelect its members to office 94% of the time.

Congress behaves in a manner unaccountable to the people of this nation because the people of this nation do not hold them accountable for their action once they attain office. Election to office, short of sexual congress with a goat on the Capitol steps, is essentially for life, because incumbency assures reelection 94% of the time. It does so not because of performance, but merely due to the inertia of the voters of this nation who are too damn lazy to base their vote on anything other than the number of paid television commercials they happen to catch while watching “America’s Got Talent.”

In the second place, Congress is abusing its power in far more ways than merely passing laws which don’t apply to itself. The proposed amendment merely cures one symptom and leaves the disease unaddressed. If you have a man who is robbing banks, raping, murdering and setting fires, you don’t solve the problem by putting better locks on the damn banks. Better locks, and a constitutional amendment, as a solution to the problem are world class stupidity.

Even now we are being urged to vote for Democrats in the upcoming election in November merely because they are Democrats. Do not, for God’s sake, evaluate the person behind that Democratic label or examine the voting record in Congress. Obama is campaigning in support of Democrats who voted against health care reform.

Vote for the Democrat, the television commercials tell us, or the scary Republican will get into office and things will become so much worse. One television commercial tells us the Republican is lying, and another tells us the Democrat is lying. Count them up and decide by the numbers.

Having It Both Ways

So Obama is having a problem getting jobs stimulus legislation through Congress, is he? Well in part it's a problem of his own making for allowing the myth of 9.7% unemployment to stand. The number is much closer to 17% and he knows that. It has been "fudged" by his predecessor administrations, including Clinton's, to avoid making themselves look bad, and he is allowing the practice to continue to avoid making himself look bad. If he let the real number, 17%, be used he would have an easier time passing his agenda, but then he would look really bad for "causing" much worse unemployment than his predecessors did.

But this is typical of what our executive branch does. If it does not like numbers that cast their governance in an unfavorable light, they "fudge" those numbers to make the numbers look better, to make people believe that things are better than they actually are, and to keep people "asleep at the switch" in the voting booth.

In a similar manner inflation, as reported, does not include housing or energy costs, because those items "are too volatile." In reality, they were dropped from the index because they were rising at a time when the executive branch of our government did not want to report rising inflation.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Military Survey On DADT

The military is doing a survey of its troops regarding the repeal of DADT, and I am about to break out in a rash of snark and outright sarcasm about what has happened to the military since I served in the Navy a bit over forty years ago.

My first thought is that the open service of gays and lesbians is probably less dangerous than the kind of democratic military where the leadership has to get the approval of the troops in order to implement policy. “Sir, I have been deputized to tell you that we don’t like getting shot at, and so we no longer want to attack things.”

My second thought is to wonder if Truman tolerated the generals dragging their feet on integration of the military by saying that they wanted to do a survey of the attitude of the troops before doing what he was telling them to do. “Yes, Mister President, I’ll follow your order, but only after the troops tell me it’s okay with them.” I don't think so.

My third thought is that if troops had been asked how integration of blacks would affect them before it was done, they would have said that it would utterly destroy morale and readiness of the troops. If you asked them that now they would ask you what the fuck you are talking about. (If you don’t like the language, read something else; this piece is for military people and civilians won’t understand it anyway.)

The survey is a masterpiece of bullshit; something at which the military has always excelled. No change there in forty years. The survey finds out if you are married or single; I think married people are less afraid of gays than single people are, so maybe they score the married responses downward.

It then finds out if you have ever served with anyone who you knew to be gay, and how you felt about it. Um, doesn’t that invalidate the “don’t ask” part? Or maybe it violates the "don't tell" part. Crap, I don't know, but I'm sure it violates something.

Anyway, there’s no, “If no then skip to the end of the form,” so you still have to answer the questions about the repeal of DADT and the effect of serving with open gays, which has questions like,

If DADT is repealed and you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who has said he or she is gay or lesbian, how would that affect your own ability to fulfill your mission during combat?

The underline is theirs. Answers are: Very positively, Positively, Equally as Positively as Negatively, Negatively, Very negatively, No effect, Don’t know or doesn't not apply.

The “Equally as Positively as Negatively” bit is certainly grammatically interesting, but that there is no response for “Would not be able to concentrate on the enemy because I would be afraid that the guy behind me was going to grope me” is, I think, a serious lack in the form.

And, of course, there’s no, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Update: Tuesday, 1300 hours
They actually could deal with the whole questionairre with a single question: "Do you favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military?"

Answers would consist of: "Yes," "No," and "What the fuck are you talking about, they already do."

Obama's "Moral Core"

Andrew Bacevich is a guy I usually read with something approaching reverence. He is a combat veteran himself, has lost a son in Afghanistan, and is a student of the relationship between politics and warfare; not quite a von Clausewitz, but not that far short of him.

He wrote a piece in The New Republic, however, which strikes me as being really over the top in its harshness of Obama’s approach to Afghanistan. If you read me regularly, you will know that I am no fan of Obama’s policy in that misbegotten war, but it seems to me that Bacevich has become almost unhinged in his disappointment at Obama’s performance in office.

He starts by “evaluating” Bush’s war policy, and after a dramatically harsh condemnation of the wars that Bush inflicted on the world, and the motives which Bush used to justify those wars, Bacevich finishes,

Despite all of this and more, George W. Bush never wavered. He remained resolute, his conscience clear. He knew he was doing God’s work. He was—and no doubt remains today—a true believer. The 43d president was a well-intentioned fool, who inflicted grievous harm on his country. Yet when Bush stands before his Maker (or the bar of History), he will say without fear of contradiction: “I did what I thought was right.”

No mention that Bush was the kind of idiot who believes on Wednesday the same things that he believed on Monday, regardless of what happened on Tuesday. No matter that he was the the worst kind of leader; the kind who leads his followers into disaster because he refuses to face the reality that is destroying him and his nation.

He then proceeds to condemn Obama more harshly than he did Bush,

Obama’s supporters were counting on him to bring to the White House an enlightened moral sensibility: He would govern differently not only because he was smarter than his predecessor but because he responded to a different—and truer—inner compass.

Events have demolished such expectations. Today, when they look at Washington, Americans see a cool, dispassionate, calculating president whose administration lacks a moral core.

I understand the disappointment. I hoped for more from Obama than I am seeing him deliver. I accept the limitations that Washington places on him; my disappointment lies in his acceptance of those limitations, in that he doesn’t even seem to try for the transformational changes that he promised. Health care, for instance, was big and expensive but was in no way transformational; we still have health care delivered by the for-profit insurance model, it’s just bigger and includes more people.

But to say that Obama’s administration “lacks a moral core” is so hyperbolic a course of thought as to lead the user not only out of the Solar System, but possibly out of the known universe.

That moral core has to some degree been subsumed by political necessity, and even at times taken a back seat to political expedience, and it is that which makes me nervous. It was the Bush Administration which had no moral core, and as such it was normal and expected that it would act in, at best, an amoral fashion.

Obama has, I believe, a strong moral core and set of principles and his administration often delivers on the promise that we voted for. But it sometimes and in some ways does not, and that is what it is so worrisome. The Bush crowd was just doing what I expected the Bush crowd to do, but I worry when I see a morally centered administration acting in the amoral ways that the Obama administration sometimes adopts.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chris Matthews is an Idiot

Chris Matthews is saying, as we speak, that Republicans are sabotaging themselves in November by running whackos in Senate races that should be easy Republican wins. He's assuming that whackos cannot win, but he routinely speaks of, and with, Senators such as John Kyl of Arizona, Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and, of course, the infamous Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Not to mention that John McCain has won repeatedly in Arizona. Whackos can't win? Really?

After Chuck Todd scoffs at Sarah Palin's campaign funding and says, "Wake me up when she's for real," Chris Matthews says that Palin, "has a political operation befitting someone with presidential aspirations." Omigod.

He "Finishes" with an editorial about how all of the taxes that we pay "covers only three things; Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid." Actually, not one penny of general revenue taxes goes toward either of first two of those things. Each of them is funded by its own trust fund, with each trust being funded by a payroll deduction.

As Keith Olbermann would say, "That man is an idiot."

Wierd Weather Again

The NOAA weather site has done this before; they put a red warning on the main page, linking to a page about hazardous weather in the offing.
Then when you click on the link you see this:
On the better side, at 8:30 this morning the sun was shining and the temp was already in the high 60's. The forecast is for a high near eighty, and that this will continue through next weekend, so I am gradually attaining a better frame of mind as this forecast shows signs of believability.

Do Something Visible

I was reading an exchange on another blog in which the usefulness of the “stimulus” was being debated. One defender based the usefulness of the bill on, “we have nicely paved roads that have not been paved in twenty years.”

Really? Paving roads is maintenance. As a businessman, you know what I would call a business which had to borrow money to perform overdue maintenance? Bankrupt. If the stimulus went for basic, overdue and unperformed maintenance, then I’m not really willing to call it a huge success. Paving roads is really short term, and if those were “new jobs,” they didn’t last very long.

Another commenter said that Obama made the mistake of “focusing on saving jobs rather than creating them.” I don’t think he did that at all; I think the “saving jobs” rhetoric was something that the administration came up with after no really visible new jobs had been created.

Yet another pointed out that “there is a sign on every highway project saying the project is funded by the ARRA.” Well, yes, that’s the problem; that sign is on every project, which tends to detract from its credibility.

There is a major project on I-15 just north of my house, and when freeway construction first started getting hit in 2004, CalTrans assured us that that particular one was the first priority in the state and would never be cut back under any circumstances. It is still proceeding, but has slowed a bit due to the nature of its construction, and it has – you guessed it - a sign saying that it is funded by the ARRA.

One person claimed, as Obama himself has done, that unemployment would have been much higher without the stimulus. Yes, and if the dog hadn’t stopped running he’d have caught the rabbit, too. Unless the rabbit outran the dog, or ducked down a hole, or…

My point is not that the stimulus didn’t work. I don’t know if the damned thing worked or not. If it did work, though, you’d think we’d be seeing better defenses of it than the flimsy sort of things that we tend to get. In any case, it only matters now in terms of how it affects what do we do next, and what we should be drawing from it is that whatever we do next needs to be a damned sight more visible.

Google Gets It Wrong

This blog is hosted by Google, and it has many very nice features. It also "logs me out" at unpredictable intervals for no discernable reason. Not a big deal, but slightly annoying.

It's hard to describe just how much I loathe what Google has done to the news aggregator that I have been using for several years. The new format puts about 10% as many headlines on a page as formerly, is in a much less friendly format, and is only marginally customizeable. Why they departed from a format which was so successful that it was emulated by everyone and went to a format that presents one-tenth of the content escapes me. I'm learning to like the MSN news page.

To add insult to injury, they put up a poll asking how you like the new format, and the poll does not work properly. The button set that you click on is not the set that changes, and the questions are therefor unanswerable.

Chuck Todd Gets It Right

Chuck Todd says of Sarah Palin, "I don't get it, I don't buy it."

His cogent comment is near the end of this short clip and sums up what the idiotic Palin clique is all about. He seems to be in my group of people who think she's a posturing idiot.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dethroning The Queen

Danica Patrick returned to stock car racing last night; finished 24th, two laps down to the leader. What's interesting about that is that the television coverage of the race only showed her a couple of times, basically when the leader was passing her, and the Internet has pretty much zero articles about her today. Well, other than mine, of course. Isn't there some saying about how being ignored is a worse fate than being vilified?

Friday, July 09, 2010

More Sucky Weather

Even my wife now says she is "tired of living in Seattle." Every day the idiots on the TV say that there is a "warmup on the way" and that it will be warmer and sunnier in the next few days. Then after that few days brings more weather that even Seattle would dislike they say, "Well, a few more days and it will happen." Yeah? Bite me.

I'm Still On Krugman

Paul Krugman takes to the op-ed page of the New York Times yesterday to illustrate just now narrow his vision is, penning a piece about how well Obama is actually treating business, despite the claims of business leaders who seem to feel that they are getting the short end of the stick from Obama’s administration.

I’d say Krugman is actually valid in all of his assertions, but misses a larger picture and a good part of why business has become disenchanted with Obama and liberals at large, and why they are feeling nervous about those liberals remaining in charge.

Obama and those who supported him passed “health care reform” largely by demonizing health insurance companies; by demanding that insurance companies be “held accountable,” and saying repeatedly that the American public was being “held hostage” by insurance companies. It was a year-long rant in which Obama, Democrats and the liberal portion of the media blamed insurance companies almost entirely for the high cost of health care and for all of the other undesirable features of our system.

The whole campaign became less about what it would do for the American public than about what it would do to health insurance companies.

The campaign to pass finance reform is shaping up in similar fashion; as a rant about the evils of financial institutions and about how their pillaging of the American people has to be stopped.

While there is element of truth in both campaigns, the degree with which the Obama campaign embraces the battle is understandably discouraging to the business affected by these campaigns. A business cannot help but be nervous when faced by a government who uses as one of the main tools in its arsenal a verbal onslaught of demonizing an entire business model in order to pass legislation it deems to be favorable. Even if that legislation itself is not hurtful to that business, the year-long verbal assault from the nation’s leadership is.

Obama has demonized insurance companies, financial institutions and the oil business in his first eighteen months in office. He may be right to do so, and these business may be so utterly disreputable that they need to be destroyed, but it’s hardly surprising that business leaders in general are feeling nervous and sensing that Obama dislikes them.

Hell, they’re waiting to see who his next target is.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Sucky Weather

If I'm going to have to put up with earthquakes, maniacial drivers and the likes of Duncan Hunter and Dianne Feinstein, not to mention watching Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina commercials, I at least want some warm weather and sunshine out of the deal. The daily high temperatures lately would be fine for hanging meat, and the sun conditions would suit you fine if you are a damned duck. Making pot roast today primarily because using the oven will help to warm up the stupid house. Does not whoever is in charge know that this is July, for pity's sake?

Olbermann Does Hilarity

Keith Olbermann spent the final segment of his show last night getting all snarky about the one-hour special scheduled for tonight on ESPN, during which LeBron James will at long last and with much fanfare announce which NBA team he will sign with for the future.

Given that I find NBA "basketball" about as exciting as watching a bunch of teenaged thugs having a street fight, I was tempted to tune him out, but I decided to watch and I'm glad I did. He was actually almost as funny as he thinks he is, and I was chuckling all the way through it.

But no, I am not planning on watching LeBron's special.

Government Statistics

The government is reporting that "retail sales" increased by a 4% last month, the best increase since Moses was a young child. You may get the idea that I am less than overwhelmed. That’s because I know how they come up with that number.

No, they do not collect all of the sales receipts from all of the stores in the nation and run them through their trusty adding machine. Just like they do with unemployment numbers, where people who quit looking for work are no longer unemployed, the government has a weird way of calculating the “retail sales” numbers that it reports.

They use the "same store sales" method, which consists of interviewing a list of stores, all of which have been open for more than one year, and asking them to report their sales relative to last year. Here’s the kicker; any store which doesn’t respond is assumed to have the same sales as the preceding year. They don’t check to see if that store failed to respond because it closed.

So, for instance, Best Buy says that its sales went up 30% and Circuit City doesn’t respond. The government averages that out and says that sales went up 15% from last year. But wait; did you say Circuit City?

Circuit City went out of business and is presently closed. Some of its customers went to Best Buy, which accounts for that company’s rise in business. Some of Circuit City’s customers went to a new business which wasn’t interviewed because it hasn’t been in business for more than a year. Some of Circuit City’s customers just said to hell with it and paid off some credit card debt.

There are lies, damned lies, and government statistics.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


lego maniaAnother one at 5.4, followed by 4 more at 3.0+ in the next five minutes. More than 100 aftershocks in the next hour, and I am beginning to find this nonsense a little tiring. The cat is only now beginning to calm down.

One of the more interesting experiences in life, by the way, is having a cat on your lap when a 5.4 earthquake happens. You will need Neosporin and Band-aids.

And Krugman Yet Again

Paul Krugman is now suggesting that the government should borrow some of the “excess cash” that corporations are sitting on and use that to create some jobs because it is the same money that, if the corporations spent it, would create jobs. It’s a variation on the “all money is fungible” theme.

“I have never seen a coherent objection to this line of argument,” he says.

And you won’t get one from me either, Paul, because I’m all in favor of the government providing jobs when the private sector is not doing so. I think it’s a better idea than extended unemployment compensation, although some of that is probably needed as well, and I’m not concerned about a short term accumulation of federal deficit.

I even think it’s cool to play at overcoming the “deficit hawk” objections by saying that we should use the “excess cash held by corporations.” It’s a bit disingenuous, but in a clever and usefully argumentative manner, sort of Puckish, and I rather enjoyed it. (It's still government debt, of course, but...)

But then he goes and ruins the moment with his last sentence,

But the end result would be to put some of that idle cash to work — and, ultimately, to give the corporations a reason to start investing, too, so that the deficit spending would crowd investment in, not out.

[emphasis mine, J]  It is that which Krugman claims to have seen no “coherent objection” to, probably because everyone who has heard it has been rendered speechless by the sheer audacity of the non sequitur.

In what manner is private investment stimulated by government-provided jobs? Does business suddenly realize, “Hey the government is stealing my employees,” and resolve to steal them back? Do they suddenly decide to go into competition with the government for whatever business it is that the government is doing with those jobs?

He’s back to his, “FDR’s New Deal spending caused the economic boom,” a boom which didn’t happen until twenty years and a World War after the spending ended. He adds additional proof, rather oddly, in the form of “When the FDR tried to balance the budget in 1937 the economy promptly slid back into recession.” I’ve never been quite clear on how that proves that the spending was working to “restart the economy.”

So not only did the spending end before it caused the recovery, but there was a recession after it ended and before the recovery which was caused by it happened. And no “coherent objection” can be made against his cause and effect.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

News That Doesn't Surprise Me

In a study that it probably didn't require rocket scientists to perform, it has been discovered that men who use Viagra and similar drugs get sexually transmitted diseases more often than men who don't use those drugs.

Why would it occur to anyone to even wonder about that?

Krugman Does It Again

Krugman responds in his blog today to a column by David Brooks in the same venue; or at least he seems to think he is responding to what Brooks is saying in his column. Krugman’s standard of proof is typically thin when he responds to Brooks’ assertion that “The Demand Siders don’t have a good explanation for the past two years.”

“Funny, I thought we had a perfectly good explanation: severe downturn in demand from the financial crisis, and a stimulus which we warned from the beginning wasn’t nearly big enough. And as I’ve been trying to point out, events have strongly confirmed a demand-side view of the world.”

Funny indeed, claiming that something didn’t work constitutes proof of theory in Paul Krugman’s world. If the stimulus actually had been bigger and if it actually had created recovery, that would have “strongly confirmed a demand-side view.” But merely claiming that, “If it had been bigger it would have worked,” does not prove anything to anyone who has an IQ above room temperature.

For a man with a Nobel and a stratospheric IQ, Paul Krugman tends to use the most lame and indefensible arguments of logic I can imagine. I’m open to his theories, but he has not proved them to me with the kind of arguments he has used so far.

Brooks goes on and asks a, to me, fairly reasonable question, “Are you sure your theorists are right and theirs are wrong?” In fact, I have asked that question here before, and have challenged the constant refrain that quotes Krugman’s theories as if they were facts rather than theories. Even if they worked one time, which is actually rather questionable itself, it remains only a theory that they will function in all circumstances. In response to Brooks’ question, Krugman immodestly replies,

“Yes, I am. It’s called looking at the evidence. I’ve looked hard at the arguments the Pain Caucus is making, the evidence that supposedly supports their case — and there’s no there there.”

He then goes on to “refute” the other side's theories by listing, not failures of recovery measures, but the economic collapse itself, and then finishes with another real treasure of modesty,

“The moral I’ve taken from recent years isn’t Be Humble — it’s Question Authority. And you should too.”

Question Authority, but don’t question Paul Krugman.