Monday, February 28, 2011

Ending Free Trash Pickup

First, the idea that San Diego residents get “free trash pickup” is nonsense. The service is performed by city employees and so residents pay for it through taxes; it is free only in the sense that residents do not pay a separate fee for it as residents of most major cities do. Be that as it may, the Mayor is proposing to end the service to homes that are located within homeowner associations which have their own private streets.

The subject is bit complicated, but suffice it to say his suggestion is entirely legal. If it goes forward, my city trash pickup will be discontinued, because I live in one of those associations, and we will have to contract with a private company at a cost, probably, of about $20 per month. How do I feel about that?

Well, I have been advocating for tax increases, and I have no particular problem with the city taking steps to balance its budget. To be saying that taxes need to increase and then object to paying what amounts to a tax increase when it is imposed would be stupid. I do stupid things from time to time, but I try to avoid it.

The argument is made that I pay the same city tax as people who live on public streets and receive trash pickup from the city, and that making me contract with a private company for that service while paying the same amount of tax is unfair. Nonsense. By that logic I should be paying a far smaller tax because I have no children in the public schools. I should have my city tax reduced because I've never had a house fire and required the services of the fire department. You get my point.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

What Passes For Political Discourse

There is a blog site I read, which I choose not to name here, originally written by a conservative-turned-liberal but now containing posts by a dozen or so liberals, which has a commenting community which is so highly polarized that I seldom join in. They are of the “no Republican has ever done anything that was not stupid, evil and corrupt, and no Democrat has ever done anything that was not entirely an act of genius, noble and totally selfless” variety of political discourse.

There was one post to the effect that Republican governors declining federal money for high speed rail projects were doing so purely for ideological reasons, because it came from a Democrat, and that they were stupid and corrupt to do so. I decided to comment that such a governor might decline federal money because his state lacked the “matching funds” necessary for the project, or because the governor felt that the long term commitment to operating funds for the project was unwise. I dared to make the comment because I felt that the point was straightforward enough that it might meet with acceptance, or at least generate some reasonable discussion.

The first comment directed to me in response said that Obama tried to do something nice by providing jobs and money for states and the thanks he gets is to be called a Nazi and a socialist. Since I didn’t call him either one of those things, didn’t mention Obama directly or indirectly, I couldn’t see what that had to do with my point.

Another simply said that I’m an idiot, which may be true but is hardly relevant and in any case does not, in and of itself, invalidate my point.
And then it got more interesting.

The following are all comments that were directed specifically at what I had said, not just general discussion within the thread, and they are inclusive; I'm not just picking the silly ones.

Next a commenter said that Wisconsin got $800 million, which was enough to build from Chicago to Minneapolis but that “rail has those young bucks ride it so its evil.” I have no idea what the second part meant, but I doubted the first part and quickly found a reference in a Wisconsin publication, which I cited for him, which said that $817 million would fund Milwaukee to Madison, sort of a stone’s throw compared to Chicago to Minneapolis, and that Milwaukee to Madison high speed rail would not pay for itself.

Another commenter wanted to know “why should a state have to pay for building infrastructure within its borders,” which I took to be sarcasm, and said that the answer was simple, that the governor should take the money from the federal government and raise taxes. I’m sure that person could run for office and win handily.

I had mentioned in my comment that my numbers were not actual and that they should not be taken as fact, and that I was discussing principles not numbers, so of course someone immediately responded that I didn’t know what I was talking about because I didn’t “have any facts.” He ranted at some length about how Republicans win by saying that “I can’t prove such-and-such is true but I feel it should be true” and stating lies, but he didn’t actually dispute anything I had said.

Another commenter described a light rail system in Phoenix which was predicted to fail, but which “is continuing to grow year over year.” I’m happy for Phoenix, but that was intraurban mass transit serving suburban Phoenix rather than interurban high speed rail. Its maximum speed is 55 mph and it averages 25 mph. It was a city project rather than a state one, and it was funded and built starting in 2005, well before the economic collapse of 2008. He also fails to mention that cost $1.4 billion for a whopping 20 miles and that it is operating at a cost to the taxpayers of $140 million per year, which doesn’t include payments to retire the original investment.

Then another commenter provided a lengthy and rather incoherent statement about how busy the Milwaukee Amtrak station is with its “seven trains per day,” and said that adding high speed rail to Madison would increase ridership “by leaps and bounds.” Actual statistics as to the increase were a bit lacking, and according to the Wisconsin publication I had cited earlier, the increase would be insufficient to pay the cost of operation and retirement of the investment on said high speed rail.

Then we had a Florida commenter who said that after his “new criminal governor” turned down the federal money a consortium of private investors pledged to make up the loss. That hardly sounded to me like turning down the federal money was a bad idea, but… To each his own, I guess.

Another Florida commenter chimed in to the effect that had the governor accepted the federal money that state commitment would have been “not much money at all” as the projects would've required "large commitments" from private investment. I don’t think it was the same one who accused me of “not having any facts” due to my lack of numbers, and that commenter had nothing to say about the Milwaukee to Madison ridership increasing “by leaps and bounds” or about the Phoenix project that “continues to grow year over year.” It’s okay not to have any numbers if you’re a Democrat.

Neither of the Florida commenters said the investment had actually been received or that the rail project was currently moving forward with, you know, picks and shovels and stuff like that. Everything that I can find online simply says that the project is defunct.

As to private investment in high speed rail, I can only cite the California high speed rail project. Voters passed an $9.95 billion bond issue which assumes a federal commitment of $12 to $16 billion, private investment of $7.5 billion, with an additional $10 billion to come from local governments. The bond measure stipulates that any high speed rail be independent of public funding in any form for its operation in the future. The issue has proven to be nonsensical, since neither federal funding or private investment has been forthcoming and neither of them is at all likely, the possibility of any local funding is so unlikely as to be laughable, and studies have shown that operating revenue cannot pay more than a fraction of its operation cost, let alone provide for retirement of the investment. I would be very surprised if Florida’s situation was significantly different.

Note that those are actual numbers. As in facts. You can look them up.

A collateral comment said that Republican governors won’t raise taxes because they want to get reelected. I replied that Democratic governors won’t raise taxes for precisely the same reason, and got a response that “Democrats don’t raise taxes because Republicans have spent 30 years poisoning the well against any and all potential tax increases, no matter how small or necessary.” In other words, Democrats won't raise taxes because they want to get reelected.

I do believe it was a Republican Congress that raised taxes to balance the federal budget during the Clinton administration. Oh, yes, the “read my lips” president lost a second term because he raised taxes. He was of what party again? Right, he was Republican.

To quote President Obama regarding the Democratic Party during the 2010 campaign, “Already, we’ve given small businesses eight new tax cuts, […] That’s why we’ve cut taxes for 95% of working families. That’s why we’ve offered tax credits that have made college more affordable for millions…” Not exactly a big effort to raise taxes.

If this is the nature of our political discourse today, calling each other names and using a revenue-negative city project in Arizona during a good economy to justify a state project in Florida during a bad economy, then we are well and truly screwed and the problem does not lie with our elected representatives. It lies with the people who are electing them.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Down To Earth

Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union-Tribune says that BYU is by 13 points the better team than SDSU and that he bases that not entirely on the fact that they have beaten us twice by 13 points. I'm not so sure. I think they may be, maybe, by 20 points the better team and that the Aztecs gave it everything they had and kept the loss to only 13 points.

Although, when you're shooting less than 40% from the field...

Bargaining On Wages Only

My nephew works in a unionized workplace, and he raised a point regarding the Wisconsin standoff that is so obvious and fundamental that it rather amazes me the no one, me included, has raised it in the discussion already. He asked how useful is collective bargaining when the only subject on the table is wages?

It’s not that the point changes the argument; it doesn’t really. The point is still that the governor is trying to essentially eliminate collective bargaining. But the point should still be made by clarifying what that process is, because the governor says that he is leaving them with the “ability to negotiate their wages,” and that is not true. By spelling out the process that is used in the collective bargaining process, the falsity of his position is easily revealed. He is not leaving them with the ability to negotiate wages.

I have engaged in labor negotiations, both on the labor side and for management, and the process is not simply “what will the wages be?” It is a process of balancing working conditions and benefits against wages. The better the working conditions and/or the greater the benefits, the less the wage increases need to be. Work rules are huge from a management standpoint, because they can have less effect on cash flow relative to the amount of wage reduction that they achieve but, depending on the nature of them, can also be extremely costly.

If you eliminate work rules and benefits as points of negotiation, leaving only wages, you are reduced to only the question of whether or not the workers will strike over the issue of wages and, since the law does not allow public sector workers to strike, you have reduced them to the status of non-union workers, to that of merely going to the boss and asking for a raise without any power to back up that request.

So if Governor Walker thinks that public sector unions are detrimental to his state and wants to eliminate them he certainly has the right to try to do that, but his statements about not taking away the unions’ right to bargain regarding their wages are just plain false. He is doing precisely that. The governor is trying to do something while claiming he’s not doing it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Making a Better Argument

The other day I read in a discussion of the Wisconsin affair that public sector unions do not actually get free pensions and health care, that “every penny of that cost comes out of their wages” in the form of lower wages because public sector workers make less money than private sector workers do. Unfortunately, the poster stopped there, without providing any evidence to support his claim, so I discounted the claim altogether.

This is, unfortunately, altogether all too typical of the nature of our political discourse. We present half of the argument, the part which seems to support our side, and then are too lazy to complete the presentation in a manner that would be convincing.

Tom Levinson at Balloon Juice is far more thorough in this post, as he takes a different approach and presents documentation and references which show that in Wisconsin specifically, public workers are paid 8.2% less than in the private sector, and that even with the inclusion of fringe benefits they make 4.2% less. The link he provides is to the website only, not to the specific article, and I was unable to locate the article in question on that website, but I’m not questioning his reference. Websites change from time to time.

His argument is well presented and makes a difference in the way I view the Wisconsin issue specifically. The numbers in California are much different, as are many other factors, so I think each issue needs to be argued on its own merits, but it’s refreshing to see a case well presented.

What he doesn’t mention, and is not really significant to his point, is that those numbers indicate that the fringe benefits received by public sector workers are of a rather dramatically higher order, or at least cost a great deal more, than those received by private sector workers. It might be interesting to explore why that is the case, since the buying power of the large union should be able to get more benefit at lower cost.

"The Game"

Don't worry, Viejas Arena is well out of flood level, and we are in no danger of being unable to watch the Aztecs beat the BYU Cougars.

Well... Perhaps, and hopefully. The Aztecs are unquestionably the better team, as a team, but we don't have Jimmer Fredette. We are at 56' above sea level and we do have "The Show." Game time: 3 hours and 28 minutes.

Crying "Wolf"

Lawrence O’Donnell has absolutely no problem with anyone stating outright that Governor Walker of Wisconsin takes his orders from the Koch brothers, that he bases his governance on what the brothers want done and/or tell him to do. O’Donnell even makes statements to that effect himself.

But he is outraged, simply outraged when Republicans run ads suggesting that President Obama takes orders from the labor unions, and in fact says that Republicans are being racists when they make that suggestion.

On the Last Word in a segment last night he tells Governor Granholme of Michigan that he wants her to listen to the last line of a Republican ad, which states, “Stop Obama and his union bosses today. The Republican Council is responsible for the content of this advertising.” He then says,

“The Republican Party is saying that the President of the United States has bosses. That the unions boss him around. Does that sound to you that they are consciously or subconsciously trying to deliver the racist message that of course, of course, a black man can’t be the real boss.”

Granholme replies, “Oh wow, I hadn’t thought about the racial overtones, but…” and then proceeds to steer the conversation back into sanity and onto the discussion of the Wisconsin labor union legislation issue.

Really, who is the one with the racial fixation here? Jennifer Granholme “hadn’t thought about the racial overtones” because there were no racial overtones until Lawrence O’Donnell interjected them, and when he did so it was clear that she did not want to play his game. She did not want to turn the discussion into one about the racism of the Republican party when she saw no racism.

President Obama is certainly subjected to some racist attacks, and if O’Donnell wants to make that an issue he has plenty of fodder for it. He doesn’t need to manufacture anything in this manner, and in doing so he seriously weakens his case. He creates an atmosphere where none dare be critical of Obama for anything at any time because the critic will unfairly be accused of being racist.

If I say that I do not like President Obama’s policy in Afghanistan, for instance, Lawrence O’Donnell will be in my face screaming that I’m a racist.

In addition to attempting to render mute those who dare be critical of Obama, he renders himself as voiceless as the boy who cried “wolf” or Chicken Little. When someone actually does make actual racial utterances and O’Donnell speaks out against it, the response becomes, “Oh, that’s just Lawrence O’Donnell. To him everyone is a racist.”

Friday, February 25, 2011

Short Answers To Stupid Questions

Q: The past five global recessions have all followed sharp jumps in the oil price. Investors, traders and analysts this week have all been nervously asking: is a sixth imminent?

A: Yes. (?)

Feh. Is this Monday?

I have made several tries at writing posts this morning, and each time bailed out, realizing I just didn’t really care. Most of what is in the media right now is just rehash.

The Wisconsin affair is still headlined, but all there is to say about that is the same things that have been said before. That doesn’t stop the media, of course, they go ahead and get different “guests” to make the same blather sound different, but it’s still the same blather.

The military is using “psy-ops” on our Congress people. That sounds different, but it’s not, really. It’s just another demonstration of the incredible arrogance and stupidity of our ranking military officers, and of the failure of mainstream media to expose them. Nothing new there.

I’ve already told you about the “weathermen” on television freaking out about the forecast here. I guess I can add that for the first time in more than a decade we are likely to have snow capped mountains visible from downtown San Diego. That prospect is probably more exciting than anything that’s happing in the media.

Democrats and Republicans are still competing to see who can make the stupidest remarks and, in my opinion, it’s still a tie. Democrats, of course claim Republicans are making all the stupid remarks, and Republicans simply ignore anything that Democrats say. Nothing new there.

There’s the turmoil in the Middle East, of course, but you already know that’s happening. You don’t need me to tell you that. Some people (you know who they are) are saying we should get involved in that. I think that would be stupid, and we’re not, so what is there for me to say about that? Good for us.

Maybe I’ll have to wait and see if Congress shuts down the government.
The media is, of course, not waiting but is hyperventilating about various “scenarios” etc. If they do that then I’ll have something to write about.

BYU @ SDSU tomorrow at 11:am EDT. At sea level.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cold Snap

The big news is that we are forecast to have the coldest weather coming for the last several decades, with the high temperature for Saturday predicted to hit a mere, are you ready for this, 51 degrees. Oh, the horror of it!

Fair Is Fair

The value of my car diminished the day I drove it off the seller's lot, and has diminished every day since then. I now owe more on that damn car than the car is worth. I want the loan amount reduced.

Disclosure: that was histrionics, as my car is actually paid off.

Wisconsin Whackiness

The media pundits say that that liberals are winning the battle on the Wisconsin issue because Governor Walker overreached and “people support public sector unions by 61% to 39% in the polls.” I’m not so sure. The longer this goes on, the more ridiculous liberals become. Unlike conservatives, liberals are not satisfied merely repeating the same old tropes again and again, so they have to keep coming up with new and creative defenses for unions, and they are increasingly just blathering.

Kevin Drum has a post at Mother Jones titled “What Wisconsin Is All About” which Attywood linked to citing “Why Unions Matter.” The lead of the leitmotif goes,

Rather, the bulk of our growing inequality has been a product of skyrocketing incomes among the richest 1 percent and—even more dramatically—among the top 0.1 percent. It has, in other words, been CEOs and Wall Street traders at the very tippy-top who are hoovering up vast sums of money from everyone, even those who by ordinary standards are pretty well off.

Somebody please tell me how that is even remotely related to labor unions.

I'm not sure what he was saying, as I quit reading his piece when I reached the point where Drum said that he had found the “key to understanding why the Obama era lasted less than two years,” but it certainly didn't seem to be about "why unions matter."

Apparently he didn’t see the news item where John Thune decided not to run for the Republican nomination in 2012, giving as a reason that “Obama will be too hard to beat.”

Chris Matthews had a “union guy” on to tout the labor side of the issue, and he cited for the guy a couple of places where workers who were not represented by unions were making good wages. The guy retorted that those workers “might have good wages or they might not” but that they “didn’t have any dignity” because “it’s the union that provides dignity in the workplace.” Is that in the contract, I wonder? Management is required to provide a certain quantity of dignity daily. Is it measured in pounds?

After the interview Chris raved about how wonderful the guy was, and how he just “looked so union.” Really? To me he was sort of insulting unions, because the guy was one step short of holding a pitchfork and telling us his phone number was BR-549.

Eugene Robinson rambled at length in the Washington Post on Tuesday and finally revealed that the real plot is that Republicans are trying to destroy the Democratic Party by eliminating the campaign contributions they get from labor unions. “So if Republicans wanted to weaken the Democratic Party by destroying its most important source of big-money support,” he says, “they would try to crush public-sector unions.”

Liberals are making a big deal out of the backing that Walker received from the Koch brothers, but they have nothing to say about the backing that unions provide for Democratic candidates. According to Robinson, public sector unions are the “most important source of big-money support” for the Democratic Party, in fact.

The battle looks a little less noble couched in those terms, doesn’t it? The political big money of the Koch brothers against the political big money of the labor unions.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The New Class Society

Digby, so much the queen of liberal bloggers that I frequently see links to her posts with “what digby said,” asserts that “The Wisconsin protesters are trying to stop the Republican governor from making it illegal for them to belong to a union so that they can live a decent middle class life.”

There is nothing in her statement that I can actually take issue with, other than that she does not differentiate between public sector unions and private sector ones, and she does not define “decent middle class life.”

Oh, and she lies outright, I forgot that part. The Republican governor is not trying to make it “illegal for them to belong to a union.” I am splitting hairs to some degree, because he is attempting to limit the bargaining power of that union, but polarizing the issue by misrepresenting the facts of it is not helping the cause. She is very critical of the “other side” when they do that. I guess it’s okay if you’re a liberal.

I’m really having a hard time understanding why we are fighting so hard to preserve unions for workers whose wages are paid by the public, by taxes, when we did not fight at all to preserve unions for workers whose wages are paid by businesses. I do not recall one single outcry ever being raised when a business declared bankruptcy and reformed itself as a non-union shop. If you had fought that fight I would have fought it with you, and I might be with you in this one, but you did not.

This seems to me like another case of the voting public being led to mitigate against its own best interest, demanding that which will result in higher taxes while another mob is nearby screaming for lower taxes.

Liberals seem to be trying to move toward a rather complex class society, with highly paid government workers and poorly paid private sector workers. That would seem to create a government revenue problem, but Lawrence O’Donnell has solved that by eliminating the current undertaxation of the wealthy. Another class definition emerges, then, where the wealthy pay taxes and the middle class do not.

Of course, the middle class would only have high income if they worked for the government, which creates the ineffable “self-licking ice cream cone” of government workers getting high pay from the government and returning a high portion of that to their employer in the form of high taxes, while low paid business workers have low pay but don’t have to worry about taxes.
I’m not sure where “the wealthy” fit in that picture, because my head just exploded, but I think they are the government.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sub Zero, Randy Halverson

My niece sent me a link to this video, and I really liked it. The music is a perfect choice for the time lapse photography, which is pretty captivating itself. Enjoy.

Shrieking Hysteria Continues

Lawrence O’Donnell outdid even Paul Krugman’s “third-world-style oligarchy” bit, referring repeatedly last night to “the end of unions as we know them” if one public sector union in Wisconsin is partially decertified.

As further evidence of his loss of contact with reality, while discussing the issue with a guest he said that the labor union movement “has moved generally forward for the last several decades.” I find it hard to describe a decline in union representation from 36% of workers to slightly under 7% of them as “generally moving forward.”

He specifically referenced the “domino effect” to justify his alarm, which was the same theory used to justify the war in Vietnam. If Vietnam fell to the Chinese Communist Red Menace, we were told, then the rest of the Pacific Rim nations would fall to them “like dominos” and in short order the Chinese Communist Red Menace would own the Pacific Ocean at great cost to Peace and Freedom and The American Way.

That, of course, did not happen, and if O’Donnell thinks that California, for instance, is going to outlaw labor unions he is seriously delusional. He can’t really think that since, I believe, he actually lives in this state.

Where have O’Donnell and his screeching friends been while one business after another has been decertifying unions for the past thirty years? They have been out in the woods listening to the damned crickets, that's where. But let one Republican governor try to limit the power of one labor union and here comes O’Donnell at full throated fury, screaming about the “end of labor unions as we know them.”

And then self righteously accusing the “right” of engaging in hyperbole.

United Nations Veto

The article Friday in the New York Times regarding this country’s veto of the United Nations’ resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory was accompanied by a photograph of a Palestinian man working on a Jewish settlement. One has to wonder at the choice of pictures as an illustration for an article regarding the illegality of those Jewish settlements that the Palestinian man is working on in his own territory.

Sort of like if when we were taking the West from the Indians, and we made them build our cities. Maybe that’s why we vetoed the resolution, come to think of it, although I doubt it. We’re not that introspective. Nonetheless, my Navaho friend in Tucson might be chuckling ironically right now. Navahos tend to understand irony.

We’re not that introspective. Ha. Is any nation in the world less introspective than we are? Or more introspective than we pretend to be with our “values,” our “exceptionalism” and what have you? Anyway.

In the middle of all of the turmoil occurring in that part of the world, and with all of the outcry that we support the Arab people, we come out in support of Israeli settlements on Arab territory in violation of international law. We say this veto “should not be construed as support.” We can do the Canute thing and tell the tide not to come in, too. Every Arab nation which did not construe this veto as support of the Israeli settlements please wave your shoe in the air. I thought so.

A “Dale Carnegie” move this was not. We are saying to the Arab people fighting for freedom that we support their bid for freedom, but we are not going to condemn the Israeli theft of their land and natural resources.

Well, actually that was a little strong. We don’t actually support their bid for freedom, we merely say that their leaders should stop using “lethal means,” should stop massively killing them that is, to prevent their bid for freedom. We don’t want to, um, take sides or anything.

We don’t “interfere in the internal affairs of other nations.” Except with CIA operations in Pakistan, apparently, and Yemen, and… And when we get caught doing it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Paul Krugman Is Shrill

The oracle of Princeton has declared the crisis of Wisconsin bogus. He says that it is not about balancing any kind of budget, it is an attempt to "make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy."

Oh please. One side is going to turn this nation into a "third-world-style oligarchy" and the other one is going to make us into an "Islamic caliphate with Sharia law." Can we please have a little bit less shrieking hysteria?

Krugman debunks the theory that Governor Walker was actually elected by the people of Wisconsin, any more than any of our elected officials are elected by any of the people whom they purport to represent.

Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

The Koch brothers are the current "source of all evil," and it was they who put Mr. Walker in office, not a majority of the voters in Wisconsin. Last year it was BP, the year before that it was JP Morgan and AIG, before that it was "big oil," next year it will be someone else. Always it is some big money source that is denying voters of this great nation the right to choose who they vote for, forcing them to...

Wait. What are they forcing voters to do? Forcing them to vote without paying attention to what the campaigner is actually saying? Forcing them to vote without checking to see what the incumbent they are voting for has actually done while in office?

So, people, they get what they pay for? Not really. We get who we vote for.

Bargaining In Good Faith

Much is being made of the union in Wisconsin saying that they are willing to concede on paying a portion of pension and health care costs, and that therefor the governor should withdraw his stance on the collective bargaining issue. They said that, I am given to believe, only after they were threatened with passage of a law removing their power to bargain, so how does that indicate their willingness to bargain reasonably? It does not.

When someone is bluffing and is called, the bluffer cannot "unring the bell." The union's concession offer should have been made while the governor was still bargaining, not after he called it off.

That's like fighting with your wife and saying things, and then after she files for divorce saying, "Well, I didn't really mean those things and wouldn't have said them if I'd known you'd divorce me for them." Think she's going to cancel the divorce? If you think that you obviously are not married.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dumb as a Damn Post

I have never been impressed with the skills displayed by Danica Patrick behind the wheel of a race car. In fact, if I saw her driving a Toyota Camry on the I-15 Freeway I would give her a wide berth. She won an IRL race because the twelve cars that were faster than her ran out of gas, but… Today was a new peak in dumbass.

The new paving at Daytona has created a situation where a two car hookup is faster than a single car or a multi-car draft, and by quite a lot. The pushing car overheats rather quickly, however, so the two cars have to swap places at frequent intervals. That has been the main topic of talk by fans, commentators, and drivers for the past three weeks, and the drivers have been refining the swap procedure during practice sessions.

In today’s Nationwide race Danica Patrick had a wicked fast car, and was staying close to the leaders even though, initially, no one was willing to hook up with her because she is untested. Finally Clint Bowyer hooked up and pushed her and they took off like a rocket, pushing Patrick into the race lead. Impressive, to say the least.

Then Bowyer pulled down for the swap and Patrick did not have the faintest clue what to do about it. The two of them remained separated on the track as one pair of cars after another blew past them like they were standing still. Without her doing her part, Bowyer could not get by her, and his car was too hot for him to resume pushing. Then the television audio presented her communication with her pit.

"If he wants me to get behind him and push,” she said on the radio to her crew chief, “I can try to do that, but you guys need to tell me what to do here. I'm just keeping it flat on the floor."

If I were her crew chief, I would have been on the comms screaming at her, “What do you mean ‘if’ you silly half wit?”

There were a lot of people in Europe that didn’t know that Bowyer wanted her to get behind him and push him. There were some people in America watching basketball who didn’t know that. Everyone within about thirty miles of Daytona, everyone watching the television, and certainly everyone on the speedway knew that he wanted her to get behind him and push. But Danica needed for “you guys to tell me” to do that.

What planet had she been on for the past three weeks?

Notably, after that drafting debacle the other drivers avoided her like the Bubonic plague, which is why she could not keep that rocket ship on the lead lap.

On Wisconsin

I lived in Milwaukee for some years. I hated the weather but loved the city and very much liked the people. Down to earth, friendly and very open; blue collar types for the most part. Milwaukee, at the time, was a very industrial city with many huge manufacturing plants, and was very much a union town. I was a member of the IBEW for a time, and then a Teamster. I tend to be pro-union.

The claims of today’s liberals that Wisconsin is engaged in “union busting” omit to note that the action in that state is being taken with respect to public sector unions, and not even all of them, and is not intended to affect any private sector unions in any way.

The sainted FDR, who no Democrat has yet to admit ever did anything wrong in his life, opposed public sector unions, as did George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO in 1955. The reason both men held that opinion was that the bargaining of private sector unions was counterbalanced against the profits of business, while that of public sector unions was counterbalanced against the financial interests of their fellow citizens.

Where have these liberals been, where has been all of the striking, demonstrating and editorializing while the private sector unions have been being eviscerated over the past twenty years in this nation? Private sector unions, which are in the public’s interest, are allowed to go down to defeat at the hands of industry but public sector unions, whose wage and benefits increases raise taxes, must be protected at all costs.

President Obama made reference to public sector workers who “work hard and make sacrifices.” They may or may not in Wisconsin, but they certainly don’t make sacrifices in San Diego where the public worker salary averages 30% more than comparable jobs in the private sector. They pay no contribution to their health care, nor to a pension plan that allows them to retire as young as age 55 with a pension equal to 100% of the highest annual salary they ever attained and paid health care for life. The fact that their pay and benefits contributes to a San Diego budget crisis in tens of millions doesn’t seem to bother them very much.

The union members in Wisconsin say, now, that they are willing to negotiate the issues and always have been. They say, now that their union’s existence has been threatened, that they will concede “the financial issues.” That just shows that the union was bluffing and the Wisconsin executive was not. He called their bluff and, having failed to call his bet, it is too late for the union to pick their cards back up. The pot has been pulled.

The Wisconsin teachers who are phoning in sick in order to “walk the picket line” are joyfully proclaiming that a judge ruled that their action is not an illegal strike. By the letter of the law, perhaps not, but they know what they are doing; they are striking in their own behalf and smugly hiding behind technicalities. Their version of “right” is doing whatever you can get away with, which is exactly why their union damn well should be busted.

Update, 9:15am: I'm not sure of the factuality of it, but according to Karl Denniger, Governor Walker, "ran on a platform that, among other things, promised to do away with collective bargaining for teachers for all items other than pay." So before the election he said he would do this, he won the election, he is now doing what he said he would do and the grits are hitting the fan. Interesting. Why did they elect him if they didn't want him to do this? (I'm not accusing Karl of anything, he's pretty reliable, but I'm always cautious of citing single sources.)

Reminds me of Evan Meecham in Arizona. He campaigned for governor on a promise that he would cancel a Martin Luther King holiday which had been created illegally, and would then sponsor the creation of one in a legal manner. He did what he promised, and then got impeached for it. Well... He actually was a crook, but the trigger that prompted his impeachment was the holiday cancellation.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Whale Wars Over

I watched the series "Whale Wars" last year and, of course, was hardly cheering for the Japanese. I was on the Sea Shepherd's side even before the series showed the whale being harpooned and shot, then dragged up the chute of the factory ship. Good God.

Well, the anti-whaler forces won this year, and the Japanese are going home early, tails between their legs. Let's hear it for those crazy people in the black ships. They don't make very good television shows, but they do damned good work.

Losing "Last Word"

It’s beginning to appear that Lawrence O’Donnell is actually trying to replace Keith Olbermann as demagogue/comedian-in-chief on MSNBC.
I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s rambled at length about the “Christopher Lee incident,” but it’s at least three and may be up to four now. I seriously doubt that a Congressman sending a picture of himself shirtless, end of story, was worthy even of a single mention, let alone “discussion” on three or four nights of a national news show.

Bob Somerby calls him out on a cheap shot at Bill O’Reilly. I hold no truck with O’Reilly, but if you are going to be critical of him, I’d prefer that it have at least some semblance of honesty. O’Donnell was discussing the sleaze of the criticism received by Lara Logan and said,

Making a bad situation worse, there have been many reactions to what happened to Lara Logan. The worst from conservative commentator Debbie Schlussel, who brags about her appearances on The O’Reilly Factor.

Somerby did an Internet search and discovered that the last time that Schlussel was on any Fox News program was back in 2003, so O’Donnell’s attempt to connect her admittedly disgusting commentary to O’Reilly was disingenuous at best. It could reasonably be called dishonest.

One of his annoying habits is to browbeat guests into providing “yes or no” answers to questions of the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” variety, shouting them down when they try to avoid providing the answer that he wants to hear. On Wednesday night he badgered Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah about “voting no to extend the Patriot Act before voting in favor of it.” Chaffetz tried repeatedly to explain that he voted against a one-year extension before voting in favor of a 90-day extension, but O’Donnell was having none of that, insisting that Chaffetz had “waffled on the vote.”

He also had a lengthy harangue about the Congressman sleeping in his office and thereby “cheating on his taxes,” but failed to describe in what manner his failure to rent lodging in Washington constituted cheating in any manner. O’Donnell is certainly outraged about it, in any case; how dare this man sleep in his office? This is, to Lawrence O’Donnell, a matter of grave national importance, and he is seriously pissed off about it.

Why are we on the left so incapable of presenting any honest discussion of our principles? Why do we insist instead of making our presentation consist of trivial ridicule and dishonest demagoguery? We criticize the right for talking about "death panels," call them "unserious," and then we attack them for sleeping in their offices. We have some good arguments and good policies, and all we do is this nonsense.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Advice For Morons

Omigod, they're back. We seem to have learned precisely nothing.

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — Don’t be so sure that a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is the best home loan for your needs. For some borrowers, it may make more sense to consider an adjustable-rate mortgage instead. … So, for a borrower who plans on moving within five years anyway, they’d save as much as $19,283 by financing with an ARM.

Are you kidding me? If you are planning to move in less than five years you should be renting. Why would you pay several thousand dollars in origination fees to get a mortgage for that short term? You would then have all of the disadvantages of ownership and almost none of the advantages.

What's resale going to look like in your "less than five years" time frame?
What's left after you deduct the selling realtor's commission, pay for the repairs demanded by the buyer to complete the sale, and pay off the balance of the mortgage loan? Yeah, didn't think of that, did you?

That’s like the car advertisement that says I can save $1000 by buying a certain car from a certain dealer on a certain day. Actually, I can save $32,000 by not buying the damned car at all and just driving the one I have.

Cut The Nonsense

I’m not sure that we need to solve the deficit problem now, we may need to let the economy pick up before we tackle that problem, but we do need to solve it, and the nonsensical crap that is coming from both sides to address the issue is just that: nonsensical crap. We have to get serious about it, and the longer we wait to do it the harder and more painful it is going to be.

The issue is in three parts and one solution does not cover all.

We cannot solve the federal deficit problem without raising taxes, and I am not talking about “making the wealthy pay their share,” I am talking about everyone. There is no free lunch. Taxes should be a great deal more progressive than they are, but the popular myth that we can have the government provide services and that the public, the middle class workers, need not pay taxes to support those services has to stop.

Dumping the tax burden on corporations and “wealthy businesses” is nonsense. Those taxes will not be paid by those corporations and business owners, they will be paid by the people buying the products sold by those corporations and businesses, the same consumers who are trying to avoid paying the cost of government now.

We need to cut military and defense spending by at least 50% and preferably by 75% or more. We are defending against an enemy that was defeated decades ago. We need to end farm subsidies and similar giveaways altogether. These programs are corporate welfare, and we need to begin using the government to manage the country and serve the needs of the people, not to fatten the pockets of corporate magnates.

We need to eliminate the home mortgage deduction and all other tax dodges that are designed to manipulate social policy. Taxes are for the purpose of raising revenue and should be used for that purpose only, not to inspire social policy or to promote one or more segments of commerce.

We do not need to address Social Security at all, at least not in terms of the federal deficit. It is funded by its own revenue stream and has no direct effect on the deficit. Chris Matthews once objected to raising or eliminating the cap on income taxed for the program because high income earners would ”pay in money that they would never get back.” So would anyone who dies at age 64. The adjustments need to keep in mind that this is not a social investment program, but is a social insurance program.

We need to address Medicare and Medicaid, not in terms of government spending directly, but in terms of the way that health care is administered and delivered in this nation. We spend three times more and get less on health care than any other developed nation in the world, and is because of the effect of rampant predatory practices by the delivery system. If we address and correct the way that providers charge for medical services, the payments problem for Medicare and Medicaid will take care of itself

In the entirety of the medical care system, public and private, we need to address the problem not in term of the payments we are making, but rather in terms of the costs we are incurring and the nature of those costs. Not what we're doing, but who's doing it and what they are charging for it.

A thousand tiny cuts will not slay an enemy. You have to take a big freaking sword, swing it from the hip and deliver a mortal blow.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"The Franchise"

The San Diego Chargers have placed the franchise tag on a repeat offending drunk driver, claiming that his value as a wide receiver justifies spending a bit over $10 million to keep him on the team and assuming that he can stay out of jail for the entire year. I evaluated the passing statistics for Philip Rivers in the eleven games prior to Vincent Jackson rejoining the team last year, versus the five games in which he participated, and the facts do not seem to support the assumption that he is vital to the team's success.

Rivers had a completion percentage of 66.2% without Jackson, 69.6% after he returned. That is certainly an improvement, but a marginal one at best, and things break down rather badly after that.

Average passing yards per game was 305 yards without Jackson, 269 yards after his return. Average yards per completed pass was 13.5 yards without Jackson, more than a yard less at 12.4 yards per completion after he returned. Philip Rivers averaged 2.09 touchdown passes per game with Jackson not on the field, a mere 1.4 per game with Jackson participating.

Whatever the reasons for the Charger losses, our passing game was not the problem and it's hard to see how Vincent Jackson is the key to taking the team to the Super Bowl.

Jobs v. "The Mission"

San Diego Unified School District is facing massive budget cuts as the state withdraws more and more money from localities. I watched a news report the other night of a public meeting where the school board was discussing ways to deal with the cuts and, of course, laying off teachers is one of the items that are pretty much a certainty. The longer I watched, the more disgusted I became by the reactions of the teachers in attendance.

The reaction was entirely about job losses. Not one teacher expressed concern about the effect of budget cuts on their ability to provide kids with an adequate education. Every opinion expressed by a teacher was in an angry tone and was about the loss of teacher jobs. I had to wonder what these people think is the purpose of public schools, to provide education to children, or to provide jobs for teachers.

By contrast, when representatives of the firefighters and police speak of the layoffs and cutbacks which are already in place, the concern expressed is almost always in terms of the ability to “fulfill the mission.” One firefighter talked quite movingly about his fear of arriving too late to save a life. Yes, occasionally they talk about job concerns, but that concern does not seem to prevail. It’s almost always about “the mission.”

Guess which budget I have an emotional investment in seeing restored.

"On the scene we have..."

I have to tread lightly in talking about the attack on Lara Logan, because the last thing I want to do is accuse the victim of a terrible crime of “bringing it upon herself,” especially when she was attacked in the process of doing her job as she believed that job to be. I wish her well, and hope that she enjoys a full and speedy recovery.

That being said, I have never liked Lara Logan, and have never respected her reporting. What she has done is not courage, it is recklessness in pursuit of self aggrandizement. In her reporting she always has injected herself into the story in a major way, describing her own actions and feelings rather than the actions of the troops upon whom she was reporting. The vast majority of the time it was her face in front of the camera rather than the supposed subject of her news. Ernie Pyle didn’t go to the battle front and take pictures of himself.

It is the function of the news anchor to be seen on camera. Field reporters should be displaying that upon which they report. They should be heard seldom and seen not at all. Today they all too often play the role of “news anchor on the scene” and Lara Logan is among the worst practitioners of the genre.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oh, This Is Rich

Hillary Clinton in a "policy address" today; headlined,

"Hillary Clinton champions Internet freedom, but cautions on WikiLeaks"

Yeah, right. Freedom of communication on the Internet is important, unless they are communicating shit that we don't want them to communicate. Stuff that makes us look bad. Stuff like that. Is she for real?

Monday, February 14, 2011

New Number One

Well, In addition to San Diego State moving to the best record in NCAA, my Jayhawks move to their rightful spot at Number One. Awesome

Update, Tuesday morning: And they promptly get knocked off, in embarrasing fashion, by Kansas State. Shit. I am waiting for a call from the friend I called yesterday to crow; a friend who does not like the Jayhawks. I need to learn to keep my damned mouth shut.

Eat The Future

I stole the title from Paul Krugman, who used it for a pretty good op-ed piece in today’s New Your Times. His puckish sense of humor showed when he said that, “Republicans don’t have a mandate to cut spending; they have a mandate to repeal the laws of arithmetic.” Actually, Republicans repealed the laws of arithmetic many years ago, and Democrats don’t even know what arithmetic is.

I would take a little bit of issue with him targeting the Republicans, because Obama’s budget, for all of its “investment in the future,” does a good bit of the same type of thing, but certainly the Republican side is a great deal more aggressive about it.

He does say one thing that struck me as rather disturbing, seemingly giving the voting public and media a free pass and exempting them from blame.

How can voters be so ill informed? In their defense, bear in mind that they have jobs, children to raise, parents to take care of. They don’t have the time or the incentive to study the federal budget, let alone state budgets (which are by and large incomprehensible). So they rely on what they hear from seemingly authoritative figures.

He goes on to say that politicians lie a lot, which is both true and incredibly obvious. So democracy is less important than jobs, raising children and taking care of parents? Being busy with all of that quite properly removes your incentive to pay attention to what your elected officials are actually doing, as opposed to what they are saying? Really?

What role does he give to the media in all of this? Of course the media does not see itself as a guardian of truth. As David Gregory said regarding the function of holding politicians to the truth, of revealing their dishonesty when they utter untrue statements, “That’s not our role.” Which rather leaves me wondering what the hell he thinks their role is.

To me, though, Krugman does what too many with a public voice do, he gives a free pass to the voting public. They are busy, he says, they don’t have time to hold their elected representatives accountable. But that’s the voters' job. If they won’t do it, who will? If voters don’t hold elected officials accountable, then they are not accountable. If elected representatives are not accountable then we do not have democracy at all; we have oligarchy.

Republicans aren’t eating the future; voters are.

Beat The Press Can't Run A Business

Beat The Press seems to have the idea that the only factor in the wages that employers pay is employer desire. Employers set wages based on what they would like to pay, and nothing else factors into their decision. The smart ones, according to Baker, raise wages indiscriminately to attract the most and best workers, and either raise their prices, sell their products at a lower profit, or go out of business. Simple, right?

If any nation, industry or employer says they are having trouble hiring, well, they’re just stupid and don’t know how to manage their business, according to Beat The Press. The answer is very simple; just raise wages until you get a plethora of highly skilled employees.

In an article last week he criticized Germany for not raising wages to attract more workers, failing to note that the article he was referencing stated that Germany has the lowest unemployment rate it has seen in 18 years and has closed its borders to new immigrants. That means that there are no workers available. You can raise wages all you want to, but if the workers are not available, then a goodly number of jobs are going to remain unfilled.

In an item Sunday he claims that “San Diego tech firms don’t know how to manage their businesses,” because they are having trouble hiring high-tech workers for wages that they can afford to pay. He uses his usual simplistic solution, which is to raise wages until they are able to hire, which would be all well and good if San Diego firms were not competing in a national market. The problem, clearly spelled out in the article he references, is not the wages offered, but the high cost of living in San Diego. Baker evaluates the situation (emphasis mine),

There actually is a chart accompanying the article that tells readers why tech firms in San Diego may be having trouble getting workers. Of 14 cities listed on the chart, the pay for tech workers in San Diego, adjusted for living costs, ranks 8th. It is more than 30 percent below the pay in Durham, North Carolina, the top paying city on the list.

If firms in San Diego really want to attract more workers then the trick is paying higher wages. Managers of tech companies should understand the way markets work. If they want to attract workers from other cities then they will have to pay more money, if they are unwilling to pay more money, then there is really no shortage. These firms are simply unwilling to hire people at the prevailing wage.

His thinking omits the “adjusted for living costs” part, of course. In fact, it is he who does not understand the way not “markets” but “the market” works. People who buy the product do not care about the cost of living for the workers, and they do not pay a price based on the cost of living where the product was produced. If a product produced in San Diego costs more than one produced in Durham, what buyer in Chicago is going to buy the one produced in San Diego?

In the chart he describes the fact that “San Diego, adjusted for living costs, ranks 8th” is absolutely true, as is that “it is more than 30 percent below the pay in Durham, North Carolina.” What is not mentioned is that the actual wages offered, upon which the selling price of the product is based, are approximately equal in San Diego and in Durham. The difference is due to the cost of living in the two cities.

His claim that "These firms are simply unwilling to hire people at the prevailing wage" is untrue. Reality is that these firms are offering prevailing wage and that people in these jobs are unwilling to work for prevailing wage in San Diego given the high cost of living here. Baker also says that,

It is also worth noting that the unfilled tech jobs have little to do with the problem of unemployment in San Diego. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 160,000 unemployed people in San Diego. The article reports that there are 6,000 unfilled tech jobs. This means that if every last tech job was filled (there would always be some vacancies due to turnover), it would reduce the number of unemployed by less than 4 percent.

That is certainly true, but the article never claimed that the unfilled high-tech jobs had anything whatever to do with the overall unemployment problem, so the implied insult was gratuitous.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Delusional Thinking

In a movie about a submarine, there is a scene where the boat is plunging downward out of control. Everyone is staring at the depth gauge, where the needle is moving inexorably deeper. The needle hits the peg at maximum depth, a few seconds later the depth gauge explodes, and then the screen goes black. As a former submariner, that scene sort of freaked me out.

When I read the headline that said that Obama’s proposed budget would “trim the deficit by $1.1 trillion in ten years” my bullshit meter not only hit the peg, the meter exploded. When, within the article, I read that “it's not clear yet where all of the estimated $1.1 trillion in deficit reduction will come from,” I thought I might have to turn my computer off.

For one thing, even if he is reelected, Obama will have been out of office for four years before this proposed budget expires, for God’s sake, so just how realistic is anything contained in this piece of nonsense? In any case, nobody has a clue what economic conditions are going to prevail three years from now, let alone ten years.

Supposedly he is trying to appease “deficit hawks” with this jackassery. I am not a deficit hawk, by any means, but if I were one I would be offended by this, not appeased. The current deficit is about $1.3 $1.7 trillion, and he’s saying that we are not going to get rid of it, we’re only going to come within shouting distance of doing so barely going to get rid of more than half of it, we’re going to take ten full years to do it, and there are no specifics as to how we’re going to do it.

And we are “denying them space in which to plan their attacks.” Yikes.

Oxcart Thinking

Will Hutton writes a piece at The Guardian today titled, “Don’t be blinded by the web. The world is actually stagnating.” It’s an interesting piece, and reflects thinking that I have addressed before.

When President Obama talked about having a million electric cars on the road by 2015 he believed he was thinking big. He was not; he was thinking small. Thinking big would be to demand that by 2030 we will have developed a mode of transportation that does not require cars at all.

Bob Hebert had an op-ed in the New York Times on Friday in which he bewailed the influence of money in our political process, and implies that the problem is the money and the politicians and that the solution lies in removing the money from the equation. That is universally the thinking to solving the problem, and all efforts at doing so have failed. No one has even thought of trying to come up with leaving the money in place and finding a way to render that money ineffective; finding a way to reach the voters in a way that will convince them to ignore the paid advertisements.

A lifestyle which supported 2.5 billion people in 1950 will probably not support 7 billion people today, and it all but certainly will not support the 9 billion people of the next generation. An election protocol which worked for a population of 10 million might not work for one of 330 million.

All of the “problem solving” today involves what Hyman G. Rickover called “oxcart thinking.” He was advocating the application of nuclear propulsion to develop what would become the first true submarine, the first ship whose natural element was below the surface of the sea, and said that if the military designers had always thought the way that current naval designers did we would be fighting land wars with armored ox carts instead of tanks.

And we are designing armored ox carts. Every approach to solving problems involves today’s technology done bigger or smaller, faster or slower, in lesser or greater amount, but all of it consists of mere tinkering with what exists today.

Email is hackable; so we try to make it hackproof instead of developing a new protocol which cannot be abused. The Internet is so heavily corrupted as to be all but unusable, so we tack more and more patches onto it instead of developing a new, more intrinsically secure and conveniently used medium. Our elections are corrupted by money, and when efforts to remove the influence of money fail we seem unable to find another avenue of solution to explore.

Our oxcarts are becoming so heavily armored as to become immobile.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

And Now There Are None

Wisconsin 71 - Ohio State 67. No more undefeated teams.

I almost turned it off about five minutes into the second half, since it was looking like an Ohio State blowout. Wow. Glad I didn't do that.

Update: San Diego State beat UNLV and now has the best record in NCAA basketball at 25-1; better than Ohio State and Kansas who are at 24-1.

Balanced and Fair

Chris Matthews went bonkers over “freedom and democracy in Egypt” yesterday, devoting his entire hour to the topic, notwithstanding that Egypt’s government is a military junta at the moment. He was swooning over the “people’s demands for democracy” despite the fact that one protestor said that he wanted a job so that he could get married while another said she wanted her son out of prison. Those interviews were typical, with not one person interviewed saying anything about elections or electing leaders or mentioning the concept of democracy.

Lawrence O’Donnell was somewhat more balanced, thrilled by Mubarek’s ouster but exploring the nature of the Military Council and discussing with a couple of “experts” what will be the “next step” for Egypt. A liberal democracy is only one possible outcome for Egypt, and it's not really the most likely one.

Chris Matthews seems to think, and got some “expert” to say, that the people will not settle for anything less, but I am by no means certain of that. The people did not throw Mubarek out because he was a dictator; he had been a dictator for thirty years without them taking that plunge. They threw him out because he had become an incompetent leader and had dragged their nation down into economic ruin.

O’Donnell also recognized that there are things happening in the world other than the events in Egypt, and decided that his entire hour did not need to be devoted to one subject. Of course the things he decided were important…

He did a lengthy comedy routine with Dana Milbank regarding CPAC, only I don’t think he intended for the entirety of it to be comedy, and none of it was actually funny. He also spent time with the “reporter” (omigod, the “reporter” forsooth) who “broke the story” regarding Christopher Lee and the shirtless reply on Craigslist. I don’t know how long that segment lasted because it was his “Final Word” segment and I know where the “off” button is on my television remote.

San Diego Con Game

In 2004 San Diego opened its new baseball park, named Petco Park. Football venues are stadiums and draw the ire of Lawrence O’Donnell, but baseball is played in “parks,” and apparently he has no problem with those, even though they cost just as much money, often more, and baseball players make even more money than football players do. I’m sort of neutral on public funding of such venues, some cities can afford them and others cannot, but I don’t regard any of the sports as socialist regardless.

Anyway, Petco Park was sold to the public as being cost free because the bonds would not be repaid with general taxes. The ballpark development area would be declared a “redevelopment zone,” it was promised, and it would be the increased taxes within that zone that would repay the bonds for the ballpark. That sounded good because Californians are familiar with the concept: in such zones taxes up to the level which prevailed prior to the development continue to be paid into the city’s general revenue, but any taxes over that amount are held in a fund for development purposes.

Shortly after the ballpark opened an outcry erupted when the city began incurring costs for increased police presence downtown on game days. The ballpark, it was said, was not supposed to cost us anything, and here we were with increased costs for police due to the ballpark. I thought at the time that the furor was pretty silly, and sure enough it blew over pretty quickly. But it shows how sensitive the public was to the issue: the ballpark was not supposed to cost us anything.

It now is becoming public, although it was never really completely secret, that redevelopment funds did not pick up all of the cost for the ballpark after all. Of the $454 million cost, some $301 million came from city funds. Redevelopment picked up half of that and the city borrowed the other half, so the ballpark, promised to cost the city taxpayers nothing, actually cost them $150 million -- plus interest.

San Diego has a budget deficit of $56.3 million for the upcoming fiscal year, and of that $11.3 million is the payment on the Petco Park bond.

How much uproar and outrage is there about any of this? Well, none actually. Why not? I’m not really sure. I’m guessing that the subject has merely expired, has gone past the attention span of the San Diego voters. It turned out to be a pretty nice ballpark, the Padres played well in it last year, and the voters no longer care about the manner of its being built.

It seems there is a de facto statute of limitations on cheating the public.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Celebrating "Democracy"

I am watching MSNBC, but I have no doubt the scene is similar elsewhere, jubilation over the victory of a people seeking democracy. Daniel Larison sums up my thinking with a rather pithy,

Egypt is now directly ruled by the Egyptian’s military’s Supreme Council. It is a measure of how strange the situation has become that many Westerners seem to be celebrating what everyone would otherwise be calling a military coup (which is effectively what it is) as a moment of liberation.

Indeed. Everyone seems to assume that the military council will conduct reform which will lead to free elections and will completely put itself out of business. It is certainly a lovely prospect to think that will happen.

Supporting Democracy

For the most part I have had little to say about the events in Egypt because I have not had a clear sense of what is actually going on. The American media is swooning over the peoples’ movement for democracy, but I have had some doubt about that. I remember the great media orgasm over the “Green Revolution” in Iran, and what a ludicrous misinterpretation of reality that was. European media has been referring to the events in Egypt as being based on economics rather then democratic revolution, and the only concrete demand that I have seen in Tahrir Square has been for the removal of Mubarek, which by itself falls a bit short of a demand for democracy.

Daniel Larison has also been leery of the democracy issue, and he points out that a poll was taken during the uprising and the issue of democracy was checked as the most important issue by only 3% of people in the uprising and as the second most important by only 6% of them. Economic conditions, corruption and lack of job opportunities added up to 60% of first choices, and to 47% of second choices.

That makes all of our media’s hyperventilation about “supporting democracy” and their demands for Obama to “come out in support of the people’s demand for democracy” because “this nation stands for democracy and must be in support of democracy” more than a little bit ridiculous, since the people of Egypt do not appear actually to be making a demand for democracy, but merely for economic justice. That doesn’t mean that we should not support them, we most certainly should, but we should have some idea of what we are supporting, and our media clearly has no clue what is going on in Egypt.

Even before reading the poll, I had a feeling of the surreal last evening as I watched Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow having a mutual case of the vapours over Egyptian events, engaging in rapturous discussion of the miraculous wonders of “a peoples’ desire for democracy” and how “they will not give up.” Maddow declaimed that “this is not a story about us” and then babbled at length about how much Americans love democracy, thereby making the story “about us.” Both of them were utterly thrilled that the Army seemed to be taking charge of the government, which seemed to me to be a little bit at odds with their rapturous excitement about democracy. All of this despite the fact that absolutely nothing was actually happening in Egypt at the time.

They missed that this is an uprising, not a revolution. They missed that it is about economic conditions, not democratic reform of governance. They missed that the Army is not "taking over," the Army has been in control of Egyptian government for more than thirty years.

As they were swanning on about how much “America loves democracy” I had to wonder which America they were talking about, because they were not talking about the one that I live in. When we hold an election well under half of those eligible to vote bother to do so, and they elect people like Michele Bachmann, for God’s sake. Voters profess to disapprove of Congress by a margin of 85 to 15, and then they reelect 95% of its members because challengers did not run enough television commercials to plant their names in the voters’ memories during “American Idol” episodes.

Maybe our media should try “supporting democracy” at home.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

O'Donnell Apologizes

As I said yesterday, I enjoy Lawrence O'Donnell and watch his show nightly. Last night he apologized for his intemperance on his piece regarding "NFL socialism." Oh, my, it turns out that what he is so incensed about is that the players' salaries are so inflated by the fact that NFL owners don't have to pay for the stadiums they play in. Lawrence, really...

The NFL team with the highest payroll is the New York Giants, whose players have an average salary of $2,470,622. As it happens, they play in
a stadium which was built with private funding, but prior to this year their stadium was publicly owned.

Who else plays in publicly owned stadiums? Well, major league baseball teams do. The team with the highest payroll is the New York Yankees, and their average player's salary is $8,253,335. ! Yikes, that's well over three times the average salary of the Giants. Not only that, but of the 30 MLB teams, 21 of them have an average salary higher than that of the highest paid NFL team.

But baseball is not really the worst offender. The NBA also plays in public arenas, and while their highest paid team is not quite in league with the Yankees, the Cleveland Cavaliers have an average salary of $5,938,744. That's well over two times that of the NFL Giants, and no fewer than 29 of the 30 NBA teams have an average salary higher than that of the highest paid NFL team.

You'd think hockey would be a safe comparison, but the San Jose Sharks are more highly paid than the Giants, at $2,813,333 per player, and 6 of the 30 NHL teams have higher average salaries than do the highest paid NFL team.

So, Lawrence, I can't say that I really feel your pain here. Of the four major league professional sports, all of which play in publicly owned facilities, the one which has the least highly paid players is the NFL.

Media Literacy Test

In a clip, the subject of which is not really relevant, Cretchen Carlson of Fox News said of our President that, "He seems to not be of as urgent minded thinking on the deficit as you are" to Michele Bachmann. Oh, really?

Do modern "journalists" even graduate from grammer school?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Google Power Meter Update

Really exciting stuff. I can see when my wife was using her hair dryer in the morning, and when the clothes dryer was running. Wow. She can't get away with much any more.

Level Red! Oh, Wait...

The Tea Party joined forces with Democrats yesterday and gave Republican leadership and the White House a major snub by rejecting an extension of the Patriot Act in the House. First time I’ve actually liked the Tea Party, when they come out and say that civil liberties are more important than catering to fear mongering. Those are some “American values” that I can get behind.

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Stupidity, responded with a blast about how the “threat of terrorism is at it’s highest point since 9/11 right now.” Of course she did. If the American people are becoming less afraid and actually beginning to assert their damned rights, then it’s certainly time to put some fear back into them again.

She had a little problem, though, since her boss is asserting, in an interview on Fox News no less, that “we are defeating al Qaeda.” So she went on to say that in addition to that bogey man, “the country faces new threats from those inspired by the group and those already inside the United States.”

Omigod, they’re already here. Who did they follow home? Check that cab driver; does he have a gun? A bomb? What’s that in your pants?

The Groupon Advertisement

Notwithstanding my bash of him yesterday, I like Lawrence O'Donnell and watch his show regularly. I find him likable and charming, and thoroughly enjoy his unabashed liberalism. He is an intelligent and well spoken person and, most all of the time, a credit to his profession.

Last night he did a segment on the Groupon commercials in which he points out that they were not belittling the plight of Tibetans and their culture, nor the loss of Amazonian rain forest, but were using their commercial airtime to call attention to those issues before segueing into ads for their product. Watch his discussion; his point is well made.

He also does one of his more charming verbal flubs in that clip and makes one of the most poised recoveries I've seen, displaying his extemporaneous speaking skill. "You can see why I would trip over that. It's not a phrase on the prompter every night."

To Groupon, I would say a couple of things. I appreciate your intention, but the segue from social message to commercial could certainly have been made more gracefully, and I strongly suspect that your message was far, far to subtle for the football watching audience.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Socialist Football League

Lawrence O’Donnell criticizes and mocks people pretty freely for accusing Obama of being a socialist, and then he leveled that same charge with an even greater degree of idiocy at the NFL. The basis for his charge is that cities build stadiums for them to play in at taxpayer cost and that if the league did not have these “socially owned facilities” in which to operate they could not survive.

First of all, to call a league whose teams, with one exception, are owned by billionaires and which severely limits the number of teams in order to keep prices at sky high levels a socialist organization is without question the must absurd accusation I have ever heard in my life. The NFL is as close to being the direct opposite of socialism as anything could possibly be.

Even his claim on the building of stadiums is idiotic. The taxpayers did indeed pick up $325 million of the $1.15 billion total cost of Cowboys Stadium, they did so because local college teams will play their games in the stadium. The college teams using the stadium are owned by taxpayers.

The Packers’ stadium was built 100% with taxpayer money. Of course much has been made this past week about how those same taxpayers also own the team, so I’m not sure why they should not pay for the stadium.

The “best deal ever” for New York is indeed a stadium built in New Jersey, the most expensive stadium ever built, Meadowlands at $1.6 billion, and it was built entirely with private funds. O’Donnell didn’t seem to feel like mentioning that might be significant. So it was destroyed before the bond was paid off. It had outlived its usefulness. Have you never traded in a car before the loan was fully paid off?

Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, was built by the state and city, but it hosts a great deal more than the NFL football team. High school and college football games are played in the stadium, as are college and professional basketball games. There are motor sports events held in the stadium, along with state fair events, marching band competitions and conventions of types too numerous to list. Seems like the stadium was a pretty good investment. Oh, and the Colts contributed $100 million to the $720 million cost. After paying 14% of the cost of building the stadium, they occupy it about 3% of the time.

As to outrage over cities providing land on which to build or tax incentives, give me a break. Cities have been doing that for industries of all types for decades in the name of attracting jobs to their city. It is standard practice, and the NFL receives no more of that type of favoritism than does any other major employer.

Update and response: I'm not sure our commenter understands the meaning of the term "socialism," a problem that may be endemic to our political discourse. It is not just a generic term expressing general unpleasantness or "I don't like it." It refers to an economic and political theory advocating "public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources." How do we have that condition when private money has paid for anywhere from two-thirds to 100% of the cost of a football stadium, and private money is entirely responsible for the operation of the team itself?

As to the leveled stadium, if you blow the engine of a car that has an outstanding loan balance, is the loan cancelled? It is not. In fact, even if insurance pays for the car, it only pays what the car is worth, not the balance of the loan. Where is the value for New Jersey taxpayers in the demolished stadium? It's in the 40+ years that the stadium was in use.

Will the taxpayers of New Jersey receive profits from future games? Of course not; they didn't pay to build the stadium, and they are not paying the expenses of the teams playing the games.

The economic value of cities kicking in to build stadiums is certainly questionable. San Diego is asking that question right now, and I am opposed to it. But to call the NFL a form of socialism because some, not all, of its games are played in publicly owned stadiums is utterly ludicrous. First, not all of the stadiums are built with public money, and second, most of the stadiums are used for a great many civic purposes beyond the NFL football games that are played in them.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Not Super Bowl

One is supposed to congratulate the Super Bowl winner, but that was sloppy and half-assed football on both sides. Pittsburgh had three turnovers. Although I will admit that one of them was a good defensive play by their opponent, even that one could have been avoided with more attention by the quarterback. Green Bay had dropped passes, throws that missed open receivers, and no running game. Against a full eleven-man defense it would have lost the game.

Last Monday I predicted that if Troy Polamalu played “Mr. Invisible” that Green Bay would win. He was not quite invisible, but was nearly enough so to validate my prediction. I saw him make two tackles, both in the fourth quarter, and I saw him in his own end zone twice, failing to defend against Green Bay touchdown passes. In one of those two cases he appeared to be wearing concrete shoes. Did he suddenly turn fifty?

I believe the plan was for him to line up twenty yards deep and begin backing up when the ball was snapped (he certainly did that) in an effort to prevent a Green Bay “home run,” overlooking the concept that five 20-yard completions has the same result as one 100-yard one. The result was that Green Bay was playing against a ten-man defense.

I should have known it was going to be a lost cause when the national anthem was sung. Most singers botch the tune for the sake of their own ego, but this one didn’t even get the damn words right.

Furthermore: This game was not a "celebration of America's greatness."
It was not a "tribute to men and women defending freedom." Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. had nothing to do with creating it. We did not fight World War Two, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan in order to make it possible. It was just a stupid football game, and a rather poorly played one at that.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Beating "Beat The Press"

One of the blogs I read regularly, and I recommend it to you, is Beat The Press at The Center for Economic and Policy Research website. It is devoted to debunking economic nonsense in the mainstream media and, in so doing, becomes a very decent source of accurate information itself.

It had a very strange item yesterday, though, about the New York Times and an article regarding Germany’s low rate of unemployment. For one thing it made very strange use of the words “productive” and “productivity,” saying that in times of worker shortages, “Workers move from low productivity sectors to high productivity sectors.”

The term “high productivity” usually means that fewer workers are doing more work for less money, so why workers would move to that sector when times are good for the working force seemed really odd to me. Why would workers, when they are in control of the situation, go where they are being paid less to do more work? It goes on to say,

If there are fewer workers this just means that the least productive jobs go unfilled. There will be fewer people working as store clerks in convenience stores, housekeepers in hotels, or as parking lot attendants. There is no obvious economic problem associated with workers moving into more productive occupations.

It finally hit me that the writer means “productive” as in “productive for the workers,” but that is not the manner in which an economics writer would normally use the term. It would certainly be more clear to say that workers were moving from “poorly rewarding” occupations to “more rewarding” ones. As the term is normally used, the “most productive” jobs will remain unfilled because they will demand the greatest amount of work for the lowest amount of pay.

The other thing that struck me as odd is the writer’s casual attitude regarding raising wages to attract workers. He admits that some employers will be in a position where that will “squeeze profit margins” since they cannot increase prices and that some of them might go out of business. He seems quite unfazed by this, as if those business should be quite happy with diminished profits and/or failure.

Perhaps he thinks that those employers are in a small minority and that the economy will not be affected by their loss. That seems a rather odd approach given that raising prices in the face of a global recession would seem to place the vast majority of employers in that position rather than a small minority of them.

There will be fewer people working as store clerks in convenience stores, housekeepers in hotels, or as parking lot attendants. There is no obvious economic problem associated with workers moving into more productive occupations.

I would suggest that is an “economic problem” for convenience stores, hotels, and parking lots, which is what the New York Times article is about.

Chris Matthews is an Idiot

If Chris Matthews and Ed Rendell are going to shoot off their mouths about their expertise on the NFL, they should know that the Green Bay Packers are named after the fish packing industry in northern Wisconsin, not the meat packing industry. I hold no torch for the Packers, and I think the Steelers will win, but it's the fish packing industry, you morons.

Update, Sunday 7:00am: Our commenter makes an interesting point. My authority was simply living in Milwaukee for ten years and suffering through many hours of adoring fans' converstion about the team.

The Indian Packing Company, it turns out, was actually the initial sponsor of the team. While the sponsorship did not survive even the first season, the name did. It was a Delaware company and was indeed a meat packer. However, Green Bay had a significant commercial fishing industry at the time and the town had many fish packing plants. I'm inclined to doubt that there was one meat packing plant in than kind of fishing town, so I suspect that the company, while a meat packer elsewhere, might very well have been a fish packer in Green Bay.

That also points out that the team was not named in behalf of an industry after all, it was named after the individual company that sponsored their creation, something that I did not know. It's also possible the team was named after an individual meat packer, in which case I stand corrected, but they still were not named after a non-existent "meat packing industry."

Green Bay did not have meat packing industry. It did have, at the time the Packers were created, a fish packing industry but it turns out the team was not named in its behalf. It was named for an individual company which may have been a meat packer or may, and I'm sticking to my story, have been a fish packer. Have I lost track of my original point? Whatever.

Interestingly, had the team been named for the predominant local industry, they would probably be called the "Green Bay Tissues" after the paper industry, which has always been the major support of Green Bay's prosperity. That would be cool; the "Green Bay Tissues."

If they were named after Green Bay's best product, they would be named the "Green Bay Bratwurst," which is so good that I won't buy it anywhere else in the country. (Actually, Sheboygan, just a few miles south of Green Bay.) If you don't know what that is, it's a German kind of weenie. Yes, I sort of called the team from Wisconsin weenies.