Thursday, May 31, 2012

Negative interest and fleeing rats

No, this is not going to be about the new movie--and colossal flop--Battleship. Rather, it's about another colossal flop: the Euro.

As the EU continues to struggle with economic problems in Greece, Italy, and Spain--with looming problems in many other countries--European investors are becoming more and more nervous. They're looking for safe havens where they can park capital, thus we see the dollar rising against the Euro (near a two-year low for the later). And nations in deep trouble--like Italy and Spain--are being forced to increase yields on government bonds, in order to sell any.

Enter the Swiss, the par excellence bankers of the world. In order to preserve capital, investors are actually taking a loss by having Switzerland hold their money.

We've all borrowed money or used a credit card before. We all know how it works. The borrowed money has to be repaid to the lender. And the reason why the lender agrees to loan the money in the first place is in order to collect interest on the debt. The longer it take the borrower to repay the loan, the more interest accrues, and it has to be paid, too.

Governments sell bonds with guaranteed rates of return, called bond yields. Essentially, people that buy the bonds are loaning governments money and the governments are paying the interest on the loan in the form of yields. Finance 101, right? The lender is the one that makes money off of the transaction, as a matter of course. Until now:
The Swiss government issued short-term debt bills worth 688.8 million francs ($716 million) Tuesday at a negative interest rate of 0.62 percent. That means investors are paying to lend money to Switzerland for three months.
European investors are so nervous about the future of the Euro that they're putting their money in Swiss notes (in the form of francs, not euros) and paying the Swiss government to hold it for them. The Swiss government is turning a profit by taking out loans. That's a helluva trick. Imagine going into a bank, getting a $10,000 loan and having the bank pay you $62 a month until you decide to repay the loan. What a bargain!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Obama not a big fan of cheese...

When Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential Election, there was much rejoicing, with many people going that extra mile to demonstrate their happiness with his victory. Case in point, there was Laini Fondiller, a cheesemaker in Vermont who created a special cheese in the new President's honor (actually, she first introduced it during the primaries). From Fondiller's Lazy Lady Farms, the cheese--called "Barick Obama"--is a "washed-rind cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk" (whatever that means), and I'm sure it's quite tasty. Other varieties available include "Biden Your Time" and the ever-popular "Tomme Delay."

One would think this would make the President a big fan of cheese. And maybe he is, as long as it's not being made in Wisconsin.

With the Walker recall election looming, it looks like the President is prepared to let the chips fall where they may in that State. According to deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter:
This is a gubernatorial race with a guy who was recalled and a challenger trying get him out of office. It has nothing to do with President Obama at the top of the ticket and it certainly doesn't have anything to do with Mitt Romney at the top of the Republican ticket.
That's an interesting tact to take, given that just a few days ago, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz declared that Wisconsin was "a dry run" for the President's campaign. I think, perhaps, that Wasserman-Schultz hadn't seen the latest polling numbers, prior to making that statement. The RCP average shows Walker with a nearly seven point advantage. And it's been growing.

Margaret Carlson says Romney the "unknown quantity." Pathetic.

Some people wonder--people not really paying attention to the world around them, which is unfortunately most people--why there has been a consistent and ever-growing backlash from conservative circles against what they (we) term "the mainstream media." Margaret Carlson's latest piece at Bloomberg is the perfect foil for explaining the "why" behind this backlash.

Carlson is a well-seasoned political journalist, having worked as a columnist for Time Magazine, Esquire, the New Republic, and now Bloomberg. She resides in Washington, DC proper and was a regular on CNN's The Capitol Gang for well over a decade. In short, she is the mainstream media. She's well-educated (possessing both a BA and a law degree), well-connected, and quite certain of her expertise, when it comes to all things political.

Yet, in this latest column, she plays the ignorant fool, opining that Romney is something of an unknown quantity, despite his previous run at the Presidential Nomination, despite his very public term as Governor of Massachusetts, despite his very public role in organizing the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, and despite his heavily scrutinized leadership of Bain Capital:
Romney remains a man of mystery next to the president. Barack Obama’s no Joe Biden, but he has become known to us in some fundamental ways after four years being beamed into our living rooms.
"Man of mystery"? Who is she kidding? Aside from herself, apparently. Because she seems quite serious on the point; she reiterates it at the end of the piece:
Four years ago -- and even today -- one of the great conservative complaints against Obama was that he wasn’t properly “vetted” by the news media. Yet it is Romney -- also a candidate in 2008 -- who remains, more than most presidential candidates, an unknown quantity.
It's almost four years into Obama's Presidency, and we still know very little about his past, aside from the panegyrics spoon-fed to us by Obama's handlers and willing dupes--like Carlson--in the media. It took non-mainstream source--like Breitbart--to "uncover" a bio of the President that listed his birthplace as Kenya, a bio that had been repeatedly used by Obama's literary agent for fifteen years. Yet since that story broke, the mainstream media has--as a whole--sloughed it off, apparently unwilling to dig into it, to discover what Obama's actual role was in the bio and it's proliferation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Extending childhood via student loans

The world has changed drastically in the last two thousand years, in the last thousand years, indeed in the last one hundred years. And yes, much of this change is technological in nature. But much of it is also social in nature (party due to changing technology, it is true). Daily life, the way we understand it, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is very, very different than it was in even the immediate past.

In particular, distinct life-stages have become social institutions, each with specific characteristics and expectations. Babies, toddlers, children, teen-agers, young adults, adults, middle-aged adults, retirees (old people); we all begin as the first and "graduate" into each new stage. And within each stage, behavior is generalized and idealized. The first four, however, can collectively be called "childhood," notwithstanding the claims of erstwhile teenagers to the contrary.

In 1962, a controversial book by Philippe Ariès--Centuries of Childhood--was published. One of Ariès' claims is that in the Medieval world, the concept of childhood did not exist. He argued that children were treated as "mini" adults And this claim has been roundly criticized and, I think, substantially disproven. There has always been such a concept in society, throughout all of human history. The issue is, when does it end? When does someone cease to be considered a child and how is this change accounted for within society?

I would argue that this moment is--ultimately--based on a simple standard: the availability of leisure time. The more leisure time a society in general and a family in particular has, the longer childhood lasts (or can last). And in this regard, the modern world has set new standards with more leisure time for more and more of the population than ever before. The U.S. and Europe in particular enjoy an abundance of leisure time. And we are loathe to give it up.

In crises of the recent past--like during the Great Depression--children did indeed lose some of their childhood, but within the current downturn, there has been no such loss to any significant extent. And that is due--in a large part--to safety nets and entitlement programs. One could actually argue that a principal consequence of the modern welfare state is the institutionalization of childhood as a period of development.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day: Remembering the Jaws of Death

On June 6th, 1944 Operation Overlord began with the Normandy landings (codename Operation Neptune) on five beaches in France along the English Channel. We generally refer to this moment as D-Day.

(from Wikipedia)

Some 2500 Americans lost there lives during these landings, as amphibious troop carriers opened their doors and foot soldiers waded towards the beach, under fire from German artillery and small arms. At Omaha Beach, soldiers were forced to wade fifty or more yards just to reach the shore. It's an horrific thing to imagine. Consider, for instance, what must have been going through the minds of these young men, as they road in the carriers--in rough seas, by the way--knowing that in just a few minutes, they would have to walk into heavy fire. Below is Robert F. Sargent's famous photograph from Omaha Beach, Into the Jaws of Death:



Yet, as bad as this sounds, there are far more horrific situations, both in World War II and other wars, that citizens serving in our nation's military were forced into, were ordered into. And of course, far greater loss of life accompanied these situations. Overall, nearly 300,000 U.S. citizens lost their lives (combat deaths) fighting for their nation in World War II, more than in the Civil War (213,000), World War I (53,000), the Korean War (34,000), the Vietnam War (47,000), or the combined Iraq-Afghan War (5,000).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gah! That's not how INSURANCE works!

Thomas Friedman--whose pieces run the gamut from brilliant to nonsensical--argues that President Obama needs to "seize the high ground," to do a better job of explaining his triumphs to the people:
Barack Obama is a great orator, but he is the worst president I’ve ever seen when it comes to explaining his achievements, putting them in context, connecting with people on a gut level through repetition and thereby defining how the public views an issue.
As an example of such a triumph, Friedman points to Obamacare and takes Republicans to task for calling it socialized medicine. And in that regard, Friedman says two supremely silly things. First:
Think about this: Is there anyone in America today who doesn’t either have a pre-existing medical condition or know someone who does and can’t get health insurance as a result? Yet two years after Obama’s health care bill became law, how many Americans understand that once it is fully implemented no American with a pre-existing condition will ever again be denied coverage?
So, according to Friedman, having the government mandate "coverage" in spite of pre-existing conditions is a Good Thing, something that we should be happy about. And by implication, it's not a "socialized" thing at all. Which brings us to his second silly statement:
Yet Obama — the champion of private insurance for all — has allowed himself to be painted as a health care socialist.
Got that? Obama is "the champion of private insurance for all." But we already know he is no such thing, given that Obamacare is destroying Medicare Advantage programs, the programs that let Medicare subscribers pay an additional premium for additional private coverage. The Administration is attempting to cover this reality up by implementing an $8 billion "test program" to keep Medicare Advantage going until after the upcoming elections. But that's just a temporary thing.

So, let's be clear on this. Obamacare is taking away coverage citizens enjoyed through private carriers. On what planet does this make Obama a champion of private insurance? Friedman's ignorance on this point is astounding. But there's more.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The silly Obama spending narrative

There's a bit of a viral meme going around on Facebook and elsewhere the past few days. It's the claim--now being echoed by the President and spokesmodel Jay Carney--that federal spending hasn't increased all that much under Obama, that federal spending has risen "at the slowest pace of any President in almost 60 years (Obama's words)."

The source of this claim is an article at MarketWatch by Rex Nutting. Mr. Nutting says:
Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true.

But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.
He than provides some numbers--derived from the CBO--to support the claim. To whit:
  • In the 2009 fiscal year — the last of George W. Bush’s presidency — federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Check the official numbers at the Office of Management and Budget. 
  • In fiscal 2010 — the first budget under Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion.
I'm going to stick just with these two years--2009 and 2010--for the moment. But first, I should note that Politifact backs up the assertion Mr. Nutting is making, calling it "mostly true." And really, since the numbers are taken from the CBO and easily checked, how could they be wrong? Right?

Well...

There are two big elephants in the room: the Stimulus Bill and TARP, the first passed under Obama in the beginning of 2009, the second passed under Bush (with full Democrat approval, including then-Senator Obama) at the end of 2008. Nutting is dropping the cost--or most of it--for both of these bills in the lap of Bush.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What's a "Brett Kimberlin"?

Today is apparently "Blog about Brett Kimberlin Day," according to Michelle Malkin and many other conservative-leaning bloggers. If you fit that description, I suggest jumping on the bandwagon.

So...who is Brett Kimberlin? Well, according to Robert Stacy McCain (who I have no reason to doubt), Brett Kimberlin is a convicted felon, a domestic terrorist, the infamous "Speedway Bomber" of late 70's Indiana. In 1981, Kimberlin was finally convicted for his actions:
Investigators had a much stronger case against Kimberlin for the Speedway bombings, but it would take three separate trials to convict him of that crime. The first trial, in 1980, ended in a hung jury on the more serious charges, but he was found guilty of impersonating a Department of Defense security guard. That got him a 12-year sentence on top four years for the Texas drug conviction. In the second Indiana trial, in June 1981, Kimberlin was convicted only of illegal possession of explosives. The third trial took 53 days and 118 witnesses and ended with a conviction on the bombing charges on Oct. 15, 1981. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Fifty years in prison. Good enough. And in 1988, some might recall that Kimberlin made headlines once again by claiming he had sold pot to Dan Quayle (no evidence, just the claim). Predictably, Kimberlin was parolled in 1994, thirteen years in to his sentence. He was sent back to prison in 1997 for violating conditions of his paroll, but was released again in 2001. That's just super, isn't it?

Since that point, Kimberlin has reinvented himself. He's now the head of some sort of non-profit org, with a list of donors that includes some pretty big names from progressive and Democrat circles:

2005
Farview Foundation ………………………….…… $9,000
2006
Tides Foundation …………………………………. $60,000
Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift …..…. $45,000
HKH Foundation ……………………………..……. $20,000
Heinz Family Foundation ………….……..…. $20,000
Olive Branch Foundation …………….……… $15,000
Farview Foundation …………………………… $10,000
Barbra Streisand Foundation …………………$5,000
2007
Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift …..…. $19,000
2008
Threshold Foundation ………………..…..… $20,000
Tides Foundation ………………………….….. $10,000
Nathan Cummings Foundation ………..… $10,000
Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift …..…. $20,000
Fred Gellert Family Foundation ……………. $5,000
Silicon Valley Community Foundation ..… $5,000
Barbra Streisand Foundation ……………….. $5,000
2009
Schwab Charitable Fund ………………………. $10,000
Silicon Valley Community Foundation .… $10,000
Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift …..…. $6,000

But read the entire piece by McCain. It's fascinating--if scary--stuff. Kimberlin is none too happy with this investigation into his past and has been apparently trying to intimidate people like McCain, so much so that McCain has even gone into temporary hiding. For Kimberlin's past is far from that of a peaceful person. I can't help but wonder what Bill Ayers thinks about this...

Cheers, all.

Paul Krugman has a Nobel Prize

How many times have we heard that? Krugman writes a bunch of nonsense masquerading as a thoughtful column, he gets called out on his crap, and his fan-boys jump to his defense.

And every single time, that defense is:
Well, Paul Krugman won a Nobel Prize in economics. What have you done?
Frequent readers of this blog will know that I'm big on pointing out fallacies of argument, and this one certainly qualifies. In fact, it can actually be characterized as a fallacy in two different ways.

First, we can note that it's a simplistic appeal to authority: Krugman is right because he's a recognized expert, because someone else says he's an expert. His actual argument, the "facts" he cites are inconsequential. He's right because he's Paul Krugman, famous economist.

And second, it's also a fallacy because it assumes facts not in evidence. To whit: ask anyone who defends Krugman with the Nobel Prize line the following question: what did he win the prize for? Is Krugman actually a renowned expert on the particular economic issues on which he's pontificating? Stunned silence. Crickets.

Noble Prizes--most of them--are a lot like Academy Awards. And in fact, the Nobel Prize in Economics--actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel--is not a real Nobel Prize. It's given by the Swedish central bank, though it is officially associated with the Nobel Foundation and the selection process for the award is similar to that for the five original Nobel Prizes. And that process is--again, like the Academy Awards--a vetting of nominees by a committee, followed by a vote of the Acedemy, in this case the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

I don't want to come across as too harsh here, because receiving such an award is certainly an honor. And it's certainly based on hard work and original thinking. After all, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman--two men whose views on economics (and politics) are diametrically opposed to Krugman's in many ways--both won the Nobel Prize in Economics, as well. So did James M. Buchanan, one of the many economists who were signatories to the Cato Institute's ad opposed to the Obama Administration's Stimulus plans.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Obama: preaching to the choir

Ad orientem and versus populum. Two Latin phrases that I would guess most people who are not Catholic would be unable to identify. Yet, these two phrases represent a key issue, with regard to the Church and the development of European civilization, both symbolically and literally.

In the earliest years of the Church, long before the Reformation, priests would face the congregation for Mass, as a means of leading their congregations in worship. During the 9th century, this tradition was changed. Priests began to celebrate Mass facing away from the congregation. Such a position--for the priest--is called ad orientem, meaning "to the East." There had been a time when--supposedly--Christians faced East to pray, so mnay Churches were built with that in mind, with the congregation oriented towards the East. Thus, the priest--to join in prayer--needed to turn his back on the congregation in order that he too would be facing East.

But, as often happens with phrases, this original meaning was discarded in favor of the non-literal result of the practice: face away from the congregation. By the seventeenth century, ad orientem began to fall out of favor, to eventually be replaced by the now almost universal (in Christianity) versus populum orientation, which means "towards the people."

Now, the truth of the matter is that an ad orientem orientation symbolically places the priest on the same level as the congregation; all face the altar, thus all are equally subservient before God, all worship God together. A versus populum orientation, in contrast, symbolically places the priest above the congregation; the priest directs the worshiping of God as a stand-in for God. However, these two different liturgical practices need to be considered within the historical context of their usage.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Missing the point on "Julia"

The Obama Campaign's "Life of Julia" has generated a fair amount of discussion. Ostensibly the life story of a women from birth to retirement, the interactive piece points out how Julia benefits from the government policies and programs championed by the President...and how much worse off she would be if Romney's polices--as interpreted by the Obama Campaign--were in force.

Many conservative-leaning thinkers were quick to pounce on the piece for essentially portraying Julia--and women in general--as "wards of the State." From their vantage point, the story is one of over-reliance on the government, on a profound lack of self-reliance. And I largely concur: safety nets are a last recourse, not a standard feature of life. Of course, some of the benefits touted in the piece are not safety net types of things, at all.

But even these things are not policies to rely on, many are just policies designed to secure political support. College-age Julia (18 years old) benefits from Obama's policies thusly:
As she prepares for her first semester of college, Julia and her family qualify for President Obama's American Opportunity Tax Credit—worth up to $10,000 over four years.
What is the American Opportunity Tax Credit, one might ask? Well, simply put, it's an act that increased and extended the Hope Credit, so that more people will "benefit." The Hope Credit, which allows taxpayers to lower their tax liability (provided they don't make a lot of money) by up to $2500. And wonders of wonders, even if someone pays no income tax, they can still take the credit and receive up to $1000 from the government!

In other words, it's a gimmicky government giveaway being sold as something people should rely on. And it's based on a fundamentally flawed standard: that people should be treated differently, when it comes to taxes. In this case, people with children in college get special consideration (provided they aren't rich, of course). What about people without children? What about people with children who don't go to college? **** 'em.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Clinton in, Biden out?

Back in October of last year, I talked about the possibility of Biden stepping away from the office of VP for the 2012 Election, with Hillary Clinton taking over for the campaign:
There's been some talk of switching out Biden for Clinton in the veep slot for the coming election (Biden would take over as Secretary of State) and I have to admit buying into the possibility. But that was because Biden had been relatively quiet for some time; I had actually started to forget how badly he could screw things up. Now that he's once again in the public eye, it's clear that the switch would make no sense at best, and would be dangerous at worst.
One might think that Biden's recent penchant for gaffes would increase the likelihood for such a switcheroo, but it's really the exact opposite, at least for political strategists with a clue, at any rate. For dumping Biden when he's actively engaged in the campaign would be a tacit admission that he's a liability, that Obama erred in selecting him, and make moving him to State look like a pay-off. And right now, there's no doubt that Biden is actively engaged. This afternoon in New Hampshire (of all places), Biden delivered this precious bit of brain-dead commentary:


Biden says "Imagine where we'd be if the Tea Party hadn't taken control of the House of Representatives," and frankly that thought makes me shudder. Imagine, indeed. Imagine where we'd be if Nancy Pelosi was still speaker of the House, imagine how many more trillions would have been added to the debt. It boggles the mind.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Note to Obama: you suck at your job

Today, at the NATO Summit news conference, President Obama said quite matter-of-factly that with regard to  Romney and Bain Capital, "This is what this campaign is going to be about." Fair enough. That's straightforward, no punches pulled, right? But let's look at what he said, in full. He was asked by a reporter about an ad from his campaign that criticizes Romney and Bain and he was asked about his views on the role of private equity firms (i.e. venture capitalists and corporate raiders). The President's response [my boldface]:
But understand that their priority [private equity firms] is to maximize profits. And that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers. And the reason why this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience. He’s not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He’s saying I’m a business guy and I know how to fix it. And this is his business.

And when you’re President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, and your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who get laid off and how do we pay for their retraining? Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so they can start attracting new businesses. Your job as President is to think about how do we set up an equitable tax system so that everybody is paying their fair share that allows us to invest in science and technology and infrastructure. All of which is going to help us grow.

If your main argument for how to grow the economy is I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you’re missing what this job is about. It doesn’t mean you weren’t good at private equity. But that’s not what my job is as President. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now, but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.

And so, to repeat, this is not a distraction. This is what this campaign is going to be about. Is what is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed. And that means I’ve got to think about those workers in that video just as much as I’m thinking about folks who’ve been much more successful.
Read the boldfaced portion again.

Bain Capital: Gekkos or Pretty Women

Oliver Stone's Wall Street debuted in 1987, starring Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, a notorious corporate raider. His modus operandi was to buy up a substantial stake in a vulnerable company, then use the accrued authority to increase share price, often by "downsizing" or even by breaking the company up, then selling off pieces. In one memorable scene, Bud Fox--upset at the prospect of having helped ruin his father's employer--asks Gekko why he want to break up Blue Star Airlines. Gekko's response: "Because it's wreckable, alright!"

That one exchange completely captures the most common public image of people like Gekko (fictional, to be sure), like Michael Milken, like T. Boone Pickens, and like Mitt Romney. They're the bad guys, the ones that put profit above all else. People don't matter when there's money to be made. How could such people ever be anything but villains? Yet, in another famous movie, the corporate raider became the prince, the knight in shining armor.

The movie? Pretty Woman, staring Julie Roberts and Richard Gere which premiered a scant two and a half years later in 1990. In this case, the corporate raider was Edward Lewis--played by Gere--whose life is so consumed with making money that he has little time for much else, including love. Yet, he falls for Vivian--a hooker played by Roberts--and eventually "rescues" her from a life of prostitution. In the course of getting to that point, Lewis' raider mentality also evolves, as he decides to help the latest company he had targeted, rather than breaking it up for profit. Everybody wins, right?

But note two things. First, it is Lewis' wealth--his money--that allows him to play the hero, from the beginning. Despite the emotional trappings of the film, it is clear that Vivian falls for him first and foremost because he is rich, period. And he never renounces that wealth; he doesn't give it all away and get a job in a video rental store or a fast food joint. Second, despite the feel-good nature of Lewis' change of heart with regard to destroying one company, we don't know that the move was wise, at all. We don't know that the company won't go belly-up a year or two down the road. We take it as a given that it's a Good Thing, keeping the company going.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Warren plagiarized her phony recipes? Really?

Previously, I discussed the apparent need some have to claim a Native American heritage. In particular, I looked at disgraced scholar Ward Churchill and current candidate for the U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren. I noted that Warren's claims of a Native American ancestry appeared to have been--at the time--somewhat true:
Finally, it would appear that she has been vindicated. Kind of. A genealogist has found evidence that Warren's great-great-great-grandmother was a Cherokee, making Warren herself 1/32 Cherokee, at most.
That's not a lot of Cherokee blood to hang one's hat on, so to speak. Still, it was more than enough to allow Warren to call herself a Native American and for Harvard to trumpet its hiring of Warren as a coup, in that regard:
Although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women, Chmura said Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren is Native American.
(courtesy bostonherald.com)
Now as it turns out, the genealogist noted above appears to have been wrong. There is no evidence available that shows Warren is any part Native American, whatsoever. Still, it appears Warren truly believes she has Native American roots. It's been a part of her self-description for a long, long time. Back in 1984, Warren contributed five recipes to a book of recipes entitled Pow Wow Chow, supposedly a collection of "special recipes passed down through the Five Tribes families" ("Five Tribes" referring to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes).

Those five recipes included "Cold Omelets with Crab Meat," "Crab with Tomato Mayonnaise Dressing," and "Herbed Tomatoes." But as this article from Breitbart's Big Government notes, each of these three appear to have been plagiarized. So, what we seem to have here are recipes in a Native American cookbook contributed by someone with no Native American lineage to speak off who apparently got these recipes--at least two of them and maybe three--during her own lifetime, not via family tradition or the like.

I personally have a number of my grandmother's recipes for various things, but the most that I can say about them is that I got them from my grandmother. Sure, it would be neat to claim that they're all old family recipes, passed down generation after generation. And maybe they are. But I don't know this to be true. Thus...I can't make the claim, for it would be a lie.

It's bad enough that Warren had no problem pretending the recipes were Native American in origin and from her family's history. Because that's a lie, right there. But she also apparently used recipes already published by others, long before Pow Wow Chow was published, and claimed them as her own. From the Breitbart piece:
The two recipes, "Cold Omelets with Crab Meat" and "Crab with Tomato Mayonnaise Dressing," appear in an article titled “Cold Omelets with Crab Meat,” written by Pierre Franey of the New York Times News Service that was published in the August 22, 1979 edition of the Virgin Islands Daily News, a copy of which can be seen here. 
Ms. Warren’s 1984 recipe for Crab with Tomato Mayonnaise Dressing is a word-for-word copy of Mr. Franey’s 1979 recipe. 
Mrs. Warren’s 1984 recipe for Cold Omelets with Crab Meat contains all four of the ingredients listed in Mr. Franey’s 1979 recipe in the exact same portion but lists five additional ingredients. More significantly, her instructions are virtually a word for word copy of Mr. Franey’s instructions from this 1979 article. Both instructions specify the use of a “seven inch Teflon pan.”
That's quite obviously plagiarism. And if we recall, it was plagiarism that ultimately ended Ward Churchills's academic career, as well. Sure, Warren didn't plagiarize for the purposes of a scholarly article or book. But so what? Should we ignore the dishonesty on her part, laugh it off as "just a couple of recipes"? Perhaps the argument will be that "it was just a little white lie to get included in a recipe book, no harm done." Of course, that's not wholly unlike the now-common defense of Obama's lit agent listing his birthplace as Kenya: "no big deal, just a little marketing strategy."

Warren and Obama, two peas in a pod. Lying to get published. Lying to sell books. Lying to make money. I thought this was why we were supposed to dislike Republicans...

Cheers, all.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kenya: It's the Media Bias, stupid!

Breitbart.com has done it again, with yet another shocking find related to President Obama's past. I talked previously about the initial installment in Breitbart's "The Vetting" series. That piece focused in on a 1998 play in Chicago--The Love Song of Saul Alinsky--and a follow-up Q&A session with a variety of special guests, including then state senator Baraka Obama. Not Barack, but Baraka, a name that is more true to the Swahili language Barack derives from. As I noted then:
But prior to that, Obama went by the name "Barry" while in school. This Daily Beast story details the apparent transition from "Barry" to "Barack." Note that there is no mention of "Baraka" anywhere in it. And that's kind of perplexing, unless we allow that this poster (and press release) was some sort of aberration, that the name "Baraka" was an error (unlikely, though perhaps possible) or we allow that "Baraka" is something that needs to be buried.
The latest from Breitbart suggests it's the latter, that Obama was cultivating an image with the name "Baraka." For what has been uncovered by Breitbart is a booklet produced by Obama's literary agents in 1991--Acton and Dystel--that lists his place of birth as Kenya, not Hawaii:

(courtesy breitbart.com)

A principal at the President's current agency (Dystel and Goderich), one Miriam Goderich, claims to have been responsible for the "mistake":
"This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me--an agency assistant at the time," Goderich wrote in an emailed statement to Yahoo News. "There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii. I hope you can communicate to your readers that this was a simple mistake and nothing more."
But it's a weird mistake to make, someone's nation of birth. And one would think that such a mistake would have been promptly corrected, for surely it would have been noticed. Are we supposed to believe Obama never even reviewed this bio of him? Because the basics of the bio--written when Obama was going to publish a book tentatively called Journeys in Black and White--were used by the agency until April, 2007. From an archived version of the agencies website, as uncovered by Breitbart:
BARACK OBAMA is the junior Democratic senator from Illinois and was the dynamic keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He was also the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He was born in Kenya to an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister and was raised in Indonesia, Hawaii, and Chicago. His first book, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE, has been a long time New York Times bestseller.
Obama's birthplace was finally corrected at the end of April, 2007, just after he declared his candidacy for the Presidency.

In my view, there is little doubt that the Kenyan birth was an angle--a lie--being cultivated by the agency for purposes of promotion. And I think it unreasonable to assume Obama was ignorant of this; he must have known his place of birth was being misrepresented and he must have given tacit approval to that misrepresentation. It all fit a carefully crafted persona Obama was exploiting for personal and political gain, not unlike Elizabeth Warren and her (non) Cherokee heritage.

The thing is, stuff like this should have been out there years ago, given the anal exam most politicians are subjected to by the mainstream media, in its never-ending quest for scandals. But it wasn't. As I noted in another recent piece:
...Obama still enjoys widely favorable treatment from a great majority of the press. The process of vetting Romney has reached all the way back to 1965. Vetting Obama? We're lucky if the press goes back to 2009, now.
Negative stories abound on the past of conservative or Republican politicians like Romney, George Bush, and George Allen--mostly via heresay--yet the past of the current President remains very much a blank slate. This lie about a Kenyan birth was out there, right up through 2007, yet no one in the mainstream media stumbled upon it. And when people started claiming that Obama was actually born in Kenya, the mainstream media, the majority of political pundits, mocked them as "birthers," insisting that there was no evidence--zero--to indicate Obama was born anywhere other than Hawaii.

Of course, there was such evidence, even if it was ultimately manufactured (for the benefit of Obama). And anyone seriously researching the President's past with the resources of a major news outlet could have found that evidence quite easily. But no one in the mainstream media came across these nuggets at Bretibart. Why not? The only reasonable explanation: they never made the effort, because--by and large--they're all too enthralled with the image of Barack Obama, an image that they ironically helped to create and still help to maintain. It's a sad commentary on the mainstream media, it really is. And it explains exactly why they're slowly but surely putting themselves out of business.

Cheers, all.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

OWS and the Wisconsin Recall should try tea...

With the Wisconsin Recall Election now less than a month away--it's scheduled for June 5th--one things seems pretty clear: it's been a colossal waste of time. Governor Scott Walker is facing a rematch with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. In the previous contest, the gubernatorial race of 2010, Walker won with around 52% of the vote, with Barrett getting around 47%. Nothing much has changed. Recent polls show Walker with anywhere from a four to nine percentage point lead, with the RCP average coming in at 6%. Pretty much on target for a repeat of 2010, it would seem.

Meanwhile, over in Zuccotti Park, things are quiet. Sure, there were attempts to reoccupy it, but the City has clearly had enough, as the OWS movement has cost the City some $17 million in overtime pay. Sporadic protests and gatherings continue elsewhere, but to what end ? People aren't paying attention, by and large. And that's probably because the movement has nothing to point to, no tangible successes in terms of policy that it can claim.

Remember the last couple of months in 2011? The OWS was all over the news. People involved in it thought they were truly the vanguard of a revolution that would sweep through the nation, the world. And earlier in 2011--from February to June--there was protest rally after protest rally in Wisconsin, opposing Walker, opposing the Collective Bargaining Bill, opposing the State Supreme Court's decision, opposing pretty much anything that could be linked to Walker. These things dominated the news, dominated the political punditry for the great majority of the year. They were--the OWS movement and the Wisconsin protests--Big Things. Meaningful Things. Evidence of Something Important.

As the new year arrived, the OWS crowds vowed to continue indefinitely, to force an "American Spring." In Wisconsin, the protesters vowed to get rid of Governor Walker via a recall election. And 2012 began with those promises in the news, with left-leaning pundits certain of their critical importance. There was naked speculation on the import of the OWS movement, how it was like the Tea Party (though of course far superior and more significant). The Wisconsin recall was supposed to upend the status quo, to prove that the people still had the power.

Faith: Barack Obama or George Michael?

Polls still show Obama leading against Romney. And likely, they'll continue to show that right up until Election Day, since Obama still enjoys widely favorable treatment from a great majority of the press. The process of vetting Romney has reached all the way back to 1965. Vetting Obama? We're lucky if the press goes back to 2009, now. With massive economic policy failures and all kinds of slimy deals, involving things from solar panels to vaccines, the Administration has plenty of foibles. But they're roundly ignored, in favor of pieces on Romney's conduct as a teenager.

Still, the President feels put upon, thinks he's getting hammered in the media. Somehow. Peter Wehner describes how--when questioned about the upcoming election--Obama seamlessly makes it appear that's he'll have a difficult time:
In his appearance on ABC’s “The View,” President Obama was asked how tight he thinks the campaign against Mitt Romney will be. To which the president responded, “When your name is Barack Obama, it’s always tight.”
Right. It's always tight. Except when it's not. As Wehner shows, Obama basically cruised to victory over McCain by garnering well over 50% of the popular vote and winning States like Virginia and Indiana that had been in pocket of Republicans--in Presidential Elections--for decades. Obama won his seat in the U.S. Senate with a whopping 70% of the vote. Could things have been any tighter?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why is Obama kissing Dimon's Tail?

On The View (God save me for mentioning this silly show) yesterday, President Obama called Jamie Dimon--CEO of JPMorgan Chase--"one of the smartest bankers we’ve got." Obama calls JPMorgan Chase, itself, "one of the best-managed banks there is."

Yet now, that "best-managed" bank is being investigated by the FBI for a $2 billion "trading" loss, described by Dimon as a hedging error. The person directly responsible for the loss--Ina Drew--has taken an early retirement, after earning bonuses in excess of $15 million in each of the last two years.

These are the Masters of the Universe, the people most often targeted as reaping unjustified rewards for pushing paper, at the expense of everyone else. And now, the Administration and some members of Congress are using this incident to ramp up efforts for reform in the financial industry:
In Washington, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said JPMorgan's losses strengthened the case for reform.

"I think this failure of risk management is just a very powerful case for ... financial reform," Geithner told an event sponsored by the Peterson Foundation. "The test of reform is not whether you can prevent banks from making mistakes ... the test of reform should be: 'Do those mistakes put at risk the broader economy, the financial system or the taxpayer?'"

Larry Summers, Treasury secretary in the last years of the Clinton administration, said JPMorgan's loss strengthened the case for stronger capital requirements at banks.

"I think that whatever one thought about how large a safety buffer was necessary 10 days ago, it seems to me that in light of what has happened one would tend to have a bias towards larger safety buffers, larger capital requirements, larger levels of liquidity," Summers said in an interview for the Freeland File show on Reuters.com.

Congress meanwhile ratcheted up its own response to JPMorgan's trading blunder, which comes as policymakers are finalizing new rules for the bank industry.

"I would suggest that JPMorgan take their business to Las Vegas because it's just a gamble," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat who represents Nevada, told reporters.
Big talk. Yet, Dimon enjoys close relationships with prominent people in the Administration--like Obama and Geithner--having visited the White House some 16 or more times. And he's tight with Obama's Chicago crowd, as well:
Dimon spent several years in Obama’s hometown of Chicago, where he ran Bank One after a nasty breakup with his one-time mentor. He got to know Rahm Emanuel. He hired Bill Daley as a top executive before Daley became Obama’s second chief of staff. He gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to Democrats.
So, are we really supposedly to believe he is about to become the poster-boy for Wall Street reform in the Summer before the 2012 Elections?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Filibuster: a tale of two charts

An article by Ezra Klein at WaPo talks about the filibuster--as used in the United States Senate--and the current effort underway to abolish it's use, via the Supreme Court. The effort is being spearheaded by one Emmet Bondurant--whose bona fides Klein is quick to establish--in the form of a lawsuit he has filed that maintains the practice is unconstitutional.

Bondurant--working with the non-profit org Common Cause--makes a fair case. Here's the lawsuit, as filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. The lawsuit cites the opinions of people like Madison and Hamilton (see pages 28-30 of the lawsuit)--both of whom objected to the idea of a super-majority as a standard feature--and noted quite rightly that super-majorities were ordained by the Constitution in exceptional situations, like Impeachment votes and votes to override Presidential vetoes (see page 26 of the same).

But then the lawsuit cites a graph, essentially this graph:


Quite clearly, the graph show a dramatic increase in Cloture votes--the means of stopping a filibuster--beginning in the 1970's (the most important line is the green one, by the way). The number of such votes has trended up fairly dramatically since then. And this is a critical element of the lawsuit. Bondurant et al are arguing that the threat of filibuster has become so common as to make it impossible for the Senate to function, in a day-to-day basis. Oddly enough, though, the Stimulus Bill and the Obamacare legislation still managed to become the laws of the land. And Sotomayor and Kagan still managed to ascend to the bench on the Supreme Court.

The California "Austerity" Trap

In a previous piece, I discussed the Krugman-esque cliams of pundits--like Eugene Robinson---about so-called austerity measures in Europe. Sarkozy's recent defeat is being attributed to a public backlash against such policies by this crowd, by and large. Robinson says:
On Sunday, French voters elected Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande as president, ousting center-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in what amounted to a referendum on Sarkozy's embrace of austerity.
Clear? Sarkozy "embraced" austerity. And in actual practice, that "embrace" amounted to what, exactly? In my previous piece, I cited evidence that shows--quite clearly--this "embrace" didn't involve a whole lot of real cuts to government spending, as this has continued to increase in France throughout the period of these so-called austerity measures. Michael Tanner at NRO--writing about pretty much the same thing as me--lays out the actual policies implemented in France, the "austerity measures":
In France, for example, the so-called austerity largely consisted of raising taxes. There was a 3 percent surtax on incomes above €500,000, an increase of one percentage point in the top marginal tax rate (from 40 to 41 percent), and an end to the automatic indexation of tax brackets for inheritance, wealth, and income taxes. There was also a 5 percent hike in the corporate income tax on businesses with revenue of more than €250 million, as well as a hike in the capital-gains tax, and closure of several corporate tax breaks. And even though most of these tax hikes were aimed at the wealthy, the middle class did not get off free. There was an increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) and the excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol...

True, there were some entitlement reforms and spending reductions. But they haven’t actually occurred yet. For example, France will raise its retirement age from 60 to 62, but not until 2017! A cap would also be put on government health-care spending, starting next year.
So in France, austerity amounted to tax increases, limits on some spending growth, and future cuts in entitlement spending (which, of course, may or may not actually occur). That's it, there isn't anymore.

In the United States, California is once again in the news because of its budget woes. A projected $9 billion shortfall in the State's budget has mushroomed into a $16 billion shortfall in just a few months and now the Governor and legislators are being forced to actually do something about it. Governor Brown's solution:
"We are now facing a $16 billion hole, not the $9 billion we thought in January," California Gov. Jerry Brown said. "This means we will have to go much further and make cuts far greater than I asked for at the beginning of the year. But we can't fill a hole of this magnitude with cuts alone without doing severe damage to our schools. That's why I'm bypassing the gridlock and asking you, the people of California, to approve a plan that avoids cuts to schools and public safety. The plan asks high income earners to pay up to 3 percent more in their income taxes for seven years. It would increase sales taxes by one-fourth of 1 percent for four years."
Essentially, it's increase some taxes and make some cuts--but no real significant cuts-- since California's budget will remain close to $90 billion, not substantially more or less than in recent years. Now, this plan of Brown's for California sounds an awful lot like what happened in France. And as we know, these were "austerity measures" in the latter.

Monday, May 14, 2012

FedGov: boldly going where we never dreamed it would go

In Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum--husband of former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers (whom I actually miss)--has penned a piece wherein he argues that the Democrats and Republicans have more or less reversed roles:
In recent decades the Republican Party has become something it really has not been since the Civil War: a radical insurgency bent on upending the prevailing practices of the national government seemingly at any cost. For most of its history the Republican Party was something else entirely: a steward of the status quo. It was the Democrats who were historically on the barricades in the fight for radical change. But the Democrats these days have turned into the stewards—beleaguered defenders of the government and country we have evolved into. The two great national parties have, in some fundamental sense, switched roles during the past 50 years. This inversion—the Big Flip—isn’t neat or exact, but it’s a substantial reality and it’s substantially complete.
In making this claim, Purdum reveals--once again--just how much the typical journalist or political pundit is trapped in a bubble, ignorant of reality, and uncompromisingly certain of the "rightness" of their deeply flawed views.

First, the most obvious lie of the piece: Democrats as defenders of the status quo. Is a trillion dollar stimulus bill "status quo"? Is a government takeover of the healthcare sector "status quo"? No, of course not. So what the Democrats--some of them, anyway--are actually defending is their assumed authority to "fix" the nation because of their assumed superiority. Thomas Sowell addressed this issue way back in 1996 with his The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. And what he noted then is just as true now: liberals and progressives believe they are special, believe their insights are special, and believe they can--via government policy--fix all perceived problems, be they great or small.

What has happened across the last several decades is that Republicans have compromised, have gone along with such policy measures in half-steps. The result is a Federal Government that exercises far more control than at any time in the past, far more control than it was ever supposed to have, according to the Constitution and the Framers.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Will yogurt save Greece?

Greek style yogurt is trending in a big way. Everyone is selling it now, from grocery stores to Starbucks to Subway. And what exactly is Greek style yogurt, what differentiates it from everyday, garden variety yogurt (to be honest, "Greek style" always meant something else to me)? Simply put, it's thicker. It's yogurt that has been strained to remove whey (the liquid leftover from curdling milk). And that lowers the fat content, while raising the protein content. Perfect for a health-conscious world, right?

Greek yogurt came to the U.S. market largely because of the Greek company Fage. And the company has done quite well in this market:
According to a 2011 company report, in terms of volume, FAGE’s US sales grew by 69.3 percent compared to the previous year. Between 2008 -- when the firm’s dairy production unit was established in Johnstown, New York -- and 2011, the firm’s investment in the US reached 149.8 million dollars. While FAGE’s initial 25-million-euro investment resulted in an annual production of 6,000 tons in 2008, production had risen to 85,000 tons in 2011. 
According to US food sector analysts, the success of the market’s established players is due to their sharply defined branding. 
Fage--a privately held company right now--is headquartered in Athens and has a total workforce of around 1200 people. I can't help but think this is one of the most desired places to work in all of Greece. Of course, due to the success in the U.S., Fage now has a production plant here. Good for American workers, not so good for Greek ones.

And in Greece proper, things are once again teetering on the brink (a now-common occurence). The recent elections, which saw an initial victory by the well-heeled Antonis Samaras, were more or less a catastrophe. Samaras, unable to form a government, gave up and the runner-up in the election--Alexis Tsipras--was given the same task (with everyone knowing that if he was successful, he would not accept the bailout terms handed down by the EU). He failed, as well.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Obama Enemies List becomes Hit List

Previously, I addressed the Obama campaign's Truth Team website. I noted then that the "Keeping GOP Honest" portion of the site appeared to be compiling something of an "enemies list":
The piece then goes on to list and slime eight people who are major contributors to Romney's campaign. Not politicians, but private individuals with a variety of backgrounds. About one, the bit makes a point of noting that he is a lobbyist for energy and oil companies. Another is an oil company executive. And a third made money from trading oil futures. And these facts about private individuals are supposed to make us shake our heads and go "shame, shame on Romney."
The donors and their motives are also described in this way on the site:
...Wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records. Quite a few have been on the wrong side of the law, others have made profits at the expense of so many Americans, and still others are donating to help ensure Romney puts beneficial policies in place for them.
And if that's not enough, the Truth Team also sent out individual tweets to followers, each with the specific name of one of the donors listed. One of these folks is Frank VanderSloot, CEO of Melaleuca, Inc. The bit on the site accuses VanderSloot--a private individual, remember--of being "litigious, combative, and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement." As evidence, this article from Mother Jones is cited. Scroll to the bottom of the piece--written by Stephanie Mencimer--and note all of the updates and corrections. Not very well researched, was it? But then, as should be clear, it was nothing more than a partisan hit piece from the beginning.

Obama: pro-Hollywood, anti-business

George Clooney held a fund raiser at his home for the President last night. Reportedly, some $15 million was raised for Obama's reelection campaign. Around half came directly from attendees to the $40,000 per person event, while the rest came from an online sweepstakes--yes that's right, a sweepstakes--for the "little people," who were able to enter with the grand prize being an invite to the swanky event.

A good time was had by all, I'm sure. The President and Clooney joked around a bit; they've apparently become good friends. Obama made a short speech for the press, who were then ushered out so the party could continue. No doubt, the recent "evolution" of the President's views on gay marriage made his reception all the more sweet for the Hollywood elite. Though I can't help but wonder how the First Lady felt hanging with Clooney and his current lady friend, the erstwhile Stacy Keibler (you go, George!).

Regardless, the main point here is that Obama is in his element with the Hollywood crowd, with this brand of the filthy rich. And as we know, he's also quite comfortable with the tippy-top crowd in the business world, people like Buffett, Gates, and Soros. But if you think about it, it's not really surprising. Because what do people--who make massive personal fortunes in business--seem to always want to do? Make friends with movie and sports stars, of course, sometimes even buying into these industries. Really, I think it's the inherent narcissism of being a "star" and of having more money than God that draws them all together.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Incentives in France

An article from Bloomberg points to an interesting situation in the French economy:
The country has 2.4 times as many companies with 49 employees as with 50.
That's a significant difference. Why would a company not want to hire an additional person, if it needed the help? Because that's what this stat indicates, that there's some sort of barrier to overcome.

Unsurprisingly, the barrier is the French government and it's labor laws:
What difference does one employee make? Plenty, according to the French labor code. Once a company has at least 50 employees inside France, management must create three worker councils, introduce profit sharing, and submit restructuring plans to the councils if the company decides to fire workers for economic reasons.
Thus, the incentives created by the labor code actually serve to restrict hiring, to put an artificial limit on the size of companies, in terms of number of employees. To overcome this obstacle to growth, many business owners in France spin off new companies, rather than simply growing the size of their primary company. When growth cannot be spun off--like when it's all a matter of increasing production--companies will often simply establish new plants outside of France, thus avoiding the 50 employee threshold, which applies only to employees within France, proper.

The issue of eliminating workers--for companies with 50 or more employees--becomes especially tricky. The code mandates that workers' councils can go to court--which they often do--to prevent any kind of downsizing. An example from the article:
Software maker Viveo Group, an arm of Geneva-based Temenos Group, began the required talks with the workers’ council in February 2010 because it wanted to cut about a third of its 180-member staff, according to court records. Viveo offered employees a voluntary departure plan in June of that year as the council dragged its feet on evaluating the earlier proposal, court records show. The workers’ council then went to court to block the cuts. It won a ruling against the original plan in January 2011 on the grounds that Viveo was forecasting an 18 percent increase in sales, meaning its future didn’t depend on the layoffs. France’s highest appeals court is reviewing the decision and is expected to rule on May 3...If the decision is upheld, Viveo will have to take back the workers and hand over two and a half years in back pay, she says.
I can't help but think it's often more practical--for a company that wants to cut back it's labor force--to simply go bankrupt and start over again from scratch.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Ponds of Happenstance

People often ask me where the name for my blog--The Ponds of Happenstance--comes from and why I favor the Linus character from Peanuts.

Well, that's not exactly true. They don't often ask me these things. Actually, I don't think anyone has ever asked me either question. But I'm going to explain it all anyway, just for kicks.

The Ponds of Happenstance is a reworking of a book title: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, book two of the Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock. People who happen to follow me on Twitter may have noticed my byline there, Sailor on the Ponds of Happenstance.

The main character of this fantasy saga--Elric of Melniboné--is not exactly human. He's Melnibonéan, in fact, an ancient race slowly dying out in mankind's distant past. What is left of them live on the Isle of Melniboné. Elric is the last king of his people. But he's also--unlike others of his race--physically frail and weak, an albino by birth, though still a powerful sorcerer. He comes to wield an accursed but powerful weapon--Stormbringer--that is really an evil demon in the form of a sword.

Throughout the saga, Moorcock returns to again and again to a major theme: that of the Eternal Champion. The basic idea is that there are many universes existing simultaneously--Moorcock calls this the "Multiverse"--and in all of them there is a struggle between two diametrically opposed forces: Law and Chaos. While it would seem to be a struggle between good and evil, this is not strictly true. The role of the Eternal Champion is to maintain the Cosmic Balance, thus sometimes serving Law, sometimes serving Chaos (and the Champion is not always certain of his role).

Lugar falls...and there is much rejoicing

Yesterday, Indiana held it's GOP primary election for the Senate. As expected, incumbent Richard Lugar was crushed by Richard Mourdock, current state treasurer and tea party favorite, with the latter on pace to win with some 60% of the vote.

I don't really have anything against Lugar and am not all that familiar with Mourdock, but I'm thrilled to death with the results. Even if Mourdock goes on to lose the actual election, I'll still be happy. Because it's time to clean house in Washington. Really, it's past time to do it.

Lugar has been a Senator for over two decades, twenty-five years to be precise. He's served six terms in the Senate. Prior to that, he was mayor of Indianapolis, a position he assumed at the age of thirty-five and held for eight years. That's his career; he's a professional politician.

As such, he's spent the last twenty-five years accruing power, not unlike former Senators Ted Kennedy, Strom Thurmond, and Robert Byrd. Forget party affiliation for the moment. Senators like these ones see the offices they hold as theirs, in a personal sense. Even now, Lugar is lashing out against Mourdock, not the least bit conciliatory in defeat. Screw him, I say.

There's no doubt Lugar is a smart guy and a capable politician, but let's remember something: there are lots of smart people out there, lots of capable people. Is Mourdock? It doesn't really matter. We'll find out. If the Indiana voters think he is capable enough, he'll win. If not, he'll lose. And that's the way it goes.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Who is writing the "austerity" script?

Another day, another moronic article on the dangers of "austerity" economics. Today, playing the role of clueless Krugman sycophant, we have Eugene Robinson with his latest article in the Washington Post. Sporting the clever title of "Austerity Bridge to Nowhere," Robinson repeats the now-close-to-mind-numbingly-boring refrain about fiscal responsibility being austerity and increased government spending being the only sure fire road to economic prosperity.

Don't expect any evidence for the latter claim. None is needed; it's "true" because it has now been repeated a sufficient number of times by people in the media, in academia, and in positions of authority. I think the number needed in that regard is around 5, 425, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, Robinson does give lip service to the existence of opposing views:
It should be noted that there are some economists who disagree. They argue that draconian cuts in government spending will somehow awaken the animal spirits of private-sector executives, entrepreneurs and financiers. They further argue that austerity is needed to combat the scourge of inflation, although the best term to describe inflation in today’s economy is “imaginary.”
Notice how any and all suggestions with regard to controlling runaway government spending are automatically termed "draconian cuts" by people like Robinson. The term "draconian," by the way, derives from Draco. No, not Draco Malfoy. Draco was an Athenian, living in the 7th century BCE, who was tasked with compiling the first written law code of Athens. By all accounts--the actual code is no longer extant--the punishments established by this code were harsh. Thus, "draconian" came to refer to overly harsh laws.

The term has since been appropriated to refer to anything one might deem harsh or severe; using "draconian" instead of harsh, however, invokes the sense of punishment. Thus, the reason for its now-common usage among the enlightened ones: spending cuts are equated with punishment. Who is being punished? Why the common folk, of course.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What's in a word? Manners, obligations, and cultural decay

There's a particular Robert Heinlein quote that I've always been a fan of, always thought noted something significant. It's from his novel Friday and I've talked about it before:
But a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.
The novel itself involves an "artificial person"--named Friday, of a female sort, and quite sexy--who moves through a future society in her role as a military courier. It has a fair amount of Blade Runner in it--what it means to be human and such--but mostly is social commentary disguised as a novel. Friday observes what is happening in and to her society, various societies really, as do other characters in the book. And those observations seem to translate directly--generalized as they are--to our current reality. Of course, built in to all of this are Heinlein's only biases, own opinions, and he's not infallible.

Still, the above quote always struck me as just so right, that I could never imagine questioning it's truth and accuracy. And yet, that is exactly what I now find myself doing, thanks to David Graeber's latest book--Debt: The First 5,000 Years--even though I'm barely a third of the way through the volume.

Graeber is an anthropologist by trade and an anarchist by ideology, but that's no reason to ignore his book. Trust me. As one can easily glean from the title, the book is sort of a history of debt, as a concept and social institution. And in exploring that history, one of the things Graeber touches on is manners, in the form of saying things like "please" and "thank you."

Most people in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Oceania--the "West"--will likely say that using such phraseology is simple common courtesy or politeness, that it's a simple matter of showing some respect for others, even those who are strangers. And it's on this assumption that Heinlein's quote is founded.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Obama 2012: Growing the dependent class

Over at Zerohedge, Tyler Durden provides a couple of graphs that tell us all we really need to know about the economy and where the current administration is taking it. The first one shows the labor force participation rate--meaning the number of people with jobs or seeking jobs--from 1980 to the present:

(courtesy of Zerohedge.com)

The second graph--which I'll not reproduce here--shows the growth of the number of people not in the labor force from December, 2007 to January of 2012. Numerically, that would be a growth from a little over 79 million at the end of 2007 to over 88 million at present, an increase of around 11%. In contrast, the total population of the U.S. increased by around 3% for the same period.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Presidential President would be a nice change of pace

William Jefferson Clinton has a great name for a President. In my view, it evokes a sense of the past and of dignity. It just sounds Presidential. Much better than George Walker Bush, James Earl Carter, or even Ronald Wilson Reagan. That said, Bill Clinton--as President--had some decidedly un-Presidential moments. From the bald-faced lying to the American public, to the revelations about his trysts with an intern, to his wife's blatherings about a "vast right wing conspiracy."

In contrast, I look at Reagan and Carter and see men who--regardless of how one sees their actual performance in office--carried themselves with the dignity the office demands, the dignity we should expect from out Chief Executive. I think George W. Bush behaved admirably in this regard as well, though I know there is a large segment of the population who rejoices in labeling him a fool, in mocking his conduct. Still, I think people would be hard-pressed to point out specific instances where Bush acted less-than-Presidentially.

The one instance that they might glom on to is the "mission accomplished" photo-op, I guess. Remember that one? Bush landing on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit? But then planned photo ops aren't all that unusual. For instance, there was Clinton's walk on the beaches of Normandy (Omaha Beach, to be precise), wherein he built a make-shift shrine with some stones, stones that had been planted there for him to use. More recently, we have President Obama's situation room shot during the course of Operation Neptune Spear (when Bin Laden was killed by Seal Team Six). It looks set up, in my opinion, like Obama came rushing in from the golf course just in time for the last moments of the op. But maybe that's the cynic in me.

Still, such things are perfectly understandable and reasonable, in my opinion. Going back into history, past Presidents here and leaders elsewhere would commission paintings and sculptures of themselves, often in less-than-realistic situations and poses. It goes with the territory; it's the pomp and circumstance needed for the dignity of the office or for the state.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Everybody wants to be an Injun

Remember Ward Churchill, the pseudo-scholar that penned the essay "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens," wherein he claimed that the 9-11 attacks were a predictable and justified response to U.S. policies and he called the people working in the World Trade Centers "little Eichmanns"?

Churchill was a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado (eventually he lost the position for various reasons of misconduct, including plagiarism) and has written many books on the Native American experience, usually through the prism of genocide. To that end, Churchill cutlivated an image of himself, that of a rebel, marxist, and--yes--a Native American. In 2003, Churchill proclaimed "I am myself of Muscogee and Creek descent on my father's side, Cherokee on my mother's, and am an enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians." As it turned out, he was only an honorary member of that Cherokee band. But he still insisted he was between 1/16 and 3/16 Cherokee.