Saturday, September 29, 2012

Four Headlines

I'm not even going to bother telling you the sources; you'll figure it out soon enough. One headline reads, optimstically "Consumer Spending Jumps in August." The next is slightly less of a cheerleader, "Spending Climbs But Wages Don't." The third goes for realism, "High Gasoline Prices Lift Consumer Spending in August." The fourth must be, and is, a business publication, "Consumer Spending in US Stagnates."

Closer investigation shows that consumer spending rose by 0.5% in August, virtually all of which was higher gasoline cost, and consumers had to increase credit card debt to pay for it. The economies in Europe and China are crashing, the Middle East is in turmoil and threatnening to come unglued, and drought is slamming this country with no end in sight. Only 29% of large companies forsee hiring, down from 56% six months ago.

And yet voters "generally feel the economy is improving" and Obama is gaining in the polls as a result of it, which proves that people in this country are immune to facts and hear only what they want to hear. We will walk off the cliff with happy smiles on our faces.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Voting Tribally

Only in the very loosest sense of the word is democracy still alive in this country. What we have left is a sort of tribal warfare between two mobs of fanatical lunatics, warfare that is essentially meaningless since we are in any case governed by a wealthy oligarchy which is going to keep the general population under its heel regardless of which side wins.

In a discussion last week I suggested that winning an election without proposing any principles or policies but merely by disparaging the opposition and becoming the “lesser of two evils” was a losing proposition for the nation, and I was met with the response to the effect that the only thing which counted was winning and that “how we do that doesn’t matter.”

That is a repugnant and fanatical statement, and I reject it outright. Of course it matters “how we do that.” No one who believes in democracy can make such a statement. To say that is to legitimize the election of 2000. Obama supporters who say that are as delusional and fanatical, and as repugnant, as the Tea Partiers who demand Obama’s birth certificate.

This week in a discussion I suggested that while Romney was a bad choice and that I supported much of what Obama has done, and while I do not expect a perfect candidate, there are some “bright lines” which I cannot cross. Killing people overseas with Hellfire missiles when we do not even know who they are, killing Americans without due process of law, initiating war without Congress... These things I cannot support.

The response was similar to last week. It doesn’t matter what Obama has done, our side must win regardless because, while our side is killing people all over the world and detaining people without charges or trial, the other side is unthinkably evil.

When we are voting tribally, without even thinking about what or whom we are voting for, then this is not democracy in any meaningful way. This is the abandonment of judgement and reason, which are required ingredients of democracy. These are two mobs incited by the frothing of the oligarchy for its own purposes, and is the failure of democracy in the nation which was the “great experiment” in democracy.

Democracy is failing in this nation because the people in this nation have given it up. We gave it up in the 1980’s for flat screen televisions and SUVs. We gave it up in the 1990’s for our 3000 sgft homes. We gave it up in the 2000’s so that we could be “kept safe from terror.” We held the “great experiment” in our hand, and we opened our fingers and let if drop.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cheerleading On Jobs

CBS Evening News did a segment, its first of the evening, on “signs of the improving jobs picture.” The headline read, “Holiday hiring bolsters jobs outlook,” which might give you a hint of the nature of the piece. Since when do temporary jobs constitute an “improving jobs picture” or a “bolstered jobs outlook” in the real world?

It actually was worse than I thought it was going to be. The reporter described five companies’ plans for holiday hiring. The first planned on hiring 5000 more than last year, the second planned a 10% increase, about 5200 temporary jobs, the third said hiring would be “up slightly,” the fourth said it planned “down slightly,” and the last said it would be “about the same.”

So this “improving jobs picture” and “bolstered jobs outlook” consists of 10,200 rather low paying jobs nationwide which will last for about three months. Has the cheerleading gotten rather desperate, or what?

Then they had a guy from Moodys who said that retailers would see a “modestly disappointing season,” that would see some growth but “not the kind of growth that they would like or the kind that they saw in the last two years.” The reporter summarized that as a “disappointing season but not a disaster,” and Scott Pelley added his profound summary of, “improvement but slow.”

How anyone gets an “improving jobs picture” out of that utterly escapes me.

Embarrassment at the UN

President Obama spoke at the UN yesterday and it was mostly about the Libyan consulate and the death of Chris Stevens. Very moving except that he blamed it on a reaction to that stupid movie and launched into a discussion of defending freedom of speech. It was a very pretty speech, Obama is quite good at pretty speeches, but it was somewhat lacking in contact with reality.

The initial position of the White House was that the attack was reaction to the silly movie, and when Libyan officials said it was a planned attack by militants the White House vigorously denied it. Finally they were pretty much forced to accept it and vowed to bring the militants to justice, but now he’s back to blaming it on the movie again, even as the FBI is tracking down the militia who organized the attack..

A couple of other things leaped out at me. One was that in listing the countries in which citizens have risen up and demanded freedom from dictators and oppressive governments, he rather glaringly omitted Bahrain. That might have something to do with our naval fleet being stationed there, or with our great good ally Saudi Arabia’s assistance in continuously putting down that ongoing popular revolt.

We’re all for democracy and freedom of the people in the Middle East, but only when it is convenient to our immediate purposes.

And of course he spoke of a nuclear-armed Iran, saying that it “would threaten the elimination of Israel” and that it ”risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty.”

In addition to democracy and freedom, we’re big on posturing over non-existent threats such as, first, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and, second, that it would use a nuclear weapon on Israel if it had one. There is no evidence for either position. The endless hyperventilation about nuclear arms races never fails to crack me up, not to mention that Iran is a signatory to the NPT and has never been shown to be in violation of it, while our great good friend Israel refuses to sign it. Do people like Obama ever even listen to what they are saying?

We know that Israel has several hundred nuclear weapons, and Obama’s position is that Iran is trying to achieve nuclear weapons. Obama never admits the first, and his claim on the second is known by the entire world to be bogus, but that doesn’t keep him from making the claim, much like Bush kept claiming that Iraq had nuclear weapons.

But, knowing that Israel has nuclear weapons and accepting Obama’s premise that Iran is seeking to develop them, and given that both countries are in the Middle East, what is that if not an existing nuclear arms race in the Middle East? But Obama prates about an arms race “starting” if Iran gets a nuclear weapon because he is pretending that, at this point, there are no such weapons in the Middle East. Presumably, Israel doesn’t have any and we destroyed Saddam’s nuclear bombs when we invaded Iraq.

Am I the only one who is embarrassed for my country?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Replacement Refs

Sunday Night Football announcers continuously flogged the “replacement refs” to the detriment of the game. I don’t mean the refs, I mean the announcers. Forget about the stupid refs, you morons, we turn on the television to watch the football players.

Both teams are being called by the same set of refs, and the “bad calls” go one way as often as they do the other. I assume the dispute is about money, but I don’t care. I don’t care about the stupid refs. When I watch football I am watching the guys wearing helmets and, occasionally the girls wearing short skirts. I am not watching the referees to see how well they are performing. I don’t care how well they are performing.

At the end of the Packers-Seahawks game there was apparently a bad call that cost the Packers the game. I didn’t see it because I don’t watch football on ESPN. All football announcers are idiots, but that crowd is insufferable. I have watched the clips online and, yes, that was a bad call, but the only reason that it “gave the game to Seattle” was that it happened at the end of the game. Further, had Green Bay played up to its usual 23 points instead of the lousy 12 points it had, this call would not have mattered. One play does not make a game.

The regular refs blow calls too. Ask San Diego about Ed Hoculi. The call he blew here in the Denver game was a lot more flagrant that that call, and it not only cost San Diego the game, it took them out of the playoffs. After that whenever he was assigned to officiate a game in San Diego he wore a bullet proof vest, and was booed more loudly that the Chargers team was after their debacle this past Sunday.

Stuff happens. Coaches need to get over it and deal with what is within their control. Players need to shut up and just play football. For the fans, there is still plenty of excitement and fun; quit focusing on what might be wrong and just enjoy what is still right and valuable about America's favorite game.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Football Weekend

LSU squeaked out a win; closer than I expected actually as Auburn pretty much shut down their running game. Discipline has never been the Tigers’ forte, but they were more than usually undisciplined, with late hits and procedure calls. I thought Les Miles was going to either rip a player’s head off or have a heart attack a few times. I didn’t see him eating any grass, but LSU was never trailing by very much.

Georgia Tech was nothing if not entertaining. First they were trailing Miami by 19-0. Then they scored 36 unanswered points and led 36-19. Then their wheels came off and they lost in overtime, still with the same 36 points, a final score of 42-36. They performed this feat in Grant Field Bobby Dodd Stadium in downtown Atlanta, and the crowd was not happy.

Nor was the crowd happy in New Orleans as the Saints lost their third in a row. I must say I am pleased as punch to see them open 0-3, as this is the team with players who filed a lawsuit based on the theory that they should not be punished for taking money to physically injure players on opposing teams. They haven’t lost to good teams, either, as all three losses have come to teams with losing records. In fact, the teams which beat New Orleans have a record of 0-6 in games in which they did not play the Saints.

The Chargers game was mercifully blacked out locally which, hopefully, is the beginning of a trend if they are going to keep playing like that. I followed a “live blogging” stream online while watching other games, and some of the comments were hilarious. Like, “If anyone asks again if Gates is playing I will track them down and kill them” (he was) and, “Oh look, I think Michael Turner is sobering up.”

Philip Rivers had a quarterback rating of 42.5 by the end. I think a quarterback who never enters the game has a rating of 38.5, so obviously there is room for improvement. The much vaunted Ryan Matthews had 44 yards and one fumble, but he went a whole game without getting injured.

The team is, of course, downplaying the absolute beat down which Atlanta handed them, saying that they will “be fine next week.” They offer, of course, no clue as to precisely why they will be fine next week, nor as to why they stunk up the stadium this week. The only thing they offer which approaches an explanation is that Atlanta is “a very good team.” Okay, well, San Diego is supposed to be a very good team as well, and when two very good teams meet the result is not supposed to be a blowout.

The less said about San Diego State the better.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Democratic "Tea Party"

I have written before about my feelings of the recent trend in politics, in which the discussion in liberal circles is not to talk about what our side should be doing or what policies we should embrace, but rather to dance around with glee over the seeming incompetence of the other side and anticipate a victory at the polls by default. I don’t find such a victory anything to celebrate, any more than I would celebrate receiving a trophy for a race merely because no one else showed up.

I read one post where the writer said that he is enjoying the election, and his next words were about how even Republicans are stepping away from Romney because he is such a terrible candidate. He spoke of Tim Pawlenty leaving the Romney campaign for a lobbying job. He went on to admire how Obama is able to capitalize on Romney's mistakes with counter punches. Every bit of the enjoyment he described had to do with the ineptitude of the other side, and he said nothing about our side winning on its own merits.

When I was first in the sales department my boss drummed into me that I should never, even in my own mind, disparage my competition. "It is they," he would say, "who challenge us to produce excellence. If they were mediocre then we could sell garbage. Good competition is our biggest asset." His point was that when I thought poorly of my competition I did not do my best work.

What I see too much of is Democrats enjoying the lead not in terms of our side having a winning message, but rather in terms of the incompetence of the opponent. We are not enjoying our good candidate so much as we are gloating over the missteps of the other one. It weakens our message because the more the other side screws up, the less of a real message is required from our side. It is, in fact, producing a very uninspiring Democratic message, and it tastes bad to me.

Obama at one time knew this principle. When McCain "suspended his campaign to support passage of TARP" there was considerable media talk about the stupidity of that. Did Obama pounce on that and join the mocking of McCain for his misstep? He did not. He stayed with his message of hope and change. In this campaign he pounces of every slip of Romney's tongue, and his supporters do likewise. This is, in fact, the nature of the campaign, and it is the sum of the discussion in liberal discussion.

I joined in the discussion on that post, stressing that I was not a Romney fan and that, while I would take such a victory, it is not the kind of thing that I can enjoy, even when my side is winning. I'll take it, but there is no nobility in it, and no joy.

I was met with open hostility told first that it sounded like I was engaged in “sour grapes” and then that I was a “Democrat who hates Democrats” and that I was “looking for any excuse to find fault with his fellow libruls.”

The liberal side has its own “Tea Party.” They haven’t formed a formal club or given themselves a name, but it’s a large group and for them discussion consists of “you agreeing with what I say or me screaming at you.”

They’re not very smart, either. One of the rebutters said that “the only important thing is to keep Romney out of the White House and how we do that doesn’t matter.” I rejoined that, since we were rejecting such things as principle and honor, we should simply shoot Romney in the head. He replied that “I'm surprised you couldn't find something better than an extreme exaggeration/extrapolation as a basis for this latest slam.” Actually, the “extreme exaggeration” was a deliberate selection to illustrate the absurdity of his claim that “how we do that doesn’t matter” and, of course, he missed the point.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Defining Patriotism

We have, for the most part, utterly redefined “patriotism” in this country. About 1% of the nation still defines it as joining the military and accepting inconvenience, hardship and risk of death to defend his nation. The rest define it as letting someone else do that for him and voting for the politician who promises to give him personally what he wants to have for himself.

Thus we have campaigns aimed at “focus groups,” with speeches about the “Dream Act” when speaking to Hispanic groups, about Social Security and Medicare when speaking to seniors, about wages and unionism when speaking in factories, etc. We have pundits opining that gays and lesbians will vote for Obama because he has now embraced gay marriage.

Think about that for a moment. I’m 70 69 years old, and I’m supposed to be perfectly okay with Obama killing people all over the world, not on any battlefield, without even knowing who they are but based merely on what he perceives as suspicious acts, because I think he will protect my Social Security. The government can engage in a lengthy list of heinous acts, and I’m supposed to vote for its reelection as long as it preserves my Social Security. And, yes, my experience suggests that a good many voters actually take such a position.

For several months I have been engaging in discussions online where the topic is the electorate “voting in their best interest” or wondering how anyone can vote for Republicans when it “is against their interests” to do so, and in those discussions suggesting something along the lines of,

Personally, I am opposed to the whole concept of voting for one's own personal interests. I believe that it is the responsibility of the voter to examine the spectrum of the candidates' views and proposals and to vote in the best interest of the nation as a whole. The nation is bigger than one person and social responsibility requires that one put national well being ahead of personal comfort and even personal safety. Only a small percentage of modern society does this, by joining the military or similar endeavors, the rest vote for the candidate who promises to give them what they personally want.

Not one single time have I met with any acceptance of that concept, and I have been the target of considerable hostility as a result of posting it. We are, I am told in no uncertain terms, a nation of individualists, and the only reasonable way to vote is for whatever best serves the individual who is casting the vote. I sometimes get reminded in a rather snide manner that the 1% rate at which people join the military is why we call it an “all volunteer” military, which illustrates that my point missed the mark by a very wide margin.

I keep getting reminded; we have precisely the government we deserve.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The President's Men

One of the issues I have with President Obama is that he appointed Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense. Every time Panetta opens his mouth I am reminded of the utter incompetence of our government that such a man would hold any position in it, let alone a series of such high positions. The man is stupid beyond belief, and is arrogant and a warmonger to boot.

Now he is framing Afghanistan as impending “victory” by saying that the killing of our soldiers by the Afghan troops that they are training as comrades in arms is “the last gasp of a Taliban insurgency that has not been able to regain lost ground.”

Where have we heard that before? Oh, yes, Dick Cheney just before Iraq descended into total chaos, and as usual, Leon is alone in his idiotic opinion. General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, corrects him in the same article, saying that the attacks are “a very serious threat to the Afghanistan campaign.”

One reason to hope Obama loses is to get rid of Leon Panetta, Eric Holder and Timothy Geithner. What we get to replace them might not be any better, but it’s hard to see how they could be worse. We could get lucky, and keeping these people four more years is a disaster.

Courtesy Lives

I have discovered a new donut shop, one which is an adequate replacement for my favorite which closed more than a year ago. I went there Tuesday for the second time and a couple had walked in just before me. They were uncertain what they wanted, and the man behind the counter said to them, "I'll take care of this gentleman while you decide?" with a distinct question mark on the end.

That's a very small thing, but it was a delightful little gesture of courtesy which brightened my day, almost as much as the glazed cinnamon roll which followed it. Those rolls are sinfully good, and I'm limiting myself to one of them per week.

Yesterday I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription which my doctor's office was supposed to have transmitted to them on Monday. They had not done so and, without me having to ask her to, the young woman behind the counter called my doctor's office and got the prescription over the phone. She turned out to be a pharmacist, because she then filled the prescription. While she was doing all of this she repeatedly made eye contact with me and pleasantly said that it would be "just another minute."

When she delivered the prescription to me she thanked me and apologized for the delay. I told her on the contrary, that it was my pleasure to thank her for taking care of the problem caused by my doctor's office.

Be courteous to each other, folks, it makes life so much more pleasant.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Politics of Distraction

Every once in a while an economist fakes me out and says something that makes sense. Damn them anyhow. Here I am condemning them as complete idiots, and one of them hauls off and says something that validates a position I’ve been holding for more than a year.

I have been maintaining to my fellow liberals, progressives, whatever label they presently go by, that the Bush/Obama tax cuts are not the cause of income inequality and that making our tax code more progressive will not correct the imbalance in wealth and income that exists in this nation at this point. There are other aspects of futility to this discussion, including my contention that we should be talking about raising the lower incomes rather than merely trying to tear down the upper ones, and that talking about “fair share” sounds like a bunch of ten year olds, but…

Anyway, all of this has been about as effective as banging my head against a brick wall. It has made no difference to the brick wall of the conviction by liberals that every bad thing in the universe was caused by Republicans, most of it by George Bush personally, and it feels good only when I stop doing it. Of course I’m too stupid to stop doing it, so I still have a headache.

Along comes Dean Baker who, despite being an inflationista sometimes speaks reasonably, with a post today at Beat The Press in which his main point is that when we are arguing about taxes that progressivism and the middle class have already lost the battle. The central point he makes is when he speaks of, “changes in laws and institutions that had the effect of restructuring markets in ways that redistribute income upward.”

Notice that he points out that it is “restructuring markets” that has redistributed income, not changes in levels of taxation. He provides very concise and clear examples of precisely what he is talking about, for example the offshoring of jobs which was abetted by government policies and which enhanced profits for the wealthy business owners while driving wages downward for the working class. Read his piece, which is very clear and understandable, and note that the destruction of the middle class began with the Clinton Administration and has continued throughout Obama’s term in office.

His point, which is absolutely correct, is that as long as we are talking about whether or not the “Bush tax cuts,” all or any part of them, are to be continued, then we are not talking about government policies which have been and are destroying the middle class in this nation. These policies began in a Democratic administration, and it is an existing Democratic administration which is distracting us with “Bush tax cuts” and refusing to address a correction of them now.

Wonderfulness, Part Two

Bruce commented that he could never understand why food and energy were left out of inflation reporting, and suggested that it was to make the inflation appear to be lower than it actually is. The reason given by economists is that food and energy prices are “too volatile” and that they make the inflation number jump around too much. Leaving them out results in a more stable number for consumers to look at.

If that seems silly and incoherent to you, well, you must remember that we are dealing with economists here and sounding silly and incoherent is what they do. They go to places like Princeton and the University of Chicago to learn this stuff. You and I just pay our bills and balance our checkbooks, tasks which I suspect would utterly defeat the average economist.

There are times that food and/or energy prices are rising more slowly than the rest of the market, and times that including them would actually lower inflation rather than raising it. I have no idea how often that would be the case, but it is not the case right now.

The idea that inflation makes debt easier to repay does have some validity for businesses, because their income does automatically increase along with inflation, so it requires a smaller portion of their gross income to repay the debt after inflation has run its course. That is offset, however by the fact that inflation also increases the cost of doing business, so the amount of profit (or net income) that is consumed in paying the debt may not be any less, and may even be more.

The problem is that economics and accounting are not the same thing, and economists don’t seem to realize that. Economists can look at a sweeping big picture and say that the dollar is worth less and therefore the debt is easier to repay, but that is abstract theory which doesn’t translate into what happens when actual money changes hands.

Similarly, Dean Baker says that there can be no labor shortage because all the parking lot owner has to do is keep raising the wage he offers until he is able to attract the workers he needs. That sounds fine, but Baker doesn’t realize that there is often an upper limit to what a business can charge for its product. When the parking lot owner is having to charge $75/day to park a car people start riding the train instead of driving to town and pretty soon he doesn’t need any employees.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Wonderfulness of Inflation

Paul Krugman is still advocating the wonderfulness of inflation. In a New York Times editorial today he is being critical of those who decry Ben Bernanke, because while he says that the most recent Fed policy is “far from being a panacea for the economy’s troubles,” it is “still a welcome move.” His language is a little confusing, as his language usually is, because he seems to rather thoroughly despise Ben Bernanke but is forced to defend the actions that Bernanke is taking.

One of the hopeful results he foresees is that, “potential home buyers will be encouraged by the prospect of moderately higher inflation that will make their debt easier to repay.”

Economists are really fond of that thought, but I have never figured out why the fact that gasoline went up to $4.67 per gallon, or hamburger to $3.95 per pound, is going to make my mortgage easier to pay. That “inflation will make debt easier to pay” is possibly one of the most idiotic things I have ever heard economists say.

Rising wages would make my mortgage easier to pay and, sitting there in their ivory towers, economists probably make an assumption that wages always rise along with inflation, in which case they should say that “Rising wages which accompany inflation would…” But there are several flies in that ointment. The first is that wages don’t always rise with inflation, or they rise at amount which is lower than the rate of inflation.

The next problem is that the inflation upon which raises are based, and upon which the Social Security cost of living increase is based, do not include food and energy and are therefor often less than real inflation in terms of what people have to spend in order to live. That makes a mortgage harder to pay, not easier, because even though my income rose, I’m having to spend a higher portion of my income on food and energy.

Finally, even when the income increase does match real inflation, that additional income is taxed at a higher rate due to our tax system, which is not as progressive as it should be but is not a flat tax. The first $3800 of a person’s income is not taxed at all, the next $8500 is taxed at 10%, etc. The portion of income which is the increase may be taxed at a rate as high as 33% under the present system, so increased wages after taxation is not going to make one’s mortgage easier to pay.

Let’s say that my total income tax averaged out at 14% of my gross income, but my additional income was in the 29% bracket. Then only 85% of that new income would be available to contribute to the increased cost of living caused by inflation, the other 15% of that increase would have to come out of my preexisting income, and my mortgage payment is now harder to make.

There is simply no way that “moderately higher inflation will make debt easier to repay” unless one receives an increase in income which is significantly higher than that inflation, an event which is unlikely in the extreme. Even if it did happen, it was the higher income which made the mortgage easier to repay, not inflation.

What higher inflation will do is make savings worth less money, so that when savers pull that money out of savings and spend it, that money will by less in the way of goods and services. Inflation punishes people who save money.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spending, Wealth and Income

In discussing the new QE3 plans by the Fed, Ben Bernanke says that it
will help reduce unemployment because if people see their 401K plans becoming more healthy and their home values increasing they will feel better about resuming their spending habits again. As Bill Clinton said, “that’s how we got into this mess in the first place.” Bernanke apparently does not understand that you cannot spend wealth without either liquidating the asset or assuming an equal and offsetting debt against it. In either case, you no longer have the wealth.

So Bernanke’s case is that QE3 will presumably create an increase in people’s wealth and that people will feel so much better about that increase in their wealth that they will promptly get rid it. The sad part is, of course, that he may very well be right. That is, after all, precisely what the general public did with the wealth created by the housing bubble.

What you can spend is income, which is the result of people having jobs. This whole nonsense of creating a boom of consumer spending in order to create jobs is putting the cart before the horse. Carts don’t pull horses, and people without jobs don’t spend money. People who have jobs spend money, so we have to create the jobs first and an increase in consumer spending will result from that. What part of that is so hard to understand?

Daily Finance chimes in, saying that the Fed “also wants to make people feel wealthier — and more willing to spend.” It then proceeds to say that any feeling of increased wealth created by this move will be delusion, that stock price increases will benefit only the wealthiest 10% of the population, and that low interest rates on homes are pretty useless when people don’t have the 20% down payment that is required to obtain those rates. It does not say, but clearly implies, that any willingness to increase spending that comes out of this Fed action would be the result of insanity.

I’m glad somebody is living in reality these days.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feeling Better?

Ted McLaughlin, at his Jobsanger blog, has a post today about how “Most People See The Economy As Improving,” in which he refers to a Pew Research poll. I’m sure Ted is reading the poll correctly, but all it does for me is point out the idiocy of the media’s fantasy of having “man on the street” interviews on matters of importance.

The stock market is up, corporate profits are up and interest rates are still near zero. That is pretty much the extent of good news, none of which in any way benefits the middle class or the poor in our society.

During this year, including during the last two months in which time the “man on the street” is becoming more optimistic, the middle class has shrunk, the average income of the middle class has dropped, the number of people living in poverty has increased, the percentage of the population in the labor force has declined dramatically, the number of new jobs being created has declined, the number of people being laid off has increased, the number of people unemployed with no unemployment benefits has skyrocketed, inflation in food and energy has increased, the nation’s trade deficit has increased, exports have fallen, consumer debt has begun to rise again, and severe drought across the nation has taken a deeper and deeper toll with no end in sight.

None of these things are generalities or demagoguery, they are all facts reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economics Administration, and the Energy Department. These are not about how people feel, they are accumulations of fact.

“Most people,” in itself a vague and meaningless term, don’t “feel better” about the economy because they know a damned thing about it. The “man on the street” is typically a complete idiot. They feel better because they are listening to politicians in campaign mode who are telling them what they want to hear. Obama is painting a rosy picture about a “slow path the recovery,” and both candidates are making promises which they cannot keep, and which they would not keep after elected even if they could.

The chart which Ted presents shows 60% of Republicans hearing bad news and only 15% of Democrats doing likewise, which is proof that "feelings" about the economy are not based on facts but are the result of listening to the prating of politicians. Republicans are listening to Romney trying to gain the presidency while Democrats are listening to Obama defending his past performance and trying to retain the presidency. It never occurs to “the man on the street” that both candidates are lying their asses off, which is why we have the disastrous government that we do.

Note to the Cabbie

I had to give up on your "prove you're not a robot" thing, but I wanted to suggest sending them to taxicab driving school.

Sillyness Abounds

Almost immediately after the attack on our consulate in Libya we started seeing reports that it was not just a spontaneous mob, but that a terrorist group had used the mob as cover for a planned attack in revenge for the drone killing of an al-Qaeda leader in June. I was, to say the least, skeptical because we scream “terrorist” every time some high school kid forgets his backpack at the bus stop.

Or every time some nut job has a plan to knock corporate logos off of buildings and an FBI plant can persuade him to buy some play-doh and stick it against a freeway overpass so that the DOJ can charge him with “deploying weapons of mass destruction.”

When I read that there were RPG’s and a couple hundred armed guys involved I had a few second thoughts to the effect that maybe this was planned, and then I realized this is Libya. There are probably more weapons floating around this country than anywhere else in the world, and to round up 200 weapons, including RPG’s, and guys who know how to use them in Libya is almost certainly a matter of minutes.

Meanwhile, before the “planned terrorist attack” meme began to circulate, Hillary Clinton waxed poetic with rhetorical questions about “how this could happen in a nation which we liberated” and especially “in a city which we saved from violence.”

She might want to ask how this could happen in a nation which we bombed the shit out of, actually, and she might want to ask the people of Benghazi how much violence they experienced. From what I read it was quite a lot. Fortunately she was asking herself the questions, apparently, so she didn’t expect any meaningful answers.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Apples and Bowling Balls

Dean Baker in an economist, so I hardly expect him to be logical very frequently, if at all, but he is particularly silly today as he discusses the Chicago teachers strike. I admit to some prejudice against public service unions, but I generally side with workers and I never make up my mind until I have some facts with which to do so. I came across his nonsense in the course of that, so far, fruitless search.

He compares the average Chicago teacher’s salary of $71,000 to the current income of the Chicago Mayor, which is $16.5 million, to the same guy’s salary as director of Freddie Mac at $274,284, and for some odd reason to the salary of Erskine Bowles as director of Morgan Stanley in 2008 at $335,000. The last one was four years ago, was in finance rather than public service, and was in New York rather than Chicago, so why he included it eludes me, but he is, after all, an economist.

He does link to another article written by an economics reporter, rather than an economist, who compares the salaries of teachers to those paid to other people who have similar college degrees. She finds that teachers typically earn 62% to 80% of the amount earned by other college educated people, which is far more useful than knowing how their salaries compare to three selected millionaires. She does not have information regarding the pay scale of Chicago teachers specifically.

In any case, Baker, like most of the media, is stressing pay scales and implying that the teachers union turned down the pay raise, and it is my impression that they did not, but rather that it was other conditions of teacher evaluation and job security over which they struck. So far I can find no publication which will say what the specifics of those terms are, other than that they involve student tests in some unspecified manner.

The role of the media is not to inform, but rather to inflame.

Update, Wednesday, 12:00 noon: You might know it would be the San Francisco Chronicle, perhaps the only real newspaper left in this country, that would shed some light on the Chicago teachers strike. It's not about the money the article says, it's about how to measure performance of teachers. I don't know enough to weigh in on the subject, but it makes more sense than the money does, so it's time for the idiotic pundits to quit bleating about who makes how much money.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Perennial Victims

After eleven years it is time for this nation to get back on its feet, live as a nation made whole and quit living as a nation with an unhealed hole which defines and weakens us. Just as a beaten wife must finally redefine herself, we must redefine this nation. The law can take away the abusive husband and put him away, but it is the woman who must accept the responsibility at some point to cast off the role of victim and accept the role of a whole person who can stand on her feet and face life on life’s terms.

It is time for America to cast off the role of 9/11 victim in which we spend more on punishment and protection than we do on development and advancement of our own people; all out of an unending sense of victimhood framed by pictures of burning towers and the words “never forget.” In such focus is the wallowing role of the victim that says, “never move on.”

Such was the role of “Occupy Wall Street” who, rather than marching on Washington to demand that something be done to improve the lot of the middle class, focused on sitting placid and mired in inaction on Wall Street in order to point the finger of blame and bemoan the fate that had been imposed upon them by “the one percent.” They preferred the safe role of victim to the difficult and dangerous role of activist.

The nation cries out for taxation of the rich as redress for the victimization
of the "99%" by the "1%," a chorus of victimization which drowns out any voices demanding action to improve the lot of the middle class and concerted action to improve jobs. We are more focused on how we have been mistreated than we are on action which could improve the conditions in which we work and live.

Such is the role of today’s labor movement, which looks to Congress to pass laws such as “card check” which make unionism easier for them and then cries foul and accepts a declining middle class when Congress fails to do so. What few labor protests which do occur are by single unions and are not accompanied by concerted action on the part of labor as a whole, and so they fail for lack of support and labor and the middle class resort to the whimpering victimhood of unfair treatment by government, unwilling to act in concert in their own behalf.

The labor movement in Poland rose up with weapons no more potent than axe handles and faced down a Communist government backed by armies which had machine guns and tanks. American labor cannot even face down a state governor with a divided legislature who is armed only with words. Utterly pathetic.

Making Your Case

For the most part I support private sector unions and am opposed to public sector unions, and am following the Chicago School Teachers strike with a somewhat jaundiced eye and an open mind. While I know there are other issues, up to now the only fact I have is that the teachers have turned down an offer of a 4% raise each of the next four years from a present average wage of $71,000 per year, which doesn’t exactly make me want to carry a sign in support of their cause.

Today along comes Attywood, who is a strong unionist and shows a picture of Sally Field holding a “Union” sign. All well and good, but she was fighting the owners of textile mills, not public service and the taxpayers.

Then he tells me that I should know the teachers are on the side of the angels because Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are supporting Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Those guys, of course, never support anything but the wrong side, so… Sorry, it’s called “guilt by association,” and that kind of argument doesn’t sway me.

Then he brings out his big guns and says this,
But that's not even what this strike is about, anyway. At its core, the teachers in Chicago are fighting the same bullcrap we're fighting in Philadelphia and in New York and in most other big cities -- the corporatization of American schools by the same geniuses who brought us the housing bubble and the student loan bubble.. We're talking about the hedge-fund know-it-alls and charter school charlatans and campaign-cash-craving politicians who for a variety of reasons -- some perhaps naive, others intentionally corrupt -- want to blow up the thing that made America the envy of the world back in the 20th Century, our system of public education for all.

Wow. All of that is in a four year teacher’s contract in Chicago? Can you say hyperbole? It isn’t about the teachers at all, apparently, the contract that the teachers are being asked to sign is actually about freedom, apple pie and the American way, all of which will be destroyed if they sign it.

Then he says not to listen to him, which strikes me as a pretty good idea, and lets a teacher speak for the teachers, Presumably a teacher who is involved in the contract talks will be able to give us somewhat ,more precise detail on what the dispute is about so that we may make an informed decision as to whom to back.

When you support Mayor Emanuel’s TIF program in diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of school funds into to the pockets of wealthy developers like billionaire member of your school board, Penny Pritzker so she can build more hotels, that not only hurts kids, but somebody should be going to jail.

Okay, maybe not. Sounded like more of Attywood’s “It’s the giant corporations trying to suck the life out of freedom, apple pie and the American way,” and so far we still have no actual fact other than that the teachers turned 4% per year for four years. This is not really the way to sell your case to thinking people.

It certainly is not selling the Chicaho teachers' case to me.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Name Of The Game Is...

All over the sports blogs we see discussions about the NFL “replacement officials.” During the games on television the announcers are constantly yammering about the replacement officials and dissecting their calls. How many times did you buy tickets and tell your friend, “Hey, I have tickets to go down to Qualcomm Stadium and watch the officiating tonight.” I don’t know about you, but I watch the football game, you know, the guys wearing helmets. I don’t go to watch the officiating.

Let's stop with the replacement officials thing. Both teams get the same officiating, so it's a "level playing field." If the officials make mistakes, and even the regular ones do, they will make as many favoring one side as they do the other. One commenter said, "the error was always in favor of the offense, no matter the team," which proves my point. The errors are to the advantage of both teams equally and it evens out, so who cares?

The name of the game is “football; it isn’t called “officiating.”

Defining The Enemy

I’m a bit late to the party on this because I have been studying articles for several days, trying to find out the basis upon which the United States is declaring the Haqqanis as a terrorist network. So far I see nothing which I think justifies that designation.

They have made attacks on US forces in Afghanistan and on the American embassy there, but that seems to me to be a legitimate effort by insurgents to drive an occupying army out of their land. I know we regard that as “terrorism,” but I don’t think it fits the actual definition of the word. They engage, our government says, in extortion, bribery, kidnapping and smuggling to fund their operations. Those certainly are criminal acts, but are not terrorism by any definition of the word.

We claim that they “are affiliated with Al Queda in Yemen,” but don’t provide any actual evidence of that other than the statement itself. Of course in the modern American system of justice, a mere accusation is sufficient to proceed to execution, so perhaps that is all that is needed to put them on the terrorist list – a government declaration that they “are affiliated” with some terrorist group or another.

We’ve been killing them for several years, in Pakistan using Hellfire missiles fired from unmanned drones, based on them being “militants” or “insurgents,” so with this declaration we can use our missiles and kill them for being terrorists. More importantly, in addition to killing them, if they are terrorists we can take any money they have in bank accounts, while if they are militants or insurgents we have to leave their money alone.

Predicting Outcomes

Steve Kornacki proclaims at that “Obama is Winning” and that he has been all along. In his article he mentions that the ineffable pollster Nate Silver, who has never been wrong, puts Obama’s chances of reelection at 80% as of this week. Obama got a “popularity bounce” from the Democratic convention, while Romney did not from the Republican one.

The Obama sycophant crowd is beginning to remind me of the Republican crowd of the 1990's led by Newt Gingrich, in which the Republican Party was going to control the government for the next 100 years. They lost the White House and both houses of Congress within six years.

Pride goeth before a fall.

Keep honking about that 80% chance of a win, and more and more Democrats will believe that their vote will not be needed. If it's raining or something good is on the television they'll stay home because Obama will win easily without their vote. Kornacki said so.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Miscarriage of Justice

An arbitration panel overturned the suspension of NFL players who took bounty money for deliberately attempting to injure players on other teams, allowing those suspended players to participate in this weekend’s games and to receive full pay. The justification given for the reversal was that the reason for the suspension was not entirely clear; that the panel could not determine whether the monetary award was for the intention to injure players on other teams, or if it was a ruse to circumvent the salary cap.

That is without a doubt the most stupid, idiotic excuse to justify criminal activity that I have ever heard in my entire life. It is an insult to everyone who has ever played the game, or who has even enjoyed it as a spectator.

I at one time had a great deal of respect for Drew Brees, but recently he has more and more been impressing me as nothing more than just another celebrity asshole. He pretty much completed that journey with his delighted reaction to this decision, when he said that “It pretty much makes you feel that justice has been served.”

The man is an animal if he thinks that coaches should be punished for offering cash payment for deliberate attempts to injure to opposing players, but that the players who took the cash and actually inflicted the injuries should not be punished. Drew Brees has a really, really sick definition of “justice.” I hope New Orleans loses a lot of games.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Empty Words

I didn’t listen to Obama’s speech last night for the simple reason that, having watched him govern, I simply cannot bear to watch him campaign.

Having watched him assassinate people in seven countries based only on activity which he decides is “suspicious” and not knowing who they actually are, having watched him execute American citizens without due process of law, having watched him take America to war in Libya without consulting Congress, having watched him make an unparalleled fortress of government secrecy, I cannot listen to him thunder from the podium about noble principles of “American exceptionalism,” Christian and family values, and the “great American dream.”

I don’t need fact checkers to verify his accuracy, small phrases tell me just how empty his words are. When he says, “I will take the money we are no longer spending on wars and use it to pay down our debt…” I don’t need a fact checker to tell me that the phrase is hot air. The money we are spending on war is borrowed money, so he is proposing to pay down debt with borrowed money. Did he even go to high school?

He promises that, “When American families can no longer be tricked into signing mortgages which they cannot afford…” our economy will be better off or some such thing. Every con man knows that you cannot con an honest man; you can only trick a person when he is engaged in trying to take advantage of you. That’s how a con works; you try to make the target think he is pulling a fast one on you.

It is not the responsibility of the lender to know what a borrower can afford, it is the responsibility of all of us to bite off only that which we are able to chew. Obama tells homeowners that their position is not their fault, which is what they want to hear, and then he says, “You did not elect me to tell you what you want to hear, you elected me to tell you the truth.”

You notice, in that statement, that he doesn’t actually promise to tell us the truth, only that he knows we elected him to do so. Only we didn’t of course; we elected him because he told us the lies we wanted us to hear, and we will reelect him only if he keeps on doing so.

He says that it's an American core belief that, “We're not entitled to success. We have to earn it.” In the next breath he is talking about how,
“…the little girl who's offered an escape from poverty by a great teacher or
a grant for college could become the next Steve Jobs.”
We have to earn it unless we can get someone to give it to us.

I’ve read the entire speech, more than once, and there are a lot of fine words, but nothing about what he plans to actually do. He talks about paying down debt, and at the same time talks about reducing deficit spending by only 25% in the next ten years. How do you keep borrowing money and pay down debt at the same time?

Democratic speeches same as Republican speeches. Empty words.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

How Democracy Works

Party platforms are pretty meaningless documents, really, and I don’t usually pay any attention to them. They are much bandied about during conventions and much ado is made over them, and then everyone forgets that they even exist until four years later when it’s convention time again. Their content is utterly meaningless, but sometimes the process of adding or removing content can be revealing.

This year’s Democratic platform omitted language supporting a commitment to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and any language about God, omissions which I happen to think were good ideas. Jerusalem is a holy site to Muslims and making it the capital of Israel is highly controversial and is none of our business, and I strongly support keeping politics secular.

Obama was not having it, he wanted both things restored to the platform, so he sent a former state governor to the convention who declared that, “as an ordained United Methodist minister I am here to attest and affirm that our faith and belief in God is central to the American story and informs the values we’ve expressed in our party’s platform.” That pretty much defines the Democratic Party as theocratic, so if you don’t want a religious state…

Jonathan Turley describes in detail the voting process that resulted in the “planks” being added to the platform, and much more detail on the issues involved. There were three voice votes involved, each one more clearly negative than the one preceding it, but the chair pronounced the measure passed anyway.

Thus the convention is revealed as “sounding brass, filled with noise and fury, signifying nothing.” What votes are held are merely for show, because all decisions are made at party headquarters, and the party members who make up the “democracy” of the political organization are there only to fill the seats and make things look good.

The main stream media is so busy reporting on how “Michelle Obama wowed them” and “Bill Clinton knocked their socks off” that they have no time to report on little insignificant things such as this utter failure of democracy, and there is little evidence that anyone would care even if they did report it.

The third comment in the discussion following Turley’s post, I think, sums up the state of our electorate. After saying that this whole thing was a “non-issue,” the commenter went on to say that, “The Clinton speech was fabulous,“ and that, “So far the convention has been a huge success.”

So we don’t see democracy as having our voices heard, or making our opinions count; democracy is about being entertained by great speeches.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Wrong Questions

Dean Baker raises a point for those who ask if we are better off than we were four years ago, using an analogy of a burning house. He says the question is like asking the fireman if the house is better off with the fire put out or while it was burning, and that a better questions would be to ask did the fireman bring enough hose, or was his hose big enough, did they have a big enough crew, and was the water pressure sufficient?

Colonel Lang said in a comment at his own place Sic Semper Tyrannis of people like Dean Baker that, “Academics understand little of reality. They are engaged in unending mutual mental masturbation with their colleagues and by and large have never been in the fray.”

Having once credited him with that masterpiece, I am going to use it repeatedly as if it were my own, because it is a work of sheer genius. I wish I could say that our colonel is typical of our military mind, but I fear such might not be the case.

In any case, Baker’s put down of the question fails on several fronts. For one thing, a house that is burned out and waterlogged is hardly in better shape than one that is actively on fire, so the answer to “Is it in better shape than when you got here?” is obviously “No” and he’s hardly helping the Democrats very much.

Nor does it help Democrats to suggest that they brought a knife to a gunfight with, “Did you have a sufficient crew and were your hoses big enough?” I’m not going to go where you’re thinking with the thing about the size of their hoses.

An even better question than Dean Baker’s ones about the firefighters’ equipment would ask a question or two about their actions, which he did not suggest. Why, one might ask, did they not rescue the homeowners from the burning house, but instead leave in there to suffer whatever fate they might? Why instead of rescuing the homeowners, did they focus on trying to save the structure? Because that was the part on which the bank held the mortgage? And finally, what was the point of setting up deck chairs for the rescued homeowners to sit in when you weren’t, you know, saving the homeowners?

Sort of like, why are you making it possible for people to buy health insurance when you aren’t working on making it possible for them to have incomes with which to pay for that insurance?

Two Wars

In case everyone has forgotten, we have tens of thousands American soldiers and Marines fighting a war in Afghanistan, and some of them die in action almost every day. When was the last time that CBS Evening News carried a segment on that war, with an onsite reporter, progress reports, excited commentary during film clips, and a reminder of how many people have been killed in the ten years that war has raged across that land? Yeah, it’s been a long time.

And yet every single night we get that kind of report on the war in Syria, complete with scenes of bloody corpses and slaughtered children. Dramatic narrative accompanies “live footage” of massive explosions and firefights, and every day we are reminded of the total number of dead the war has caused. This is a war in which America has no strategic interests, in which we have nothing to gain or lose. No American lives are at stake. This is in no way “our war.”

Yet CBS reports it nightly, at great length and with great drama, and ignores the war in which our own men and women are dying; ignores the war that is, like it or not, “our war.” Simple question: why?

Monday, September 03, 2012

What Used To Be

When I was in a labor union the basic purpose for labor unions was the simple cause portrayed by the movie Norma Rae, which was simply fair treatment of workers by the business which employed them. I can still see Sally Field standing tall, holding her cardboard sign reading “Union,” and the textile machines shutting down, one by one. Workers, united into a single voice, make a powerful force. Like those ladies in the textile mills, we asked for nothing; we made demands, and when that required standing at the factory gates with axe handles in our hands, that is precisely what we did.

Today workers are standing around waiting for government to restore the union movement for them, moaning and making the claim that government has passed laws that stack the deck in favor of “the other side.” They are like a crowd of homeless, holding out their tin cups and begging for alms.

The original unions were not formed by government, they were formed by workers with courage and a willingness to defy authority. Laws were passed supporting them because those workers had become so powerful that government was afraid to do otherwise. Government does not respond to weakness; it responds to those who buy it or to those who frighten it.

This is America today. We do not stand up on top of a machine and hold up a sign that defies authority. We cower and cravenly beg for authority to provide us with what we want. When they take away the rights provided by our constitution, we thank them for keeping us safe. We’re more afraid of losing what we have than we are willing to stand up for what could be. We have lost the ability to rise up in righteous anger and been made cowards by our own illusion of comfort.

Happy Labor Day? We don’t deserve a happy Labor Day. We have betrayed our workers and our workers have betrayed themselves.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Good Sport & Poor Outcomes

Carl Edwards was taken out of the NASCAR race today due to a blown engine, an event which essentially ended his chances of "making the chase" for the championship. He was interviewed afterward and was philosophical about the whole thing, smiling while expressing regret for all of the ill fortune that the team has suffered this year and ended by saying, "Oh well, a bad day at the races is better than a good day at a real job."

Jimmy Johnson was taken out by a wreck, which was his own fault and which does not affect his "making the chase" and winning a championship this year. As he did two weeks ago when his car was wrecked, he was so pissed off that he left the speedway without speaking to reporters. Some people have class, some don't.

Danical Patrick, by the way, finished 29th, six laps down to the leader. The five places that she improved above the 34th place that she was running shortly after the start was due entirely to attrition as cars ahead of her wrecked or lost engines, as she was two laps behind the leaders after 60 laps. For once the announcers did not hyperventilate about how well she was doing during the race; even they could not spin this performance.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Football Notes

Michigan State was unimpressive in beating Boise State last night. Their defense was about as good as expected, but about all they had on offense was a running back with the number 24, who carried 43 times for 210 yards and caught passes for 55 more yards. His name is Le’Veon Bell; he packs 245 pounds on a 6’2” frame, and he reminds me to an astonishing degree of Ladanian Tomlinson. He has strength up the middle, he sidesteps like a ballet dancer, he rotates out of tackles, he accelerates like the space shuttle, leaps tacklers like a high hurdler, and he changes direction like a cutting horse. But more to the point, he just runs and moves like LT. This kid may be the most underrated player in college football.

There was some ill will here toward Brady Hoke when he left SDSU, but I’m not sure why. He made it clear when he took the job that his dream was to coach Michigan and that if he was offered that job he would take it. He was and he did; so why should we be surprised? It’s also not surprising that when two of his best two players violate the rules he doesn’t care that the next game is against Alabama, the suspension is effective with the upcoming game. That’s the kind of leader that Brady Hoke is; he is a man of character.

Contrast that with Texas A&M’s reaction when two of it’s starters are in violation; suspension for one game, but delayed until Oct 13th when they play Louisiana Tech. Bartender Cabbie and I are in agreement that the Aggies are not really of a caliber to play in the SEC, and I’d say this shows that they don’t really have the moral character to belong in that conference either.

Back to Michigan a moment, one of the suspended players, running back Fitz Toussaint, was arrested for drunk driving but pled to a charge of “driving while visually impaired.” What the hell kind of charge is that, and in what manner was he “visually impaired” do you suppose? Sounds like he might be draft material for the Chargers, though.

Revising History

CBS Evening News did a segment last night on President Obama speaking to "the troops" at Fort Dix on the eve of the final departure of our armed forces from Iraq, which they referred to as “one of his major foreign policy triumphs.” I had a profound sense that I was looking at an Obama campaign piece rather than a news item.

In 2008, as one of his last acts in office, George W. Bush signed an agreement with Nouri al-Maliki setting a timetable for the full and complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. Democrats were outraged, and some Republicans, claiming that he was unreasonably committing his successor to a course of action and that such commitments were not supposed to be made by outgoing presidents.

For the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama tried every measure he could think of to abrogate the agreement signed by Bush, and to extend the presence of our armed forces in Iraq past the timetable which had been agreed upon between the two nations. He was not able to do so, which would seem to me to be a foreign policy failure.

But now, by some Orwellian transformation, it was Obama who "ended the war in Iraq," and the final complete withdrawal of armed forces on the schedule set by George W. Bush, over Obama’s objections, is a “major foreign policy triumph” for Barack Obama.