Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We Are The Ones

Chris Matthews has finally realized that Glen Beck is a religious nutcase, the light dawned in view of the Saturday “Restoring Honor” event which even Matthews could recognize as a religious gathering, and he is trying to figure out the source of the rise in fundamentalism in this country today. Yesterday he brought up the “Iron Law of Emulation” in which we always wind up copying our enemies. “Is that what this revival is really about, an emulation of the enemy?” he asked. “We‘re not—we don‘t want to be terrorists. But we have to resort to our fundamental beliefs, as well, to counter those fundamental beliefs.”

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Chris really tries to understand things, but in a battle of wits he’s bringing a knife to a gunfight here.

There are two things that thrive in economic bad times; religious fundamentalism, and ethnocentric phobia and it is hardly surprising that after almost two years of a depressed economy and in the face of signs that it may be beginning to get even worse, both of those things are rising in our society today. We will not defeat either of them by ignoring them, mocking them nor, really, by attacking them head on. Like any cancer, we will defeat them only by attacking the underlying cause.

Actually, religious fundamentalism is not a problem in itself. It can pose a problem to the degree in which it is intolerant of ideas other than its own, and to the degree that it attempts to impose its beliefs on others. That is the aspect of it that needs to be "defeated."

While there may not be much that our leadership can do about the economy itself, we can deal with the fear that the economic hardship evokes and take steps to offset the effects of the economy on the people most affected by it. Doing that will reduce the ability of the fear mongers to stoke the intolerance of fundamentalism and the religious/race baiting that can be so destructive if we allow it to take hold of our society.

My point is that the things that are happening in our society do not have outside causes, they are fueled from within. If our intolerance is caused by outside sources then we are helpless in the face of it. But it is not, and we are not. Therein lies freedom, for if we are the problem then we are also the solution. We are not the victim of some outside agency, and it is within our own power to solve this.

We need somebody to lead the charge, so to speak.

Obama was big on the theory of that kind of leadership during the campaign, that he was going to be the organizer of a community of action. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” he said. The American people would be the problem solvers, the agents of change, and that he would merely lead the way.

But since he’s been in office he’s been a typical American leader; one whose policy is tax cuts and handouts, and who basically tells the voters that the solution for the economy is for them to borrow more money and go shopping. Not much change there, and the credit cards are tapped out.

Somebody needs to step up and actually be the one.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Terror Campaign

Wow, I think that Paul Krugman actually does believe that Republicans will kill all first born sons of Democrats if they win.

There may be an element of validity to what he says but, my God, this campaigning on a basis of fear and terror has just got to stop. Republicans are preaching hate and fear against Muslims and now Democrats are preaching hate and fear against Republicans in ever stronger terms. Turning this nation into 310 million people cowering in foxholes clutching their pitchforks is not a solution for anything.

Update: There is a difference between saying that your opponent is wrong, which I encourage and, in the case of the Republicans, support, and trying to paint them as evil incarnate and something to be greatly feared, which is demagoguery and is inherently dishonest even when the facts which one is using are essentially correct.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Putting Out Fires

The University of California at Berkeley produces some rather strange professors. It is, for instance, the venue for Robert Reich, who touted a plan for Obama to place BP into receivership due to the oil rig blowup in the Gulf, something that our president doesn’t have the authority to do with a domestic corporation, let alone a foreign one.

Now we have an op-ed in today’s New York Times by Laura Tyson of UC Berkeley, which suggests that absurdity of thought may be endemic to, or at least epidemic at, that esteemed school. She provides multiple reasons why we need a second stimulus bill and those reasons range from sensible to “Alice in Wonderland” idiotic.

I don't disagree with the premise that more stimulus is needed, and there are plenty of valid arguments to be made for it, so here come the airheads giving spurious arguments and discrediting the whole thing.

She starts with a modestly absurd claim that the first stimulus has not failed and “is working as intended.” Ah, so the intention was for the stimulus bill to leave unemployment at near 10% indefinitely? That was not what the president and Congress claimed it was going to do when they passed it. She goes on to say that without the stimulus and “3 million jobs created” by the stimulus, unemployment would be in the neighborhood of 11.5% today.

Assuming that such is actually that case, if San Diego suffered another major fire and the fire chief were to claim that he had managed his water use carefully and allowed a mere 80% of the city to burn and had saved a lot of water, I don’t think the citizens would praise him and give him a raise. I think they would want to know why he didn’t use more water sooner and put the damned fire out.

In putting out a fire, the purpose is not to reduce its intensity by trickling water onto it over a long period of time. You dump everything you have on all at once and you put it out. The purpose of the stimulus was not to reduce the intensity of unemployment, it was to turn the recession around, and it did not do that, so it is not “working as intended.” If, instead of trickling money out over three years, the stimulus had dumped that money into the economy in a manner that was visible and tangible, it might have had a far different effect.

"Federal aid to the states," she says, "is especially important because they finance education. Although the jobs crisis is primarily a crisis of demand, it also reflects a mismatch between the education of the work force and the education required for jobs in today’s economy."

It’s unfair to pick on her specifically for making that claim because it’s a common one and is even made frequently by President Obama, but it’s nonsense. The problem with our economy is not that we don’t have enough people sitting in front of computers, it’s that we don’t have enough people in factories building computers, a function that does not even require a high school education, let alone a college degree. Altogether too often the education that is touted by these people winds up leading the educated person to a career in the “financial services sector” a function that is entirely parasitic upon and destructive to our economy.

She then waxes enthusiastic about investing in roads and bridges and, at the risk of being repetitive, I would point out that jobs in construction do not require advanced education and, for the most part, don't really require even a high school degree.

I actually agree with infrastructure investment, but her logic is bizarre because she gives as a reason for it that doing so will reduce “the road congestion, airport delays and freight bottlenecks that reduce productivity and make the United States a less attractive place to do business.” She apparently has not read of road congestion in China, where traffic backups are measured in days rather than hours. Additionally, I would say that the bridge collapse in Minneapolis might serve as a better reason for roadwork investment that being friendly to business investors.

She then asks if the nation can afford that kind of spending, and her answer is “yes” because, “global savers, including savings-hungry American households, are snapping up United States government securities at very low interest rates.”

That is very close to “I can’t be overdrawn, I still have checks left.”

Regardless of existing debt or income, that fact that we can borrow money, that there are people willing to lend money to us, means that it is just a sizzling great idea for us to borrow that money. Especially since the interest rate is really low. Where have we heard that before? Oh, yes, that’s how houses were sold in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

And, of course, now is a really great time to buy a house.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Attack On Social Security

This is going to be a bit more lengthy than my usual post. The subject here is the Social Security program as it relates to the federal budget, something that I have addressed several times. In July I described how the SSA cash flow is portrayed, falsely, as part of the federal budget. Early this month I pointed out how the New York Times referred to SSA as federal spending. A couple of weeks ago I was critical of some Krugman nonsense which was supposedly in defense of SSA and, a couple of days later, my own defense of the program.

Now something weird is going on which I don’t quite understand. It has been said that it consists of Obama himself attempting to “gut” Social Security, but that seems unlikely to me. I have never seen anything in his agenda or read anything in his speeches that would suggest to me that he would want to do that. It strikes me as completely contrary to his character, but his role in constructing the commission that is the current threat to Social Security is inescapable. Alan Simpson of recent news is on that commission, and we will definitely bring him into this discussion.

At the first of this year the federal deficit rather suddenly became the “cause du jour” for Democrats as well as Republicans, and Obama rather inexplicably embraced the cause himself, to the detriment of spending toward the restoration of jobs and the economy. It could be said, of course, that having restored Wall Street he had accomplished his goal in terms of economic recovery, and his selection of Geithner lends a certain credibility to that thought, but we will dismiss the thought as unkind, rather sleazy and probably Republican.

In January of this year a proposal in Congress to create a federal deficit reduction commission along the lines of the military “Base Closing and Realignment Commission,” one which would force Congress to vote on a package and relieve individual legislators of responsibility for any aspect of spending cuts, a process which I refer to as a “chicken commission,” was blocked by Republicans either because they said “no” out of reflex or because the proposal insisted on there being Democrats on the “bipartisan” commission and they wanted it to consist entirely of Republicans.

So, in line with our new form of government which includes an Imperial President, Obama created such a commission by executive order and named all of its members himself. Giving credit where due, he named ten Democrats and eight Republicans, but here’s where the weirdness comes in; he filled the commission almost entirely with people who have a known history of favoring the end of the Social Security program, people on both sides of the aisle, and then said that in order for the commission to be effective “everything has to be on the table, including Social Security.”

(Obama did not do the underlining there, I did that.) So why would Obama staff this commission with known advocates of Social Security termination and then say that cutting Social Security is pertinent to reducing the federal deficit? That makes no sense.

Unlike the Congressional commission plan, this commission’s report is not subject to a mandated “up or down” vote in Congress, but both Pelosi and Reid, going along with our new form of government in which Congress does whatever the President tells it to, has promised a vote on the commission’s report after the fall election and before the end of the year; before, that is, the newly elected legislators take office.

That could actually work to the public’s benefit, since the incoming legislators are likely to be more heavily Republican and therefor more inclined to cut Social Security, and perhaps that is actually the plan. That would be giving Reid and Pelosi credit for a somewhat deeper level of thinking than I believe they are actually capable of, though, so I rather doubt that little scenario. It also doesn’t really explain Obama’s course.

Enter Alan Simpson, co-chairman of Obama’s deficit reduction commission, who makes an infamous comment about Social Security being, “like a milk cow with 310 million tits.” He provides one of the “if anyone was offended” type of apologies for the remark, which Obama accepts, casually disregarding any suggestion that the remark might reflect the commission’s contempt for the program, let alone what it says about Simpson’s attitude.

I guess that firing somebody over something that they said bit him on the ass once so, to mix metaphors, he’s not going near that stove again.

Whatever the cause or however we got here, with Obama’s deficit reduction commission at work, reductions to Social Security with reduction of the federal deficit as the ostensible justification are very much in play, and there are plenty of Democrats who are deficit hawks and are willing to go along with this plan. Obama’s role is unclear, but one cannot escape his own words that “everything has to be on the table, including Social Security.”

Chargers v. Saints

I quit watching with ten minutes remaining in the game, not because of the game itself but because I could no longer tolerate listening to the announcers ignoring the game. For at least eight minutes they interviewed players, talked about New Orleans, and talked about seafood as the game went on behind them unnoticed.

The Chargers will win their division because they have Philip Rivers and because they play in a really weak division but they will not proceed much, if any, beyond that. They still have too many players who are undisciplined and are simply not paying attention. This has always been the personality of the Chargers team, lack of discipline and physical condition, and I do not see that it has changed significantly.

Too many players are dropping passes and running the wrong pass routes on offense. The defense still has huge problems. Defensive backs, when playing off, are playing way too far off; the secondary is often confused and indecisive; pressure on the quarterback is erratic; defensive backs, even when in position to make a play, do not make the play.

Our secondary is afraid of the opponent’s pass receivers, and that fear is reflected in the manner of play on the field. It is reflected in the lack of coverage and by the manner in which the players falter in clutch moments.

Antoine Cason on one play was in perfect position between the quarterback and the receiver. He leaped with, and higher than, the receiver. The ball went between his hands and bounced off his helmet. He fell down and the receiver did not, allowing the receiver to catch the rebound and score. An average high school defensive back would be embarrassed by that play.

A writer in yesterday’s paper said that the Chargers’ defense believed it had “found its identity.” I believe it has; Larry, Curly and Mo. The kind of defense that gives the opposing quarterback a rating of 157.8 halfway through the second quarter.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Terror Campaign

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, whom I thought very highly of during the presidential campaign even though I opposed her candidate, Hillary Clinton, seems to have gone completely around the bend. She appeared on Hardball tonight where she agreed that the public’s view of the Democratic Party is very negative, but said that the party would do very well in the fall election because, while the party as a whole might be in big trouble, individual candidates were doing just fine in their districts.

Sort of reminded me of the businessman who said that he priced his products at 10% below what it cost him to produce them and then stayed in business because he “made it up on volume.”

She then mounted a campaign of terror against Republicans, which she repeated and expanded upon on Countdown, asserting that Republicans will do pretty much every evil thing that you can think of short of killing all first born sons if you vote for them. She criticized them for being unwilling to talk about jobs and the economy while, herself, not talking about what Democrats have done or will do regarding jobs and the economy. She cannot, of course talk much about what Democrats have done about jobs, because they haven’t done much.

The closer we get to the elections, the more this campaign deteriorates into utter nonsense.

Not Missing

I'm not missing in action or covered up in a bad case of lazy. I'm working on something that takes a long time to write. Partly because at the moment it has me a bit confused. Well, more than usual.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Investigation and Outrage

Last October a Marine helicopter collided with a Coast Guard HC-130 which was searching for a missing boat at night off the San Diego coast, and all people aboard both aircraft lost their lives. The results of the subsequent investigation were released yesterday and, frankly, I consider those findings to be a whitewash and as a Navy veteran I am outraged by them.

Navy air traffic control did not advise the Coast Guard airplane of the presence of the Marine training mission, nor did they advise the Marines that the Coast Guard was present. They gave priority to the Marine training mission, despite the fact that the Coast Guard was on a search and rescue mission, which should have received priority and required the Marine training mission to stay clear. The Marines were spread too far apart, with as much as a mile between units, which left the helicopter flying without the anti-collision lights that it would have been using had it been flying alone.

When a Coast Guard vessel is speeding in San Diego harbor and its collision with another boat causes one person’s death, Coast Guard officials not only find the sailors who were texting instead of maintaining a proper lookout to be at fault, they charge them with crimes.

When a Coast Guard airplane on search and rescue is brought down and its crew killed by the gross malfeasance of Navy air traffic control and Marine helicopter operations, the investigation finds that “no single factor, person or unit caused the mishap,” that no misconduct occurred, and that no disciplinary action is required.

I must say that the Coast Guard certainly comes across as the more responsible service here, and I believe that the Navy and Marine Corps dishonor themselves with these bogus findings.

Chris Matthews is a Nitwit

My wife came home from work yesterday, took one look at me and said, “Omigod, you’ve been watching Chris Matthews again.” She promptly went in the kitchen, got a bucket of water, came back and threw it on me. The cat was already hiding in the closet; had been there since about five minutes after Hardball began. Yeah, I know, but if I didn’t watch him you might have to.

Sarah Palin has given her endorsement to some fourteen candidates prior to last Tuesday’s primaries, and ten of them lost, which is a less than stellar performance. Then she advocates for one guy in Alaska and he wins, and Matthews goes completely ballistic about how she has the most stunning star power in the Republican party and how “her path to the presidential nomination is now completely clear.” Other guests try repeatedly to tone him down, one of them even saying that she sees Palin’s “primary function as updating her Facebook page,” and Matthews is having none of it.

He and Pat Buchanan have Palin winning the Republican nomination three two years from now in a cakewalk and, adding insult to injury, he does not even contest Buchanan’s claim that she will win the nomination because “she is running as a Christian woman.”

Unlike Obama, who will apparently be running as a Muslim.

Throughout the show Matthews is angrily arguing against those who claim that President Obama is or might be a Muslim, insisting the Obama certainly is a Christian and that it is ridiculous the think that he might not be a Christian, that he has demonstrated his Christianity, and that he himself does not doubt that Obama is a Christian.

Not once does it ever cross his mind that there is nothing in this nation’s supposed nature that requires that Obama be a Christian. The proper answer to whether or not I believe Obama is a Christian is not, “yes,” “no” or “I don’t know.” The only answer that the constitution permits is “It’s wrong for you to ask the question.”

That never occurs to Chris Matthews. He staunchly defends Obama as being a Christian instead of pointing out that the question should not be asked and, if it is asked, the answer should not matter.

Olbermann, on the other hand can occasionally come up with a real treasure of cogent liberal argument. His piece last night regarding Alan Simpson focuses a little too much on the schoolboy fascination of one word in Simpson’s diatribe, but the argument regarding the Social Security program is accurate and powerful. He repeatedly makes the point that Social Security is “on track to remain solvent for decades,” that the cash flow for it is not in the federal budget, does not add to the deficit and does not increase the national debt.

He even points out that the subject of Social Security should be removed entirely from the discussion of reducing the federal deficit.

This is the first time I have seen these points made in any major media and I simply cannot applaud loud enough for him making them at all, let alone for him making them as clearly and specifically as he did. This is an excellent piece, with quite a lot to say, and is well worth watching.

Beehives and Tax Cuts (updated)

For those of you who don’t watch Countdown, and I’m actually reaching the point now that I congratulate you for your good taste in that case, a local Yellow Labrador made Olbermann's “Worst Persons” list last night. I’m sure that Olbermann is not alone in considering dogs as “persons,” but I’m not certain that courts would do so, reserving that designation for the two-legged variation and for corporations.

Anyway, this four-legged person made the list for eating an entire beehive. Labs, it should be noted, are not actually very bright, especially yellow ones. This fellow’s feat was either enhanced or diminished, I’m not sure which, by the fact that the bees were all dead, since the hive had been soaked with insecticide. The vet was not too worried about what harm having eaten the bees would do to the dog, although it did have an interesting effect on the dog’s poop, but the insecticide was a potential problem indeed. The dog is, however, fine.

The hive, by the way, had been killed because all bees in San Diego County are now Africanized to a significant degree, and all hives are considered dangerous. There have already been several events this year where people have been hospitalized by bees, and that is becoming routine. Several horses have been killed by bees. All hives discovered in the metropolitan area are destroyed on an emergency basis.

On a political note, Olbermann is back to his little ploy of claiming that Republicans “voted specifically to have the Bush tax cuts end in 2010,” and cites a variety of comedic reasons having to do with ecomonic responsibility or, sometimes, lack thereof. Having established that spurious basis, he uses it to mock them for wanting to extend the Bush tax cuts now.

The tax cuts end this year because they were passed using a Senate procedure that allowed passing them only on a limited time basis, for ten years. The procedure was used because they did not have enough votes to get them passed as permanent cuts, which they would have done if they had been able to muster more votes.

This whole claim of his that “they deliberately wanted them to end and now they don’t want them to end” is absolute and utter nonsense.

He should stick to talking about things like dogs eating beehives.

Update: The more I think about it, the more I think that Olbermann is a creep for citing the dog as a "Worst Person." I mean, really, what dog would not eat a beehive if given the chance? It probably was rather tasty, aside from a little insecticide. But, what's a little bit of toxin, he's a dog! The "Worst Person" should be the stupid exterminator who killed the hive and left it lying around for the dog to eat.

Update 2, Thursday am: Okay, so it turns out that the "worst person" was not the dog, nor the person who left the beehive out for the dog to eat it, nor the owners who failed to prevent the dog from eating the beehive, but the pet insurance company which gave the dog an award for eating the beehive. That makes Olbermann an idiot if he thinks the award is going to encourage more canines to eat beehives.

That also means that Olbermann considers a corporation to be a "person," which is rather at odds with his position on the SCOTUS "Citizens United" ruling regarding corporate campaign contributions.

The commenter also pointed out that the Senate used "reconciliation" to pass the Bush tax cuts, which is exactly what I said only I called it, accurately enough, "a Senate procedure." They used reconciliation because that's that the Senate uses when they do not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster, and that process imposes a ten-year expiration on legislation. That does not meet Olbermann's claim that "they wanted it to end" after ten years. They accepted the necessity of it ending because they were unable to pass the tax cuts on a permanent basis.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Next "Big One"

The LA Times has an interesting article about the likelihood of the next big earthquake in Southern California. The Easter quake near San Diego was not exactly small, but it was not on the San Andreas fault. That fault has not moved in more than 150 years, and they are now finding that the historical average prior to that is something like 88 years. Based on that finding, scientists are now saying that the “overdue” status of the fault is more severe and that the likelihood of the “big one” occurring soon is greater than ever.

The San Andreas fault is the line where two “tectonic plates,” sections of the Earth’s crust, are moving past each other, which is what causes the earthquakes. The assumption is that the rate of motion is constant, which is why they are saying that the next quake is overdue. But how do we know that the rate of movement is constant?

I actually don’t know very much about it, but what I do understand is that the boundary between plates is locked by friction so actual movement is episodic, occurring only during earthquakes, and that the pressure causing the movement is the thing that is constant. The pressure pushes on the boundary, increasing the stress on that boundary until the stress overcomes the friction, at which point the boundary gives way and movement occurs.

There is no way to measure the amount of pressure that being applied to that boundary, nor is there any way to measure the amount of stress that has accumulated within it, which is precisely why scientists cannot predict earthquakes. They can only assume that because it ruptures every 88 years in the past that it should be rupturing every 88 years now. But what if it is being subjected to less pressure now?

“Why would the plate(s) slow down?” you ask. Hell, I don’t know, but it seems they have done in the past. Look at Hawaii.

Hawaii was, or is being, formed by the Pacific plate passing over a “hot spot” on the Earth’s mantle. At one point the plate was moving pretty quickly, relatively speaking, and the volcanoes formed the smaller northern islands, but then it came pretty much to a halt and the hot spot volcano is now forming the very large island known as, appropriately, “The Big Island.” So, clearly, at least one plate has not always moved at a steady rate.

So maybe the “big one” is way overdue, and maybe the Earth is just laughing at us. On the other hand maybe all of you will be laughing at me when the “big one” does occur and knocks my house down because I was talking out of the wrong orifice.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Combat Mission in Iraq

Much is being made of the idea that the "Combat Mission" has ended in Iraq, and that a mere 50,000 "non-combat" troops remain in that country to "advise" the Iraqis. What is not being reported is that the day after that "last combat brigade" left Iraq, an American soldier was killed by rocket fire in Basra. Basra, in case you don't know it, is in Iraq, and rockets, for the uninitiated, are a mode of combat.

We do not have any "non-combat" troops. That is merely relabeling for domestic consumption. In addition to the rocket attack in Basra, the Green Zone in Baghdad has been under almost continuous mortar and rocket attack. If you think that we are not still at war in two foreign nations, think again.

My Giggle For The Day

Glenn Greenwald starts his post for today as follows,

I realize that it shouldn't, but it nonetheless does still amaze me when I listen to professional political commentators make factual assertions without having the slightest idea or concern for whether they're actually true.

I had to laugh, because the phrase probably uttered more than any other in our house is my wife saying to me, "Dear, why does that surprise you?"
It usually follows my expression of outrage over some Republican or "conservative" political utterance or ploy.

The second most common phrase is also hers, "See, there you go again, assuming that people have reasons for the things that they do."

Sometimes that woman really pisses me off.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Still, Small Voice

Supreme CourtOne of the most beautiful, and most awe-inspiring, buildings in Washington is the Supreme Court. It was designed to impress upon the visitor the majesty of the body which it houses, and to say that it accomplishes that would be understatement. One ascends 44 steps while gazing at the towering columns that you see in the picture, and upon passing between those columns one enters the building through massive bronze doors.

Except that on May 3rd, citing “security reasons” the court ordered that those doors be locked and that the public be allowed to enter through an insignificant side door instead. This more than eight years after the last successful terrorist attack on this nation, and subsequent to no apparent overt threat to the court itself.

Have we become a nation behind barricades? A people cowering under our beds afraid of monsters?

Philip Kennicott writes yesterday in the Washington Post of a hopeful sign; a resolution posted in the House of Representatives by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) calling on the Supreme Court to re-open those doors. The bill has attracted more than 30 co-sponsors.

She admits that we live in dangerous times, according to Kennicott, but says, "I think we can address risk without giving up our ideals, our national ideals in terms of justice, openness and access."

Kennicott calls upon us as individuals to inject courage into our institutions. “Individuals may find courage within themselves,” he says, “but when it comes to institutions, courage can be injected only from without.” I think he makes a valid point.

We look to our politicians for the courage to face dangerous times, but they represent our institutions. It is we who should be “injecting” the courage into those institutions with our votes, and our rejection of the politics of fear.

Kennicott’s piece is worth reading, and I hope more will take up that theme.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Misplaced Priorities

The CBS crew that does the Chargers preseason games are the epitome of asininity in television broadcasting. At one point, for instance, the Chargers attempted a running play which resulted in a massive pileup of players and a one-yard loss. The announcer observed, “I don’t think he gained much.”

They keep engaging in lengthy interviews, during which they completely ignore the football game in progress. The interviews would be boring even if they were not insulting the viewers by ignoring the football game that we tuned in to watch, and they sometimes last through big plays, changes of possession and scoring plays.

At one point last night the Dallas Cowboys scored a touchdown during one of these interminable interviews and the announcer actually apologized because the crowd noise interrupted the interview process. That’s right, the announcer apologized to the interviewee because the football game interfered with the interview.

And if I am going to watch the NFL Channel, which is rather unlikely, I am going to have to devise some sort of mask to cover up that distracting advertising banner that runs continuously at the bottom. I do not need to know the telephone number for tickets to the Cincinnatti Bengals.

Proper Protest

Like many of the people in this nation, I am thoroughly disgusted with the way Congress is functioning, but even in the face of that I would have a difficult time voting for today's Republican Party. Not that I would mind voting against Boxer; she’s not bad, really, but she’s a little too much part of the establishment to suit me. Doing that would mean voting for Carly Fiorina, though, and… Gack! No! That is not even up for consideration.

Voting Republican, as a means of protesting the party currently in power, in the face of the racial hate mongering that they have engaged in the past weeks is even less possible for me. Juan Cole posits at Informed Comment that such race baiting is going to backfire on the Republican Party in the fall elections. I certainly hope so, but I’m not as certain as he seems to be. I wish I could be.

People who are fearful of what the future holds do not like to feel afraid; they would rather blame their problems on some outside cause and feel anger instead. Stoking that anger is all too easy as a route to power. It has been taken many times throughout history. It succeeds when men of good will do not speak out against it.

Others may do so, but this country does not succumb to fear. Speak out.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

False Impression

lego maniaThe fact that almost every level surface in our house is padded should not be taken to mean that we spoil this stupid cat.

Disclosure on Social Security

Asking why my spate of articles against cutting Social Security is not an unreasonable question. Herewith my answer.

I am presently retired and drawing Social Security. When those who desire to gut the program win and make the cuts, it will affect future beneficiaries, not present ones, so in that respect I have no dog in this hunt. My position could well be that “I’ve got mine, so to hell with it.” I don’t think that way, and my argument is not about what’s in it for me.

This is my country, and the integrity of my government means something to me. I don’t expect total honesty from my government, that would be too much to ask, but I do demand that my government keep its promises and honor its debts, and I will argue to that effect for so long as there is breath in my body.

The “cost of living adjustment” is an issue that could have a significant effect on me and so, for the most part, I make no argument on that. I am of little consequence. What matters is my community, my nation, my fellow man and my planet. This forum is not intended to be a platform to serve my selfish personal interests.

Well, other than commentary on college and professional sports, that is.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Foot In Mouth Disease

Karl Denninger at The Market Ticker maintains that the Social Security trust fund is, in fact, a myth, that the money has been spent, that “there is no ‘debt’ owed to those receiving benefits,” and that Social Security is a “welfare program which Congress can modify or even eliminate at any time.”

He maintains that the money which people have been paying into the Social Security system all of their lives is merely a tax no different in nature than the income tax. Why it is deducted separately is something which he does not explain. He also does not explain why the check which people receive does not come from the United States Government, but rather comes from the Social Security Administration.

He bases his knowledge on a Supreme Court ruling in Flemming .v. Nestor, which he uses to point out that Congress has the right to “alter, amend or repeal any provision of the Act.” He interprets this to mean that Congress can arbitrarily declare the program’s trust fund defunct, null, void and nonexistent and that it is therefor, at this point, actually fictional. Since the program has no money Congress has no need to continue paying benefits if it doesn’t want to.

It took me a matter of a few seconds to find, contained within that ruling, the following caution. "This is not to say, however, that Congress may exercise its power to modify the statutory scheme free of all constitutional restraint.”

Actually, the Social Security trust fund represents a debt owed by the Unites States government and, like all debtors, it can indeed default on that debt. There are very serious consequences to doing that, however, and Congress is highly unlikely to announce that it has simply decided to default on a portion of the money that it owes. If Mr. Denninger doesn’t know that he is one whole hell of a lot less intelligent than I think he is.

The court roundly and very firmly contradicts Denninger’s assertion further down in the ruling, and either he stopped reading when he believed his point was confirmed, or he does not know how to read,

"Social Security is not a handout; it is not charity; it is not relief. It is an earned right based upon the contributions and earnings of the individual. As an earned right, the individual is eligible to receive his benefit in dignity and self-respect." 102 Cong. Rec. 15110.

The people covered by this act are now able to rely with complete assurance on the fact that they will be compelled to contribute regularly to this fund whenever each contribution falls due. I believe they are entitled to rely with the same assurance on getting the benefits they have paid for and have been promised, when their disability or age makes their insurance payable under the terms of the law. The court did not permit the government to break its plighted faith with the soldiers in the Lynch case; it said the constitution forbade such governmental conduct. I would say precisely the same thing here.

[emphasis mine, J] When you want to use a court ruling to confirm your point, I would suggest you read the damned thing before you cite it.

The Limits of Compassion

Howard Dean was on Countdown last night to talk about the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy and, to his credit, Keith Olbermann remained adamant that there should be no controversy; that a people’s right to worship when and where they choose was not a fit subject for the “negotiations” or “discussions” that Dean wants to hold.

Much is being made about the feelings of the families of those killed in the events of 9/11 and yet one of the most famous of those family members, Ted Olsen, wants no part of any denial of the right to build this building. Is he less grieved by the loss of his wife than anyone else? I’m inclined to doubt it, I suspect that he just has a greater sense of what is right in this universe and has managed to move past misplaced anger.

No one has dared to say to these families that while we can never fully comprehend the loss that they feel, we grieve for them and would wish to do for them anything that we can do to lessen their burden, but that condemning an entire race and an entire religion for the actions of a few criminally insane outlaws is simply wrong and we will not cooperate with them in doing it.

How many condemn the entirety of the Roman Catholic church for the actions of the Spanish Inquisition? I would suspect that number would be infinitesimal, and yet not only was the number of persons involved in that atrocity far larger than the number of Islamic terrorists, they were the officially sanctioned hierarchy of the church itself. And yet we know that they did not represent what we know of as Christianity, but that they were a horrible aberration.

No one tries to dictate the building of Roman Catholic churches because blasphemous members of that religion once tortured and killed people in the name of their God, and no one should be dictating the building of mosques because a handful of blasphemous criminals have killed people in the name of Allah.

The Merriman Saga

The Chargers game this weekend sold out, so we will get to see it real time on television. We will not see Shawne Merriman. It will come as a surprise to no one that he has been struck with an achilles injury which will bar him from the game. It will also, no doubt, serve as justification for substandard performance for the entirety of the 2010 season. He has been "troubled with nagging injuries" ever since the league started testing for steriods.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Honor The Debt

Look, people, when demagogues of both Republican and Democratic stripe start yammering about reducing the federal deficit by cutting Social Security benefits, for God’s sake stop screaming about seniors surviving on catfood. Make the more basic and more valid argument that cutting Social Security won’t affect the federal deficit one way or another because those payments are not actually in the federal budget.

This argument is going to heat up, and we aren’t going to beat it by talking about the care and comfort of seniors, because the people who want to gut Social Security don’t care about seniors. They will provide all kinds of bullshit about private accounts and such that provide a patina of provisions for seniors, but the reality is they don’t care. They care about a debt which has been incurred and which they don’t want to have to repay.

The real argument to be made is to ask whether or not this nation is going to honor its debts, because that is the real issue. By reducing Social Security benefits, these people can delay the date that the government has to pay back to the Social Security program money which it has borrowed from that program, but they cannot possibly admit that such is their purpose. Everything depends on this nation honoring its debts and being able to continue borrowing money. The moment that our current lenders get the idea that this nation cannot be trusted to honor its debt the entire financial structure of this country comes crashing down.

Almost half of what we spend at this point is borrowed money, and the only reason we are able to continue is because we are able not only to find plenty of lenders, but to find lenders who will lend money at very low rates. They charge such low rates because the risk of loss is low; the chance of the United States defaulting on its debt is essentially zero. As soon as lenders see this nation weaseling out of its debt, that changes and our spending habits become unsustainable.

So the saboteurs of Social Security cannot afford for it to be seen that their true purpose is avoidance of the timely repayment of debt. They cannot, in fact, even afford for us to ask the question. So to protect the Social Security program we must ask the question as often and as loudly as possible. We want our money back, and we want it back as agreed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Last Brigade

The last combat brigade left Iraq today. There isn’t really much to be said about that so, of course, MSNBC spent some three hours saying it, devoting the energies of no fewer than eleven newscasters and nine retired generals to the task. It has been a masterpiece of… Well, of something.

Remaining behind are the Quaker Brigades; some 50,000 troops armed, presumably, with tennis rackets or some such. Their purpose is unclear, but they are apparently not combat troops. One has to wonder how the military selects personnel assignments as to combat or non-combat troops.

When I was in the service there wasn’t any such thing as a “non-combat Navy.” Well, there was, it was called the Coast Guard.

Sorry, bad joke.

Politics of Fear

On both Hardball and Countdown pundits are discussing the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” issue and are speculating as to the wisdom of Republicans making this a talking point for the fall election. With polls running 70% against the mosque, I don’t understand the question.

Xenophobia is a very common cultural reaction to prolonged economic stress, and I’m not sure why anyone is surprised by it surfacing now. The focus is on foreigners “taking our jobs” but it goes much deeper than that. The reality is that it allows a diversion from fear, and fear is a large and growing part of our culture today, stoked by our leadership.

Fear is a very uncomfortable position. It is a position difficult to admit and impossible to thrive upon. Demagogues throughout history have fed fear and then diverted it to hate, an emotion more easily admitted and sustained, and our leadership today is little better than demagoguery.

The Republicans are trying to make us afraid of Muslims and Hispanics, and the Democrats are trying to make us afraid of Republicans.

Every message from politics today is a message, at best thinly disguised, of what we should fear and how the messenger is the only one who can maintain safety from it. Obama himself, rather than supporting his party’s candidates with recitations of the accomplishments of the current session of Congress, is instead thundering about the dire consequences of allowing the Republicans to come to power.

So, yes, Republicans will run on the “Ground Zero Mosque” issue, and Democrats will flounder helplessly in the face of it or, like Harry Reid, join the chorus.

Update: No, I am not saying it's a valid campaign issue. The Mormons built a church about one hundred feet from my house, and I had no objection.
I'm not afraid of Mormons, Muslims or Hispanics. Um, maybe I better add Asians to that.

Oil In The Gulf

When the government first said that "80% of the oil in the Gulf is gone" my first thought was, "Who stole it?" My second thought was to check Craigslist for government listings advertising the Brooklyn Bridge for sale.

Then I saw the neat pie chart published by somebody that purported to be part of our government. The smallest slice, the one that always went to the whiny little kid who didn’t do his chores, was labeled “still there.” A big chunk was listed as “evaporated,” which seemed unlikely. That gunk that you can’t even wash off of your hands with gasoline evaporates, does it? Another big chunk was labeled as “recovered.” Right.

The one that totally baffled me was that a sizeable slice, included in the 80% of the oil which is “gone,” was labeled as “dissolved.” Now, I learned way back in high school (yes, it was known even in those days) that if you dump a bunch of stuff in water and it dissolves, it is not gone from the damned water. It is dissolved within the water. You can’t dissolve poison in a drink and tell somebody that it’s safe to drink. “It’s okay, the arsenic is all dissolved, it won’t kill you.” What, only undissolved arsenic will kill you?

The fish from the Gulf are completely safe to eat because they themselves have not been eating any solid oil; they have only been eating dissolved oil. Well, that’s okay then, chow down. You chow down, I’m eating steak.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Football Notes

SportsNation ranked Philip Rivers as one of the top five NFL quarterbacks, but predicted that his average yards per completion would decrease without Vincent Jackson. Wrong. Rivers threw to Jackson only because he was there; he is an equal opportunity thrower.

One of our local sports writers, who is usually not an idiot, is on a crusade to get the Chargers management to cave in and do whatever is necessary to end the holdout of McNeil and Jackson. I said he is usually not an idiot.

The NFL decided that the first game played in the new stadium in New Jersey would be between the Jets and the Giants, since they share the venue. Fair enough, except they overlooked that it meant that both New York Jets and Giants fans would be in the stands at the same time. That part of the plan was not particularly well thought out.

Bret Farve is in Minnesota and ESPN is hyperventilating over what he might be doing there. They covered live his plane landing in Minneapolis, and then televised helicopter coverage of his car driving into the Vikings compound. I've seen less attention paid to British royalty - in England.

The Moscow Fires

Moscow FiresCarbon monoxide at 18,000 feet from the fires outside of Moscow has spread across China. You can see the animation provided by NASA.

Making Our Point, Badly

I keep finding myself utterly astounded by how liberals, or progressives, whatever, are not only unable to coherently promote or defend their position on issues of importance, but by how they so often wind up making the opponent’s case for them instead. Three such "cases in point" have driven me slightly batty in the past few days.

Juan Cole at Informed Comment, a brilliant person whose writing informs me and whom I respect greatly, pens a defense of global warming that makes three points, at least two of them spurious; Russia is so hot that it is burning, Pakistan is flooding, and the ice shelf of Greenland is dropping pieces of itself into the sea.

The heat in Russia is a weather issue. We cannot claim that snow storms in winter are weather and that they make no point as to the state of the planet, and then turn around and claim that the hot weather in Russia proves climate change. That’s called hypocrisy. When we use the same kind of false argument that our opponents use, we weaken our cause rather than strengthen it.

The ice dropping into the sea in Greenland is from a glacier, not from the “ice shelf,” and that glacier has been dropping pieces into the sea for many centuries. This one is the largest ever seen, and the glacier is moving faster than ever recorded. Those things are probably symptoms of change in the planet, but the dropping of a piece of the glacier (not “ice shelf”) is not.

So anyone wanting to refute climate change can merely point to the arguments such as this that we make and say that the arguments supporting climate change are false as to fact, or that they use invalid logic, and they will be correct.

Paul Krugman, writing supposedly in defense of the Social Security program, repeatedly makes the claim that “Legally, Social Security has its own, dedicated funding, [b]ut it’s also part of the broader federal budget.”

That it is “part of the broader federal budget” is, of course, a completely false claim that has been used by administrations past and present in order to make the federal deficit appear smaller. Clinton even managed to make a small deficit appear to be a surplus, but the national debt increased every year that he was president. By blending the cash surplus of the Social Security revenue stream into all writing about federal spending, administrations have been able to conceal the true degree to which the federal budget is cash negative.

Cutting Social Security benefit payments will not reduce the federal deficit, nor will it reduce the national debt, but by perpetuating the myth that Social Security is “also part of the broader federal budget” Krugman puts ammunition in the hands of those who use federal deficit spending as justification, false justification, for gutting Social Security.

Last Thursday Keith Olbermann had a guest who had been unemployed for a total of 59 weeks. Mike Hatchell seemed like a very nice and thoroughly ethical man, but he was almost totally incoherent in this interview and he needed a great deal more guidance from the interviewer, Olbermann, than he got.

On the whole, Hatchell’s position seemed rather justifiable, but within the interview he rambled to a degree that made his logic hard to follow at best, and seriously contrary to the liberal position at worst. Almost the first thing he said was,

I mean, when they‘re offering me these jobs, they‘re saying, well, this is—this is going to be a situation where we‘re going to start you out at the entry level wage. And I—obviously, I‘ve got some 32 years of experience in the automotive business and it‘s kind of hard for me to do that,

Olbermann is putting this man on to refute Republican claims that people collecting unemployment are turning down jobs because they prefer welfare, because they don’t want to take jobs they don’t like, because unemployment pays too much, etc.

Given that as the purpose, you do not let him say that he is turning down jobs because they are entry level and he has 32 years experience. You have just allowed him to make the Republicans’ point for them. Sure, I’m not quoting the entirety of what he said: do you think that Republicans are going to? Do you think the majority of the audience even heard that statement as part of a larger context? When you are preparing for an interview with a person who is not a professional, you coach him before you put him on the air. You advise him not to use phrases like “I’m sitting in front of the television,” for instance.

A substantial portion of the interview consists of Hatchell simply saying that the jobs paid less than the unemployment compensation he was receiving - which is, of course, the Republican point - without adequate clarification that they paid less than a living wage. Olbermann should have been asking followup questions to clarify that point, but utterly failed to do so. Toward the end of the interview Mr. Hatchell volunteers,

That particular story they read, OK, they were actually machinists that the company was trying to hire, and most of the machinists I know—I have been in the automotive field all my life—machinists make considerably more than $13 an hour, that‘s what this company was actually offering for a machinist. And I can understand why they wouldn‘t accept that. If they‘ve been working as machinists, I‘m sure their unemployment was either at that level or more.

That works out to $520 per week, or $27,000 per year that he is suggesting unemployed machinists turn down. If he had not made the Republican case for them before that, he certainly did so with that statement. Given Olbermann’s supposed liberal agenda, it is absolute incompetence for Countdown to allow that statement to get on the air.

Olbermann also allowed Hatchell to say repeatedly that unemployment is “insurance that I paid into so it’s okay for me to collect from it,” and then repeated that mantra himself. Aside from the fact that is the employer who pays the unemployment compensation insurance premiums, that program lasts only for the first 26 weeks. After that the funds are provided by federal taxes and are, in fact, welfare. So at 59 weeks unemployed, Hatchell is turning down jobs to remain on welfare.

As a card-carrying bleeding-heart liberal, I have never had even the most remote doubt about providing extended unemployment benefits – until I watched this interview; an interview that Olbermann provided purportedly for the purpose of supporting the cause of providing extended unemployment benefits.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Walking Back" My...

Last Friday we heard from President Obama that, “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” The next day, his spokesman clarified his statement, saying that the president was not actually advocating the building of the mosque in New York which was at the center of the controversy, but was merely saying that the Muslim community had a right to build it. Detractors were quick to say that Obama was “walking back” his earlier statement, blah, blah, blah.

What nonsense. Of course he would not advocate building a mosque anywhere, nor should he; no more than he should advocate building a church or a synagogue.

What part of “regarding” do people not understand? The constitution says that our government “shall make no laws regarding the practice of religion.” That means no laws that interfere against it and no laws that promote it. That would seem to mean that politicians should speak neither for or against religion in a governmental context.

There are, of course, many who favor laws that promote religion, but…

Jayhawk On Social Security

Paul Krugman is at it again in the New York Times today. “Legally, Social Security has its own, dedicated funding,” he says, “But it’s also part of the broader federal budget.” He goes on to talk about “this dual accounting” as if it were actually two sets of books kept by gangsters or something. He says that if the “second method” is used that “Social Security costs could prove unsupportable for the federal budget as a whole,” ignoring the minor issue that the second method would be wildly illegal.

He admits that Social Security is, even now, taking in more money than it is paying out and is “banking those surpluses in a special account, the so-called trust fund.” There is actually nothing “so-called” about that trust fund; it is a real entity separate from the government, and it lends money to the government.

The program won’t have to turn to Congress for help or cut benefits until or unless the trust fund is exhausted, which the program’s actuaries don’t expect to happen until 2037 — and there’s a significant chance, according to their estimates, that that day will never come.

That statement is incoherent on so many levels that it’s difficult to decide where to begin dismantling it. First, to the best of my knowledge no sane person has never suggested that the Social Security trust fund will never become exhausted without some changes being made. There is debate on when that will happen, but there is agreement that the date is very distant. That date is, in any case, not part of the current debate, so I’m at a loss to comprehend why Krugman even raises it.

Second, the program will need to “turn to Congress,” not for “help” but for repayment of the money that it has lent to the federal government. There is a bit of difference between “help” and “repayment of money owed.”

And the point at which the program has to turn to Congress for that repayment is not when “the trust fund is exhausted” as Krugman says, but when Social Security begins paying out more in benefits than it is collecting in revenue. There is no question that will happen, it is currently expected to happen around 2037, and it's not really a problem for the program because the designers of the program planned for it to happen.

That point is a problem for the federal budget, however, because the payments on the debt owed to the Social Security program will constitute federal spending and as such, if we don't raise taxes, will increase the federal deficit. Not benefits, the loan payments will do that.

While payments on the debt will increase the deficit, the effect on the national debt will be to reduce it unless we don't raise taxes and are borrowing the money for payments. That is certainly possible and even likely, in which case even though the deficit would have increased the the effect on the national debt will be zero.

Personally, I find it rather ludicrous that our government would be borrowing money to make debt payments, but I seem to be alone in that. We are currently borrowing money to make interest-only payments on existing debt, and if an individual were doing that he would be pretty much toast, in a financial sense, but…

Anyway, cutting Social Security benefits does not reduce federal spending in any absolute sense, that is to say it does not reduce the total amount that the government will wind up having to pay out. All that it would do is delay the date at which we would have to begin making payments on our existing loan, or make those payments smaller. We can’t make the debt smaller, we already owe the money.

The government is like one of those homeowners who took out a home loan that had nice low payments that he could afford because he was paying interest only and payment on principal was “deferred.” Then the loan “reset” and payments went up because the lender wanted the original money back, and we had the financial crisis of 2008 because people could not meet the required payments.

If we can persuade the SSA not to ask for its money back, then we can avoid the need to repay the loan and thereby avoid increasing the deficit by the amount of those loan payments. The only way we can persuade the SSA not to ask for its money back, though, is to persuade it to renege on the promises it has made to the people for whom it holds that money in trust by reducing Social Security benefits.

And we can do that because the federal government sets the rules under which the SSA operates. It’s like a homeowner, the one who can’t make the payments, owns the bank that lent the money; he is a borrower who can dictate the actions of the lender.

Maybe we want to use that leverage to tell the SSA to renege on its promises, reduce benefits and delay the day of reckoning. Maybe the need to preserve future cash flow outweighs the promises of the past. That is a decision that needs to be made, but let’s not cloak it in the mantle of a “spending decision” when it is nothing of the sort.

Payment of benefits under Social Security is not a “federal spending decision.” It is a promise kept or not kept. The federal spending decision is one as to whether or not this nation will or will not honor its debt; whether or not borrowed money will be repaid as agreed.

Some debts cannot be honored; that happens. But to dishonor this debt so that we can maintain a global military garrison? So that we can fight purposeless and unwinnable wars? So that we can maintain a parasitical “financial services industry” that siphons off one-fifth of our wealth?

I think not.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Point, Set, Game: Obama

Obama has been accused of lacking courage. Clearly that judgement is wrong. I have at times wondered why he has not pursued some of his campaign promises with greater vigor, and wondered if it was due to lack
of courage; clearly, whatever the reason, lack of courage is not it.

"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," Obama said last night. "That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

That, folks, is both courage and leadership because according to polls some 70% of the people in this nation are opposed to the mosque being built. They are wrong, and they needed a President of courage to tell them so. That is not a man looking for a parade to get in front of. That is a leader getting in front of what is right; not caring what will earn votes, what will make him popular, or what will sound good.

Political knaves and poltroons are criticizing that statement today, people who do not believe that this nation stands for anything other than raw power and self-aggrandizement. Those who hold to the real values upon which this nation were founded are cheered and uplifted by our President’s words.

Krugman on Social Security

Paul Krugman weighs in on the Social Security program, and I actually kind of hate to point out how full of crap he is because he is saying that the program actually does not pose the kind of problem that alarmists are claiming. He’s right, but not for the reasons, or not in the manner, that he’s claiming. I’m hoping that at some point Krugman will write another piece telling us that this one was a parody of some sort, because it is one of the most nonsensical things I have ever read.

First he says that Social Security is “government program supported by a dedicated tax,” comparing it to the gasoline tax, which is incorrect but is closer to being accurate than what follows. Then he says,

“Of course, it’s also part of the general federal budget. This means that Congress always has the option either of undedicating the revenue from the payroll tax (or seizing the trust fund, which is basically undedicating past revenues), or of topping up Social Security by adding more funds.”

What planet does Krugman live on? He actually seems to have bought into the government game playing nonsense of lumping the Social Security Administration and the Federal Government cash flow reporting together to make the deficit smaller. It’s sort of like two public banks combining their bookkeeping to conceal the fact that one of them is losing money, which would be illegal. Paul Krugman, a respected economist with a Nobel prize in the subject, has actually fallen for that.

That “option of undedicating the revenue from Social Security” that he claims Congress has? If they had that option they would have used it many years ago, decades ago. They don’t have it. They have never had it. They never will have it. That money is a trust fund; does Paul Krugman know what a trust fund is?

Has Paul Krugman, perhaps, ever looked at his payroll check stub? Has he ever examined his W-2 form or looked at his Federal Income Tax return? If he did, he would note that the deductions for federal tax and Social Security are listed separately. The reason that they are listed separately is that they are different programs and the money goes different places.

So there are two ways to look at Social Security. You can view it as a stand alone program, in which case payroll tax revenues and the trust fund accumulated out of those revenues are at the center of the story; or you can view it as just part of the federal budget…

Well, you can certainly look at it two ways if you like, but only one of them bears any relationship to reality. Social Security is in fact a stand alone program and if you want to pretend that it’s not then have at it; you can pretend until you are blue in the face and play all of the mind games in that pretend world that you want and, guess what, Social Security is still going to be a stand alone program.

These views aren’t contradictory; which one you want to emphasize depends on what question you’re trying to answer.

Well, these views certainly are contradictory; reality almost always is at odds with illusion. And which one you hold might depend on your contact with reality. Or the honesty of your purpose.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Merriman Is In Camp

Oh, be still my pounding heart. The Chargers will surely win the Super Bowl now. Quarterbacks and runners everywhere are quaking in terror, and every other team in the league is merely playing for runner up. A new stadium in downtown San Diego is now assured. Bret Farve has retired at last.

What Am I?

Lest you think that my recent criticisms of left wing politicians and pundits indicate that I am some sort of refugee from the right wing, let me do some setting straight of the record here. I took a Q&A test not long ago that was designed to determine one’s political ideology, and the result put me somewhere to the left of Desmond Tutu. So if you have come to believe that I am a right winger in drag, I believe that you have may have sized me up inaccurately.

What I do believe is that liberal policies should not be defended or promoted using right wing tactical methodology of half-truth, distortion and false logic. If I cannot promote or defend a liberal policy using honesty and valid logic then I will admit that either I do not know what I’m talking about or that particular liberal policy is indefensible. Which some of them are; I do not consider everything to be good policy merely because it carries the liberal trademark.

I want the liberal community to be the community of honest thinkers that it once was, not the pack of howling jackals that it is becoming. Liberals should be thinking about policies and backing those policies which they can honestly support, not screeching mindless propaganda to prop up whatever ideology the leadership of some political party has told them is the agenda to be followed.

That’s what I do. I don’t read labels; I feel the garment and try it on for size. If it fits and is of good cloth I wear it. The label is irrelevant, and I don't subscribe to the "It's okay if you're a Democrat" theory.

More Half Truths

No sooner do I try to reestablish my left wing credentials than Hardball and Countdown come out with a virtual parade of features that make me want to belong to any group other than the one they represent.

First Chuck Todd, filling in on Hardball, had a fascinating discussion regarding the state of gay marriage and the legal standing of California’s Proposition 8. He had a couple of visitors who knew what they were talking about, and the whole thing was very enlightening. Things are looking up.

Then things went completely to hell when he brought on David Gregory and the two of them had a discussion about the war in Afghanistan which reminded me of nothing so much as two monkeys simultaneously trying to copulate with a football. Todd’s questions were inane and Gregory began every answer with, “That’s very interesting…” His answers then proceeded to be supremely uninteresting, consisting of such gems as what a superb politician Petraeus is, and questioning whether or not the Karzai government can ever become non-corrupt, something which has been answered a long time ago.

Countdown followed that mess, providing an interview with a man who has been unemployed for a length of time that was impossible to determine from his interview, but which had clearly included more than one extension. The man kept repeating that unemployment is “insurance that we pay into” and expanded on that by saying that it justified turning down jobs that he didn’t feel paid enough; since he had paid the insurance it was okay for him to collect on it. Olbermann agreed with him during the interview and included that aspect in a later discussion with Howard Fineman, saying that “unemployment is insurance, not welfare.”

To even call that a half truth is stretching things slightly. Unemployment insurance fees are paid by the employer, not by the employee, but the argument can be made that the money would be paid as wages if it were not being paid as a benefit and is therefor part of the wage and can be considered a “deduction from wages.” That argument is a little easier to make for Social Security because it is a fixed rate, while UI is a sliding rate based on the employer’s record of hiring and firing. The fewer layoffs an employer makes, the lower UI rate he pays.

That program, however, only covers the first 26 weeks without a job. After that Congress provides for “extended benefit periods” which depend on the severity of economic conditions. Benefits paid under these extended periods are not provided from state funds paid into by employers and they are, in fact, welfare. We absolutely should be providing it, but let’s not pretend that it is something which it is not.

So Olbermann’s claim that “unemployment is insurance” is about 25% true; 26 weeks are insurance, the remaining 73 weeks are welfare.

The other question which Olbermann never even addressed is that one of the rules of the program which is “unemployment insurance” is that the person be actively seeking work and that the person not turn down any job which is offered. This man turned down jobs for as much as $310 per week, or $16,120 per year, in order to continue to draw extended unemployment benefits specifically because the benefits, welfare, paid more. I won’t argue with you if you think it was okay for him to do that, but thinking that it was not okay is by no means a ridiculous idea.

Olbermann, bear in mind, was trying to refute Republican claims about people staying on unemployment voluntarily. Did he accomplish that?

Countdown followed that by pleading for contributions for a health clinic to provide care for people in New Orleans who do not have access to health care. I hope people will contribute, but Olbermann seems immune to the irony of running such a clinic and pleading for funds half a year after Democrats pass “fundamental health care reform” that is purported to be “the greatest legislation in generations.”

Which segues neatly into a Hardball discussion of Democrats running on a “we’re not Bush” platform, which pundits seem to agree is a fine idea; Democratic politicians certainly do. If Democrats had achieved all of the things that they claim, you’d think they would run on their accomplishments, but they are not and it seems they cannot.

Obama made a wide tour to sell his “health care reform” and, while it polls well, it just flat is not turning into votes. Why not? Well, the health clinic in New Orleans is a sample; too many people still don’t have access to health care and costs are still too high. If this reform is going to have any kind of dramatic effect, we haven’t seen it yet.

They can’t run on financial regulation reform. Is the consumer protection agency thing working? I just got a notice from my credit card company which raises fees from $20 to $30 for virtually anything, other than simple charges, that I do with the card.

They can’t run on tax cuts because that would increase the deficit, because tax cuts is what Republicans do, and because everybody knows that they’re going to raise taxes. Make no mistake, I absolutely agree with raising taxes. My only disagreement is that I don’t think they are going to raise them on enough people.

All they have is “we’re not Bush and the other guys are.”

And Olbermann, true to form, closed his show with a discussion of the schoolboy prank played 27 years ago by the Republican candidate for Senator from Kentucky.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Half Truths and Distortions

Small wonder that Barack Obama does not listen to criticism from the “professional left” when a significant portion of that professional left consists of people who are using the same kind of half truths and distortions that the right uses, and are critical of the right for using half truths and distortions. I want the left to be better than this but, sadly, it appears that the left is increasingly becoming the liberal right.

Wait, the “liberal right” !? Well, you know what I mean; tactically speaking.

One of the more liberal blogs I read featured a political advertisement which had been highly touted by Rachel Maddow. It was an attack ad against John Boehner, and the highlight was that he played golf too frequently. I commented that his golfing was not a valid basis for attack, that it was a tactic more fitting to the right wing, and that liberals should be criticizing opponents based on policy rather than using ad hominem smear attacks.

It did not draw quite the vituperation I’ve come to expect, but every response was negative, along the lines of “you use the ammunition the opponent gives you.” Really? The best “ammunition” that John Boehner has provided for criticism is the frequency of his golf game? Is this really the caliber of liberal, or “progressive,” political thinking?

One of them called me a German. I’m not certain what that was, but I suspect it was what the writer thought of as a veiled reference to Hitler. I resisted the temptation to tell him his mother wears combat boots. I did not, happily, get accused of “spouting right wing talking points” this time.

I probably don’t need to say that in the long thread of comments on the advertisement, mine was the only one that was negative. Rachel Maddow has pronounced this advertisement to be “wonderful” so…

The left vilifies Newt Gingrich, while the right regards him as superbly intelligent. I don’t know how intelligent he is in actuality; anyone who uses proper grammar these days and speaks in complete sentences without injecting verbal pauses every other word sounds intelligent. People don’t know what he’s talking about much of the time and so they assume he’s intelligent. It may well be, however, that Gingrich is merely using excellent fluency to express his vast amount of mental incoherence.

And if you followed that then you probably think that I’m intelligent, which shows how thoroughly I have fooled you and neatly illustrates my point about Newt Gingrich.

At any rate, a couple of weeks ago Gingrich said something about Saudi Arabia in connection to the current “mosque issue” and the left took that and ran with it, accusing him of saying that he wants this country to be like Saudi Arabia. What he actually said was,

"I don't want to be lectured by them about religious liberty at a time where there is not a single church or a single synagogue in Saudi Arabia."

I really don’t want to defend Gingrich, ever, but there is not one word in that about what he wants this country, on anyone in this country, to do or not do. He is being harshly critical of Saudi Arabia, but not of this nation or anyone in it. It is really twisting his words completely out of shape to suggest that he is comparing the United States to that nation.

That does not, of course, keep the left from doing it. I have read a dozen or more articles and blog posts, and seen him quoted on news shows three times, and every time the discussion revolved around how he “compared this nation to Saudi Arabia” or how he “suggests that we should be like Saudi Arabia.” He simply did not. If anything, I would interpret what he said as a suggestion that they be more like us; that they should allow churches and synagouges.

On Countdown last night Keith Olbermann had a discussion with Keith Ellison on the subject and both of them tarred Gingrich with the same brush. Olbermann actually quoted him correctly, which made it all the more absurd when he asked if we should be using Saudi Arabia as a model for our conduct. (Emphasis mine)

Olbermann: Newt Gingrich said that he won‘t be lectured on religious liberty while there are no synagogues or churches in Saudi Arabia. Isn‘t Saudi Arabia an unusual place to bring up—to compare—or should we be changing our public relationship to the individual right to worship as you choose to make it more along the lines of Saudi Arabia?

Ellison: You know, Keith, when I read that Mr. Gingrich wrote that, I found it shocking, because although I disagree with almost everything that he says, I at least thought he was intellectually consistent and knew a little bit about what he was talking about. I now have been disabused of that erroneous belief.

Gingrich, if he wants to—Saudi Arabia to be the standard by which we judge America and determine our own liberties and freedoms, then that‘s something I can‘t go along with and I think a lot of Americans would agree with me.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing in what Gingrich said that would suggest that he “wants Saudi Arabia to be the standard by which we judge America” as Mr. Ellison accuses him of doing.

So, if the “professional left” consists of people like Maddow, Olbermann, Ellison and bloggers who believe that we should be attacking politicians based on how much golf they play, and who are twisting people’s words to criticize them for things that they did not actually say, then I’m with Robert Gibbs. They are idiots and should be ignored.

If, however, they are people like Glen Greenwald, who give matters serious thought and make valid objections to policies that are reasonably objectionable, then the administration needs to wake up and pay attention. That, not the buffoonery of the likes of Olbermann and Maddow, is what is needed to right this ship of state.

Merriman Returns. Whee

Shawne Merriman is returning to the San Diego Chargers this weekend, ending his holdout, which was not about money. He will accept the $3.29 million for one year which was the team's initial offer, and I think that is terribly gracious of him. The team did not promise never to trade him, so he is taking a really big chance there, playing without a "no trade guarantee" just like, say, Philip Rivers and 51 other players. Impressive.

Equally impressive is his humility in agreeing to play for a team who rejected his demand to "build their defense around me." We are so grateful that he is willing to do that after sitting out one full season due to injury and playing most of the next at reduced capacity do to several other injuries. What kind of team would be hesitant to build its defense around that?

Um, one with smart, or even reasonably competent, management.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Okay, Sometimes He's Not

Keith Olberman did a "Special Comment" last night on the subject of the diatribe by Robert Gibbs and the White House support of it. Olbermann got it entirely right, even in the tone with which he delivered it, and you really should watch it, which you can do here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Olbermann Is An Idiot

Olbermann’s show is increasingly competing with Limbaugh for the buffoonery title as Keith puts the liberal slant on facts in much the same manner that Limbaugh does for the right wing. Last night was an almost endless parade of misinterpretation of statements made by others.

First he tried to dismantle Republican fiscal policy by tangling up their policy proposals for the US budget with their campaign finance, blathering one moment about their tax proposals and with the next breath and in the same “news” item yammering about how much campaign funding each Republican candidate will receive. Republican fiscal policies are so incoherent in actuality that no real hyperbole is needed, but Olbermann is not going to let that stop him.

But, in fact, Republicans are tipping their hand somewhat about where they would get the money to pay for more tax cuts from the rich. Take it from the middle class and make Americans work longer before they can retire. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Republican favorite for president, suggests redeploying money from the stimulus which includes tax cuts for the least rich 95 percent of the country.

Pawlenty is not talking about the tax cuts in the stimulus but is, in fact, talking about project funding that has not yet been spent. As a policy it reeks, but it is not taking tax cuts from the poor and giving them to the rich as Olbermann would have you believe.

Then he brought on Arrianna Huffington and I hit “fast forward,” because Arianna Huffington has never in her entire life said one single word that I am the least bit interested in hearing. Olbermann himself is getting pretty marginal; Huffington…

All evening he was honking about Rand Paul, whom I regard as rather inconsequential since he is running for Senator in one of our smaller states and if he wins will constitute one percent of one house of our legislature. Given that I have no idea why a schoolboy prank that he may have pulled while in college is a matter of national importance, but apparently Olbermann thinks it is because he mentioned it some eight times on his “News and Commentary” hour and then had a discussion with a visiting pundit as to its meaning and eventual impact.

Then he equated Dick Cheney’s dismissal of polling against the Iraq war to the voting in Missouri against a portion of the Democratic health care plan. Yes, indeed, Keith, a public opinion poll and an election are exactly the same thing. Dick Cheney also followed that dismissal of polls with something about having referendums on wars, “they’re called elections” he said. The thing in Missouri was an election.

Paul Krugman Is Tone Deaf

Paul Krugman has an article on his blog claiming that state and local government workers are not overpaid relative to private industry. He admits that pay rates are higher but justifies that by saying that government workers are older and better educated. How, precisely, does advanced age and a college degree enhance the value of a garbage truck driver or a Parks Department grounds maintenance worker?

Apparently he got a lot of disagreement in the blog comments, because he responded to those comments,

Two points: first, the fact that state and local governments haven’t been making large enough contributions to pension funds says nothing, one way or the other, about whether workers are overcompensated. Bear in mind that, as Cohn notes, many government employees don’t get Social Security. Second, a “trillion dollar liability” needs to be placed in context: state and local governments spend $2.8 trillion per year. Compare the pension liability with total spending over, say, the expected remaining lifetimes of those workers, and it’s a real problem but not inconsistent with my point that these compensation issues have been grossly overstated.

The Social Security that I am receiving, Dr. Krugman, is not about what “governments have contributed” to some pension fund. It is a return based on what I myself have paid into the pension fund from which I am now drawing. I paid into that fund all of my working life, more than forty years, and I am receiving back less than $20,000 per year. I don’t think that public service employees miss the Social Security that they “don’t get” and which, bear in mind they didn’t pay into, given that they are receiving, from the contributions made by taxpayers rather than by themselves, more than $70,000 and in cases $100,000 per year after working 20 years or less.

Which sounds to me like they are getting overpaid.

Second, to put the pension funding “into context,” the City of San Diego was struggling to fill a $179 million deficit in a $2.9 billion budget this year when it was informed that it had to provide, in addition, no less than $231 million immediately to the pension fund. That’s half of what we spend for an entire year on police and fire departments combined.

Because of subsequent cutbacks in Fire Department staffing, fire response times have been made longer, and two lost lives have been attributed to those delays, but the pension obligation of $231 million was met. Taxpayers who are funding the pensions are dying so that the pensions can be funded.

Does that put the pension funding “into context” for you, Doctor?