Monday, April 30, 2012

Stephen King is a lot of things...

...insightful political commentator is not one of them.

Why did the Daily Beast give King a podium for an insult-laden rant about the rich? I can't really say, but as far as rants go, this one is rather pathetic. Cleverly titled "Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!" King spends his time chastising himself and other rich people, making fun of overweight people (classy move, that), and generally just acting like an ass. Impressive. A sample:
Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar.
One of America's great writers, he is.

What's missing from the piece is any sort of thoughtful analysis. Unsurprisingly, King just wants to be profane, not actually think. For instance, in the above bit he notes something so obvious, it's trivial: most rich people don't want to pay more taxes. Well, duh. Most people--rich, poor, whatever--don't want to pay more taxes. Oh sure, for political reasons and to feed their own egos, some people--like King--will say that they're willing to pay more taxes, but they don't actually want to pay more. We all know that.

Ensure Plus: recommended by 3 out of 4 interrogators

Leslie Stahl interviewed Jose Rodriguez--former head of the CIA's Clandestine Service--for 60 Minutes this week. It's a very detailed piece, well worth watching. The following link also provides a transcript: Hard Measures.

Some of this stuff is difficult to hear, but much of it suggests that--as far as Rodriguez is concerned--it was effective. Stahl is not willing to hear that, of course. She doubts his claims in this regard:
Lesley Stahl: In fact, what they say is everything important that he gave up, he gave up to them before the harsher interrogation techniques kicked in. 
Jose Rodriguez: Well, that is just not true. It's not true. 
Lesley Stahl: Well, now they say that. And you say, "It's not true." What am I supposed to think? I don't know...Here's something that was told to me. Abu Zubaydah's stories sent the CIA around the globe. Not a single plot was foiled. We spent millions chasing phantoms. 
Jose Rodriguez: Bullshit. He gave us a road map that allowed us to capture a bunch of Al Qaeda senior leaders.
Stahl is right: she doesn't know. And Rodriguez is a spook. To borrow from Clear and Present Danger, he lies for a living, he is in the intelligence business! So, what is the truth? Can we ever actually know it? Probably not.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Big Blue and Big Government

In my most recent piece, I took issue with faulty analogies being used as a means of criticizing. So--like the good hypocritical conservative that I am--I'll now offer up my own faulty analogy...and use it to criticize.

Robert X. Cringely (nee Mark Stephens), writing at BetaNews, offers up the first piece in a series about IBM, its corporate culture, and--according to Cringely--its soon-to-be-realized downfall. It's an excellent article and I'm looking forward to reading the ones to follow.

The gist of it is that IBM wants desperately to increase its EPS (earnings per share of stock) and that it plans to do so mostly by getting rid of U.S. employees, some 78% of them according to Cringely. That's a fairly radical reduction, but it's a move not wholly unheard of in corporate America.

For my analogy, I'm going to compare IBM to the U.S. government. No doubt, some may be thinking they already get it, that IBM's "big plans" to improve itself by essentially reducing its size mirrors the conservative/libertarian idea of shrinking government. Of course, Cringely is arguing that this move will doom IBM. Am I going to argue that shrinking government will doom the U.S.? No, of course not. Because there's a piece missing here: IBM is pealing off productive workers, while keeping management and sales in place:
Reducing employees by more than three quarters in three years is a bold and difficult task. What will it leave behind? Who, under this plan, will still be a US IBM employee in 2015? Top management will remain, the sales organization will endure, as will employees working on US government contracts that require workers to be US citizens. Everyone else will be gone. Everyone.
Let that sink in for a moment. IBM will essentially convert itself from a product and information services creating corporation into a sales and marketing firm tasked with selling the same sorts of products as everyone else, manufactured overseas by the same basic groups.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Pretense of Fairness

Writing for New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait--who lives to point out mistakes by conservative thinkers--compares the upcoming Presidential contest to that of 2004, which involved George Bush and John Kerry. On the surface, he has a fair point, at least as far as Romney and Kerry go:
Incumbent president with middling approval ratings faces rich guy from Massachusetts with a reputation for flip-flopping.
Fair enough. Romney and Kerry are both rich and from Massachusetts. Of course, Romney made his fortune while Kerry married it. Romney has never served in DC; Kerry had been there--in office--for decades. But okay, they're still similar.

From there, Chait goes on to detail various other "items" that he believes have reversed themselves, when it comes to which side is doing what and which side is complaining about it. For instance, there's the campaigning the President is now doing at tax payer expense (though his staff insist he's not actually campaigning, wink-wink). There's been a little heat from the Right about that, even though in 2004 Bush was doing pretty much the same thing.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fairy Tales and Nightmares in a Keynesian Fantasyland

Paul Krugman's op-ed from yesterday--entitled Death of a Fairy Tale--is just another one of his now-common rants about what he terms "fiscal austerity" (but what many others prefer to call "fiscal responsibility"). In this piece, Krugman declares that the evidence is in, that austerity-type policies have failed, that they have made things worse. And the evidence comes from the last two years, apparently:
For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should — by spending more to offset falling private demand — but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets.
It's a fascinating attempt at some sleight of hand on Krugman's part. He actually includes the United States as evidence for the failure of austerity measures, despite the fact that exactly the opposite occured here three years or so ago. The Bailout Bill and TARP, the Stimulus Bill, and then Obamacare, those were the initial responses by the U.S. government (under Bush and then under Obama) to the economic downturn. And the consequences? Well, unemployment and debt went through the roof, revenues stagnated, Social Security went into the red for the first time ever, and the Obama Administration was forced to apply an $8 billion band-aid to Medicare, lest people realize what was really about to happen to it. And even after all these non-austerity measures were passed, the current administration also pushed through extensions of unemployment benefits, along with payroll tax cuts (which amount to direct increases in the debt), and the like.

In Krugman-land, all of these actions are insufficient to tear away the austerity label:
The bad news is that despite this admission there seems to be little prospect of a near-term course change either in Europe or here in America, where we never fully embraced the doctrine, but have, nonetheless, had de facto austerity in the form of huge spending and employment cuts at the state and local level.
Amazing, isn't it? Trillions added to the national debt over the course of a few years amounts to "de facto austerity." Granted, Krugman thinks that more should have been spent on so-called "stimulus," but it's nonetheless supremely dishonest of him to label programs involving massive government spending as "de facto austerity." Unfortunately, such machinations are pretty much all Krugman has left to offer, these days. The stars--and the facts--are aligned against him and his fellow pseudo-Keynesians, this much is clear.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Yes, you are stupid

In a New York Times editorial--ostensibly titled We Are Not Stupid--Charles Blow provides ample evidence that he is, in fact, stupid. Or at least grossly ignorant of economic realities. I've addressed his particular brand of self-assured smugness before, something very common in punditry world, but this latest piece is just too easy to poke and mock.

Blow attempts to "sum up" what happened, with regard to the economic recession:
Let’s just get this out of the way: Times are tough. But most people are smart enough to know that these tough times were long in the making and will be long in the fixing. There are no magic words or silver bullets or emerging bubbles that will quickly and easily return us to a pre-recession, pre-collapse sense of prosperity. 
That is because we were all complicit in a lie. The government spent too much (on tax cuts and wars), many banks gambled too much and many people borrowed too much. That was the economy. All that money swirling around lulled us into a false sense of security.
Now, a couple of things here, with regard to this sophomoric attempt at analysis: "long in the making" suggests something more than five or six years, doesn't it? Yet somehow, that "making" becomes nothing more than tax cuts and wars, from the standpoint of the government's role. That's it. Repealing Glass-Steagall didn't matter. Government growth in general didn't matter. Government policies and regulations were inconsequential. Business cycles--something way beyond Blow's ken--are unimportant. It was all wars and tax cuts (in other words, all Bush).

And sure, people with a clue know there was never going to be a silver bullet kind of fix. The problems run too deep. Yet, that didn't stop the Obama Administration from proclaiming that the Stimulus Bill would keep unemployment below 8%, did it?

Rove admits he is wrong...and I am right

In a wonderful piece at the Wall Street Journal today, Karl Rove allows that he has been wrong about something for many, many years. That something? The significance of the VP candidate, when it comes to winning a General Election. It's an issue I've been personally harping on for years. I wrote a piece on the subject earlier this year, in fact, with regard to all of the speculation over who Romney might select as his running mate.

In that piece, I quoted a couple of columnists who were arguing in favor of the myth that I--and now Rove--had debunked. The myth: a VP candidate can deliver a key state or a key bloc of voters. The reality: the VP selection is important, both for the exposure provided to the selection and because the person has--or can have--a significant role in governing.

Rove says:
But such political decisions run into one hard reality: Running mates haven't decided an election in more than a half-century. For example, research by Bernard Grofman and Reuben Kline, political scientists at the University of California, Irvine, suggests that the net impact of the vice-presidential picks in 2008 was roughly one-half of one point and is generally less than one percentage point. Presidential elections are rarely that close. 
What about running mates helping to carry their home states? Political scientists Christopher Devine of Ohio State and Kyle Kopko of Elizabeth College argue the home-state advantage is often modest and almost never dispositive
I said:
Part of the reason why it's a myth is the Electoral College system. The Election is not decided by popular vote, but by State results. So for the myth to be true, VP choices would have to tip the scales in at least one State during the Election and that would have to matter in the final tally. A look at recent history demonstrates that things just don't work that way. 
Consider George W. Bush, who won two elections with Dick Cheney.What critical group did Cheney deliver? Wyoming? As if Wyoming was ever in doubt. And he ran against Gore and Lieberman in 2000. Did the Lieberman choice deliver any votes for Gore, any States that he might otherwise failed to win? No, of course not. In 2004, Bush--with Cheney, once again--faced John Kerry and John Edwards. Did Edwards deliver the South (for that was what many pundits claimed his selection would do)? No. He didn't even deliver North Carolina, his home State.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The long arm of Obama

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 has a lot of problems. Aside from having potentially unconstitutional provisions, aside from being a fiscal catastrophe for future generations, and aside from really not being about healthcare at all, the legislation is a potential election-year nightmare for the Administration. Why?

Well, to put it simply, Obamacare is set to end Medicare Advantage programs. And those programs have been very popular among many seniors, partly because those programs give seniors access to things like vision and hearing plans, things basic Medicare coverage does not include. Somewhere along the line, the Administration realized that these changes would become apparent to seniors using Medicare Advantage just as the 2012 Elections came around. Open enrollment for Medicare in 2013 begins on October 15 of this year and seniors would immediately see--counter to what has been claimed--that their choices were pretty much gone.

And given the demographics in key swing states, this could very well affect Obama's reelection chances. As this map from Forbes shows, Medicare Advantage use is high in places like Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere:


What to do, what to do...

How 'bout another Payroll Tax holiday? Idiots.

Yesterday, the Social Security Administration released it's annual report. Some highlights, from the SSA's press release:
  • The projected point at which the combined Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2033 – three years sooner than projected last year. At that time, there will be sufficient non-interest income coming in to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits. 
  • Income including interest to the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $805 billion in 2011. ($564 billion in net contributions, $24 billion from taxation of benefits, $114 billion in interest, and $103 billion in reimbursements from the General Fund of the Treasury—almost exclusively resulting from the 2011 payroll tax legislation.) 
  • The assets of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $69 billion in 2011 to a total of $2.7 trillion.
Let's take these one at a time. The first indicates what we've known for a while now: Social Security--as currently structured, and allowing that assumptions made are legitimate--is not sustainable in the long run. Yet, that reality doesn't stop the congenitally clueless from saying things like this:
Despite the repeated efforts of Republicans to privatize Social Security and end the Medicare guarantee, these vital initiatives remain strong. Today’s Trustees’ report affirms that Social Security and Medicare will continue to provide critical benefits to seniors and other Americans. Democrats will always ensure they are strengthened, never weakened, as we work to create jobs and grow our economy.
Those are the words of former speaker Nancy Pelosi, who actually thinks the report is a feather in the cap of the Administration and Congressional Democrats. She continues:
The report demonstrates that health care reform has strengthened Medicare by extending its solvency; a report today from the Department of Health and Human Services confirms that the Affordable Care Act has also increased benefits and reduced costs for seniors under Medicare, just as Democrats intended it to.
Right. Sure. A report from the Administration-controlled DHHS confirms this. That's like citing a company legal department's analysis as proof-positive that some company action was entirely legal, or like citing the mother of someone charged with murder as proof of innocence because she said "I know my son is not a murderer." But regardless, notice how Pelosi focuses on Medicare and avoids Social Security, proper. Why is that? Maybe because she and her cohorts had a huge hand in making the end come three years sooner.

Monday, April 23, 2012

But who is Gilligan?

James W. Ceaser--Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution--offers a fascinating analysis at the Weekly Standard of how the essential characters of Obama and Romney are perceived and how they can be packaged and sold to the general public. Though long, it's well worth the read.

Ceaser observes that Obama cannot run for reelection in the same way that he ran for election in 2008. Though widely touted as a great intellect in those days, the defining elements of his character, his nature, used to promote his candidacy were his ability to inspire and his potential to save us all, in a metaphorical sense:
In 2008, Obama was put forward as possessing a quality unique to him on the list of presidential candidates. He never cited his skill as a politician—he had only a scant record of service—and while he became known as a formidable orator, his rhetoric was not put primarily in the service of articulating a program or public philosophy. Barack Obama was celebrated as an inspirational leader, a charismatic in Max Weber’s sense of someone who gives birth to a politico-spiritual creed. Obama was a demigod, not only to many Americans, but to millions across the world.
Remember how the oceans were going to recede and the planet would begin to heal? Remember the Herculean pillars? But those days are gone. It's a well no longer available, since the President has had his chance to play the role of Hero. Now, it will be--according to Ceaser--Obama's intellect that takes center stage, like those of Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson. He is the Professor. And he is set to square off against the rich capitalist in the form of Mitt Romney, the businessman:
In essence, the 2012 campaign is shaping up as a contest between the businessman and the intellectual. Obama’s references to the “1 percent” and to Wall Street are targeted at Mitt Romney, and Romney has replied in kind, “We have a president who I think is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard.” Mitt Romney also went to Harvard, though he spent most of his time on what the intellectuals consider to be the wrong side of the Charles, where the business school is found. Both men can claim an academic record of achievement, but where Mitt Romney immediately gravitated to the world of business, Obama spent much of his time in the academy, teaching law, and produced a literary memoir, Dreams from My Father.
And as Ceaser notes, these two divergent natures also serve as reasons to not vote for the candidates, to vote against Obama because he's only concerned with theory, to vote against Romney because he only cares about money. The task for each candidate is to accentuate the positives as much as possible, of course.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

California Feudalism

Back in 2000, Thomas Sowell's wonderful Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy was first published. It's seen the publication of three additional editions, with some revising and updating. But in the first edition (remember, this was written before 2000), Sowell spends some time discussing California and the housing boom (bubble). Sowell makes the oh-so-salient point that the restrictions on land use in California--in particular, those of coastal regions like San Francisco and Marin County--were a primary cause of skyrocketing real estate prices.

And this, by the way, indicates something often ignored or not understood by people generalizing about the housing bubble--or housing crisis--in the United States: it was initially limited by location. Note that most economists, politicians, pundits, and the like talk about the bubble as having started around 2001. But in California--and some other places--it started much earlier. In fact, trouble was already brewing in the California housing industry long before the sub-prime crisis, long before the housing bubble is said to have "burst."

In the years before the nation's bubble burst, the top growth industry in California was the repo industry, as upper class lifestyles financed by dot-com money hit a wall. People were desperate to hold on to their homes--which they had paid through the nose for--and thus assets like luxury cars were the first to go. Not many people recognized this, given that repo numbers are hardly common knowledge. But if the information had been readily available, no doubt many would have seen the coming storm.

But back to Sowell's point, the impact of restrictions on land use in California. Marin County is beautiful. I know people who live there and the open spaces around homes, the roads uncluttered with development, make it a wonderful place to live, to raise a family. If, of course, you can afford it. Because the restrictions on development are severe, people of lesser means simply cannot live in the immediate area, by and large. Even those with what we would call decent jobs--like maybe managing a retail store--don't make nearly enough to buy into the area.

Thus, the majority of people employed at local businesses--even many of the owners of local businesses--don't get to live in the area, with the people they serve on a daily basis. And the area is no urban hub, to be fair, but there are substantial numbers of businesses there to serve the region's quarter of a million or so residents. The restrictions on growth and development mean cheap housing--in the form of apartment complexes and the like--are a no-no. Thus, it's near impossible for the population to grow significantly, if at all.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

1984 finally arrives...thanks President Obama

A little over two months ago, Obama For America--the President's reelection team--announced the launching of a new website: Truth Team. The goal of this effort seems to be clearly stated, right on the homepage:
The Truth Team is a network of supporters of President Obama who are committed to responding to unfounded attacks and defending the President’s record. When you’re faced with someone who misrepresents the truth, you can find all the facts you need right here—along with ways to share the message with whoever needs to hear it.
Fair enough. There's a lot of misrepresentation out there--from all quarters--and exposing such things is a justifiable goal, even if we know that these expositions will likely misrepresent things too, politics being what it is.

The Truth Team has three branches: Attack Watch, Keeping GOP Honest, and Keeping His Word.

The first of these--Attack Watch--is supposedly geared towards exposing false attacks on the President and his record. The most recent entry here is about Romney's recent statement to Larry Kudlow that "the number of new business start-ups has dropped by 100,000 a year under President Obama, and that’s costing us a lot of jobs." Attack Watch would have us believe this is completely false, that there are more start-ups, not fewer. But it's easy enough to find evidence supporting Romney's claim, from the New York Times of all places:
68,490 more businesses closed in 2009 than in 2007, an 11.6 percent increase in the business closure rate. But in 2009, 115,795 fewer employer businesses were founded than in 2007, a 17.3 percent decline in firm formation.
Now, that's just one year. Perhaps the other two years look better. But the point is, Romney's claim is not clearly true, nor clearly false. The Truth Team would have us believe it's the latter, though. And again, this is both understandable and predictable, as it's a partisan effort.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Media Bubble Boys

In 2001--over a decade ago--Bernie Goldberg published Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, a book that generated a great deal of discussion, much of it quite heated. Goldberg's central thesis was that the great majority of media professionals allowed their biases to color their reporting and coverage of the news and that this same great majority was predominantly liberal, progressive, or left-wing, however one wants to say it.

Many people, not having read the book in full, failed to understand exactly what Goldberg was saying. They wrongly assumed Goldberg was arguing that the bias was intentional, that media figures knew they were biased for the left but didn't care. That's not it, at all. Goldberg's analysis suggested that the elites of the media world wrongly assumed that the great majority of reasonable, sensible people thought the same way that they did.

And this was--according to Goldberg--a product of environment, as much as anything else. The media elites live in a bubble, for all intents and purposes. The socialize among themselves and like-minded elites from academia, entertainment, and elsewhere, thus creating a false sense of knowledge with regard to what and how people think, when it comes to politics, economics, and social issues. In fact, Goldberg argues that the bias just happens to be for the left; it could easily be for the right in different circumstances.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Four-way stops: windows to the soul?

When I'm driving, I pay particular attention to the road, I really do. I constantly check my mirrors and am always cognizant of what is going on around me. This is because I don't want to die--or cause anyone else to die--while simply going from Point A to Point B. And in that regard, I pay a great deal of attention to the culture of the road, how it can vary, where it can vary, and when it can vary.

One of the conclusions I have drawn from these observations is that it's good policy to avoid being on the road on New Year's Eve or early New Year's Day. Fatalities are up on those days and the risk is not worth the reward at this stage of my life. And in that same vein, here's something surprising: traffic fatalities are also higher--on average--on tax day.
Over all, nearly 6,800 people — drivers, passengers and pedestrians — were killed in car crashes on tax day during the study period. Compared with other days, there was an increase of roughly 6 percent in fatal crashes on tax day, equivalent to an additional 13 deaths.
The research shows this is likely due to added stress caused by the filing deadline, as opposed to more intoxicated drivers on New Years. Still, it's a stat worth filing away in memory, so as to remember on the next tax day. Nothing wrong with a little added caution, after all.

Another conclusion that I've drawn--which goes way beyond traffic safety--has to do with four way stop signs. These intersections may very well be one of the most egalitarian and community-driven institutions in existence. At a four way intersection, everyone is equal, period. And how one acts--upon arriving there--says a lot about how they view their community and their role within it, in my opinion.

First, the rules of an intersection with four way stop signs:
  1. Everyone must come to a complete stop at the stop bar (in line with the sign). No exceptions.
  2. Whomever arrives and stops first has the right of way.
  3. In the event of cars arriving simultaneously, the driver on the right goes first.
  4. If two cars arrive simultaneously across from each other, both can go unless one is turning left. Then, the other has the right of way.
  5. If four cars arrive simultaneously, all going straight, all bets are off. 
Simple, right (aside from the last situation)? Yet how many times are these rules broken or completely ignored?

Obama: in over his head

In a speech in North Carolina yesterday, Romney said of President Obama:
...He’s in over his head, and he’s swimming in the wrong direction.
Romney goes on to criticize the administration, with regard to its economic policies and initiatives, essentially setting up the "are you better off now than you were four years ago" argument. And that's likely a winner. Whether or not it will be sufficient to overcome Romney's flaws and allow him to defeat Obama in the General Election remains on open question. But that said, the idea that the President is in over his head deserves additional analysis, in my opinion.

Obama won the Presidency with a very limited resume, as far as executive experiences goes. With a law degree from Harvard and a BA in political science from Columbia, he looked tailor-made for a public service career, it is true, yet the last three years have made it clear--in my opinion--that Obama's knowledge is wanting in several key errors.

Of course the President's job is to lead, not to know everything; he has advisers, staff, and Cabinet members--and multiple government bureaucracies--to help assemble and understand needed information. This is just as true in Congress, of course, where the President "made his bones," so to speak. But there's a difference: Congress critters need to know things on a limited basis, largely with regard to the effect of such things on their constituencies--and their reelection chances--alone. They are, as a group, spoon fed general policy positions by Party leadership.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2010 John Galt Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast

Last year, I ordered half a case of 2009 John Galt Proprietary Red from Bounty Hunter Wines. It was very good and we went through it fairly quickly. Here's my review of the wine, the 2009 John Galt Proprietary Red..


This year, Bounty Hunter has a new offering, a 2010 John Galt Cabernet. I was so happy with the last that I went ahead and ordered a full case of this one. Last night, I uncorked the first bottle so my wife and I could enjoy a few glasses. I was not disappointed.

First, a word about this wine, as compared to the 2009. The latter is a proprietary red, meaning it's a blend of different red wine grapes. The 2010 offering is all Cabernet, not a blend. That said, it was always apparent that the 2009 was mostly cab, confirmed by the similarity of the 2010 to it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Moral and Social Decay from Apathy

But I've discovered, Doc, that the unseen enemy of this war is the boredom that eventually becomes a faith and, therefore, a terrible sort of suicide. l know now that the ones who refuse to surrender to it are the strongest of all.
Those words were written by the fictional character Mister Roberts in the 1955 movie of the same name. Set during the War in the Pacific on a Navy cargo ship, Peter Fonda--playing the lead role--had successfully gotten himself transferred off of that ship and onto a destroyer for the final offensives against the Japanese. He wrote a brief letter to his comrades still on the ship, urging them to not give in to the boredom he speaks off, praising them for helping to him in that regard. Ensign Pulver--played by Jack Lemmon--reads the letter aloud in the final scene of the movie, only to discover immediately afterwards that Mister Roberts had been killed by a Japanese kamikaze attack shortly after penning the letter.

The issue here is that the tedious and monotonous work on the cargo ship sapped the spirit of the crew, even though there was a vital aspect to the work they performed. But they were removed from that aspect, isolated from the War, even as they helped to insure it would continue. And they were removed from their families, with--thanks to a tyrannical captain--only fleeting moments of enjoyment, of fun.

Monday, April 16, 2012

For Geithner, ingorance really is bliss

Appearing on Meet the Press yesterday, Tim Geithner made what could very well be the most ridiculous claim of the year. So far.

Host David Gregory asked Geithner if Obama's economic policies could be called "a success story." Geithner responds thusly:
Oh, absolute -- the president inherited, again, as you know, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis caused by a shock larger than what caused the Great Depression. And he did the necessarily, deeply damaging -- deeply politically hard things to get growth started again. And he's done everything he could to convince a reluctant opposition to join him in doing things to make the economy stronger. And we're going to keep doing that even if they're against it, even if they don't like it... 
Absolutely. This president's policies were extremely successful. If you measure what we did relative to the record of the United States in past crises and the record of other countries, history will judge what he did as remarkably effective crisis management at a deeply dark time for the world economy.
First, let's be clear about something: Geithner was all in for the Bailout, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and was a major architect of the legislation. That Act created TARP, which was used first by Bush's Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and then by Geithner to "bailout" a number of firms including--under Geithner--AIG. Geithner cannot honestly credit Obama with the Act, nor can he--in the face of the evidence--tout the AIG bailout portion as a success.

Year of the Rat: a Remembrance

I'm usually not one to go around crediting the media with much of anything, but I have to hand it to NBC. Someone made a fabulous decision, to show all of the Stanley Cup playoff games by using multiple channels. It's really the only way to get into hockey playoffs, immersing yourself in the experience and following the in-series story-lines. Currently, there's a hot one brewing in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia one. Yesterday's game--won by the Flyers 8-4--featured 158 minutes in penalties, multiple brawls, and the tossing of three players. That puts the Flyers in a position to sweep the Penguins, the highest scoring team in the NHL this season and an odds-on favorite to win the Cup.

Meanwhile, here in South Florida, the Panthers are back in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and managed to wrest a victory last night from their opponents, the New Jersey Devils. For those unfamiliar with the backstory, who don't find it shocking that a hockey team in South Florida hasn't made the playoffs in a long time, I'd like to give you that backstory, which--while very interesting--also has an object lesson buried within...

The Florida Panthers came into existence in 1992. That was when the NHL awarded a franchise to South Florida and H. Wayne Huzienga. To get that franchise, real interest in hockey had to be demonstrated, including a presale of season tickets to establish a base. And I was, in fact, a part of that initial group who handed over money for the promise of a team. The venue for the team was the Miami Arena--now demolished--originally built for the Heat in 1988. The arena had easy access from the Miami transit system--the MetroRail--and this became hugely important, as we shall see.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Out of touch? Who are these media drips kidding?

Last Wednesday, Democrat strategist Hilary Rosen ignited a bit of a flame war with her comments on CNN about Ann Romney. Ms. Rosen stated that Ann had "never worked a day in her life," which of course is nonsense, given that she had raised five children, maintained a household, and acted as First Lady to a Governor. Really though, it was the first--raising children as a stay-at-home mom--that was seized upon as the issue that made Rosen's comments so insulting, the suggestion that such activity did not qualify as "work."

This was--for years--a major talking point for feminists and women's groups: that raising a family was work and was every bit as valuable as having a career, even if it had no direct monetary compensation. In fact, many argued that this made it an even more laudable kind of work.

Regardless, Rosen was forced to offer a kind of an apology, mealy-mouthed though it was. And Democrats joined in the criticism of her statement, as did most pundits and media figures. Yet, some hedged their comments, trying to insist that there was still a notable difference to point to, that Ann Romney enjoyed the luxury of choice unavailable to other women, to most women.

Friday, April 13, 2012

So, are we done with the "No Violent Rhetoric" meme?

Remember the months after the the tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords? The media was ablaze with calls to tone down the violent rhetoric of the Right. Democrat politicians, from the President on down, chided the Right for using violent imagery and words in their attacks on their ideological foes. Here's MediaMatters on the issue, "the Right's Rising Tide of Violent Rhetoric":
But rather than unequivocally condemn, or even rationally discuss how the violent rhetoric had become increasingly indefensible, and rather than encouraging partisan activists to dial it down before somebody got hurt, conservative pundits urged followers to forge ahead with their calls to arms, even blaming Democrats for bringing the deadly threats and acts of violence upon themselves by voting in favor of health care reform.
That was in January of last year. Now, a little over a year later, we find this at MediaMatters: Republican "War On Women" Is Not A Left-Wing Invention. And this from the Vice President:
“I think the war on women is real,” Biden said in an interview he sat for with MSNBC’s Ed Schultz as part of a campaign trip to New Hampshire to talk up the Buffett rule. 
The "War on Women" is actually all over the place; the term is being used by multiple pundits and politicians, far too many of them to list. And it's actually not all that new. Here's former Speaker Nancy Pelosi from April of last year, three months after the Giffords shooting:
“There is actually a war on women,” the California Democrat said Thursday in Washington, taking aim at House Republicans’ efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict access to abortions, among other measures.
The double standard on display is staggering, yet it appears not to register among Democrat politicians, in the least. As the 2012 elections near, they are ratcheting up their use of such language. And why is that?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

American Exceptionalism: nails in the coffin

The idea of American Exceptionalism--something I've broached before--is not new. It stems from the early years of colonization by English settlers, in particular the Puritans who envisioned their colony as a "shining city on the hill." The Revolutionary War--the War for Independence--reinforced the idea, as did the role of America as a haven for immigrants seeking opportunity and freedom.

And despite the black marks on American history, like slavery, the shameful treatment of American Indians by the Unites States government, the Vietnam War, and the like, the idea of American Exceptionalism has persisted. The World Wars fed the idea mightily, as the world seemed to turn--in the minds of Americans--to the United States not once, but twice, to save it from the arch-villains of Germany and Japan. The aftermath of these wars secured the dominant role of the United States over the world economy, as did the ultimate outcome of the Cold War, when yet another great villain fell to the twin spirits of capitalism and freedom.

The economic ascendancy of the United States tracks well with the growth of the myth. De Tocqueville, writing of America in the nineteenth century before the Civil War, popularized the idea it is true. And in those years, the United States was a not a rich nation, not compared to the great empires of Europe and Asia. But after the Civil War, the economy of the United States grew steadily, aided by natural resources and an ever-growing population eager to find prosperity. By the turn of the century, just before World War I, New York replaced London as the world's financial capital. This was no small thing. British financial dominance had been secure for a century, having supplanted Amsterdam and the Dutch.

And really, some of this is the luck of the draw. The United States, learning from England (which had learned from the Netherlands), promoted commerce first and foremost. But it also had--from the beginning--natural resources, far beyond those of the British Isles or the Netherlands. With private property laws that built on these previously successful nations, the economy of the United States was always a sleeping giant, freed at last by the end of slavery, which had inhibited real growth for a number of reasons.

Throughout the past hundred years--aside for major events like wars and the economic dominance of America--the idea of exceptionalism is periodically enforced by smaller things. The hippie and free speech movements of the sixties, for instance, fit this bill. As does the worldwide fame of American films and filmstars, along with American music and the common themes therein. And then there is sports.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is it still lying when the President does it?

The President was at Florida Atlantic University yesterday, talking about the economy. And he was lying through his teeth, in what may have been the most dishonest speech of his Presidency. His remarks in full. I'm going to address a great deal of the content, in order to demonstrate just how bad, how intentionally misleading the speech was.

He begins:
Now, we've gone through the three toughest years in our lifetimes, economically -- worst financial crisis, worst economic crisis. Our economy is now recovering but it's not yet where it needs to be.
I'll give him those "three toughest years." But of course, he leaves off the other "worst" here: the worst recovery, not only in our lifetimes but in U.S. History. I can't really blame him, though. It's hardly a point to make for someone seeking reelection.

Next, Obama sets up a false dichotomy, which he will return to again and again:
There's a debate going on in this country right now: Could we succeed as a nation where a shrinking number of people are doing really, really well, but a growing number are struggling to get by? Or are we better off when everybody gets a fair shot -- (applause) -- and everybody does a fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules?
No such debate is taking place. No one is arguing for the first, at all. In fact, everyone--on both ideological "sides"--is arguing for the second. The issue, the point of contention, is how is such realized? Becasue--as I previously noted--the current reality is that a larger and larger percentage of the population is not doing a "fair share," at all. But I don't want to spend too much time ripping each comment, so let's continue.

It's PRESIDENT Obama, dumbasses

An editorial at the New York Times makes an unforgivable and pointless error in etiquette: it refers to the President as "Mr. Obama." Not only does it make this error in the body of the piece, but it does so in the actual title of the piece: Mr. Obama and the ‘Buffett Rule.’

Who is in charge over there, these days? Does the New York Times still employ editors and fact checkers?

I'm joking, of course. Well, mostly. Because the fact is that etiquette rules require the use of "President" in the initial written reference to the current Commander-in-Chief. Thereafter, Mr. Obama, Mr. President, or even Obama are all okay. When speaking directly to the President, however, "Mr. President" is the standard. So while the use of "Mr. Obama" in the body of the article is permissable, the use of it in the title is not. Ultimately, there's no excuse for rudeness.

And in that same vein, let me say something else. I hated it when--during the Bush years--citizens who didn't like him called him "your President" (as in he was only the President of the Right, or some such thing) or actually came out and said "he's not my President." And my opinion hasn't changed in that regard; I hate it when I see people say the same sorts of things about President Obama. Like it or not, he is the current President, and that makes him my President, end of story.

But I digress.

Monday, April 9, 2012

High speed commute

There have been a rash of speeding tickets in South Florida of late, tickets wherein the offending parties were traveling at very high rates of speed. The rub in this seemingly trivial tidbit of information? The offending parties I'm talking about were all cops.

Really, this isn't a new thing, it's just been getting more attention lately, thanks to the antics some Miami police officers last year, after their fellow officer Fausto Lopez was pulled over by the Florida Highway Patrol for going 120 mph on his way to work. These Miami cops--supporting their brother officer--engaged in some less-than-honorable actions after the arrest became public knowledge. But that's neither here nor there.

Several days ago, Fausto Lopez pleaded no contest to a charge of reckless driving and was ordered to pay a fine and perform 100 hours of community service. No jail time, no probation. Hardly seems fitting, does it?

The Executive Pay myth

I'm going to revisit something because I think it is important to do so. A recent article in the New York Times discusses the pay levels of various CEOs and offers quite a bit of data worth looking into. The article starts by looking at Steve Cook and his compensation as the new CEO of Apple. Mr. Cook received a salary of $900k in 2011, but was also given a one-time award of Apple stock:
It was initially worth a staggering $376.2 million. As of the end of last week, it was valued at roughly $634 million, reflecting Apple’s soaring share price.
Did he really earn that money? Is he worth it to Apple as a company? It's a tough question to fully answer. Apple is a huge company with close to a billion shares outstanding. The stock award Cook received is for a ten year period (and was approved very easily by shareholders, by the way) and doesn't vest until 2016 and 2021. So, the goal for Cook is to make Apple stock worth as a much as possible by the end of those ten years. Suppose--under his leadership--stock prices for Apple double by 2012. His package would be worth around $750 million dollars. But...shareholders (many of whom are Apple employees) would see their investment double as well, to the total tune of over $700 billion. For all intents and purposes, stockholders are paying Mr. Cook a less than one percent or so commission on the growth of their stock. If he delivers, I have to think the stockholders will think it was more than worth it.

Still, the numbers are staggering. And as the article points out, so are the numbers for other CEO's compensation levels. Here's one of the article's bullet points of data:
The median chief executive in this group [100 most highly compensated CEOs]  took home $14.4 million — compared with the average annual American salary of $45,230.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Disingenuous phrase of the week: Recovery Skeptics

Annie Lowrey--New York Times columnist and wife of Ezra Klein--seems to have coined a new phrase in her latest column: recovery skeptics. She argues that these people are ignoring reality in order to cling to their pessimistic outlooks:
Call them permabears. A solid six months of good and getting-better data — fewer Americans claiming unemployment benefits, rising industrial production and improving economic sentiment among them — have failed to convince them of the strength of the recovery.
"Permabears." I actually like that. And to be fair, I know some people--in the financial industry--who might actually qualify for such a label, though I would refer to them as merely overly cautious. And really, there's nothing wrong with such a strategy. Many people have done quite well by following such a road. They may miss out on big upswings in the market, but they also avoid huge downswings.

But I digress. Back to Lowrey's disingenuous stupidity.

According to her, the data shows a strong recovery underway. Obviously, she's bought into the Bureau of Labor Statistics phony numbers wholesale. Everything is peaches and cream in her world; all is well and getting better, it would seem. In the article itself, she doesn't actually cite any hard numbers, just presents this recovery as a matter-of-fact reality. And we know that this is pure, unadulterated fantasy, per the chart I provided in a recent post.

Spain and the myth of growth

In an article at Time, Michael Schuman talks about Spain's "death spiral," in the context of the government's response to declining economic indicators. Schuman sums those indicators up nicely:
(1) The government in Madrid expects the economy to shrink by 1.7% in 2012 – its third contraction in four years. (2) Unemployment continues to rise. It is now more than 23%, and youth unemployment is above a staggering 50%. (3) Housing prices are down 22% from their peak, and are likely to continue to drop, perhaps by 20% or more. This puts extreme pressure on the balance sheets of an already shaky banking sector.
He then proceeds to sharply criticize the government's response to this depressed economy, arguing that any type of so-called "austerity" measures amount to growth-killing measures. In true Keynesian fashion--in words that would make Paul Krugman proud--Schuman proclaims:
...What the austerity measures will achieve is further damage to Spain’s growth prospects. New taxes and reduced government spending will further inhibit any hopes that Spain’s economy can turn around. Unemployment will go up further, reducing tax revenues and inflicting even more suffering on the Spanish people. Thus the death spiral. By squelching growth, austerity is making it more difficult for Madrid to meet its budget targets and stabilize debt levels. So it introduces more austerity to meet those goals. And that in turn weakens growth further, pushing the targets farther off. And so on. And so on.
He rightly notes that demand for Spanish bonds is weak, but wrongly attributes the lack of demand to austerity measures. This is not to say that austerity measures should increase the demand, only that the two things lack the causal connection Schuman seems to believe exists. For using Schuman's logic, no cuts to government spending would...increase demand for Spanish bonds? And therein lies the paradox of current EU nation woes in places like Spain and Italy: all of their economies are shaky, no one sees them as sound investments and haven't for quite some time. But in order to not cut spending--which, for people like Schuman and Krugman, is the road to prosperity--they need to borrow more money.

Friday, April 6, 2012

April's Chart of the Month

Tyler Durden over at Zerohedge offers up a brief report card at month 51 of the recession, and supposedly month 34 of the recovery. His assessment:
Recovery? What Recovery? 4 years after central banks have progressively injected over $7 trillion in liquidity into the global markets (and thus, by Fed logic, the economy), and who knows how many trillion in fiscal aid has been misallocated, to halt the Second Great Depression which officially started in December 2007, the US "recovery" is the weakest in modern US history!
The line--the weakest recovery in modern history--has been getting some play for well over a year now, but it doesn't seem like many are getting it. To that end, Durden has this handy-dandy graphic:

(courtesy of Zerohedge.com)

Robert Reich in a nutshell

I've mentioned the erstwhile former Secretary of Labor--Mr. Reich--before, noting that his grasp of economics is very much like that of an undergrad just starting an Introductory to Macro class. His latest piece at HuffPo suggests he still hasn't finished that class. It is--if possible--even worse than the previous one.

He tosses out some figures in an apparent attempt to lay the groundwork for his big conclusion, but along the way Reich actually says something very true and very significant, though he doesn't seem to understand what he has said:
The economy has been growing but almost all the gains have gone to the very top. As I've noted, this is the most lopsided recovery on record. 
You will hear other theories about the hiring slowdown, but they don't wash. 
It's not due to "uncertainty" about the economy. That's a tautology -- the economy's future is always uncertain, especially when consumers don't have the dough to keep it going.
See that last bit? "The economy's future is always uncertain." That's true. But in a moment, we'll see how little time it takes for Reich to forget the only valid point he makes.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Games of Life

In 1970, a British Mathematician named John Conway created Life, not life in a Petri dish, life via spontaneous generation, or the like, but a simulation--easily programmed onto a computer--that he named "Life." The background of this creation is somewhat heavy, intellectually speaking. Conway's creation was a response to the work of another mathematician, John von Neumann, the founder of Game Theory and a key participant in the Manhattan Project.

It is--in my view--a great irony that someone so deeply involved with the creation of the most lethal weapons in history is also the originator of such a rich field of inquiry and the inspiration for models depicting life, in general.

What is of import here is von Neumann's theoretical construction of a machine fully capable of self-replication (those of you hearing Terminator theme music rising up in the background are actually on the right track). Conway, building on von Neumann's ideas, created a system for producing the same, a very simple system.

A new tool for the doting parent: the iPad

This morning, my daughter's preschool had its big "Easter Show." It consisted of each class going to the stage at the front of the chapel (yes, it's a church preschool; sue me) and singing a couple of songs. The children had been rehearsing for weeks and the performances were not disappointing. Granted, the youngest groups were a little weak, but then they're not even three yet.

The school has six classes: two for the two's, two for the three's, and two for the four's. My daughter and her fellow four-year-old classmates performed a song called "Get Down" and the classic "This Little Light of Mine," both complete with accompanying pantomime. It was very sweet; they were dressed in their Easter Best and really got into performing.

The staff of the school--before the performances started--gave out some specific instructions: hold applause for each class until after the second song (almost no one followed this rule), keep the aisles the children are using clear (everyone did that), and wait until the end of the second song for photo ops (so-so on this; most listened).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Obama's same old tired meme

In discussing the President's comments the other day, I noted that--above and beyond his lack of understanding as to what constitutes judicial activism--there was a great deal to criticize in his words. Some more of what the President said:
As I said, we are confident this will be over -- this will be upheld. I am confident this will be upheld because it should be upheld. And again, that is not just my opinion. That is the opinion of a whole lot of constitutional law professors and academics and judges and lawyers who have examined this law, even if they're not particularly sympathetic to this piece of legislation or my presidency.
See it? It's an "experts on both sides agree on this" type of statement, which is the absolutely most invoked defense of policy by this administration, bar none. The President, the Vice President, and other members of the administration began using the defense for the Stimulus Bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Three freaking years ago. And they've never let up. Despite actual, hard evidence at the time of the bill's consideration and passage--the Cato ad, for starters--they've maintained as a truth what is an absolute lie: that there was widespread, across the board support for that bill because it was the only course to take, that there was no legitimate argument to the contrary.

And the repetition of a lie, as we all know, is a powerful tool for the propagandist. The lie about the Stimulus Bill is, even now, becoming a truth, thanks to willing dupes in the media and in academia. I noted the insidiousness of the lie and the role of the media in its perpetuation back in January, in articles like this piece by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Obama's profound ignorance...

...or willful dishonesty.

Speaking to the press yesterday, President Obama opined on the constitutionality--or lack thereof--of the Affordable Care Act. In doing so, he called upon the idea of judicial activism in support of the Act's legitimacy. As readers might recall, I addressed this silly argument a few weeks ago when it was offered by Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast. Obama's actual words, in this regard:


There's a great deal to criticize here, apart from the bit on judicial activism, and I'll address some of it in a future post, have no fear. So, let's look at what the "constitutional scholar" said about judicial activism:
I just remind conservative commentators that for years we have heard the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint. That an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example and I am pretty confident that this Court will recognize that and not take that step.
Who, exactly, has he been listening to? Which conservative commentators have been saying that the "biggest problem on the bench" was the overturning of a law? The question is rhetorical, of course, since none of them have been saying any such thing. Like Tomasky, Obama apparently has no clue what the term judicial activism actually means, what behavior--by a court--constitutes judicial activism (or it's twin, "legislating from the bench").

Monday, April 2, 2012

When Ginsburg met Thomas

As the punditry world continues to speculate on the fate of the Affordable Care Act, orally argued before the high court last week, I thought it might be appropriate to delve a little bit deeper into the members and their not-always-so-easy-to-predict positions. The "experts" and pundits would have us believe that the Justices had already made their decisions, even before oral arguments, that a narrow ideological labeling of the Justices is, alone, sufficient to predict the outcome of the case.

The simplistic reasoning: the four "conservative" Justices (Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts) will vote to repeal the mandate and potentially the entire Act, the four "liberal" Justices (Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer) will vote to uphold it, and Kennedy will be the deciding vote. Based on the oral arguments, the experts and pundits have mostly decided that Kennedy will go conservative on this issue. And things may go exactly this way. It's certainly a strong possibility. But then again, they may not.

A causal observer of the Court may be tempted to buy into these apparent lines of division--given by the media--on major cases as evidence that the Court always follows such a pattern. Moreover, the insidious assumption that all Court members are driven by ideology alone may also be taken as some sort of truth. In this regard, we all know who the extremists are, right? Thomas on one end (the Right), with Ginsburg on the other end (the Left). Further, according to a good chunk of the media, Thomas is not all that bright--as far as Justices go--and simply goes along with Scalia on all issues.

So, are there any cases that might call into question such assumptions? Well, most recently there is CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Alabama Department of Revenue, a case decided in 2011. Briefly, CSX Tranportation--a railroad company--sought to take the State of Alabama to court over a tax on diesel fuel. The company argued that the tax violated provisions of a federal law which forbid discriminatory taxes on railroads, the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1967. The argument was based on exemptions from this tax being enjoyed by trucking companies, but not by railroads. The issue, therefore, was what exactly constituted a discriminatory tax.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Barbarians at the net

I watched a little of the Sony Ericsson Open yesterday. It was the women's finals, featuring world number two Maria Sharapova versus world number four Agnieszka Radwanska. It was a good match, with Radwanska basically frustrating Sharapova at every turn, eventually winning 7-5, 6-4.

Tennis is great sport, and professional tennis is--to  me--highly enjoyable because the competitors come from all over the world. Truly all over the world. But in recent years, the dominant players seem to be hailing more and more frequently from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, especially in the WTA. Look at the current rankings:

11Azarenka, Victoria31/07/89BLR973021
22Sharapova, Maria19/04/87RUS793015
33Kvitova, Petra08/03/90CZE717018
45Radwanska, Agnieszka06/03/89POL596022
56Stosur, Samantha30/03/84AUS582522
64Wozniacki, Caroline11/07/90DEN541022
77Bartoli, Marion02/10/84FRA471028
88Li, Na26/02/82CHN463518
99Zvonareva, Vera07/09/84RUS434021
1010Petkovic, Andrea09/09/87GER380018
1111Williams, Serena26/09/81USA358014
1212Schiavone, Francesca23/06/80ITA351522
1313Lisicki, Sabine22/09/89GER314121
1419Kerber, Angelique18/01/88GER282021
1514Jankovic, Jelena28/02/85SRB281523
1616Ivanovic, Ana06/11/87SRB278522
1715Goerges, Julia02/11/88GER278526
1817Cibulkova, Dominika06/05/89SVK248522
1921Hantuchova, Daniela23/04/83SVK245027
2022Vinci, Roberta18/02/83ITA239527
2120Pavlyuchenkova, Anastasia03/07/91RUS238122
2223Kirilenko, Maria25/01/87RUS235024
2318Peng, Shuai08/01/86CHN224023
2427Kuznetsova, Svetlana27/06/85RUS210619
2528Safarova, Lucie04/02/87CZE208023

Thirteen claim residence in those regions. Andrea Petkovic resides in Germany, but is from Bosnia. That's fourteen out of twenty-five, over 50%. The numbers are pretty much the same for the next seventy five, with about forty being from Eastern Europe and/or states of the former Soviet Union.