Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Now, This Is Amazing

The latest Wikileaks dump has revealed that there is a Shiite Persian nation pretty much surrounded by Sunni Arab nations, and the latter do not much like the former gaining power. Astonishing. Who could have predicted that?

Openness Should Prevail

I don’t have any really firm conclusion on the latest Wikileaks release. I certainly am less impressed by the shrill and hyperbolic rhetoric of those decrying it than by remarks of those supportive of it, which sound more calm and rational in nature.

I do know that in general, secrecy is the enemy of democracy. There was criticism during the Bush Administration that secrecy was being abused and on his first day in office Obama drew praise for his clarification of how the Freedom of Information Act was to be interpreted in his administration, saying that, “In the presence of doubt, openness will prevail.”

I do believe that our government under Obama has been less secretive, and that certainly is a reflection of him maintaining a promise of his campaign.

Still, in reading much of the Wikileaks material much of my reaction is in the nature of, “Why in the world was this stamped ‘secret’ in the first place?” Lawrence O’Donnell made a valid point last night, I believe, when he questioned the sheer massiveness of the leak and asked if we had material within it that truly was damaging would it not have been better to maintain it in a smaller database that could have been more easily protected. Given the mass of material it would seem that in the “presence of doubt” it has not been openness which has prevailed.

The fundamental principle that I believe is important, to me, is that whether the material is embarrassing or not does not matter. What does matter is that the more we know about the behavior of the people we elect to govern us the better. We are doing a really lousy job of choosing people for our government right now, and the degree to which they are able to conceal their actions from us is no small part of the reason for that.

Economic Jargon

Paul Krugman is capable of engaging in some extraordinarily muddy thinking. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I think that of him, unless you are a new reader here, and even then it might not surprise you.

Krugman wrote a blog post Sunday berating the Obama Administration for having an internal debate over whether or not current unemployment is or is not structural in nature. In it he claimed that anyone with the intelligence of a turnip would know that unemployment since 2007 has been cyclical in nature, so he rhetorically asked why is the Obama Crowd even having such an idiotic debate.

I thought he was sort of shooting off his gun without aiming at the time, but I let it go because, what the hell, I can’t go blasting off at Paul Krugman every time he says something stupid. People would get bored.

My point was, and is, that much of our unemployment is due to jobs being shipped overseas. For that to be cyclical we would have to be waiting for them to be coming back when our wage structure “cycles back down” to the $1/day range. Those jobs are not coming back, and I’d say that is pretty much the definition of “structural unemployment.”

Well, it turns out I’d be wrong in my definition of the term.

Krugman writes another blog post Monday in which he says that “I know you think you know what I meant, but what you think you know is not what I meant because I was speaking in tongues jargon.”

It turns out that “structural” in this case does not mean part of the structure of our society, as in permanent or long-lasting, which would make sense; but rather is an economic code word for the level or type of unemployment that causes inflation to occur when unemployment starts to drop, which is an idiotic use of the word.

So, what they are actually arguing is not what unemployment is, but what will happen when it starts to drop, and they do that by putting a funky "type" label on the present unemployment. Krugman and his happy band of economists are certain that inflation will not occur when unemployment drops (unemployment is not structural), while the White House crew is concerned that it might and is considering what to do if it does. Which group do we want leading us?

And Paul Krugman was therefor, according to him, absolutely correct in
his first post; but that's assuming that the White House gang was also speaking in tongues jargon. Trust me that I am not speaking in tongues when I say that economists are idiots; I am using the term “idiots” with precisely the meaning that you think I am.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tokenism Run Amok

By freezing federal salaries, President Obama has just solved one one hundredth of one percent of this nation's budget problem. That is the equivalent of you getting a raise of $0.01 per year on your paycheck.
Before taxes.

Well, On Second Thought

Fuller review of the Portland bomber arrest makes me think that my post about “doing it right” may have been premature.

The FBI affidavit for the arrest and charge of the guy involved is online, and I have read it in full. You can read it here if you like; it is very tedious reading. I’m not sure that I’m fully on board with Glenn Greenwald in describing it as “The FBI successfully thwarts its own terrorist plot,” but I am certainly less than thrilled with what I see in it. Greenwald’s article is easier reading than the affidavit and, while I don’t draw all of the same conclusions that he does, he says nothing in it that I would refute. I should point out that he is an attorney and I am not, so I’m not going to pick any kind of fight with him.

I am just disgusted with the charge of “Attempted Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction,” which is the sole charge against him. I would be tempted to charge the Attorney General who filed that silly charge with “Attempted Use of Office To Terrorize America.” The guy was not attempting to create a “mushroom cloud” for God’s sake.

I’m not sure that the FBI “created” the plot per se, but they were certainly more actively involved in moving it forward than I think is the proper role of law enforcement. They were making suggestions to the guy, finding locations for him, actually urging him on, and they even built the bomb itself for him. If that doesn’t amount to entrapment, it certainly comes close to it.

The whole thing sounds less like an agency whose purpose is to protect the public that it does a bunch of cowboys intent on making a name for themselves and/or creating a from of theatre to justify their bureau’s existence.

Kicking It Around

Give me a break. Vincent Jackson, after declining a multi-million dollar contract as too small following his second drunk driving arrest and holding out for preseason and the first ten games of the regular season, returned to the field Sunday. He "played" (he was on the field) for about three minutes two plays, and then "suffered a calf injury" and was done for the day.

Eric Weddle has certainly mastered the fine art of the undetected pass interference maneuver. He also discovered that those things on the ends of his arms are hands, and can be used to catch the ball.

If the offense had scored as many touchdowns as the defense did, that game would have been a blowout. Ok, it would have been a bigger blowout.

Norv Turner is reported to have told Andrea Kramer that, "In order to convert field goals into touchdowns we have to do a better job on third down." The man is amazing. That is just sheer genius. How do we ever lose a game with that kind of football strategic mastery at the helm?

The other question is why Kramer bothered to cite the quote, of course.

The Atlanta Falcons' defense has got to be the slowest in the league. Once a ball was caught, the defense closed on the Green Bay receiver like they had cinder blocks strapped to their ankles. I suspect that more than 50% of the Packers' passing yardage was actually gained after the catch.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

They're Baaaack

The attack on employer-provided health insurance is not over yet. Its elimination was defeated as part of the “health care reform” bill, but proponents in Congress are now working on including its demise in the guise of “deficit reduction” legislation.

The employer-paid portion of health insurance represents income upon which you do not pay income tax, and Congress is again considering eliminating that “tax break” to raise revenue and reduce the deficit. Or, perhaps for other reasons; the AP article is as poorly written as that organization’s articles usually are, and the intent of the change is not totally clear. While deficit reduction seems primary, the article also says,

The idea isn't to just raise revenue, economists say, but finally to turn Americans into frugal health care consumers by having them face the full costs of their medical decisions.

That seems to be an attempt to ressurect the “health care reform” argument that high health care costs are due to patients’ huge enjoyment of MRI’s, colonoscopies and invasive surgeries and their demand to receive such procedures too often and for no reason. The insanity of the argument is clear when you consider all of the countries in which patients pay absolutely nothing for health care, they contribute zero percent to the cost of their care, and those countries all spend less then half what we do on health care and get better results.

The reality is that the intention is cost shifting rather than cost reduction. If consumers have to pay, then insurance companies and employers won’t have to. It’s short sighted, as most legislative initiatives are, in that if consumers are forced to pay they will not be able to; health care providers will suffer a steep decline in business, and we will become an even less healthy nation than we are now.

But the insurance companies and employers outnumber the health care providers, and individuals don’t give big bribes make large campaign contributions.

The degree to which such a change would benefit the health insurance industry is simply staggering, for a couple of reasons.

First is that as employers drop provisions the employees would be driven, by law rather than by choice, to purchasing individual insurance plans, and those plans are vastly more profitable than are the group plans sold to large companies. The degree to which that remains true under “health care reform” is unclear, but I have no doubt that insurance companies will find a way. One business proinciple will always remain true, and that is that individuals purchasing separately will always pay a higher price than when they band together and buy as a large group.

The other reason is that many large companies do not even carry insurance at this point, but merely use insurance companies to administer “self insurance” pools of coprorate-provided cash. As those plans are dropped by employers because the tax code no longer makes them an economic advantage, those employees represent new customers to the individual policy rolls of the insurance companies.

Then there is this little treasure, in a pretense of populism, “Proponents of repeal usually call for a tax credit to offset part of the cost of individually purchasing coverage.” Sure, to further complicate an already ridiculous tax code and compete with the tax penalty for failing to purchase coverage. What would be the effect of claiming both the tax credit and the penalty?

And... This makes sense, right? We are going to tax you on the part of your income that is your employer paying for your insurance, but if you pay for your own insurance we will give you a tax credit. On what planet does that "raise revenue" or even make any kind of sense?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

This Is How It's Done

A guy in Oregon is arrested in the act of setting off what he thinks is a car bomb. This is the way to fight terrorism. Law enforcement was on to him, they watched him all the way, and then arrested him for what he was actually doing, not for what he was thinking.

There are, however, a couple of aspects of this that I find faintly disturbing, indicated by emphasis I have added in the following quote from today's article in the New York Times,

According to the affidavit, Mr. Mohamud was in e-mail contact with an unnamed associate in Pakistan in August 2009, who referred him to another an associate overseas. In June 2010, undercover agents F.B.I. first got into contact with Mr. Mohamud, guiding him toward the Friday night event, but asking him repeatedly if he was prepared to commit the act, which would include the murder of children. “I want whoever is attending that event to leave, either dead or injured,” Mr. Mohamud said to undercover agents, according to the affidavit.

That may merely be poor choice of wording by the reporter; I hope and rather suspect that such is the case, because "entrapment" is an ugly concept from a legal defense standpoint. I hope that our law enforcement agents are not going around actually encouraging people to engage in plots so that they can arrest them.

I also could do without the self-serving hyperbole from the agent in charge and the Attorney General, but the fact remains that when terror attacks have been caused to fail in this manner it proves again that we are not "at war against terrorism," but that law enforcement is an effective tool against criminal activity.

Update: Unfortunately, the man has been charged with "attempting to employ weapons of mass destruction." The Obama Administration is as much in love with that phrase as was the Bush one, and we are stuck with that fear mongering verbiage forever. From now until and if sanity returns, every stinking pipe bomb found will be verbally turned into a nuclear device.

Good and Evil

There was an online debate yesterday between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens, the topic of which was “Resolved, that religion is a force for good in the world.” I did not watch it but I do, for the most part, rather enjoy Hitchens. I don’t think I could have stood that much Tony Blair. I don’t doubt that it was a lively debate.

Consider rain. Rain is a “bad thing” if you are having a parade or a picnic, but it is a “good thing” if you are a farmer. It is, in actuality, neither good nor bad, and it is both. Rain is just rain. “Good” and “bad” are labels that we apply to it, and we apply those labels based on how it affects us. Those labels are, therefor, value judgements.

There is no question that much harm has been done in the name of religion, but one cannot deny that much good has also been done, much comfort has been offered. I would suggest that religion is much like rain; it is just religion. When it is used for good purpose, that good work is not done by religion, it is done by people and when it is used for bad purpose that bad work is done by bad people.

We in America like to think that democracy is a “force for good,” but is that still true when we invade a country and occupy it by military force in the name of “spreading democracy” abroad?

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Iron Bowl Today

I wonder how many people know why the "Iron Bowl," the annual game between Alabama and Auburn, is called that. The reason is that for many years it was played in Birmingham, and Birmingham is historically a major steel making center. It's also one of my favorite cities, by the way, full of absolutely delightful people, stunningly good food and set in the gorgeous foothills of the mountains of northern Alabama.

The game itself is one where I have seriously divided loyalty. My first loyalty is to LSU, which is not in the game of course. I am secondly a Crimson Tide fan, but I have a very close friend in Columbus, GA who is a third generation Auburn alumnus. When I lived in Georgia and watched the Iron Bowl with him I had to be careful to sit beyond arm's reach.

Things got really confusing when we watched Auburn play LSU, what with all the screaming of "Go Tigers" and "Geaux Tigers."

Post Game: Wow, that was some game. At least there will (should) be an SEC team playing for the championship. Q: What do you call an Alabama receiver who does not wear the number eight? A: Decoy.

Who's Winning This War?

I actually suspect that the organizer of the underwear bomb plot knew that the explosive would not work, and never intended for it to. Same with the shoe bomber. If these things had gone off and brought the planes down, we would never have known precisely what happened, and we would not be taking our shoes off and searching people’s underwear at airports today. Those plot originators have less interest in blowing up an airplane than they do in making us spend $2.4 billion on X-ray machines.

I think those guys are sitting in nice homes in the Middle East laughing their asses off at us. I think they are happy as hell that we think we are “thwarting their plans,” when all the time we are doing exactly what they want us to do. We are wasting our money on frantic over-reactions to plots that did not work.

I had already started writing this when I read an op-ed column by Roger Cohen in The New York Times this morning, and he summed up his thoughts thusly,

I don’t doubt the patriotism of the Americans involved in keeping the country safe, nor do I discount the threat, but I am sure of this: The unfettered growth of the Department of Homeland Security and the T.S.A. represent a greater long-term threat to the prosperity, character and wellbeing of the United States than a few madmen in the valleys of Waziristan or the voids of Yemen.

America is a nation of openness, boldness and risk-taking. Close this nation, cow it, constrict it and you unravel its magic.

I could not agree more. There is no need to defeat our military when you can change who we are.

Osama bin Laden makes no secret of his purpose; he wrote openly that
his purpose for attacking the U.S.S. Cole was to invoke an invasion of Afghanistan so that he could bleed us as he had bled the Soviets. Clinton was not that stupid, but guess who was. We have not been hit since 9/11 and the reason may very well be that it is because there is no need to; he accomplished his goal and is bleeding us both at home and abroad.

As of today we have been bleeding in Afghanistan for precisely as long as the Soviets did, and tomorrow will make our folly greater than theirs.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

San Diego "Opt Out" Day

Turned out to be a real fizzle. Channel 7 News could only find one guy at Lindbergh Field yesterday who was all pumped up to "opt out" and was seeking attention for it, and he was boarding a plane that was using the one terminal we have that does not have the scanner installed yet, so he was never offered the chance to "opt" anything.

I don't know who was more deflated, the guy or the reporter.

Negotiating With The Taliban

So the story breaks that the Taliban honcho who we've been negotiating with and throwing money at is actually an imposter, and Saint General David Petreaus says, "Ha, ha, we already knew that."

He reminds me of my cat when she makes a leap for the railing and misses, then tries to look all sophisticated and poised and convince onlookers, "Yeah, I did that on purpose."
wake me up when the turkey is ready
Except that Molly is a whole lot cuter when she does stuff like that.

Update: There is, of course, the possibility that she actually is all poised and sophisticated simply because she promptly forgot what she was attempting to do.

Flying and Risk

I am still opposed to the scanners and "patdowns" as being intrusive and excessive, but from what I have read, one is exposed to vastly more radiation in the act of flying at 30,000 feet for lengthy periods of time than one is for a few seconds in a scanner. Many, many more times of radiation hits you while in flight, so if radiation exposure is your fear, you'd best take the train or drive.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Duty, honor, country. Thanks.

There was an article in The Guardian the other day about Germany moving to an all-volunteer military, and one phrase leaped out at me.

The military was founded in 1955, and conscription – introduced two years later – has been seen as a necessary means to ensure the defence forces maintain a close relationship to civil society in order to prevent a repeat of the way in which the Nazi party was able to manipulate professional soldiers in the 1930s.

A close relationship between the military and civil society is an interesting subject, one seldom discussed so far as I can determine, and the idea of conscription, which we called “the draft,” as an instrument of maintaining that relationship is fascinating. The draft was in place when I was in the service, and it was not yet a lottery system, and even then those of us in uniform felt that there was a vast gulf between us and the civilians we had signed up to protect. We didn’t really care, this was before Vietnam, but it was there.

Today, that gulf is far wider. For all our talk of “supporting the troops,” we don’t. We put bumper stickers on our cars, but we don’t even know what actual “support” of the troops would be. Support would be sending our own sons and daughters to fight beside them, even if that is not what our sons and daughters want to do. Support would mean sending our sons and daughters to replace them, so that their first tour of combat is their last one. Support would mean that the sacrifice is shared by the nation who waits at home in the form of taxes to pay the cost of war and the material deprivation that sends the materials of war to the combat front. Support would be a war that is as unpopular with the home front as it is with the soldiers whose lives are being lost.

Close relationship with the military? We have no relationship with our military. We praise their sacrifice but we are unwilling to share it in any part or form. We thank them with such effusiveness and keep them at arm’s length because they are paying a price that we are unwilling to pay, and unwilling even to acknowledge.

And they “soldier on,” doing what they do. Duty, honor, country.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Get Used To It"

Willie Geist had a man from the Department of Homeland Stupidity on The Last Word last night. No clips or transcript are available, so I don’t recall who it was, a honcho of some sort, and I can’t provide a precise quotation. The topic was, of course, the new search procedures at airports.

This guy said that people were complaining about the new procedure because it is new and they “aren’t used to it” yet. Given time, he said they will become accustomed to the procedure and will quit complaining. He used the example of when liquids were first banned and said that people complained bitterly at first about that, but after a while the complaints subsided, and that given time the complaints over this new procedure will also die out.

I found his remarks seriously objectionable on a couple of levels.

First is the immediate one that government can successfully ignore public complaint, and that the public will just calm down and accept whatever the government decides is necessary. I don’t think so. This is supposed to be government by the people, and the idea that government can simply ignore public opinion is repugnant.

Second is the implication of incrementalism; one cannot ignore the parable of the frog in the pot of boiling water. I do not for one minute believe that this government or anyone in it has the slightest desire to move this nation toward a police state, but it is by no means impossible for us to arrive there without intending to, following a series of small steps each of which is taken in the name of public safety.

His implication was profoundly clear. We took the step of banning liquids, and we got away with it. That outcry over reduction of personal freedom disappeared and so will this one. By extrapolation, so will the next one, and the one after that.

We increasingly limit what the public is allowed to carry with them when they travel, we constantly make the public more willing to stand in line and submit to ever more invasive search, we put more and more surveillance cameras on streets and in public buildings, and we spend ever increasing sums on “homeland security.” As we do these things we move closer and closer to a police state whether we intend that or not. Every move is taken in the name of safety, but whatever the intention every move is nibbling away at personal liberty and privacy, and every move is increasing the power of the state over the individual.

“Those who would surrender liberty in the name of safety will have neither.”

Peak Oil and Social Impact

One has to take studies by the University of California with a certain amount of salt; this is, after all, the University that supports Robert Reich, who is probably certifiable. Still, all schools harbor a few nuts, and UCSB is one of the better jewels in the crown of California’s institutes of higher education, so their publication on “Peak Energy, Climate Change, and the Collapse of Global Civilization: The Current Peak Oil Crisis” has to be taken seriously. It is available here as an ebook, and what it has to say is not pretty.

Some of its unpleasant facts, suggestions and forecasts,
*Global conventional oil production likely peaked around 2005 – 2011.
*Peak global production of coal, natural gas, and uranium resources will likely occur by 2020 – 2030, if not sooner.
*Oil shortages will lead to a collapse of the global economy, and the decline of globalized industrial civilization.
*This current transition of rapid economic decline was triggered by the oil price shock starting in 2007 and culminating in the summer of 2008. This transition will likely accelerate and become more volatile once oil prices exceed $80 – $90 per barrel for an extended time. Demand destruction for oil may be somewhere above $80 per barrel and below $141 per barrel. (It’s at $87 per barrel now.)
*There are probably no solutions to peak oil that do not involve at the very least some major changes in lifestyles.
*The global human population has increased from 2.5 billion in 1950 to nearly 7 billion today, and is expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050.
*Based on best estimates, the global population may have nearly reached or already exceeded the planet's human carrying capacity in terms of food and energy production.

The economic collapse of 2008 is constantly blamed on Republican economic policy which allowed Wall Street greed to run wild, but carefully omitted from that discussion is that the price of oil reached $147 per barrel and remained there until the economy collapsed. Was that oil price a contributor to the economic collapse, the actual cause of the collapse, or irrelevant?

In any case, the larger issue is that while we are talking about climate change and energy cost, we are not talking about the structure of our civilization itself. To support a population which increases almost by a factor of four in a century, lifestyle changes have to be considered, and we are not engaged in that line of thinking.

We have eleven housewives each driving eleven miles to eleven different stores eleven times a month for groceries, and our “green thinking” consists of having those eleven housewives each driving eleven miles to eleven different stores eleven times a month in cars that get better gas mileage. We need to think better than that, we need to be thinking in terms of smaller numbers to replace larger numbers as many times as possible. We need to think structurally rather than incrementally.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Living Fearfully

Look, I don’t care about the TSA taking pictures of me and groping me at the airport. I’m in pretty good shape for a man my age, but I’m an old guy and none of that is going to harm me or excite anybody. If it does it’s their problem not mine. I only travel a couple times a year and a few minutes of delay at the airport is a matter of complete indifference to me.

What I do care about is being surrounded by a miasma of fear; of living in a society that will pay any price, will suffer any indignity and inconvenience because it is afraid. If you want to do that, fine, but I resent being made to go along with it, because I am not afraid. If Osama bin Laden wants to come along and drop a bomb on me, so be it; I’m going to die sooner or later anyway. We all do. Whatever life I have left I don’t want to live it looking over my shoulder being afraid that the bogey man is going to pop out and kill me. I want to live free, and living a life that is consumed by fear is not freedom.

Fifty years ago we, as a nation, were not afraid of a Soviet Union armed with thermonuclear weapons. Our attitude was that they could give us their best shot and we would go pound them into the ground like a tent peg. Our mesaage to the Soviet Union was, "We're ready for you." Today we are quaking in mortal terror of a handful of guys hiding in the Pakistani wilderness because of something they did nine years ago and have not been able to repeat. Our message to Al Queda is, "We're afraid of you."

You want to be a prisoner of your own fear, that is your privilege, but don’t try to lock me in your prison.

Privacy Violations

For a real profile of how thoroughly everyone in authority "doesn't get it" read this piece at ABC News. People in high places who have never had to submit to the procedure, such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, say that they "understand how people feel" with respect to being groped in public. No, you don't. You are about as close to understanding how we feel about being groped in public as Saturn is to our Moon.

I particularly like the response of Pistole, head of the TSA, with respect to people's complaints that poorly trained, and sometimes actually abusive, TSA staff are going too far with these cutely named "pat downs,"

Pistole said he is "very aware" of the concerns raised by passengers and said if anyone feels their privacy was violated, they can file a complaint on the TSA's website or ask for a supervisor at the airport.

I think, Mr. Pistole, the point is not to provide provisions for complaint, but to prevent the complaint from becoming necessary.

I'm sure the traveler whose urostomy bag your people dislodged and who subsequently had to parade through the airport reeking of his own urine is going to feel just fine after he logs onto your website and fills out a complaint. Or does the supervisor he's going to "ask for at the airport" know how to reattach a urostomy bag, and have a shower and a clean set of clothes to offer in time to catch the flight?

It is reaching the point that we sometimes spend more time "clearing security" in the airport than we spend actually in transit to our destination.

Eagles - Giants

How sweet it is; three Eli Manning interceptions and a non-contact fumble in a Giants loss. On top of three Payton Manning interceptions in a Colts loss. A Chargers win tonight would make it perfect.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Now We Know

Obama said yesterday that he understands the frustration that people are feeling over the new airport security procedures, and that he is sympathetic, but that he has been told by Homeland Security that they are necessary to protect against the most recent types of threat.

"He has been told." So now we know who is actually running the country.

Update: A more definitive leader might have come back at the Department of Homeland Stupidity with something on the order of, "Well, knock that shit off and find something better. We have to be more respectful toward the people who pay our salaries."

Kicking It Around

LSU pulled it out again. Critics are panning the SEC defenses based on high-scoring games, but I'd say it has more to do with high-powered offenses. Old Miss is far better than it's record would indicate.

Les Miles is still a winning idiot. He has this short yardage play where, after the initial set, the tight end and slot back switch to the other side. The entire universe knows that Ridley is going to carry off-tackle to that side, certainly the opponent does, and the play never gains a single yard. That's why LSU goes for it on 4th down so often; they keep running that silly-ass play on third and one.

The announcers were freaking out over Mississippi having two place kickers with the same number, which I'll admit is pretty silly, and were wondering what would happen if they were on the field at the same time. Really, why would a team have two place kickers on the field at the same time? A punter as a holder for the place kicker, yes, but... How much do they pay those guys?

The Chargers' game is sold out Monday night, which means I'll have to listen to the idiots on ESPN blathering nonsense for three hours. I know those particular morons are paid too much. It will be interesting, though, to see how many of the tickets were sold to Denver fans.

Update: What, me buy a ticket? And pay $200 to sit in the stands freezing my ass off through all of those television timeouts? I don't think so.

Update the second: Well, shit: I completely spaced out the SDSU-Utah game, which Utah won, apparently, with a combination of offensive power and SDSU ineptitude. Maybe I'm glad I missed that.

Watching Pittsburg beat Oakland, I am drawing the conclusion that the officials are trying to turn the game of football into a non-contact sport. Those were a couple of the most ridiculous contact foul calls that I have seen in forty years of watching this game.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The American Dream

Bob Hebert has a rather powerful op-ed contribution at the New York Times today that I encourage you to read in full. It is elegantly written and emphasizes just how badly our leadership and media are failing us.

What this shows is not that we should discriminate against foreign-born workers, but that the U.S. needs to develop a full-employment economy that provides jobs for all who want to work at pay that enables the workers and their families to enjoy a decent standard of living. In other words, a resurrection of the American dream.

He goes on to say that “nothing close to that is happening,” and to that I would add that we are not even trying. We are still enmeshed in this nonsense of trying to rebuild the “consumer spending economy” by replacing the missing consumer spending with government spending. There is this magical thinking that if the government throws money around long enough the public will start spending again, which would rebuild the economy of China, Korea and oil exporters but not America.

What’s notable to me is how he defines “the American dream.” To him it is not becoming a millionaire, or having yachts and airplanes, or becoming President, it’s having “work at pay that enables the workers and their families to enjoy a decent standard of living.” That’s what brought waves of Italians and Germans and Poles and Irish to this nation many years ago to become today’s Americans, the ability to have work that would allow them to support their families with a decent standard of living. I love that definition; that is a worthy dream.

The same thing is bringing today’s Hispanics to this country today to become tomorrow’s Americans. They have the same dream, the same worthy dream.

The wreckage from the recession and the nation’s mindlessly destructive policies in the years leading up to the recession is all around us. We still don’t have the money to pay for the wars that we insist on fighting year after year. We have neither the will nor the common sense to either raise taxes to pay for the wars, or stop fighting them.

Obama and his Democrats decry the disaster created by the previous administration, and then continue the same disasterous policy even as they complain about having inherited it. Obama supporters, after years of complaining about Bush fighting wars without paying for them, support Obama for doing precisely the same thing. Under Republicans we spent money, fought wars and cut taxes and under Democrats we are spending money, fighting wars and cutting taxes.

I don’t think the American dream includes fighting endless wars, either.

Masterpiece of Self Delusion

The last NASCAR race of the season is this weekend, in case anyone cares. Not many do, apparently, as television ratings are down something like 20% and stands are about 60% occupied.

NASCAR decided that part of the ratings problem was that races were starting at differing times and, perhaps, fans could not read television schedules so they announced that future races would have a "consistent starting time." The announcement turned out to be that starting times would now be, "1 p.m. Eastern, 3 p.m. Eastern or 7:30 p.m. Eastern for nearly all events in 2010."

For "nearly" all events. They certainly have redefined the word "consistent."

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Many Charges Do You Need?

Every time I read, in the Ghailani trial, of him being found not guilty on no fewer than 283 charges, I think back to the last time I was a jury member on a felony trial. At issue was a prison guard who had been charged with beating a prisoner, and with a second similar charge more than two years earlier. The evidence in the most recent change was basically the word of the purportedly beaten prisoner against the guard, and the earlier charge was, if anything, even more vague and ill-defined.

We agreed on a “not quilty” verdict immediately on the earlier incident and, after rather lengthy deliberation came up with the same verdict on the first charge as well.

Consensus was that the early incident was trumped up and added merely to bolster the more recent charge, otherwise, why let it sit for more than two tears before charging it. We felt that if the prosecution had been certain of their case on the first charge they would not have needed to add the bogus earlier one.

Sort of “too many cooks in the kitchen” to suit us. Adding the second charge, intended to bolster the first one, actually weakened it.

Really, 283 charges?

Historic College Football

Omigod, I may have to watch this college football game tomorrow.

Understanding War Policy

Just to make you aware of how little I understand the Afghanistan war policy, I do not understand how the following two facts are related. First is that Karzai is becoming more and more insistent that we scale back on the aggressiveness of our military activity in that country. Second is that we are deploying M1A1 Abrams tanks to that war for the first time since the war began. I'm sure you understand that, but in my stupidity, I do not.

A Nation Of Laws?

I was watching The Last Word last night, and O’Donnell had on Jonathan Turley and a former governor of New York, George Pataki to discuss the trial of terrorists in civilian courts. The discussion was prompted, of course, by the trial of Ahmed Ghailani, which I won’t go into in any detail because it has already been discussed to death.

What struck me was not just Pataki’s presumption of Ghailani’s guilt, but his repeated and vehement denunciation that, “the guy murdered 200 people and was found not guilty.” Turley kept saying that Pataki was condemning the civil trial process because he didn’t like the outcome of this trial, and Pataki’s rejoinder was, “No I’m not, the guy murdered 200 people and was found not guilty” which, of course, confirms Turley’s statement.

We have literally gone insane in this nation whenever the subject is terrorism. Pataki’s rejoinder is not merely illogical, it is insane. I wish you could see a film clip of him, because, he was acting irrational. He was agitated, fidgeting, blurting out and ranting, sweating, and not in control of himself. “I was there,” he ranted, “I saw 9/11. This guy was guilty and we let him off.” Ghailani was not charged with anything even related to 9/11.

The purpose of terrorism is to create terror, and to succeed it requires that the people upon whom it is inflicted can be terrified. Europeans, apparently, cannot. They can be made wary; they can live their lives in accordance with their principles while keeping one eye open for safety.

We on the other hand, can be terrified. Faced with the prospect of terrorism, we are willing to abandon principle and to live quaking in fear and screaming at our leadership to make sure that, at all cost, let nothing bad happen. A man of considerable stature, a former governor of a major state, is willing to appear on national television, squirming and sweating in visible panic over his perception of the failure of our nation’s principles.

Unless we become a nation of military tribunals, the terrorists will…

A Nation of Military Tribunals

Think about that. Trial by military tribunals. Do you really want this nation, this United States of America, to be a nation that is trying people by military tribunals? Picture in your mind the list of nations that do that. Do you really want your nation to be on that list?

A Nation of Laws?

I remember the Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980’s very well. I lived in Arizona at the time, and not only was Arizona a hotbed of failed S&L’s, it was home to Charles Keating and the legislators of the “Keating Five” fame. The numbers involved in that financial collapse were huge and frightening at the time, but we ultimately emerged from it unscathed, and that debacle has been rendered almost insignificant by a subsequent one some forty times bigger in scope.

More than a thousand felony convictions were made as a result of financial irregularities committed during that period by bankers, realtors and related professions. Repeat, more than a thousand people were convicted of felonies and sentenced to prison terms in a financial scandal that was forty times smaller than the current one, which has not resulted in one single indictment, let alone conviction. We are not even making an attempt to find and punish the guilty today.

No, Bernie Madoff is a separate case, not related to the financial collapse.

The financial houses which failed in the 80’s were not “recapitalized” with taxpayer money, they were taken over by the government, their overvalued assets were sold off for whatever price could be obtained, and the deposit base was sold to financial institutions which could service it responsibly. They no longer exist today.

I remember celebration of the regulations and oversight that were put in place to assure that such a failure could not happen again. “We learned from our mistakes,” it was claimed, and never again could the nation be placed at such risk. Never again could we allow the savings and the retirement accounts, citizen’s dreams and hopes, to be vaporized by the greed and avarice of Wall Street.

Those regulations and that oversight were promptly ignored, and where they could not be ignored they were repealed. Fast forward to 2010, when we are being told that new regulations are in place to assure that a financial collapse “can never occur again.”

Yes, and we were told that in 1991, when the “Prompt Corrective Action” law was passed, a law that remains in effect today and which the government has ignored completely from that day to this one. We were told that when Glass-Stiegal was passed; a law which, impossible to ignore, was repealed by Congress. When an attempt to reinstate that law was made last year, Congress rejected it. The list goes on.

Merely having laws does not make us “a nation of laws.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The General Motors IPO

Much is being made of the General Motors Initial Public Offering, but it might be well to reflect on the carnage that lies behind that event, because this is a new company being built on the rotting carcass of the old one.

Most such IPO’s are celebrations, issuances of stock for a new creation, the birth of a new enterprise. Not so General Motors. General Motors is a failed company which, with government sponsorship, relieved itself of its problematic issues and “toxic assets” and reformed itself into a whole new company of the same name.

All over the midwest are closed plants and voided labor agreements which also belong to General Motors; the “old” General Motors now renamed “General Motors Liquidation.” The workers of “old” General Motors are idled in large numbers, while a few of them and large numbers of new hires are working at the “new” General Motors for lower wages and fewer benefits.

Meanwhile, new investors are snapping up the stock offering of the “new” General Motors at $35 per share, Democrats are crowing about how well the bailout worked with this newly profitable General Motors, and telling us how the government will make a profit on the deal and it won’t cost the taxpayer a dime.

But it certainly cost those who worked for the “old” General Motors and unemployment is still well above 9.5% as it was when the “old” General Motors was in business.

Seems to me the only gainers are on Wall Street. As usual.

The Brilliance of the Media

Barbara Walters interviewed Sarah Palin recently and, among other things, asked her in reference to a 2012 run, "Can you beat President Obama?"

Seriously? How do you expect Palin to answer that? "No, but it would be good practice for 2016," perhaps? In her famous interview with Katie Couric, Sarah Palin came off looking like an idiot, but how intelligent does the media person look when asking a question like that?

Actually, I don't think she could beat Daffy Duck, but still...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

That'll Show Him

Remember back in, I think it was January or so, when Obama went to the Republican luncheon and pretty much took them to school? They invited him to a knife fight and he went with a gun, so to speak. It was a battle of wits and they were unarmed. Or were half-armed.

Okay, I’m finished with the cliches.

Well, I was pretty sure, even as I was enjoying watching that, that the event was going to come back and bite him on the ass. Okay, I wasn’t finished with the cliches. The Republicans are biting him on the ass because that’s as high as they can reach. It’s a stature thing.

Politico, a place which I never go unless I am sent there by, in this case, Talking Points Memo, has a piece about the Republicans rejecting Obama’s invitation for a meeting and putting it off until after Thanksgiving because he has to “rebuild their trust” after he “invaded their caucas” last winter and caught them unprepared to deal with him. I never actually read Politico, I just go look to be sure the quoted article exists and is essentially as the quoter represented it, so I’m not sure what it actually says about the Republican reasons for the postponement.

I must say that the Politico piece shows two really pissed off Republicans and an equally pissed off President, so they certainly do set the tone pictorially.

Update: I'm sorry, I believe the proper term is "ankle biting." Good God, you mean they cannot even reach his ass?

And Dick Cheney made a comment at the Bush Library groundbreaking about it being "the only shovel ready project in America right now." The left wing is all up in arms about him taking a cheap shot at Obama. Oh, for heaven's sake, get a sense of humor. It was a joke, and was actually a little bit funny. Lighten up.

A Pretty Good Start

No, I'm not referring to twenty-five lawyers at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, but to San Diego State beating Gonzaga, 79-76, last night, even if it was a bit sloppy at times. NCAA basketball begins. That sound you hear is my wife's eyes rolling. "But, but... They're still playing football!"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Honest Budget

Usually when you see charts of the federal budget, one of the biggest chunks is labelled "Social Security," which is a false presentation because Social Security is not part of the federal budgetary process. Think Progress has a piece today regarding Mike Huckabee and defense cuts which includes a legitimate chart. The big chunk is Pentagon spending. Nice.

The Scanner Rebellion

The video of the young guy refusing to be “patted down” after declining to go through the scanning machine at Lindbergh Field rather makes me embarrassed to be from San Diego. I would like to point out that we are not all quite that arrogant or reactionary, and that his kind are actually rather unusual here. Some people seem to think he is some sort of hero, but I think he is an asshole and a punk.

Sure the search procedure is stupid, useless, inconvenient and annoying. There are, however, better ways to deal with your sense of displeasure than by cursing out people who are simply doing their job and disrupting the process, making it more disruptive, inconvenient and annoying for everyone else who is having to submit to it.

I used to take two or three trips per year, and as the search procedures have become more intrusive and burdensome I have cut that down to the point that my wife has to pretty much browbeat me into one annual trip. After making that trip this year I may look into travelling by train.

But to voice my objection in the form of threats of arrest and by disrupting the process further for people who do not have the option of cancelling their trip would be self-centered and arrogant. Social procedures are not in place to serve the selfish pleasure of one young punk who thinks he is the center of the universe.

If you think these procedures are too intrusive, or that they impose further on your freedoms than you are willing to tolerate, then write your Congressional representatives and either stay home or travel by train until they are repealed. You do not have the right to throw your minority opinion around in a manner that interferes with the majority.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Republican Tax Cuts

The insane argument over whether or not a Democratic President and a Congress controlled by Democrats will pass continuation of Republican tax cut continues. It has apparently not occurred to any of these Democratic geniuses that they could dump the Bush tax code altogether and come up with a new and original tax proposal of their own. It didn’t occur to any of them that this might have been done two years ago, when they could be talking about a “Democratic tax proposal” that favors the middle class rather than playing defense over a Republican tax code that favors the rich.

George W. Bush has to be thrilled to death that, in the midst of his book tour and speaking engagements, a Democratic Congress is immortalizing his tax cuts. The ineptitude of this is simply staggering, and it’s hard to know whether it is Obama or Congress that is the bigger idiot for allowing this to come about.

Obama tries to sound tough by saying that, rather than coming up with his own tax proposal, he will insist on passing only the part of the Bush tax that he likes, as if that were some sort of dynamic leadership. “I’ll let the opposition come up with the ideas, but I’ll only approve the parts that I like” is not leadership. From Bloomberg News,

"The president still believes we have to move forward with these tax cuts for the middle class," Axelrod said. "But we can't afford to borrow another $700 billion to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires."

We can’t afford to borrow $700 billion, but we can afford to borrow $3 trillion, which is what it will take to provide the tax cuts for the middle class that he is so adamant on providing. Perish the thought that we should borrow nothing and return taxes to the levels that existed during the booming economy which existed under Bill Clinton.

Obama criticizes the Republicans for “running the car into the ditch” by cutting taxes and running a deficit, and then he turns right around and insists that we need to extend the deficit by $3 trillion to extend the unfunded tax cut created by the Republicans. It was Republican irresponsibility which caused our economy to crash, he claims, and then he wants to continue that irresponsibility.

Opposing the tax you dislike the basis that “we can’t afford to borrow” is hypocrisy, when you are concealing your willingness to borrow more than four times as much for a tax cut you favor. You need a different basis for the opposition.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


The movie is trite and predictable, the technology flaws are massive, and I enjoyed it unreservedly. Denzel Washington was up to expectations, the camera work was dazzling, the action was breathtaking, and the experience was non-stop fun. I plan to buy the dvd as soon as it is available.

Speaking of unstoppable, John McCain is amazing. He wants a new report on "Don't Ask Don't Tell," more time to study the existing one, more Congressional hearings and, apparently, more time for the current serving members of the armed forces to reconsider their ill-conceived opinions. Not to mention more time for his wife and daughter to fall in line with the opinions of the patriarch.

And, unrelated to the title, the Buffalo Bills won their first game of the season. Apparently Shawne Merriman is so awesome that merely having him on the roster makes the team a winner, even if he is not actually playing.

Update: The man is a liar or is incredibly ignorant.

He says that the study is to examine "how to implement repeal of the ban," not "what the effect will be" if it is repealed, and that is factually wrong. I have seen the questionnaire and have reviewed each and every question contained in it. It does not ask in any form about method of implementation. It does not ask about showering or sleeping quarters, for instance. It asks entirely about effects on leadership, combat readiness, and effects on unit morale.

John McCain is a homophobe and a liar, and he dishonors his service.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Catfood Commission Again

Paul Krugman has another excellent comment today regarding the Catfood Commission, this time at his blog, the gist of which is that we should not be discussing the desirability of individual features of the report, but should be weighing the overall effect of it.

What the commission was supposed to do was something much harder [than come up with some good deficit-reduction ideas]: it was supposed to produce a package that Congress would give an up and down vote. To do this, it would have to produce something much better than a package with some good stuff buried in among the bad stuff; it would have to produce a package good enough to accept as is.

This package is, of course, far from that for any number of reasons. For one thing, it includes Social Security, which is not part of federal revenue and does not belong in such a package. Such adjustments, while needed, should be in a separate package altogether.

This package, as Krugman and others have pointed out, is overwhelmingly slanted in a conservative political direction, and it represents a massive transfer of the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle and lower class.

Chris Matthews had the authors of Game Change on his show Hardball yesterday. Why two guys who wrote 480 pages of 100% unattributed Washington gossip are qualified to discuss this topic escapes me, but Matthews not only listened to their infinite wisdom on the topic, he agreed with it entirely and fawned over them even more than is his usual habit.

They began with all three of them agreeing that the commission’s report was heavily tilted toward Republican ideology and no one actually suggested that, with the commission having been formed by a Democratic President during Democratic control of both houses of Congress, there was anything surprising or wrong with that.

Mark Halperin went on to say that he thought “the thing is extraordinarily timid,” but then waxed rhapsodic about it at some length. No transcript is available, so my quote may not be exact.

It does a brilliant job of spreading the pain around, of deferring things that need to be deferred, of taking things on that need to be done in the right order… I think this is a great opportunity for people who want to get things done. That includes the President, and we’ll see if it includes Republicans in Congress. It’s a great opportunity to build on this thing. I think progressives who are squeaking and squawking on this thing because they don’t want to let the nose of the camel under the tent are going to be left behind if there is a coalition of Obama, centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans.

That last sentence may be the most idiotic thing he said all day. There are no "centrist" anything left in Washington, and if there were, they would be keeping their heads down and not coming within miles of Obama.

Chris Matthews brilliantly asked if Americans really cared about debt and would they actually accept spending cuts and deficit reduction, and John Heilemann replied that the only way this commission report would be accepted by the American people would be, “If they are led to accept it, by the President primarily, but also by the Republican leadership.”

Matthews, who likes to call himself a progressive, supported that position, and speaks almost as glowingly of the commission report as do these two clowns who have written off the Democratic Party as irrelevant, and are saying that it's up to Obama and the Republicans to lead the country forward.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cat Lapping

Four scientists at three prestigious American universities have figured out that cats are much more sophisticated in the way that they drink than are dogs. Meanwhile in Switzerland, scientists are unraveling mysteries of the creation of the universe using the Large Hadron Collider. I guess we showed them who is serious.

Today's article in the New York Times sort of implies that cats of various sizes weigh themselves and then whip out their slide rules to calculate how fast to lap. Oh wait, not slide rules; I'm sort of dating myself there. Pocket calculators. Except cats don't have pockets. Calculators. Anyway, I don't think so.

My cat would be lost at the "weighing herself" part, which requires a certain amount of self awareness. She still attacks the cat in the mirror. She has learned that starting from the opposite side of the room at a dead run and making her attack with a flying leap is somewhat less than a stellar idea.

The Catfood Commission

My reaction to the preliminary report of the Catfood Commission has been restrained hostility. The only good thing I saw about it was that it illustrated a methodology which left no “scared cows” and which must be the model for making any real progress on balancing the budget. Other than that, with its 75% spending reduction and only 25% tax increase component, it appeared to me to be a “bipartisan” plan only by the Republican definition of the word.

One person said, and I can’t find the quote now, that it would pare government down to one that would “merely fight wars and defend the border.” Based on present performance I would rephrase that little piece of hyperbole as, “lose wars and pretend to defend the border.”

Another person commenting said he was fine with dropping the mortgage interest deduction because, “I’ve never figured out why renters should get screwed.” My guess is he’s a renter, but he’s incorrect in any case, as are those who claim that renters don’t pay property tax. They do, because their landlords pay property tax and pass it on to them in their rent. Their landlords also have mortgages and, since the property is income-producing, those are business loans and the interest is tax deductible. That tax deduction affects their rent, and if the home mortgage interest deduction goes away it is the homeowners who will be getting screwed.

I’m loathe to comment on the Social Security part because it will sound like I’m grinding my own axe, but earning their nickname is hardly praiseworthy. Social Security needs some adjustment, to be sure, but it is not part of federal revenue and the topic does not belong in a discussion of the federal deficit. As to adjusting it, lifting the income cap on the deduction is fine, but raising the retirement age and this business with the COLA is… Well, I’m trying to watch my language.

Lowering income tax rates and eliminating deductions and loopholes sounds very well, it’s called “simplification of the tax code” and we’ve done it before to very good effect, but lowering taxes and making them less progressive while pretending to raise them is not only Republican, it’s downright Rovian.

Paul Krugman, predictably but in this case quite elegantly, expresses his outrage in the New York Times today

Matters become clearer once you reach the section on tax reform. The goals of reform, as Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson see them, are presented in the form of seven bullet points. “Lower Rates” is the first point; “Reduce the Deficit” is the seventh.

So how, exactly, did a deficit-cutting commission become a commission whose first priority is cutting tax rates, with deficit reduction literally at the bottom of the list?

I probably should point out that Dr. Krugman is a bit more coherent on this subject today than he was yesterday, but then so am I. That’s why I waited until today to write about it, and why I’m not poking any fun at him for his sputtering yesterday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Heights of Exceptionalism

Julian Assange is the "Wikileaks" guy, an Australian citizen, currently thought to be living in Sweden. He is leading in Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" poll, and that is freaking out a lot of people. Megan McCain, who I actually rather like, went on the air to rant against him and called him "un-American." Really. An Australian living in Sweden is "un-American." That was very "un-Swedish" of her.

If you want to really piss off Time Magazine and a lot of Republicans at the same time, you can go vote here for Assange.

"We Are All Socialists Now"

I am enjoying Lawrence O’Donnell’s show The Last Word. O’Donnell is liberal, unabashedly so without being a demagogue about it. Well, at least not overly much. He does take a wild swing at a bad pitch once in a while, but he keeps his feet in the batter’s box, so even when he says something a bit outlandish he merely sets me to thinking rather than pissing me off.

He did an editorial the other night in which he declared that “We are all socialists now,” with which I have to take a certain amount of issue. I say that not because I am in any way frightened by the word “socialism,” I am not, but because he flings the word around without seeming to have a very clear understanding of what it really is. He says that Social Security and Medicare are socialism, which they are not, and doesn’t mention several other institutions which are generally revered, such as the Veteran’s Administration, police and firefighters, and which actually are socialism.

Socialism, in the strict sense, is a form of governance in which the means of production and distribution are owned and managed by the government. That lets Medicare out, since the delivery of service is provided by private entities. It lets Social Security out, since the money being distributed is provided by payment from the beneficiaries. Both programs are mandated and managed by the government, so they could be considered to have socialistic elements, but they are not socialism per se.

The Veteran’s Administration provides services to veterans from government owned facilities by government employees, without payment for same by the persons receiving the service. That is socialism in its most pure form, and O’Donnell never mentioned it.

Fire and police services are provided by government without a fee-for-service component, which is socialism, albeit diluted slightly by the manner in which the citizenry receiving the service is taxed to pay for the service. Still, it’s a whole hell of a lot closer to socialism than Medicare, with all of the for-profit providers which that involves.

There is a definition of socialism that says it is a form of government in which collective or government ownership of the economy has not yet been successfully achieved. The operative word in that definition is “yet.” To apply that definition one would have to say that collective or government ownership is the plan, and that we are working toward it, which is absurd.

Of course, right wing radical wingnuts assert that Obama is doing precisely that but I’m not going to dignify that claim by discussing it, and I’m a little embarrassed to even mention it.

What O’Donnell got right, I believe, is his statement that our “mixed economy” is a very good one and that it works better than either pure capitalism or pure socialism would do. I am in total agreement with the idea which he so elegantly expressed that the concept of socialism is not something to be feared or loathed, nor to be sought in and of itself, but that it is merely a social construct and is neither evil nor morally good. It is nothing more than an economic tool to be used to the best advantage of the overall economy.

I criticize Paul Krugman a lot; but what I am actually critical of is his fecklessness at proving his points, rather than his theories themselves. Large numbers of the people who think they are insulting Obama by calling him a socialist admire Krugman, but fail to realize that the Keynesian economic theory he advocates contains large doses of socialism. Which happens to be the main part of what I like in it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Am A Bad Person

I came out of the grocery store a short while ago and there was a young couple there with their clipboards. Nothing unusual, and I prepared to say that I was not going to sign their petition. The young woman came up to me and rather pleasantly asked me if I support gay marriage. Without the slightest hesitation I replied, "My husband and I both support it."

I have no idea where that came from, it popped out of my mouth before I even knew it was coming, and I think it surprised me as much as it did her. I certainly showed it less than she did though; the look on her face was simply priceless. She finally stammered something about having a nice day and went in search of easier prey.

I can't wait to tell my wife Kathy about this.

Fiddling Numbers

Paul Krugman’s various economic theories and points may all be valid and correct, I don’t really know, but the way in which he goes about proving them varies from weird to bizarre. The latest is his desire to justify omitting food from the calculation of the “core inflation index” calculation because they are “too volatile,” and to debunk the “right wing claim” that food prices are soaring wildy and would be causing major inflation if they were included.

So he includes this chart, where blue is food price inflation,
Paul's Chart
I guess he could make a small case for the “volatility” bit, with that little dip in year (or month) two, but it’s a pretty big stretch to do that when nine of the ten periods show a remarkably consistent pattern of food cost being about one half percent higher than core inflation, don’t they?

When the pattern is as clear as this one is, a mind which is thinking clearly tends to toss out the one anomaly and see the pattern that remains. Doing that suggests that, while food prices are hardly "soaring," their omission is indeed keeping the core inflation rate a bit lower. But, of course, the mind has to be thinking clearly. Even with the one problematic period, a procedure which would be working properly nine times out of ten would be pretty good. The way we are doing it now seems to be accomplishing its intended purpose only one period out of ten.

Unless its intended purpose is to publish a lower inflation number.

If I were in Paul’s position and trying to illustrate the point that he’s trying to illustrate, I would pull up that chart, take one look at the thing and say to myself, “I need a different chart.”

In any case, all of that beggars the question. What is the purpose of the “core inflation index” that we are calculating, anyway? Given that it is used as sort of a “misery index,” it should be used to measure the rate of change of the cost of living, the rate of change of what it costs to sustain the standard of living that one has in this nation. Is eating food not part of that standard of living? Is buying food not part of the cost of maintaining that standard? How can you omit a significant part of the cost of living and still claim that the inflation index has any meaning at all?

Energy in all its forms is also omitted, also “too volatile,” and between them these two things make up a significant part of the cost of sustaining, not only a standard of living, but life itself. That is particularly true in lower income brackets, and the lower one’s income is the closer it becomes the case that food and energy will constitute the entirety of one’s spending. With those two items omitted from calculation, the core inflation index becomes an utterly meaningless number.

Update: Inflation compounds, so small percentages can have large effects. Inflation of 2% monthly turns into an 26.8% annual rate, while 2.5% monthly becomes a 34.5% annual rate. Inflation is an annual rate, but it goes on year after year, nonetheless, and difference is not as trivial as Krugman paints it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Weapons of Mass Confusion

George Bush’s book is producing as much confusion and incoherence as his term in office did. The man is infectious to the point that he should be declared a pandemic.

Matt Lauer asks him about not finding WMD’s in Iraq and justification for that war, and Bush responds with, “Well, we didn’t get hit again.” Lauer accepts that as if it made some kind of sense, which it does not. It’s sort of like asking why Bush’s Rangers did not win the World Series and he’d responded, “Well, the Cowboys are 1-7.” At least he was talking about sports; not the same sport, but sports.

So Matt Lauer accepts an answer involving Saudi Arabians hanging out in Afghanistan and attacking with airplanes as a valid response to a question about WMD’s and an invasion of Iraq. Not sure why he would do that, but you don’t say “Wtf are you talking about?” to a sitting president, so maybe you don’t say that to a former president either.

Then along comes Chris Matthews, who can add confusion to just about anything, and he doesn’t let us down. He cites this passage of the Lauer interview and then goes into an absolute fit about, “He’s saying that we didn’t get hit again with WMD’s that didn’t exist.”

Okay, now I not only don’t know what the hell Bush is talking about, I don’t know what Matthews is talking about either. Chris; we weren’t hit with Iraqi WMD’s the first time; you do know that, right?

Beyond Loyalty

I get the Obamabots, I really do. He inspired me during the campaign and he still does. While I am very critical of some of the things he is doing, he has done a lot of good things, which you can view at this clever site. Some of the items are of questionable real value, such as “signed an order to close Guantanamo,” and quite a few are acts of Congress for which he was only marginally responsible, but many are executive decisions and constitute a list of progressivism that is impressive.

I am always rather amazed by the pride Democrats take in “allowing parents to keep children on their health insurance until age twenty-six.” Obviously none of them have kids, otherwise why would they think that parents would want to continue supporting their kids for another eight years past the age of majority?

I do have to question the “Voluntary disclosure of White House visitor list for the first time in history.” First, history is a long time; Did John Adams keep his visitors list secret? There is also some reservation on the “voluntary” part, since it did require the threat of a lawsuit. And there is a bit of a question about how thorough the disclosure is.

I had actually sort of forgotten that he “reversed the policy of barring media coverage during the return of fallen soldiers to Dover Air Force Base” and that he arranged for funding to bring families to Dover to meet the arrival. Not only that, but the policy he set, allowing the families to make the decision about cameras, was perfect. That right there offsets a lot of what I consider to be bad policy, and will keep me cheerleading for quite a while.

But the loyalty that some “progressives” hold to their ideals, to the point that they will brook not one single critical word about any supposed practicioner thereof, baffles me. These folks claim that right wingers are liars and fact-deniers and that people on the left never do anything like that, and then when I engage in discussion on a “progressive” blog, some of the rebuttals to my points are beyond bizarre.

In one discussion revolving the "utter stupidity" of states refusing federal money for high speed rail, I mentioned the concept of “matching funds” and cost of operation. I used the analogy of a person who is unable to live on current income and is adding to the credit card balance to pay the rent and put food on the table. An uncle offers to provide the down payment for a new Lexus. You cannot accept the offer, because you do not have the money for the rest of the cost, the additional borrowing would be bad judgment, and you can’t afford the insurance and additional cost anyway.

The response was that I was a “troll” and that I was “spouting right wing talking points.” One person said, “Bill H is saying that if your car breaks down you should quit your job and move in with your parents.” Really. Another claimed that I was making a “false claim that federal funds pay only a small part of the cost.” I would love for that person to show me a transportation project in any state that has ever been built entirely with federal funds.

In another discussion on Nancy Pelosi’s leadership role I commented that, with the public’s approval of Congress at 11% or so, that I couldn’t imagine why either party would consider keeping the same people as leaders.

Again, I got angry replies about what a terrific job she had done, and one person said that, “I don’t think people are against Congress, they are just tired of the filibuster.”

I keep violating one of my rules. “Never argue with idiots. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

Monday, November 08, 2010

Oh, Absolutely

*"The check is in the mail."
*"I will respect you in the morning."
*"BP did not put profit ahead of safety."

A Nation of Fear

America seems to have become a nation of extraordinarily fearful people. I grew up during an era when thousands of nuclear missiles were pointed at this nation, when school children practiced crouching under their desks, when “civil defense shelters” were being built in every town and city, and no president ever talked about “keeping America safe.” Presidents talked about “stopping the Red Menace” and “defending freedom,” but the words “safe” and “safety” did not resonate with the American people.

Frankly, the leadership of George Bush and Barack Obama, with all the talk of “keeping safe” sounds to me like a couple of candyasses; like young and inexperienced parents over-protecting their first child because they have not yet learned that scraped knees are not fatal. They sound like they have no idea whatever what the hell is expected of them.

Getting another building destroyed is not going to kill this country, will not even risk serious damage to us as a nation, yet in a frantic attempt to prevent that event these two have us invading, occupying and bombing sovereign nations all over the world and trashing values which make this nation what it is. And just as an over-protective mother winds up scaring the shit out of her kid, these two idiots have turned this nation absolutely, neurotically insane with fear.

It astounds me that thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at us could not cause us to be willing to all but strip naked in public in the name of safety, but the fear of a few dozen guys armed with rifles and shoulder-fired rockets hiding in the Hindu Kush has managed to do precisely that.

Just what is this “American exceptionalism” that we are so proud of? We chant “USA, USA, USA” and wave the flag, and then we line up like cattle being herded into pens to be all but strip-searched in order to board an airplane. Have we no actual pride left? Or is all we have left this false form
of bluster that covers cowardice?

Update: I just had someone suggest to me that “crouching under desks” and “civil defense drills” bespeaks a great deal of fear, and I would say that they said just the opposite at the time. They said, “When something bad happens I plan to survive because I am tough, I am capable, and I know exactly what to do.”

The Bush/Obama form of leadership fosters a style that says, “My leaders can’t let anything bad happen. If it does I won’t survive, because I’m not capable and I don’t know what to do.”

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Daylight Savings

Did you change your clocks? I have learned not to do it until Sunday morning, and to discuss the subject with my wife. Otherwise, between devices which do it for themselves and my wife doing it without telling me, every stupid clock gets reset about eight times. It's sort of like a clock setting Chinese fire drill.

The cable box sets itself, even if you try to bollix it, so I won't miss kickoff
of the Chargers game. I'm not sure if that's a good thing.

And Paul Krugman tells us today that the CPI and the PCE did the same thing. I'm certainly relieved to hear that, but it rather looks to me like they both did a very bad thing, so I'm not sure why he's so happy.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Kicking It Around

*Only one circumstance causes me to enjoy a Crimson Tide loss, and that is when the LSU Tigers deliver it.
*San Diego State won on some really sorry looking turf at Qualcomm Stadium. Really, just because the Chargers want a new stadium doesn't mean you can't water the damned grass.
*Utah sort of overdid the "gracious host" bit with TCU. I don't think you're supposed to be quite that nice to your visitors.
*San Diego State plays TCU next weekend, in Fort Worth. Yikes.
*I gave up on Arizona when they were down by 30 points and were actually getting beaten worse than that by Stanford.
*For some reason ESPN kept showing a basketball score (65-67) in with the college football games. Oh, that was a football score?
*The Chargers play the Texans tomorrow morning, in Houston. I am not, to say the least, sanguine.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Pot Calling Kettle...

As you may know, I quit watching Keith Olbermann because he became a lying sack of demagoguery, and I’m happy that I quit before this happened.

After many months of harsh condemnation of Fox and its various commentators for their political contributions to the Republican party and members thereof, Olbermann winds up not only engaging in the same behavior with Democrats, but contributing to one Democrat on the same day that the person appears on his show and not disclosing that contribution when interviewing that person.

To its credit, MSNBC has suspended him indefinitely. I hope they do not allow him to return in any role, and that no other network picks him up.

Update: Interesting that in all of the ranting on this subject, on both sides, I have not seen not one mention of Olbermann's almost endless excoriation of Fox News and its various commentators for their political contributions to Republicans and their "lack of journalistic integrity."

Cooldown: Day Two

Get out your blankets, parkas, gloves and snowshoes. Maybe not; the temperature display that read 103 yesterday was showing 107 today. I do believe the weather mavens have blown it again. Is this what we get for turning down Proposition D?

No, I did not go through the SDSU campus again today, as I am well stocked on groceries.

One Fundamental Thing

I think the silliest thing, and the saddest, that Obama said in his post-election speech was, “We were in such a hurry to get things done that we forgot to change the way we got things done.” That, more than anything else, illustrates to me that he has no idea why 14 million young people who helped put him in office stayed home this time and helped create the “shellacking” that his party got this year.

Either that or he is just an unvarnished, unmitigated bs artist.

Glenn Greenwald and Cenk Uygur were on Dylan Ratigan yesterday, and their discussion made some really telling points. It’s worth listening to and the discussion, while at times animated, is very civil and pleasant. No transcript is available, so the quotes may not be entirely accurate.

Cenk Uygur points out the that during the campaign “Obama didn’t fill those stadiums; millions of voters who were hungry to change the way government is done filled those stadiums.” Indeed, and they looked to Obama to be the agent of that change because that is what he was promising to do. He goes on to be more specific, saying that, “we did not send Obama to Washington to do specific things, health care reform, etc, those things are fine, but they are not the goal. We sent Obama to Washington to change the way those things are done.”

Of all the individual policies that he has failed to implement, supporters are pointing to his campaign and saying that he never really promised to do those things; he never campaigned on the “public option” for instance. The most loyal Obamatron cannot claim that he did not promise to “change the way government is done in Washington.”

Obama then engages in deal making with everyone in sight from day one. His signature issue, health care reform, started with three secret presidential deals with the drug, hospital and insurance companies and moved on to twelve full months of deal making in Congress. Obama then comes up with, “We were in such a hurry to get things done that we forgot to change the way we got things done.” A year of catfighting was a hurry?

That’s sort of like saying, “I was in such a hurry to get out of town that I forgot to start the car.” You forgot, Mister President, to do the one fundamental thing that we sent you to Washington to do.

Glenn Greenwald debunks the idea that the problem is an impatient electorate, that changing Washington takes time. He points out that the problem is that Obama is not even trying to change Washington. “Everything he does is by means of secret meeting with the very lobbyists who he vowed to disempower. Everything he does serves to further entrench the existing system.” Exactly right.

He suggests that if Obama were fighting battles and losing them because he was in the process of changing the system then those who elected him would be as patient as need be, and I believe he is right. But he has not tried, and I am among those who are beginning to believe that he never had any intention of doing so.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Weather, Weather

Today is supposed to be the beginning of the cooldown, but I do believe the weather mavens missed that call. The temperature reading at the bank near my house, which was 99 yesterday, was 103 at the same time today. The NOAA advises us that this is categorized as "hazardous weather," but it doesn't feel hazardous to me. It feels quite pleasant, but we all know that I'm weird. The cat is a little grouchy, but then she's wearing a fur coat.

I will tell you this, it was a very nice day to drive through the campus of San Diego State University. That was definitely better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. I may be old, but I'm not dead yet.

Yes that was necessary. That campus in on the way to a grocery store that I shop at fairly often. Well, once in a while. Well, not very often, but every time that I feel an impulse to drive... Um, never mind.