Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oh, The Comments!

I have no real use for, other than Glenn Greenwald whose articles I eagerly await and read voraciously. "Ask The Pilot" is sometimes worth reading, too, but for the most part the rest of the site is written by mental midgets and half wits. (Not excluding Joan Walsh.)

Case in point is an article by Steve Kornacki about how different government would have been had the Supreme Court not appointed George Bush and instead allowed the popular vote to prevail for Al Gore. (He doesn't phrase it that way, of course.) He suggests that Gore would have invaded Iraq just as Bush did. I really don't suggest that you actually read the article, even for him it is dimwitted, but I do suggest reading the comments. The comments are delightful. My favorite is,

And a monkey might fly out of your ass, too.
The same place where you are pulling your conclusions from.

Seems the readers at Salon are a bit more on the ball than the writers.

Now It's "We Dodged A Bullet"

We are, it seems, still hyperventilating about nuclear Armageddon based on earthquakes. The Independent headlines “Why the Fukushima disaster is worse than Chernobyl,” except that having read the article twice to be sure I didn’t miss anything, I don’t see actual evidence that it’s even anywhere near as bad as Chernobyl. That’s not to say that it isn’t bad, or that it is not imposing terrible tragedy on the people in that part of Japan, but…

Then Balloon Juice headlines “We Dodged a Bullet” and cites one article which bleats that the Virginia reactor was “only” designed to withstand a 5.9-6.1 earthquake, and another which says that the 5.8 earthquake, which was eleven miles away, “may have exceeded design limits” of that reactor. That one says, further, that,

As in Japan, all U.S. power nuclear power plant spent fuel pools do not have steel lined, concrete barriers that cover reactor vessels to prevent the escape of radioactivity.

Actually, the spent fuel is submerged in water to prevent the escape of radioactivity as well as for cooling, and if that water is lost any kind of cover on the container is not going to do much good when the fuel overheats and explodes. That cover would be in pieces and/or in the neighboring state.

Unlike Japan, in any case, the spent fuel pool at North Anna site is at ground level, not 30’ or so in the air, which makes a rather dramatic difference in an earthquake. Nothing in either article comes within proverbial hand grenade distance of actually suggesting that spent fuel was at risk in this earthquake event.

Also, the Japanese reactors which failed are of the boiling water design, while North Anna’s are pressurized water reactors which are several orders of magnitude safer. Again, there is no suggestion in either article that the reactors were ever within any reasonable distance of being at risk of overheating, let alone melting.

The article which says the quake “may have exceeded design limits” of the reactors offers no explanation for that given that they were designed for a 5.9-6.1 quake and experienced a 5.8. The Richter scale is logarithmic, so the 5.8 actual quake is quite a lot smaller than the 5.9 lower limit of the maximum for which the reactors were designed, not the tiny margin that is implied in most writing on this topic. The epicenter was eleven miles away, as well; close, but still far enough to reduce the effects to some degree. The article even says that no damage has been found other than some minor insulation shaken off of pipes, so the statement about “exceeding design limits” sounds a bit ludicrous.

The 5.8 earthquake was the largest on that side of the continent on some sixty years, so the design criteria sounds like it was reasonable, and with no damage other than insulation it sounds like the criteria was adequate as well, so the “We dodged a bullet” headline sounds a bit silly to me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Exercise In Futility

Lawrence O'Donnell did a piece on The Last Word yesterday about us killing Al Queda's number two guy for the umpteenth time. He listed all of the Number Two's and how we have either put them in Guantanamo after torturing them or have killed them with missiles fired from drones. It actually made us sound rather horrible, which may have been his intention. He finished by pointing out that if you become Al Queda's Number Two you aren't going to last long.

He didn't make the point that us repeatedly killing Al Queda's Number Two doesn't seem to have accomplished much, since this month is the deadliest month in Afghanistan since the beginning of that war and we are spending more money than ever on "national security."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Talking About... Something

Okay, I do not normally spend time examining the foibles of various candidates for political office, but this is just too tempting to pass up, partly because I have a niece who lives in Minnesota. I’m very fond of her, she’s even more liberal than I am and I just have to ding her once in a while about Michele Bachmann.

To begin with Bachmann’s opening line here is not quite as horrible as it sounds. “White People” is the name of the band that played before she came on. One does, of course, have to question the judgement of the campaign staff who signed up that band for a political rally.

"I'm here to talk about the creator of the universe, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Well, given the theory of the unified nature of the Holy Trinity she may be technically right, but the Son of God is seldom thought of as the Creator, but more often as the Savior, so she seems a little confused. The Trinity is usually referred to as God the Creator, Christ the Savior and Holy Ghost the Redeemer.

Now I'm an Episcopalian, so maybe fundamentalists have different roles for the Trinity, but if the Son is the Creator, what role does that leave for the Father? Even for someone who denies evolution you’d think it’s difficult for the Son to create the Father. It’s usually the other way around.

Later in the piece she says, and emphasizes, that “God is not partial,” and then, as part of the same topic, describes how God helped two soldiers defeat an entire army. I think her definition of “not partial” may be just a little bit different than mine.

She also says that she became religious because a bunch of people prayed for her to do so and that changed her, which reminds me of a guy I used to know in Atlanta. He told me that a mutual friend had recovered from an illness because he had prayed for him and, when I questioned further, insisted that the guy would not have recovered had he not done so. In other words, he told God to make the guy well and God saluted smartly and did what he was told. Awesome.

And any person who takes to the stage for the avowed purpose of talking about Jesus Christ and starts by cheerfully declaiming "Who likes white people?" without qualifying that question has most certainly got a screw loose.

The King Memorial

imageWhen I first heard that the Washington Mall was going to get a memorial to
Dr. Martin Luther King, the first such memorial to a person other than a former president, I was very much in favor. I once heard him speak in person, and admired greatly what he did for this nation, more than all but a few presidents have done.

I have tried to like the monument. I have drawn comparisons between it and Stone Mountain, which is a signature feature near his home of Atlanta. I have commented to myself on the overall openness of the design. But the statue of him is, frankly, horrible. It barely looks like him and the pose, with his arms folded across his body, is completely untypical of him. He stands, in that statue, glaring downward, looking like nothing so much as some sort of angry dictator.

Dr. King was a man who always had his arms outward, reaching to enfold the spirits of the people with whom he spoke. Anger at injustice was part of his message, but it was a noble and righteous anger leveraging change to something better, not the surly resentment that seems to be reflected by the artist of that memorial. Dr. King’s memory deserves a memorial at this nation’s center. It deserves better than this.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

And They Aren't Climate Change, Either

When climate change deniers use snow storms as "proof" that climate change is bunk, those who believe that the planet is warming are quick to outrage, pointing out that weather is not climate, and that a single weather event is not indicative. Now some of those same people are using a medium-sized hurricane, which is following the same path that hurricanes have followed for several centuries, as a symptom of global warming. Give me a break. You can claim one or the other, people, but not both.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricaines Are Not News

Irene is belting the Northeast, wars are going on in the Aisa, drought is killing Texas and the American Southwest, there is an economic crisis world wide, but the big news is Danica Patrick. Big, big, big news.

Not about what she is doing now; she's not doing anything now, including not winning any races. She is transferring to NASCAR next year, and that is all that anyone in the racing business can talk about. She has finished on the lead lap less than one-third of the time, never finished better than sixth, and never driven in a Sprint Cup race, but she is going to win the Daytona 500 next year and run away with the Nationwide championship. Nobody else should even bother racing in NASCAR's junior circuit, because she is going to blow their doors off every week.

Did I say she is going to...?   Yes, I believe I did.

Update, Sunday morning: In a Twitter post on Thursday, Sprint Cup driver Brad Keselowski said that Patrick’s “branding techniques only serves to undermine the future credibility of female racers who wish to make it based on skill, mental toughness and a never give up attitude.”

Well said, sir, well said.

Friday, August 26, 2011

You Should Be Thanking Me

No posting today because I am too busy contributing to the nation's (well, San Diego County's) economic recovery by spending $1500 on repairs to my wife's car. I'm not sure if the thanks are due for the spending, or for not posting. Anyway, you're welcome.

Update, Saturday morning: Problem was replacing seals and gaskets due to massive oil leaks. Discovered oil was two quarts overfilled after oil change at Jiffy Lube. Seems they often forget to replace oil, see here, and when they do replace it they seemingly don't bother to measure. Overfilling, it seems, at least by significant amounts, can blow out gaskets and seals.
I won't be getting oil changes at Jiffy Lube any more.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Another Nuclear Freakout

Kate Sheppard writes another “Omigod we almost all died in a nuclear meltdown” story in the Guardian as a result of the East Coast earthquake. What actually happened is that the reactor closest to the earthquake shut down as a result of the quake, the diesel generators kicked in as designed and cooled the reactors, and the reactor in due course came back online. A dozen or so other reactors nearby were inspected by the NRC to be on the safe side, and were found to be okay.

Not exactly within a hairsbreadth of a doomsday scenario.

Tuesday's earthquake was the worst on the east coast of the US since 1944, measuring at 5.8 on the Richter scale. And while we certainly avoided the kind of crisis that Japan has endured, two nuclear reactors near the site, at the North Anna nuclear power plant, were shut down following the quake. The plant temporarily lost power and halted operations until it switched to back-up generators. Twelve other plants around the country were put on alert following the quake.

Though a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told reporters that "as far as we know, everything is safe", the event revived fears about the safety of US nuclear plants. Most of the region's reactors were reportedly designed to withstand a 5.9 to 6.1 magnitude quake – which means Tuesday's quake was, for many, too close for comfort.

Kate stresses that “two nuclear reactors” were shut down, even though they were at a single site and then she is careful to include the infamous “as far as we know” when quoting the inspector saying that everything is okay. What doesn’t he know? There may be hidden damage that is already killing millions and he just doesn’t know about it yet. I suspect that Kate Sheppard hopes so because she needs a better story than she has.

As for the twelve other plants that were “put on alert” well, yes, they were checked as a routine precaution but operation was continued as normal.

The North Anna plant is located about 15 miles from the epicenter of the quake in Mineral, Virginia. It was designed to withstand a 6.2-magnitude quake, according to its owner, Dominion Resources. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission lists the plant as one of the 10 US plants most at risk of damage in a seismic event. So, it seems like we got lucky in this case.

I’m not sure one should call it luck. You design a plant to withstand a certain size earthquake and the biggest quake to hit in 67 years, at magnitude 5.8, is half the size that you based the design upon, and you call that luck? I call it pretty good design work. And if this is one of the riskiest plants in the US then I’d say we are doing pretty well.

She goes on to say that, “We need to seriously consider the potential for a combination of events like those in Japan earlier this year,” apparently unaware that tsunamis are seriously unlikely in the mountainous interior of Virginia and New York, and then has a mild case of the vapors about evacuation plans after having (inadvertently) illustrated that no such things are actually likely to be used.

As a scare story it manages to be a fairly successful comedy.

Republican Primaries

Why are liberal blogs, and the liberal media, so fascinated with the Republican presidential race? Hardball and The Last Word spend 50% or more of their time on the subject, and some liberal blogs write about almost nothing else. You may notice that I virtually never do, but...

I would suggest their interest is based on them wanting Barack Obama reelected, and the only way that can happen is for him to run against an absolute fruitcake from the Republican Party.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grocery Health Care

Grocery workers voted 90% in favor of strike to protect their existing health care benefits, the free health care agreed to eight years ago. They are rejecting full benefits costing $9/wk for individuals and $17/wk for families.

Meanwhile, AP reports that 10% of medium and large companies are planning to drop health benefits altogether in 2014, and another 20% are considering it. I think these grocery workers need to get back into touch with reality.

Update: As a further reality check for grocery workers, they are upset because the proposed cost for health care, including vision and dental, will be $92/month per family. Retired persons on Social Security, which is a lot less than grocery workers make, pay $96.50/mth individually for Medicare.

Dream Act By Executive Order

The Obama Administration pursued a crackdown on illegal immigrants for the first two years that he was in office, deporting them in far larger numbers than the preceding administration had ever done because, presumably, this administration is less friendly to large businesses which hire them illegally. The practice is, of course, not exactly friendly to immigrants themselves, something which seems to have suddenly occurred to this administration at reelection campaign time.

So, while Congress has still not reformed our immigration policy, The NYT tells us that the administration has “issued a new deportation policy” which will “use powers of prosecutorial discretion in existing law to suspend the deportations of most immigrants who, although they have committed immigration violations (which generally are civil offenses), have not been convicted of crimes.” In other words issue them green cards, making it a policy of “amnesty” under another name.

But White House officials and Congressional Democrats said they expected the measures would lead to relief during the coming year for virtually all young illegal immigrants facing deportation who might have won legal status under a bill called the Dream Act. A proposal to benefit illegal immigrant high school graduates who came to the country before they were 16, it failed in the Senate last year.

Well, not to get all constitutionalist on you here, but if Congress rejects something and Obama proceeds to do it by executive order, why do we think that’s a good thing? Because we approve of Obama and we approve of the action. All well and good.

But if a Democratic Congress rejected a corporate tax cut and a Republican president implemented it by means of executive order, how would we feel about that? I suspect we would be screaming about “presidential overreach” and decrying an “imperial president.”

The validity of an action does not depend on who is doing it, nor is it about who likes or dislikes it.

Reading List

Digby had a post yesterday in which she quoted another blogger as saying that he had read eight of the 24 books read by Obama this year and went on to say that she had read eleven of the list. There was some blather about the nature of the 24 books read by Obama, something about the horror of him not reading non-fiction, and that Clinton read 50 books per year.

I don't know how many of Obama's books I've read because I haven't seen the list and, further, I don't care what Obama reads. I do care what he does that affects the people of this nation. If anything justifies the image of bloggers as "some nerd sitting in his pyjamas using his mother's computer" it would be bloviating about what damned books the president is reading.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Laugh If You Want

But 5.9 is not chicken feed. It's not funny, jackass.

It does strike me as wierd, though. Colorado, now Virginia, and the southern end of the San Andreas has not popped in 300 years. It is creating just a tiny sense of dread.

Tone Deaf Again

I increasingly wonder if Obama reads his speeches before he gives them, and if he ever hears what he is saying while he is saying it. I wonder if he ever realizes that he sometimes sounds like a complete idiot.

Yesterday he was standing at a podium at Martha’s Vineyard declaiming about how Muammar Gaddafi was a thug, a sponsor of terrorism and a murderer, reminding us that he arranged to have Pan Am 103 blown up and in the process killed 189 Americans. He went on with some sentiment about, “today we stand united with the families who lost loved ones” on that date, presumably as a result of the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

The incident which he described occurred in 1988, and a lot of water has flowed under a lot of bridges since then. Some of that flow and some of those bridges have involved Muammar Gaddafi.

For instance Gaddafi’s very friendly meetings with President Obama and Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman in 2009, after which McCain described Gaddafi as a great friend to America, as a statesman, and as a great Arab leader. Rather odd treatment for a man we are denouncing as a thug, a sponsor of terrorism and a murderer just two years later.

There is also Gaddafi taking part in the G8 summit in 2010, during which a handshake between him and Barack Obama marked the first time Gaddafi had been greeted by a serving US president. He was also seated at dinner just two places away from our president, with Obama seated on Berlusconi's right-hand and Gaddafi on the summit leader’s left side. Almost exactly a year later Obama is denouncing Gaddafi and reminding us that he “murdered American citizens” 22 years prior to the time that Obama was shaking his hand on the world stage and dining with him.

So, what changed Gaddafi from a “statesman” and “great Arab leader” last year to a “sponsor of terrorism” and a “murderer” this year? In terms of his interaction with this nation, nothing happened. His people saw the people of neighboring nations rebelling against their despotic leaders and decided to join the movement, and this is our reaction to that. If it doesn’t make much sense to you, join the club. I’m already a member.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ends and Means

Some years ago Republicans tried to say that capturing and hanging Saddam Hussein was an event which justified and validated the decision to invade Iraq but Democrats were, for the most part, not buying that argument. Howard Dean, in particular, was saying that regardless of outcome we had still invaded another nation which had posed no actual threat to us and that doing so was a violation of international law.

Now has a headline reading, “The demise of Gadhafi - and a GOP talking point.” I didn’t read the article because I can tell from the headline that it’s a Democratic version of the previous Republican argument, “Gadhafi is out, so Obama’s violation of the War Powers Act is no longer a violation of the War Powers Act.”

Obama involved this nation in the war in Libya without the approval of Congress, which exceeded his authority under the constitution. He continued that involvement even after Congress specifically failed to pass a bill authorizing that involvement, and after Congress declined to provide funding for that involvement, and then tried to get around that by claiming that what we were doing with our warplanes and bombs was not war. The continuation was illegal and his attempts to avoid admitting it were lies.

He specifically said that the purpose of the war was exclusively to protect life, and then authorized active warfare against Gadhafi and active participation in assistance of the rebel cause, which constituted further lying and a violation of the UN mandate.

The fact that Gadhafi seems to have fallen alters none of that, and to claim that it does is rank hypocrisy. The end does not justify the means.

I am an Obama supporter, but I am constantly amazed at the degree to which many of us are willing to believe that things which were wrong when Bush did them are perfectly okay when Obama does them. They are not only just as wrong, they are worse, because they “normalize” those acts. Once something has become the practice of the executive of both parties of this nation, they become “de facto” the official practice of the nation itself.

Paying Homage

lego mania
I love pictures like this, young soldiers barely out of their teens paying homage to an ancient warrior, veteran of another war, another generation. The looks of admiration on their young faces says it all, “Can I live up to the standard this man has set?”

The man is Albert Brown, survivor of the Bataan Death March in the Phillipines, who reached the end of life’s journey Sunday at age 105. He was one one tough old bird. I stole the picture from BigPeace.Com, where you can read the rest of the story.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Price Productivity?

There is an article at The Center for American Progress bemoaning the slowing of the growth of productivity in this country and arguing that in order for the economy to recover we need to regain our global lead in productivity growth. I will refer you to my post titled Mexico Story for my opinions on who gains from increased productivity, and I would argue that for our economy to recover we need lower productivity, not higher, because lower productivity would mean more jobs.

The argument for the benefit of productivity has two parts;

Productivity growth is critical to our national economic competitiveness. U.S. products and services are more competitive in the global marketplace when U.S. firms manage to produce more and better things with the same amount of inputs.

The first argument here is not unreasonable, although I could counter it by arguing that greater production should be offset by higher wages and improved working conditions to the point that the final overall cost of the product is not affected. Otherwise the worker is giving more to the employer than the employer is giving to the worker and the contract is therefor unfair to the worker.

The argument that productivity gains made as a result of investment in automated equipment enhance competitiveness is quite valid. That gain has harmful side effects, however, which leads us to the second claim for the benefit of productivity growth,

Productivity growth also boosts our future living standards. Simply put, productivity growth means we can have more goods and services available for a given amount of resources used—hours at work, in particular. Because productivity growth makes our work go further, the average standard of living can rise more quickly. To ensure broadly shared prosperity we still need to address how the gains from productivity growth are distributed between wages and profits, but we can't forget that rising prosperity begins with strong and sustained productivity growth. (emphasis mine)

This claim is true only when there is a shortage of workers, that is to say when there is essentially full employment. To claim that “making more goods and services available” is a good thing when there is insufficient demand to absorb the goods and services that are already available is utterly absurd. To claim that using fewer workers to produce those goods and services is a good thing when there is more than 9% (actually close to 20%) unemployment is equally absurd.

Productivity growth which is the result of investment in automated equipment accomplishes that result by the elimination of jobs; how else would it reduce cost? How, precisely, does the increase in the number of unemployed people “ensure broadly shared prosperity” pray tell?

The author tries to soften the nonsensical aspect of his statement by saying that “we still need to address how the gains from productivity growth are distributed between wages and profits.” Why should any portion of it go to profits, when it is the workers who are making the increased production possible by working harder and/or losing jobs?

To suggest that economic recovery requires productivity growth when we currently have a massive amount of unused production capacity and an unacceptable number of unemployed workers is arrant nonsense.

In my opinion the economy would be enhanced if we forgot about “the great god productivity” altogether and went back to building things by having guys carrying concrete in buckets and paying those guys enough to feed their families. Corporations might not be as profitable, and productivity numbers would be embarrassing, but unemployment would decrease dramatically.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Another Grocery Strike

Grocery workers in San Diego, and the surrounding region, are voting on whether or not to strike against the three largest grocery stores in the area after several months of unsuccessful negotiations. The disagreement is over health care benefit; workers want to continue to receive them at no cost, and the store chains say that health care costs have increased so much in the past eight years, particularly in the last two, that they need for the workers to share the cost.

I usually side with the workers in these issues, but it’s pretty hard for me to do that in this case. For one thing, our employer-furnished health insurance premiums have increased by 62.5% in the past two years, and I’m not sympathetic with those who have had no cost increase in eight years and insist on that continuing. That is slightly selfish thinking, but…

In a more socially-centered vein, talking about striking in a city which is experiencing 9.8% 10.5% unemployment seems like rather poor judgement to me, especially when the strike is over a mere $92 per month for health insurance. Those who are unemployed have no health insurance at all, and plenty of people who are presently employed would be delighted to obtain full coverage health insurance for a mere $92 per month.

Suppose they strike and win, the employers give in and continue free health insurance. For a five year contract, that would save a worker $5520 total, but a 10 week strike would cost him/her that much in wages. The last strike lasted almost twice that long, there is no guarantee of the workers winning, and they will be without health insurance during the strike.

The workers use phrases like, “it isn’t fair to charge us when they are making all those billions in profit.” Actually, two of the three chains make less than one billion in annual profit, and none of them make usurious profit margins. Safeway makes $948 million and sees 2.14% profit, Abertson’s $296 million and 1.45% profit, and the largest, Kroger, makes $2.7 billion and 2.45% profit. Would you, as an entrepreneur, be happy buying something for 98¢ and selling it for $1.00? No, I didn’t think so.

It’s interesting that two years after passage of the “Affordable Care Act,” hailed as the “greatest liberal legislation in generations,” this strike is pending specifically over the cost for provision of health care going forward.

A Picture Is Worth...

The Guardian, America Edition, has an article about how "mountaintop removal mining" of coal does not present the choice that mining companies claim it does. You don't really need to read the article, though, as the picture at the head of it tells the whole story. Still, the article is worth reading. My nephew was happy to leave the Corps of Engineers for assignment in Afghanistan, and the article will give you a hint why.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Campaign Begins

The Washington Post is all excited about the Obama Administration’s decision to “review” the cases of undocumented workers being held for deportation and, perhaps, to deport only those guilty of violent crimes. The regard it as a “huge, huge deal” and as a “good example of the White House responding constructively to criticism from the left — and doing the right thing in political and policy terms as a result.”

Oh, please. Hello? He has begun his reelection campaign, people, and he needs Hispanic votes. Just as, after more than two and a half years of wrangling over grand social and economic issues he has suddenly noticed that unemployment is a problem and is turning to a “jobs program” policy.

Obama crafts a stimulus bill that is Republican tax cuts and otherwise so badly botched that he winds up fecklessly defending it on the basis of “Things would have been worse if we hadn’t done it.” Right, and the dog would have caught the rabbit if he had not stopped running.

Then he crafts “health care reform” which is supposed to “bend the cost curve” except that every single factor that could possibly have cut health care costs was eliminated from consideration before the discussion was even begun. The result was mostly beneficial to businesses which have been raising prices like crazy, while the supposed benefit to individuals has not even gone into effect yet.

From there he went to “financial regulation” which did not restore Glass-Stegall to separate deposit banking for investment speculation, did not eliminate “too big to fail,” and did not regulate trade and marketing of fictitious financial instruments. Meanwhile financial regulators have continued to take over small banks and sell them to big banks, making
“too big to fail” bigger than ever.

Then, as he starts his reelection campaign he decides to go on a big crusade for jobs and to relax his massive deportation policy of illegal immigrants. The Washington Post is obviously gullible enough to fall for this, but are the American voters? Probably.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Three Chinese cheers for the people who are criticizing President Obama's vacation this week. Fui, fui, fui.    That's not an ethnic joke, it's a language joke. Not all that funny, but...

This Cracked Me Up

Fuzzy in the cat boz
The image of the cat in the third panel made me laugh. Is that a cat taking a poop, or what? Anyway, this comic strip is sometimes funny, sometimes not, but the dog is reliably dumber than a bag of hammers.

Update: I think Satchel (the dog) is probably a Golden Retreiver.

Big Spender?

The media is trumpeting about how Obama is going to propose in September a “jobs bill” that will promote the creation of a real and large number of jobs, implying that it will be “stimulus” under another name and that it will be big. It will be coupled with an extension of unemployment benefits, the payroll tax cuts and deficit reduction, and he will pretty much “dare” the Republicans to reject it.

It won’t be called a “stimulus” because we already had one of those, and all that we remember about it was that it was a lengthy argument in Washington which resulted in nothing other than some signs on the highways which we are all driving too fast to read. It wasn’t the wrong thing to do, it was just botched so badly that it gave a bad reputation to a good policy.

Anyway, I’ll believe it when I see it, for a number of reasons, the main one being that it will require him to be bold and aggressive, and he has never shown the slightest sign in either campaign or governing mode that he has any remote capacity for that. Besides which, he is still talking about the idea that we don’t need anything major, that our problems can be solved with “small adjustments” to our government. He is a lot more concerned with not upsetting anyone, with “bipartisanship” and “getting along together” than he is with solving problems.

We need a new title for him, perhaps “Psychotherapist in Chief.”

He was interviewed on CBS News last night, a segment which they do not report or show on their website, discussing with CBS while on his bus tour, and he says that our government issues can be fixed with “minor adjustments.” He uses that term and even says specifically that we do not need to make major changes.

Who does he think he is kidding? A full 40% of what we spend is borrowed money, and we can fix that with minor changes? And this is the man who is going to come out next month with a big, bold spending plan to create millions of new jobs?

He’s going to talk about spending big for new jobs and reducing the deficit all in the same speech, and make us believe him. How is he going to phrase that? Spend big, cut taxes and increase the deficit until after he’s reelected, and then cut spending and raise taxes, perhaps? Even the American voter is not that stupid.

I’m not entirely convinced that spending to create jobs has any long term economic benefits, but it certainly has short term benefit and I won’t argue if that’s what we want to do. In that case, make the argument for doing the spending and don’t talk about the damned deficit until after you want to quit that spending. You are telling the public to go in two directions at once and you sound like an idiot.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bus Tour?

I will be critical of Obama regarding real issues, but I'm not a fan of taking cheap shots at him over trivia, or exaggerating things in order to criticize him. Still, a three-state bus tour at this point seems a little trivial for a sitting president, especially when he isn't saying anything that he hasn't said a dozen times before and is merely promising to say something new next month. What's the point here?

It's Bush's fault, Congress is to blame, we can get through this, I'll have something wonderful next month that will cure cancer... Yawn.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

California Shortfall

From Bloomberg News today comes an unsurprising revelation,

California revenue fell short of budget estimates by $541 million or 9.2 percent in July, the first month of the 2012 fiscal year, the state Finance Department reported.

Well, unsurprising to those of us who live here and don't have our heads buried, um, in the sand. On the beach, you know, there's lots of sand there.

What happened? Well partly it's called recession, but mostly it's called delusional budgeting. When trying to balance the budget the legislature was not allowed lacked the two-thirds majority required to raise taxes, so they just blithely raised revenue projections instead. "The economy is going to be recovering," they optimistically pretended, "so sales tax revenue will increase by leaps and bounds and that will balance our budget." It only took one month to see how well that worked out.

No Simple Solution

A friend of mine sent me a reference to this Washington Post article about the origins of the debt ceiling and deficit debate. I don’t have any real argument with what it has to say, but it sort of presents the "Tea Party" as if it was the creation of the febrile imaginations of a few sick minds in Washington, but in actuality it is our own desires gone bad and turning against us.

Describing this "Tea Party" nonsense as a cancer is pretty apt, because like a cancer it is not an outside infection or something that arose from whole cloth. It an extremist form of the policies embraced by the American voters for the last four decades plus, which is a strong aversion to paying taxes. For decades, politicians of both parties who have advocated tax cuts have gotten elected to office, while those who have not done so have lost. You can’t really blame candidates for drawing conclusions from that.

Sure, it is extremist and it is perverted, but it not appear from nowhere.

The aversion to taxes does not prevent Americans from demanding services from their government at an ever increasing pace. States no longer are willing to build their own highways or mass transit, for instance, they want the federal government to build those things for them, and the success of federal legislators is almost entirely dependent on how much federal funding they bring to their home state. Federal funding, it should be noted, generated by taxes that the voters did not want to pay in the first place.

Sadly, this Tea Party and the issues it represents is almost the least of the problems we face, and it is distracting us from problems that reflect what is beginning very much to look like a dying empire.

There are the wars we are fighting for instance, and not just Afghanistan but Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Bad in themselves, they should be seen as the symptoms of a far larger problem because there is no sensible explanation for them. "Denying them space in which to plan their attacks." Give me a break. Even Orwell would not have dreamed up that nonsense. These wars are being fought solely for the projection of power abroad and the protection of power at home.

There should be great concern about the degree to which our constitution is being violated, both by Congress and by our executive in myriad ways, begun under Regan and accelerated under every president since. Obama has taken those breaches to even new heights with violations more brazen than any president since Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Since elected we have him starting wars, authorizing the extra-judicial killing of American citizens... The list is just too long to go into, but we should have known that he had utter contempt for the constitution when he voted for telecomm immunity before he was elected.

There is the deterioration of Congress into a perpetual reelection campaign, with legislation a process of "carve out" benefits for individual states. Not one federal legislator even pretends to know what his job is, as every one of them proudly proclaims "My job is to serve the best interests of the people of my district." That is a gang of greedy thugs fighting over the carcass of a dead nation. The job of a federal legislator is to represent the principles of his district in serving the best interests of the nation as a whole.

Then there is energy crisis and global warming which cannot be separated and which, when not being ignored, are being approached in precisely the wrong and useless manner. We're talking about cars with better mileage, and windmills and solar power providing cleaner ways to power the existing way of life.

We cannot preserve our present way of life. I can't recall the numbers, but at one point this nation was something like 5% of the world's population and was using 25% of the world's resources. We had the expectation that the rest of the world would one day raise itself to our standard of living, but do the math. The rest of the world cannot come within hand grenade distance of our standard of living without running out of resources.

Well, we are there. The rest of the world is catching up with us and so is reality and we are finding out what an alcoholic finds out when he stops drinking - reality sucks. What we want to do about that is to dive back into the bottle. Good luck with that.

We aren't going to solve this problem with talk about "clean energy." We cannot keep doing what we are doing but just somehow "do it cleaner." There is no "cleaner" way to live wastefully. We have to change our expectations for our standard of living. We are simply going to have to adjust downward. The only question is, are we going to do it gracefully, or are we going to do it in the form of a collapse?

Going back to the original issue, in the long run the Tea Party isn't going to win. Unfortunately, the alternative isn't all that much better, and that is sort of the least of our problems anyway.

Mexico Story

It’s time for my Mexico story again, wherein a contractor friend and I are visiting in Mexico and watching a highway construction project. There is no heavy equipment being used, and workers are carrying concrete in buckets. My friend is talking about how he could bring his company down and do these projects faster because he has all this fancy equipment and our guide tells him he would not be allowed to use that equipment.

“What?” my friend exclaims, “Why would the government outlaw the use of equipment? That’s crazy. How can you make money with laws like that?”

the guide replies, “The government does not care about companies making money. The government cares about being sure that these men can feed their families.”

I think we all know what our government cares about. It talks about jobs, sometimes, but its actions are based upon and for the benefit of the stock market.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Retail Politics"

The phrase of the day on Hardball is "retail politics," and the reason that is important seems to be that Rick Perry excels at it. He is, apparently, even better at talking about pigs and college football than George W. Bush was,
a quality which is going to carry him to an easy win of the Republican nomination, and possibly even the White House itself.

So now we know what the problem with this nation is; we have a president who cannot talk with sufficient expertise about pigs and college football.

Baghdad Power Company

Our power went out at 9:00 last night and didn't come back on until about 10:15 this morning, an event which is almost becoming routine these days in our neighborhood.

SDG&E is doing its best to help the government turn us into a third world nation, as this is the third outage we've had in something like four months. One outage lasted a mere four hours, but another was 11 hours, and this one was 13 hours. No explanation is offered for the failure; not overload, as we are having a cooler than average summer, and they don't happen at peak times in any case; not weather, as there have been no monsoon storms in the state. They report "a combination of factors," as a cause.

When you call in you are told it will take one hour to repair, then you are told it will take three hours, then it will be six hours, then it will be eight hours, then it will be... I know that when I was in the Navy if I had provided that kind of estimating to my commanding officer I would be counting parts in Alaska as an E-1, only because the Navy does not have a rank of E-0.

So it appears that SGD&E does not have the equipment to be able to reliably deliver electrical power to its customers, nor does it have the training and expertise to repair their equipment when it fails. They are undoubtedly appealing to the utilities commission for a rate increase.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Spain Can't Pay For Its Weapons

Spain is, as we all know, on an "austerity" program and is, in layman's terms, going broke. Mish, at his Global Economic Trends Analysis, tells us that they have been unable to pay the defense contractors for their weapons systems, and are not going to be able to make future payments without raising their budget. Since they are presently cutting their budget, things look bleak for their military contractors.

Secretary of State for Defence, Constantino Mendez, said that, "We should not have purchased weapons we are not going to use for scenarios of confrontation that do not exist and, more seriously, with money that we did have then and do not have now."

Words to live by. Seriously, words to live by.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Unemployment and Stimulation

Jay Carney, speaking for the president, repeated the adage that unemployment benefits serve not only as a stimulus to the economy, but are one of the most effective stimulus measures we have. When asked the other day how unemployment benefits create jobs he got sort of snotty with the questioner and said that, “I would expect a reporter from the Wall Street Journal would know this as part of the entrance exam."

I think if I was the reporter in question I would have suggested to him that he do something to himself that is unprintable, obscene and physiologically impossible. Carney went on, "There are few other ways that can directly put money into the economy than applying unemployment insurance."

Well, unemployment insurance doesn’t put money into the economy at all, because it is a program run by states which first takes money out of the economy in the form of taxes and then returns it in the form of benefits. It is cash neutral as to the economy. He is actually talking about unemployment benefits, which are benefits paid from funds not collected from employers in the form of taxes. He continued,

"It is one of the most direct ways to infuse money directly into the economy because people who are unemployed and obviously aren't running a paycheck are going to spend the money that they get. They're not going to save it, they're going to spend it.”

My first inclination is to get all sarcastic and say that if unemployment is so simulative, we should create a lot more unemployed people so that we could pay out a lot more unemployment benefits and we could have the economy booming in no time, but I’m not going to do that.

“Every place that, that money is spent has added business and that creates growth and income for businesses that leads them to decisions about jobs, more hiring.”

I’m going to have to call bullshit on that, because I suspect they are going to pay their mortgages and/or rent, and I don’t see that creating any sort of hiring spree by banks and landlords. They’re going to pay credit card bills and home equity debt, and I have my doubts about the wave of hiring that that will create. They’re going to buy gasoline and groceries, and I’ll admit that might create a few jobs for grocery clerks, but the gas purchases are mostly going to be self service.

He went on to say that extending existing unemployment benefits could create up to one million jobs which is, in my opinion, bizarre. Even if one assumes that unemployment is as simulative as he claims it is, upon what study or statistical analysis is he basing his estimate of one million jobs? Yeah, I didn’t think so. He pulled that number out of a part of his body that we don’t want to think about.

Further, how does he think that extending something that we have been doing for the past three years is suddenly going to take off and start creating new jobs now, if it has not been doing so for the past three years?
I think it’s related to magic ponies.

After his glowing projection that the unemployment benefits would add one million jobs and that the payroll tax cut extension, which has done essentially nothing so far, will add $750 billion to the economy next year, he then for some reason decided to discuss the possibility that a natural disaster could harm not only the US economy but the global economy too.

I guess he didn’t want us to think he was unreasonably optimistic.

Update: Don't get me wrong, I think we should extend unemployment benefits. It serves a need. I just think that calling it an economic stimulus is nonsensical and harmful. We need economic stimulus as well, and pretending to do it instead of actually doing it does not work.

It's not about definitions

Now that we’re in another Republican primary, it’s time to raise the issue again as to what creature a man may legally marry; be it a woman, a whole gaggle of women, another man or famously, perhaps a dog. I think we can all agree that the dog is out.

The question seems to be, who defines what marriage is and who may enter into it? That issue has become clouded because early government tried to do us all a favor and wound up biting us on the proverbial ass instead. They said,

“Look, you are going to have to get married in a church by a clergyman to satisfy your religion, and in a courthouse by a bureaucrat to satisfy the law. That means you have to do two ceremonies, and for each ceremony you have to certify that you either have done or will do the other ceremony. If you do one ceremony without the other you will have created chaos and everybody will be horribly confused about your status and won’t know what to call you.

If you’re not religions you can just do the one ceremony in the courthouse and the law will consider you married. Religious people will consider you sinners or whatever, but you don’t care about that, because pretending to be married is far from the worst thing that they think you are doing and none of that has been bothering you. No, people skipping the religious ceremony is not the issue here.

It’s people who consider the religious ceremony important we’re concerned about, because they have to go through two completely separate ceremonies, and that is something of a burden. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to appoint the leaders of churches as deputies to create legal marriages, so that when they do it in a church they are creating both the church marriage and the legal marriage at the same time.”

Brilliant. Just a little extra paperwork in an office after the ceremony and everybody has saved some time. You can get married in the courthouse or, if you are religious you can get married in your church and your clergyman can file the legal documentation for you.

Well, no it hasn’t saved time, because some jackass decides that if a couple doesn’t meet his definition of religious marriage in his church, therefore they should not meet your definition of religious marriage in your church and they should not qualify for legal marriage in the courthouse.

Sounds kind of stupid when you put it that way, doesn’t it?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

State of the Media has Glen Greenwald, who I read eagerly every time a new piece appears, but when you look at their home page you find such headlines as, “I wish politics was baseball,” “A cake album becomes a book,” and “Am I a cuckold?” Joan Walsh runs the place and is a regular “guest expert” on Hardball and The Last Word, which may tell you something about the state of our media.

For instance, a piece under the headline, “The best friend Obama ever had?” begins with a sentence which is so transparently wrong that it is hard to believe that anyone would read the rest of the article,

Barack Obama's approval rating is holding steady below 50 percent -- sometimes well below 50 percent -- and there's reason to doubt…

How can his rating be “holding steady below 50 percent” while being “well below 50 percent” some of the time? Given that behavior, it is not holding steady but is “fluctuating below 50 percent,” not “holding steady below 50 percent.” Since the writer doesn’t even know that difference, why am I interested in reading his opinion on anything? Answer: I’m not, and I did not read the article. So I don’t know who Obama’s best friend is.

Huffington Post has… Well, they don’t have anybody, because all of their authors work for free and you get what you pay for. In this case you mostly get people who cannot get published elsewhere or who everybody else has fired. At least they dropped the flashing yellow backgrounds.

They do have a “Media Director,” Howard Fineman, whose job is to appear every day on Hardball or The Last Word, and sometimes on both. He ran out of anything to say about two years ago, so now all he does is tell Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell how wonderful they are and recite how many phone conversations he has had with unnamed people in high places, and recite what they purportedly told him.

Our local paper is much the same, with writers devoted to “cutesy” openings that “personalize” the piece and, unfortunately, disguise the subject matter, sometimes for several paragraphs. The sports writers used to be exempt from that, but editors have browbeaten them into it as well, so now I’m reading the sports page and can be several paragraphs into an article and not even know which sport is involved, much less what the article is about.

One paper still does it right. Here’s an opening paragraph from an item in the San Francisco Chronicle,

An 85-year-old woman and her live-in caregiver have died from injuries they suffered during a late-night fire Sunday in a Pacific Heights mansion, authorities said Wednesday.

What happened? Who did it happen to? Where did it happen? When did it happen? All succinctly answered in the first paragraph. Details follow, but as you read the article, you know precisely what you are reading about; you know the basic facts. Unlike my local paper today where, four paragraphs into a story, I’m wondering, “Am I reading about an event? And if so, what was the event?” Pathetic.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Revenge: A Dish Best Not Served

The headline reads “US drone strike kills 21 suspected militants in Pakistan.” Given how little I trust my government, and especially reports issued by the military, my attention focused on the word “suspected” in that headline. You don’t have to be an actual militant to be killed by American forces, nothing has to be proven or factual. You merely have to be a “suspected militant” and missiles will rain down on you.

Two missiles hit a house and killed everyone in it. At first it was thought only five were killed, but “officials said the toll had gone up to 21 after more bodies were found from the rubble of the house.” So we fired missiles at a house without even knowing how many people were in it, or who they were.

After discovering 16 additional bodies, we report 16 “additional militants killed” even though none have been identified. They are dead and we killed them, so they are by definition “militants” because we only kill “militants.”

I regret American lives lost in this filthy war. I truly do, and I weep for their wives and children. But you know what? Those 21 had wives and children, too. Maybe, in fact they were wives and children. Death and destruction: and for what purpose?

Update: New York Times reports today
In a mere 48 hours, American forces determined who shot down the helicopter and killed 30 of our troops, tracked down the precise location of the shooter, planned a raid on that individual, launched an airstrike with F-16 fighters and killed the person responsible.

It took almost ten years to get the guy who killed 3000 in New York City, but in a mere 48 hours we can identify, locate in the trackless wilderness of Afghanistan, and kill a guy responsible for the death of 30 soldiers in an active war. I'll bet we have beachfront property in Florida for sale, too.

O'Donnell Hasn't Met My Wife

Lawrence O'Donnell went off on Rick Santorum for the latter's rant about gay marriage in which he compared the difference between a paper napkin and a paper towel. O'Donnell declaimed at some length about the two being completely interchangeable, saying that he routinely uses a paper towel as a napkin and that he had just that morning used a Starbucks napkin to clean up a spill on his desk.

He hasn't met my wife. She becomes anxious if our supply of paper napkins starts getting low, and regards the use of a paper towel as a napkin as utterly uncivilized, downright barbaric. To her complete disgust, I sometimes do it anyway.

Both of us, however, regard opposition to gay marriage as uncivilized, so we're okay with that. She doesn't know who Rick Santorum is, but if she did she would agree with me that he is disgusting, so we are okay there, too.

In fact, we're pretty much in tune except for the paper napkin thing.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Chris Matthews Gets It Right

Chris Matthews yesterday, in his second segment on Hardball, engaged in a lengthy rant about how President Obama should “come out with his plan and put it on the table.” The plan should involve, he says, building bridges, highways, and public utilities, and he should put it out and defy Republicans in the House to reject it.

I don’t know it that’s a good plan or not, and the value of the plan itself is not my point, the point is that it’s a plan and is not just timid tinkering around the edges of the issue. Melissa Harris-Perry sounded like a complete twit, of course she’s from Princeton, as she said that it didn’t matter what the president said and that the “public needs to speak up,” and that pressure needed to come from the common people.

Chris rejoined that “they aren’t doing it,” and demanded to know who was going to get them do it, finishing with, “I think the president has to lead.”

Damn right. The president needs to lead, and he isn’t doing it. He is an empty suit who we elected to lead this nation and he’s not doing it because he is not a leader. He waits for a parade to form and gets in front of it. That's not leading, it's following from in front. Obama could not lead a hound dog around the yard if he had a pork chop tied around his neck.

Hell, I’d vote for Sarah Palin at this point. She’d lead us in the wrong direction, but at least she’d lead us rather than standing at the podium pleading for “togetherness” while the nation sinks into a black pit of degradation and despair.

We need to get this feckless idiot out of the White House.

Leadership Needed, Now

The president made another speech yesterday, and it seems that the worse things get in this nation, the less inspiring Barack Obama becomes. He says the same things over and over, and he says them with less and less enthusiasm.

He’s blaming the rating agencies and the Republicans for this latest debacle, but it happened on his watch. It happened because he is supposed to be in charge and he is not being in charge. No one is in charge. We did not elect him to be some kind of emotional counselor to lecture us about “togetherness,” we elected him to be the leader of this nation and he is not leading.

After telling us that we’ve already made a start on deficit reduction with spending cuts and that we’ve cut all we can on defense and domestic spending (which is bullshit), he tells us that,

What we need to do now is combine those spending cuts with two additional steps: tax reform that will ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share and modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare.

Oh by all means, lets “ask nicely” for those “who can afford it” to “pay a fair share,” and lets “modestly” reduce the amount we pay for medical care for the elderly and infirm. Let's all play nicely together, children.

Our ship has hit an iceberg, we are down by the head and listing heavily to starboard, we are up to our ass in seawater in the engine rooms, and he’s talking about rearranging the fucking deck chairs.

“Making these reforms doesn’t require any radical steps,” he tells us. Homeowners have lost $8 trillion in equity, 12 million people are out of work, the stock market just lost 2000 points in less than two weeks. This nation has huge problems and he’s saying we don’t need radical changes.

Yeah, Obama, we do. Big problems need big men to solve them, and he has shown himself to be a little man, dithering fecklessly about “togetherness” while the nation is burning to the ground around him. We don’t need spending cuts at all right now, certainly not cuts that are nothing more than tokens. What we need is strong, dynamic leadership, and we don’t have it from this president.

And then he finishes by saying that “our troops will continue the hard work of transitioning to a stronger Afghan government and ensuring that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists.” For that I want him to rot in hell because that is the most lame brained, half-assed, dim-witted, stupidest, thoughtless, idiotic excuse for war that has ever been uttered in the history of mankind.

The terrorists are not in Afghanistan and they do not need Afghanistan. They can find “safe havens” in thousands of places all over the world. There is absolutely no reason for our soldiers to be dying in Afghanistan. Obama knows that and he is not even thoughtful enough, or caring enough about wasting their valuable lives, to make up a reason that can pass a smell test.

I am reaching the point of thinking that even a Republican would be better than this feckless, dithering, small man who is leaving this nation leaderless.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Wierd Sponsorships

This past weekend the big golf tournament was the Bridgestone (Tires) Tournament, held at the Firestone (Tires) Country Club in Akron, Ohio, home of Goodyear Tires. Wierd. Why do I think the officials' cars were on Michelin tires, and the golf carts were on Goodrichs?

The Passion Returns

Much is being made of a piece in the New York Times by Drew Western about Obama’s lack of passion and leadership. I don’t agree with everything he says, by any means, but there is some interesting food for thought and it is, I think, worth your time to read it.

Unlike the author, I did not become “disillusioned” with President Obama on the day he was inaugurated, although I do recall thinking his address that day was remarkable only for it’s lack of inspiration. I had been expecting a lot more “It’s time to kick ass” in it and a lot less “We all screwed this up together so we have to work together to fix it” pap.

Obama has been fond of quoting Martin Luther King. I once heard Dr. King speak in person, and that remains one of the highlights of my life. That man could move mountains, and the names King and Obama do not belong on the in the same book, let alone on the same page. Every time Obama has quoted Dr. King I have felt that there was something wrong with the context, and Drew Western put his finger on it for me,

The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” ...

When Dr. King spoke of the great arc bending toward justice, he did not mean that we should wait for it to bend. He exhorted others to put their full weight behind it, and he gave his life speaking with a voice that cut through the blistering force of water cannons and the gnashing teeth of police dogs. He preached the gospel of nonviolence, but he knew that whether a bully hid behind a club or a poll tax, the only effective response was to face the bully down, and to make the bully show his true and repugnant face in public.

Dr. King spoke against violence, and his words rang like a bell as he challenged us to stand strong against that which was wrong in the world, and to refuse to buckle to violence but to stand up to it and force it to change. Obama issues no challenge, but pleads with us to compromise with the forces of those who are wrong, and to be patient rather than to participate in making change, while at the same time telling us that "we will do this together” and campaigning on “the fierce urgency of now.”

Obama’s loyalists point to the stimulus, health care and financial reform, but Western provides a perfect example of reality as he describes the first of these “great accomplishments.”

[H]e backed away from his advisers who proposed a big stimulus, and then diluted it with tax cuts that had already been shown to be inert. The result, as predicted in advance, was a half-stimulus that half-stimulated the economy. That, in turn, led the White House to feel rightly unappreciated for having saved the country from another Great Depression but in the unenviable position of having to argue a counterfactual — that something terrible might have happened had it not half-acted. To the average American, who was still staring into the abyss, the half-stimulus did nothing but prove that Ronald Reagan was right, that government is the problem.

He doesn’t touch on the “great accomplishment” of “health care reform” that has so far resulted mostly in Americans seeing the cost of their health insurance rising even faster than it did before the year-long debate. Nor the one on “financial reform” which has seen consumer credit card interest rates climb even higher than ever. Good will come of these “reforms,” presumably, but not until after Obama’s reelection is decided.

He continues that the president “seems compelled to take both sides on every issue,” such as that, “He gives a major speech on immigration reform after deporting a million immigrants in two years, breaking up families at a pace George W. Bush could never rival in all his years as president.” And he doesn’t even get into promising to “restore the constitution” and then failing to close Guantanamo, continuing the practice of “rendition,” targeting American citizens for extra-judicial killing, and starting a war without Congressional approval and then claiming that it is not actually a war.

From the day he was elected the number one concern of the people of this nation has been restoring employment opportunity, but after an initial misfire with no demonstrable effect, Obama has been distracted by his own “great accomplishments” and ignored the needs of the people he was elected to lead. Until time to mount a new election campaign. Then and only then does he return to the issue that concerns the electorate, and the passion returns, because he wants their votes.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Things That Don't Mean Much

It’s a sad commentary on America’s state of mind when unemployment of 9.1% is good news because it’s a drop of .1% from the preceding month. We used to think that 1% improvement from a bad state of affairs was inadequate, and we used to “look under the hood” of numbers like this and realize that, in this case, the improvement was caused by people ceasing to look for work rather than by people getting jobs.

Adding 117,000 net new jobs is good news, but less so when one realizes that the addition was insufficient to keep up with the growth of the labor force and when one reads in the employment report that slightly fewer people were actually employed in July than were employed in June.

These days we don’t look to see if good news is real or not, nor if it’s actually good. We just take anything that isn’t bad news and become so overjoyed that we run out and buy stocks like drunken sailors.

On the flip side of that coin, S&P downgraded our credit rating to AA+ yesterday. Right. They also rated Lehman Brothers AAA just one month before the collapse. The other two ratings agencies left us at AAA, and all three of them rated CDS instruments backed by home mortgages as “prime” in 2007 and 2008. So why do we care what they think?

And President Obama has finally “pivoted to jobs” as his agenda. Time for a reality check, people, he has begun his reelection campaign. In the last one he was going to close Guantanamo, end secrecy in government, restore the constitution… In this one he’s going to “create jobs” and “we are going to do this together.” "This," presumably, being pounding on the podium.

To "create jobs" he wants to extend the payroll tax cut and long term unemployment benefits. Not that the latter is a bad idea, it helps people who are in need and we should do it, but if these things have not been creating new jobs in the past, why are they going to create new jobs in the future? You don't create new things by using old ideas, nor do you change things by continuing what is not working.

His campaign even begins with a bus tour. Omigod, where have we seen that before? Is the bus going to have a big sign on the side of it with, maybe, a Liberty Bell? I cannot wait to hear what Sarah Palin has to say about that.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Alcohol-Fueled Tragedy

San Diego experienced two tragedies a couple of days ago, both fueled by alcohol. There is a lesson to be learned, not one that absolves anyone of personal responsibility, but one that suggests that drinking remains a dangerous activity.

A police officer, on the day that he was to appear in court to answer for a drunk driving and hit-and-run episode while off duty, went into the back yard of his home and shot himself to death. He left a wife and three children.

A Marine Gunnery Sergeant was riding his motorcycle and, while stopped at a stoplight, was hit by a drunk driver and left bleeding on the pavement as she fled the scene. He is a veteran of four tours in Afghanistan, and today is in serious danger of losing his life.

The driver was a young woman of 21 and had a blood alcohol content of .35 percent. She is, tragically, married to a Marine, and was drinking due to depression over her husband’s impending deployment to Afghanistan.

It’s all enough to just break your heart.

Apologies, Apologies

I apologize for not posting today, because I know that your entire day revolves around reading my stupid blog and is entirely ruined if I don't write something to illuminate you. GACK! I read "apologies for light posting" on no fewer than three blogs today. News flash, people, you aren't that fucking important.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Is Obama A Narcissist?

In a comment thread on another blog I read regularly, and usually enjoy, there evolved a lengthy discussion about whether or not President Obama is a narcissist. I've never been sure if this crowd is conservative or liberal, which is part of what I like about them.

Anyway. Duh, of course he's a narcissist. All politicians are. It's required.

Chris Matthews is an idiot

Chris Matthews had Howard Fineman and Joan Walsh on for his first segment yesterday, and the three of them, an idiot and two glorified bloggers, spent a full fifteen minutes whining about this being the first time in history that the right wing has ever made such a vicious attack on an American president. All three of them are old enough to have been around and of voting age during the Clinton years, so I can only conclude that either they were not paying attention, or they are suffering from early onset dementia. Or the two bloggers are simply as idiotic as Matthews. Making vicious attacks on Democratic presidents is what the right wing does.

“Yeah, but…,” cry the whiners on Hardball, “they are claiming that Obama is not a citizen, and calling him a socialist.” Oh cover your ears to protect yourselves from the horror! They accused Clinton of massive real estate fraud and called him a murderer, for God’s sake. They charged him with selling overnights in the Lincoln bedroom. They accused him of being a philanderer, which turned out to be true, but they made the accusation long before there was any evidence for it. Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky did not appear of their own volition, they entered the spotlight because the right wing went looking for them. They impeached Clinton, you may recall.

Obama is a big boy, and he knew what he was getting into. The right wing is throwing everything they have at him simply because it is their nature to do that to Democratic presidents, and if you think about it what they are throwing is pretty weak stuff. “Socialist non-citizen.” Pah. They are not making any of it stick because there are no dead bodies or unclothed women hidden in his closet. He’s not crying about it, and he doesn’t need crybaby bloggers defending him on Hardball.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Unethical Defense

I am utterly opposed to cutting spending at this point, and have no doubt that we should be supporting the economy rather than cutting the legs out from under it right now. I voted for Obama, and I don’t know what he could have done about the debt ceiling other than what he did. That being said, this defense of him is sheer nonsense.

"The “real drivers” of our current debt are Bush’s two tax cuts, Bush’s two wars, and the economic collapse that Bush and Wall Street fathered."

Let's get real. The Bush tax cuts ended in December of last year. They are now the Obama tax cuts, and he wants to extend the majority of them, which are for the middle and lower income brackets, some $3 trillion plus. Obama has added more than one tax cut on top of those, including a payroll tax cut which he wants to extend. He has spent much of the past two years bragging about how many times he has cut taxes and how many people he has cut taxes for.

The Bush war in Iraq is ending this year, as scheduled by Bush before he left office, except that Obama is trying to extend it. The Bush war in Afghanistan was wound down to a small war and Obama accelerated it to a major one. Obama escalated the war in Pakistan, and added wars in Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

The economy is indeed a major driver of the deficit, and what has Obama done about that? One "stimulus" which was too small and which consisted in far too great a degree of tax cuts. (You do recall we are complaining about “the Bush tax cuts”?) A year spent haggling over "health care reform" which began with closed door deal making with the drug companies to eliminate drug price negotiation and reimportation, and with hospital industry to preclude the public option. Then an immediate pivot to "responsibility in government and living within our means."

So we cannot reasonably complain about the Bush tax cut policies when Obama is continuing those same policies with tax cuts of his own. We cannot reasonably complain about the Bush war policies when Obama is continuing those same policies with wars of his own. We cannot reasonably complain about Bush crashing the economy when Obama has made damn little effort to restore the economy.

Valid ethics dictates that one does not complain about problems that one is not trying to correct, and that one does not criticize faults that one exhibits in one’s own behavior. That defense is unethical on both counts.

What Party Is He In?

President Barack Obama drives me absolutely crazy when he comes out with statements like the one he came out with yesterday morning in the Rose Garden. Unfortunately, this kind of nonsense is becoming almost routine from him.

"We need to begin by extending tax cuts for middle class families so that you have more money in your paychecks next year. If you’ve got more money in your paychecks you’re more likely to spend it and that means that small businesses, and medium sized business, and large businesses will have more customers. That means that they’ll be in a better position to hire."

First of all, if you extend the tax cuts, people will not have more money in their paychecks, they will have the same amount of money. And if they are not spending it this year, why are they going to spend it next year?

In any case, the extension would not affect next year, because the tax cuts don’t expire until the end of next year, so the extension that he is talking about would not mean “more money in their paychecks” until 2013 anyway and, as already stated, it will not mean increasing the paycheck, it will mean preventing it from decreasing. In 2013, not “next year.”

Not to mention the question of why is a Democratic president standing at a podium prattling to the effect of, “tax cuts create jobs.” That is a classic Republican talking point, and it has been proven repeatedly to be bogus.

I would feel better about Obama if he caved on these deals and then admitted that, “Yes, this deal stinks, but it was the best I could do.” Poll after poll indicates that the public recognizes that he is the adult dealing with idiots. I guess he thinks that admitting he was forced to accept a bad deal would make him look weak. Well, I’ll tell you what makes you look weak; adopting the rhetoric of the guys who just kicked your ass. That makes you look both stupid and weak.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

What Confidence Fairy?

So much for the "confidence fairy" solving our economic problems. The debt ceiling crisis is resolved and the Dow is down 261.71 points, more than 2% and below 12,000. So, where do we go from here? Cut spending some more?

Good Word

I have had some unkind things to say about Lawrence O’Donnell in the past, but last night he was very watchable as he covered the “debt ceiling deal” at some length. His commentary was thoughtful and smoothly delivered and he had guests who provided reasoned and reasonable discussion. It helped that his first guest was Barney Frank, as that somehow seemed to set a tone for the evening’s show. He and his guests were critical of all parties involved in this debacle, without denigrating anyone. It was, to me, pretty much precisely the way news and commentary should be done.

You can see Barney Frank here, and the next two segments here and here.

O’Donnell also did a commentary on the term “socialism” and it’s misuse in political commentary. He said that no economy in the world is purely capitalism, including ours, and none is purely socialist, but that all are mixtures of the two in varying degrees. He went on to say that “socialism is good and socialism is bad” and likewise for capitalism. It was a good piece, very well written and delivered.

I would quibble slightly with O’Donnell and suggest that socialism, and capitalism, are actually neither good or bad. Both are merely economic models which are morally neutral. It is the implementation of them which is either good or bad.

When O’Donnell says, “There is the capitalism which pollutes our rivers,” I would suggest that it is not capitalism which is polluting our rivers but rather the management of the companies who are doing it. Capitalism happens to be the form under which they manage those companies, but it is not integral to their pollution. The Soviet Union, while under a socialist regime, was one of the worst polluters the world has ever known.

That’s a minor point, though, in what was a good night for The Last Word. I watched the whole thing without using the “fast forward” button even once.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Good Deal? Bad Deal?

The deal which is going to Congress for approval seems to have pissed off everybody, so it must be a pretty good deal, although it looks mostly like nonsense to me. Well, of course the whole subject is nonsense.

Republicans were insisting on “spending cuts equal to any increase in the debt limit,” but how they can consider that achieved is completely beyond me. They got a spending limit increase of $2.7 trillion over an 18 month period and a spending cut of $2.7 trillion over ten years. The spending cuts don’t begin until 2013, so the debt limit will have to be raised again before the spending cuts even go into effect. What are the silly-ass Republicans crowing about?

Not to mention that this nation only budgets one year at a time, so ten year spending cuts are entirely fiction. Spending cuts that take effect in 2013? Give me a break, we don't even have a budget for 2012 yet.

Republicans are still prattling about a balanced budget amendment as if they thought it could pass either house of Congress, when anyone with half a brain knows neither house of Congress will achieve a necessary super-majority to pass it, and even if they did there is no way in hell that the states would adopt it.

FWIW, I don't really care about the deficit at this point. Later, yes.

Democrats are divided between condemning Obama for not getting tax increases, like that would be a good thing in this economy, and cheering because he will be in a position to terminate the Bush tax cuts with a veto at the end of 2012. Except that those tax cuts run to the end of 2012 because Obama extended them for two years and if he vetoes them he raises taxes on the middle class more than he does on the rich. That doesn’t look like a Democratic victory to me.

I don't care about the Bush/Obama tax cuts, either. I care about jobs.

What we have is spending cuts of $2.7 trillion which, assuming that the economy remains weak, amounts to about a 12% reduction in our deficit. That certainly is not sufficient to get the “confidence fairy” to wave a "magic jobs wand” over the economy and create a lot of jobs and, since the deficit and taxes are unchanged from last year, it means that election rhetoric will be about the deficit and “tax reform,” meaning lowering the upper tax rates instead of raising them, instead of about job creation and other “Main Street” issues.

In other words, Republicans did not win and neither did Democrats, but the American people lost, as they always do.