Saturday, April 30, 2011

Oil Pricing, Part Three

From Washington Post with Bloomberg Business News today,

President Obama on Saturday blasted oil companies for enjoying gangbuster profits while pump prices surged to nearly $4 a gallon this week and again urged Congress to end $4 billion a year in subsidies for the oil and gas industry.

He did acknowledge, sometime last week it says, that “My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people.”

So buy all means let's end these tax subsidies that lower oil company costs because any sensible company, when their costs go up, always lowers their selling price.

I think he has some idea that he's going to win points with the public by "punishing the oil companies" for their high prices, only it isn't the oil companies who are causing the high prices, and it's the public buying gasoline from the oil companies who will wind up getting punished. He probably knows both of those things, but thinks the public is so stupid that they don't. And he's probably right.

Oil Pricing, Part Two

In a related thought, gasoline prices at the pump are too high and still rising, so of course we need to end oil company sunsidies and raise taxes on oil companies. Somebody please tell me how this makes any sense. The price we are paying for their product is too high and is ruining us, so we are going to counter by raising their cost of doing business. Raising their cost of doing business is going to cause them to lower their selling prices. This is "Through The Looking Glass" type of thinking.

Oil Pricing Conspiracy

So we are back to demagoging the oil companies again. We’ve been here before. Back when I first started this blog we were blathering about oil company “windfall profits.” We were wrong then, and we are wrong now.

pricing chartCenter for American Progress published this chart along with an article filled with outrage about oil companies, their “record profits” and the criminality of their pricing policies. It’s always kind of fun to see people trying to prove one thing with a chart and actually wind up illustrating the precise opposite, because what the chart actually shows is that oil company profit margins have remained constant throughout the price increase. Oil companies have, in fact, behaved with completely proper fiscal discipline, that there is no improper profiteering, and that oil companies clearly are not at fault for high gas prices.

While the amount of profit may be a record highs, the margin of profit is precisely the same as it has been for years. The profit records are being set because sales records are being set, not because the oil companies are engaged in profiteering.

Sellers always set a target of profitability as a percentage of revenue, much as you would set desired rate that you want to obtain on your savings. If costs go up they will raise prices to maintain their profit at the same percentage of revenue, unless market forces prohibit them from doing so. Since we are using gasoline at pretty much the same pace as ever, oil companies are able to pass their costs on and maintain the same level of profit, as is shown by that chart. They have not reduced their level of profit, but neither have they engaged in “profiteering” by increasing it.

Reflecting on that rate you set as the target rate that you want to obtain on your savings; if you had more money to save would you be willing, then, to earn a lower rate on it just because there was more of it? Neither is the oil company willing for the income portion of their revenue to be smaller just because the revenue is larger. And there is no reason for them to do so.

The writer says that “oil prices have risen by a third in just more than two months, spurred largely by speculators capitalizing on unrest in North Africa and the Middle East,” and President Obama has opened an investigation to root out speculation and evil doing in the oil trading markets. Yes, we heard that in 2008 too and it was as nonsensical then, as later investigations revealed, as it is now.

Ezra Klein wrote a piece in the Washington Post the other day on the subject in which he reached the right conclusion about speculation as a cause, but for the wrong reason. He said that, “if you’re seeing speculation, you should be seeing a massive run-up in inventory.” Sadly, no. Holding a commodity off the market and then selling it after the price goes up is only one form of speculation, and it’s not one that works very well in the oil market. In land speculation, for instance, holding land off the market is hardly likely to make its value increase, other than in special and rather rare circumstances.

The land speculation that fueled the S&L crisis in the 1980’s took the form of selling a piece of worthless land repeatedly, each time at a larger price using a bogus appraisal. Similarly, a tanker-load of oil can be resold several times while it is in transit from the Middle East to its destination refinery. Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, there’s no evidence that any such speculation is happening.

Ezra Klein gives as the reason a lengthy description of production in Saudi Arabia and consumption in China, which sounds very expert and knowledgeable, but which doesn’t really hold up well to rigorous scrutiny. Actually, it doesn’t even hold up very well to even casual scrutiny, which is all I gave it before his theory pretty well collapsed as a prime mover of the major basis for the huge rise in prices.

Not that these factors are not contributing to the problem. Oil companies could reduce their profit margins slightly without economic harm to themselves or their investors, speculation in the trading market does raise prices a bit, and prices do go up as the demand increases, but none of them is the real issue that has caused the major change in the cost of oil out of the well or the price of gasoline at the pump.

The real driver of that change is the dramatic drop in the value of the dollar. Whether drilled in America or Brazil, oil is traded on the international market and we pay for it in dollars. When the dollar decreases in value it takes more dollars to pay for a barrel of oil, and the international value of the dollar has dropped enormously in the past few years. The cause of that drop is a bit complex, but it is largely due to the economic policies of our own government, policies which have allowed it to continue spending more money than it takes in.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Double Standard

I don't know why I'm surprised by this country indulging in double standards. My wife keeps rather annoying me by chuckling at me and commenting in an arch tone, "You're expecting them to be logical, dear." Anyway.

When Ford Motor Company announces improved profits due to the rising prices of the cars it's selling, that's a good thing. When an Oil Company announces higher profits due to the rising price of gasoline...

Petraeus to CIA

One of the central principles of governance for this nation has always been the separation that is maintained between civilian government and the military, and the supremacy of the former over the latter. It is not a trivial matter. It is that principle which stands as a bulwark between us and a military coup. It is so fundamental to our way of thinking that the thought of a military takeover does not even enter our thoughts

That principle is weakened when a person of high military rank is placed into a position of decision-making authority over a civilian agency of government. It’s one thing for such a person to serve in an advisory capacity in the White House or to Congress, but when placed as head of a civilian agency and authorized to be making policy decisions for that agency, that is quite a different matter.

The choice of Petraeus is particularly pernicious for a couple of reasons.

For one, he is peculiarly powerful in the political arena, being a man who is infallibly able to make Congress hop by merely uttering the word “frog.” Congressional oversight of the CIA has been feckless, at best, throughout its checkered history. With Saint David in charge Congress is not going to be able to summon up enough courage even to ask him what time the CIA staffers normally eat lunch.

He also has a track record of being openly willing to participate in the political arena, as displayed by his op-ed in 2004 which was a blatant contribution to the reelection campaign of George W. Bush and his manipulation of the media throughout his career as a flag-rank officer. As such, his appointment is especially contributive to the blurring of the dividing line between military and civilian authority in governance.

And, of course, the same Democrats who objected vigorously when George Bush appointed a general, Michael Hayden, as head of the CIA are perfectly content with Obama appointing David Petraeus, a much more high profile and much more politically powerful general, to that position. It differs only in that it’s okay if Obama does it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dissing the Competition

When I transferred from production into the office, my first manager taught me something that I have never forgotten, and which I used as a management tool until I retired. He said that one should never criticize one’s competition or think ill of them. “It is your competition,” he said, “which requires you to be as good as you are. If you had bad competition, you could be bad at your job. There's no honor in winning by default.”

Democrats are absolutely wallowing in the disarray of the Republican Party, and the liberal media is spending all of its time laughing at and mocking the fecklessness of Republican candidates and campaign slogans. They are delighted, and are proclaiming victory, eighteen months in advance, not based on anything that Democrats have to offer, or the great job that they're doing, but based on the weakness of the opposition.

Meanwhile, Democrats have a President who gets, at best, 50% approval. They have approval in Congress below one-fourth. While the stock market is hitting new highs, they have an economy that is growing at an anemic 1.8% rate, not enough to keep up with the birth rate. New unemployment claims were over 400,000 for the third week in a row, and unemployment is still near 9% and would be higher if it were not for a shrinking work force. The value of the dollar is at a historic low and still shrinking, leading to ever climbing gasoline prices.

That’s actually a fairly dismal prospect, but what are they doing to improve the picture on their side of the political spectrum? Nothing. They are not at all concerned about a presidential approval in the “high forties,” and in fact consider him to be unbeatable. They are bragging about how he will raise
$1 billion in campaign funding to win the election in a cakewalk because the incumbent Democrat is unbeatable.

The past batch of Republicans may have run the car into the ditch, but the present batch of Democrats have left it in the ditch and set it on fire. David Frum rather colorfully, and I believe accurately, said of Democrats, “Well, we did our little stimulus and it didn’t work, so now we’re just looking at our watches waiting for something else to happen.”

And they believe they can afford to “wait for something else to happen” because they have no respect for their competition. Why should they work hard to please the electorate when they don’t, in their opinion, need to do anything of the sort. Their opposition is a group of complete idiots. They can sit back, do nothing and allow the idiots to shoot themselves in their collective foot. We will vote for Democrats because we know the Republicans are crazy people, and are stupid to boot.

That is what they are doing and what they are telling us. They are doing nothing and merely telling us that we dare not vote for those crazy, stupid people on the other side. Planning to win, without honor, by default.

The Man With A Curious Mind

So, Condoleezza Rice says that George W. Bush has a "very curious mind." I would certainly agree with her on that, but I don't think that she meant it the same way that I do.

Body of China Beach

ABC has a show named "Body of Proof" starring Dana Delany. Time has treated her very well since I watched her in "China Beach" about a century ago. I certainly have aged a lot less gracefully than she has. This show is basically crap, but when it includes Dana wearing a purple dress... Yikes.


For what it's worth, I thought Obama's demeanor when he was addressing the birth certificate nonsense, "We don't need this, I don't need this," was very presidential. He was impressive. I admired him at that moment.

The media's response was, of course, to do the opposite of what he intended. He said very specifically that he addressed the issue so that we could end the nonsense and turn to a discussion of the serious problems that face this nation, so they spent their entire programs yammering about the issue that he had just sought to end. Gack.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Babbling About Bush III

I'm still watching Hardball so that you don't have to, preserving your sanity at the risk of mine, and listened with astonishment as Chris Matthews was babbling yesterday about what candidates the thought the Republicans ought to be running next year. Among them was Jeb Bush, who he thought would make "a great candidate" and would be competitive.

Really? After barely more than two years of Obama, he thinks that this nation is willing to entertain a third Bush for President. Is he serious?

The "Undead" President

The latest canard regarding Obama is that he didn’t actually qualify for admission to Columbia or Harvard Law School, so now he is a Kenyan Muslim Un-American Socialist who faked his way through law school and is illegitimately occupying the White House with a bogus law degree.

Since a law degree, or any level of education at all for that matter, is not a requirement for the office he holds, I am unclear as to why this issue is being raised, but Obama's opponents don't ever let logic stand in their way.

Actually, I’d say if you can successfully con Harvard Law School into giving you an undeserved degree and manage to bluff your way through a term as editor of Law Review without being qualified for it, then you’ll probably excel as President, but then I have a rather unusual idea of what particular skills are required for success in today’s political arena.

Pat Robertson was shrieking on Hardball yesterday that he probably was admitted through affirmative action, but why he would raise such an accusation is beyond me. Well, not really, because it’s Pat Robertson and he never makes any sense, but…

That argument can’t be a winner whether proven or not. If disproved, then there is simply no issue. If proven, then we have made a powerful argument for the value of affirmative action. I mean, look at the facts here. A guy gets into school as a result of affirmative action and goes on to become President of the United States. That would seem to suggest we need more of that program, not less.

And as for this idea that a “Certificate of Live Birth,” which even the long form released today reads, is somehow not a valid document because it is not a “Birth Certificate,” completely escapes me. Did they want something that certified that he was born dead? So in addition to being Kenyan and born with the “seed of Islam,” etc, he is now also “undead” to boot?

Here We Go Again

Andrew Ross Sorkin was on The Last Word last night discussing the "Financial Armageddon Scenario" of Congress not raising the debt ceiling, and is trying to convince us that they might go all the way and actually not do it. He is of the opinion that this time they might not be bluffing, that this time they are serious, and that the might be willing to throw caution to the winds, throw the economy to the wolves, and make their point (whatever the hell that point is) by not raising the debt ceiling.

Oh please. That was all the talk about when they were going to do with respect to shutting down the government, and they didn't do it. For a full month we heard how the "Tea Party Republicans" were utterly reckless, how they had no respect for financial institutions or government, how they wanted to shut down government just out of sheer meanness, and in the end... What happened? Right, they made a deal.

So. Here we go again; Tea Party and Financial Armageddon. Stay Tuned.

Taking Sides on Libya

Informed and intelligent sources are hard to come by, and one has to mourn the loss of one the few available. Juan Cole, at Informed Comment, has lost any trace of credibility with me when he is constantly using phrases like “criminally indiscriminate” when describing Libyan forces and “brave freedom fighters” in referring to the other side in that civil war.

Daniel Larison seems to agree with that viewpoint when he says of Cole that “I have a hard time reading his commentary on the Libyan war” because “he feels compelled to lace it with so many terms that sound as if they came straight out of a propaganda ministry.” He makes this observation in a sensible piece that puts Cole’s cheerleading on the Libyan issue into a calmer and more reasoned perspective. I don’t always agree with Larison, but he is always worth reading, and I very much agree with him that our involvement in Libya is serious misadventure.

He did a post on John McCain’s little parachute trip to Libya and his “I have met with these freedom fighters and they are not Al Queda,” pronouncement that was more than worth reading. There is no doubt in my mind that McCain, who has never been anything more than a rank opportunist, is now a senile opportunist, and that we should be beyond grateful that he did not become president.

When Democrats were visiting overseas to try and minimize the damage being done by Bush, the Republicans were screaming bloody murder about them meddling in foreign affairs and infringing on presidential prerogatives of foreign affairs, but when Saint McCain does it to interfere with a Democratic President, that’s perfectly okay. Oddly, even Democrats and liberal media seem unfazed by it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Guard Cat?

On GuardThis girl thinks she is a guard cat guarding our front yard. Actually, if she went out there, anything bigger than a squirrel would have her for lunch, and in any case what she’s mostly doing is finding a sunny spot. Whenever there’s a cold snap in San Diego, you can bet it’s because this silly cat has soaked up all of the solar warmth in Southern California.

This spot would be fine with me, except that she is a frequent, enthusiastic, and highly energetic bather. I would love to have her sit there if all she did was guard the front yard, but all of the gyrating and slurping is a distraction when I'm trying to write.

In the evening when we’re watching television her favorite spot is my lap, but we have a rule against cat baths in my lap. Mostly she follows the rule, but once in a while she starts up, at which point I poke her fairly sharply with my finger. She stops and glares at me, and usually that does it, but once in a while we get into a contest with me poking and the cat glaring, which always cracks my wife up.

What really gets her is when Molly and I get into a prolonged stare down, with me showing the cat my index finger and the cat glaring at me. I always win because I’m a lot bigger than her, and her teeth and claws are not enough to outweigh my size advantage.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dumb and Dumber

Just as an experiment, I asked the same question of the woman who was campaigning to "Save the Library" outside the grocery store today that I asked the one last week. This one apparently was okay with a new city hall, and replied, "Well I'd start by cancelling that $800 million stadium for the Chargers." Awesome.

That stadium is presently nothing more than a proverbial "gleam in the eye" of the Chargers' owners and is not yet even in the planning stages, and she wants to "cancel" it to free up funds to operate libraries next fiscal year.

To make her plan even more nonsensical, if the stadium ever was to come to fruition, which is seriously unlikely, it would be built with "redevelopment funds." These are special tax receipts which can only be used for new development, and in any case cannot be spent outside of the zone in which they are generated which, as it happens, contains no libraries.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Not Having The Right Argument

It doesn’t help to win the argument when you aren’t having the right argument. Or when the argument you keep winning is not one that your people don’t rank as the most important topic.

Democrats are winning the hell out of the Medicare/healthcare argument, but that topic is number six on the list of what the middle class, independent voter cares about.

Democrats are winning the hell out of the “taxing the rich,” “fix the deficit” argument, but that topic is only number three on the list of what anybody actually cares about.

Democrats, and Republicans are not even having the “create jobs” argument, and that topic is number one on the list of what everybody cares about, and it has been number one for a couple of years now. And because they’re not having it, and Democrats are the incumbent party, Democrats are losing the hell out of this argument.

There’s a very good reason why this argument is not being had. Reality is that there is very little that government can do to create jobs, jobs are not likely to happen in any kind of worthwhile numbers, and if you talk about jobs and they don’t happen, come election time you are toast. If you don’t talk about jobs you might get reelected, but if you talk about them and the public is disappointed in what happens, you do not have a snowball’s chance in Hell.

Idiotic Slogans Abound

The New York Times is now charging a monthly fee for online access, and if they think that I am going to pay $8.75 per week to read such idiotic op-eds as today's “A Slogan, Not A Plan” they have another think coming. It starts off reasonably enough, by saying that Republicans offer no alternative for Obamacare as a solution for health care costs.

They then begin offering their solution with some pure fiction by saying that, “..employer-provided health benefits are untaxed, giving employees an incentive to get the most expensive coverage available through their jobs.” Benefits are untaxed, yes, but “the most expensive coverage available” thing? Have these two gourd-heads been getting insurance through their employers lately? Have they been employers providing insurance? To add to that little piece of insanity, many large employers don’t use insurance money at all, they “self insure.”

Their proposal is a “tax credit for insurance” because everything can be solved with a tax credit and they’ve never heard of the deficit. Nobody is talking about the damned deficit, you know. Jeez. Anyway, they want everyone to be able to “shop around for the cheapest coverage.” Well, the cheapest coverage is the policy that denies payment for everything, but…

Seriously. Your employer is using an HR person who knows what they are doing to select a policy, while these clowns want you to be reading sixty-page documents written in legalese from forty different companies to decide which one is better. Because you have the consumer’s freedom to “shop around,” you know. Wonderful.

The real treasure is what would happen to insurance companies. Boy, would we ever get our revenge on insurance companies. They have had it too good for too long and this would really ruin their day. Are you ready? Here it is, “as more Americans bought their own insurance, consumer pressure would bring down costs for everyone.”

Ha, ha, we’re going to bury those bastards with "consumer pressure."

Wait. What does that even mean? That’s actually a Republican marketing slogan. These two half-wits were excoriating the Republicans for having nothing more than a slogan, and then they offer us nothing but a different slogan, “tax credits and consumer pressure.” Yea team.

They go on with such deep thoughts as admitting that the plan would be "disruptive." Well, duh. They add that, “many young and healthy employees would find cheap policies on the individual market, leaving their colleagues to pay higher premiums,” which they seem to regard as irrelevant. They don’t mention those who would forgo the tax credit by not obtaining insurance at all, leaving the problem of uninsured accident victims in hospitals unaddressed. They then offer several incremental approaches, all of which are even sillier than their original plan.

I have some issues with what Obama and the Democrats passed for “health care reform,” but in comparison with anything that Republicans or dimwits like this have come up with, it is a masterpiece conceived and executed by philanthropic geniuses.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Price of Gasoline

gas pricesThink I was kidding about the value of the dollar and the price of gasoline? From The Market Ticker, the chart is the price of oil, and the white line is the value of the dollar.

Having the dollar at a low value could be really good for us if we were an exporting nation, as we used to be. We used to manufacture and export cars and trucks, televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, machine tools, steel, aluminum, computers... A low dollar made those things more competetive overseas. Now we import them from abroad, and a low dollar makes them more expensive here.

We used to be a net exporter of oil. In fact, within my lifetime we were the world's largest exporter of oil. Now we are the world's largest importer of oil, and a low dollar is making that oil very costly.

Government By The People

I went to the grocery store yesterday and a woman was sitting outside the store wanting people to sign a petition to “stop the Mayor from closing the libraries.” San Diego is facing a $179 million budget shortfall in the upcoming year, so cuts are being made everywhere, including to police and fire protection services, and yes, library hours are being reduced.

I ignored her on the way in, but on the way out I could not resist stopping to ask her if her plan was to raise taxes or to eliminate firefighters because, I said, I would support her if she was raising taxes but not if she was for eliminating firefighters. I know, it was a dumb move, but… Her reply was entirely predictable. “Well,” she said, “neither one. The Mayor could give up that new $10 million city hall of his.” Sigh.

For one thing it isn’t, of course, the Mayor’s personal city hall. It will take years to build it and he will be term-limited out of office long before it is finished. He has absolutely no personal stake in getting it built. The other thing is that canceling the city hall would not add a single dollar to next year's operating budget. I omitted the first issue but made an effort to explain the second to her. You can imagine how much success I had.

Clearing Things Up

I certainly do not advocate a refusal to raise the debt ceiling, and do not think Congress should even screw around with it. It would absolutely create chaos, and I do agree that it would instantly raise interest rates, including on the federal debt as we roll over existing loans which come due. I just don't like all of the exaggerated rhetoric used by both sides. There are valid reasons for needing to take this action, why heap the fear mongering lies on top of it? Liberals have become just about as bad as conservatives at engaging in this sort of "mushroom cloud" tactic.

I am opposed to the "tax the rich" rhetoric, and Obama's tax policy, but not because it is actually class warfare, although I will admit I have used that term. I oppose it because it preserves and promotes the whole meme of "let some other dude pay for it" which so pervades this nation today. I regard the concept of wanting to to have things provided by government and being unwilling to be taxed to pay for them as seriously unhealthy, and that attitude is promoted at all levels of government and media. It is even promoted by our education system, as exemplified by teachers urging their students to protest against budget cuts for schools.

I am opposed to Ryan's budget plan in its entirety, but I don't much like what the Democrats have shown so far either. We need to make real cuts in "national security" spending, we need real health care reform, and we need to raise taxes more broadly and in a more truly progressive manner. Going back to the Clinton rates would be a good start, but I would lower the bottom rate a bit, and I would add a couple of new brackets at the top.

I like Obama a lot, and I am absolutely certain he was born in Hawaii. He annoys the hell out of me, though when he insults my intelligence with politically motivated scapegoating, such as "investigating to uncover price manipulation in oil markets" to try and distract from his own role in the price of gasoline. His role in lowering the global value of the dollar to historic lows with endless "quantitative easing," otherwise known as "printing money," is by far the greatest cause of the rise in the price of oil in dollars on the global market, and the consequent rise in the price of gasoline.

It's like a great Shakespearean actor engaging in cheap theatric melodrama. He's starting wars, passing multi-$trillion legislation, engaging the world in foreign policy, and he's engaging in cheap tricks to avoid blame for the price of gasoline.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Not Challenging Dishonesty

Lawrence O’Donnell does not tolerate lying or peddling bullshit on his show. He erupts into a tirade of outrage and anger when anyone tries to do that, shouts them down and browbeats them into telling the truth. Well, he does unless they are supporting his agenda, apparently.

He asked Dr. Alice Rivlin, a member of President Obama's Fiscal Commission. About the deficit, and she replied that it has been caused by “promises made, by both parties, to fund entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security at a time when we have a lot more old people, we have the baby boom generation and we have rapidly rising cost of medical care.”

Social Security has never added a single dollar to the federal deficit and will never do so. It is a self funded program with its own, separate revenue stream which is currently taking more money in than it is paying out to beneficiaries.* It may fail as a program and be unable to pay the promised benefits, but that is a subject entirely separate from the federal deficit. Lawrence O’Donnell knows that very well, and he says absolutely nothing to her about that.

She doesn’t mention the effect on the deficit of cutting taxes without reducing spending, which Obama has done more than once, and O’Donnell doesn’t ask why she failed to include that in her explanation of the deficit. Nor does she mention defense, pardon me, “national security” spending increases by Obama, an oversight which doesn’t seem to bother O’Donnell in the slightest.

She then goes into a fairly lengthy discussion of increasing borrowing and says the “people won’t lend to us” and that we could wind up being “unable to market our bonds” which would lead to a “debt crisis and plunging into a deep recession.” Ask Paul Krugman about the “bond vigilantes” some time. Debt is undoubtedly a problem, but not in the manner that she describes, which is sheer scare mongering.

When he asks her what should be done about the deficit her first item is to correct the imbalance in Medicare, and her second is to “put Social Security on a firm foundation.” Once again O’Donnell, totally incorrectly, accepts Social Security as part of the deficit issue.

He asks her if we should cut spending at this time, with economic recovery so poorly established, and she says we should not cut for the next year or two, but that we could “freeze spending now” because we “can’t risk a debt crisis, that would be worse.”   Debt crisis, debt crisis, debt crisis...

It gets worse when he turns to the subject of raising the debt ceiling. He asks her what would happen if we fail to do so and her immediate reply is, “The first thing you do when you know you can’t pay your bills is stop paying them. Contractors would not get paid, Social Security recipients would not receive their checks, doctors who are doing medical care under Medicare would not be paid…”

The government borrows 40% of what it spends so why, if it cannot pay 40% of its bills, does it stop paying the 60% of the bills that it can pay? And she includes Social Security again, which is independent of the federal government revenue stream and could certainly continue paying benefits from the payroll taxes which it is collecting. O’Donnell has nothing to say about any of her nonsense.

She goes on to say that, “Even worse would be that we would instantly be known as a deadbeat nation. We take on obligations and refuse to pay them.” What? We make a statement that we are not going to borrow any more money and that is equivalent to “we are not going to pay our existing debts.” O’Donnell does not ask her to explain that. Nor does he ask her to explain the statement that “No one will lend to us,” when we will have announced that we will not be asking anyone to be doing so.

Pretty much the entirety of her discussion is nonsensical on the face of it, and O’Donnell challenges none of it, merely thanks her for being on his program.

*Due to the economy Social Security might be operating at a small deficit now, but it is holding a significant surplus, so it is not in a position to need to borrow money any time in the near future in order to pay promised benefits, at least not in terms of this discussion.

Cool Headline

I'm still thinking about the implications of using drones in Libya. My initial reaction is negative, but I need to think it through before I write about it. In some ways it's not that big a deal. But I just thought Glenn Greenwald's headline was too cool not to remark on it.

Nobel peace drones

Band-Aids on a Broken Leg

Paul Krugman has a column in the NY Times yesterday titled Patients Are Not Consumers in which he seems to defend the Independent Payment Advisory Board which is part of the “health care reform” passed by Congress in 2010 with much fanfare, most of which has not yet gone into effect, but will at some date in the future and will do things which may or may not be beneficial, or may make no significant difference.

Krugman says that, “We have to do something about health care costs, which means that we have to find a way to start saying no.” While I have no argument with the first part of that assertion, I have to quibble with the second part. France, Germany and England all spend somewhere about half what we do on health care, getting better results, and what part of their cost restraint consists of “saying no?”

He more or less explains his assertion with, “we can’t maintain a system in which Medicare essentially pays for anything a doctor recommends.” Except that is precisely what most developed countries do, although they don’t, as he points out, have systems which, “gives doctors and hospitals — who aren’t saints — a strong financial incentive to engage in excessive care.”

He then goes on to address the IPAB specifically, and I apologize for the long block quote here, usually I let you go read the piece for yourself, but…

Hence the advisory board, whose creation was mandated by last year’s health reform. The board, composed of health-care experts, would be given a target rate of growth in Medicare spending. To keep spending at or below this target, the board would submit “fast-track” recommendations for cost control that would go into effect automatically unless overruled by Congress.

Before you start yelling about “rationing” and “death panels,” bear in mind that we’re not talking about limits on what health care you’re allowed to buy with your own (or your insurance company’s) money. We’re talking only about what will be paid for with taxpayers’ money. And the last time I looked at it, the Declaration of Independence didn’t declare that we had the right to life, liberty, and the all-expenses-paid pursuit of happiness.

First, a couple of things about the “board.” Not all members are “health-care experts.” Some are on the board “ex officio” due to their legislative positions, and some are “individuals representing consumers and the elderly.” Note, too, that their recommendations “go into effect automatically unless overruled by Congress.” This is Congress avoiding responsibility for any backlash that results from costcutting.

And backlash there will be. There are some restrictions on what steps they can take to control costs, namely anything that will control costs.

The proposal shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums, increase Medicare beneficiary cost sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria.

That leaves one thing and one thing only, reduce the amount that Medicare will pay to doctors and hospitals for procedures and treatments, otherwise known as “price controls.” We have tried this before. Price controls didn’t work under Nixon, and to the extent that we have tried them under Medicare they have not worked there either. Every time a scheduled Medicare payment cut has approached, doctors have threatened to leave the program until Congress has knuckled under and “postponed” the payment cut.

Price fixing of Medicare might work if the services were being provided by separate providers, but what keeps those providers from simply raising the prices to non-Medicare patients when the Medicare payments are cut? There is no law against that, as evidenced by the difference between what they charge insurance companies and patients who are paying out of their own pockets. So the less Medicare pays, the more everyone else does and overall health care costs remain high.

Meanwhile, more medical providers drop out of the Medicare system.

Krugman excoriates Ryan for “cost shifting” medical expense onto seniors, but then he slips this little gem into his discussion of reducing the cost of Medicare. “…bear in mind that we’re not talking about limits on what health care you’re allowed to buy with your own (or your insurance company’s) money. We’re talking only about what will be paid for with taxpayers’ money.”

Softer than Ryan’s language, but it amounts to the same thing. And I seem to recall that at one time not only was he in favor of universal health care, he was pressing for single payer. Now he says that, "...the Declaration of Independence didn’t declare that we had the right to life, liberty, and the all-expenses-paid pursuit of happiness." Wow.

The problem is not how we pay for Medicare, or how we pay for medical care overall. The payment system is not the problem. The problem is the health care delivery system itself, and all of this tinkering around with methods of payment simply is not going to solve it.

Krugman even mentions in his piece a "system that gives doctors and hospitals a strong financial incentive to engage in excessive care," and then ignores that problem and addresses a solution of making payments to that system that merely shifts payment from government to individual, while maintaining the "strong financial incentive to engage in excessive care."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Travel, American Style

My wife went on a trip last week and I took her to the airport. The line at “security” was about thirty minutes, but by the time I stood with her and said goodbye, as I was leaving, it had grown enormously. It stretched for more than a hundred yards, past baggage claim, past the restaurants, all the way to the next set of gates. It had to be taking people at the end of it well over an hour.

I found it profoundly depressing. People standing in line, “papers” in hand, shuffling along, not talking, faces expressionless. This is travelling in America today. Standing in line for more than an hour. To show your papers and be searched. "Home of the Brave, Land of the Free"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dept of Public Safety

Many years ago I was visiting with a guy at a party and he told me he had come to this country from Poland, which was still behind the Iron Curtain at the time. I asked him what most impressed him about America and he unhesitatingly replied, “You don’t have to be afraid of the police.”

In the past two months five uniformed members of the San Diego Police Department have been charged with crimes. Not trivial stuff, either. One was charged with felony stalking and violation of an order of protection. Another was charged with driving with a blood alcohol content of .32, four times the legal limit, causing an accident with injuries, and fleeing the scene. Another was soliciting sex from women stopped for speeding.

The other day after dropping my wife off at the airport I was passing a security booth manned by three uniformed officers of the SDPD and thought I would stop and offer them an encouraging word of support. As I got closer and could see the expression on their faces I changed my mind. All three of them looked like they were in a very ugly mood, and I decided that I wanted no part of being anywhere near them. I gave that station a wide berth.

That Polish guy’s words sound a little hollow today. I would not go so far as to say that I fear the police, but I find myself being very, very careful whenever I see a policeman nearby. It does not feel like they are my friend.

Economic Armageddon Redux

Think back to 2008, a day when Henry Paulson took members of the House and Senate into a closed room for a meeting which resulted in them leaving with white faces and shaking hands. Remember what was going to happen if Congress did not give Paulson $700 billion within days, if not hours, in order to “buy the toxic assets” of firms that were insolvent to the point of bankruptcy. Financial Armageddon. Global Economic Meltdown.

Well, what happened was bad but the “buying of toxic assets” never happened, of course; the $700 billion wasn’t spent for months and some of it never got spent at all. The "toxic assets" never got bought, are still on the books of the firms in question, and are still just as toxic as they were then. The dire warnings of just how short the fuse was were a massive hoax, perhaps designed to coerce Congress into action that it would only take when acting in unthinking fear?

And here we are again. Failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause this nation to default on its debt and cause an immediate global economic crisis that would make the recession of 2008 look like a tiny ripple. It would cause a catastrophic depression. Seniors would not get their Social Security checks, soldiers on the battlefield would run out of bullets, airplanes would be grounded. The list is endless.

Failing to raise the debt limit is not “a statement that America is not going to pay its debts,” it is merely a statement that we are not going to borrow any more money than we already have. We would not have to default on debt which is coming due, as that existing debt can still be “rolled over” into new notes without increasing the debt; that is done all the time.

The government only borrows 40% of what it spends so, while it would create serious disruption, government could continue to operate at a 60% rate and would have to choose which things not to pay. Government probably would not choose to let soldiers on the battlefield run out of bullets, or to withhold checks from seniors. The nation would have to live with a balanced budget.

It would be immensely problematic, but… Financial Armageddon?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tea Party Nonsense

The "Tea Party" uses the incident in Boston as its signature because the good citizens of Boston were rebelling against taxation by the British, and the modern Tea Partiers are opposed to taxes because it is a process of the government stealing money from the people. [sic] Um, yeah, sick.

As usual, the "Tea Party" idiots have it all wrong. The incident in Boston was not against taxes per se, it was a protest against being taxed when they were not represented in the government which was imposing the tax. Their slogan was, in fact, "No taxation without representation." This being a "representive republic" form of democratic government, the people being taxed are fully represented in the government imposing the taxes, so the "Tea Party" people are full of shit.

Dishonesty & Ryan's Budget Plan II

Everybody is lying when they say that Ryan’s plan cuts taxes for the rich and for corporations by $1.3 trillion, or by $2.6 trillion, or that it cuts taxes without specifying any amount. That it proposes to lower the top rate from 35% to 25% is unarguable. It also proposes to do something called “reform” with respect to “tax expenditures,” which is a weird term used for loopholes and tax deductions. What exactly that “reform” would consist of is unclear.

In speeches, Ryan says that the plan will eliminate deductions in a “revenue neutral” manner, supposedly meaning that deductions would be eliminated in a manner that would precisely offset the reduction in the top rate. That is somewhat seriously at odds with his claim that it would benefit companies and make them more competitive, and if it is spelled out in the plan itself it is certainly very well disguised.

Indeed the language about “reforming the tax code” is in the plan, but it is a masterpiece of doubletalk and obfuscation. If anyone claims that they can decipher how much corporate and upper income taxes will be reduced by reading that plan, or even specifically that they will be reduced at all, they are lying. It would not be unreasonable to claim that the plan gives an appearance that it might be a net cut of those taxes, but…

Update: Corrected wording above to reflect the degree to which Ryan's statements are at odds with each other.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dishonesty & Ryan's Budget Plan

There is a lot of dishonest rhetoric being thrown around on the Ryan budget plan, otherwise known as lying, and it is being thrown around by both sides. I am by no means a proponent of the plan, I am seriously opposed to it, but it is not quite what it is represented to be by Democrats and liberal media.
(I know, you're asking what liberal media? I’m talking about the ones who brag about being liberal; the ones who hang out on MSNBC.)

The claim is made by liberals that it “ends Medicare as we know it,” and that under the plan government would “give you a check and throw you to the wolves to find your own insurance, if you can even find insurance.” They further claim that the check will be far too small to pay for any policy that an “85-year-old with a heart condition” might be able to find on the open market, and that no insurance company would be stupid enough to sell insurance to that person anyway.

You can read what is actually in the plan online, the Medicare part is on page 44, and the language is pretty clear and straightforward. Opponents of the plan are lying, and Ryan is being absolutely correct when he says that the plan would convert Medicare Part B to “be just like Part D is now.” Whether or not that would actually “save Medicare” I cannot say, but…

I’m not hearing any liberals saying that Medicare Part D needs to be changed or ended, that it costs too much, or that it is a horror because it is a collection of private insurance plans. I’m not hearing liberals saying that private insurance companies need to be kicked out of Medicare Part D.

There’s a lot of garbage in Ryan’s plan, a lot of nonsensical rhetoric, a lot of really disgusting rhetoric, but there is absolutely nothing about “giving seniors a check to buy health insurance.” In fact, it specifically says that it is “not a voucher plan” and that it requires insurance companies to insure all seniors regardless of health status. I see nothing in Ryan's Medicare proposal that I can specifically object to unless I object to Medicare Part D.

Ryan is lying when it comes to corporate taxes, though, because he says that in lowering the tax rate he is not reducing actual taxes, because he is also eliminating loopholes and deductions, but is "making businesses more competetive." How is he doing the latter if he is leaving their taxes at the same amount?

Okay, Which Is It?

The LA Times headline reads, "President Obama hits the road to spread his economic message," and my reaction is one of muted approval. Muted, because I'm not convinced that deficit reduction should be our first priority right now and I'd rather see him spreading a message of jobs recovery, but his "economic message" is certainly an order of magnitude better than what his opposition offers, so, fine.

But, then the article begins with this masterpiece of ambiguity,
President Barack Obama takes his deficit reduction proposal on the road this week with town hall-style events in three states that are important to his re-election bid in 2012.

Emphasis mine. So is he "spreading his economic message," or is he running a reelection campaign? If it's the latter, I am a lot less supportive.

Magic Mandate

I paid attention during the 2010 campaign. While there was some talk about the federal deficit and debt, the theme of the campaign was about the economy and jobs. Both Republicans and Democrats talked about providing jobs to a degree that made it difficult to differentiate between them. A very small handful of Tea Party candidates eschewed that theme and ran on the "keep government's hands off of my Medicare" platform, and won.

And now Republicans say that the election was "a clear mandate to cut spending and balance the budget." What? Clear to whom?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stormy Weather

April is a little early for this, not to mention the severity of it. And then there is this little tidbit, "AccuWeather officials said the extreme weather is the result of particularly warm water in the Gulf of Mexico..."

You know what that means come hurricane season, don't you?

Update, Monday morning: Of course we have some people claiming that these storms prove that the global warming theory is hereby proven, especially coming on the heels of historic flooding in Tennessee just last year. "The steadily warming world invokes another 500 year or 1000 year event year after year." I'm not sure that either of these things is even a 100-year event, let alone a multi-century one.

These are undoubtedly the same writers who, just last February, were indignantly refuting claims that a historic snowstorm proved that global warming was a hoax, writing in high dudgeon that "a snowstorm is weather you fools, not climate" and that "you cannot draw conclusions about the global condition from a single weather event."

I do, in fact, believe that our planet is overheating dangerously, but I get that belief from scientists and not from blog writers or retired politicians.

Another Baker Bizarrity

Dean Baker, over at Beat The Press, has come out with his strangest essay yet to beat up on economists in this country. This one is even more bizarre than the one where he claimed that there was no labor shortage in Germany because all they had to do was keep raising wages until workers showed up, and then said at the end that parking lots and hotels would have “some trouble hiring workers” because everyone would be working in the higher paying jobs and not available for those jobs. That certainly sounds like a labor shortage to me, and I'll bet it does to the owners of those parking lots and hotels.

This one was triggered by a New York Times article regarding China raising the banking reserve requirement to curb inflation, and he begins by saying,

U.S. economists seem to not understand that central banks can raise reserve requirements as way to control inflation. This is apparently the reason they find it inconceivable that the Fed could buy and hold large amounts of debt without leading to inflation.

Increasing the reserve requirement means that banks hold on to more money, that they do not lend it, that they keep it out of circulation. That reduces the amount of money that is circulating and it therefor reduces inflation, which is the specific and only reason for doing it.

Buying government debt may be done for any number of reasons, but it is frequently bad news. A government buys its own debt, for instance, when nobody else will do so and that causes interest on that debt to increase because it becomes seen as risky debt. That would not apply to US debt.

The other reason for buying our own debt is when we are issuing new debt to increase the money supply, and that is seriously inflationary. We have been doing some of that, and we have been buying some of that new debt.
I don’t know how much we have been issuing nor how much we have been buying, and it's not really pertinent here.

What Baker wants us to do is buy existing debt held by others and hold it so that we are paying interest on that debt to ourselves, and I have no doubt that is a fine idea. There are just a couple of problems with his suggestion.

How did his plug for buying debt to reduce interest cost and control the deficit arise from an article about China reducing the money supply to control inflation? And where do we get the money to buy the debt? Holding our own debt would not be inflationary in itself, but issuing new money to buy it certainly would be.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lighten Up, Lawrence

Lawrence O'Donnell engaged in a lengthy and angry tirade on Last Word last night over the fact that American television is going to be televising the British royal wedding on April 29th, when all sorts of terrible things are happening in the world which they should be covering instead. He went on at length about how the British Monarchy is the most evil and destructive plague ever inflicted on mankind.

O'Donnell should just lighten the hell up. If people want to take the day off from death and disaster to watch something beautiful, they should do that. Have some fun. Enjoy a nice day.

Speaking of which...
Guard Cat

Turning B into D

Opponents of the Ryan plan say that it ends Medicare, proponents say that it “saves” it, and you can probably tell from my use of quotation marks what my thoughts are on that debate. Ryan’s plan is unmitigated jackassery in many dimensions, but that doesn’t mean that I support my side trying to discredit it by using lies. Good God, as bad as this thing is we can discredit it with facts, we don’t need to lie about it.

For instance this little chart that Ryan plan opponents are using,
Ryan plan costs
What in Ryan’s plan is going to increase the cost of healthcare itself? Well, they assume that the move to private insurance is going to add $5750 per year in the form of administrative overhead and profit, which amounts to 39%. That is a remarkable assumption considering that most estimates say that insurance presently adds 30% to health care costs, so why does the increased business for insurance companies add a higher burden than is reportedly occurring now?

Further, since the basic infrastructure is already in place, buildings, computer systems, and the like, insurance companies would not need to increase their facilities by as much to handle increased business as they did to handle the business from scratch, so the overhead burden should be lower on additional business than it would be on start up.

Notice, too, that the chart only reflects a 7% reduction in Medicare spending, and Ryan is claiming a vastly greater reduction than that, so something is fishy in their reporting on that end of the graph as well.

Several defenders of the Ryan plan have said that it restructures Medicare into the same model as Medicare Part D, which I think is actually untrue in several respects, but it raises an interesting point, because the Medicare drug coverage is entirely provided by private insurers and no one seems to have any objection to that.

For all of the howling about Part D when it was created and since then, the one feature of it which has never raised an eyebrow is that it is not a government payer system like the rest of Medicare. It is a group of private plans from which seniors may select and a government payment plan, a “public option,” is not available. Much is made of the clause which disallows price negotiation with drug companies, but how much is the cost of the program increased by having payments managed by private insurance companies? That question never seems to have been asked.

Perhaps instead of turning Plan B into Plan D, if indeed we were actually doing that which we are not, we should be turning Plan D into Plan B.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Saving Tens Of Thousands

Barack Obama has joined with Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy in an op-ed piece published in all three nations which I read as a combination of self justification and threat making. It certainly debunks the claim that The United States entered into its third concurrent Middle Eastern military conflict for the sole purpose of protecting noncombatant life.

They begin by claiming that the three nations which they lead “halted the advance of Qaddafi’s forces and prevented the bloodbath that he had promised to inflict upon the citizens of the besieged city of Benghazi.” Emphasis mine. Notice that loss of the “broad coalition” of which the US was once the leader, now it is three nations responding and preventing a madman from carrying out threats.

They go into even more colorful rhetoric as to the nobility of the enterprise,

Tens of thousands of lives have been protected. But the people of Libya are still suffering terrible horrors at Qaddafi’s hands each and every day. His rockets and shells rained down on defenseless civilians in Ajdabiya. The city of Misurata is enduring a medieval siege, as Qaddafi tries to strangle its population into submission. The evidence of disappearances and abuses grows daily.

Again, the emphasis is mine, and I don’t think that any of the three of them actually believe that tanks and rockets existed in medieval times, but after using such colorful language as “[t]ens of thousands of lives,” people “suffering terrible horrors” which are unnamed, and talking about “rockets and shells rain[ing] down on defenseless civilians” it’s hard not to get carried away. While there is “evidence” of these things in the form of reports from the rebels, actual proof of any of them is in very short supply.

I said from the beginning that intervention based on prevention of mass slaughter was dubious because all we had was the ranting of a madman, and even the actual content of his threat was unclear. Daniel Larison was of similar mind and still is, as he states in an article yesterday.

Likewise, armed, preventive humanitarian interventions can’t be justified on their advocates’ terms if “all we have” is evidence of past behavior and stated threats.

This is especially true when past behavior in this case includes putting down two rebellions in Benghazi without massacring the population, and apparently recapturing towns held by rebels without massacring the population this time as well. The February 17 movement derived its name from the date of the 2006 rebellion that Gaddafi put down, and one of the would-be military leaders of the rebels is Gen. Heftar, who led the failed 1996 rebellion against Gaddafi before fleeing to the U.S. The 2011 uprising was broader and more significant than either of these, but what exactly about Gaddafi’s behavior in putting down these earlier rebellions would lead us to believe that he was going to massacre civilians?

Nonetheless, at this point we are claiming that “Tens of thousands of lives have been protected,” writing history based on what our expectations were beforehand, no matter how misguided those expectations may have been.

Nor do we let past misjudgment dissuade us from future error.

Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power.

Put that into actual, non-doublespeak, language and what it says is that the UN mandate does not authorize regime change but we are damned well going to engage in it anyway.

Robert Reich is still an idiot

Robert Reich was on with Lawrence O’Donnell, and I think he has seriously lost his mind. Smiling like a jackass eating thistles, he said that he thinks Democrats are in a “very strong negotiating position” because they can merely threaten to let the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012.

There are two problems with that. O’Donnell pointed out one of them, namely that it would cause the bottom tax rate to increase from 10% to 15%, a 50% tax increase on people with the lowest incomes, while the top rate went from 33% to 39% meaning a tax increase of only 18% for the rich. The idiotic smile on Reich’s face never wavered and the consequences of O’Donnell’s comment appear to have gone over his head.

The other problem is, of course, that if Democrats try to do that the 2012 budget will never pass at all, and if you think avoiding this shutdown was difficult just wait until you the battle that would erupt over that little move.

Reich than babbled on about how Democrats “are in a strong position to introduce,” and listed off several progressive tax policies, a couple of which Obama mentioned in his speech. Many of them are things that I would indeed like to see implemented, but anyone that thinks that they are going to happen is deranged. How Reich thinks that Democrats are “in a very strong position to introduce” them is beyond me, given that Republicans control the house of Congress which is charged with initiating all revenue bills. O’Donnell never challenged his premise or asked why he thought the position of the Democrats was so strong.

This is the same guy who suggested that Obama should start a (then) third foreign war, in this case with England, by placing BP into receivership by executive order until the Gulf of Mexico was cleaned up.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The President's Speech

The loyal left is swooning over the President’s speech because he has, overnight, turned into a fighter for noble values and is giving “feisty” speeches and declaring that things “will not happen” while he is President. I’m rather wondering why, if the speech was so feisty, did Joe Biden sleep through so much of it.

I will remind people that he does this on a regular basis. He remains “above the fray” while Congress gets its hands dirty, emerges to provide one lofty speech filled with noble principles and no actual details, and then hands the ball back to Congress and lets them finish generating legislation filled with garbage. He did it on the “health care reform” debate, and look how that turned out. That mess doesn’t take effect until well after his reelection and we have no idea whether or not it will actually work.

I admit I was quite stirred by the defense of Medicare, and we do need to be reminded of these values. It should be noted, though, that while he says that we all share them as Americans, that is not actually true. Democrats share them to the extent that they don’t cost too much, Independents share them to the extent that they can get someone else to pay for them, and Republicans don’t share them at all.

I winced a little when he said that Medicare should be defended because, “There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.” He’s a little out of touch, I think, because I don’t believe there is a single voting block that has more clout than today’s seniors.

His denunciation of Republicans for creating the mess we’re in would have been more stirring if we had not been hearing it endlessly for two years and if he had not spent the past two years rabidly cutting taxes and boasting about how often he has cut taxes and how many he has cut taxes for.

What? Republican tax cuts deepen the deficit and his tax cuts don’t?

I was rather appalled yesterday by the leak that he was going to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion in 12 years, a whopping 17% off current levels, but it’s even worse than that. One trillion of it is even more phony than the “we’re going to reduce the increase and call that a cut” ploy. It consists of saving by means of reducing the projected interest on the projected debt because we will not have borrowed as much. Even the Republicans don’t have the brass to try that one on us.

He’s going to cut $400 billion from “national security” over the next ten years, or about $40 billion per year. Since we spend about $1 trillion per year in that category, that’s a fraction of 1% in cuts, 0.04% to be precise. Just call him “chainsaw” for short.

And Obama is going to illustrate how much we “all share these values as Americans” by raising taxes on the rich and, further, by eliminating tax deductions for the rich to pay for them. He is going to demonstrate how firmly united we are and assure that we all pull together to solve our common problem by igniting class warfare. He is going to illustrate how independent and self reliant we are by embracing our willingness to extract money from “the other guy.” We have tapped out the American Indians, so now we need to start pillaging the wealthy in their gated communities.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What The President Says

I was talking with a friend of mine today and asked him if he was going to listen to the President's speech this evening. He mumbled something that was neither yes or no, but was clearly unenthusiastic.

I said, "Well, the budget matters to you doesn't it?"
He replied, "Yeah, but what the President says about it doesn't."

It was an hour before I was able to stop laughing sufficiently to write this.

Update: His plan is revealed, cutting $4 trillion over 12 years.

Now we know why my friend feels that what he says doesn't matter. Our current deficit is $1.88 trillion and he's going to reduce that by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. So $1.88 x 12 = $22.56 trillion at the present rate, and $4 trillion amounts to, mumble, mumble, wow, 17.7% reduction of the current deficit. He really knocked himself out.

No Third Choice

Paul Krugman recently asked, “Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?” in a NY Times op-ed piece. Glenn Greenwald has a massive takedown on Obama, and Democrats generally, in Salon today. A sample,

When does he offer stirring, impassioned defenses of the Democrats' vision on anything, or attempt to transform (rather than dutifully follow) how Americans think about anything? It's not that he lacks the ability to do that. Americans responded to him as an inspirational figure and his skills of oratory are as effective as any politician in our lifetime. It's that he evinces no interest in it. He doesn't try because those aren't his goals. It's not that he or the office of the Presidency are powerless to engender other outcomes; it's that he doesn't use the power he has to achieve them because, quite obviously, achieving them is not his priority or even desire.

I don’t think that I’m quite with Glenn in terms of Obama’s motives, but the lack of leadership is certainly baffling. He allowed a Democratic Congress to neither raise the debt limit or pass a budget last year when they had a majority. He remained essentially silent in the “health care reform” and stepped in to kill the public option. He remained silent in the tax discussion at the end of last year and stepped in to extend the Bush tax cuts in toto for a full two years. He stayed silent in the latest budget debate and stepped out afterward to actually boast about the “largest spending cut in history.”

And, amazingly, a full two thirds of his Democratic supporters are happy with his agreement to that “largest spending cut in history.” Again from Glenn Greenwald,

In other words, once Obama lends his support to a policy -- no matter how much of a departure it is from ostensible Democratic beliefs -- then most self-identified Democrats will support it because Obama supports it, because it then becomes the "Democratic policy," by definition.

I think that in part that phenomenon is the result of Obama and the Democratic leadership having had so much success at creating such a high level of fear within the Democratic loyalists, fear of the Republican Party. They have painted the Republicans as so extreme and frightening, not without help from the Republicans of course, that Democrats will remain loyal to them no matter what they do, and in order to do that they must decide that they approve of steps taken by the Democrats they are supporting.

It points out the weakness of the two party system. One party has always been unacceptable, and the party you have been supporting is not implementing what you elected them to do. Where do you go from there?

Last Word Lost

I know Lawrence O'Donnell needs some time off once in a while, but...
Chris Hayes? Really? They couldn't get Howdy Doody?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Speaking From Ignorance

Juan Cole, at Informed Comment, seems to be losing his rationality along with his impartiality. His cheerleading for the Libyan rebels now includes a seeming agreement with their rejection of a cease fire based on the fact that Qaddafi is still firing on them, saying that “If Qaddafi wanted to implement a cease-fire he could do it at any time; he hasn’t ceased fire.”

That isn’t how cease fire agreements work, and Professor Cole should surely know that. Neither side stops fighting until an agreement is reached, at which both sides stop fighting at the same time. It would be folly for one side to stop fighting before the terms of the truce have been agreed upon. The rejection of the cease fire is not a reflection of the intelligence of the rebels, since accepting it would give them time that they need to regroup, and it rather provides us with a reason to stop supporting them if our mission actually is limited to preventing loss of civilian lives.

He also says, “It’s official. The Fukushima nuclear core failure is now more like what happened in Chernobyl than what happened at Three Mile Island.” He should stick to reporting Middle East affairs, as he clearly has no understanding of the meaning of the nuclear accident rating scale. His statement is nonsense.

The Chernobyl failure was a major explosion within the reactor vessel which blew the reactor contents miles into the air and caused the immediate and widespread dispersal of tons of radioactive material. The Fukushima reactors are all still physically intact, or at least essentially so, and are still releasing radioactivity at a tiny fraction of the magnitude of that released by Chernobyl. The incident is being increased in scale only due to the length of time that it has been and is continuing to be releasing radiation.

The Fukushima nuclear reactor failure is certainly very serious, and increasingly so as it continues to remain uncontrolled, but it is nothing even remotely like Chernobyl in that there has been no reactor explosion, and is very much like what Three Mile Island would have been had it not been promptly controlled.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Oh, That's News?

Headline from Reuters, "Doctors don't always take their own advice."

My father was a physician and, let me tell you, that headline comes as no surprise to me. It will generally evoke raised eyebrows and "Oh, really?" from pretty much every family member of every doctor who ever lived.

It goes on the say that, "The doctors don't even know they are behaving this way."    And to that we would say, "Duh."

Doing The Math

I have been known to be, how shall I put this, less that fawningly complimentary to Paul Krugman at times. If you read me carefully, I’ve never actually said that he is wrong, merely that his “proof of theory” is sometimes inadequate. In the past week or so he has been dismantling Paul Ryan with great skill and wit, and he has been a delight to read.

He did slightly step in it in a post today when he says of Paul Ryan’s plan that, “I think it’s disingenuous and fraudulent. And the reason I think that is that I have actually done the math.”

Well, that cannot possibly be true. He cannot have “done the math” in Ryan’s plan, because there isn’t any math in Ryan’s plan. I will give Krugman credit for using “artistic license” though, and not call him an idiot. I’m sure he’ll be relieved to hear that.

As an example of what I mean about there being “no math” in the plan, Ryan wants to lower the top tax rate for individuals and corporations to 25% and claims that will be revenue neutral because he will gain revenue by “closing loopholes” and eliminating deductions. He provides absolutely no specifics on what will be eliminated. Not one loophole or deduction which will be eliminated, or the amount that such elimination will generate in revenue, is named in his proposal. How do you “do the math” on that?

You don’t need math to label the plan “disingenuous and fraudulent.”

I’m surprised Ryan didn’t claim that he would balance the entire federal budget by “eliminating waste and fraud” in various departments.

Title X: One Last Time

I have been fulminating about gender discrimination in Title X because I have been listening to all of the discussion about “making sure that women have access to health.” I even went to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services web site and read up on it.

The Title X Family Planning program ["Population Research and Voluntary Family Planning Programs" (Public Law 91-572)], was enacted in 1970 as Title X of the Public Health Service Act. Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. The Title X program is designed to provide access to contraceptive services, supplies and information to all who want and need them. By law, priority is given to persons from low-income families.

Do you see any reference to “women” in that? I feel like an idiot.

We do have services to provide testing for men, and we have them on an equal basis with women, and they are provided by Title X, and Planned Parenthood does offer those services to men on the same basis that it offers them to women.

I have been listening to the word “women” from so many newspersons, pundits and politicians that when I went to this site and read the description, when I read the word “person” I saw the word “woman.” I allowed the idiots screaming at me on the television and in print to brainwash me completely. I am utterly appalled that I allowed that to happen to me. The words are right there in black and white and I missed them.

So why, in defense of Title X and Planned Parenthood, are these people defending it by using the rhetoric of defending “women’s health” in such specific language? Are they so stupid that they do not know that Title X is not gender specific? I can, perhaps, be excused for that; I had never even heard of it until I was told that “women’s health was being threatened,” but these are legislators and the like. Are they deliberately being dishonest to serve some agenda? Why have they been using “women’s health” instead of “a program that serves people in need of health services they cannot afford” in defense of Title X?

Of course if we were a civilized country, like France or Canada for instance, we wouldn’t need Title X because we would have universal health care.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

That First Sip Of The Day

My wife and I have an agreement that if a movie was directed by Clint Eastwood we will go see it. We had not yet met when Sidney Lumet was making movies, but we would undoubtedly have had a similar agreement regarding his movies. Rest in peace, Mr. Lumet, you gave us great art.

He made The Verdict the same year that I took my last drink; I didn’t see it until about six months later. He could set a scene that would curl your hair.

It was morning. How did Lumet do that? But you knew it was morning, and Paul Newman sits with a brimming shot glass in front of him. He goes to pick it up but his hand is trembling, so he sits it back down quickly to avoid spilling. He bends down and sips from the glass as it sits on the bar top. A moment later he lifts the glass for the next sip and his hand is no longer trembling. He gazes, deadpan, at his hand in recognition of that and then tosses off the shot of whiskey and leaves.

The first sip in the morning stops the wobblies. It gets worse than that, because eventually it reaches the point where the quality of the upcoming day is measured by how many drinks you have to take before one stays down. But the first sure sign of impending doom is when we notice that the first sip stops the wobblies, and that scene was just perfectly rendered.

Celebrating Defeat

I’m not a big fan of Ezra Klein. I think he tends of over-analyze and over- think, and he is one of those people who is in love with his own intellect. He is not, however, stupid, which so many pundits are. And I do think that he has it right in his piece yesterday when he says that Obama and the Democrats are mistaken in their cheerful celebration of defeat. This budget deal was defeat for Obama and Company, and they are pretending otherwise and celebrating.

I literally could not believe my ears when Obama proclaimed with distinct pride that we had just achieved the “biggest spending cuts in history.” Everything with this guy has to be “historic” it seems.

Klein talks about Clinton recovering from the defeat of 1995 due to a “roaring economy” and that whatever this economy becomes between now and the elections of 2012, “roaring” is not going to be the operative word. I would agree with that, but Obama will be unopposed on his own side, and the opposition on the Republican side may be weak to the point of being comedic. It may take no more than an economy that has not gotten even worse. It may take merely not being in a Great Depression.

On the other hand, a big part of Clinton’s recovery was due to his ability as a charismatic leader and his ability to “connect” with the middle class voting public. Obama certainly seemed to have that as a candidate, but he has shown an almost total lack of it once in office. The cynic in me says that also will not matter, because he is already beginning to campaign, and his campaigning skills are undiminished. He is deadly dull, professorial and disconnected when discussing governance, but when he goes out and does those town halls he lights up.

Obama is going to get a second term. I’m just trying to figure out whether or not that depresses me.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Clouding Title X

I think I’m back to having a little trouble with Title X again. Chris Matthews had Barbara Boxer and Chris Coons, two Democratic Senators, on to talk about the issue yesterday. Boxer is certainly a blathering jackass, but she is by no means stupid, and she was talking about Planned Parenthood delivering “blood pressure checks and diabetes testing.” She even repeated the claim a second time. What does that have to do with “reproductive health” services? Chris Coons was doing fine until he finished, “…more than anything make sure that women have access to health.”

Harry Reid, who is even more of a blathering jackass than Boxer, said on the floor of the Senate that, “They are asking me to sacrifice my wife’s health, my daughter’s health, and my granddaughters’ health.” What the hell is this wealthy jerk’s family doing enrolled in a program for poor people?

Debbie Stabenow, Senator from Michigan, was on Last Word and was talking about Planned Parenthood providing “blood pressure checks and breast cancer screenings.” Lawrence O’Donnell read an email from a friend who described the mammograms she had received at no cost to herself.

I’m all in favor of every person in this country receiving health care, preferably at no cost. I also understand that women need things that men do not, specifically birth control and abortion, and I’m certainly in favor of those things being provided on a gender specific basis.

But both men and women get cancer; why do women get free screening for breast cancer and men have no place to get screened for testicular or prostate cancer? Both men and women are subject to catching STD’s; why do women have a place to get free testing for them and men do not?

Yeah, I know the concept than men are the villains who give the STD’s to women, not ever the victims who catch them from women. I know, it is the man’s responsibility to wear a condom, and if he does not then he deserves whatever fate accrues to him for not doing so.

What about the poor young lad whose parents or church, or even whose school’s “abstinence only” sex education program, told him that the very act of carrying a condom with him is evil, and who got caught in a moment where things got out of control?

And I do not believe that even if it was pure carelessness, the STD should remain uncaught and lead to a man being crippled or dead because society did not care enough to provide testing except on a gender specific basis.

Testicular cancer is not as frequent as breast cancer, but it still kills in a particularly dreadful way, and we don’t have any color that NFL football teams wear for that disease, we don’t hold a 6-mile walk even once a year for it, let alone a 60-mile walk three times per year, and we don’t have a Title X to find it before it’s to late to treat it.

Title X is a good thing and we should fund it, I would never say that women should not receive a benefit just because men don’t. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a bit of a problem with it.

“…more than anything make sure that women have access to health.”

Sure, but why not men?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Oh, This Is Good

I won't even give you an excerpt, the title is enough, "David Brooks Brings You Analysis from Another Planet: Praises Representative Ryan." Brooks is always good for a chuckle, go read it for yourself. As usual, some of Dean Baker's arguments are a bit shaky, but...

Fixing Medicare

Paul Ryan’s insane dishonest plan to “fix” (actually destroy) Medicare is wrong on more than one level, because Medicare itself does not need to be fixed. What needs to be fixed are the things that Medicare is paying for. Solve that problem, and you have fixed not only Medicare, but also Medicaid, the health insurance cost issue and a significant portion of the federal deficit as well.

No one ever suggested that the “affordable housing crisis” could be solved by a simple act of the government paying less for housing, so why do we think that the “affordable health care crisis” can be solved by having the government pay less for health care? You own rental property that costs you $3000 per month, are you going to rent it for $2000 per month because the government tells you to? Is a hospital going to charge less for medical procedures because the government tells it to?

When we fought for a full year over “health care reform” the only thing we talked about was health insurance, which pays health care costs, and the generators of health care costs were specifically excluded from the discussion. Now we are talking about “fixing Medicare” and the generators of what Medicare pays for are still excluded from the discussion. Why?

Because hospitals, doctors, clinics, medical laboratories, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment makers are a bottomless money pit which we dare not touch. Health insurance companies make $billions of profit every year, but those companies make more profit than that in about an hour and a half. The “health care reform” debaters were willing to sacrifice the health insurance companies, if need be, in order to preserve the far more vast money pit that is the health care industry.

It turned out, of course, that the only thing sacrificed in the “health care reform” debate was the health care consumer.

Update: Notice that Paul Ryan still does not suggest that Medicare be authorized to negotiate pricing with drug companies on Medicare Part D.