Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I have nothing to say...

...about Sarah Palin except that she becomes more of a farce every day.

Fukushima Is Not Over

I’m not sure just how major this is, but in The Oil Drum I read that all three operating reactors at Fukushima suffered fuel meltdowns, and all three apparently have holes in the primary containment vessels which are believed to have been caused by the melted fuel burning through the vessel. Much of the melted fuel remains, however, because the reactors are still generating a great deal of heat.

Water which is being pumped into the reactor vessels to cool them is leaking out, and is being pumped out of the reactor buildings into a storage area nearby. The storage area is filling up, but now they have discovered that the highly radioactive water is leaking from that storage area, too. It is presumably going into the ocean.

What has not been admitted anywhere is that nobody knows how to remove the remaining melted fuel from the reactors. Think about that for a moment.

You can see some really hi-res pictures of the disaster here. Awful.

Forward To The Past

Paul Krugman has an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times bemoaning the “learned helplessness” of what seems to have become a permanently high unemployment rate. No one in authority, he says, is even talking about taking action to resolve the jobs issue and he blames high unemployment on excessive household debt.

Stating the obvious, he says that unemployment is not due to people not wanting to work but that, “The core of our economic problem is, instead, the debt — mainly mortgage debt — that households ran up during the bubble years of the last decade.”

To accept that household debt is the “core of our economic problem” one has to concede that consumer spending, which has been curtailed by household debt, is the core of our economy, and that all we need to do to restore a healthy economy is to restore the ability of the consumer to spend money. That is, in fact, Krugman’s view, one he has stated many times.

Pursuant to that view, he suggests that restoring spending is a matter of reducing debt, and suggests several ways that government could do that,

For example, we could have W.P.A.-type programs putting the unemployed to work doing useful things like repairing roads — which would also, by raising incomes, make it easier for households to pay down debt. We could have a serious program of mortgage modification, reducing the debts of troubled homeowners. We could try to get inflation back up to the 4 percent rate that prevailed during Ronald Reagan’s second term, which would help to reduce the real burden of debt.

The first point, the WPA-type program is an interesting one. Before this when he has argued for this program he has suggested that it would stimulate consumer spending because the persons filling those jobs would spend their incomes, now he’s suggesting they would use it to pay down debt. And, while I support paying people to do something rather than giving them unemployment to do nothing, this is a temporary solution at best.

The other two ideas are rewards for bad behavior. If you have borrowed money you cannot repay, and have used that money to buy something that is not worth what you paid for it, thereby saddling you with a bad debt that you cannot pay, we will make the bad portion of that debt go away.

Inflation not only rewards people who incur debt, it punishes people who have saved money. Because it allows repayment of debt with money that is worth less, it effectively reduces the debt, as Paul Krugman acknowledges.

The reality is that Krugman wants to eliminate the current debt so that households can resume incurring more debt, because he wants to go back to an economy that spends more than it earns. He wants to restore an economy that is 70% consumer spending.

I happen to believe that is actually the "core of our economic problem." I don’t know how anyone can look at that and not recognize that such an economy is one that is steadily increasing its debt load. I don’t know how anyone can fail to realize that sooner or later that economy will reach a point at which the amount of debt is unsustainable. We did it in 2008, and Paul Krugman wants to return to the same form of economy that took us to that point.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

No politics today. No messages to veterans or serving members of our armed forces; we have other days for that. This day is to honor those who gave their lives in the service of their nation, and to comfort those who waited in vain for their return.

Rest In Peace
Today is not about wars, it is about lives lost. It does not matter why they are sent. It matters why they go. Why do they go? Kenneth Roberts summed it up in his book, Rabble In Arms,

"They go to war these young men, not to die for their country, but to place themselves, their precious lives, between their home and the forces which would destroy it."

And die they do, some of them. Too many. May they rest in eternal peace.

Interesting Finishes

For the last 20 laps of the Indianapolis 500 yesterday the commentators were hyperventilating about the first three cars running out of fuel. They were all but certain that none of them could finish the race with the fuel they had onboard, but they did not tell us who would win if the three cars stopped for fuel or ran out.

The second place car stopped for fuel, and then the car that had been third, and the commentary continued to speculate in a feverish tone about the leader running out of fuel, but still we hear nothing about who is currently in second place and likely to win in the event that the winner runs out of fuel. We can see on the scroll who is in second place, but nothing is being said about his fuel status.

On the last lap the excitement is rampant as we are being told, screamed at, that a rookie is going to win the race because, apparently, fuel is not a factor on the last lap (see Coca Cola 600 following), and we still have not heard who is in second place.

The commentary is spoiled when said rookie crashes entering the final straight and the person we have been wondering about is finally named as, speaking his name for the very first time, the commentators tell us that, “Dan Wheldon wins the Indianapolis 500.”

The Coca Cola 600 was even more weird. For the last forty laps or so the commentators are speculating about everybody running out of fuel, except that they freely admit that they don’t know what the race teams’ strategy is. How often do the expert analysts on a sporting event admit that they don’t know what’s going on?

Just prior to the end a race car blows an engine, causing a caution, and the network goes to the in-car communication just in time to hear the crew chief exclaim, “I don’t effing believe it.” He didn’t say “effing.” The commentator then apologized for his language. At any rate, that caution set up the weird, and mostly unannounced, finish. There was a lot of incoherent screaming, but not much actual narrative.

On the restart the leader ran out of gas, causing the cars to stack up and several of them to crash. That should have caused another caution to be called but, for some odd reason, did not. The second place car inherited the lead and the race went on.

On the last lap the camera was focused on the first place car, so closely that when it began slowing down the viewer could not tell that it was doing so. One announcer was screaming that the leader was slowing, but… Finally the camera backed off and we could see that it was indeed doing so, having run out of gas.

The announcers are excitedly telling us that Kevin Harvick had “come from nowhere” to win the race, failing to mention that not only had the leader run out of gas but so had the second place car at the same time. Harvick had been running third, but the commentators were apparently unaware of that because they were screaming excitedly, “Where did he come from?” as he crossed the finish line to win.

I may be old fashioned, but I find races more exciting when they are won by driving fast, not by driving slowly and saving fuel. To me the result of a race is more satisfying when it is determined by who drove the fastest, rather than by who ran out of fuel. Maybe I just have a different definition of the word “racing.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Making Things Okay

From the BBC News today,

International forces in Afghanistan have apologised for an air strike that killed up to 14 civilians in the south-west of the country on Saturday. A statement by senior Nato generals said the top priority was to prevent civilian casualties and it took such cases very seriously.

So that's okay then. We are serious about killing civilians in Afghanistan. That goes nicely with our policy in Libya, where we are bombing civilians in Tripoli to prevent civilian casualties.

The Crowds Are... Um...

Today is the beginning of Sarah Palin's bus tour, named "One Nation" and widely speculated to be the kickoff for a presidential run. The crowds might be gathering for it if they knew where it was, but no one does. It seems the New York Times was looking for her and so was ABC News, but she is so far not to be found.

You would think the the huge bus shown on her website would be readily visible in a huge mob of motorcycles, but it's not in the midst of the Rolling Thunder crowd, and that's the only clue as to time or place that she has provided, other than that it is going to be "going North from Washington" after that event. No dates or actual route provided, so where the crowds should gather, or when they should do so, is pretty difficult to determine.

She does provide a little gadget on her website that allows you to "follow the tour," a mapping device that will show you, presumably, where the tour has been. Telling the public "here's where we were yesterday" doesn't strike me as a particularly good way to attract crowds to meet the tour so that they can meet the candidate and hear the speeches.

But then Sarah always has had her own special ways of doing things. Not very successful ways, but special.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Molly's Bad Day

YikesThursday was enough to make a Calico Cat believe in Hell.

First was the bi-weekly housekeeper, with her vaccuum cleaner, sort of subtly chasing the poor creature from room to room. Finally she left, but so did all of the cat's humans. Oh well, the windows were open which was nice, as Calico Cat could watch the birds in the tree just two feet or so away from the front window.

Well, not so much, when said tree is full of men with chain saws. Calico Cat retires to closet in the back bedroom, curling up in a box on the top shelf. The "Chain Saw Massacre" ended about 2:00pm, but Calico Cat remained in the box on the shelf in the closet until about 4:30 or so.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reducing Cost in Health Care

The New York Times had an op-ed piece a few days ago addressing a small portion of what is wrong with health care in this nation, the amount of money that is spent by Medicare. The larger problem is the amount of money that is spent for health care, period. Democrats claim that “progress was made” with the “health care reform” act of 2009, but both that act and the op-ed “Squandering Medicare’s Money” do not deal with reducing health care cost at all, but rather with regulating the amount that payment agencies will be willing to pay for it.

You ever watch a fireman put out a fire? He doesn’t play the stream of water on the flames that are coming out the windows of the burning building. He takes the hose inside the building and directs the water onto where the combustion is actually taking place. Regulating health care payment is directing water onto the flames, and it does not solve the problem.

Whether the paying agency declines permission for a procedure beforehand or denies payment for it afterward doesn’t matter. Quality of care may not be affected, may even be improved, but resentment is created and the perception is that freedom is abridged. Further, the battle over obtaining permission for the procedure, or securing payment for it after the fact, overriding and reversing denials, actually adds to the cost of the system.

Putting out the fire means addressing the source of the combustion, and that is the enormous amount of profit which is generated by the health care industry; not health insurance, the health care industry.

The op-ed piece address reducing the number of colonoscopies, for instance, but often the doctors ordering those procedures are co-owners of the laboratories which perform the colonoscopies. Those ordering physicians have a financial interest in keeping those testing facilities busy and profitable, and they are going to find ways to justify those tests and demand that they be paid for.

It is the “for profit model” of health care delivery, and the way that business model has taken control of the practice of medicine in this country that needs to be addressed. Where neighboring medical facilities used to share testing facilities, they have allowed the reluctance for splitting profits to lead to increasing facilities. These increased facilities need to be kept busy, and profitable.

Even where major medical facilities are non-profits, their directing boards are interlinked with boards of the companies which sell equipment, which broker real estate and construct buildings. There may not be profit to be made in the medical facility itself, but there is enormous profit which can be, and is, spun off from it.

There is no evil in profit, per se, but when it controls an industry to the destruction of the society which it serves…

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Fast and Loose" Gingrich?

I really don’t know what to make of this hysteria over the Tiffany’s account of Newt Gingrich and his wife. With the wealth of idiocy that Gingrich has provided for us to use as criticism, why in the world is anybody getting excited over this trivia?

Tiffany’s said that the balance on the account is currently zero and that all amounts have been paid in a timely manner. For someone with the amount of money that Gingrich has, to have spent half a million at Tiffany’s does not strike me as particularly outrageous, given that no one has claimed he spent that amount every month or even every year. The balance was at that level when his wife filed a financial report. That was a financial snapshot, one moment in time.

Chris Matthews nonetheless went berserk in his “Let Me Finish” segment last night, ranting about how that financial snapshot, that one moment in time, revealed that Gingrich is morally and personally flawed. He ranted excitedly at length about the moral degeneracy revealed by this debt.

Let Me Finish

So what does it mean when a president says he’s in hock for maybe half a million to a jewelry company? He doesn’t just have breakfast at Tiffany’s, but lunch supper and a midnight snack. There’s something fast and loose about this behavior, don’t you think? It says something about the way you spend your money. Some people give up steaks, clothes and nightclubs for a lifetime so their kids can live better. Even people with money must wonder what’s going on here. Fast and loose, that’s what it looks like, yeah.

As to how much one gives up so “your children can live better,” I’m not sure that a millionaire needs to give up very much, and as far as I can tell Gingrich only has two children from his first marriage, both in their forties. I’m not sure why Matthews thinks Newt should be starving himself and going naked for their benefit at this point.

And there is a big difference between a “current balance” on a revolving account and “being in hock.” If Matthews had a current balance on his Sears charge card, I wonder if conservatives would be running around screaming that he was “fast and loose” because he was “in hock” to Sears for the lawnmower he bought last week.

Legal Immunity

The media is ever so excited about John Edwards facing charges for having used campaign contributions to influence and/or support the mother of his illegitimate child. It seems that federal prosecutors have been developing this case for quite a while and are ready to file charges.

I was no fan of Edwards when he was campaigning. While I liked some of the causes he espoused, I never trusted him and always felt that he was far too slick and self absorbed. I would have no comment on his present troubles if it were not for the somewhat related case of John Ensign.

Ensign, you may recall, was about as faithful to his wife as Edwards was to his, not only cheating on her but cheating with a married staff member. When caught he, like Edwards, refused to terminate the affair, and when the whole thing blew up completely he threw money at the problem. In Ensign’s case there is no question about the illegality of the manner in which he did it, because he not only got the staffer’s husband hired by lobbyists with whom he had political influence, he used strong-arm tactics in the process.

The Justice Department investigated and declined to file charges against Ensign. Following that the Senate Ethics Committee referred the case back to Justice, asking that criminal charges be considered, but so far Justice has failed to do so. They have, apparently, been too busy preparing somewhat murky charges against Edwards to prepare charges for very clear and obvious criminal violations by Ensign.

Interesting, isn’t it? Even thought Edwards is a Democrat, I guess he has been out of office for too long to enjoy the immunity from the long arm of the law that attaches to elected office holders.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Undefeated

For the past few days I have been reading about rumors of a feature-length movie about Sarah Palin’s political career, but I didn’t really believe it. Astonishingly, there is such a thing in the works, being released next month and, supposedly, serving as a jump start to a 2012 presidential bid.

The movie story is at a site called Real Clear Politics, which is as sterling an example of misnomer as I have ever encountered. There is nothing “real” about that place, there is certainly nothing “clear” about it, and I question that it has anything to do with politics if it is writing about a Sarah Palin movie and presidential campaign.

The movie is supposedly titled “The Undefeated” which might invoke memories of “The Unforgiven” which starred Clint Eastwood. There was a good bit of death in the latter movie, and that might portend something about the upcoming one with Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Blowback on Medicare

Ryan’s plan to “destroy Medicare” is so wildly unpopular that Republicans are going to be utterly destroyed at the polls eighteen months from now for having embraced it. That remains to be seen, I think, because the plan may very well have been forgotten by that time, consumed by the fury of some other “political issue of the day.”

In any case all of the hyperventilating over Ryan’s nefarious scheme has had blowback in that it has thoroughly soured the public on the idea of making any changes to Medicare at all. Just a few weeks ago there was consensus that, while Ryan’s plan was anathema, there would need to be revisions to Medicare in order to keep it from “bankrupting us,” but now polls are reflecting that a significant majority believe that no cuts of any amount should be made to the popular program.

So all of the screaming over the evils of the Republican plan have led to overcompensation, bringing us to the point that we may not be able to do that which is actually necessary. Good work by Democrats and that portion of the media which is actually liberal.

Congress, Krugman and the Fed

Interesting reading at The Agonist yesterday, in an essay by Numerian. It takes a while to read, but is worth the time because it is the clearest explanation I’ve read regarding the long term effects of the Fed’s injection of money into our economy, known as “Quantitative Easing.” It’s written for the laymen, and makes clear why that money injection was a move to “prop the economy up” and what happens when the Fed quits doing it. It’s not a prophecy of doom, but it’s not going to make you happy.

A couple of conclusions which I draw from his discussion seem to be confirmed by history. One is that the Fed engaged in Quantitative Easing in lieu of Congress acting in any positive manner to stimulate the economy. The “stimulus bill” passed in 2009 was far too timid, and most of it was tax cuts and social policy in any case, neither of which are simulative to the economy. Since that one move, Congress has done precisely nothing toward a more robust economy, other than stir the air with a lot of empty rhetoric. Whether the Fed action was in preference to Congressional action, or taken because of the lack of it I can’t say.

It’s worth noting the announcement of the June ending of QE by the Fed earlier this year and the coincident slowing of economic growth in the first two quarters of this year, which suggests that the effect of the Fed policy was a prop rather than a stimulus.

The other conclusion has to do with inflation, an issue upon which I have had disagreement with Paul Krugman for years. Krugman believes the government is quite correct to ignore the effect of food and energy on inflation, since those prices are “too volatile,” while I believe they have to be considered since they are what people must purchase to survive. Please note that another way of phrasing “volatile” is “rising like an effing skyrocket,” which is what food and energy prices are doing at this time.

Krugman lives in his ivory tower at Princeton and likes to deal with numbers that are nice and orderly. He doesn’t want them jumping around on his graphs and making ugly jagged lines, so he removes the “volatile elements” and just charts the items which people don’t really need to buy, like jewelry and yachts, and then his charts of “core inflation” have nice smooth lines that are pleasing to the eye.

Numerian looks at Bernanke’s assertion that “core inflation remains under control and inflation expectations are tame,” and responds that,

…it is not that it is untrue. The problem is the statement is irrelevant. People and businesses don’t deal with core inflation – they deal with real inflation, which is hurting almost everybody and appears to be out of control, or at least out of control until inflation so damages the real economy that prices peak and begin to fall (which may now be happening). [emphasis mine-Jayhawk]

Numerian, obviously, does not do his research work at Princeton University.

He finishes up by saying that he doesn’t know what is going to happen, and doesn’t know what would happen if the Fed resumed dumping money into the economy. That has the seemingly perverse effect of making everything he said earlier much more believable. He also suggests that Republicans may not be quite as stupid as Democrats and the liberal media think they are. I’ll let you read that from the horse’s mouth.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Election Choices, Part Two

Unless the electoral picture changes, I see myself doing something next year that I have never done before – sitting out a presidential election. The Republicans have no candidate emerging who is anything more than a cartoon, and Democrats have decided that Obama is their default choice.

And there are things to like about Obama, but I find his approach to the Middle East is simply too repugnant for me to vote for him. Not to mention his views on civil liberties which, in my view, emerge from his perceptions of the threat posed by small factions based in the Middle East; a threat which, in terms of true national security, is actually non-existent.

Syria looked to Iran for assistance in putting down the popular uprising in that country, while Bahrain looked to Saudi Arabia for precisely the same kind of assistance. But Obama said in his Middle East policy speech that “Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression,” while of the country which houses our naval base he said only that, “the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law.”

How can I vote for the reelection of a President who condemns one tyrannical government and in almost the same breath supports an all but identical government based purely on American military interests? Is the public in this country paying attention? That duplicity has aroused absolutely no commentary, so I suspect it is not. But I am paying attention.

Election Choices

The political “buzz” of the day is that Mitch Daniels has decided no to run, and that his reason has to do with consideration for his family.

Attywood decried the national sentiment that prevails today where, he says, a military draft would never be politically viable because families will never allow their children to be put in harm’s way. He quotes Daniels, “I love my country, I love my family more,” and contrasts that with JFK in 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you…”

There is an implication there, I suppose, that Daniels has concerns about the effect on his family should he run, concerns regarding attacks by media and opponents.

James Joyner is a little more direct in his thoughts along those lines,

It’s long been cliché that the process drives out all the good candidates and that anyone who would willingly subject himself and his family to their process has proven he shouldn’t be president. Neither are quite true. We continue to get outstanding people to run for high office every cycle.

Oh, yeah, name one. What “outstanding people” have run for any office of significance in this country in the last couple of decades? We thought we had one in Obama, didn’t we, but he has turned out only to be an outstanding campaigner. He was running against McCain. In California I was hoping to get rid of Barbara Boxer, a woman so arrogant that she publicly corrects a senior general for courteously calling her “ma’am” instead of the title of her choice, but was confronted with Carley Fiorina as the only alternative. For Governor we get a choice between Whitman and Brown. Where are the “outstanding people” in this past cycle?

We’ve had George Bush as President twice. Did he defeat an “outstanding person” in each of two national elections?

Joyner goes on to say that he sees no solution to what he just said was not a problem,

I haven’t the foggiest idea what to do about it. The cost of limiting free speech–let alone political speech–would be much higher than we’re paying in weakened fields.

It isn’t necessary to limit political speech, let the fringe candidates say whatever they want to say, and then simply ignore them. They problem is not what the lunatic fringe is saying, they’ve been doing that since politics was first invented. The problem is all of the attention that the media and the opposition is giving to that lunatic fringe.

New Gingrich makes one idiotic statement and, instead of ignoring it as it so richly deserves, the liberal media “discusses” and analyses it for a solid week. Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell, Ed Shultz, and Rachel Maddow will be screaming about it on their shows every evening for a solid week, causing all of the conservative media to be rebutting them for the same week and giving that one idiotic comment a life and a measure of importance orders of magnitude beyond what it deserves.

Had all of the Liberals ignored Newt’s idiotic statement it would have been heard by the handful of people who were in the audience when he made it. By prating about it on their shows for a week or more, and by making it an “issue” that conservatives feel they must defend, the idiots in the liberal media make sure that a stupid remark is heard by several millions, and they give it an undeserved sense of importance.

Limiting political speech is a breach of our constitution; ignoring stupid speech is not.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Bin Laden Plans Revealed"

So we are now privy to the journal that Osama bin Laden was keeping. Yea.

Look. If I write in my journal that I would like some day to make a million dollars, but I have outlined no concrete steps toward making even ten dollars, let alone actually done anything pursuant to that goal, then I do not "have a plan to make a million dollars." I could write in my journal that I wanted to crash the stock market, and it would not affect the economy of this country one iota.

Osama bin Laden wanted to blow up some oil tankers so as to drive up the price of oil, but he did not have a plan to do so. He wanted to kill President Obama, but he did not have a plan to do that either. He wanted to blow up some trains in this country, but... You get the drift?

It really is time to quit freaking out about what a dead man wanted to do.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Discordant Notes

From Obama’s big Mideast policy speech last Thursday:

“After years of war in Iraq, we have removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there.” He doesn’t mention that we are negotiating to renege on removing the rest of them by the end of this year in accordance with our current agreement.

“In Afghanistan, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum,” which is why the Taliban are making a record number of attacks on us in pretty much every part of the country.

“…this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue transition to Afghan lead.” Yes indeed. Current projection is we will bring 2.5% of them home this July, and another 2.5% at the end of this year.

“In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of the few.” But not in America, of course, and not wealth either. Power and wealth in America are distributed with equality and impartiality to everyone.

“The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half century after the end of colonialism.” As opposed to the current status, which is occupation without colonialism.

“And through the moral force of non-violence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.” That’s why we are still using all of those Hellfire missiles, because they have such moral force and are so non-violent.

“…people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks.” Like America transformed Iraq perhaps. “Shock and Awe” is quicker than “moral force and non-violence.”

“The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds.” Which he then proceeds not to answer in the next several hundred words.

“For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region:” he doesn’t say whose core interests, but he doesn’t really need to, “countering terrorism,” actually, bringing Al Queda to a region where it had not previously existed, “and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons;” the ever present delusion of Iran’s nuclear weapons persists forever, “securing the free flow of commerce,” of oil to the United States, “and safe-guarding the security of the region;” by invading and destroying part of it, “standing up for Israel’s security,” thereby endangering the security of the rest of the world, “and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace” sort of like Wiley Coyote after the Roadrunner.

“We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region,” Other than Israel, who is winning the current, ongoing nuclear arms race. Assuming you believe that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, which no one other than the US does.

“we will not tolerate aggression across borders,” This is my favorite line. We will not tolerate anyone using drones with Hellfire missiles against their neighbors. Or F-18s, F-15s or Tomahawk missiles either. Not to mention SEAL teams in helicopters.

Note, too, that this statement of what we will not tolerate, along with all of those about what other nations and their leaders “must” do, are not accompanied by any consequences. What will happen to any nation who does something that we will not tolerate, or fails to do what we say they must, is unclear.

“We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.” By condemning the Saudis for assisting in the crackdown in Bahrain, perhaps? By saying that Mubarek must “must step down” immediately when the Egyptian protests began? By taking action to “preserve human life” in Syria and Yemen rather than merely issuing softballs about what those leaders "must do" to reform?

“In Libya…when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene…acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners…” We started a war to kill Moammar Gaddafi, using the UN as justification, sucked our NATO allies into the futile exercise of supporting one side in a civil war, and then ran like a rabbit, leaving our allies holding the bag.

“Thus far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression….the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law.” And he's not going to mention that the Bahraini government sought assistance from the government of Saudi Arabia in the “tactics of suppression” of its protestors. In fact, he's not going to mention Saudi Arabia at all in this speech, or Jordan, or Amman, all of whom wanted the “no fly zone” in Libya, and all of whom quit the coalition the minute they realized we actually intended to support the rebels.

“In Iraq, we see the promise of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy.” We also see an increasing number of bombs, death and bloodshed as the beginnings of that democracy begin to become unraveled.

“But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress.” Very big “if” there, and getting bigger.

“Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.” Because he's not willing to even dignify your goal of having your own state by calling your move what it is, a request to have the UN declare a Palestinian State whether Israel wants one or not, and he doesn't want you to put the US on the spot by making us vote against it.

“And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.” But Israel and the US will continue to have our independence by denying the popularly and properly elected government of Hamas the right to exist.

“And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.” Because friends don’t let people criticize friends. Friends don’t acknowledge that friends are anything other than perfection personified. He then proceeds to criticize Israel by saying that, “The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.”

“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” And he’s hoping nobody notices the part about swaps, because what that means is that all of the arable land goes to Israel and all of the uninhabitable desert goes to the Palestinians.

“the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.” There is nothing sovereign about a “non-militarized” state, and he does not explain how the Palestinians are going to “assume security responsibility” without any military.

“how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist.” I’m sure Hamas is asking the same question, since both Israel and the US are unwilling to recognize its right to exist, notwithstanding that it was properly elected in a completely legitimate election.

Benjamin Netanyahu promptly panned Obama, saying that “the 1967 borders are indefensible.” That’s why they lost the 1967 war in seven days, no doubt.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"In My Time"

That’s the title of Dick Cheney’s new book, news and a preview picture of which was released yesterday, causing the liberal media to pretty much lose its collective mind.

Chris Matthews said that he hoped the release of the book would lead to Dick’s daughter Liz Cheney learning how to pronounce the family’s last name, as she has been pronouncing it incorrectly for years. Seriously, he actually said that. Seems she grew up bearing that name and never learned to pronounce it correctly. Matthews believes he is the only one in the country who knows the correct pronunciation, and he keeps correcting people on his show. I think he has a mental problem. He fawns over every guest he has, and then corrects them on trivia.

“You are the best in the business. I cannot tell you how much I admire you. You are the journalist of journalists. Nobody is better at this than you, but you don’t know how to pronounce Dick Cheney’s name.”

I never watch Rachel Maddow, but Bob Somerby watches her so that I don’t have to, much as I watch Hardball so that you don’t have to. I read his Daily Howler so that I can keep up to date with her insanity, and I want you to trust me on this; compared to Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews is the epitome of sanity and intelligence.

According to Somerby, Maddow is freaked out by the picture on the cover of the book, noticing that it is the identical pose that Obama struck when announcing the death of Osama bin Laden. She notes that the picture was taken in the same spot, that he is using the same stance, wearing the same color suit, shirt and tie that Obama wore on that occasion, and that he even has a flag pin in his left lapel as Obama did. Her surmise is that Cheney is trying to make us think that he is the one who killed Osama bin Laden with the publication of this picture.

Her rant is delusional on so many levels that it hardly bears debunking, but consider that Osama bin Laden’s death was announced just 19 days prior to the release of that publicity shot. Does she really think that the publisher can PhotoShop the picture, do the artwork for the cover, print the cover, and release the news item all in less than three weeks? There is absolutely no question that the dust cover for that book, including the picture that she is so freaked out about, was printed long before Obama stood on that spot announcing the death of Osama bin Laden.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Presidential Speech

Meh. A lot of words, but color me unimpressed.

In talking about the change in Egypt, he failed to mention that Egypt is still ruled by its military, and he did not mention the $1 billion plus that we still provide to the military. Addressing democratic change in that country really requires, I think, that our financial support of their ruling military needs to be addressed in one form or another.

He made the pro forma condemnation of Iran and said that we will not tolerate a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Of course, there already is a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and Israel started it by developing its own nuclear arsenal. Minor detail.

The discussion on Bahrain about the two sides needing to have a discussion was one of the softest puffballs he has ever delivered, and completely absent was any mention of the role played by Saudi Arabia. The latter, one of the more repressive nations in the region, was absent from the speech altogether, actually. Feh.

When he finally got to the Palestinian-Israeli issue he presented it as if it was an issue divorced from the greater issue of Middle East unrest, which is nonsense. It is the newly structured Egypt which united Fatah and Hamas, and one can hardly say that is unrelated to the peace process, as much as Obama tried to ignore that in his discussion. Also glaringly missing from what he had to say was that the Israeli government is one of the players in the denial of human rights to Arabs, having kept Palestinians in a condition of statelessness for decades.

In other words, more “change you can believe in.”

Update: Thursday 2:30pm
And we notice, it didn't take long for Israel to tell President Obama rather specifically to "shove it."

Update 2: Thursday, 6:30pm
Chris Matthews spent the first thirty minutes of his show laughing at and mocking New Gingrich. It wasn't until halfway thrugh that he finally mentioned "Obama's big speech," and he only spent about ten minutes discussing it before turning the discussion to Sarah Palin. I don't know if that is a tribute to the idiocy of Chris Matthews, or to the trivial impact of Obama's speech.

That's Your Foot You Just Shot

Do Chris Matthews and Joan Walsh not realize the implication of saying that, "Only a racist would recognize the coded racial overtones in..." (fill in the Barack Obama attack statement), and then proceeding to describe the "coded racial overtones" which they themselves recognized in the statement? How are they recognizing the "coded racial overtones" which "only a racist would recognize" if they are not racists themselves?

I think therapists call that "projection." It's a process of accusing others of the faults which I possess, so that I do not have to recognize those faults in myself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Spending Habits

For what it's worth, I do not have the slightest interest in how much money any politician spends on jewelry for his wife. Or for whoever he's buying it for. And yes, you may consider that a snide remark with implications.

Using Gasoline To Put Out A Fire

A couple of additional thoughts on the “concierge model” of primary medical care, which I wrote about a few days ago.

My primary care doctor went to that model of practice about a year ago, and I left his care when he did so. It was not that I could not afford the fee,
I could actually, it was just that I didn’t wish to participate in that form of practice. If doctors are overworked, then that is a problem which needs to be addressed, but I am convinced that this idea is not the solution.

The greatest ill facing our health care delivery system today is the cost that we pay for it, and this process is akin to trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it. While it may marginally improve health care for a few, it degrades the quality of health care for many, thereby damaging the system as a whole, and it adds enormously to the systematic cost.

The “concierge fee” is not really “money for doing nothing” as I suggested before, it is an “availability fee” that the patient pays to assure that the doctor will forgo seeing other patients to spend more time with the few. Still, no actual service is performed for that fee, since the doctor continues to charge the usual fee for services rendered. When an attorney charges a retainer, later services are deducted from that retainer. When he takes a contingency fee, he risks losing the case and getting nothing. With the concierge fee there is neither risk or deduction of later services, so I have
to see that fee as an “overhead” charge.

As such, being “overhead,” that fee certainly adds to the cost of health care in this nation. If the average fee is $2,000 as the San Diego Union-Tribune article says, and the average number of patients is 450 for each of 3,500 concierge doctors in the U.S., then $3.15 billion, that’s billion with a ‘b,’ is being added to the cost of health care annually by that fee. That’s added to a health care system that was already the world’s most costly.

If each of those doctors dropped 1,700 patients when he established his concierge practice, then 5.95 million new patients were dumped into a system which has 3,500 fewer primary care physicians, and there was already a shortage of them to begin with. How can that not damage the system when there is a large number, millions, of additional patients being shared by fewer doctors?

This “concierge medical practice” is a thoroughly pernicious scheme.

My father was a physician, one who tended not to send a bill to patients when he knew that they would be unable to pay it. He didn’t want to stress them out over their inability to pay and he would, of course, continue to treat them after not sending them the bill. I think he would be horrified by this process, and I know that I am.

MSNBC = Election Central

I’m now recording both Hardball and The Last Word so that when they start babbling about the 2012 Republican election I can fast forward past the nonsense. The election is still 18 months away, and it will consist of a breathless contest to see who will be defeated by Barack Obama. Why they are so fascinated by it is a complete mystery to me.

They are amazed that the Republicans have no sensible candidates, which merely proves how senseless they are. The Republicans are not going to waste a decent candidate in an election against a Democrat who they know they have zero chance of beating. They are saving their guns for 2016. Anyone with an IQ above room temp should be able to figure that out.

Both of them spent an enormous amount of time yesterday talking about Donald Trump, two days after he quit running for president. I wasn't sure it made sense to talk about him the day he quit, but to keep him as a subject of "discussion" for a full two days after he is no longer a candidate? Why do we listen to these idiots?

I know, I know. You don't, and you wonder why I do.

Not only is their focus on an election which is more than a year away, but they are not discussing its impact on the nation’s well being or policies. They are yammering about the tactics which might be used, about who will raise money and how they will raise it, and about who is making the most tactical errors in campaigning. The election is no more important to them than a football game.

Chris Matthews had Bill Maher on for his whole show yesterday. Maher is supposed to be brilliant and witty, but I found him to be stupid and dull. Matthews kept being the only one laughing at his own jokes, which was embarrassing, and Maher kept not knowing what Matthews was talking about and asking for explanations of the jokes, which was dull. and after about seven minutes I switched to watching some reruns of Judge Judy. She makes much more sense than Matthews, and is funnier than Maher.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


In case you are unfamiliar with the abbreviation, it means "rolling on the floor laughing my ass off," which is pretty much what I was doing during the first segment of The Last Word last night.

Lawrence O'Donnell started by saying that he had spent all day trying to think of a graceful way to say, "I told you so," which was an obvious lie, since he proceeded to say "I told you so," as ungracefully and hilariously as was humanly possible. Every quote that he used, his own saying that Donald Trump was not going to run, and everyone else in political punditry saying that Trump was a serious candidate, was totally accurate.

Point, set and match to Lawrence O'Donnell, and I am still chuckling this morning over his dismantling of the rest of the media idiotacracy last night.

Well, This Is Just Silly

silly weatherThe people walking their dogs are all bundled up and are wearing rain hats, because it's raining! It does not rain here in May, and for damn sure it does not snow in our furshluginner mountains in May. To make things even sillier, this is forecast again for the weekend.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fukushima Update

After waxing breathless for a couple of weeks about a cloud of radioactivity which was going to come across the Pacific and kill us all, the American media has forgotten all about the Fukushima reactor problem, but that problem has not gone away. Tepco now says that the fuel rods at Number One reactor melted completely and are believed to have formed a puddle at the bottom of the reactor containment vessel. They even show a neat little picture of the situation as they believe it exists.

My training as a reactor technician in the Navy does not make me an expert on nuclear reactors, but it does lead me to believe that we are not getting the full story here. From what I know about reactors, if all the fuel melted into one big puddle, the one thing it absolutely would not do is lay there quietly at the bottom of the reactor vessel and cool down to a nice safe room temperature.

The fuel load could not possibly come together into one solid mass without restarting the fission reaction and creating one whole hell of a lot of heat.

They are saying that the melted fuel created holes in the containment vessel that allowed water to leak out of the reactor. Right. Water would pour out of the vessel, but melted fuel would not leak out. Of course, if the melted fuel ran out of the vessel and went God knows where, that would account for the reactor being cooled down. They admit that they are merely assuming that the fuel is in a cooled down puddle at the bottom of the vessel. I am rather assuming that it is not.

There was also a story at the same link yesterday about crews shoring up Building #4 because it was leaning and appeared to be in danger of falling over, which would scatter the spent fuel which is stored on the upper level of it. That has not been refuted, but the story has been removed from the website, which is a little bit unnerving.

Another story which has disappeared from the same website is one that discussed the concerns about Reactor #3, which appeared to have suffered a complete meltdown also and was, at this point, still at a temperature significantly higher than its normal operating temperature when generating electricity. Like the Building #4 issue, this has not been refuted, merely removed from the website.

Astonishment Reigns

As we hear that Donald Trump is not going to run for President, but is going to continue on NBC with his Celebrity Apprentice show. The breathless anticipation is over, we are no longer hanging by our fingernails to learn the fate of the free world.

Ear of the Listener

I do not like Newt Gingrich. As a matter of fact, I dislike him intensely, and I utterly despise his politics and his methods. Some things he has said about Obama are clearly racial slurs, such as his comment about "Kenyan anti-colonialist behavior," which was so unfounded as to be bizarre.

That being said, when Joan Walsh starts talking about “coded racism” I part company with her. People who talk about hearing “coded messages” are usually wearing tinfoil hats because the “coded messages” they heard were from an extraterrestrial. “Coded speech” is what the listener hears, not what the speaker says.

Newt referred to Obama as “the food stamp president” and Walsh claims that is a racist slur because, “It's a short hop from Gingrich's slur to Ronald Reagan's attacks on ‘strapping young bucks’ buying ‘T-bone steaks’ with food stamps” and because most food stamp recipients are minorities. The problem is that he did not say anything of the sort, those interpretations were in her own mind. What he said was that food stamp usage is high on Obama’s watch, which is absolutely true. His attribution of blame to Obama for that is largely false, but the racist element of the statement existed in Joan Walsh’s mind, not in Newt Gingrich’s statement.

Gingrich said that “Obama knows how to get the whole country to resemble Detroit," which Walsh is quick to point out “just happens to be home to many black people.” It also happens to be the symbol of the collapse of American manufacturing and the loss of manufacturing jobs. If Gingrich wanted to pick a city which was predominately black he would have picked Birmingham or Atlanta, both of which have a higher percentage of African-American population than does Detroit. Here, again, Gingrich was talking about loss of manufacturing jobs, and Joan Walsh heard racism.

I am not defending Newt Gingrich, who is a duplicitous hypocritical jackass, but Joan Walsh wants to create a situation where there can be no criticism of the President without the critic being labeled as a racist. It is Joan Walsh who creates controversy by hearing racism where it does not exist. Obama does not need her protection. He should not be attacked because of the color of his skin, and he should not be defended because of it either.

Contradictory Thinking

Paul Krugman comments on his blog this morning that it has occurred to him that some people in the financial commentary strata seem to be able to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. I believe that shows that Doctor Krugman is a little slow on the uptake, because I noticed that proclivity quite a long time ago.

His particular point involves “tax the rich” and means testing for “entitlement programs” and, as is par for the course with him, he rather stretches the point on both arguments. He says that proponents of one are “by and large” the same as proponents of the other; a point which I would not really argue.

He ends, “So apparently the universe of people so affluent that they don’t need Medicare is a large segment of the population, while the universe of people who can afford to pay even slightly higher taxes is a tiny segment.”

I have not seen any claims that means testing of Medicare would eliminate a “large segment” of participants, merely that it would be a step toward alleviating the problem. As to “tax the rich,” almost no one other than Barack Obama cares how many of them there are, the prevailing sentiment seems to be, “Sock it to them because they can afford it.”

In any case, his postulate actually requires that three ideas be held at once, because it also requires that the “tiny segment” of people who can “afford to pay even slightly higher taxes” will pay enough additional taxes to eliminate a huge deficit. The combination of “tiny segment,” “slightly higher” and “huge deficit” just doesn’t seem to make for believable rhetoric.

Paul Krugman has apparently failed to notice that the entire nation has believed since Ronald Reagan that we can cut taxes and increase spending simultaneously; that politicians of both parties promise it and voters of both parties demand it. If that isn’t “being able to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time” I don’t know what is.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Failure of "Tax The Rich"

Digby has a post critical of rich people objecting to higher taxes because they misinterpret the impact of marginal tax rates. She points out the error, which she says is typical, of a person with an income of $262,000 per year. As Dean Baker points out, she reports,

Since the 3 percentage point increase in the tax rate would only apply to income above $250,000, or $12,000 of his income, Mason would have to pay an additional $400 a year in taxes.

Digby has been an advocate of the “tax the rich” plan since it was first advanced, but what we see here is that it doesn’t really raise taxes very much. It does not appear that it will come even close to raising enough revenue to balance the budget. The "tax the rich" plan which is supposed to allow most of the country to enjoy its "free lunch" mentality indefinitely is not going to work. If the middle class want to have the government provide programs like education, flood insurance and such, they are going to have to be willing to be taxed to pay for it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

More Money For Less Work

A staff writer at the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote a glowing tribute to the concept of “concierge medicine” last Tuesday, making it sound like the greatest thing to happen to medical practice since the invention of the stethoscope. I’m not convinced. It may be great for doctors who engage in it, and for their patients, but I see it as a disaster for health care delivery.

The idea is that a patient pays a flat fee, in this case $1800 per year, in cash, in advance and in addition to the “fee for service” as usual, for a very high level of service from the doctor and the doctor, in turn, limits his practice to only those patients who are paying the fee so that he can render that very high level of service. The article doesn’t mention it, but that fee is not covered by any medical insurance. In the case described in the article, the doctor reduced his work load from 2000 patients to 300 patients.

My sister, after reading the article, promptly asked what happens to all of those patients whom the “concierge doctor” does not any longer “have to see.” The answer to that is that they are now seeing a doctor who knows nothing about them and who is now even more frenetically busy than he was before because the “concierge doctor” is seeing 1700 fewer patients. I have no problem with the idea that people who have money benefit from the fact that they have money, in fact I’m all in favor of that, but when they do so to the detriment of those who don’t have money… Well, I do tend to have something of a problem with that.

The article does mention that “Some people say this new medical model creates a two-tier system in which people who don’t pay a retainer fee will wind up with second-rate care,” and then goes on to tell us that we don’t need to worry about that because it is a nonsensical argument.

There’s already a shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S. and skeptics fear that number will continue to dwindle as more doctors go into concierge medicine, creating even longer waits and shorter appointments for traditional patients. However, AAPP’s Blue maintains that there are plenty of doctors satisfied to practice medicine the same way they always have.

AAPP is the outfit that coordinates the concierge plans, and notice that in almost a single breath the writer references both a “shortage of primary care physicians” and a claim that there are “plenty of doctors,” and makes no effort to reconcile those two contradictory statements. In the case of the doctor who is the subject of the article, there are 1700 more patients dumped into a system which has one less doctor, so how can an increase of the concierge plan, which is by definition for primary care physicians, not be harmful to the majority of patients overall?

Arnstein argues that two-tier systems are nothing new in our society. “Some people can afford to fly first class to London, and some fly coach. But, in the end, they all get to London,” she said.

If the plane is full, and there is no question that our health care system is full, and you keep adding first class seats while removing coach seats, you crowd out those who cannot afford first class. Eventually some people do not get to London.

What the writer does not address is that this plan not only doesn’t work toward solving the rising cost of health care in this country, it seriously worsens that problem. This plan is a step in precisely the wrong direction, causing us to systematically pay more for our health care rather than less. It fundamentally allows one doctor to make more money for treating fewer people. What in the hell is wrong with this country that we admire that kind of model? And the issue is worse than a single doctor/patient one.

If 400 patients pay a $1,800 retainer fee, that comes to $720,000 (MDVIP doctors, who must give a third to the group, keep $480,000). This is on top of reimbursements from insurers for standard office visits and exams.

The doctor gets $480,000 per year for doing nothing, bad enough in itself, but at least he/she had to go to college and earn a medical degree in order to be in a position to receive that money. The remaining $240,000 is what “the group” keeps, pure overhead, administrative burden. Useless money spent for no purpose whatsoever, that raises the cost of healthcare for additional paper shuffling and profit.

We already spend more than twice what any other developed nation spends in a health care system that is bloated with greed and designed more to slurp money from the public than it is to preserve health and wellness. This “concierge” model is just another step down that road. It is not a solution to the problem, it is symptomatic of the problem.

Panderer In Chief

AP headline in today's San Francisco Chronicle, "Obama announces steps to speed US oil production." Oh, give me a break.

Facing continued public unhappiness over gas prices, President Barack Obama is directing his administration to ramp up U.S. oil production by extending existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska's coast and holding more frequent lease sales in a federal reserve in Alaska.

"Drill, baby, drill" replaces the steely-eyed slayer of dreaded terrorists.

Friday, May 13, 2011

On The Evils of Mergers

The demagoguery about the oil companies is starting to border on hilarious. Chris Matthews had a couple of Democratic Senators on Hardball yesterday, Chuck Shumer and Debbie Stabenow, and their pitch was that the problem is that we allowed the oil companies to merge, creating too few companies that are too large, and that stifled any competition. Shumer agreed that they don’t “meet in a smoke-filled room” and set prices, but claimed that one company raises the price of gasoline and “since they don’t have to compete” they all follow suit.

Do I need to say that the facts do not bear that out? Do I need to say that if they were doing that their profit margins would be quite a lot higher than a paltry 5% to 10% on revenue, which is what they are currently making?

I long ago lost count of how many software companies Microsoft bought out, but their policy has been to purchase anyone who might compete with them, and who is left that actually competes with them in business software systems these days? Oracle has bought everyone other than Microsoft who makes computer database software, and these two companies generate profit margins on revenue of 30% and 24% respectively.

And what industry has not merged into a handful of mega companies? How many cell phone companies were there a few years ago as opposed to the number that exist today? How many auto manufacturers are there today? Railroads have diminished from hundreds to about ten.

Lets talk about banks. Banks have been on a merger spree that created “too big to fail” and contributed to the Great Recession. One merger was so blatantly anti-competitive and illegal that Congress had to pass legislation that legalized the merger retroactively. What effect has that had on banking profits and pricing to consumers?

Well, Bank of America is not exactly gorging itself, making 7.6% profit margin on revenue in the first quarter of this year, but Wells Fargo is clicking along at 18.5%, Union Bank at 27.4%, Chase Bank at 21.7%, Citibank at 15.2%, U.S. Bank at 23.2% and Capital One at 24.9%.

As a reminder and for comparison, the big three oil companies are making 10%, 9% and 5% profit margins on revenue in that same fiscal period.

So, of every dollar that you pay in bank fees, about 22¢ is profit to the bank, while of every dollar of gas that you pump into your tank, about 8¢ is profit to the oil company.

That kind of makes oil companies look like paragons of virtue, doesn’t it?

Fishy Story

The Obama Administration strikes me as being essentially fairly honest, but I’m not sure I can give it high marks for coherence, and especially not in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden mission, given the number of times that story has changed. We now hear from Robert Gates that “we all agreed that we would not release any operational details,” but just hours after the raid National Security Advisor Donilon was babbling those details, inaccurately it turns out, to the press.

We are also being told that President Obama was so farsighted as to order that additional helicopters be included in the mission, but the actual purpose of those extra choppers seems to me to be a bit unclear.

The phrase most often given for those extra choppers is that they were “backups in the event that it became necessary for the mission to fight its way out,” but that description of purpose is self-contradicting. If they were for the purpose of the mission “fighting its way out” they would be full of troops and would not be able to serve as backups, and if they were “backups” they would necessarily be empty and be useless in the event that fighting became necessary.

The “fighting their way out” bit does make some sense. Given the location and the time on target of only forty minutes, the chances of Pakistan rallying any significant number of ground troops to the scene was pretty small, but not zero, so having one or two helicopters full of troops on scene to cover that possibility would be pretty good judgement. I can see the military being too conservative to suggest it and the President bringing it up and insisting on it.

But it doesn’t match with the helicopter being able to carry out the troops originally carried by the damaged bird. Other than the Chinook, which no one is suggesting was used, helicopters carry very small numbers of troops, so any chopper carrying support troops would not be able to serve as a backup to carry those in the destroyed helicopter.

I’m also having a bit of a problem with the bit where the original plan was to have the backups ninety minutes away and that it was Obama who insisted that the backups accompany the mission, for whatever purpose they did so. Our military is not generally stupid, and making a raid in what is essentially downtown Pakistan with emergency help being held a full hour and a half away strikes me as really stupid.

I’m really hoping that was not the plan that our military really presented to the President, because if they presented it to me I would conclude that our military is so inept that we should just surrender and be done with it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Detainee Security Act

Lawrence O’Donnell mentioned the Detainee Security Act on his show, The Last Word, last night, but did not go into any real discussion of it other than to comment that, “One of the fascinating things in this business has been to watch as, over that last decade, Congress has gradually surrendered its control over this nation’s warmaking power to the executive branch.”

The deadline under which President Obama is required to report to Congress regarding the conflict in Libya under the War Powers Act has now passed. He has conspicuously not made the required report, and Congress has not only not required him to do so, but has said publicly that it has no intention of doing so. Obama initiated that military action and is continuing it, and Congress has played no role in it whatsoever.

Now Congress proposes to pass legislation to formalize that policy, a policy under which the president is accountable to no one in his initiation of military action anywhere in the world, in any nation, against any foe. It is in effect an amendment to our constitution, which reserves the ability to make war to Congress, but they want to avoid that responsibility and delegate that prerogative to the executive by calling it “military force” rather than “war.”

I normally do not support write in campaigns, as I believe they undermine the principle of representative democracy, which the founders created for some very good reasons. But on this one I urge that you write your Senators and your Representative. This bill, the Detainee Security Act, must not pass.

World's Stupidest Recipe

When I started reading the Food Section the San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday and saw that they were going to talk about a book of recipies for sandwiches, I was a bit surprised. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a recipe for a sandwich. Who needs a recipe to make a sandwich?

Then I thought that maybe it was going to be about some kind of weird sandwiches like the Monte Christo, which is fried, so I started reading it. But no, it included a recipe for a Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich which, unsurprisingly, said to put bacon, some tomato and a bit of lettuce between two slices of bread. It did say to slice the tomato and cook the bacon first, and it directed us to toast the bread and to add some Mayo, but who in God’s name needs a recipe book to know any of that?

The capper was the one which invoked my title, which is not a recipe at all.

Dagwood Sandwich
Makes 1 sandwich

As many slices of your favorite bread as you can eat
As many slices of your favorite meats and cheese as you’d like
Any desired fillers, such as lettuce, tomatoes, pickles or peppers
As many condiments, such as mustard, mayo, barbecue sauce, or Thousand Island dressing, as you can manage
A really long toothpick or wooden skewer
A green olive

Spread out all the ingredients on a large, clean work surface. Carefully build your sandwich. Piece it with the toothpick or skewer. Stick olive on the top.

The olive wowed me. I would never have thought of that olive, and without it my Dagwood Sandwich would have been a total disaster. Thank God I had this “recipe” to save me from my own utter incompetence.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Shooting at the Wrong Target

Gasoline prices are high, politicians are desperate and so we are back to demagoguery about the oil companies. We’ve been here before, and we are as wrong now as we were then. It may be popular, but facts, some of which I will provide here, do not support the tale of oil companies as evildoers.

Last night on Hardball and Last Word, every politician shown or interviewed, from Obama on down, spoke of the oil companies and referred to their “huge profits” or some phrase equivalent to that. The popular budget balancing act is to “eliminate subsidies to the oil companies” because “they certainly aren’t hurting right now.” Media stories continue to report “record profits” for oil companies, giving the amounts in absolute dollars and not putting those dollars into context of inflation or sales volume.

The rhetoric of raising taxes or eliminating subsidies on oil companies because of high gas prices is utterly nonsensical on the face of it. The price of the product is too high so your solution is to raise the cost of business for the companies producing the product? Can anyone seriously think that such a move would drive the price of the product down?

Any corporation is required to file documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and these documents are public record. They are not hard to read, so I went to the filings for the biggest three domestic oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhilips, and studied their 10Q filings for the first quarter of this year.

ConocoPhilips had revenue of $58,247,000 in the first quarter of 2011, up from $45,720,000 in the same quarter of 2010, an increase of 27%. Their profit was $3,028,000, up from $2,098,000, an increase of 44%. On the face of it, this is not good, their profit increased 44% on a sales increase of only 26%, but there’s more to the story. Their profit margin was 5.2% in 2011, up from 4.58% the prior year. Making a profit of 5.2 percent on sales is barely acceptable in any business.

Chevron had revenue of $60,341,000 in the first quarter of 2011, up from $48,179,000 in the same quarter of 2010, an increase of 25%. Their profit was $6,211,000, up from $4,552,000, an increase of 36%. Here too, we see a profit increase of 36% on a sales increase of only 25% but their profit margin went from 9.45% in 2010 to 10.29% this year. That is a comfortable profit, certainly, but not what anyone would reasonably call usurious.

The biggest is ExxonMobil, whose revenue increased from $90,251,000 in the first quarter of 2010 to $114,004,000 in the same quarter of 2011, an increase of 69%. Their profit increased from $6,300,000 to $10,650,000, an increase of 26%. Here we see a different pattern; while their sales increased by 69%, their profit increased by a smaller 26%. Their profit margin still increased, from 6.98% in 2010 to 9.34% this year, but obviously it could have been higher had they chosen to do so.

Profit of 10% on revenue certainly falls within the definition of “not hurting,” but it hardly calls for stringent measures to punish them as evildoers. By contrast, consider that no one is arguing for punishment of Oracle Corp. for its earnings of 24% on revenue, or Microsoft for its 30%. We won’t even get into the earnings in the financial services industry.

The real culprit for high gasoline prices is, of course, mostly the falling value of the dollar on the international market. Nobody is going to mention that because then we would have to talk about why the dollar is falling, and we most definitely do not want to talk about that. The oil companies are so much an easier target. Too bad they are the wrong target.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chris Matthews is an Idiot

Yesterday on his “Sideshow” segment, Chris Matthews quoted Andrew Card criticizing Obama for having “pounded his chest” a bit too much regarding the termination of Osama bin Laden, and then issued a highly sarcastic rejoinder at both Card and George Bush.

Lest we forget that Old Andy himself was Chief of Staff when President Bush gave the 2003 Iraq victory speech. Remember? The one on the aircraft carrier, in front of the "Mission Accomplished" banner? That war in Iraq is still… now… happening. At least this president waited until he accomplished something before saying that he did.

Beautiful. He now thinks that the aircraft carrier speech was farcical.

I wish I could find some clips of Chris Matthews swooning with admiration on that day in 2003 when the speech occurred. Film clips of him gushing breathlessly about how “manly” and presidential Bush looked in the flight suit, and how overwhelmed he was “at this historic moment.” I wish I could find some film clips of him practically having an orgasm right there on camera as his hero trod the deck of a carrier that was in sight of San Diego but “was too far to reach by helicopter,” necessitating the flight suit and the strutting.

A Nation of Laws

Glenn Greenwald has written many times of the inconsistency of Obama supporters who decried policies and actions of the Bush administration and who unreservedly support those same policies and actions when taken by Barack Obama. The most recent drum upon which he is beating is one where Obama has surpassed Bush, in that Obama has taken it upon himself to order the execution of American citizens without due process of law, while Bush merely claimed the right to imprison without due process.

I could live to be 500 years old, and I will never hear anyone be able to offer any remotely conceivable means of reconciling (a) those steadfast principles defended by Eric Holder -- as part of his opposition to George Bush's power to punish citizens as Terrorists with no due process -- with (b) multiple Obama policies, including the asserted right to assassinate U.S. citizens away from a battlefield with no due process.

He is referring to the missile attempt on the life of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, one of a purported “hit list” of persons defined by the executive branch as terrorists and marked for execution on sight. How many of them are American citizens is unknown, as it is a secret list.

I at one time thought that the constitutional limitation in the Fifth Amendment about taking of life without due process would apply regardless of citizenship, but I have rethought that. I think that protection applies to non-citizens when they are within the jurisdiction of our government, but otherwise I would suppose that it simply doesn’t apply.

That doesn’t mean that I like the policy of assassination even of non-citizens. Obama, in responding to a critic yesterday, said, “Anyone who doesn’t think that bin Laden deserved what he got needs to think again.” I don’t believe I have any argument with that, but that doesn’t mean I like the idea of my country roaming the world shooting Hellfire missiles into houses hoping that a terrorist is inside and killing innocents when we’re wrong.

Even when we get the right guy, it doesn’t mean that I like the idea of our Chief Executive, the man defined by our constitution with carrying out the laws of our nation, defining extra-judicial assassination as “justice has been done.” It may have been necessary, it may even have been appropriate, but that is not the way our system of laws defines “justice.” If this is our new definition of justice, then we are no longer a nation of laws.

CA High Speed Rail, Part 2

In case anyone missed the point I was trying to make yesterday, I do not believe that is a useful idea to spend $10 billion toward a $45 billion project when you are almost certainly not going to be able to obtain the remaining $35 billion to actually make the project serve any useful purpose.

It's like someone who is not able to pay the rent receiving $10,000 toward a $120,000 Porche. He knows he'll never get the rest of the money, and the Porche, so he goes out and spends the money on fancy rims and tires for the Porche that he hopes he will someday have. Meanwhile he's still unable to pay the rent, and is now having to make payments on the tires and rims that are serving him no useful purpose.

Monday, May 09, 2011

California High Speed Rail

So California is getting an additional $300 million toward its high speed rail project from the federal government, thanks to Florida turning it down. Now all we need is another $11.7 billion to $15.7 billion and we will meet the planned contribution from the feds for this project.

To refresh your memory, California voters passed an $9.95 billion bond issue for this project 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, that is that fees paid by people riding it would “pay the freight.”

You can see how the federal funding is coming along, we have .02% of it so far. We have an even lower percentage of the private investment, and the $10 billion from local governments is really laughable, since they cannot even pave their own streets.

The claims for ridership were, it turns out, wildly inflated to say the least. It pretty much required that every man, woman and child in the state would have to ride the entire length of the damned thing three times per year. Or that every person in Los Angeles would have to make a round trip to Sacramento at least six times per year, which is absurd. Trust me, no one in Los Angeles wants to go to Sacramento even one time per year, let alone six. Few even want to go there once per lifetime.

The $33.5 billion funding shortfall did not deter the project enthusiasts, and did not prevent them from beginning to spend the $9.95 billion allocated. If you check the Wikipedia entry, you will see that the work is being done in bits and pieces pretty much throughout the state, with the only work being done which leads directly to operable trains consisting of a stretch from just north of Fresno south to the state prison at Corcoran.

So high speed rail travel will consist of going south from Fresno to the state prison, or north from Fresno to a point out in the desert where there is nothing but some lizards. They are really nifty lizards, though, so it will probably be worth the trip. If you don’t know where the hell Fresno is, don’t worry about it, neither does anyone else.

Here’s a nice picture of the current Amtrak station at Corcoran, so it looks like that bustling metropolis really needs high speed rail.

Elsewhere, there are things like “right-of-way acquisition, grade separations, utility relocation, environmental mitigation, earthwork, tunneling and track work” and other preliminaries being done, despite the fact that funding to actually build any high speed rail system based on those preliminaries is highly unlikely.

In addition, California sought and received funding from the ARRA, the “stimulus bill,” to make passenger station improvements to support the high speed rail, along with “grade separation work” for that unlikely eventuality, to the tune of $4.57 billion. That is well and good if you subscribe to the theory of “we have to create jobs even if they consist merely of digging holes and filling them back in.”

If the other $28.9 billion never comes through, and we never get a viable high speed rail system (other than from Fresno to the state prison), at least we had fun spending the $14.5 billion that we did get.

Given that the $9.95 billion in bond money that is now being spent carried a stipulation that “any high speed rail be independent of public funding in any form for its operation,” what happens if the money is spent and a) no operational high speed rail system emerges, which seems fairly likely, or
b) a high speed rail system emerges which cannot pay its own way and requires public funding to sustain its operation?

The bond measure, as spelled out on the ballot, did not specify what was to happen in either eventuality, of course. It just specified that there would be a free lunch and did not specify what would happen when the waiter presented a check for payment after lunch was finished.

Government "By The People"

Paul Krugman has apparently not only given up on democracy, he has decided that it died a couple of decades ago. According to his op-ed yesterday in the Times, the public has not had any say in the running of this nation since at least 2000, and probably for some years prior to that. He says that “The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand,” giving voice to the idea that elected officials don’t care what the voters want, they are going to do what is good for elected officials.

In answering his own rhetorical question of what happened to the budget surplus of 2000 he says,

The answer is, three main things. First, there were the Bush tax cuts, which added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the last decade. Second, there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which added an additional $1.1 trillion or so. And third was the Great Recession, which led both to a collapse in revenue and to a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs.

So who was responsible for these budget busters? It wasn’t the man in the street.

So much for “government by the people.” Paul Krugman is an idiot.

Krugman says that the Bush tax cuts were “in the service of his party’s ideology, not in response to a groundswell of popular demand.” George Bush ran for his first term on a promise of tax cuts and got elected. Once elected he did what he had promised to do during his campaign. How is
“the man on the street” free of responsibility for that tax cut?

Krugman says that “voters were never as solidly behind the [Iraq] war as America’s political and pundit elite.” George Bush started that war, but it had barely begun when his first term expired and the people reelected him for a second term and four more years of that bloody and expensive war. So how does “the man on the street” escape any responsibility for that?

Krugman says that the Great Recession was the result of "reckless deregulation," allowing a con to be pulled by financiers. But no con succeeds without greed on the part of the victim, in this case the lure of financial gain or comfort in buying homes that consumers knew damn well they could not afford. Without the housing bubble and the home buying mania, without the manic inflation of lifestyle fueled by the "atm" of home equity, the Great Recession never happened. The dishonesty was on Wall Street but the “man on the street,” at least to some degree, is paying the price of his own cupidity.

The people who Krugman is blaming for this mess were elected, and reelected repeatedly, by the people who Krugman is holding harmless. That is shallow thinking at best. “As you sow so shall you reap.” If the people want better results they are going to have to take responsibility for their government and elect better representation.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Sunday Food Blogging

The title implies that I write food items on a certain day of the week, but I don't. I write food items whenever I come up with a successful new dish, which is not all that often. New dishes are more frequent than successful new dishes (my wife has been known to walk into the kitchen and literally tear up recipes), and I only write about the latter. I also mentioned that today is Sunday and if you already knew that, then good for you.

I invented this item myself, which is unusual as hell. Usually I read a recipe and adapt it to my own taste. Sometimes the recipe is barely recognizable when I get through adapting it, but its original framework will still be there. This one I just plucked out of my own little pea brain, although it has some distant roots in my "Tortilla Stack" recipe, which I posted some time back, and it turned out to be pretty tasty.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

15oz can Hormel Chile No Beans
15oz can Tomato sauce
7oz can Tomato sauce
7oz can diced Ortega Green Chiles, drained
3-4 cloves Garlic, crushed
1 tsp Oregano
1 tbsp Chile powder
4 cups Mexican Cheese, mixed variety, grated
6 ea Yellow Corn Tortillas
2 ea skinless Chicken breasts

Grill the chicken breasts until they are just cooked through; about five minutes on each side, or a little longer if they are thick. Allow them to cool.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Put the first seven ingredients in a large bowl and mix them well. Slice the chicken across the grain, fairly thin, and set aside.

Now you’re ready to build the casserole, which is done in layers. Spray a glass baking dish with non-stick spray, then start with the tortilla. Add a layer of chicken, then sauce, then cheese. Repeat as fits, but for the last layer put the cheese after the chicken and the sauce on top. If the cheese is on top it will burn.

Bake until the cheese is melted and the sauce is nice and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Let stand about ten minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream for topping.

I should add that I dreamed it up last Monday, but making it had to wait until the weather cooled down and using the oven was more feasible.