Thursday, January 31, 2013

Escaping Blame

Andy Kroll wrote a preface for an article on the homeowner debt crisis, and bemoaned the fact that his own parents had fallen “victim” to this plague which swept our nation.

Last December, as we hopscotched around town buying last-minute Christmas presents, my mother told me how, for years, they'd been underwater on the house they'd owned for nearly as long as I've been alive. Five thousand dollars underwater, then $10,000, then $20,000... The local housing market sagged along with the nation's, and there was nothing they could do about it. This angered me more than anything I can remember: first, you're a “homeowner”; then, it turns out that you're over your head in debt by no fault of your own…

Andy Kroll was born in 1978, so his parents must have bought the house on or before 1985 to qualify for his “nearly as long as I've been alive” bit.

We bought our house in 1995 with a 30-year fixed and 20% down. We have refinanced a couple of times for lower rates on a new 30-year fixed, and neither time did we add to the principal, that is “take out equity.” We currently owe about 32% of what the house would sell for today.

So how do Kroll’s parents, who bought their house ten years earlier than we did, find themselves underwater “through no fault of their own?” Housing prices are not the same in California as on the East Coast, but patterns are very similar, and I’m not willing to believe that East Coast housing prices have fallen dramatically below 1985 prices.

There is no doubt that Kroll’s parents bought into the hype of the housing bubble. They were persuaded that their home was worth vastly more than they currently owed on it and that they could live the good life by refinancing and “taking out equity” to maintain a lifestyle not otherwise possible.

They may very well have been persuaded by shysters, but that does not make it “no fault of their own.” Each of us is responsible for our own decisions. We cannot, as adults, allow someone else to make a decision for us and then say that it, being a bad decision, was not our fault. It was our fault for not being sufficiently adult to inform ourselves in order to properly make our own decision.

The con man preys on the greed of the victim. No greed, no victim.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Amnesty Again

In pimping for his immigration reform plan the other day Obama said that, “We forget that most of us used to be them.” The man has regained his ability to thoroughly piss me off.

No, we did not “used to be them,” because our forefathers came here legally. They applied for permission and waited until that permission was granted. They came here with the intention of becoming citizens and earning the rights thereof. They did not come illegally in the dark of night, use forged documents and false names to get jobs, and start screaming about their “rights” as non-citizens and law-breakers.

I don’t care if they’re “good workers.” I don’t care if they are “good people; if they are faithful to their spouses; if they treat their children well; if they go to church every day and have statues of St. Mary in their living rooms. They are criminals. They broke the law by coming to this country without permission. They broke another law by forging documents. They broke another law by lying to their employers. They break these laws every day they are here, and they think nothing of it.

I don’t get this country, I really don’t. We incarcerate people at the highest rate of any nation in the world. We throw people in prison practically for stealing a loaf of bread. Some poor addict gets caught with a marijuana toke in his pocket and we will lock him up in prison for years. But a person enters the country illegally, uses forged documentation or a stolen identity to obtain a job and continues doing that for years, and our reaction is that we need to “let him come out of the shadows” because “all he wanted was a better life.”

We ought to throw him out of the country, because he broke the law in more than one way and did so for years. He wanted a better life? So did that poor dumb pot smoker, but we threw him in jail for seeking that better life through illegal means.

What are we telling people who waited their turn, who waited for permission or are still in some distant land waiting for permission to this day? We’re telling them they are suckers. We’re telling them that their dream land is not what they think it is, because we reward those who break the law. The illegals are here, living the good life with a “path to citizenship” and they are still out there waiting for permission that they may never get. We don't have room for them because we're too full of immigrants on that "path to citizenship" who illegally jumped ahead of them.

Fairness? Amnesty is about 12 million votes and both sides seem to think those votes will go to them, which is symptomatic of just how stupid and insane our politics has become. What’s equally pathetic is that those 12 million votes will, indeed, go to whichever party the 12 million immigrants think is most responsible for the amnesty.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back From The Dead

Been down with the flu. Nothing other than fever and chills, and no trip to doctor or hospital required because it has not invaded my lungs. I still feel like shit, but at least I feel like fresh warm shit. Things may be slow for a few more days.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Women In Combat

So we’re going to deploy women in front line combat and some people are worried about whether or not women can cope with the physical and emotional stress of combat. Oh, really?

My guess is that women will handle physical and emotional stress of combat, if anything, better than men do. They handle childbirth, which would turn the average man into a gibbering idiot, and many of them do it multiple times, and on purpose. I’ve even seen them look forward to it.
How many men would look forward to getting their kneecaps broken?

Think about it; when a couple breaks up, whose clothing is on the lawn?

I think the reason we have kept women out of combat has to do with the “cruel and unusual punishment” thing in our constitution and we only now decided that doesn’t apply to our enemies in time of war, but isn’t there something in the Geneva Convention about deploying “terror weapons” in battle?

More Voodoo Economics

Paul Krugman is not alone in wanting to hide from reality by changing the manner in which debt is evaluated. He wants to quit comparing our debt to our GDP because the proportion is now reaching 100% and is beginning to frighten people so, as I mentioned yesterday, he wants to talk about debt as a proportion of potential of GDP, which brings the percentage down to Well, it’s hard to tell, because the heading of his chart is unintelligible. The left side is labeled “(Bil of $/Bil of $)” and runs from 0.24 at the bottom to 0.38 at the top.

The percentage of potential GDP is, presumably, lower than the percentage of actual GDP. Further, since economists can create the potential GDP number out of thin air, using that number has the possibility to keep us borrowing money for decades.

The pitfall of this, of course, is that if actual GDP is that far below our potential GDP then we have not recovered from the recession, are therefor in a recession, and no one wants to admit we are in a recession. Krugman and company blithely ignore that.

Dean Baker ran into difficulty in discussing Japan in a piece unabashedly titled “The Burden of the Debt Depends on How You Measure It,” though, because Japan’s debt is already 200% of GDP and nobody can really pretend that they are functioning below capacity. So he outdoes Krugman by ignoring amount of debt altogether and simply discussing interest on their debt as a ratio to their GDP. They are, he says, in great shape because the interest on their debt is at a low rate and their interest payments are low as a percentage of GDP.

By that standard you, with your $50,000 annual salary, can buy a $20 million house, because you work for Microsoft and the interest payments on your house will be less than 1% of Microsoft’s annual revenue. They will be well over twice your entire annual salary, but Dean Baker doesn’t care about that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Allies, or Allies?

Long story writ short, America says to France, "Let's you and him fight." Courage is our middle name. you know. Reminds me of my sister when we were kids. She would instigate a fight between me and my brother (not hard to do), and then rat us out the the parents. "Mom, Bill and Steve are fighting again." Snide little shit.

Voodoo Economics

Paul Krugman likes to show numbers in the manner which best favors his argument. Profits for big corporations are stated in raw numbers, for instance, because "Blowhard Corp made $23 billion in profit last week," makes big business look worse than saying that "Blowhard Corp made 2.3% profit on $1 trillion in sales."

Likewise, government borrowing is never related to total government revenue or spending, which would show a ratio of very nearly 50% and scare the crap out of everyone, but rather to the total economy or GDP, where it reflects a much smaller percentage. Krugman et al are unconcerned that the two numbers are only marginally related and that the comparison is much like comparing your personal borrowing to your employer's revenue rather than to your own personal income. Your mortgage is probably 150% of your annual income, which is pretty alarming, but it’s only 1.2% of your employer’s revenue so the lender can rest easy. That would make some sense, I guess, if your employer was paying your mortgage.

Unfortunately for Paul Krugman and company, government borrowing is becoming a rather alarmingly high percentage of current GDP. Krugman points out that this is partly due to the GDP being reduced by the depression, and that we should therefore look at government borrowing as a percentage of the potential GDP. By doing this, he illustrates that government borrowing under Obama has plunged dramatically, and he has a chart to prove it.

This is quintessential economic argument. If you can’t win your argument with real numbers, then just switch to using imaginary numbers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Not Exactly Pulitzer

The U-T San Diego, which is the rather silly new name for our local paper, is apparently of the opinion that the New England Patriots lack honesty as well as football skills. Sportswriter Michael Gehlken writes today that,
"The Patriots running back lied on his back Sunday night in the AFC Championship game..." Horizontal dishonesty, no less.

Talking Big, Thinking Small

Paul Krugman is typical of the “ivory tower” privileged class, sitting in the isolation of the Washington bubble and crowing about tokenism as if it was real accomplishment. In New York Times column today he crows about how Obama’s first term has been a “big deal” for health care, inequality and financial reform.

For health care, of course, he refers to the infamous “health care reform” legislation, which wasn’t about health care at all but actually was about health insurance. Which he admits by saying that, “Progressives have been trying to get some form of universal health insurance since the days of Harry Truman,” and adding that, “they’ve finally succeeded.”

In almost the same breath he goes on to admit that this, “wasn’t the health reform many were looking for.” He admits, further, that even as health insurance reform it lacked a bit, since, “we’ve constructed a Rube Goldberg device of regulations and subsidies that will cost more than single-payer and have many more cracks for people to fall through.” That’s his way of admitting that it is far from universal, since it leaves tens of millions of people unable to buy health insurance and without access to health care.

He’s really straining at the leash, here, to define that as a “big deal.”

For inequality, he’s reaching even farther to create a “big deal” out of thin air. He admits that, “sad to say, the Big Deal falls very far short of the New Deal,” which is one of the world’s great understatements. That’s like saying that a kitchen match falls short of a nuclear bomb; they barely belong in the same class of incendiary devices.

He says that the “Big Deal’s” inequality reform is a process of “equalizing policies at the margin,” which sounds to me like the opposite of a “big deal.” He goes on to describe how the rich will see their after-tax income fall 6-9%, which is a gross exaggeration, while saying nothing about incomes for those who are not rich. He admits this “will reverse only a fraction of the huge upward redistribution” but claims that “it’s not trivial.”

That something merely "is not trivial" does not make it a "big deal."

And, given that the rich make something like 95% of today's income and that he is talking about past “huge upward redistribution,” I have trouble seeing any validity in his claim that it is not trivial. But what do I know, I don’t teach economics at Princeton. I do have a beard, and it’s got more gray in it than Paul Krugman’s does.

As to financial reform, he admits that “the Dodd-Frank reform bill is often disparaged as toothless,” and the reason for that is that the Dodd-Frank reform bill actually is toothless, so we don’t need much lengthy discussion on that. He doesn’t actually refute that other than by saying that it pissed off the Republican supporters, but it doesn’t really take much to piss off Republican supporters, so that’s not much of an argument. I’m pretty sure that if he had a better argument he’d use it, so…

In straining to glorify his hero and the accomplishments of today’s liberal party, all Paul Krugman manages to do is illustrate the modern mastery of thinking small.

How Sweet It Is

I would have been happy for either side to win in yesterday’s first game, with a slight preference for the 49ers, so that outcome was just about perfect. A close game between two very good teams, with my preference on the long end of a close score.

The second game was a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. Does it get any better than watching a bunch of blue collar brawlers going up against the Ivy League blue stocking gaggle of snobs in New England and kick their aristocratic asses? The prissy quarterback and the thug in the hoodie present an aura of privilege and entitlement; they belong in the Super Bowl and anyone who challenges them for that right is a presumptuous bumpkin. Well, the bumpkins showed them how football should be played.

Phil Simms, the biggest fathead ever to hold a microphone, kept yammering about how the Ravens defense had played two long games and traveled a lot. “They’ve been on the field for 87 plays in the last two games,” he insisted, and they must be too tired to stop the New England juggernaut. Oh yeah, tell that to the New England receivers, who could barely stay on their feet after the Ravens secondary had been beating on them for three quarters.

And so, in addition to the usual quarterback vs. quarterback discussion leading up to the Super Bowl, we will have the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh discussion. We may also have a competitive game.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Feeble Can Kicking

Everyone is frantically running victory laps because Congress and the White House kicked the can a whole three months down the road. Actually, as an exercise in can kicking it was a pretty feeble effort, equivalent to a real world can kick that whiffed and only went about two feet, embarrassing the tennis-shoed pre-teen can kicker and resulting in all of his friends laughing their asses off at him.

Democrats are high-fiving each other because Obama held firm and there was, in the end, no negotiating; he got a “clean extension” of the debt ceiling. If three months is what we have come to call an “extension” then this country is setting new records for learning to think small. The next “extension” will probably be measured in days, and the cheering will last longer than the extension.

Republicans are deliriously happy because Obama had demanded unfettered presidential authority on the debt ceiling and didn’t get it. Perhaps they’re just delirious. Some of them are a little closer to reality in claiming victory by demanding that the Democratic Senate pass a budget. If the Senate fails to do that they are going to do what? Go back and unpass the increase in the debt ceiling? Closer to reality, but not there yet.

Supposedly bringing their victory into contact with reality is that if the Senate doesn’t pass a budget then members Congress don’t get paid; an idea which I said was childish and idiotic when California did the same thing two years ago. The California legislature passed a fantasy budget one day before its pay was stopped; a budget that was transparently idiotic and based on a complete loss of contact with reality. Their paychecks continued arriving and the California Supreme Court promptly threw out the fantasy budget and made them do it over.

We should be laughing our asses off at this feeble effort at avoiding the problem, or better yet both sides should be furiously angry, but oh hell no. We manufacture victory out of thin air and cheer our asses off.

Someone said that Americans are addicted to optimism, but I think that he is giving us far too much credit. I think that American tribalism has become so intense that we are simply unwilling to see anything which is frightening or discouraging from our own side in whatever scope the conflict may be.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fiction Speaks The Truth

I came across something in a novel by Lee Child the other day that struck a bit of a harmonic note in a topic that has been on my mind for a while. It’s a difficult subject for me because it can come across as critical of the military and that is not something that I want to do. My reason has nothing to do with fear of criticism or backlash, but with the fact that the best years of my life were those which I spent serving in the US Navy, and I have the highest possible regard for those who choose to serve in our armed forces.

That being said, I have had a growing feeling that something is going sour in the relationship between our civilian establishment and our military, and that it is happening in both directions. It’s not a big thing, or necessarily alarming, but I’m bothered by it nonetheless. On the civilian side I sense an almost unhealthy attitude of worship, and on the military side I hear a sense of entitlement the goes beyond the original contract. There seems to be a sense that veterans should be a superior class, entitled to good jobs when others are unemployed, for instance; not merely treated as equal to those who did not serve, but better.

In his novel Nothing To Lose, Lee Child has a former Army major saying,

“I mean we bitched, and pissed and moaned like soldiers always do. But we bought the deal. Because duty is a two way street. We owe them, they owe us. And what they owe us is a solemn promise to risk our lives and limbs if and only if there’s a damn good reason. Most of the time they’re wrong anyway, but we like to feel some kind of good faith somewhere. Now it’s all about political vanity and electioneering. That’s all. And guys know that. You can try, but you can’t bullshit a soldier. They blew it, not us. They pulled out the big card at the bottom of the house and the whole thing fell down.”

The former major goes on to say,

“I think the answer is for civilians to get off their fat asses and vote the bums out. They should exercise control. That’s their duty. That’s the next biggest card at the bottom of the house. But that’s gone too.”

The major is talking about betrayal. There is a term that most people know but few understand, “to soldier on.” It means that the job has become all but impossible and you have no support doing it, but you keep moving forward in your best effort to do it anyway. You have been betrayed by those who you serve, but you soldier on.

And so our civilian establishment risks the lives and limbs of our soldiers for “political vanity and electioneering” and exhibits their guilt in the form of idolatry. The poor bastard with stripes on his sleeve rather than tin on his collar watches his friends getting killed and maimed, asks why, gets bullshit answers and is pissed off about it. You can't bullshit a soldier, and deep down he knows he's not really defending his country and that he's serving a people who are not worthy of his sacrifice. He feels he’s owed something for it, and I think maybe he is.

For me, as the major in the book says a little later, “I had the good times.”
I served when we didn’t really have to ask why, and if we did the answers weren’t bullshit, or at least weren’t entirely bullshit. When Thresher was lost we grieved, but we knew those lives counted for something, were part of a larger picture that mattered. The major’s little rant gave me a little more sympathy for today’s uniformed services.

Duty is a two way street. The civilian establishment needs to do its duty.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Seasonal Adjustments

If the Bureau of Lies and Scams (BLS) wants us to keep on believing in these “seasonal adjustments” that they are making, that is want us to believe that these adjustments are based on the times of year and/or that they have any basis in rational mathematics or anything other than spreading the product of the south end of a northbound horse, then they need to quit publishing the “non-seasonally adjusted” numbers for us to compare them to.

Yes, I know, the BLS calls itself the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And yes, I know that I ended a sentence with a preposition. I certainly was taught not to do that, but efforts to avoid doing it tend to sound insufferably pedantic, so to hell with it.

“Initial jobless claims fell sharply last week to 335,000, the lowest level in five years,” we are told in a screaming headline by the LA Times, adding that this is, “a hopeful sign for the labor market.” Pop the champagne corks and tell Congress to cancel the long term unemployment benefits program.

Well, no, maybe we better hold off on that, because that was the “seasonally adjusted” number of new claims. The unadjusted number was 555,708 claims. That means that 220,708 claims, or about 40% of them, were “seasonally adjusted” away. That’s some seasonal adjustment!

And it gets even weirder. In the same week last year the unadjusted number of claims was 525,422, so this year’s unadjusted number was higher than last year by 30,286 claimants, about a 6% increase over last year. That’s a bit different than “the lowest level in five years.” What’s even more strange is that last year the seasonal adjustment was not the same 40% that it is this year, it was only 31% for the same week.

Why is the adjustment 40% for the second week of January 2013, while the adjustment is only 31% for the second week of January 2012 if they are “seasonal” adjustments? Comparing the same week of two different years, the non-seasonally adjusted number went up by 6% while the seasonally adjusted number went down by 8%.

I am not suggesting a pro-Obama plot, here. I am suggesting that the BLS does not have the slightest clue what it is doing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lesson Learned

The Daytona 500 is still a month away, and oddsmakers are already placing the odds on Danica Patrick at 125:1 to win. That seems rather pessimistic, considering that only 43 cars will be in the race, but apparently they have seen the Queen of Hype drive a race car.

Lessons Not Learned

What did France learn from its experiences in Algeria and Vietnam? Not much, apparently, since they are putting increasing numbers of "boots on the ground" in Mali and making noises about staying until... Well, the end point is unclear, which rather makes my point.

They seem to think they learned something from their more recent experiences in Libya, but I'm willing to bet that they did not learn what they think they learned.

What did we learn from adventures too numerous to count? Pretty much what France learned, apparently, because we seem to be getting set to "lead from behind" in the Mali adventure. No, I am not advising that we should take a more active leadership role; I am suggesting that we should treat the adventure as if it was radioactive.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Farflung National Defense

In his speech with Hamid Karzai the other day Obama once again repeated the “core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place” in Afghanistan and, emulating his predecessor, told us for the 20th time that the end point “is now within reach.” That goal is, “ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against our country.”

Quickly now, all together, how many times has al Qaeda “launched an attack against our country” from Afghanistan?

If you answered “zero,” you win a gold star. The attack on 9/11 was launched from Logan Airport in Boston. Even if you change the phrasing to his normal rhetoric of “using Afghanistan to plan attacks against our country,” it doesn't work, because the 9/11 attack was planned in Hamburg, Germany. Training doesn’t work either, because training for that attack was done in Florida and Southern California.

Afghanistan only entered the picture because Osaka bin Laden was there. He was gone from there within a few weeks, and we have stayed for eleven years. Obama called Afghanistan the “smart war,” six years into it, because terrorists cannot plan attacks anywhere except in Afghanistan, and so if we control every part of that country then they cannot plan attacks at all.

And yet, after eleven years, they are still planning attacks, and we are still on the very edge of success in stopping them by firing Hellfire missiles in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali, and even the Philippines; all nations where terrorists cannot plan attacks against our country because that’s why we are occupying Afghanistan.

There is logic there somewhere I suppose. Isn’t there?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Babbling Nonsense

I have been through many of these times of teetering on the edge of the precipice regarding the debt ceiling. It is commonly said that the increase has always been automatic and simple, but it has not, and there have been many times when a shutdown of government has been threatened before the increase was accomplished.

Wait a minute, you say. What’s this about government shutdown? The increase in the debt ceiling isn’t about government shutdown, it’s about questioning the validity of the national debt. If we don’t raise the debt ceiling, you say, we will renege on our debt.

Actually, no. That picture is the result of modern theory of political discussion, in which you come up with a handy argument, and if it doesn’t fit the problem which is being discussed then you refine the problem to fit the argument which you have chosen to use. In this case, someone came up with the 14th Amendment and, rather than pointing out that it did not apply to the issue of the debt ceiling and government operations, we simply redefined the issue to be about the debt ceiling and government debt so that the 14th Amendment would become applicable.

The 14th Amendment is about existing debt, while the debt ceiling is about the creation of new debt so, while in the fantasy world of politics they exist in the same discussion, in reality they have nothing to do with each other. They are completely unrelated.

To put the debt issue to a final peaceful resting place, as we “rollover” existing debt we do issue new treasury bills, but we are simultaneously paying off existing t-bills in the same amount, so the debt is not increased and the debt ceiling is not an issue. There is sufficient revenue coming into our treasury to pay interest on the debt without borrowing, so we can honor our debt fully and without borrowing indefinitely.

What we can’t do without increasing the debt is continue to spend money on wars, military hardware, social programs, disaster relief, farm subsidies, and an almost endless list of programs and services which the government provides. There will be a partial shutdown of government. Some of that shutdown will not matter, but some ot it will matter a great deal.

It is this partial shutdown that we should be talking about, not silly coins and the 14th Amendment. Of all the times I have watched this process, this is the first time that I have ever seen it to be about idiocy and the debt instead of being a serious discussion about a possibility of the government being placed in a position where it is unable to deliver services to the people of this nation. That is the issue at hand.

Lawyerly Economist

And Paul Krugman continues to demonstrate his invincible ignorance. Disappointed by the demise of the platinum coin proposal, he propounds yesterday upon why it is simply impossible for Congress not to raise the debt ceiling. None of the options other than the platinum coin would be legal, says he, demonstrating that he can be as asinine when he is playing lawyer as when he is being an economist.

“The thing is,” he says, “the coin option sounds silly,” which it most certainly does so we are in agreement to this point in the argument, “but it clearly obeys the letter of the law.” No, actually, it does not, because he overlooks the word “commemorative” in the coin law. The law in question allows the issuance of “commemorative coins,” which can never have more than a trivial, nominal cash value.

“Failing to pay debt service would be a breach of contract.” Perhaps, but freezing the debt ceiling would not require failing to pay debt service. We would issue new bonds to replace the bonds we are paying off, which would not raise the debt, and the government has sufficient revenue without borrowing to pay interest on the debt.

“Paying contractors, and maybe Social Security recipients, in scrip would violate the law.” Nobody, other than Paul Krugman, has even suggested paying with scrip. There are two separate issues here. Social Security has its own money, sufficient to pay beneficiaries for a considerable time. We would not need to “pay contractors in scrip,” we would need to suspend those services for which we are unable to pay from existing revenue. There would be a partial shutdown of government, which is certainly inconvenient but is not illegal.

“Deciding that the president has the right to ignore the debt limit after all would avoid these legal breaches at the expense of another breach.” Otherwise known as having the president actually break the law would resolve a lot of imaginary problems.

“And default in any of these senses would risk a huge collapse of confidence.” Aha, his version of the “confidence fairy,” which he has been claiming for years does not exist.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pernicious Politics

During World War Two, British General Bernard Montgomery and American General George Patton disliked each other and maintained an intense personal and nationalistic rivalry throughout the war. To the best of my knowledge, however, neither of them ever publicly stated that he wished the other would lose a battle to the Germans.

At this point, however, we have Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, important leaders of both houses of Congress, urging the President to subvert the will of Congress; something which I find utterly astonishing. They are actually urging the leader of their own party to advance the increasing irrelevance of the body of governance of which they themselves are members.

It seems they consider a victory in their Democratic battle against the Republicans to be more important than the constitution under which this nation has functioned for 226 years. A momentary victory in the battle for power between political parties is more important to them that the maintenance of the balance of power between branches of government that is defined in our governing document.

Nancy Pelosi suggests that Obama should “just go ahead and do it, based on the 14th amendment,” which is absurd as well as advocating breaking the law, since that amendment deals with the validity of existing debt and not with the creation of new debt.

Reid and the Senate leadership goes even farther, though, suggesting that Obama should “take any lawful steps” to do what Democrats want done, “without Congressional approval, if necessary.” There would not be any lawful steps, of course, since presidential action without Congressional approval would be in and of itself unlawful.

Which brings us to the issue that the president is charged by the constitution with assuring that “the Laws be faithfully executed,” swears in his oath of office that he will “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and that the Democratic leadership is asking him to break a properly established law of the land.

Whether they like it or not, the limit placed on the debt is a law properly passed by Congress and signed by a previous president into law.*  If the Democratic leadership thinks it is a bad law they should get it changed. If they think it is unconstitutional they should challenge it in the Supreme Court. But they cannot suggest that the Executive Branch merely ignore it or circumvent it. The president is required by the constitution to uphold that law and all laws passed by Congress and not vetoed by the president.

*Come to think of it, this limit was signed into law by Obama himself.

Reid and Pelosi accuse the Republicans of outrageous partisanship, and then they pull this nonsense; actually advocating violation of law and unconstitutional action in pursuit of partisan “victory” over Republican goals.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ageing and Weather

I was going to comment on the first thing that you lose when you get old, but I forgot what it is. Something important, I think, but I can't remember it right now. I'll think of it eventually.

The forecast high temperature for today is 48 degrees, and the prediction for tonight is 30 degrees. No, I didn't move, I'm still in San Diego.

My African Tulip tree doesn't like the cold any better than I do. Over the past two days it has shed something like 80% of its leaves. They are laying, still green since this is not a deciduous tree, on the ground. From what I read, that's not unusual and it will recover, but...

Paul Krugman Yet Again

Paul Krugman begins his commentary today in an article titled “California in Surplus” by saying that, “As best I understand it, what’s going on in CA is a microcosm … of what’s going on at the national level.” This illustrates that, as usual, Paul Krugman doesn’t know what’s going on; or if he does know what’s going on he doesn’t understand it.

Yes, California is projecting budget surplus in the next fiscal year. This is due in part to tax increases which utterly dwarf what Obama accomplished on the federal level, and to some rather unrealistically optimistic revenue projections. We’ll have to wait and see if these surpluses actually do materialize, and I’m rather suspecting that they won’t, at least not to the degree that they are forecast to do.

But more to the point, separating California’s putative recovery completely from what’s happing at the federal level and something which Krugman completely ignores, is that it’s largely the result of two years of ruthless and very painful cuts in state spending. These cuts have been across the board and have included safety net programs, social services, public safety, and state employee pay.

The federal government essentially has cut nothing, so to say that California is a “microcosm of the federal level” is the statement of an idiot.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cheerleading Puffery Continues

The Wall Street Journal begins its article on unemployment data by admitting that the number of people filing new claims increased last week.
It increased by 4000, which is a pretty large number, considering that last week was a four-day week.

They then say, “but the amount of workers drawing benefits on a continuing basis dropped to its lowest level since before the financial crisis took hold.”

They say that, using the word “but,” as if it’s good news. It’s not good news. It happened because some workers became discouraged and quit looking for work, and because many other workers used up their eligibility and their benefits expired. What’s with this “but” crap?

When is the media going to quit cheerleading with nonsensical commentary and slanted statements in what are supposedly news reporting pieces? They even go to the extent in this so-called “article” as to quote some jackass from some putative research company saying that the numbers
are “sending a consistent signal of a gradual healing in labor market conditions." I'm glad my doctor doesn't define "healing" the same way that clown does.

A Helmet Is Not A Weapon

It has been announced that Junior Seau is another “victim” of chronic traumatic encephalopahty. I put that word in quotes, because he made the choice to deliver the blows using his helmet which led to that condition and is a victim of that condition to the same degree that I am a “victim” of emphysema caused by smoking. His family is joining the lawsuit against the NFL, but it was not the NFL who taught him to tackle by using his helmet as a weapon.

So, what can the NFL do about this “problem” in today’s game? For one thing they can teach their players how to tackle effectively, and for another they can make the helmets less robust.

When I was playing football there were three key points made by the coaches who taught me to tackle. Second was that the target area was between the knees and shoulders, Third was that my feet must never leave the ground. The first point, however, was that my head must remain up and contact must be made with my shoulder pad. The point was emphasized by saying that I could not reliably hit what I was not looking at.

They didn’t know about brain injury in those days. Hell, they barely knew what brains were made of, but they knew how tackling was done effectively. If your head is down and your feet are off the ground because you are using yourself as a ballistic missile with your helmet as the warhead, you are going to look idiotic if the runner changes direction after you launch. And in fact, if you watch NFL games today, you will see two or three such idiots on just about every play.

Nonetheless, in my day, some idiot would occasionally make a hit with his helmet, by design or by accident, and when you did that you hurt yourself. A lot. You were lying on the thirty yard line watching little birdies circling above your head and trying to figure out why they were asking you what the score was. You were wondering why the hell they didn’t know the score and, come to think of it, why you didn’t know it either. You didn’t do that again any time soon.

They have penalties for using your helmet, but they need something more practical than that. Players always think they won’t get caught, or even if they do, what’s fifteen yards against the possibility of a touchdown? More importantly, not purposefully hitting with the helmet is not enough; they need actively to take care not to do so.

There is a problem with a helmet that permits making bad hits instead of serving its real purpose. In order to prevent major injury it needs to let minor, noticeable injury happen. A one-time knockout blow, which might not even be a concussion, prevents the endless unnoticed blows that lead to the degenerated brain.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

And It's Not About The Debt Anyway

What makes Nancy Pelosi’s 14th Amendment argument totally stupid, in addition to the facts that the amendment is not about payment of the debt and that it does not give the President permission to violate the law, is that the whole debt ceiling issue is not about debt default in any case.

The only demand on our debt is the maturity of bonds issued by our government, which have to be paid off to the bond holder. When that happens, we issue new bonds to replace them, an operation which is called a “rollover” of the debt. Since the newly-issued bonds are equal in value to the ones paid off, the national debt is not increased, and so the debt ceiling limit is not an issue.

The debt ceiling is about paying for ongoing government operation, such as paying salaries of government workers, paying on military contracts, paying farmers on farm subsidies, etc. If the debt ceiling is not increased about half, plus or minus, of those payments will not be able to be made and those operations will have to be curtailed.

No one can question, I think, that whatever the 14th Amendment says, it does not say that the government must be allowed to borrow unlimited amounts of money to pay for ongoing operations.

Liberals Cheer Imperial Presidency

Nancy Pelosi was on Face the Nation this past Sunday, advising President Obama to break the law to counter the upcoming fight over the debt ceiling. Not only was she advising him to violate his oath of office to “uphold the laws,” but she was urging him to abrogate the authority of the very Congress of which she is a member and move yet closer to an Imperial Presidency.

“If I were president I would use the 14th amendment,” she said, “which assures that our debt must always be paid.”

Firstly, the 14th amendment does not do what she claims. The amendment was passed following the Civil War and had to do with settling issues revolving around the abolition of slavery and the readmission of the rebel states back into the Union. The whole purpose of the debt clause was to assure that the US would pay the North’s costs of fighting the war but would not pay the costs incurred by the states that rebelled.

It reads, in part that, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” That is the part that assures that the costs incurred by the North in fighting the Civil War will be absorbed by the government. It goes on to say that, “But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States,” which is to assure that the costs incurred by the southern states which had rejoined the Union would be written off.

The wording and meaning of those statements is utterly clear. It talks about validity, "the validity of the debt shall not be questioned," but it says nothing about how, when or in what manner any of those debts will be paid.

The debt ceiling law may be stupid, it may be illogical, it may even be philosophically wrong, but it is the law. It was passed by Congress and signed by the Executive, and the sitting President is bound by the oath of his office to abide by it. If he does not he should be impeached, and it is a member of Congress who is advising him to break that law.

If Pelosi, or anyone else, thinks that the debt ceiling law is unconstitutional, then they should take that challenge to the Supreme Court with the 14th Amendment as the basis, but the solution is not to tell the President to simply ignore it in violation of his oath and to the detriment of the balance of power in our government.

Paul Krugman has come up with several methods for Obama to circumvent the intentions of Congress, including a $1 trillion platinum coin and, today, some silly fantasy called a “moral obligation coupon.” Pelosi wants him to simply break the law to do so, despite being a member of Congress herself.

Why are today’s liberals so enthusiastic about an imperial presidency?

Power Prevails

Now, that was immensely satisfying. I enjoyed every moment of watching the Irish Pretender get a classic beatdown on the gridiron, and having it clearly demonstrated that maintaining an unbeaten record by playing a bunch of tomato cans does not mean that you actually belong in the National Championship game.

You can talk about these "spread formations" and "speed games" all you want to, but in the end football games are still won by a power team that can take command of the line of scrimmage and which has tough running backs who can rumble down the field shedding tacklers, SEC style.

Some Irish asses are bruised this morning, let me tell you.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Delusion in San Diego

Paul Krugman is in San Diego today, writing an op-ed column for the New York Times, and he is even more delusional than usual; so delusional, in fact, that I am afraid to drink the water for fear that it may be doing something to him, or he may be doing something to it. I mean, I’m looking out my window this morning at a clear blue sky with not a cloud in sight, and people walking their dogs are carrying umbrellas because the pavement is still wet from yesterday’s rain. Yes, I know it very seldom rains here, but still. Between that and Krugman’s column, something is going on, and I’m staying indoors today.

He’s here for the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, which he says “serves as a marketplace for bodies, books and ideas.” He does parenthetically explain that the first means new PhD’s looking for jobs so that we don’t think they are all dirty old men looking for hookers, and I can easily see why they are looking for ideas since they are in dire need of some new ones.

He asks himself what went wrong with the economy and answers himself, “The answer, mainly, is the triumph of bad ideas.” Well, no shit. We don’t really need a whole op-ed column to tell us that.

After saying that “consumers began saving more as the illusory wealth created by the bubble vanished,” he then describes the mechanics of consumer spending by saying that, “spending and earning go together: my spending is your income; your spending is my income.” Since he literally gets paid with other people’s money, I think the latter part of that remark is somewhat in bad taste, but coupled with the former part it is nonsensical.

Consumers didn’t stop spending someone else’s income, and they didn’t even stop spending their own income; they stopped spending “illusory wealth.” Did he not even hear himself say that? And they didn’t “begin saving more,” they just realized that the “illusory wealth” was an illusion, that it was not real money. That is, the market realized that for them and they were no longer allowed to spend it.

The problem was that we had an economy which depended on the spending of borrowed money, and Paul Krugman blows past that as if it didn’t exist. He mentions it as “illusory wealth” along with the topic of incomes, and then drops both subjects like proverbial hot rocks and babbles incoherently about who remains that has the ability to spend money. Since spending levels far exceed income levels and have done for decades, the real question is not who can spend money but rather who can borrow it, and with the current debt loads being carried by consumers, businesses and government, the answer is that only government can continue to borrow.

Naturally, Paul Krugman wants to maintain the economic status quo and preserve an economy that depends on spending borrowed money, so he wants the government to continue to borrow money and spend it until consumers can somehow magically recover the ability to borrow on their own and return to spending borrowed money themselves.

And I’m pretty sure I saw a unicorn walk by just now. With an umbrella.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Employment Reporting Gibberish

Now here is some real “unbiased” reporting for you. The National Monitor goes so far as to say in their headline that, “Obama scores another victory: Unemployment rate falls to 7.8 percent, hiring continues.”

As to the “Obama victory,” they do not specify the opponent over which Obama scored this “victory,” presumably unnamed Republicans, nor do they do not mention what specific Obama policies led to it, merely citing “White House officials” saying that the report is “the latest sign of success.” Apparently they translated success into victory, thinking that they mean the same thing.

The “unemployment rate falls” part is interesting, too, because in November it was reported as 7.7%, so apparently it is falling upward. But it gets even more confusing, because after stating in the headline that the rate fell to 7.8%, they say at the beginning of the story that, “nonfarm payroll employment rose by 155,000 in December, leaving the unemployment rate unchanged at 7.8 percent.” Actually, the rate was 7.7% in November, but was revised upward to 7.8% at the same time that December’s rate was published at the same number.

When they make the statement about employment rising by 155,000 and cite unemployment rate in the same sentence they are not only conflating two entirely different reports, but are doing so with reports which present highly conflicting numbers. The first is from the Establishment Survey, which interviews employers and does not report unemployment rate at all. The second is from the Household Survey report which provides their unemployment rate but reports a increase of only 28,000 in the number of employed. Given conflicting numbers, of course they choose the more optimistic one, even though they are reporting the unemployment rate from the report which contains a number of newly hired which they are ignoring.

When they do discuss the Household Survey, they actually have the nerve to say that “the number of unemployed persons, at 12.2 million, was little changed,” when it actually increased by 164,000. So when you’re talking about new jobs 155,000 is a big number, but when you’re talking about people who have lost jobs the significantly larger 164,000 is “little changed.”

So according to one BLS report, the one which is used to calculate the unemployment rate, we added only 28,000 new jobs, and we are certainly not adding jobs at a pace sufficient to keep up with the increasing size of the labor force. Since the labor force increased by 192,000, even the most optimistic job creation number, the 155,000 hyped by the Obama cheerleaders, is not enough to keep up with our growing population.

The White house tells us this is “the latest sign of success,” and the National Monitor scores it as a “victory for Obama” and headlines a lie that the unemployment rate fell.

Friday, January 04, 2013

My Money and My Mouth

I’m not giving details here, because they are not relevant, but I have been having some issues which led the doctor to decide that a colonoscopy was needed on a more than routine basis. Unfortunately, I have several infirmities which make that procedure unsafe for me, so he decided to order a sigmoidoscopy and a “virtual colonoscopy” instead. Most of you know what the former is, I had it done yesterday, enjoyed it about as much as you might expect I would, and everything was fine.

A problem has arisen with the latter, however, in that the insurance company will not approve payment for the procedure. It is a new process, and in fact only one center in San Diego currently does it. It’s the same as a colonoscopy, preparation is the same, only instead of a scope, they do the exam by means of a CAT scan.

I’ve been saying that we need to exercise some degree of sanity in controlling health care cost; it’s time to put my money where my mouth is, and I’m not really having much difficulty doing that. I find myself in sympathy with the insurance company, here, even though it’s me and my health which is at stake. This is a process that is so new that it’s really still experimental, is of unproven efficacy, and I can see why the cost of it should not be amortized into the overall cost of health insurance.

If this test is not approved I don’t think I’m going to be upset about it. It will then boil down to a decision on my part that if I want badly enough for it to be performed then the cost will be taken out of my own pocket rather than having it paid by everyone else who buys health insurance. I’m inclined to think that a few more medical test decisions should be made that way.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Now, That's Negotiating

Prez: “I am not budging from $250,000.”
Reps: “We’ll go with $1 million.”
Prez: “Nope, I am not budging from $250,000.”
Reps: “Maybe $750,000?”
Prez: “Nope, I am not budging from $250,000.”
Reps: “Maybe $600,000?”
Prez: “Nope, I am not budging from $250,000.”
Reps: “Last offer, $500,000.”
Prez: “Nope, I am not budging from $250,000.”
Reps: “Shit, $400,000.”
Prez: “Throw in unemployment and you have a deal.”

And it was more clever than you think, because he changed the subject entirely. He changed it away from the “fiscal cliff” (did you notice how the spending cuts disappeared) and changed to to essentially a renewal of the Bush tax cuts minus the top bracket. He extended them two years ago with that top bracket included, this time he got them made permanent, with that top bracket removed and with some other increases thrown in. In the process, he got an extension of some social net spending, which is just gravy, and is an extra insult to Republicans. The man is not stupid.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Boneheads All

The one thing that was fully agreed upon on the “fiscal cliff” thing was that both sides agreed that they were not going to honor the deal to which they mutually agreed last year when they negotiated the debt limit. That’s what this whole thing has been about; it is a deal that both sides agreed to which, if kept, they now say will be a disaster.

I guess it’s naive to ask the obvious question, isn’t it? If it is such a disaster, why did all sides agree to it last year? These terms which will “destroy the financial world as we know it,” people, are the terms which you wrote out and signed less than a year ago. Both sides of you. Doesn’t it embarrass you at all to be screaming today about how the deal that you created will be disastrous?

Of course it doesn’t. I apologize for even suggesting such a thing.

Of course the Republicans are the bad guys, they are always the bad guys for everything since Democrats have the White House bully pulpit, but we need to look at who is actually breaking faith on the debt limit agreement that was made last year. With all of the political sloganeering removed, it’s not really all that complex.

It started when Democrats wanted the credit card limit raised and Republicans said no, that we need to stop this reckless borrowing. Democrats said that if they could get a raise on the credit card limit, then they would agree to spend a little less money and would find ways to bring in a little more revenue. Republicans said okay, you’ve got six months and raised the credit card limit.

Six months go by with more borrowing on the credit card and it’s time for the reduced spending and higher income as promised, and the Democrats say, “Oh, you didn’t think we were serious about that did you?”

And so now we are negotiating over whether or not, having gotten the credit card limit increase they wanted, Democrats still have to keep their end of the bargain. They, of course, claim that Republicans are “negotiating in bad faith” as they try to force Democrats to keep their end of the bargain.

Now things are getting even more creative and more delusional. Obama started out saying he wanted $1.6 trillion in new revenue. Today it seems he is getting $600 billion and is arguing that that amounts to 85% of what he wanted which is, to say the least, some really creative math.

The spending cuts, though are delayed for two months, which rolls them into negotiations on the debt ceiling all over again. They were the solution to last year’s debt ceiling negotiations, now they will be part of this year’s debt ceiling negotiations. That adds a new dimension to “kicking the can down the road,” doesn’t it?

President Obama has “ruled out negotiations” on the debt ceiling, which rather adds a new level to the imperial presidency, but we all know how that is going to work out. It does, however add a new level of stupidity to Republican negotiators, since they will allow themselves to use the same spending cuts as a trade off for not one but two debt ceiling increases.

Both sides look bot only venal but idiotic in this deal.

Bonehead Award

LSU’s head coach, Les Miles, has never been noted for conventional play calling, but when leading by two points with three minutes remaining and attempting to run out the clock, calling three consecutive pass plays is not unconventional, it is boneheaded stupid. This is not the fist game that LSU has lost due to the stupidity of the play calling, in this case resulting in nine possessions which failed to achieve a single first down, and it won’t be the last. Not to mention advising the defensive secondary to play “off” of the receivers when all the opponent needs is a field goal for the win.

He also needs to teach his defense how to tackle. They can stop an opponent when they are able to take a run and make a big hit, but in close quarters when they have to actually tackle I’m not sure they could reliably bring down a cheerleader. I saw more missed tackles in Clemson’s offensive backfield than cars on an LA freeway. That was embarrassing and it was a disgraceful that an ACC team was able to do that to any SEC team, let alone the LSU Tigers.