Sunday, July 31, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

There’s an old joke that says that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Another says that the intelligence of any group can be determined by dividing the lowest IQ of any member by the number of members in the group. Both aphorisms are entirely validated by the United States Congress.

Much of the media is castigating the Tea Party for the current imbroglio, but I would point out that Democrats are now saying that Congress should just bail out of the process and let President Obama solve the problem by invoking the 14th Amendment to the constitution. They want to abdicate their financial responsibility in much the same way they have done with their responsibility for making decisions with respect to wars.

I have been critical of what I refer to as a lack of leadership on the part of Obama in his refusal to demand specific actions from Congress, but Alex Knapp at OTB points out that it really is not his responsibility to do that, that the failure here is in Congress and not Obama’s, and he makes some good points.

More and more, Congress has been willing to simply forego its role in making policy to the President. This trend has only been highlighted during the Obama Administration, because Obama, more than any President in recent memory, has been deferential to Congress’ role as policymaker. We saw that in the Health Care Bill and Stimulus Packages, and we’re seeing it now in the debt ceiling fiasco. The result is an almost desperate flailing by Congress to get the President to do something. That’s a bad thing for Constitutional governance.

That is actually a valid and pretty powerful point, I think. Obama, based on that viewpoint, is being more faithful to the constitution than most recent presidents, although many examples can be provided of ways in which he is most certainly not. The war in Libya comes to mind, for instance, and drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia, so the issue is certainly not a simple one.

Clearly, however, Congress is failing its responsibility and that is the point which Alex makes. I see the point and agree with it, but if they aren’t going to get the job done somebody has to. If the car isn’t starting it doesn’t make sense to just stand around wringing your hands, get a damned crank.

Why Congress is failing is probably not entirely simple, either, but my view would be that it has to do with reelection.

Consider the point that the Tea Party is basing its revolution upon, “spending cuts and no tax increases.” Their opponents have reframed this as “no tax increases on the rich,” making it an issue that polls as highly unpopular, and the Tea Party has not backed down. Many of them say, in fact, “I did not come to Washington to get reelected, I came here to change things.” It’s an interesting viewpoint, and certainly different than the equivocal statements of the career politicians.

I'm not crazy about the “spending cuts and no tax increases” thing, but I rather like the, “I did not come to Washington to get reelected.”

Indeed, what made negotiations for the Health Care Bill and Stimulus Packages so lengthy and laborious was 535 career politicians seeking benefit for their constituencies in the interests of their own reelections. Delay after delay was caused due to seeking the vote of one Senator or a handful of Representatives, and bargaining the contents of the bill to secure those few votes. It wasn’t about the legislation, it was about reelection in the upcoming election year.

Members of Congress are not going to stick their necks out and do anything that might jeopardize their reelection, so if they can palm the difficult decisions off on the president that makes life easier for them and, up to now at least, that has been working for them. Even with popularity ratings in the low teens, they have been getting reelected at a rate of 90% or so in most election years.

It’s not good for the nation, though. As Alex points out, “One of the reasons that Rome went from being a Republic to an Empire is that the Senate kept abrogating its authority to Caesar.” And we all know what happened to Rome.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thinking Big

President Obama is reportedly considering a standard for automakers which would require cars to get 56 miles per gallon. An article suggests that for the cost of building a nuclear reactor we could retrofit 1.6 million homes for energy efficiency, thereby saving the amount that the nuclear reactor would generate, and in the process create many more jobs. It doesn’t point out that the jobs would be temporary.

That’s what passes for "thinking big" today. It’s nothing of the sort. These are small minds thinking inside the box. There is absolutely nothing new in either of those ideas.

Thinking small, mere tinkering with what we have, is not going to solve the problems that face this planet. This kind of thinking is not going to allow 7 billion people to live on a planet that was probably designed to house, maybe, 4 billion people.

Instead of a “retrofit,” a word meaning backward thinking, for existing homes we should be looking at ways to design our cities in a whole new paradigm which redefines the need and manner of transportation and the use of energy. We need a lifestyle in which it doesn’t matter how many miles per gallon a car gets because we don’t use cars much, if at all. We need thinking which is the difference between oxen and the John Deere tractor. Our society is dying here, and to avoid being in the box we need to think outside of it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stock Market Comedy

Much hair pulling and shirt rending over the stock market "plunge" of the past two days, a whopping and hair raising 2% drop, attributed to the "debt crisis" in Washington. Today we read that new unemployment claims were below 400,000, not by much, but below that magic number, and the stock market no longer cares about the "debt crisis," which has not changed, and is buoyed by a "rising economy" and is up today. Sheesh.

Comparing Apples v. Moons

Andrew Leonard is still playing the "blame game," honking about our economic problems being all the fault of George W. Bush, as if that was somehow going to solve anything. It might get Obama reelected, but as to solving anything...

He points out that Bush policies have added $5.07 trillion to the debt, while Obama's have added a mere $1.44 trillion. He fails to mention that Bush was in office for eight years, while Obama has been in office for only two, so Bush added $0.63 trillion per year, while Obama has added $0.72 trillion per year. Given the state of the economy, that's a pretty ridiculous comparison, but so is the entire "blame game" exercise, so I'm not going to retract it.

Besides which, the chart only includes "programs" and doesn't include wars. Bush started two and escalated one, Obama has started three (Libya, Yemen and Somalia) and escalated two (Afghanistan and Pakistan). Bush ended the one in Iraq, Obama has ended none. Before you start screaming, troops are leaving Iraq on a schedule established by Bush, and the Obama administration is trying to extend that timetable.

And what is the point of merely examining "programs" anyway? We're talking about costs incurred here. When I go to the bank can I deduct accidental costs from the debts that I include on my balance sheet? No. The costs I incur are owed whether I planned to incur the costs or not.

Much is made about the disastrous effect of the "Bush tax cuts" on the economy, but Democrats controlled Congress for four years and the White House for two and never made the slightest effort to revoke those tax cuts, and only attempted to revoke a minute portion of them after they lost control of the House. Obama extended those tax cuts for two full years, so they are no longer properly the "Bush tax cuts," they are now the "Obama tax cuts." Democrats also cut other taxes repeatedly while in control of Congress, and Obama proudly cut the Social Security payroll tax.

None of that makes our current economic problems Obama's fault.

Failure to address those problems is the issue. Blaming is wasted energy, an exercise in useless remorse. Our time and effort needs to be directed at finding and implementing solutions.

Supporting The Troops

Andrew Bacevich has a rather brutal piece about “supporting the troops” at Tom Dispatch. Read it for yourself, but I’ll provide you with my version of it.

My nephew and I went to a stock car race up in Perris, CA and before the feature race that announcer says into the PA system, “If you have ever served in the armed forces, stand up now and remain standing.” I was a bit surprised at how few of us were standing as the announcer went into a little speech about how these are the men and women who have “defended our freedom and made it possible for us to be here tonight,” and said to give a big cheer and applause.

That’s how Perris, California “supports the troops.” It’s easy to clap your hands and cheer at an auto race, but that’s not supporting the troops.

Supporting the troops means making sure that they have a job when they come home. It means making sure that not one military veteran sleeps on the street tonight. It means making sure that they get the care that they need when they come back from battle; every form of care, and when they need it, not too late to help.

CBS News did a nice little puff piece on the closing of Walter Reed Hospital last night, one which featured testimonials of veterans praising the loving care they received there. They failed to mention the decades of neglect and shoddy treatment that institution delivered in decrepit and moldy buildings before a public furore forced reform.

Supporting the troops means applying that same energy to the issues of today; to jobs, and homelessness, and the prevention of wasted lives and shattered families.

Most of all supporting the troops means electing a civilian government which doesn’t send them on multiple tours of combat in endless wars of futility.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two Simple Questions

If the deficit is so important, and Democrats are so adult and responsible, why did the Democrats make not the slightest effort to deal with the deficit during the four years that they were in control of Congress? They did not even try; not even for the slightest reduction. Why not?

If raising taxes on the richest 1% of Americans was so important, and of such vital interest to the well being of the nation, why did the Democrats not make the slightest effort to do that during the four years that they were in control of Congress? Why did they not even raise the subject until now?

Babbling Bubbleheads

The deficit discussion in Washington has not gotten any more intelligent this week and, in fact, is actually deteriorating. We now have three plans being discussed, assuming that the “Gang of Six” plan is dead and that Obama has a plan. His last plan, remember, failed in the Senate 97-0.

Boehner’s plan calls for $850 billion over the next ten years, or $85 billion per year, which amounts to 0.05% of the current deficit. In other words, 2000 Boehner plans combined would balance the budget. Oddly, Eric Cantor has told the Tea Party to “quit grumbling and get behind” this plan.

According to Jay Carney, Obama’s plan is not on paper. He doesn’t want to put anything on paper because he doesn’t want to “polarize the discussion.” I think that ship has already sunk.

Reid’s plan is interesting. I call it the “vapor plan,” which fits in more ways than one because Harry Reid has always looked to me like he is about to have a case of the vapors. It bases the financial projections on a continuation of “surge level” spending in Afghanistan and on current military spending in Iraq and Libya, and then uses the reductions from those spending levels as a major part of its “spending cuts.” Is that clever, or what? It also bases revenue projections on GDP growth rates in the 4.6% range over the next three years. To call that optimistic would be an understatement, since it is about 2% now and declining. Despite all of that optimism, it only cuts $2.7 trillion in ten years, or about 1.5% of the current deficit. So it would take 67 Reid plans combined to balance the budget. Well, that and some Alice in Wonderland economics.

The media is not the place to look for clarity, either. Chris Matthews was horrified that Michele Bachmann would accuse legislators of having “anti-American tendencies,” and considered the accusation itself to be a violation of good taste and sanity, but he is accusing the Tea Party and many Republicans of wanting to see this nation “go off the cliff into financial chaos in order to destroy the President,” which is about as anti-American as a person could be. Apparently the accusation coming from him is okay.

Lawrence O’Donnell is proclaiming that Obama and the Democrats have been negotiating in no better faith than the Republicans and have not been serious with any of their proposals, putting them out only for the purpose of letting Republicans reject them and thereby look bad. Neither side is attempting to solve the problem, each side is merely trying to make the other side look bad, and he seems quite proud of how well the Democrats are succeeding with their deceit.

I think this game is being played the same way the “health care reform” bill was. They will yammer at it until the public is so angry and fed up, so disgusted with the whole stupid subject, that we will not even care what the actual resolution is. We will be so glad to stop talking about it that we will happily accept whatever shitty solution they finally pass.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Another Comment

This one from The Democratic Underground:

Oh, the MELODRAMA!!!
Obama gets MAD
Boehner tags Cantor
Obama body slams Cantor
Boehner gets MAD
Boehner comes back in and picks up a metal folding chair
Cantor limps out of the ring and collapses on sideline to distract the ref.
Obama gets MAD again.

Last Night's Speeches

I listened to both speeches last night, and was unimpressed with both. The “analysis” afterward said that Obama was “stern” and “angry,” but he just looked wooden to me, and he certainly didn’t say anything that he hasn’t already said a dozen times or so. He said that the Republican plan was a piece of crap, and he was correct.

Boehner looked like he had just woken up from a bad nap, and talked about a “bipartisan” House bill that was supported by a whopping five Democrats. He said that the Reid plan was crap and was full of gimmicks, and he was right about that. For inatance, $1 trillion of the proposed cuts is from "ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Obama said to call my representative, but I’m not about to do that. If not because of my aversion to “direct democracy” as I discussed earlier, I’m not going to tell them to vote for any of the plans on the table, because none of the plans on the table are worth the paper they are printed on. Oh, wait, they aren’t on paper. My evaluation stands.

Direct Democracy Doesn't Work

When the Central Arizona Project began bringing water to Tucson in the 1980’s it was decided by our elected representatives to put that water into the ground and remove it as needed using the existing groundwater system. Filtering it down through the ground would help to clean it up and putting it into the existing groundwater would help alleviate the problem of its “hardness,” as it would be mixed with the greater volume of groundwater.

Some “concerned citizen” became worried that the CAP water would not stay in place, but thought that it might move underground southward into Mexico, and a heated public discussion erupted about not letting the Mexicans get our water, that we should inject it directly into Tucson’s water system. Our elected officials reminded us that this was water which had come across 330 miles of desert, evaporating on the way and becoming much “harder” in the process, and that a great many animals had fallen into the water and died with the consequences you can imagine, and that we really should recharge it.

The public, of course, did not trust our elected officials and did not listen to them and demanded a public vote. They got it and voted to inject the water directly into the city water system. The result was disastrous. The water was so bad that people would not even bathe in it let alone drink it or cook with it. You could not wash your car with it, as it would eat the paint off your car. It was good, actually, only for watering your lawn, and very few people in Tucson have lawns.

Within a few months the recharge plan was revived, but not before the water did $millions of damage to the city’s water delivery system and cost the citizens $millions more in the purchases of bottled water.

This is one small example of why direct democracy doesn’t work. The state of California is approximately 2000 square miles of illustration of the disastrous effects of direct democracy, in this case $19.3 billion of red ink. Right now there’s a guy in front of the grocery store with a petition to “stop internet sales tax.” I’m sure local merchants are thrilled with him.

When we elect officials to represent us, we need to leave them the hell alone and let them represent us, not organize massive call-in campaigns to tell them what to do every time some “concerned citizen” thinks they know how something ought to be done. If they are doing it wrong, then vote them out of office at the next election. This nonsense of repeatedly calling and telling them how to vote on issues, and then reelecting them at the next election cycle is ridiculous, and it’s not working.

We don’t elect these people to be poll takers or vote counters, we elect them to be decision makers. If they won’t make decisions then why are we reelecting them again and again and again? Boot them the hell out and elect someone who will. But when you hire someone to do a job and he doesn’t do it the solution is not to do the job for him, it’s to fire him and hire someone who will do the job.

It’s clear to me that we need to elect 435 new representatives to the House and as many new Senators as we can. Fire all of them, regardless of party affiliation, and start with a new crop. God knows, a new crop can’t be any worse than what we have.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pressure Cooker

Based on title, could be politics but isn't. I cook things in a pressure cooker quite often. Two or three times a month probably. I have a routine which never varies. I put the stuff in the pot, put the lid on and light the fire, and then go in the living room and sit down. When the hissing starts I freak out completely, caught entirely by surprise. I am never ready for it and always think something is blowing up somewhere. It usually takes five minutes to get my heart rate below 100.

Liveblogging the Debt Crisis

Friday night and Saturday we were being told that a deal would have to be done during the weekend or we would see disaster in the stock markets when they opened on Monday morning. Something on the order of Henry Pauson's "tanks in the streets" warning in 2008.

The Dow is -34.32 (0.29%) right now, S&P -2.24, Nasdaq -1.34. Yawn.

We seem to have something in the streets, okay; kiddie cars.

No Short Term Deal

President Obama will veto a short term debt ceiling increase because it "could put our credit rating at risk and leave the cloud of uncertainty over the American people." His threat has nothing to do with his reelection campaign, despite his earlier phrasing that any deal would have to extend "past the 2012 elections." He has dropped that unfortunate terminology and is now saying it must extend "into 2013."

Let me find my hip boots, because it is getting deep in here.

Heroic Stupidity

I wonder if Lawrence O’Donnell is going to be crowing tonight about the masterful Republican rout that President Obama has pulled off, as he has been doing for the past several nights on his show, applauding Obama’s beautifully deceitful performance in pretending for the “grand bargain” while achieving his real purpose of driving the Republicans away from the bargaining table and forcing impasse. I wonder if he still thinks that what we have now continues to look like total Democratic, or democratic, victory.

How does Obama look like a knight in shining armor after saying that he will veto a short term deal and throw the nation into default because it would interfere with his reelection campaign? How does that make him “the adult in the room” that is being claimed for him?

If he gets the “clean” debt limit increase that O’Donnell thinks would be such a heroic achievement, he will still be “the president who killed an opportunity to reduce the deficit.” How does that play out in his favor, either in the election next year or in history?

No, there are no winners here, because as stupid as are claims for Democratic victory, the Republican claims are even worse. They are coming up with methods which have the President vetoing a Congressional negative to raise the debt ceiling, abdicating their own role in governmental responsibility altogether.

The one thing that is known for sure is that there will be a last minute deal, but I’m not so certain. When you back someone into a corner and give him no alternative to surrender, sometimes he just pulls the pin on the grenade and blows everyone up. Right now it sounds to me like both sides are becoming quite capable of doing just that.

"Super Congress"

We're going to see how my "single source" thinking works out, I think. A whole bunch of people are freaking out over some "Super Congress" plan that seems similar the the Military Base Realignment and Closure business, but everyone is pointing to an article in The Huffington Post. So not only is it a single source, it's not even a very reliable or reputable source. I will reserve comment for now.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

The movie premiered, apparently, at ComicCon here in San Diego and is getting rave reviews. I'm looking forward to it, as it combines science fiction, westerns and Harrison Ford, three of my favorite things. I used to think that a movie starring Harrison Ford could not be bad, until I saw Random Hearts. In that screen debacle he played the role of a widower, but I got the distinct impression that it was him who died rather than his wife. Even Harrison Ford can utterly stink up a movie, but it is really rare that he has done so.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Angry Birds

Angry Birds is available free with Google's Chrome browser. It is a stupid, annoying ridiculous game that is played only by children and idiots.

And, perhaps, by old retired guys in San Diego.

Mutually Assured Destruction

Interesting day yesterday. Obama appeared to be righteously pissed off, although according to Lawrence O’Donnell that was mere pretence since he is brilliantly accomplishing exactly what he is attempting to do. More on that thought a bit later.

The Republican position is, of course, idiotic. George the First did not lose because he raised taxes, he lost because he made far too big of a crusade about not raising taxes before he raised them. Dozens, hundreds of politicians of politicians have been reelected after raising taxes. Every politician who has been reelected has been reelected after breaking promises. What causes loss is making major crusades out of promises, and then breaking them, and this crowd is making one huge hell of a crusade out of not raising taxes which will eventually be raised.

I’m not seeing Obama in all that much better light, though, because there is evidence that he did deliberately blow up the “grand bargain” talks, if not by moving the goal posts then by simply throwing too many ingredients into the stew. Or too many cooks into the kitchen. Or a monkey wrench into the gear train. Whatever.

Indeed, Lawrence O’Donnell pontificated at length last night about how brilliant Obama has been throughout this entire process by proposing a “grand bargain” which was entirely a bluff, a proposal on which he never had the slightest intention of making good, and how every time he had Boehner at the point of accepting it he would add new terms to it to assure that Boehner could not accept it.

There’s no way to know if any of that is true, because Obama never put anything in writing, although he has promised to provide all of it in written form retroactively. Heh.

O’Donnell is simply awestruck by the President’s brilliance at having “forced John Boehner to walk out” of the talks, so that Obama will not have to “make any of the painful moves” necessary to achieve the proposed grand bargain. That will result, according to O’Donnell, in the President getting what he asked for to begin with, which is “a clean bill raising the debt ceiling, with no deal on the deficit at all.”

Or it could result in a deadlock, by O’Donnell’s own statement created by Obama, which results in default and the second Great Depression. O’Donnell rules that out, but I’m not so sure. If you back someone into a corner and give him no options at all, sometimes he just pulls the pin on the grenade and blows everyone up.

Assuming O’Donnell is right and Obama gets the debt ceiling increase without “having to make any of the painful moves necessary to achieve the proposed grand bargain.” That leaves him with an ongoing deficit, and eating a lot of words he has uttered about how urgently we need to deal with that deficit. He is then “the president who refused to cut spending and reduce the deficit.” I’m not sure how easily even he is going to talk his way out of that in an election year, and that’s the best possible outcome for him.

Pretty hard to say he has the Republicans on the ropes as of yet.

Friday, July 22, 2011

1937 Redux

Paul Krugman is now displaying the full lack of credibility of his mantra that the “New Deal” spending led to the booming economy of the 50’s and 60’s or that, in fact, it did much of anything, as he screams that we are “doing 1937 all over again.” He points out that current “austerity plans” will throw us back into recession just as it did in 1937, “until World War II finally provided the boost the economy needed.”

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not in sympathy with this “deficit reduction” nonsense in Washington at the moment. I’m fiscally somewhat conservative and would like to see us with a balanced budget, but the timing and method of this is all wrong in many ways, and it should most certainly should not be done under the “pointed gun” of the debt ceiling debate. We should be dealing with something that would attempt to produce jobs.

I’m also not opposed to spending to spending money in recessions to help those who are out of work, and making jobs for them is better than paying them money to do nothing. But I believe we are kidding ourselves to believe that such spending is going to “stimulate” the economy.

To that point, when government spending of the “New Deal” was cut back in 1937 the nation promptly slid back into recession, and Paul Krugman sees no lesson to be learned there.

I still find it somewhat amusing to think that World War II sent us into some sort of spending spree that lasted for twenty years after the war ended. We apparently were so pumped up from the adrenaline from destroying the world that we just could not control ourselves and had to turn that energy into something and the momentum carried us for two decades.

The most destructive five years in the history of the world as the basis for a domestic economic growth just lacks something as a reasonable economic model, somehow. The war did not make us rich or create enormous wealth which needed to be spent. In fact, it left us heavily in debt.

Paul Krugman looks at a world that is mostly rubble and says it didn’t affect us for the next two decades because it had destroyed our market; no one could buy from us. If that were true the world would still be mostly rubble.

I look at a world that is mostly rubble and say that is one hell of a market; nobody has anything, and we are the only ones with manufacturing capacity, so it is an unlimited market of huge demand with no competition.

I think history tells us which viewpoint makes sense, but the war created the booming economy not by “building momentum” but by destroying our competition, literally, and creating demand by turning the existing infrastructure into rubble. I’m not sure that’s something we dare to repeat.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cool Particles

I have no idea what these particles are, but I like them a lot.

Protons contain two "up" quarks and one "down," while neutrons have two "down" quarks and an "up." The newly discovered particle contains a "strange" quark, an "up" quark and a "bottom" quark. The bottom quark is called a "heavy bottom" quark, making the neutral Xi-sub-b about six times heavier than a proton or neutron.

I think my cat ate a "strange quark" yesterday, and threw it up on the rug.

Hot Racers

NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace, who seems to be remarkably unbashful, recently tweeted, “My wife is having hot flashes. Does anyone know what that means?” DeLana Harvick, wife of race driver Kevin Harvick, replied, “That means you need to be super duper nice to her.”

Um, actually it means that, and that you need to tiptoe through the room that she is in, play only that music that she likes, wear headphones when watching television unless she’s watching it with you, hide all of your weapons and anything that can be used as a weapon, fresh flowers daily… You get my point.

It's Just Me Here

In blogging, audience is all about frequency of posting. The more often you put up posts, the more often people come to your site to read those posts. Writing posts is pretty hard work, though, so you either have to not particularly care about large traffic (which is the route I take) or you have to work your proverbial ass off.

Or you add writers to your blog, preferably a whole bunch of writers.

To me that rather spoils the whole point of having a blog. I read blogs to enjoy a personal viewpoint on the political world. I don’t always agree with that viewpoint, and in fact I seek out blogs with views that differ from mine. In reading blogs I am getting to know the person who writes the blog, as well as pursuing a political interest.

When a blogger starts adding more writers, the thing becomes more of a newspaper than a blog. Certainly their number of “hits” increase, but any connection that I felt to the original blogger diminishes to a vanishing point.

Digby has now added another writer and, as is rather typical of these additions, he writes lengthy and highly opaque pieces designed more to impress than to communicate. I don’t read them. As soon as I see his byline I skip the piece and continue to those written by the person I came to the site to read.

So if frequency is your issue, well, you get what you get. I write when I see something that moves me to write. I never write merely for the sake of increasing the “post count” and I’m not inviting anyone to “join me” here. I am what you get.

The Six O'Clock Slot

Cenk Uygur was filling the 6:00pm news/opinion slot on MSNBC until recently, when Reverend Al Sharpton was given that slot. Cenk is complaining that he was booted because the network “didn’t like his tone,” and that ultimately the complaint came from the White House. Right; and the White House is causing the drought in Texas, too, because that state was carried by McCain/Palin in 2008.

In actuality, Cenk Uygur went on vacation for two weeks, Sharpton filled in for him, and ratings went up during those two weeks. If you’re worried about your job, don’t take a vacation.

I didn’t watch Uygur for the same reason I don’t watch Rachel Maddow. When a newscaster holds up two fingers a half-inch apart and repeats the word “teeny” six or eight times to tell me how angry they are about something, I don’t give them a chance to do that a second time. I graduated form high school a long time ago and I don’t listen to “journalists” who talk like fifth graders.

I don’t watch Sharpton either, but not because I have anything against him. I just have a problem with the whole concept of Reverend Al Sharpton doing political commentary. It’s my feeling that ministers should either stick to spiritual matters or should drop the title of “Reverend” when participating in the political arena.

Update: Corrected for my inability to adjust for time zones. It's at 3:00pm here, so of course I added the wrong number of hours for EDT. I don't travel much.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pig In A Poke

Chris Matthews yesterday was, to say the least, irate over the degree to which the Republican bill in the House is a hollow pretense. He kept screaming at his Republican guest again and again, “Where are the cuts?” and “There’s no cuts.” Then he said guy was being childish, which I thought was pretty rich since it was Matthews who was throwing the tantrum.

Lawrence O’Donnell, however, is quite content with the plan advanced by the “Gang of Six” and endorsed by President Obama, although if it’s any more detailed than the Republican plan that certainly is not evident to me. I’m also not sure how happy I am to have my country being governed by “gangs.” O‘Donnell had Senator Kent Conrad on last night.

On Spending Cuts
There will be $500 billion in spending cuts “immediately” with more to come in future legislation. The immediate cuts are broken down by area, $80 billion from defense for instance, $70 billion from education and labor programs and $11 billion from agriculture programs, but it doesn’t say if that is all in the upcoming fiscal year or if it is a ten-year plan. It also doesn’t say how much is actual decreases and how much is merely reductions of planned increases.

Why the bulk of it is left to “future legislation” is unclear unless, of course, the intention is that the future legislation will never actually be passed.

On Medicare
O’Donnell asked Conrad how they planned to deal with Medicare and he replied that on “Medicare and other health care accounts” they would save $500 billion. O’Donnell followed up by asking if that would come from providers or from recipients and Conrad replied that, “We would say that they should come from providers but ultimately the finance committee will come back with a proposal…” He went on to say that, “We have given them a number that they are responsible to hit.”

So that savings could come in the form of reduced benefits, it could come as increased premiums, it could be a higher eligibility age. We will not know until after the law has been passed committing us to it.

On Social Security
On this one Conrad merely said, “What we have called for is 75 years solvency.” Again, he said that the bill leaves it up to the finance committee as to methods for achieving that. It could be reduced benefits, it could be higher retirement age, it could be reduction if cost of living increases, it could be higher payroll taxes. We won’t know until the law has been passed committing us to it.

On Revenue Increases
The plan calls for reducing tax rates and actually raising taxes by eliminating loopholes and tax dodges, and it eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax which “is increasingly affecting the middle class.”

I would point out that the AMT has always made the wealthy pay more taxes, so there’s no question about who gains most by its elimination.

Conrad went on at length about how the tax change made business more competitive and yet claimed that the CBO would score it as “a $1.5 trillion tax increase over current law.” That was driving me nuts until someone mentioned that “current law” calls for expiration of the Bush tax cuts. So what this plan calls for is a tax increase, but a smaller one than will happen if current law prevails.

Loopholes are easy to close again, however, one by one without anybody noticing, and than you are left with those lower rates. You don’t really have to lower rates in order to close loopholes.

Further, is this “sweeping and fundamental change in the tax code” going to be hammered out in a few days and passed in time to avoid default? Of course not. This is more of the “pig in a poke.” This is passing a bill that merely announces an intention to do something that may never get done due to later Congressional deadlock.

This “Gang” is the “Gang The Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” The plan they produced is a “pig” and it is very much “in a poke,” meaning we have no real idea what the hell it is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Puzzling Rhetoric

“President Obama has drawn a line in the sand and will not accept a deal that does not include revenue increases, so he’s willing to compromise, but the intransigent Republicans are unwilling to accept a deal that does include any revenue increases.”

Somehow “drawing a line in the sand” is either intransigent or it is a demonstration of willingness to compromise, depending on where you draw the line, what kind of sand you draw it in, what kind of stick you use to draw it… Hell, I don’t know. Somebody explain it to me, please.

Also note that the President says, “I will veto a short term extension” of the debt ceiling, or any other bill that he doesn't like, which would cause a “catastrophic default” on the US debt and doesn’t sound like a particularly flexible position to me, but Obama is still the one who is being praised as the one who is “willing to compromise.”

So Obama won't accept a short term deal, he won't acept an absence of revenue increaces, he won't accept a balanced budget, he won't accept cuts to Medicare. Republicans will accept anything except tax increases, but Obama is the one who is flexible and willing to compromise.

Meanwhile, “back at the ranch” so to speak, there’s a little thing called unemployment which no one seems to really care about.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Oh, this is tempting

Genetic research has discovered that all non-African humans are part Neanderthal. Apparently homo sapiens cross bred with Neanderthals as they left Africa, so the only "pure humans" are people from Africa. I am so tempted to just jump all over the racists with this, the ones who claim that white people are... No, I'll leave it alone.

No, I won't. Us half breeds have been turning up our Neanderthal noses at the only pure humans on the planet? Really? Black is the original human skin color? That is too cool.

Update: Yes, I know I am overstating and oversimplifying this, but it was too much fun to pass up.

What Form of Bad Governance

Republicans are citing polls which show that a significant majority of the public does not want the debt ceiling to be raised. The president is citing polls showing that a majority support “taxing the rich, eliminating corporate tax breaks, and cutting foreign and defense spending abroad.” Both sides are proving that our founding fathers were right, because all of the positions favored by the public boil down to “let someone else pay for it,” and all of those positions are idiotic.

taxing the rich = "let the rich pay for it"
eliminating corporate tax breaks = "let corporations pay for it"
cutting foreign spending abroad = "let foreign countries pay for it"
cutting defense spending = "let the military pay for it"
all of the above = "don't make me pay for it"

None of that translates to sound fiscal policy. The founding fathers created a representative republic rather than direct democracy for a very good reason. They did not trust that reasonable and effective governance would result from direct democracy because decisions would be based on emotion and the "base desires" of the public rather than reason. They were, of course, exactly correct.

Since we now have career politicians who are governing for reelection rather than for the well being of the nation, and every vote in Congress is based not on what is best for the nation but what best enhances reelection, we have effectively changed our government to direct democracy, because the representatives of the people no longer act based on their judgement but based on what appeals to the emotion and "base desires" of whoever is reelecting them.

Whether that “re-electorate” is the public at large or the oligarchy which provides the cash is irrelevant, and in terms of Congressional decision-making it’s some of both. The point is that decisions are not made for the good of the nation but rather to serve the desires of that re-electorate.

This is precisely why government is failing, because direct democracy does not work; just as the founding fathers predicted.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Another "Oddity"

It's not really odd, of course, that the liberal media is castigating Michele Bachmann for quitting her church because its tenets might embarrass her presidential campaign, when in 2008 they were congratulating Barack Obama when he did precisely the same thing for precisely the same reason. By "liberal media," of course, I mean that portion of the media that actually is liberal.

The "No Tax" Pledge

Everyone assumes that Republicans are toeing the line on taxes because they signed the pledge for Grover Norquist that they would never raise taxes, and that their fear of breaking that pledge forces them to maintain their position in opposition to tax increases in Congress. "Grover Norquist," says Lawrence O'Donnell, "is the most powerful man in Washington, more powerful than the man in the White House."

Perhaps that is true in a few cases, but I would suggest that it is very, very few. For most part I am reasonably certain it is the other way around; they signed the pledge because it reflects the position which they held to begin with, and they would be voting the way they are even if the pledge did not exist. Grover Norquist is not powerful at all, he is merely a self serving opportunist.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Policy and Polls

Am I the only one who sees an oddity in the way that President Obama cites polls? When confronted with a poll saying that a significant majority of Americans don’t want the debt ceiling raised, he says that voters don’t know what they are talking about and the poll should be disregarded. When given a poll that says voters want taxes raised he says that voters are wise and the poll should guide government policy.   Interesting.

Elective Monarchy

Lying in the weeds waiting for total meltdown of Congressional functionality is a plan to render Congress completely irrelevant and complete the transfer of all government power to the Executive Branch. Congress has already transferred its war-making power to the Executive, and has now found a way to transfer the rest of its power as well.

Since Congress does not have the courage to pass a budget, or to establish a debt limit for the nation, it proposes to have the President establish a debt limit by executive fiat. Congress will then pass a resolution disapproving that action and when the President vetoes that resolution his decree will become law. To say that that process is inconsistent with the process mandated by our constitution for establishing laws would be an understatement, but it seems this plan is receiving serious consideration.

It does effectively complete the process of creating an “elective monarchy.”

Having set this precedent, if the President later decrees something else to be law, Congress takes no action, and the President then claims that Congressional inaction gives his executive order the force of law, I don’t see how anyone could reasonably argue with that. If the Executive Branch began enforcing that new law, what could Congress or the Supreme Court do? No one would have “standing” to challenge the law in court, and if Congress passed a resolution disapproving the order, the President could simply veto it. No Congress will ever gather enough cohesiveness to override a presidential veto, and there you have laws being put in place by our new “elected monarch.”

Congress would no longer make laws, but would serve only as a rather ineffective check on laws made by the elected monarch, being able to block those laws on the rare occasions that it was able to put together a two thirds majority in opposition.

We’re already well on the way to that form of government. Our president can start wars whenever and wherever he wants. He can order people to be killed, including American citizens. He can run secret prisons and throw people into them without trifling with details like courts or warrants, all he has to do is label them as “supporters of terrorism.” He can listen to conversations of citizens and read their mail.

So this move would complete the process. Every two years we would elect a new Congress for purely ceremonial reasons, and every four years we would elect a new monarch to actually run the country. We could decide for ourselves whether we would have a king or a queen.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Inconclusive? Really?

A woman was found dead in a Coronado mansion yesterday, and the circumstances of her death are being termed as "suspicious." Her hands and feet were bound, hands behind her back, and she was hanging by her neck from a balcony. Law enforcement says that it is unable to rule out suicide as the cause of death.

Now that is a really neat trick. I want to see a movie of that. A woman tying her own hands behind her back and jumping off over a balcony railing with her feet tied and a rope around her neck.

I wonder if the indecision has to do with the fact that the person she was living with, owner of the mansion, is a multi-millionaire.

Update: Well, this masterpiece of indecision puts the Coronado Police Department on a par with the United States Department of State and its recognition of the Libyan rebels.

But the American diplomat I spoke to noted that political recognition is not the same as legal recognition; the TNC may not qualify as a recognizable government according to State Department criteria. What’s more, even legal recognition might not, by itself, permit the assets to be unfrozen. “We’re really grappling with it right now,” he says.

Awesome. We are recognizing the rebels but not really recognizing them, and even if we are recognizing them without really doing so, we may not be able to give them their own money.

Lip Service and Tokenism

I actually intended to listen to President Obama this morning but by 8:00am PDT had entirely forgotten he was speaking, which tells me he isn’t talking about anything that I really want to hear from him. I’m retired, so jobs don’t matter to me personally, but the well being of my nation matters to me more than his damned election does and that means we need to put people to work rather than fulminating about whatever it is that the oligarchs in Washington think is important.

I don’t know what is the “right thing to do” on the debt ceiling and the deficit, and I don’t really give a damn. What I do know is that while you idiots are blathering on that stuff you are doing nothing whatever about putting my fellow citizens back to work, and I am utterly fed up with your indifference to the working men and women in this nation. And this is not self interest, because I am old and retired and I’m not going back to work.

Obama is talking about the polls telling him that “America is with him on this” but he is listening to the wrong polls. The polls that say that people want this or want that as to debt reduction don’t offer a choice that says, “I don’t give a damn, this is the wrong subject and we should be talking about jobs.” If they did, no one would be “with Obama” on these debt talks because almost everybody would be checking the option telling him to change the subject to the generation of jobs.

Obama did one little “stimulus” thing that was too small to begin with. Almost half of it was tax cuts which don’t create jobs, and much of the rest of it was social policy spread thin geographically and timewise and diluting its impact to invisibility. Since then he has spent a year on his own “big things” of “health care reform” which turned out to deal with health insurance rather than health care and hasn’t even gone into effect yet, and now the deficit which is for the benefit of Wall Street rather than Main Street.

Spending cuts, tax increases and deficit reduction are not going to generate jobs. It is time, past time, for more than lip service and tokenism on the jobs issue. To hell with Obama's "big things," quit screwing around and put America back to work.

Update: Obama's "big thing" obsession.

Obama is not content to just get us through the crisis, he is obsessed with "doing something big." But it won't be his fault if it all goes wrong.

Obama described any temporary solution that did not tackle long-term spending problems as the least attractive option. "We have a unique opportunity to do something big. We have a chance to stabilise America's finances for a decade, for 15 years or 20 years, if we're willing to seize the moment," he said.

This is the "Shock Doctrine" at work. Just like George Bush, he is more concerned with his legacy, his place in history, than he is with the well being of the people he governs.

Krugman Is Still At It

Paul Krugman just drives me nuts with this sort of stuff. He still wants us to inflate our way out of debt. “[A] modest rise in inflation would, of course, actually be a good thing, because it would help resolve our debt overhang.”

It would be a good thing if you are in debt, yes. It’s a bad thing if you have savings, because it makes those savings less valuable. It’s a bad thing if you have to buy things, because it makes those things more expensive. Inflation, whether modest or not, rewards borrowing and being in debt and punishes keeping savings and thrifty living. It rewards bad behavior and punishes good behavior. It rewards the rich and punishes the poor.

You know what else will “reduce our debt overhang” Paul? Spend less.

Bootlegging Beer

I was reading that Minnesota had failed to renew a license before shutting down its government, with the result that Miller-Coors will have to shut down sales in that state until license renewal can take place. I was thinking that they needed some experienced bootleggers, and that reminded me of the days when I was a member of the Jaycees in West Allis, Wisconsin, which is a suburb of Milwaukee.

I managed to wind up in charge of a beer sales concession for that organization at a regional fair, this back in the days when there was a significant likelihood of me drinking up all of the profits. There was a strike pending at breweries, so as a precaution I made sure that a full trailer was delivered to the fairgrounds before the deadline, and arranged for a power hookup to keep the beer cold. Good move, as it turned out, because the strike did occur.

We wound up being the only beer concession with draft beer, which in Milwaukee is a matter of some importance, and the weather was sunny and hot, so our sales were off the charts. Problem was that with more than two days of the fair remaining we were running out of beer and the breweries were still on strike. I was a big hero, but that was going to change if we ran out of beer, so I got on the phone and started calling breweries in small towns throughout the state. I finally found one in Potosi that could provide ninety half barrels, but they could not deliver and I had a trailer but no truck.

I was working as a machine operator for a major steel company at the time, and I knew how to drive a truck, so on Saturday morning I went to the plant and got a truck (well, okay, if you want to be technical I stole it), went to the fairgrounds and hooked up the trailer and headed for Potosi. Got the load, returned the loaded trailer to the fairgrounds, and the truck to my employer. I don’t think I was entirely sober during this process, and fortunately nobody called the steel company the following week to ask why one of their trucks was hauling a Pabst trailer. (Which was actually full of Potosi horse piss.)

The last two days of the fair we were selling the hell out of Potosi beer, which actually tasted nothing like Pabst (that stuff was bad), in Pabst glasses and if anybody noticed they didn’t say anything. Of course, due to the strike, we were the only place in town selling draft beer by that point.

The Air Force was also at the fair, along with a B-52 which they were displaying. They had a rope around it to keep people at a distance but, since I was providing the ground crew with beer, I managed to get a tour inside, which was really cool.

I told my father about it and he was thrilled. He had spent, by that time, some thirty years flying airplanes for the Air Force and was currently flying C-119s C-130s, but the most recent strategic bomber he had flown was the B-36 and he’d never been in a B-52. He asked if I could get him a tour and I arranged it with the ground crew. That was sort of a big deal for me, that I was arranging a tour of an Air Force bomber for my dad.

It turned weird on me though when he showed up for the tour in uniform, since he was a full colonel and the ranking guy on the ground crew was a sergeant. It was awkward for only a few minutes, though, since he promptly charmed the guys completely. We all had a really good time and Dad got a tour of a B-52 thanks to his ex-Navy son.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Praising Assassination

Hyperbolic rant takes the place of journalism these days as Lawrence O’Donnell calls Republicans “irresponsible juveniles” and refers admiringly to Obama as, “…a president whose reaction to hostage taking by Somali pirates was to shoot them in the head.”

For one thing, Obama did not shoot anyone in the head, and I would take a bet in any amount that he did not order anyone to be shot in the head. It is almost certain that his order was merely that “lethal force is authorized.”

Secondly, I do not find the willingness to order the death of another to be a particularly admirable quality. That’s what criminals do. Sometimes it becomes necessary for a national leader to do it, but I do not think I want to live in a nation that worshipfully adores the willingness to order killing as a wonderful quality in its leadership. Unlike O’Donnell, I am not thrilled and awed by the idea that my president would solve a problem by shooting someone in the head, other than as a last resort.

Democratic Victory Dance

Democrats have been running victory laps on debt reduction and the debt increase the past couple days, so much so that a couple of liberal outlets are prognosticating that Democrats will retake the House next year. One thing that life has taught me is that one should never start doing the victory dance until they actually hand you the trophy. If nothing else, premature celebrations are unseemly.

They can, of course, be embarrassing. Ask the San Diego Chargers, who for some six consecutive seasons have been measuring the lobby of their head office for a Super Bowl trophy in September.

I was actually embarrassed for Lawrence O’Donnell last night as he waxed rapturous about Obama’s mastery of the situation, his “steely glare” as he faced down the “childish and inept” Republicans” and “utterly shattered” them. He repeatedly compared Obama’s treatment of this financial crisis to his dealing with Somali pirates by “shooting them in the head.” I thought Chris Matthews’ “thrill down my leg” while watching George Bush and the “Mission Accomplished” thing was bad, but this was just painful. O’Donnell is just not in control of himself. He was so excited that several times he couldn't even read the teleprompter – he may have been having an orgasm.

O’Donnell went so far as to validate the McConnell plan. Does he seriously consider that a Presidential veto of a Congressional negative is a valid manner of making law in this country?

On a slightly more sane note, I really dislike this “pay their fair share” rhetoric, otherwise known as “tax the rich.” I certainly would like to see our tax code be more progressive than it is, and I would welcome a couple of new, higher, brackets at the upper end, but by phrasing it the way we are doing we continue the mantra of “let someone else pay for it” that has been the ruling theme for too long in this nation.

Emmy Nomination, Really?

Modern Family has been nominated for an Emmy. I agree that it is a funny and entertaining comedy, but how can it be nominated for an Emmy when it doesn't have a "season" per se, but merely does reruns, with a new episode when the moon is full on even numbered months that begin with "J."

I actually find myself not wanting it to win anything. I just don't believe it has run enough original episodes to qualify.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Does He Really Not Care?

On Monday Obama was challenged in an interview with a poll which showed that a significant majority of the American people do not want the debt ceiling to be raised. His response, something about people not watching the actions of the elite because they had housekeeping chores and bills to pay and that they elected the elite to deal with this stuff, was a long winded method of saying that he didn't care about the damned poll. It was also a little bit insulting to the American voters, but...

Yesterday, in another interview, he said that Social Security checks might not go out in August 3rd if the debt ceiling is not raised before that date, which suggests to me that he does care about that poll after all.

The Stupidest Plan Ever

Mitch McConnell is one of the least reasonable people in the world, let alone the Senate, but even for him this plan is idiotic. Have Congress pass a resolution opposing a debt ceiling increase, so that when Obama vetoes it the debt ceiling will be increased. There are so many things wrong with that plan that it's hard to know where to start refuting it. It is without question the most idiotic thing ever suggested by either party.

How could the president's veto of a resolution of Congressional intent ever be considered to be given the force of law? This is the guy who said that "the number one task of Congress is to defeat Obama." I thought nothing could ever exceed that in sheer stupidity, but he has managed that feat, even adding yesterday that, "as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is unattainable." I seldom ever call names on legislators, but this man is an idiot.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

One Year Ago!

It is sort of mind boggling that Neptune was discovered just one year ago. One Neptunian year, which is 165 Earth years. In the time since it was discovered 165 years ago, Neptune has made just one revolution around the Sun. Something about that just astonishes me. And it is quite a lovely planet.

Unreasonable Intransigence?

Lawrence O’Donnell is back, complete with his unique definitions of political positions and campaign strategies. In talking about the impasse on the deficit negotiations that all have agreed to as a condition for the relatively unrelated issue of raising the debt ceiling, he described the issue thusly.

If the President can’t agree to a bill that doesn’t include tax revenue increases, and Boehner can’t agree to a bill that does… Since the President has successfully and accurately portrayed failure to raise the debt ceiling as the result of nothing but unreasonable Republican intransigence…

First, the failure is actually on reducing the deficit, and both sides have agreed to make that a condition for raising the debt ceiling. Obama is not even calling for a debt ceiling increase absent budget negotiations and, despite O’Donnell’s claims, he never actually took any sort of stand on that position from the beginning.

He also ranted at some length that the only thing that Obama would not agree to was a “short term deal,” and now he is saying that Obama will not accept a deal which does not contain tax increase revenues. So that storyline changed even within the same segment of his show.

And the fundamentals of his claim are a bit odd, as well. When Boehner refuses an agreement which includes tax increase revenue he is being “unreasonably intransigent.” When Obama refuses an agreement which does not include tax increase revenue he is being, what? Not unreasonable or intransigent, certainly. Right, he is being “the adult in the room.” Because tax increases are balanced, reasonable and adult, and being against them is childish.

I happen to favor tax increases, but let’s call the situation what it is. Both sides at this point are being what O’Donnell accuses only one side of being – intransigent. If that were not the case we would not have an impasse, we would have an agreement because the side that was not being intransigent would have made the agreement on the other side’s terms. An impasse cannot occur when only one side is refusing to agree.

I know, liberals will claim that Republicans are being “unreasonably intransigent” while Obama is being “reasonably intransigent,” but that still invalidates O’Donnell’s claim that “failure to raise the debt limit is the result of nothing but Republican…”

Monday, July 11, 2011

NOT Jobs Over Debt Reduction?

A poll was published on The Nation website, and results were interesting. Frankly, I don’t know quite what to make of them. The question was what to do regarding the current deficit/debt ceiling issue.

Responses ran: 34% for raising the ceiling while cutting debt and raising taxes, 34% for Obama invoking the 14th amendment and ordering the debt paid, only 24% for Congress to prioritize a long term jobs plan, and
8% for the Fed to simply tear up the “fake” debt.

So, only one-fourth of respondents favored jobs over debt reduction.

Bad Laws Don't Solve Problems

I have always taken a dim view of laws passed in reaction to specific crimes. Well intended, they are passed in anger and grief and tend to be over-reactions which actually hamper law enforcement and the justice system. If a child is murdered, for instance, what good does it do to pass a new law making it a crime to murder a child, when murder is already a crime punishable, in many cases, by death. What are we going to do, execute the murderer twice?

Of course, in the aftermath of the Casey Anthony verdict we have a rush to pass "Caylee's Law," making it a crime to fail to report a missing child for more than 24 hours, or the death of a child for more than one hour. My initial reaction was that we need to wait until cooler heads can consider this law, and Radley Balko at Huffington Post has a superb dissertation explaining why that is the case.

Can Democracy Survive?

The other day I was reading a liberal blog which touted the idea of personal sabotage as a valid political campaign tactic, something which I commented on earlier. I made a comment on that blog as follows,

The playing field is level now that we have dragged ourselves down to their level and are all wallowing around in the mud. I am so proud of “American exceptionalism.”

I received a reply, “There’s a word for political parties that unilaterally disarm: ‘minority.’”

Think for a moment about the concept that, in American politics, refusing to “wallow in the mud” constitutes “disarming” and conceding an election, relegating your party to a minority status. Discussing issues and policies will not win an election, it is necessary to sabatoge one’s opponent with “gotcha” gamesmanship. Think for a moment what that says about the status of democracy in “the great experiment” that was founded in 1787 on the continent of North America.

In another, somewhat less liberal blog a commenter observed,

Democracy is an anomalous form of government that only works during periods of high resource availability and low social stress. Normally governments are of two types, and countries and regions have tended to alternate between them.

- Monarchic, where a powerful executive purports to act on behalf of, and is supported by, the lower classes.

- Oligarchic, where the executive is weak and power is distributed among the class of landowners, merchants, financiers and military leaders.

Wars and revolutions tend to establish the monarch. Periods of peace see the erosion of central power and eventually result in an oligarchy. For example, in China we are seeing the transition of the monarchic form under Mao to the oligarchic form of today. A similar process is happening in Russia.

Has democracy failed in America, given way to oligarchy now that resources have become scarce and our society is strained? It would be all too easy to conclude that it has. Foreign policy is controlled by the military, domestic policy is controlled by corporations, and elections… Well, based on “Citizens United” and the comments above, elections are purchased by corporations, won by “gotcha” games and have nothing to do with issues and policies. Whatever that is, it certainly is not democracy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Projections of Armageddon

I cannot help but remember the last time that we were warned of impending "financial Armageddon" if Congress failed to act. It was in 2008, and we were told that "toxic assets" had to be purchased from the holders of those "toxic assets" within days, or failures would occur on a scale unknown to modern man. The scope of that failure would be "unpredictable" because "failure on this scale has never happened before." Presidential campaigns were suspended to deal with the crisis, you may recall.

Oddly, those "toxic assets" never got bought and the appropriated money was lent to banks and auto companies at very low interest rates. False alarm, apparently, although no one ever admitted to that.

Now we face shrill screams of world-wide "financial Armageddon" once again. I don't know if this one is for real, or not, but then I'm not the one screaming about the impending "financial melt down."

One seldom acts rationally with a gun pointed at one's head, and I'm pretty sure that was the plan then, and is the plan now.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

We Have Come To This

A liberal blog is touting this as an excellent idea by Democrats,

At 27, he is a full-time “tracker” for American Bridge 21st Century, a new Democratic organization that aims to record every handshake, every utterance by Republican candidates in 2011 and 2012, looking for gotcha moments that could derail political ambitions or provide fodder for television advertisements by liberal groups next year.

They condemn Breitbart, but they believe this is outstanding. An entire organization founded by David Brock of Media Matters for America, with a dozen "trackers" and twenty "reasearch employees" whose sole purpose is to catch Republicans in mistakes which can be put on YouTube. This is modern American politics, Democratic style. Forget about issues and the message, we're playing "gotcha."

Michele Bachmann, whom I despise, was asked "When you think about it, as the unemployment rises your chances of becoming elected increase." She replied, "Well, I hope so because my campaign is about jobs," and the Democrats claim that she said that she hoped for rising unemployment so that she could get elected. In fact, her response was perfectly reasonable, because what she actually said was that she hoped that people were hearing her campaign message.

Chris Matthews is claiming, screaming, that Republicans are operating in bad faith and want the American economy to fail so that they can gain power. Has any Republican ever said anything even hinting at such a policy? They have not. This is a conclusion that Matthews has drawn in his mind. It is an utterly vile charge which is not based on any concrete facts, and he repeats it endlessly on MSNBC while attacking Fox News for being partisan and biased.

And people wonder why I'm abandoning the "liberal camp."

Update, 2:00pm: In response to my commenting this sentiment on a liberal blog, I got that, "There is a word for political parties which unilaterally disarm themselves. They're called the minority."

To that I would respond that if gutter sniping and campaigns of a "gotcha" nature is that only thing that will win a majority then I'm willing to lose. Let the American voters have the government they deserve. If they vote as stupidly as that then they deserve to have idiots governing them. Winning with that sort of campaign is not winning.

Pelosi Pontificates

Politicians are frequently somewhat opaque in their promises, and Nancy Pelosi is not only no exception to that but sets new standards for opacity. There are times that I wonder what the hell language she is speaking, because I didn’t know there was a foreign language that sounded so much like English. Maybe something from another planet, and since I’ve been following Pelosi for quite some time I’m unwilling to rule that out.

A reporter asked her about the possibility of a change in the method of calculating cost of living increases for Social Security and her answer was, even for her, lengthy and confusing. Something about what “some people” thought and “other people” thought but nothing, of course, about what she thought or about what she planned to do. That’s assuming that she had any thoughts, which is not really a safe bet, and that she actually planned to do anything, which is even less of a safe bet.

She did go on to say that “any savings from changing the CPI would have to go back to the Social Security Trust Fund.” That’s a pretty weird statement. Weird statements is one of her specialties, of course, but still…

Presumably by “changing the CPI,” which only the economy itself can do, she meant changing the method by which the CPI is calculated when determining Social Security cost of living increases. After declining to reveal whether or not she thought that would represent an “effective benefits cut,” she basically admits that it would be by referring to “savings from” doing it. Maybe she hoped we weren’t paying attention.

What am I saying? Politicians always hope we aren’t paying attention.

The part about those savings “going back into the Social Security Trust Fund” is really odd given that, being “savings,” they would not have come out of it in the first place.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Nothing Is Not A Cat Toy

Left a new roll of stamps on my desk yesterday, and it was missing this morning. Found it on the floor under a bookcase. Little fuzzy bugger.

Oh, Give Me A Break

First the White House said that the poor jobs report was due to "economic headwinds that occurred in the first half of the year," and now Obama is saying that it is because of "uncertainty that the debt limit will be raised" that is causing employers to be unwilling to hire. They forgot to mention the state of the tide and the phase of the moon.

Big-Mouth Military

Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is openly and directly accusing Iran of arming Iraqi "militants" who are killing American soldiers in Iraq, this while he is publicly urging Iraq to repudiate the agreement that was signed by President Bush for the withdrawal of American troops from that country. He is also publicly accusing the Pakistani government of being complicit in the killing of a journalist.

Why is Obama so unable to control his damned big-mouth flag officers?

Five Things Defining Middle Class

Alan Grayson said yesterday that five things were needed to be a member of the middle class, “Number one, having a job. Number two, owning a home. Number three, owning a car. Number four, having affordable health care, and number five, a pension.” I disagree with him on three of the five, but only because I’m more liberal than he is. Don’t get all feminazi on me in the following, I’m using the male pronoun for convenience.

He should have a job: We are in complete agreement on this one. Further, it should be a job which allows him to use all of the creativity he possesses, should afford him dignity, reasonable working conditions and a living wage, and it should offer him a chance to advance in responsibility and authority based on job performance.

He should own a home: I don’t agree on that one, although I do agree than he should be comfortably housed, and that he should be able to own a home if he chooses. Owning a home is not the best choice for everyone and there are disadvantages as well as advantages.

He should own a car: I totally disagree on this one. For one thing in New York City, for instance, owning a car is an enormous pain in the ass, and you would seldom use a car if you did own one. Secondly is that our society places far too much emphasis on cars. We should be using public transportation more, and engineering our cities to make that feasible. Grayson’s point is not without validity, but I think it needs to be phrased more broadly; a person should have adequate mobility.

He should have affordable health care: I basically agree on this one, only I don’t think it should be affordable, I think it should be free. Of course it would not be “free,” it would be paid for through general taxation, but there is no doubt in my mind that doing it that way is the least expensive way to manage health care. Eliminate the cost of insurance companies.

He should have a pension: absolutely. I hope it goes without saying that the pension should be sufficient to allow him to live in dignity and comfort.

Is This Silly, Or What?

Yesterday the stock market rose significantly based on a rosy jobs report from the Department of Labor. New unemployment claims were down by 19,000 and ADP said that 157,000 new jobs were added. Cheering was heard on Wall Street and everyone was suddenly a little bit richer.

Today: gasp! The stock market dropped as the Department of Labor says that only 18,000 new jobs were added, and unemployment rose to 9.2%. Weeping is heard on Wall Street and suddenly everyone is poorer.

Monday a palm tree will fall over in Bali Bali, coconut prices will rise and the stock market will go crazy. Tuesday Bill Gates will trip over a crack on the side walk. He’ll claim he’s fine, but computer stocks will nosedive. The stock market has been taken over by total idiots.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Trial Balloons

Democrats/progressives are freaking out over a leak from the White House that Obama is planning a $4 trillion deal with Republicans that would include cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The White House has already responded that the rumor has “overshot the runway,” whatever that means. It certainly seems to be somewhat less than an outright denial.

Me, I’m going to wait until there is something more concrete before I freak out. That being said, something is up, and I don’t think we’re going to like it very much.

The Obama Administration does these leaks all the time to gauge public reaction. Depending on the severity of the reaction, it then either proceeds with its plans or revises them to follow a slightly less objectionable policy. In the latter case they come out the winner because the "base" is relieved that it is not as bad as they thought it was going to be. The leak still works in their favor, because had they not leaked the original plan the actual policy would be met with howls of outrage, but since the actuality is less bad than the leaked policy, the base is content.

For example, they leak that the White House is going to kill the first born child in every household. Great outrage ensues, so the White House announces that no, they are only going to kill the first born children who happen to be females. Everybody applauds what a wonderful policy that is because the White House is not killing male children. Had they originally announced they were killing all first born female children, the base would never have accepted the plan.

So, we’ll just have to wait and see how long the runway actually is.

Inability To Govern

Democrats are telling us that we should not vote for Republicans they are never able to govern once they get elected, but if anyone has demonstrated an inability to govern it would be this bunch of Democrats we have in office right now. Not only can they not ever win a debate with Republicans, they cannot even manage to set the terms upon which the debate will be held. Obama has lost every debate in its early stages, some even before they began, mostly by allowing the Republicans to defend their own turf.

On “health care reform” he began the debate by agreeing in secret with the drug companies that price negotiations with Medicare would not be a topic and took “single payer” off the table, and the debate still took a full year, eliminated the “public option” and wound up benefiting insurance companies more than the public.

He lost the tax argument from the beginning merely by allowing them to continue to be called “the Bush tax cuts,” and wound up extending them for two full years.

Now Obama is allowing Republicans to set the terms of the debate on raising the debt ceiling, ceding to them the budget and deficit to use as a cudgel by allowing them to say, "Obama is not going to get what he wants, the limit increase, without conceding some huge spending cuts in return."

Instead of saying, "No, we will talk about the budget and the deficit in good time, but the discussion is about the debt limit alone," Obama said he would go along with spending cuts in exchange for tax increases on the rich. And we are off and running with another artificial impasse which is about the budget instead of about the debt limit. And we are there because Obama refused to demand that Republicans stick to the subject and deal with raising the debt limit.

Instead of using the bully pulpit as a bully pulpit and thundering at the Republicans for threatening the security of this nation and its people, Obama is pleading with Republicans to be reasonable on their topic, and inviting “rich people who have done very well” to give up their corporate jets.

Democrats applauded the one time he stepped to the podium and “kicked ass” by telling Congress to stay in town over the holiday week recess, but he didn’t demand any particular action, merely demanded that they “strike a deal.” In doing that he was on Republican ground, because the true “kick ass” position would have been to demand a “clean bill” containing the debt limit increase alone.

So instead of a debt limit vote on which Democrats will vote "yes" and Republicans will vote "no" and on which Democrats can say "the debt limit was not raised because Republicans blocked it," we will have a budget battle and Republicans will be able to say, "the debt limit was not raised because Democrats insisted on tax increases."

Obama has pulled the rug out from under the Democrats again.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Is This Keeping Us Safe?

So far the discussion, that is to say the points upon which agreement does not exist, regarding Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame of Somalia is whether he should be tried in a civilian court in the United States or by a military tribunal at Guantanamo. No one seems to be asking why we have him in the first place, why we kept him in secret and isolated captivity for two months, or what justification we have for “trying” him at all.

In a telephone briefing with reporters, senior administration officials said Mr. Warsame and another person were captured by American forces somewhere “in the Gulf region” on April 19. Another official separately said the two were picked up on a fishing trawler in international waters between Yemen and Somalia. That other person was released.

Is no one concerned about our apparent claim to “ownership” of the high seas? In 1812, we fought a war with England over their practice of stopping our ships at sea and arresting whoever they believed to be English citizens. When the English do it we’ll go to war to stop it, but when Obama does it he’s “keeping America safe.”

In years prior to 2008, liberals were appalled that our government was detaining people secretly and interrogating them in locations where oversight could not be maintained. Now that it is the Obama administration doing it, there is unanimous agreement that it is a necessary measure for the safety of this nation; Republicans because they have always supported it, and Democrats because it’s Obama doing it.

Liberals Progressives are celebrating that Obama plans to try this guy in a civilian court, while Republicans are decrying that, but no one is asking why. Why can America roam the world grabbing anyone, anywhere, and bring them from other parts of the world to our country and put them on trial under our laws? Why can we hold them in secret detention for months while we interrogate them?

If an American citizen was taken from a ship in international waters, held in secret for two months and interrogated, and then hauled off to some other nation and placed on trial facing a death penalty for doing something which we did not consider to be a crime, how would we feel about that? Would we allow them to do that? Would we have a desire to retaliate against them for doing that?

I just don’t “get” what it is that we think we are accomplishing.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

False Premise

Democrats are united with Republicans in convincing you that some sort of "budget deal" is necessary in order to raise the debt limit. It is not. The two are completely unrelated. The debt limit can be raised in a piece of legislation which contains nothing else. It has been done that way many times. This "standoff" and deadline over cutting spending and raising taxes is completely unnecessary.

Birthdays And Old Age

I didn’t “celebrate America’s greatness” yesterday because I don’t really see this nation doing much of anything to deserve that label. We’re old and worn out; barely functional. We've had it too good for too long, are taking it for granted, and don't seem to feel that we should have to pay for it. We’re fighting a lot of wars, but I’m not sure that would be a cause for celebration of greatness even if we were winning those wars, which we are not. We aren’t building anything. Our economy is unable to sustain our population.

Adam L. Silverman summed it up at Sic Semper Tyrannis yesterday, when he described the state of our nation thusly,

Our real problem today, though, is that our ability to govern ourselves is breaking down. Rather than recognizing that government can, and when necessary should, do certain beneficial things for everyone - what we call delivering public goods, we have degenerated into a citizenry that is poorly informed, often poorly educated on the most important issues, contemptuous of expertise and the education that goes with it, and convinced that government is the problem. And a good chunk of our elected officials seem determined to prove that government is good for nothing and should therefore be down sized if not gotten rid of (all while enjoying government pay checks, health care, and retirement - kind of makes one wonder). There was a time where American government was part of the solution. America's infrastructure was the marvel of the developed world - our interstate highway system, our bridges and tunnels, the rail roads, our airports and sea ports, and our power grids and sewer systems. These were not built with private dollars, they were built as public investments, as public goods, so that private investments could flourish. Today many have been sold off, and often not to the highest bidder, and they are crumbling, and they are no longer a shining example to the rest of the world, but rather something between a sad joke and the example of what happens when a society decides to consume itself. So government is not the problem, just as it is not always the solution, but our real problem is bad government, bad governance, and bad elected and appointed officials, as well as an uninformed and not particularly inquisitive citizenry, and a news media designed to make money, not to help overcome the problems of low and bad information. Our social contract is frayed and the wisdom of those who wrote it fails us even as it and they are venerated to new heights.

The liberal defense of Obama is not that he will make this country better, or that he will serve the interest of the people, but that he will do less damage to the people’s cause than will any Republican who might replace him. He will tax the rich in order to cut fewer services to the middle class, and he will cut Medicare without harm to the people who depend on it for their health care. We actually seem to believe that he will eliminate $100 billion in Medicare spending without harm to the people it serves, because he has told us that the alternative is a “Ryan plan” that will eliminate it altogether.

Are we seriously going to fall for “eliminate waste and fraud” yet again?

We used to pretend that the voters in this country were voting in their own interest, now even the Democrats no longer pretend to be a people’s party. Illusion is gone and our election is not a choice about what’s best for us, but merely who is the least destructive politician. Obama is not what we want, but at least he’s not as bad as the other guy. Modern democracy in action.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Hypocrisy Abounds

The Bush tax cuts trashed our federal budget, causing a huge deficit, so the tax cut for those making $200,000 per year should be eliminated. The Bush tax cuts for those making less than that should be retained, though, because... Well, because, that's why. Something to do with a "fair share," whatever the hell that means.

What it actually means is, "Let somebody else pay for it."

Republicans want to solve the debt problem by making poor people the enemy, and Democrats want to solve the debt problem by making rich people the enemy. Middle class got their taxes cut and upper class got their taxes cut, so now to solve the problem that was caused by those tax cuts the rich must give up those tax cuts but the middle class should not give up their tax cuts. Or everybody keeps their tax cuts and poor people starve to death and/or die of preventable diseases.

But this most certainly is not class warfare being waged by either side. Of course not. Perish the thought.

I think the Bush tax cuts should be revoked in their entirety. At all income levels. People should not starve or be homeless in this country.

Dying Planet

The pipeline that ruptured and dumped oil into the Yellowstone River has renewed my profound feeling that we are simply killing this planet, and for what? We are living more elaborately and comfortably than ever, for a longer time, in vastly greater numbers, and are killing the planet upon which we live in the process. Even when we recognize the damage that we are doing to this Earth we call home, we do not pause to consider that we might need to adjust our manner of living in any fundamental way. My suspicion continues to grow that we may have less time than we think.