Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't Send Money

This is the time of year when almost every website/blog has a post asking you to give it some money so that it can upgrade, add content, add more authors, add more articles, or generally become better. Some sites, of course, have permanent pleas of that type.

I don't do that. Don't send money. This blog is fine just the way it is. If it needs to get "better" I'll make it better. Thanks for visiting this year and for reading all of my crap, and I hope you have a happy and prosperous 2011.

And keep coming back, without your credit card.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Travel Notes

Somebody please tell me what all the screaming is about regarding the "new airport security procedures." What new procedures? I didn't see any new procedures or hear any screaming in three airports.

North Carolina is cold as hell, but it has Waffle House. I wish California would enter the civilized world and build some of those so that I could get a decent breakfast at home. Of course, the waitress would not have that lovely accent.

Blogging will be light for a while. This borrowed computer sucks.

Monday, December 27, 2010

No Playoffs for Chargers

And a well deserved finish to a poorly played season which began, as Chargers' seasons are wont to do, with a series of stupid losses. Then comes bland statements of "we know what to do to fix this" and having to win the last games to get into the playoffs. But, “You can’t always expect to dig yourself out of a hole,” as quarterback Philip Rivers said last night.

Perhaps not digging yourself into a hole to begin with year after year would be a good idea. Perhaps not starting every game with your collective head stuck firmly up your collective ass and not requiring your coach to make major adjustments at halftime might be the better plan.

On a local television talk show the pundits were blathering about how "once again they lost because they could not overcome these mistakes" and Jim Trotter, writer for Sports Illustrated, very quietly said, "No, they lost because they made the mistakes." That little observation was followed by silence and blank stares, while I was rolling on the floor.

Each year that the Chargers' path has gone this route has lead to an early exit from the playoffs as the team has been humiliated in round one or, at best, round two, so perhaps not even reaching the playoffs is the lesser evil.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Miss Grumpy

sleepy feline"What? I only get one day to sleep in the sun in two weeks, and you wake me up to take my damn picture? Go away."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's Perfectly Understandable

It is very difficult to put anything in one's tee shirt pocket when one has one's tee shirt on inside out. That is purely the result of having to put on one's tee shirt while not wearing one's glasses.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Missing The Boat

Or maybe not even knowing where the boat is. Perhaps being uncertain where the damn water is.

All this honking (I know Bartender Cabbie likes that term) about how "bipartisan" the "lame duck" Congress was, and how this is what happens when the "two parties work together." Hah.

This is what happens when, for one brief moment in time, Congress critters are not 100% focused on their own damn reelection.

I Need A Bigger Hammer

The left wing is giddy with the idea that Tom Harkin has plans to break the filibuster when the Senate convenes the first of the year, getting rid of it or otherwise making it much harder to use. “Hooray,” they are hooting, “we will finally be rid of that thing that has prevented us from getting anything done.”

Meanwhile, Obama and the Democratic leadership are saying that “this has been the most productive Congress in several decades” and are citing a long list of legislative accomplishments.

Somebody is seriously disconnected from somebody else here.

The filibuster is a valuable instrument that has served us well for a great many years. It has assured that the minority has a voice, that it is permitted to remain engaged in the process of governance. Without it the majority becomes a tyranny and the minority is rendered voiceless, impotent, and utterly meaningless. That is not a desirable form of government, and not a permissible state for a nation. That the majority rules does not mean that the minority is rendered into political serfdom.

If you have a rule that is being abused you do not abolish that valuable rule, you take steps to prevent its abuse. You do not blame the rule for impeding progress and abolish or weaken the rule, you blame those who are abusing the rule for their own personal gain and abolish the abusers.

Of course, this nation does have a habit of doing precisely the former. We established a national speed limit of 55 mph that was saving lives and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, but because too many were not obeying the speed limit we raised it back up and increased the death toll and oil consumption again, serving the desires of the abusers instead of doing what was best for the nation.

We raised taxes to balance the budget, too, and formed an economy that was thriving and forming new jobs at a record clip. But, of course, we had to screw that up too, and cut taxes to pander to the greedy. Even when we knew we had screwed the pooch on that we continue it, complaining about how screwed the pooch is and still cutting taxes even more. If it doesn’t work do it bigger and maybe it will work.

It’s called the “I need a bigger hammer” theory.

So of course, we will abolish the filibuster, and then we will complain that the minority has no voice in governance. Democrats have already done that, actually. They had the filibuster when they were in the minority, they just didn’t use it, and complained about not having a voice.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Say What, Again?

ABC News is warning travelers that "toting thermoses and insulated beverage containers through the nation's airports today" might create problems. The last time you were in an airport, how many people did you see carrying thermos jugs and insulated beverage containers? Given that liquids are limited to 3.5 freaking ounces, and containers of that sort cannot be taken onto airplanes, I suspect you did not see any.

Apparently, though, this warning comes from the TSA itself, who is telling us that the "tactics terrorists might use include the concealment of explosives inside insulated beverage containers." They go on to say that "while no specific threats have been reported, agents at airports have been trained to detect a variety of threats, including the concealment of explosives in common items." That would include underwear, I suspect.

This ABC News item is just plain wierd. TSA has not received any specific tip or anything, they just decided to pull something out of thin air to issue a warning about, and picked insulated beverage containers. So ABC News, of course, promptly went along and started honking about the danger of bombs possibly being hidden inside insulated beverage containers.

Update: The more I think about it the wierder this gets. "Concealment of explosives in common items," forsooth. If I were a terrorist I would certainly hide my explosive in a common item. I would certainly not hide it in a fucking uncommon item. "What do you have in that fake watermelon, fella?"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Setting the bar really low

Saying that Obama is better than having McCain as President.

Really. I mean, okay, I’d rather have the flu than shingles, too.

Adverse Possession

I’m not getting this whole mortgage thing. Banks, it seems, should not be allowed to foreclose because they do not have the proper paperwork. Does their lack of paperwork alter the fact that they paid out money? Does it alter the fact that they are not being repaid that money? Does it alter the fact that the homeowner received real property? Does it alter the fact that the homeowner is not paying for that real property?

Why should the value of that loan be decreased simply because the item purchased with the borrowed money decreased in value? Does my car loan diminish because my car depreciated? Does it vanish altogether if my car is demolished in an accident?

Did the bank not lend that money? Did the bank/lender not pay that money to someone; a previous owner, be that a person or a builder? Who has the money, and why should they be allowed to keep it if what they sold was not worth the money that they charged for it? The lender was simply in the middle of the deal. Why should the seller, who sold a property for an inflated value, walk away wealthy and stick everyone else with the loss? If the house was overvalued then the seller is the thief, here, not the lender and not the buyer, and the seller is the one party who is being immunized.

A great many of these “underwater” homes are in that condition due to “cash out” refinancing. Why should those loans be written down? Those homeowners took cash from the lenders and spent that cash. Why should a lender be forced to absorb that loss, unless the borrower pays by losing the encumbered property?

Have we no sense of responsibility left in this nation? Have we no sense that if someone buys something that is neither worth the price nor within the buyer’s budget that the buyer might be responsible for the consequences of that action? But we write sob stories about the evil banks throwing innocent victims out of their homes.

“The bank didn’t send me the paperwork.” Did you ask? Did you follow up to see why the paperwork that you should have gotten from the bank was not forthcoming instead of happily assuming that “no news is good news” and it meant that you did not have to pay. Of course not, everything is someone else’s responsibility.

Maybe I’m just out of step with reality, here, but I would never live in a house that I was not paying for, a house that I was keeping by “adverse possession” simply because the person to whom I owed the payment for it could not technically prove the debt by the letter of the law. I would feel like a thief if I were doing that. Actually, I would be a thief.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Litigating Secession

Chris Matthews is up in arms (heh) over the celebration in South Carolina on the anniversary of that state’s secession from the Union 150 years ago. I’m not sure I think that such a celebration is a good idea, but I certainly don’t agree with Eugene Robinson when Chris Matthews asked him what he thought on Monday's Hardball, other than secession not being a good thing,

No, it wasn‘t a good thing. And it was—it was an illegal act and the illegality of that act was, in fact, litigated by the Civil War. You know, this was—this was not something to celebrate. It would be like celebrating some big terrorist attack or something like that, which in fact there was 150 years ago. There was a terrorist attack against Fort Sumter that began the civil war.

Now, I’m glad the South lost the war. They were fighting to preserve something that was wrong on every level, something that should not, could not be preserved. The North was fighting to preserve a great nation which, whatever its present faults, is very much worth preservation.

That being said, Eugene Robinson is beyond disgusting. If the Americans had lost the War of Revolution some person with a British accent would be sitting in his seat, with the same self-satisfied smug look on his face, saying that the Declaration of Independence was an “illegal act” and comparing the battles of Lexington and Concord to terrorist attacks.

People do what they believe to be right and defend that which is important to them, risking life and worldly goods to do so. Right or wrong, doing so takes great courage and strength, and in many cases the worthiness of their cause turns out to be judged by force of arms. The winner on the field of battle writes history. We judge these people because we view them through the lens of history, and we call them terrorists if they lose.

The American colonists were right because we won that war. The North was right because it won that war. The South was wrong because it lost that war, and Robinson said so himself, “the illegality of that act was, in fact, litigated by the Civil War.” So, secession would be legal had force of arms determined it to be legal?

Has the field of battle replaced our Supreme Court, Eugene?

A Personal Hero

Haley Barbour’s poisonous ramblings bring to mind one of my fondest heroes, for I grew up in the same era that he did, and in very similar surroundings. That hero was my paternal grandmother, who we called Granny. She was a little old lady, lavender and lace, with cut glass and china in her living room and lace doilies on the arms of her furniture. She was sort of skinny and wrinkled ever since I can remember, and she had these startling blue eyes that sparkled most all the time.

She was born and raised in Arkansas and she was not silent about her belief, which went to her very core, that it was an absolute sin to judge or set apart another person based on the color of their skin. It was a requirement of a Christian person she believed, and taught her son and his children, to openly and without hesitation treat a black person in precisely the same manner as one would treat a white. It was not talked about much as I recall, it was just presented as the way of life.

Granny was great fun, and she made us better just by being who she was.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Small Note

It did not require Haley Barbour's recent comments about the southern "Citizens' Councils" and his memory of racism in the Deep South as "not all that bad" for me to know that the man is a flaming ass hole. All you need to know is that he is the Republicans' biggest money raiser, and that he slurped up all the Katrina rescue money because the Governor of Louisiana was, at the time, a Democrat.

Expanding Afghanistan

In an article released yesterday and still in today’s issue, the New York Times says that the United States has plans to utilize American ground forces to make raids into Pakistan from Afghanistan, apparently on a fairly regular basis, and that they’ve “…never been as close as we are now to getting the go-ahead to go across.” The plan is a response our “growing frustration with Pakistan’s efforts to root out militants” in the north of that country, apparently reflecting our intention to do ourselves what they are either unwilling or unable to do.

The article goes on to say that CIA-trained Afghan forces have been raiding into Pakistan with some regularity, and admits that the two times that American forces did so it caused major Pakistani outrage. Why there is any thought that future American force incursions would not result in similar outrage is not explained.

Interestingly, this morning the LA Times is carrying a denial from NATO that the United States has any such plans. The article does not say that NATO knows of no such plans, it says there are none. Pakistan also denies knowledge of any such plans. It would appear, therefor, that we are contemplating this action without consulting any of the other nations, supposed allies, which would be affected by it. Incredible.

It is difficult to express just how much I dislike the prospect of this nation widening the conflict in such a manner. My reaction, at this point, is too extreme to even attempt to discuss it.

Snow, Rain and Climate Change

The Guardian has an interesting article titled “That snow outside is what global warming looks like.” Good reading. It has to do with the lack of polar ice changing arctic atmospheric circulation, causing a couple of places in the north to become colder and much of the northern hemisphere to become a lot warmer. Turns out scientists predicted precisely this, and we weren’t paying attention. What else is new?

I’ll tell you what else is new; six days of rain in San Diego.

We are in not one but two Pacific phases which should keep the Jet Stream north of San Diego and mean dryer weather here, The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and La Nina. Both of these are in the cold phase, and either one alone would tend to mean a dry winter for us. So what do we get?

The Jet Stream currently stretches from Hawaii almost straight East to about Los Angeles, and has been parked there for almost a week, bringing record rainfall to the southern part of the state. San Diego is on the very southern edge and is getting pretty light rainfall; totals are much heavier just to the north of us.

Not only is this the case now, but we have had half a dozen rainstorms move through before this came to pass, sooner and more frequently that would normally be the case at this time of year. None of them have been particularly large or wet, but they have come farther south earlier in the season than is usual and, given the Pacific phases, one would expect the opposite to be the case.

I’m not in a position to know what any of this means, but it’s interesting.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Promises of Recovery

Robert Kuttner asks a very good question in a piece entitled The Stimulus That Isn’t, echoing one that I have asked repeatedly,

If the tax rates on the books in 2010 did not produce a recovery, why should we expect that the very same rates will change the economy in 2011?

Read the piece. It is a thoughtful and serious piece, and not just ideology.
It is consistent with my question of why Democrats have come to call tax cuts stimulative, a position that they have refuted since Republicans adopted it many years ago, and which has never been substantiated with any empirical evidence.

I understand compromise, and I have no problem with it. Getting DADT repealed is a big deal, and giving Republicans some victories to achieve that is fine with me. Giving in on the “tax cut for the rich” in order to get the tax cuts for the middle class is fine. None of that presents any moral dilemma to me, nor any sense of political defeat.

What baffles me is the adoption of tax cuts as policy that Democrats have embraced since Obama took office. Where Bush presided over a couple of massive tax cuts, Obama’s preference has been for smaller but more frequent cuts, but the outcome is the same – the continuation of the culture of cutting taxes. Obama even brags about it in his speeches. Now he is embracing the continuation of the Bush tax cuts as a stimulus to the economy, and Democratic leadership is cheering him on.

Kuttner also touched on the pitfall of polls – they are taken and quoted in isolation. The infamous “public option” polled favorably during the “health care reform” debate, for instance, but when larger polls were taken, the public didn’t want that subject to be on the table at all; it wanted Congress to be dealing with jobs, the economy, and the wars overseas. The reality was that if health care was the subject then yes was the reply on the public option, but the topic of health care itself was unpopular.

Sort of “I like orange, but I don’t like ice cream” being taken to mean that the public liked and wanted orange ice cream.

You can’t really determine what’s on the public’s mind by asking yes/no questions on a single subject. If you ask someone if they want a tax cut, pretty much no one will answer no, but the popularity of “reducing the deficit” suggests that in a generalized dissertation on public policy a good many people might well not argue for tax cuts.

As Kuttner points out, today’s politicians are married to the idea that tax cuts generate votes, but promises of recovery that don’t materialize may overcome that dogma rather dramatically. Tax cuts don’t help someone who is not working and not paying taxes. This administration has already promised one recovery that did not materialize, and the result was the election of 2010. It did not learn anything from that and now is promising a tax cut that will lead to recovery by 2012.

Update: On the “I like orange, but I don’t like ice cream” being taken to mean that the public liked and wanted orange ice cream, what the public got, of course, was vanilla ice cream. No public option.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Movie Find

Robert MitchumMany years ago I saw this movie on late night television, and I loved it. I have been watching for it in rental form for years to watch it again, but have never found it until today I found it for sale at Amazon.

It may be my favorite war story of all time, a Marine and a nun on a Japanese-held island in the Pacific. It is hard to tell which one of them displays greater bravery, as well as which one displays a greater degree of human character.

I said in a post a while back that I harbor a fondness for Marines; this movie may be the reason. It's certainly a big reason I harbor a fondness for Robert Mitchum.

Land of Damifino

The "burn down the bomb house" went off without a hitch this week. It was nothing more or less than a house fire, with the addition of a lot of popping as several hundred bullets exploded. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you about the bullets. The bombs merely burned, but the bullets all went "bang," which sounded more like "pop" on television. After the week-long buildup, it was all pretty anticlimactic.

Then the city scooped up the debris and dumped it into the landfill without ever testing it for toxins. Wasn't that clever? Not only that, but the ground left behind after the cleanup wasn't being tested for toxins, either, until some of the neighbors said, "Hey..."

We have some real geniuses running this county, don't we?

Not to mention the city. City leadership has now joined the "We have to stop the free trash pickup" thing. Trash is picked up by city-owned trucks, operated by city-paid employees and dumped in a city-owned landfill, all funded by taxes paid by people from whom the trash is being picked up. But because there is no fee charged specifically for that trash pickup we have "free trash pickup" which we can no longer afford.

What they want to do, though, is charge a fee only in gated communities which own their own streets; something about city trucks driving only on public streets. So not only do these communities, which pay the same taxes as everybody else, have to maintain their own streets, they would have to pay double for trash removal. Nice.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Structural Unemployment?

The blog Beat The Press writes that Reuters is off base in discussing “structural unemployment” because the criteria demonstrating that phenomenon are missing.

“For example, there should be high rates of job openings, which would suggest that there are sectors of the economy or regions of the country in which employers are having difficulty finding workers,” Beat The Press says. “If the economy's main problem is structural unemployment then there also should be sectors where wages are rising rapidly as firms are forced to compete for an inadequate supply of skilled workers,” and, “If the main problem is structural unemployment then we should also expect to see sectors where workers are putting in large numbers of hours.”

We can play all of the word games we want to, arguing about the meanings of “structural,” but as long as there are five or more applicants for every job opening, I would say that the unemployment issue is solid enough to be considered structural. How do you define unemployment as "cyclical" when there are no jobs and no prospect of those jobs returning?

How many television sets which are manufactured overseas need to be sold in this country create one job in the United States, and what is the actual value of the job which it creates?

Bailing out the auto companies was one of the only really good economic moves we have made. So the bad managers were unfairly rewarded – who the hell cares? Manufacturing jobs were saved and created, the production of this nation gained. That move was purposed toward the real national product and not toward some fictional financial “product” existing only on paper and contributing only to the stock market.

We should be making similar bailouts for television makers, computer makers, coffee pot makers, paper clip makers, ball point pen makers…
We should be financing, forget "tax credits," financing companies who will be re-creating a nation which makes what it uses rather than importing it. Then, and only then will unemployment cease to be a chronic and painful issue, which is my definition of “structural.”

La Nina Continues

Wet WeatherThe NOAA advises that, "Deep moist flow out of the Pacific will bring periods of rain through next Wednesday. Heaviest precipitation will occur Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but steady long-lasting rain of light to moderate intensity will be likely during other times."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Last Word on This Topic

Okay, this is my last comment on the tax bill, especially since it is now on the President’s desk for signature. Bickering over something that is already accomplished is just dumb, but I have been meaning to say this for some time and other points have seemed more important.

I consider that objecting to this deal because of the tax cuts for the rich is just petty and mean spirited. As long as we get what we want, why does it matter what anybody else gets or does not get? Denying benefit to others is mere spite and petty revenge and is not a valid basis for passing laws.

Don’t give me that “We can’t afford it” or “We are expecting our children to pay for it” crap either. The amount that we are borrowing for middle class tax cuts is far, far larger than the amount for the tax cuts for the rich, so if we can’t afford it for the rich we can’t afford it for the middle class either.

I see some valid reason to object to the deal, increasing the debt is one and the cut in Social Security deduction is another, but securing tax cuts for myself and wanting to deny them to others is not a valid objection.

Carts & Horses

From Paul Krugman’s op-ed piece in today’s New York Times,

The bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was established by law to “examine the causes, domestic and global, of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States.” The hope was that it would be a modern version of the Pecora investigation of the 1930s, which documented Wall Street abuses and helped pave the way for financial reform.

I think if I hear, or read, the word “bipartisan” one more time I am either going to barf or kill something. It might depend on who says it. Or not.

Anyway, from the Washington Post on July 16, 2010, five months ago,

Congress gave final approval Thursday to the most ambitious overhaul of financial regulation in generations, ending more than a year of wrangling over the shape of the new rules and shifting the government's focus to the monumental task of implementing them.

So, this Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission is only now getting ready to make its report, five months after Congress has passed its legislation on financial reform. What the hell is with that? We do the reform, and only then do we make a study of what went wrong. I believe the Pecora Commission, which was held in the 1930's and which this thing is supposed to emulate, made its investigation before Congress acted so that it could recommend to Congress what regulations were needed.

Given that Congress has already passed financial regulation reform, this commission is making it’s report in order to do what, precisely?

Triggers & Bullets

Paul Krugman has an op-ed in the New York Times today and, while I have no bones to pick with it and it makes valid points about the duplicity of the conservative gameplaying on financial regulation, he leaves intact by implication what I believe to be a common oversimplification of the financial collapse. He implies throughout that the sudden fall of major financial houses was caused by “the housing bubble” specifically; by too many houses being sold and by housing prices becoming artificially inflated. His quest for regulation implies otherwise, but he never actually says so.

When someone commits homicide with a gun, he pulls a trigger, but it is not the trigger which causes the victim’s death. The agent of death is the bullet, explosive propellant and cartridge, activated by the mechanism of the gun and set in motion by pulling the trigger. If the gun is not loaded, then pulling the trigger is a completely harmless act.

The defaulted mortgages constituted the trigger event of what led to the collapse, but the explosive and bullet that caused the havoc were the machinations of financial institutions, the games they had been playing with those mortgages. Had they not been doing those things, the defaulted mortgages would have caused much less harm. Homeowners defaulting on mortgages pulled the trigger, but it was financial institutions who loaded the gun by repackaging and reselling those mortgages in “creative” ways.

Each time a mortgage was repackaged or resold, its nominal value was increased to cover the risk of that resale and, of course, to pay the fees of the seller. In addition, new financial instruments could be created, and were, on that mortgage which had no formal tie to that mortgage at all. By the time a mortgage was resold a few times, and with related instruments counted, that mortgage might be worth several times its original value. Well, it would be priced at that level, it would not have gained in actual worth.

So default by a homeowner now no longer meant that a $150,000 loan went sour, most of which could be recovered by sale of the underlying property, it now meant as much as $500,000 in loss, virtually all of it unrecoverable, because of “creative paper” which had been written around the mortgage. (The numbers here are for relative purpose only.)

If mere overvaluing of the underlying properties were the problem, then significant amounts of default could still be recovered, meaning losses but not collapse. In any case the financial collapse was a sudden event that suggests a “house of cards” falling down. It says that defaults triggered concern, causing the intricacies of the “creative paper” to be looked at and found to be bogus.

The excessive lending certainly was problematic. It increased the size of the housing bubble and made the size of the collapse bigger. It was in response to interest rates kept low by the government and the “creative papering” of the financial sector, and without either one of those in place it would not have happened. It was reactive, not causative.

Financial houses such as Goldman Sachs, AIG and other “too big to fail” institutions were involved only to the extent that they were the “creative paperers” and, as such, are escaping blame by conservatives because they did not make the loans that are failing. That is exactly backwards. They created the whole structure upon which all of the fraud was based. Notably, not holding mortgages but holding the “creative paper,” they suffered the collapse or risk of collapse.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are targets for conservatives who want to avoid regulation, and that too is backward. All they have ever held was mortgages, the trigger and not the killer in this debacle, and even those they got into relatively late in the game. Notably, holding only mortgages, they have suffered heavy loss but have not been threatened with collapse.

Anyway, I’m with Paul Krugman on this; we need to do a better job on regulation than it appears we are doing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Cheer

This was sent to me by a friend who knows that I harbor a considerable fondness for the Marine Corps. I don’t know why I do, really, I served in the Navy after growing up in the Air Force, but I have always had a warm spot for Marines.

It seems that a guy was shoplifting in a Best Buy store, copped a laptop computer and headed out of the store. He was spotted by an employee and took off running out of the store where he encountered four Marines who were engaged in a “Toys for Tots” thing, which means they were wearing dress blue uniforms. Instead of surrendering, he picked a fight with them, pulled out a knife and stabbed one of the Marines.

As an aside here, I’m having trouble figuring out why anyone that stupid was stealing a computer. What was he planning to do with it? Surely, if he was dumb enough to fight with four Marines, he was not planning to use it.

Be that as it may, the news item continues (emphasis mine),

The suspect was transported to the local hospital with two broken arms, a broken leg, possible broken ribs, assorted lacerations and bruises he obtained when he fell trying to run after stabbing the Marine.

He must have been running really fast when he fell, or perhaps he fell in front of an oncoming truck. And I’ll bet the Marines continued collecting their Christmas toys with pristine uniforms.

Selling Snake Oil

One last thought on the tax compromise, that being my discomfort regarding the way that Obama is selling it. While there is an element of honest expression of his dislike of the ingredients of the compromise, he is pitching far too hard on what he really cannot believe will be its effect; that it will “create jobs and grow the economy.” Rather than being honest with the people to whom he is responsible, the voters of this nation, in saying that this is a messy piece of legislation that must be accepted, he is selling it like some sort of snake oil pitch man and trying to convince us that it is a gold coin that only looks like a copper slug.

He may actually believe the aforementioned sales pitch, but he has also used some rather blatant dishonesty in attempting to make his point. He said, for instance, that the Social Security program started by covering only widows and orphans and grew from there. That is factually inaccurate, as he himself would say. In fact, the initial Social Security program not only provided retirement for all private workers, it also included unemployment benefits which were later removed from the program. He said that Medicare started small and grew over time, which is also factually inaccurate; Medicare started pretty much in its present form, except for Part D, the prescription drug coverage.

When someone is using falsehoods to sell me a product, I tend to draw the conclusion that the seller himself knows that the product is something I should not be buying.

How Big Is The Bang?

Just how big is the stimulus provided by the payroll tax cut? The median income in Philadelphia is $36,669 per year, which means the 2% payroll tax alleviation provides an extra $14.10 per weekly paycheck.

For a forty hour work week at minimum wage in California, where the minimum wage is $8.25, that payroll tax means an extra $6.60 per week.

Worthwhile, certainly, but "stimulative?" Why do I not forsee huge spending sprees in the coming year?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What La Nina?

Wet WeatherThe presence of La Nina in the Pacific, and this year is a strong one they tell us, means drought in the American Southwest. That's working out really well, isn't it?

Well, This Is Just Silly

I really could not believe that the headline was serious when I first read it; "Obama meets with CEOs to urge them to start hiring."

If you read the article itself, it seems he really did that. He asked the CEOs to spend some of the extra money they have sitting around by hiring some people. The CEOs apparently asked what the hell the new hires were going to be doing, since the businesses don't have any work for the new hires to perform. Anyway, they told the President no. They said they will consider hiring when business picks up, which actually makes sense to me.

Does President Obama think that businesses exist for the purpose of providing jobs for people, whether those jobs are productive or not?

The Uniter in Chief

President Obama can certainly lay claim to uniting the country. No, I’m not claiming that everybody hates him, nor that everyone has joined hands to be pissed off about his tax compromise. Even if those things were true, getting people pissed off is not a uniting kind of thing. A gang of people with torches and pitchforks is not going anywhere constructive.

No, what I’m referring to is that now everyone is united in believing that tax cuts will “create jobs and grow the economy.” Half of the country believes that because they are Republicans and have always believed that, even in the face of a decade of empirical evidence to the contrary. The other half believes that because they are Democrats and will believe whatever the hell Obama tells them to believe.

It wasn’t enough that he made almost 40% of the legislation that was actually named “The Stimulus Bill” consist of tax cuts, which Democrats have always claimed were not simulative. Now he comes along with what is “Stimulus 2” in everything but name, and the damned thing is nothing but tax cuts. He’s crowing about how it is going to pull us out of the recession that we aren’t in, and having his Treasury Secretary warn us that if the bill doesn’t pass the failure will throw us into a recession that passage of the bill is going to pull us out of.

After two years of railing about Republican fiscal irresponsibility and repeatedly telling us how they “drove the car into the ditch,” he not only extends the Bush tax cuts for two full years but adds more tax cuts on top of them, and cuts Social Security tax to boot.

Something less than 10% of the package is extended unemployment benefits, claimed to be simulative because recipients will spend the money. My first rebuttal is that going from a stimulus bill that is 40% tax cuts to one that is 90% tax cuts can hardly be seen as an improvement. I also have problems with just how much an economy is stimulated by people living on what amounts to minimum wage.

But to the degree that it is simulative, it stimulates an economy which consists of consumption without production, and that is an economy which eats itself and collapses. We keep trying to reinflate bubbles and stimulate consumption, forgetting that “GDP” stands for “Gross Domestic Product,” not “Gross Domestic Amount of Money Spent.”

Quis custodiet... ?

Dean Baker writes a blog devoted to accuracy on economic reporting, actually more about debunking inaccurate reporting, called Beat The Press. It’s worth the read but, to illustrate just how pervasive one little inaccuracy is, he perpetuates it himself in a post yesterday regarding Social Security.

He says, with respect to a Washington Post article on a poll regarding Obama’s by now infamous tax compromise,

While this article reported the results of a poll on the package it ignored the most obvious implication. The extension of unemployment insurance benefits is hugely popular even among Republicans.

Mr. Baker falls into a common pit there; unemployment benefits are either an “extension” or they are “insurance,” but they cannot be both.

For the first 26 weeks of unemployment one receives benefits which are the product on an unemployment insurance program run by individual states and funded by payments from employers, often with help from the federal government. Those are “unemployment insurance benefits.” After that, however, one most reapply for a different program for benefits to continue. Those benefits are funded from general tax revenues and cannot in any way be called “insurance.” They are simply “extended unemployment benefits.”

The extension that is part of Obama’s compromise does not apply to all unemployed people, either. The maximum limit remains at 99 weeks, and more and more people are reaching that limit and being left with no funds coming in at all. Passing the extension to fund people unemployed for, say, 70 weeks is almost universally agreed as critical, but covering people after 99 weeks is regarded as irrelevant.

I guess after one has been unemployed for that long, one no longer needs to eat.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Our Self-bribing Government

We make jokes about the corruption and bribery that goes on in Washington, but reality is that not all of the bribes come from lobbyists and corporations, the biggest bribes come from Congress itself. Those bribes are called “markups” in legislation, and they are insertions into legislation designed to persuade individual senators to vote in favor of the legislation.

The tax bill reached as a compromise between Obama and Mitch McConnell has been larded with $43 billion in such insertions, and will pass as a result of them. The “health care reform” bill last year consisted almost entirely of such insertions.

Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, for instance, was opposed to the tax compromise bill until a provision was added to it that would extend tax credits for builders in her state to rebuild in the aftermath of a hurricane which devastated that state five years ago. Presumably, the casinos would not be rebuilt unless tax credits were given to the builders to do so because casinos are so unprofitable, you know. Once that provision, benefiting her state alone, was added she agreed to vote in favor of the legislation.

“Gee, Senator, I see you’re voting against the bill. How about if we add some spending to the bill that will help you get reelected? Will that persuade you to vote for the bill?” How is that not bribery?

Meanwhile, every working person in the entire nation has just contributed cash out of their paychecks to the reelection campaign of the Senator from Louisiana, whether they wanted to or not. Is this a great country, or what?

Defining Health Care Reform

Paul Krugman got ticked off at somebody and referred back to a post he made last year about the benefits of “health care reform.” Sigh. It actually does do some good things, like deny insurance companies the ability to refuse coverage to people with the infamous “preexisting conditions,” and make inroads into their practice of ditching people who get sick, but Krugman decided to list a bunch of platitudes instead, pretending that the “reform” was about bringing down the cost.

"Health care reform does nothing, they cry — except for covering 30 million people," It “covers” no one. It allows 30 million people to purchase overpriced health insurance from private insurance companies, with no assurance of what it will cost, what it will cover, and what the percentage of medically incurred cost it will pay.

"ending overpayment on Medicare advantage," Except in two states which find the program so advantageous that their senators negotiated a continuance of the program in their states.

"making the first real attempt to use medical evidence to guide health care spending," And doing so in a manner which leaves the vast majority of the medical industry free to ignore that process entirely if, by doing so, they can maintain higher profits by continuing current processes and practices.

"starting up a wide range of pilot projects on cost control while empowering an expert panel to put the results of those projects into effect," The operative word being “pilot” meaning highly limited in scope and duration, established purely for the purpose of study and ending after the study parameters have been established. These programs do not actually limit costs in any way whatever, they merely spend several years studying ways in which we might do so.

"providing financial incentives to limit excess coverage," By “excess coverage” you mean coverage with lower copays, deductibles and caps. You actually mean coverage which does not shift the cost from the insurer to the insured. What you actually mean is “effective coverage.”

"and so on." And so on, indeed. Which is why Democrats were unable to campaign on the issue in the elections this past fall.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Land Of Contrast

I was reading about the Giants/Vikings game conundrum, where snow has collapsed the Minneapolis stadium and the NFL is scratching its collective head and trying to figure out where and when to play the scheduled game. The Giants can't get there in any case, and the Vikings are snowbound and can't get anywhere else.

While I'm reading that a jogger went by my window. I won't tell you what she was wearing, this is a family paper after all, but I enjoyed watching her go by. I am old, but I'm not dead yet.

Chiefs (8-4) at Chargers (6-6) today and, for some odd reason, the Chargers are favored. The game is not blacked out, and fans will not need parkas.

Krugman Gets No Sympathy

I read Paul Krugman's blog regularly and, while I sometimes disagree with him when he goes all Keynesian, he is an Obama supporter and he and I have a lot in common. He has a dry sense of humor which I enjoy, and I never regret reading his posts.

He lost me with one post, though, when he said that he was in Washington and was therefor reading the Washington Post. I was okay with that until he said that he read Dana Milbank. I just skipped to his next article. Anyone who reads Dana Milbank gets no sympathy from me.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chris Matthews is an idiot

You guys owe me big for continuing to watch this guy so that you don’t have to. It’s hard, but I get a glow of satisfaction from knowing that I am contributing to the nation’s collective IQ, since I can feel mine dropping every minute while I’m watching Hardball.

Yesterday he was talking about how pleased he is with the President’s tax compromise, and was quoting none other than Charles Krauthammer. Really, not only citing him, but breathlessly quoting him and all but saying that he had a thrill down his leg. Or is it up his leg; I forget which way the thrill travels in his leg.

In his Let Me Finish segment he summed up and repeated his orgasmic opinion of the tax deal, citing two points which make it such a winner for the economy; that it will “lower the cost of hiring” with its two percent payroll tax cut, and that it will allow business to “write of the costs of investment, just write it off in one year.” Clearly, Chris has never run a business, done any hiring, or processed any payrolls.

On the first point he is just flat wrong. I have no idea where he got that little gem of idiocy. He implies it came from the Krauthammer editorial, but Krauthammer never actually mentioned the payroll tax reduction at all, and certainly did not suggest that it “lowered the cost of hiring.” It does not.

Employers presently deduct 6.2% of an employee’s gross pay, which they send to the government within 48 hours of making the deduction. Under the tax compromise, they will deduct 4.2% instead, leaving the employee with a larger paycheck and the employer’s bank account with the exact same amount as before. Put another way, instead of sending 93.8% to the employee and other deductions and 6.2% to Social Security, the employer will send 95.8% to the employee and other deductions and 4.2% to Social Security. Either way, the employer will pay out 100%.

As to the investment write off, well, we’ve done this before and it’s never shown much of a result. In order to benefit from it the business has to buy something, and the benefit is not that you deduct the purchase price from your tax. You get to reduce your income by the amount of that purchase and you save the amount of tax that would be incurred by that amount of income. That’s seems a lot more thrilling to politicians than it does to businessmen. Typically, buying a $10,000 computer might save you $2000 in taxes and that’s not really all that exciting; you’re out $8000.

If you really needed that computer, then fine; you effectively got a $10,000 computer for only $8000. But no sane businessman would spend $10,000 for the purpose of cutting his taxes by $2000, which is what politicians, and Chris Matthews, are thinking millions of businesses will do.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Armageggon Redux

The idea popped into my head that this whole tax compromise has a really familiar feel to it, and it hit me today what it is; it’s the whole “we don’t have time to do anything else” component. The last time we got this was from Henry Paulson at the end of 2008 when Congress needed to pass $700 billion in emergency funding to purchase toxic assets or there would be tanks in the streets. There was no time to waste, no time, no time.

You may recall that it turned out $700 billion was a number made up out of thin air, “the largest number that seemed credible.” You may also recall that the “toxic assets” never got purchased. You may recall that the money got passed out to ”recapitalize” banks, many of whom did not want the money and were forced to take it at virtual gunpoint.

Now we have this tax deal that must pass before doom descends in a matter of days. Larry Summers is warning us that if it does not pass there is a serious risk of a “double dip” recession. We have the dire threats of disastrous wreckage being wrought on paychecks any minute. We have the same mixture of fear mongering and drop dead deadlines, the need for haste before Armageddon is upon us.

Everything but the tanks in the streets.     Act in haste, repent at leisure.

Self Defeating Democrats

One thing that I don’t get is the Democratic refusal, including a presidential refusal, to allow Republicans to pay the price of their intransigence. If it appears that Republicans are going to block a piece of legislation, rather than bring the legislation to a vote and letting the Republicans block it, they cancel the legislation and “negotiate” it down to something that Republicans will vote for. They seem to fear that if they try to pass something and are prevented by the Republicans then they, the Democrats, will be seen as some sort of losers.

Do they not remember the government shutdown of 1995, and who came out better in that one? Republicans tried to bully a Democratic president, and promptly got shellacked by public opinion. Clinton’s approval rating skyrocketed and that of Congress went into the basement. The government restarted pretty much on Bill Clinton’s terms.

Why not bring a progressive, populist tax bill to the floor, let the Republicans block it, and then go to the American people and let public opinion determine the outcome? There is not much doubt what would happen, tax cuts for the rich are immensely unpopular and Republicans would not be able to withstand the pressure for very long.

Democrats have used this since they took control of Congress. They will not allow a bill to come to a vote unless they know in advance that they have enough votes to pass the bill. They seem to be in thrall to some fear of being seen as inferior to Republicans if the Republicans are able to stop passage of legislation.

Rather than allowing public opinion to punish Republicans for obstructing passage of popular legislation, they become that target of the public’s ire by not even bringing the legislation to a vote, or by compromising it into oblivion. That’s just weird.

Most Fascinating Person

Barbara Walters has named her "Most Fascinating Person of the Year" and it turns out to be David Petraeus. I am not even going to explain the multiple reasons why I find that so profoundly depressing.

Oh Really?

bribes headlineDoes that include legislators in the United States Congress?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Oh, That's a Good Move

I thought this fight had gotten as stupid as it could. Apparently not. The Democratic Caucus is saying they will reject Obama's tax compromise.
So taxes will go up and it will be the Democrats' fault. Very clever.

Correction: My bad. Obama has the Republicans. Only Pelosi can stop the compromise from passing; by not allowing it to come to the floor, or by "fast tracking" it to require a two-thirds vote. She would have to emerge from Obama's pocket to do that, and I doubt she knows where the exit (from his pocket) is. So it will probably pass, and Republicans will get credit for it. Still; awesome move by the Democrats.

The Tax Battle Rages

The verbal battle rages on about the President’s tax deal, and the more that everyone else rants and raves about it, the more rational President Obama sounds. I regard the deal itself, of course, as nonsensical because I’m of the school that thinks taxes should go up. I have a hard time believing that this country would founder with the Clinton tax rates in effect, when it thrived so well when the Clinton tax rates were actually in effect.

I seem, however, to be the only person in the United States who holds that position so, for the purpose of discussion, lets assume that keeping taxes lower is the sole purpose of our elected officials. […] I’m back, I had to go take an Alka-Seltzer after typing that.

Opponents of the tax deal say that taxes for everybody else should go up in order to prevent a good tax deal for a handful of rich people who don’t need the tax cut. That’s called “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” In order to piss off a few rich people you are willing to financially damage several hundred million poor people.

Conservative supporters are fine with the deal because the tax cut for the rich is going to help rich people and businesses create jobs and stimulate the economy. We may need to point out that this is not a new tax cut; it has been in place for ten years. If it is going to stimulate the economy and create jobs, why has it not been doing so for the past ten years?

Liberal supporters… Sorry, I’m the only liberal remaining in the US.

Progressive supporters of the deal are happy because it is going to create jobs and stimulate the economy. That’s directly from Nancy Pelosi, by the way, I’m not making that up. Republicans are no longer alone in the belief that tax cuts grow the economy, that mantra has now apparently become universal. Seemingly Paul Krugman, Karl Denniger and I are the only ones not agreeing with it. That puts us on the short end of 100,000,000:1 odds, a position in which I am perfectly comfortable.

Progressives also need to be advised that there is nothing in this deal that has not been in place for at least two years, raising the question of what is it going to do now that it has not been doing for the past two years?

Well, okay, the two percentage point cut in the payroll tax is new and is, to me, by far and away the most pernicious part of the deal. What’s interesting is that one side or the other is complaining about everything else in the deal, but neither side is complaining about this. Both sides seem to think this is just fine, even though it further jeopardizes the Social Security program that is already threatened with cuts.

Yes, there is a provision that transfers the reduction into the trust fund from general revenue, so Social Security is actually unaffected. That reduces my objection, but does not eliminate it. When the deduction comes due for elinination it will be treated as a tax increase, and we are going through that exercise now. Tax cuts are essentially never allowed to expire.

The other issue is that Social Security was formed as a "self funded" program which would distinctly not be "welfare" because its funding would not come from general revenue but from the people who were receiving the benefits. This fund transfer from general revenue weakens the nature of the program is a very unhealthy way.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

"Fire In The Hole"

The weather in San Diego tends toward dull, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have excitement here; you all know about our earthquakes and fires, of course. We haven’t had either of those in a while, so we fill in with a house filled, literally, with the largest cache of illegal explosives ever found in the United States.

It all started with a guy hired to mow a lawn. He was sent by the landlord because the renter was not keeping the place up and the landlord was getting calls that the place was a nuisance. The guy mowing the lawn stepped on something that exploded, injuring him rather badly.

The police peeked into the house and promptly called the bomb squad. The bomb squad went into the house, then backed out slowly with their hands raised and said, “Oh hell no, we aren’t touching that mess,” and called the Feds. Seems the house is cluttered and so filled with explosive material that trying to remove it constitutes a high risk of blowing the whole thing up.

The renter has confessed to robbing three banks, but other than that will not say what the explosives are for or what he was doing. No ties to any organization of any type has been uncovered, nor any indication of what his plans were.

Here’s the fun part. Because it is too dangerous to remove the explosives from the house, they are going to dispose of them by burning the house down. This involves evacuating nearby houses, although they are assuring those homeowners that their homes will not be harmed, and telling others to “shelter in place” by staying indoors with the windows closed. Interstate 15 will be closed in both directions for several hours.

We are assured that the house will not explode. (So, why are they closing the freeway?) The house will burn normally, they tell us, although they admit that it will be “a pretty hot fire.” Um, I expect it will be. We are also assured that neither the smoke nor the residue will be toxic, but we should nonetheless not breathe the smoke. Presumably we should not eat the residue either.

San Diegans are a pretty staunch bunch, as nobody is very freaked out about any of this. Evacuated homeowners are simply appreciating a vacation and saying that’s why they have insurance, and everybody else seems to be looking forward to watching the fun. We have nice weather for it; forecast is sunny with a high in the upper seventies.

Who Laughs Last Now

I can't help but giggle at those who blasted Chargers' GM, A.J. Smith, for not giving Vincent Jackson a huge one-year offer to get him to play this year, when I read the news item that the Redskins have suspended Albert Haynesworth for the last four games. He was signed to a $100 million contract but has goofed off and not followed the team plan because he didn't want to play nose guard in a 3-4 defense. Shanahan finally gave up on him.

Jackson finally gave in to Smith and agreed to play the last six games in order to get credit toward free agency. He ran two plays in his first game back and "injured" his calf without contact. He has not played since. Everything A.J. has done that drew fire from critics has been proven to be absolutely correct.

Kicking Some Ass

Well, he has gone and done it now. The left wing has been bugging Obama to get all pissed off and kick some ass, and he finally did that yesterday. I don't think it was in their plans that it would be left wing ass that he kicked. They can take some comfort, perhaps, in that he really went Rambo and pretty much kicked every ass within reach. This man does not indulge in half measures.

He learned a new word not long ago and is like a kid with his new word. "Hostage." I'm a hostge, you're a hostage, everybody's a hostage, hostage. He says "it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers." Actually, it's official U. S. policy, and has been for decades.

Whatever It Is, I'm Against It provides a fuller critique of Obama's press conference which, while perhaps not entirely authoritative, I found amusing and tension relieving.

Who's Running America

The conflict between the Koreas has sent Admiral Mike Mullen, our highest military official, to South Korea to plan how to respond to... Wait a minute; Admiral Mullen? From the New York Times today, (emphasis mine)

The top American military officer lashed out at China on Wednesday for failing to intervene diplomatically with North Korea, as he met with his South Korean counterpart to discuss possible armed responses to future provocations from Pyongyang.

Maybe "lashing out" at China is the correct thing to do, I don't presume to know, but I would certainly suggest that is not our military which should be doing it. Our military is not an instrument of foreign affairs, and should not be speaking for this country. That is the job of elected officials, to speak for the people who elected them.

Even worse, deciding what military reactions will be taken against another nation is the sole responsibility of the Commander in Chief, not of some cocked up Admiral. For him to be discussing American military adventurism with another nation, rather than merely representing the specific instruction of his President is grossly out of line.

The Commander in Chief says publicly and forcefully that he wants a policy for the military implemented by Congress and no fewer than three flag-rank officers sit before Congress and brazenly tell them that they should not comply with the President's wishes.

What role is the military playing in running this nation? Military officers have been increasingly speaking publicly in matters of policy, and they have increasingly spoken in terms that were at odds with positions taken publicly by their Commander in Chief. They have manipulated the President into following their wishes in matters of war policy, and have done so with increasingly brazen openness. Now they are addressing American foreign policy and planning military responses with other nations.

President Obama needs to reign these arrogant officers in and he needs to do it sharply and soon.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The New Chickenhawks

Yesterday’s “Chickenhawks” were Republicans who dodged the draft during Vietnam and then screamed for war in Afghanistan and Iraq so they could send someone else’s children to be maimed and killed in foreign wars.

Today’s “Chickenhawks” are Democrats who sat in the halls of Congress for four full years pretending that the Bush tax cuts were never going to expire right up until the month that they did so, leaving it to the President to do something about that because the buck does stop with him whether he says so or not. Now they have the unmitigated gall to criticize him for the solution he came up with, after four full years of not even attempting any kind of solution on their own.

They put their President out on the end of the limb and took a saw to it, and now are complaining about the noise it made when he and the sawed-off limb hit the ground.

No, Obama didn’t handle this all that well, but he handled it, which is a lot more than those scrawny-necked clucking pecker heads in the Democrat Congress did. They were too busy running around in the chicken coop scratching in the dirt and running for the fences screaming that the sky was falling every time a plane flew over.

I can live with his solution, it may be the best solution available, and to the degree that is a bad solution the fault lies with Congress far more than with Obama. That being said, I may have problems with what he does in the next couple of years in light of this solution.

Is he really going to come to us in the State of the Union and talk to us about deficit reduction after he crafted a tax cut deal, not a stimulus package but a tax cut deal, that added $900 billion to the deficit in the next two years? Is he really going to approve two more years of tax cuts for the wealthy and then suggest cuts to Social Security in the name of “fiscal responsibility” just one or two months later?

The cut to Social Security revenue is completely out of left field, and was not in any discussion that anyone knew about. Was it a necessary part of this deal? It cuts revenue to a program that was already being discussed as having future revenue problems. Is he going to come to us at some point and say that we have to cut Social Security benefits because the revenue shortfall demands it after he himself, in part, created that shortfall?

This could be his edition of “Read my lips, no new taxes.” There was nothing equivocal about his stance on the Bush tax cuts. He said that “We cannot afford four more years of the Bush-McCain economic policy,” and with this deal he has cemented four more years of the Bush-McCain economic policy that were not forced on him by Congress but were negotiated by him.

Come 2012, this is going to play a far larger role than any legislation that got passed.

Brief Note

Paul Krugman believes that a nation-wide wage cut of 18%, that is, reducing the wages of everyone in the nation by that amount, is an advantage. I am not kidding. Read his own words.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Trading Partners

Twice in one day I pin a hero badge on Paul Krugman? Really?

I had been watching the news regarding the South Korea trade agreement and Obama's statement about how it would create jobs in this country. I was thinking to myself that it would be a first; a trade agreement that actually created jobs here. I kept thinking of Ross Perot's "giant sucking sound" thing, which turned out to be accurate.

Despite Krugman's analysis today, the Korean agreement actually might favor us. It cuts the tariffs they place on our autos and allows us to maintain the tariffs we place on theirs. South Korean media is as unhappy as ours are happy. I find it interesting that an agreement that has been stalled for three years suddenly gets resolved just a few days after North Korea threatens war. Unrelated, I'm sure, and certainly our aircraft carriers were not mentioned during the trade meetings.

I'll believe the "job creation" thing when I see it, but trade agreements are a little different when you have 30,000 troops stationed in a nation which is being shelled by it's neighbor, and two aircraft carriers off its coast.

Arguing Taxes

Paul Krugman argues today, in a New York Times op-ed piece, that Obama and the Democrats should not make a deal with Republicans on extension of the Bush tax cuts. On this one I am in complete agreement with him; we should not make a deal and should let the tax cuts expire in their entirety.

He throws in a reference to the 75-year “projected Social Security shortfall,” which is unfortunate and ridiculous. Social Security has nothing to do with taxes, so doesn’t deserve to be referenced in a discussion of taxes, and a 75-year projection is absurd in and of itself. Actuarial tables may have changed dramatically before we are halfway to the end of that nonsensical projection. We should base projections on something like a 30-year basis, and revise it every 15 years. But this is a tax discussion and, as always happens, has been hijacked by a unrelated subject.

Part of his argument is that a line needs to be drawn with the Republicans. A point needs to be reached beyond which Democrats simply will not cave in any further, and I agree with him. I would make the further argument that Democrats have the perfect opportunity to do what everyone knows needs to be done, to raise taxes for everyone, and to blame it on the Republicans. “Sorry folks, we wanted to extend it for the middle class, but Republicans would not let us.”

The canard of “we can’t raise taxes in a recession” is unproven and subject to debate. It is a Republican argument and it is absurd for Democrats to accept the arguments of their opponents without scrutiny. If Democrats can claim that tax cuts are not effective as stimulus, then why do they accept that raising taxes in a recession is disastrous?

The social problem in this recession is lack of employment. That problem was created when taxes were low, and it is not going to be resolved merely by keeping them low.

The people who are getting hurt by this recession are those who do not have jobs. Those people do not pay income taxes, having no income upon which to pay, and an income tax increase leaves them unaffected.

Instead of discussing extension of the Bush tax cuts, Democrats should be asking if we really fear so much returning to the economic tax environment of the Clinton years? Those were good years. Those were years of a booming economy and expanding wealth. A slight increase in income taxes will not restore that booming economy, of course, but that’s not the point. It won’t damage this one either.

President Bush is gone. We should not be talking about the Bush taxes. Since the current administration seems incapable of creating the Obama taxes, we should be reinstating the Clinton taxes.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Phrase Of The Day

"Hostage" If the other side is not doing what I want them to do, they are "holding [name of group here] hostage" for their own nefarious purpose. I am so sick of hearing that phrase that I am beginning to presume that anyone using it is espousing disgusting policy.

"Tax cut" It used to be that Republicans always wanted to cut taxes, and Democrats mocked them for being so monomaniacal on the subject of tax cuts. Today, with the economy in ruins, two wars in progress with no end in sight, a third war threatened in Korea and the entire planet overheating, the only topic either party can discuss is tax cuts. If anything, Democrats are more dedicated to tax cuts than are the idiotic Republicans.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Kicking It Around

Anyone want to put some money up against Auburn? I'm kidding, gambling on college athletics is illegal, but; Gamecocks, my ass.

Headline reads "Oregon State could mess up BCS by beating Oregon." Sure, and the Sun could really mess up everybody by rising in the West.

The San Diego Union-Tribune is outraged that the USC-UCLA game is not being shown on any of the local channels. I have been unable to come up with a suitably snarky rejoinder to that, other than to ask why any channel anywhere would show that game.

Failure of Leadership

I make it a policy to do as little block quoting as possible here, and never to post lengthy block quotes, but Paul Krugman has two short articles which are eloquent and so on target that I cannot let them simply pass by. The quotes are not the entirety of either post, so you may want to go read them.

The first is Getting Obama's Drift and refers to Jared Bernstein's efforts to explain the administration’s attempt to downplay the terrible jobs numbers, and the lack of a change of direction. Krugman says,

But to do that, someone at the top has to make the decision to change direction. And clearly, nobody has. I don’t think there was a deliberate decision to persist in an obviously losing strategy; I just think top management has gone missing. And so the administration drifts...

The other is Men In Suits, Talking and refers to an economic meeting he attending. I'm not sure he is making his comment about leadership in a global sense, but he well could be,

They (we?) aren’t stupid; everyone pretty much understands how badly things are going. But nowhere is there the leadership to do anything more than drift, with a few palliative actions, waiting for things finally to get so bad that something must be done.

That, I think, addresses our problem of governance. They really aren't stupid, they are just waiting for someone to take the lead and no one will.

Friday, December 03, 2010

One More Time, With Feeling

Yes indeed, Republicans, with fewer people employed and paying taxes, we certainly need to assure that those remaining taxpayers pay less in taxes. That will certainly reduce the deficit, which is your expressed concern, right down to the vanishing point.


McCain Gets Punked

John McCain, apparently unable to read these days, seems to start with a claim that there is something wrong with the survey that reveals that 70% of serving members of the military are either perfectly okay with gays serving openly or basically don’t give a damn. He says we should do another survey, and then his language degenerates to merely saying that we should do a survey, as if we had not already done one.

He goes on to say that he had “…never made a major decision without going around and talking to the enlisted people.”

Well, he certainly served in a different Navy than I did, because in six years no damned officer ever asked me for an opinion on anything, even so trivial as whether or not the food we were being fed was fit to eat. (The answer to that is complicated.) Offering an opinion was, to say the least, inadvisable; the best outcome of doing that was a weird look.

When Robert Gates responded his tone was more polite than his words,

I didn’t spend a career in the military, but I’ve read a lot of history and I can’t think of a single precedent in American history of doing a referendum of the American armed forces on a policy issue. Are you going to ask them if they want fifteen month tours? Are you going to ask them if they want to be part of the surge in Iraq? That’s not the way our civilian-led military has ever worked in our entire history.

Admiral Mullen began by offering the “all due respect” to John McCain by name and admitting that as Chairman “I am not in charge of troops.” One rather suspected at that point that something was coming, and he did not disappoint, listing his background including command of three ships, something McCain never did. The rest of it boiled down to, “Listen, you demented old fart, don’t tell me how to command troops; I’ve held more commands than you’ve crashed airplanes.”

The rest of the YouTube clip is rather entertaining.

Update, Friday 11:40am: Even with all of the support for repeal, with three out of four service chiefs giving them backing I suspect the Senate will defeat repeal of DADT. It gives me some satisfaction that the only service chief supporting repeal is the Navy.

Update, Saturday, 8:30am: Okay, cute: enough with the Navy jokes.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Government Priorities

If you put twenty pundits in a room you will get about thirty opinions on why Democrats fundamentally lost the 2010 elections. If you add ten politicians, the number of opinions will increase by about fifteen. All of those opinions will be prefaced with the phrase, “What the American people want is…”

I don’t know what the basic reason is, and I don’t know what the American people want. Most polls put unemployment and jobs at the top of the list, however, so let’s just assume that what the American people want is for our government to do something about the unavailability of jobs.

So what is Obama’s top priority? Right, a tax cut. What is the top priority of Congress and the only thing that it is willing to deal with? Right again, a tax cut. What is the only thing that media talking heads are yapping about? Right again, extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Congress is specifically rejecting extension of unemployment benefits, and legislation to promote jobs creation is not even on the event horizon.

So if you have a job your government is on board with taking care of you and will make sure that you are not going to be burdened with excessive taxes; it will make sure that you can purchase health insurance; all that good stuff. Your government is there for you.

If you don’t have a job, well, good luck.

Saving Social Security

Paul Krugman is also capable of great clarity of thinking, such as when he is critical of the concept that we must cut Social Security benefits now in order to avoid the need for cutting them in the future. The other very important point he makes in the same article today is with respect to the point about raising the retirement age, and the idea that it’s okay because exceptions are made for people with physically demanding jobs. He calls “bs” on that one, and he’s right.

Chris Matthews was discussing Social Security reform with someone yesterday and raised the point of increasing the payroll limit upon which the Social Security deduction is imposed. He said that it would be unfair because so much would be withheld that it would be, “money that you would never get back.”

That sounds good, but Social Security is not an investment pool, and is not about “getting one’s money back.” Someone who dies before age 65 gets none of their money back, which is an example of why insurance is called an insurance risk pool, which is what Social Security actually is.

Insurance premiums are calculated to cover the anticipated payout requirement, and the division of those payments amongst the policy holders is always arbitrary. Different modes of insurance use different models in an attempt to achieve fairness, but no method is ultimately entirely fair, as illustrated by a Social Security participant who never reaches age 65.

The "Big Whoop"

My initial reaction to the Deficit Reduction Commission plan is to find it underwhelming as to the amount itself; $4 trillion deficit reduction in the next ten years. Our current deficit is $1.3 trillion per year so, depending on the economy, that could mean the plan reduces the deficit by a whopping 30% or so. Let’s give the commission a Chinese cheer for that. Fui, fui, fui.

The only thing I ask of government is that it be responsive to the people it governs and that it be sustainable, and the one we have now is neither. It can be a big spending big government, or a small spending small government, whichever the majority of my fellow citizens choose, and I will accept it without complaint.

If the people of this nation don’t want to pay taxes, and want to have a government which does nothing beyond the specific provisions of the constitution of guarding the border and providing common currency, I will go along and will not complain. That would not be my preferred form of governance, but it is sustainable and I am fully on board with the concept of the rule of the majority.

If the people of this nation want a government that provides a social safety net in addition to the constitutionally mandated functions, and is willing to pay the taxes necessary to support that process, I am happy to support that decision. That is, in fact, my preferred form of governance.

This government, however, is attempting to use the big government model in the provision of services and operation, and the small government model in the realm of taxation, and that is simply unsustainable. The people of this nation seem to be demanding that the government do this, and it is a failure of leadership that no one is willing to stand up and spell out what is needed to set this ship on course.

Obama and Congress, rather than taking on that responsibility themselves, tried to punt it off to a “bipartisan commission” to do what they lacked the courage to do, and the commission seems to have failed in its mission.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Blog Counts

I just noticed something interesting (to me at least, it will probably bore you to tears); and that is the frequency with which I post here. My first full year of writing was 2007, in which I wrote 221 posts. 2008 was an election year and, unsurprisingly, my post count went up to 417. I was concerned that with Obama in office and Democrats in control I would lack subject matter, but in 2009 my post count went up even more to 545. This year I seem to be on a real tear, at 629 630 with almost a whole month left.

I'm not sure what that means. I'm writing more about less? Whatever. I'm having more fun than ever doing it, so...

Wikileaks: Cause and Effect

When all the hyperventilating and screaming about the Wikileaks is done, I suspect that one overriding truth will emerge; that is that a result of all the release of secret data, nothing really happened. No real harm was done by the release of information, and not much changed, for better or for worse.

A good many politicians and pundits should carry away a great deal of embarrassment, of course, as a result of all the screaming and wailing over something that turned out to be such a “no big deal” issue, but they will not because embarrassment requires self examination and these people never do that. The government should learn that all of the secrecy is simply not necessary, but it will not.

Much is being made in terms of questioning the motives of the Wilkileaker, Julian Assange, and why he is doing this to America and not to other nations. The assumption is that he hates this nation and that we should hate him back and punish him in various ways from imprisoning him to killing him on sight. I’m always rather astonished by people who claim that when someone is evil that we should respond by becoming equally evil.

Like most people who have become somewhat maniacal in their causes, Assange has published a “manifesto” and, like most such writings, it makes for rather heavy reading. Such writers are usually more absorbed in the process of delivering their thoughts than they are in the concept of actually making those thoughts understandable. To the degree that I get his points, he seems to be saying something like this.

He sees secrecy as the instrument of an authoritarian government and believes our government has become authoritarian by means of conspiracy and secrecy. To return the nation to a true democracy the instrument of secrecy must be removed. He doesn’t really say why he is targeting the US, but the implication is that he sees us as the one nation that is actually a democracy at the core which has been hijacked by an authoritarian conspiracy. He seems to see other nations functioning as designed, either as democracies of whatever degree, or as an authoritarian nations with governments to suit. And, of course, it is we who have military bases in more than 700 countries world wide, which has considerable implications for world stability.

I can’t say that I entirely disagree with him in principle, although I’m not sure I’m on board as to the matter of degree. I don’t think it can be argued that we do have a democratic government which is moving in the direction of authoritarianism. How far we have come, the speed with which we are moving, and how far we are likely to go can all be argued, but I don’t think we can dispute that our government is less responsive to the will of the people, and less beneficial to the “common man,” that it once was.

Unfortunately, I suspect that the Wikileaks episodes, rather than removing secrecy, will cause it to increase and become more rigorous and will strengthen rather than weaken what Assange regards as the "conspiracy” that is eroding our democracy.

Chris Matthews Gets Hilarious

Matthews had Pat Buchanan and David Corn as guests on Hardball yesterday to discuss Sarah Palin and whether or not the Republican Party should shoot her prevent her from being nominated in 2012. Buchanan did the best he could to defend her, but even he knew he was fighting a losing cause and was outnumbered by Corn and Matthews. He has learned to take his verbal beatings very gracefully and the whole thing rather quickly deteriorated into hilarity.

Somehow Richard Nixon's name entered the fray, which led to Corn saying that, "Nobody thought that Nixon was unqualified. They may have thought that he was a psychopath, but they didn't think that he was unqualified." Buchanan was far too smart to pursue that opening.

Needless to say, the issue remained unresolved.