Thursday, December 27, 2012

Helpless, helpless

The United States has, by far, the largest military establishment in the world.  Our expenditures are roughly equal to the next fourteen world powers combined.  China and Russia, together, spend only 30% of what we spend.

That level of expenditure might be justified if our military actually accomplished anything, but it really hasn't been good for much lately.  Some may argue that "lately" goes back half a century or so, but let's start by looking a lot more "lately" than that.

Not even factoring in all the lost lives, and the contributions they might have made to our society, Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to add up to $4 trillion — when you add in the costs of caring for the injured and disabled, and the interest on the debt we accrued to fight in those countries.  Hell, we're still paying the social and psychological costs of Vietnam — and we lost that one too.

Yes, that's what I said.  We lost.

Iraq's Shi'a government — thoroughly corrupt, aggressively purging Sunnis, hostile towards the Kurds, and not even remotely recognizable as democratic — looks like a good bet to become Iran's closest ally.  Afghanistan, as any student of history might have predicted, will return to it's natural condition of tribal-warlord-dominated-failed-state-locked-in-perpetual-civil-war.  Nobody even can guess what will transpire in Pakistan, but it doesn't look too hopeful for the USofA.  Great job, America!

Then there's Syria — not to mention Libya, Egypt, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and an host of other severely challenged not-quite-states — places where even the most ambitious American generals fear to tread.  And, no, we can't get away with invading Venezuela or Bolivia or Peru, and our military is useless against provocations by Russia or China (despite our commitments to Japan, Georgia, and the Philippines.)  What good is a huge, bloated military if you can't even use it?

(Okay, Clinton managed to get the Balkans back to where they were, more or less, before World War I — but, as you may recall, that "balkanized" region was where World War I started.  All Obama does is launch drone attacks, which is kind of like using laser beams against the flies buzzing around those starving babies' eyes.)

Does global capitalism need a powerful army to protect its interests around the world?  It seems to think it does — but why in hell should you and I pay for it?  Let global capitalism hire Eric Prince and whatever he's calling Blackwater these days — and pay for the protection, extortion, and intimidation without putting it's grasping tentacles in our pockets.


Oh — and, yeah...  Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Only Thing...

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun," we are told, "is a good guy with a gun."

Okay.  I've watched all the cowboy movies, so I know the story line, but I'm unsure.  Does a "good guy" with a Glock necessarily stop a "bad guy" with a Bushmaster?  Does a bored-out-of-his-mind, fifty pounds overweight retired cop stop a twenty-something psycho who knows the old fat man is kind of snoozing around the main entrance to the school building?  Give me a break!

It sure as hell won't work in any secondary school, where the numerous "safety" doors are popped open by the resident youth for the sake of a smoke or a toke, and then propped open to accommodate the next "bell."  Granted, the doors won't all be open at the elementary school, but, on a warm day, most of the windows will.  Air conditioning is too goddamned expensive for your ordinary school budget.

Give the principal her own semi-automatic, to stop the carnage "earlier?"  All the principals I ever worked for would have been pretty useless.  Mine all were kind of "manly" men (and one manly woman), but they still would have shit their pants before getting into a fucking firefight.  Okay, one or two would have tried the firefight even with the shit in their pants, but they still would have been useless.

I don't pretend to know the answer to gun violence in the USofA.  There are a shitload of guns out there already, and I suppose the Connecticut slaughter is inspiring more sales of AR15s, just in case  President Blackie Socialist tries to take away our Constitutional Right to buy them.

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a fucking lunatic with an explosive vest.  Try to ignore the collateral damage.

If American gun manufacturers also produced cordite, you could be pretty sure the NRA would lobby for the Constitutional right to wear a suicide vest to your local mall, church, or youth group meeting. I mean, that's the meaning of the Second Amendment.  Isn't it?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Over the Cliff!!!

Butch and Sundance did it.  Thelma and Louise did it.  Results were mixed.

As for the fiscal cliff, it is pretty obvious that John Boehner cannot control his caucus.  Maybe, come January, the crazies will elect Paul Ryan to the office of Speaker.  You never know with those assholes.

I just listened to Obama's brief statement. He didn't say much — certainly nothing especially specific.  I was kind of hoping he would withdraw his most recent offer ($250,000 to $400,000, "chained CPI"), but he didn't.  He just expressed a little half-hearted optimism and left the room.

I suspect the Administration calculates that going over the cliff might turn out to be a net gain.  Now that Boehner's "Plan B" is dead, the last chance for Republicans dodging responsibility is gone.  Once the leap is undertaken, and tax increases and sequestration kick in, the right-wing ideologues scarcely could oppose tax cuts for the middle class because they are not extended to the very rich.

As for the sequestration, those spending cuts will kick in slowly, probably not doing a great deal of damage while Congress works to balance the demands of the defense lobby and the remainder of the human race.  I fear defense will make out better than humanity, but what the hell?  What would you expect?

Will the markets take a dive?  Uh huh.  Briefly.  As I've observed before, the markets have very little to do with real life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Case for (and against) Chained Inflation

Obama is compromising again, and among his latest offers is acceptance of computation of inflation using the "chained" consumer price index.  In truth, the "chained" computation makes a lot of sense, because it accounts for something we all (ought to have) learned in basic economics — the substitution effect.  If the brand name product's price goes up, we buy the store brand.  If beef gets too expensive, we buy pork.  Chained computation of inflation really does reflect the actual cost of living — for most people.  The cost of inflation really does have less impact — on most people — than the current computation of CPI indicates.

For the elderly, though, chained computation does not work.  People getting by on Social Security payments already are substituting the pork (or the cat food) for the beef, and some of their largest expenses are not part of the CPI "market basket" — health care costs.

Most of the people who re-elected Obama (including the elderly) do not have a clue what the new measure of inflation means, which probably is why Obama put it on the table.  Maybe Our President will look more liberal in his second term, but he's still the guy whose economic team's godfather is Robert Rubin.

Who will Obama select to replace Timmy Geithner?  (I think we can assume it won't be Joseph Stiglitz.)

As for Timmy, he has not yet been CEO of Citi, but there still is plenty of time.  Wall Street ├╝ber alles.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

An Afterthought: Note to Suicidal Killers


Dear Shootists:

I've been kind of wondering, lately, why none of you ever has shot up a gun show.  Shooting up a gun show has several distinct advantages:
  1. You don't even have to bring your own guns!  Loaded guns and plenty of ammo will be readily available, so you can save yourself the time and expense of stocking up.
  2. You don't have to bother killing yourself, because somebody else is sure to do it.  It's even better than "death by cop."
  3. The death toll will be far greater than anything you could accomplish by yourself.  When the "self-defenders" see other people shooting at you, they'll start shooting at them, creating a righteous right-wing daisy chain of murderous intent and consequences.  You could leave hundreds of bodies behind.  Wow!
If you happen to survive, please don't tell the cops it was my idea.  This is just free speech, y'know?  Surely, the first amendment counts for as much as the second.  If you happen to be on Twitter, please tweet these observations (not recommendations) to other crazies, and if the general public gets the message too, that's fine.

Once again, America, fuck the NRA!

Thank you, fucking NRA

The NRA probably will say that if those tiny dead children only had been armed with semi-automatic weapons, they would have wiped out the shooter before twenty of them were dead.

The children are dead.  The shooter is dead.  The NRA is alive.

Yes, the shooter was nuts.  A lot of people are nuts these days.  Why do so many of those fucking nuts have legal access to combat weapons?

(Answer: the second amendment, according to the NRA.  Hey, how are you supposed to overcome a socialist Muslim president without your fucking guns?  Before you know it, those commies will want our fucking pricks, and then what are we supposed to stroke if they take our fucking guns away?)

........

Yes, I'm angry... and I'm very sad.  Just like you, very, very sad.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bibi Burlusconi?

Lately, I've been noticing some strong similarities between Silvio Burlusconi and Bibi Netanyahu, similarities that go well beyond having egos inflated well beyond Hindenburg size.

Both, of course, pretend to be populists —  but both, more likely, are just playing to the base.  (Oh, and how base the base tends to be.)  Berlusconi, who just could not stay out of politics, is pretending to be outraged by Mario Monti's austerity programs.  It's just bullshit, of course.  No matter how austere the Italian economy becomes, Berlusconi will continue to have all the underage girls he desires, and staying in the Italian parliament will keep him immune from all those criminal charges.

(Personally, I think all the European austerity measures are idiotic, but for real reasons — not Berlusconi's.  If they just would kick the Germans out of the Eurozone, they could devalue the Euro and escape the biggest problems.  Nobody would be hurt but the banks — and fuck them.)

On to Netanyahu, another alleged "populist."  He's been playing the "existential threat" angle for so long, he might believe it, but I doubt that too.  He is entirely aware that any American president — even one whose middle name is Hussein — will pull Israel's nuts out of the fire in the event of any real threat.  Most important to him is holding together his governing coalition of right wing extremists and religious bigots.

Also, both leaders benefit by the inability of their respective countries' leftists to get their acts together.  Needless to say, though, there's a lot of that going around.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Housing Deductions

Yes, I take the deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes.  Just the same, I think we all can live without either of them, and probably should — in time.

Most important, they're not fair.   Renters pay their landlords'  mortgage interest and property taxes, but the landlords get the tax advantages.  Those who can afford the biggest, most expensive homes get the greatest benefit, and those who can afford multiple homes get even more.  Change has to happen — but given the popularity of of the mortgage and property tax deductions, the big question is how to get those particular loopholes closed.

As Lord Robert Baden-Powell, homosexual hero of the Siege of Mafeking in the Boer War and founder of the Boy Scouts is reputed to have said, "Softly, softly, catchee monkey."  (Damn, those Brit colonialists were so attuned to those they conquered and oppressed.  Nevertheless...)

"Softly, softly" means not all at once.   That makes a lot of sense.  People (with encouragement from their realtors) factor in tax savings when they buy.  Realtors are able to convince them they can afford houses far larger and fancier than they really ought to be considering.  Granted, if they lost their mortgage interest deductions all at once, there would be a hell of a lot more foreclosures.

The obvious answer is to cap the mortgage interest deduction — so only mortgagees of relatively expensive houses would be screwed.  After that, we could drop the cap, year by year.  After ten or fifteen years, the deduction would be gone.  Housing prices would fall, gradually, and families would stop buying more house than they really could afford.  Since mortgage interest is front-loaded, current homeowners should feel little financial impact year to year.  New buyers should be able to predict how the phase-out of the deduction would impact them, and let that help guide their home buying decisions.

The property tax deduction could be phased out in much the same way, only faster.  The greatest impact would be in wealthier, higher-tax areas — and the change might create political pressure for the states to take on more of the burden of funding education, which might create greater equity among school districts.

By the way, I believe the phase-out of any and all deductions should be accompanied by higher tax rates, because when government takes money out of people's pockets, it has an obligation to put some back by providing better services and benefits — but for all, not just for some.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Charitable deductions

Now that there's serious talk of capping deductions from both sides of the aisle, all sorts of interest groups are up in arms trying to carve out exceptions.  I'm not privy to which K Street firms are collecting the largest fees from whom, but I hear an awful lot of noise about the impact on charities.

Donations to organizations that are ideological in nature are not tax deductible — except when they are.  I am not allowed to deduct my contributions to the ACLU, for example, because defending First Amendment rights is, presumably, "political."  Okay, I can live with that.  We ACLU members cannot deduct our contributions, but guess what?  We keep on giving.

One third of all deductible contributions in the United States go to religious organizations.  I imagine some portion of those contributions goes towards feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and such like.  I know that a substantial part goes to proselytizing and missionary work, and I can't see how converting a sucker from one set of cockamamie beliefs to another is any sort of public good.  Tax deductible contributions also are used for agitating on political issues like abortion, contraception, gay marriage, suppression of competing religious practices, etc.

Will members stop donating to their religious organizations if their contributions no longer are tax deductible?  I doubt it — not if they want that afterlife they've been promised.

Then there are the religiously and ethnically affiliated "social welfare" organizations, many of which operate commercial enterprises like bars, bowling alleys, and catering halls.  Paying your tax deductable dues to those gets you cut-rate booze, a convenient place for your Thursday night poker game, and a less expensive venue for your daughter's wedding.  Similar non-sectarian groups provide many of the same benefits, but serve primarily to provide ocassions where local businessmen can hobnob and arrange business transactions.  Yes, such groups do involve themselves in charitable work, but nobody joins for the tax advantage.

People who donate to medical charities usually are motivated by having known someone who suffered with the illness to which the charity is dedicated, not by a tax deduction.  Also, I'm pretty sure rich people will continue to pay to see their names featured on bronze plaques in the lobby of the ballet or outside the hospital emergency room, not to mention engraved on the lintels of university buildings.

Frankly, I don't think capping (or even eliminating) the deduction for charitable contributions would have much impact at all — but if charities having a little less to spend means I'll stop getting all those useless address labels, it's okay with me.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Morsi and the media

Mohammed Morsi is in a difficult situation right now, but no more so than the American media.  Okay, it is tempting just to go along with Mohammed el Baradei, traditional "friend of the West," and accuse Morsi of aspiring to be a new "Pharaoh," but it's a lot more complicated.  What we have to remember is that the Egyptian revolution against Mubarak is far from complete, and the American media still is trying to figure out which side "we're" on.

Yes, Morsi's assumption of pretty much autocratic powers is kind of out of synch with American values, but I think we still must take into account that the real struggle in Egypt is between Morsi and the Mubarak judiciary, still hanging on with firmly clenched teeth as a surrogate for the Egyptian Army.  That judiciary, in case you forgot, was the power center that dissolved the popularly elected parliament and the first assembly charged with re-writing Egypt's Constitution.  In recent days, it has been moving towards dissolving the current constitutional assembly as well.  That judiciary wants nothing better than an opportunity to put the army back in charge of everything.

Oh, pathetic American media, forced to choose!  You can slant your coverage towards the Mubarak judiciary, which would be easier because it's not "Islamist," or you can slant your coverage towards Morsi because, at least, he was popularly elected — and the favoritism shown by the courts to the Mubarak thugs was hard to miss.

 In the long run, though, Egypt will have to work things out for itself.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Short subjects for November

Allen West, America's favorite Tea Party Negro, finally admitted he lost his bid for a second term in the House.  On the other hand, he has not yet admitted to being a moron, despite his loss to newcomer Patrick Murphy after outspending the former Republican by four to one.  Does Murphy count as a Democratic gain in the House?  Well, he's not nearly as liberal as Nixon, but then neither is Obama.

Israel is losing the media war, having killed a shitload of Gazan children while losing none of its own.  Killing children never is good PR — something to which Our President should pay attention as his drone strikes kill children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and wherever else the CIA has been transformed into a paramilitary organization.  Just because drone strikes don't put American soldiers in peril doesn't mean they don't put America in peril.  After every strike, more people hate our guts.

The fiscal cliff, it seems, is not a cliff — it is more of a bluff.  Wall Street, apparently, has received word that nothing it will mind too much is likely to happen.  Walmart and some other megacompanies have moved up their dividend payments to late December instead of early January, so it looks like taxes on dividends really will go up.  All the stock sales that depressed the market earlier last week might mean the capital gains rate might go back up to 20%, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Timmy Geithner soon will be leaving Treasury, and far less than a few moments too soon — but who will replace him?  If Obama nominates Erskine Bowles, Obama will be further down my shit list than ever before.  How about Sheila Bair?  Hell, she's a Republican, and a hell of a lot more reasonable and intelligent than most of the Obama coterie.  Let's validate responsible Republicans.

Thanksgiving always has been my favorite holiday.  I'm looking forward to mine.  May yours be joyous.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Petraeus Fiasco

Hey! Remember when MoveOn.org drew so much flak for calling General Petreaus "General Betray-us?"  Well, guess what?  They got that one right.

I rapidly departed MoveOn when they moved from Kucinich (our favorite) to Obama without even consulting the  so-called membership.  I was of the opinion that either Edwards or Clinton would have been a better choice, and I still think I was right.  Nevertheless, MoveOn was dead right about Petraeus.

Personally, I don't care who he was screwing, then or now — albeit, I understand that Obama felt obliged to offer his tender virgin hole to the Great General by approving the"surge" because he thought that he had to; and Obama gave Petraeus the CIA post last year because it was the only way to get him out of the Army, where he worked against the president (approximately) 96.7% of the time, and kept us in Afghanistan years longer than made any sense.

I'm very glad the scrawny but "fit" little shit is getting what he deserves, and I hope his chubby wife, despite her lack of "toned" arms and fetching(?) armpits, gets his entire military pension when she divorces him.  Also, I hope that the multinational that hires him goes broke.  (Yes, I'm a little vindictive, but we're talking about thousands of dead American soldiers here.)

Anyway, Maureen Dowd got it totally right today in her Times column, the first analysis of the "scandal" that makes any sense at all.  Read it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Totally nutzzz

I was just watching the news about the craziness surrounding the Petraeus debacle, and it keeps getting more and more crazy.  I cannot pretend to understand what in hell is going on, except for the undenyable fact that men who exercise power have a hard time keeping their dicks in their pants.  Is that why Mitt Romney lost?  Not enough testosterone?

Anyway,  this morning's Times confirmed that I'm not the only one thinking that Mitt Romney's idea for a cap on deductions and credits, as mentioned in my previous post, is not such a bad idea.  Needless to say, the cap being considered is more than twice what I (and Romney, at least once) had in mind — $35,000.

So who's against it?  Well, according to the Times, universities and other major recipients of charitable contributions.  Needless to say, they want exemptions, and they'll probably get them — and that makes the whole idea useless.  The biggest beneficiaries, I'd guess, would be religious organizations — the Catholics, the Baptists, the Mormons, the Jews, the Muslims, the Scientologists, and all the other well intentioned scam artists currently enjoying tax favoritism — oh! and let's not forget 501(c)(3) organizations like Crossroads GPS.

Anyway, I guess we'll all just be distracted for a while by the escapades of generals and their lady friends.  Obama met with union and progressive leaders today.  Are they happy?  I doubt it.  Tomorrow he meets with corporate big shots.  Will they be happy?

I sure as hell hope not.

The View from the Fiscal Cliff

Yes, the "fiscal cliff" is a metaphor, but metaphors, to one extent or another, represent somebody's impression of reality.  The somebodies in question, this time around, are the Fed and the Congressional Budget Office, so their metaphor deserves a hard look.  The CBO estimates that "going over the cliff" will result in close to a 2 per cent drop in GDP — and hence a pretty substantial drop back into recession, sending unemployment back up to 9 per cent, and putting most of the long term unemployed kind of permanently out-of-luck.

Boehner is scared.  Obama is scared.  Sadly, a great many of those assholes elected to the House by undereducated rednecks are not scared at all, so it behooves us to take a look over the cliff and see what might be at the bottom.

Three factors come together at the end of the year: the end of the "Bush" tax cuts, the end of the Obama payroll tax cuts, and the dreaded "sequestration," which would cut large chunks out of the military budget and the non-"entitlement" civilian budget.  Let's have a look.

The payroll tax cuts are pure stimulus, intended to promote consumer spending, and generally expected to lapse this time around.  They are most beneficial to the working class, which is good enough reason to expect they will be the first tax cuts to go.  (Nobody seems to be talking about eliminating the cap on FICA, which would make Social Security viable for at least another generation, and probably forever.)

Sequestration takes a cleaver to places where scissors and scalpels are more appropriate, although both military and non-military budgets could stand a good look.  Anyway, it won't happen.  The whole idea of sequestration was to make things too uncomfortable for both Democrats and Republicans to let it happen.  They won't.

On to the Bush tax cuts: current talk involves increasing revenues rather than rates.  The Democrats still are making noises about raising taxes on the rich, which seems to be perfectly acceptable to the majority of Americans, who are not rich.  Personally, I like Romney's idea of putting a limit on deductions and credits, and I think his $17,000 suggestion might be in the right neighborhood.

Too big a MacMansion?  Tough.  If you live in a smaller house, you can deduct all the mortgage interest.  Too many kids?  Tough.  Try a little birth control — and, if contraception violates your religious beliefs, there's always abstinence.  Granted, limited charitable deductions may be a little tough on certain ballet companies and museums, but it wouldn't inhibit my regular contributions to Doctors Without Borders (deductible), ACLU (non-deductible), public TV and radio (deductible), or the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (definitely not deductible.)

It is starting to sound like Obama might resist wimping out this time around — which is to say, he might be willing to let all the Bush tax cuts expire if the Tea Party assholes push him against the wall.  Let's hope his balls have re-descended now that he doesn't have to worry about re-election.

(Let's also hope that Timmy Geithner's replacement never met Robert Rubin.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Oh, bloody hell

It seems that war "hero" and current CIA director David Petraeus has been doing some extramarital screwing around.  So what?  His wife probably is a lovely woman, but she has all the physical appeal of the Pillsbury doughboy.  Yes, I'm a little curious to learn a bit about the "biographer" he's been shagging, but, what the hell?  Our curiosity need not be satisfied, and seeing Petraeus gone, all by itself, is just fine with me.

Also gone, it seems, will be Hillary Clinton, who has been doing a very competent job, and Timmy Geithner, who has been pretty much a disaster.  I want to see the ass ends of the entire Robert Rubin team swirling around the toilet on their ways towards sewerland.  Granted, I don't expect to see Robert Reich appointed to Treasury, much less Joseph Stigletz, albeit I'm pretty sure neither of them is illicitly banging any biographers and/or pole dancers.

So, as we approach the alleged fiscal cliff, we just must hold our breaths.  Boehner is making noises like he's hanging tough; the Tea Party types re-elected to the House have no political reasons to change position given the genetic deficiencies of their supporters; and Obama long has appeared far too amenable to bargaining away the safety net for the sake of Wall Street.  All our hopes must be placed in the hope that the president might have a backbone somewhere within his slippery political exoskeleton, and a couple of genuine "community organizer" inclinations.

Oh, bloody hell.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Day After

Jill Stein will not be our president any time soon, but I'm still more than a little pleased this morning.  Obamacare will survive.  Flawed as it is, it's better than nothing, and if a few states decide to offer public options it may grow into something much better.

Elizabeth Warren defeated Scott Brown in Massachusetts, so in January ordinary people will have a real voice in the Senate, and I will have a crush on a sitting Senator.  Bernie Sanders blew away the competition, despite major expenditure of PAC money against him.

Speaking of PAC money, I'm especially pleased that Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, Linda McMahon, and all the mysterious rich people who are behind Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS threw away hundreds of millions of dollars to accomplish virtually nothing.  Things remain pretty much as they were, most likely including political gridlock.  Crossroads GPS couldn't even manage to oust my local Congressman in a tightly contested race, despite a spate of truly hideous attack ads.

Will we go over the fiscal cliff?  I guess we have to wait and see.  I'm pretty sure, though, that Obama will be somewhat less inclined to "compromise" than he may have been in his first term — and since the lame duck Congress will not be much different from the incoming Congress, we may get an early deal.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

In Memory of Elliot Carter

Elliot Carter was my introduction to modern music.  His Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello & Harpsichord and Sonata for Cello and Piano may have been the first modern works I purchased – on LP, of course, cover illustration attached — albeit my first purchase may have been Peter Maxwell Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King.  Who remembers, when it's that long ago?

Elliot Carter died a very old man, and was productive right up to the end of his life.  May any of us so productive last so long.  Okay, not many of us are anywhere near so productive, and we probably ought to die a hell of a lot sooner.

In case you were wondering, I got into the booth today and voted for Jill Stein.  Ideology outweighed unwarranted guilt, and if Obama loses my very safe state, he indisputably deserves it, Sandy notwithstanding.  I'm pretty sure, though, he didn't.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Undecided?

As regular readers know, I am not a great admirer of President Obama.  Living in a "safe" Democratic state, I was feeling entirely comfortable about voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein for president.  After all, I'm pretty much in total agreement with the Green platform.  So, why not?

Then, I turned on the TV tonight, and I saw Romney grinning his grin and rolling his eyes and tilting his head and turning my stomach.  I saw ads from Restore Our Future and Crossroads GPS, and it occurred to me that while I'm not a great admirer of Obama, I still like him a hell of a lot better than Mitt.  If I vote for Jill Stein, I'm wondering, am I equating Obama and Romney?  That certainly is not my intention.

Hey, how about that?  I'm an undecided voter!  Honestly, I didn't think we existed!

Unlike a lot of so-called undecided voters, though, I'll go to the polls tomorrow.  While my vote for president essentially doesn't matter, I've got a Congressman in a hardscrabble fight to keep his seat, and an absurdly corrupt state legislature where my selections just might make a difference.  (Okay, that's extremely unlikely.  Whoever I vote for probably will be just as corrupt as his opponent, and all the rest of them.)

Tomorrow, I think I'll just leave the TV turned off — except, maybe, for John Stewart and Stephan Colbert.  Whoever wins, I reckon I'll need a laugh.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Romney Responds to Sandy


Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Here is Mitt Romney, "responding" to Superstorm Sandy.  What fun!  Yes, this is the "free market," privatized version of FEMA.  Just in case you are thinking it was a nice "gesture," bear in mind that Romney's small pyramid of chicken noodle soup from Ohio won't make it to the Northeast for weeks — if ever.

(That teen on the right looks so excited!  What happened next?  Was she reaching out to squeeze the candidate's Charmin?  And the distraught looking women in the background — were they agonizing over whether anybody in the Greater New York area actually would consume Spam or canned vegetables?  Well, ladies, maybe it would be better to send it to a red state.)

(But what about Christie???!!!)

Far be it from me to have any certainty of what might be passing through the thoughts of New Jersey's larger-than-life Republican governor, but...  I can guess.  Hence, what follows is just a guess, not a prediction.  (I don't do predictions anymore.)

I'm guessing that Christie is figuring that Romney will lose.  I'm guessing that Christie is figuring that there will be no strong Democratic candidate in 2016.  I'm guessing that Christie is figuring there will be no strong Republican candidate in 2016 -- except, maybe, Christie...

Bipartisan?  Bullshit.  Will it be Cuomo v. Christie?  Christ, will it be two Northeastern governors snarking around against each other?  Unlikely.

Just keep the soup coming, Cletus and Annalee.  Wall Street can't run on generator power forever.  It needs chicken noodle.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mourdock Misunderstood

Richard Mourdock, Senate candidate in Indiana, has been getting a bum rap.  In asserting that victims of rape who become pregnant should not be eligible for abortion, he was offering a genuine profession of his religious faith.  Here in America we're supposed to appreciate expressions of religious faith by candidates for office.

God, as Mourdock knows well, is omniscient and omnipotent.  Omniscient, God obviously knows in advance when some sicko is preparing to rape an unsuspecting woman.  If the rape goes off as planned, it is clear that the omnipotent God was cool with it.

Granted, some Christians believe in free will (albeit not necessarily with respect to women freely exercising reproductive choices.)  As for Mourdock, if he loses the election, I'm sure he will humbly accept his loss as God's will.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Recent Events

Yes, I watched the final presidential debate, albeit I had to watch a good deal of it on the C-SPAN replay because I fell asleep on the live broadcast.  Maybe it was because I had tuned to CNN, and my attention kept shifting to that line graph showing how a group of "undecided" Florida voters, separated by gender, were responding to what the candidates had to say.  Watching that graph was, well, somewhat hypnotic.  Whatever.  I passed out, but dutifully watched what I'd missed later on.

Mind you, though, it's not as if the debate itself was especially stimulating.  It sounded pretty much like Romney would not do anything different from Obama, with the possible exception of rattling his spear with greater emphasis.  The only one who's talked truth to Bibi Netanyahu recently is good old Jimmy Carter, who observed that Bibi has abandoned the two-state solution.  I think that's a valid observation.

So, let's consider what that entails.  If there's to be just one state, the choice is between Palestinian citizenship in Greater Israel — and apartheid.  Granted, the ultra-Orthodox Jews are reproductive marvels comparable to the proverbial bunnies, but I still think the Palestinians, given that they are starting with larger numbers, would emerge victorious in the fecundity Olympics.  Hence, it's either apartheid or bye-bye "Jewish State."

No, it's not an encouraging situation.

Getting back to the alleged "debate," I did not notice any mention whatsoever of Europe.  At the moment, the most significant economic problem for the United States is the fiscal fuck-up in Europe, driving down our manufacturing exports.  Why did Our President not bother to mention that the European austerity policies, which Republicans want to impose on us, over here, have pushed Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, and Ireland into depression and the UK and France into recession, soon to be followed by Germany and everybody else the Vaterland has bullied into submission?

It seems the GOP has done much too good a job creating deficit panic, and Obama is much too much of a pussy to fight back.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Remembering George McGovern


I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.
  — George McGovern


1972, as best I can recall, was the last time the Democratic Party ran a liberal.  Those were heady times.  Mind you, we never expected to win.  Frankly, we were pretty cynical in those days — despite "Let the Sun Shine In" and all the naked hippies at Woodstock.  Me, I'm even more cynical now than I was then.

Yes, I know.  Back then, we boomers were supposed to be idealists.  Well, we really weren't — at least not those of us with a few brains left in our stoned-out heads.  We were fighting a last-ditch effort.  We lost.

Now that McGovern is dead, a part of me also has died.  Who's left?  Who remembers?

I don't even want to think about the upcoming alleged debate, nor the ensuing election.  I'm feeling like 1972 was my last chance.  Yes, there are very powerful differences between Romney and Obama, so picking your idea of the lesser of two assholes should not be that difficult — but, as for me, I'll do my best to dream of George McGovern tonight.

Damn, I'm old.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Round Two

Earlier — 6 PM

I find it hard to believe that Gallup found 80 undecided voters in the vicinity of Hempstead, Long Island, who are not brain damaged.  Okay, brain damaged Long Islanders are not especially rare — as anybody who ever has driven the Long Island Expressway can testify — but then we would have to ask, "Who fed them the questions?"

Perhaps some people a bit more like me kept their political views undercover — both left and right.  How good was Gallup?  Who the hell knows?

Needless to say, Gallup should have picked me.  I'm not voting for either one of them, because both of them make me sick, and because New York is not a swing state, so who cares?  I have some good questions, which neither of them would especially like to answer — and those are the questions we really need.

Well, maybe not.  Maybe it's too late.  Seeya later.

Later — 11 PM

Why did they bother to have those strange looking people from Long Island sitting around, reading questions from cards?  Gallup may have done a reasonably good job, but I still wonder who wrote the questions.  The whole "town meeting" conceit is pretty ridiculous.

Anyway, nobody seems to have slipped Obama a mickey tonight, so he was his usual stiff self — and Romney, by comparison, looked like his usual stiff self instead of (by comparison) Ronald Reagan.  Anybody looking for charisma has a tough choice this year.

I guess the media will call it a draw, but I suspect Obama will get a bit of a lift — especially since, cleverly, he got the "47%" into his closing comment, so there was no opportunity for Romney to answer.

Really, though, I'm offended by all of it.  Oh, and, by the way, my questions were not asked,

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ryan v. Biden

Ryan was pretty good, but Biden was Biden — and that's a pretty amazing thing to be.  Maybe Obama can call in sick next week and send in Biden as substitute debater.  Frankly, I wouldn't mind at all if Obama called in sick of politics and sent in Biden as substitute candidate.

People talk about Biden's "gaffes."  I don't call them gaffes.  I call them telling the truth.

I thought Martha Raddatz was really on top of things, but there's no doubt in my mind that the right will accuse her of bias because she showed so little tolerance for dissimulation and bullshit.  Maybe they'll let her do a presidential debate in 2016, but I wouldn't bet on it.

I especially enjoyed the closing statements.  Biden's pre-scripted remarks sounded sincere and authentic.  Ryan's pre-scripted remarks sounded like pre-scripted remarks.

Viva Biden.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Affirmative Action

Maybe I'm not so old after all, because they've been rehashing this shit nearly all my life — and here we go again.

So now the Supremes get to listen to the whining of young Abagail Fisher, who claims that some darkie got "her" place at UT Austin.  UT Austin says they wouldn't have let her in whatever her race.  Maybe that's true.  Who knows?

Anyway, here's the scoop: it doesn't make a damned bit of difference what kinds of "advantages" people of color have at the college level.  College is just too goddamned late.  We need affirmative action in preschool, pre-preschool, and throughout the rest of the "grades" between birth and college.  By the time a kid is considered for college, it's too late.

We need affirmative action for infants, toddlers, children and adolescents, both of color and also others of lesser socioeconomic advantage.  We need to level the playing field a hell of a lot earlier.

Of course, it's not happening.  Level playing fields are not "the American way."

Whatever the Supremes decides this time around, it doesn't really matter.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rockefeller Republicans

So I was listening to KCRW's  very entertaining podcast, "Left, Right, and Center," when somebody said that the recent debate was between two "Rockefeller Republicans.  Okay, Romney had moved to the center.  Obama scarcely moved at all — especially during the debate.

Yes, Romney had moved to the center, probably assuming (correctly) that the Republican base would vote for him over that socialist Muslim no matter what kind of triangulation he might attempt.  Also, I'm still suspecting that somebody slipped some Ritalin into Romney's caffeine free Diet Coke.

Me, I'm old enough to remember Nelson Rockefeller.  I was a Boy Scout when the governor came to visit us at Scout Camp, and a bunch of kids from Manhattan started singing, "H A doubleR I, M A N spells Harriman," which was the name of the Democratic incumbent governor he recently had defeated.  At the time, he didn't seem all that moderate, but it was nearly a decade before Nixon's southern strategy won over southern racists and two decades before Reagan.

Mostly, Rockefeller was a pragmatist — somebody who worked to identify problems and solve them.  If he were part of today's Democratic Party, he wouldn't even be a blue dog — he just wasn't that ideological.  In some ways, he reminds me a lot of Obama.

He always wanted to be president, but the closest he got was his appointment as vice-president by Gerald Ford — the appointee of an appointee.  In those lost, golden days, it would have been impossible for a man so notoriously rich to win the White House.

My, how things have changed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To my amazement...

Indeed, to my amazement, and despite a large glass of Irish whiskey, I did not fall asleep on tonight's debate.  I felt a good deal of empathy for Jim Lehrer.  It's a totally crappy job, but Jim had to do it.  From time to time, he looked really uncomfortable.

What I liked best was that it was pretty thoroughly wonky, and that they actually were allowed to address each other.  Most of America, I suspect, switched off to the entertainment networks early on.  Nevertheless, I stuck in there, looking for what actually counts — the emotional content.

Personally, I thought Romney looked kind of manic.  Those broad grins and wide, glittering eyes struck me as more than a little creepy.  Obama, mostly, looked old.  What's better or worse from the perspective of the American public — creepy or old?

I thought Obama passed up an excellent opportunity when he failed to assert that he based Obamacare on Romneycare because he thought it was conservative enough to attract some Republican support — given that it was a product of the Heritage Foundation.

What the hell.  The "undecideds," if such assholes actually exist, were watching "Storage Wars" or "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."  Indeed, I myself might have been watching "Bridezillas!"  (Well, actually not.)

Next up, Biden v. Ryan — which, I'm betting, will be the best debate of all, given that it is most likely to demonstrate that American politics is an exercise in idiocy.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Voter Fraud

Well it appears that there well may be some voter fraud going on out there, despite the protestations of Democrats.  The problem for voter fraud blowhards on Fox, though, is that the fraudsters are not Democrats.

On the heels of voter suppression claims, which are getting varied responses in various states, this does not look especially good for the GOP.  On the other hand, most people haven't heard about it.  Few are paying attention.

The most significant problem with our voting systems, in my opinion, is that they are left to the states.  I've met quite a few of my State Senators and Assemblymen, and quite a few of them are either self-aggrandizing assholes or just pure, out-and-out, morons.  Honestly, I don't think a majority are corrupt.  Most of them are just too stupid to get away with corruption for more than a week or two — but they still feel obliged to take orders from those few who actually are smart enough to be corrupt.

It follows that a particular state's voting laws will favor the inclinations of the power brokers in that particular state, no matter what the state's political leanings.  There are a few extra restrictions on states (and/or counties) with histories of particularly blatant racism but, generally speaking, the power brokers have their way.

Every couple of years, we hear about a tossup — elections that must wait for the absentee ballots to be counted before a winner is decided.  It happened in my Congressional District in 2010.

Now, when you stop to think about it, it's a hell of a lot easier to perpetrate voter fraud by absentee ballot than by showing up in person and risking years in federal prison.  What are the Republican — or, for that matter, the Democrats — doing about that?

My mother died in 2005.  My guess is that she's still on the voter rolls, because expunging dead people from the rolls costs the state money — and states don't have a lot of money, and state politicians rather would spend it on winning the votes of living voters instead of my deceased mother.

I will not cast my deceased mother's vote, even though I know how she would have wanted to vote before she developed dementia and died — and even though her vote might help fight off an especially repulsive onslaught on my Congressman by Karl Rove and the billionaires of Crossroads GPS.

Why should I?  One way or the other, it's pretty much all in the bag.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bibi and the Bomb

So Bibi Netanyahu appeared at the United Nations with a picture of a big round bomb and drew a fat red line with a magic marker.  The Iranians, of course, were paying no attention, but the message was not aimed at Iran.

The Republicans, probably in desperation, are struggling to win over a few of Florida's elderly Jews with some TV spots meant to be alarming.  Bibi is doing his best to help his old pal Mitt, and I suppose some of those elderly Jews are elderly enough to be alarmed.

I suspect most Americans think the idea of a foreign leader messing around in American elections truly stinks.  Personally, I think Bibi truly stinks, and that even senile Jews (with the exception of Sheldon Adelson) will find it hard to mark their butterfly ballots for a Republican Mormon multimillionaire with a stick up his ass.

Anyway, I don't imagine Bibi will have much influence on the American election.  Hopefully, though, he'll have some influence on the next Israeli election, and Likud will be voted out.  (Mind you, that's not a prediction — just a hope, and not much of a hope at that.  Damn.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meanwhile, in Greece...

By this time, I expect that just about everybody has concluded that Greece — and the rest of Europe — would have been better off had Greece never joined the Eurozone.  The big question now is whether Greece should leave the euro behind, and go back to the drachma.  Today's demonstrations (riots?) were pretty clear indications that many Greeks are very unhappy with the austerity demands by the various international lenders which might delay Greek default.

Granted, Greece (like Occupy) makes it clear that letting anarchists lead your opposition movement doesn't work very well.  Nevertheless, I have to sympathize with the Greek protesters, because Greece is not in recession.  Greece, with a 25% unemployment rate, is in depression, and the EU is doing nothing to correct that.  Austerity is the last thing needed to correct a depression.

If Greece defaults, German banks will take a big hit.  Nobody exactly knows how big a hit, but a little inflation in Germany probably would be worth it.  When the Spaniards and Italians follow, Germany will be dead in the water.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Romney Tapes

Now that everybody has heard Mittens pandering to his plutocrat friends and demeaning the memory of his father — who was a decent man — it hardly seems necessary to comment.  Well, when you get right down to it, my comments hardly ever seem necessary.  Nevertheless, comment I shall.

It should be no surprise that Mittens is, in his heart of hearts, an insufferable little twit.  Yes, it is true that that "the 47%" do not pay income taxes, albeit they pay a hell of a lot of other federal taxes.  Those who are employed (most of them) pay payroll taxes, which turn out to be a larger percentage of their incomes than than the combined income plus payroll taxes of a lot of top earners.  The cap on payroll taxes of roughly $110 thousand is unabashedly regressive — and if you figure in the "carried interest" advantages enjoyed by Romney and his fellow "lucky duckies," most of those low income workers pay a greater proportion of their income in federal taxes than the very rich.

Despite Romney's "doubling down" on his repulsive comments — essentially designed to capture the support of those who associate "the 47%" with the usual minorities — it's pretty clear that even the least involved are sickened by the Romney tapes.

Sorry, Mitt.  I'm pretty confident you won't surpass your father.  Tough shit.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Short Subjects for September

Too much is happening, so I will restrain myself.  Here come some brief and assorted comments.

Israel — Obama, bless him in this instance, has not responded to blackmail by Bibi Netanyahu.  Is Likud trying to influence US elections?  Uh huh.  Will it encourage American Jews to support the Republican crazies who want to create a "final" mid-east war and bring on the Apocalypse?  I don't think so.  Jews, on average, are just a little bit smarter than the average redneck.

Eurozone — The German court and the Dutch electorate seem to think it's important to maintain the Euro, mostly because they have made a lot of money from the single currency.  Granted, the Euro may not survive — but nobody in Northern Europe wants further erosion of exports.

The Mohamed Movie — Honestly, I don't know if I've seen the original movie trailer because there are so many parodies on YouTube.  I tried, anyway.  Most interesting, though, is the conjecture about who financed the idiotic but nevertheless inflammatory film.  The career criminal now accused of being behind the film — if anybody is thinking about him at all — almost certainly was paid for his efforts.  By whom?  (Nobody's talking.)  Let's think: who profits?

QE3 – While I appreciate the fact that the Fed is trying its best, I don't think monetary policy can do the trick at this point.  Just as in Europe, we need fiscal policy.  Europe can't do it because it has no fiscal union.  We can't do it because we have Republicans — and, hence, no fiscal policy.

It's turning into another of those goddamned months.  I'll try to stay on top of things.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Chicago Teachers' Strike

I honestly can't imagine why Republicans think the Chicago strike will hurt Obama, unless they think Chicago teachers — seriously pissed off by Rahm Emanuel and Arne Duncan — will stay home rather than go out and vote for Obama.  Well, it's true that a lot of Americans are assholes, and won't figure out that the Chicago teachers are fighting Democrats.  Nobody supports the American Federation of Teachers anymore, in either party, despite the perennial efforts of AFT to support, mostly, Democrats.

The "school reform" movement currently being pushed by Republicans and Democrats alike reflects a corporatist philosophy in that it demands that schools be run like for-profit businesses (and increasingly by for-profit businesses running charter schools.)  Rahm Emanuel's push to open more and more non-union charter schools is a direct attack on the Chicago Federation of Teachers.  So is his refusal to agree to re-hire laid off veteran teachers when new positions become available.  Replacing them with beginning teachers would save the school district a lot of money.

The main point of disagreement, though, appears to be the extent to which student test scores are used to evaluate teachers.  The union is ready to agree to test scores counting for 25% of a teacher's rating, but not to the 40% value Emanuel demands.  Teachers know how misleading test scores can be.  The same teachers who "succeed" in raising test scores one year very well may "fail" the next.  So much depends on the quality of the students assigned to their classes.

Just one or two "mainstreamed" special education students with emotional disabilities can disrupt a class often enough to slow progress for everybody.  Some children can be absent for as much as a third of the total days of instruction.  Families in poverty often change addresses — and their children change schools — with distressing regularity.  Many children grow up in home environments that discourage homework and study.

More than anything else, student test scores in any teacher's class depend on the luck of the draw (or the favoritism shown by  administrators who assign children to classes.)  As the old saying goes, "You can't make a silk purse out of a horse's ass."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Time for a Constitutional Convention?

Every four years, for as long as I can remember, there's been discussion of the Electoral College — albeit there never seems to be anything done to reform it.  Two states, Maine and Nebraska, took a stab at it in that they distribute electoral votes by Congressional district, with the extra two going to the top vote getter, statewide.  It would go a long way towards solving the "swing state" problem were all the states to adopt the system, but it doesn't go far enough enough for my taste.

Something that always has bothered me is that a vote cast in Alaska (one Congressional district, three electoral votes) counts roughly three times as much as a vote cast in California (fifty-three Congressional districts, fifty-five electoral votes.)  Well, that's not going to change.  It would require a Constitutional amendment, and the states that benefit from the current system would torpedo the change in short order.

Also, don't expect any Constitutional amendment limiting corporate contributions to election campaigns — the corporations are just too powerful, and our Constitution is just too hard to amend.  Even though women are a clear majority of our population, the Equal Rights Amendment failed, even with an extended period of time for ratification by the states.

I know that the Constitution of the United States has many admirers, and quite a few countries used it as a model for their own constitutions when they got around to writing them, but its popularity as a model has declined rapidly in recent decades.  New nations, today, are far more likely to use Canada's constitution as their model.

Maybe our Constitution is just too old.  It always was most useful to those determined to maintain distinctions of class and wealth – and despite hard-won changes over the past couple of centuries, it continues to favor entrenched interests.

So, is it time for a Constitutional Convention to re-write the whole thing?  I think not.  The entrenched interests would only use the opportunity to further entrench themselves.

(PS: You may have noticed I had absolutely nothing to say about the final day of the Democratic Convention.  What was there to say?  I am old enough to remember when political conventions actually selected candidates.  Conventions were exciting back then.  Now, they're pretty much a bore.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Democratic Convention, so far...

Okay, we all knew Michelle Obama would be great.  Hell, she'd probably be a better candidate than her husband.  Bill Clinton did a bang-up job last night, and, as always, I have a giant crush on Elizabeth Warren — the only Democrat with the guts to openly chastise big finance.

So far, there has been no Clint Eastwood style embarrassment — which is not to say there has been no embarrassment.  Obama caused it himself by antagonizing roughly half the delegates, caving in to right wingers by insisting on a change in the party platform.

Is Jerusalem the recognized capital of Israel?  Not according to many years of US foreign policy — but, hell, it's in the Republican platform, and we can't risk antagonizing the Jews, can we?  And how in hell did the platform committee write a platform without even once mentioning GOD?  Crap, the Republicans mentioned "God" somewhere between eight and twelve times, depending on who was doing the counting.  (It's really hard actually to read party platforms.)

(As you read this, vast numbers of Evangelicals are rooting for the Israelis to nuke Iran and bring on the Apocalypse.  Obama, of course, really really wants to win a second term — not necessarily because he has a grand vision for our future, but because he is driven to win.  Needless to say, the same is true of Romney.  As Socrates observed a few millennia ago, anybody who really wants power really shouldn't have it.)

Last week, I got a call from an Obama fundraiser.  I did not contribute my measly twenty-five or fifty bucks, although I noted I recently had contributed more than once to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Kirsten Gillibrand campaign, the Elizabeth Warren campaign, and the campaign of my local, hard pressed Congressman.  (I hope some of that does some good.)

Asked the one thing the President could do to make me like him enough to give him money (okay, it wasn't phrased quite like that), I said "Give me back the civil rights I had before 9/11 — and close Guantanamo."  Yes, it was more than one thing, but the fundraiser didn't complain.

Since then, the (Obama) Justice Department has announced it will not be pressing charges against any CIA torturers.  The CIA continues to insist that only three "high-value" prisoners were waterboarded, although a recent report by Human Rights Watch contradicts that assertion.

Four years ago, Obama said he wanted to "look ahead, not behind."  When I look ahead, I want to see the torturers and all those who aided and abetted them in jail.  Fat chance.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Republican Wrap-up

Well, this is a lot of of posts for one month, but it's been kind of a special month.

I couldn't even be bothered to comment on Paul Ryan's tissue of lies last night, albeit I might blow my nose into it.  (What's with the "tissue" analogy anyway?  I guess I'll have to go to Ask.com,)

Clint Eastwood was very entertaining tonight, and he remains somebody whose work I admire, whatever his political views.  Marco Rubio is looking a lot like a future presidential candidate.  When it comes to Latinos, Republicans seem to be especially fond of Cubans. Uh huh.

Anyway, Mitt's speech tonight was another attempt at "humanizing," and it wasn't too bad except when he was scripted to smile.  I guess there wasn't enough time to teach him to smile convincingly.  Just the same, I guess he managed to appear a little more human — but if you were watching him going down the rope line before his speech, he was the same old rod-up-his-ass Romney we know so well.

I counted less than a minute of totally vague policy talk, and maybe a minute and a half of Obama bashing.  Nevertheless, I guess it will give him a "convention bump" for a week or so — until the Dems launch their infomercial.

Blah blah blah.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Who actually built it?

So, I'm watching the Republican convention.  It was supposed to be so well scripted, you know.  So far, I don't see it.  I guess they forgot to hand out scripts to the delegates, few of whom seem especially enthusiastic.  Even when you hear a greater than usual cheer, or whatever, the camera panning the convention shows just a scattering of desultory applause.  (Canned cheers?)

In Boehner's opening speech, nearly every line began with "A man walks into a bar."  Nobody seemed to have a clue what in hell he was talking about.  He'd have done better with "A duck walks into a bar," or "A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar..."  Reince Priebus was no better.

(John Kasich just said, "It's not just because I don't like the Black Eyed Peas."  What the hell was that about?)

Anyway, the main theme seems to be, "We built it," based on a distortion of an Obama comment about how business needs government provided infrastructure.  "Entrepreneurs," we are told, are everything.

Well, in the megacorporations that are behind the Romney campaign, it's not the government that built that business (unless you count the subsidies, tax breaks, and deregulation.)  On the other hand, it's not the fat cats, who steal more value than they ever create.

It's the labor, motherfuckers!  You are not fucking blacksmiths or grocers or subsistence farmers!  You are the "lucky duckies," and you would be nowhere without those underpaid, overworked workers who have been lining your pockets while their families somehow survive on the "dollar menu."

Shit.  I think I've seen enough for one night.

Y'know, I strongly advise that the Democrats leave the funny hats at home.  A little dignity is not a bad thing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Patent Wars

Unless the news reports got it wrong, a California jury upheld Apple's patent of the rounded rectangle.  Frankly, I think patent law is getting a little too weird these days.

This is not to say that I don't believe in intellectual property rights, but granting patents to common shapes, naturally occurring DNA sequences, and traditional medicines used for centuries in non-western cultures takes patent rights entirely too far.

Monsanto's patents of genetically modified corn and soybeans give the company a virtual monopoly over the foundations of our food supply.  Farmers who prefer not to use Monsanto's seed are sued if their crops happen to be cross-pollenated by Monsanto plants upwind.

And don't even get me started on the changes made to copyright law over the past few decades!  The abuse of intellectual property rights continues to get worse and worse, and the end result is to give monopolistic power to the mega-corporations which own those "rights."  All hail the plutocrats, yet again.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Trouble with Todd

Todd Akin — yes, that Todd Akin, the Missouri Congressman and Senatorial candidate — has not withdrawn his candidacy despite great pressure from everyone in the Republican establishment from Karl Rove (or is it really Mitt Romney at the top?) on down.  Okay, Akin said some very misguided things about how women's bodies respond to rape — but would a substitute candidate drawn from his primary challengers take a more "moderate" stand on abortion?

Nope.

The problem with Akin is not that he's too conservative.  The problem is that he's a moron.  His potential replacements, on the other hand, just never had the opportunity to put their feet so far into their mouths that those feet emerged through their respective assholes.

Okay, maybe that's wrong.  Maybe they were better trained to stick to the approved talking points.

I don't think much of Clair McCaskill (remember Corker-McCaskill?), but I'd hate to see the Democrats lose their Senate majority — and I suppose it ought to be easier to beat a moron like Akin than somebody with a few brains.  Still, I don't believe for a minute that the "withdrawal" of funding for Akin's campaign is real.  Yet another well-funded SuperPac will fill the breach in short order.

Morons For American Prosperity?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sunday Devotions

I just heard on the radio that both Obama and Romney held back on campaigning yesterday and went to church.  Isn't that nice?!

I'm assuming Obama still is going nowhere near the nefarious Reverend Wright, and has found some less controversial place for photo-ops with his lovely family.  Romney's lovely family took some press along for photo ops at a Mormon temple near his lake house in New Hampshire, and stopped off afterwards for a scoop of  ice cream.  Good humanizing, Mitt!

Now, I'm sure Mitt is sincere in his religious beliefs.  Mormons are especially good at imbuing their children with their religion — far better than Catholics and mainstream Protestants, and probably better, even, than Evangelicals.

Barack, on the other hand, was raised by an anthropologist.  I have no doubt he was imbibing cross-cultural relativism with his mother's milk.  Clearly, he would have an understanding of religion as a social force — but an anthropologist is the least likely person I can think of to believe that any one of the hundreds of world religions has any particular claim on truth.

Still, you can't be elected to any national office in the United States without espousing religious beliefs.  (The main reason Barack selected Wright's church in Chicago, I believe, was because of Wright's political muscle.)

Is a sceptic currently occupying the White House?  Don't ask.  Don't tell.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Battleground States"

I am sick and tired of hearing about "swing" states and "battleground" states.  I live in New York, one of the 32 states considered 100% predictable.  Ten other states are "leaning," which means that only a very desperate campaign will try to push them away from their existing preferences.  Just eight states remain genuinely "in play."

Okay — the presidential candidates swing by New York every so often, but the only New Yorkers who get to hear them in person (along with a contingent from Connecticut and New Jersey) are those willing to spend the equivalent of America's median annual income on a rubber chicken dinner.  My vote doesn't count.  Neither do the votes of my half-sisters in Maryland, Texas, and Washington.  All we hear from the candidates are phone calls asking for money.

I suppose you're aware that if we didn't have the electoral college system (and a politicized Supreme Court), we wouldn't have had the Iraq war — but why cry over spilt milk (and blood) after the fact?  What's done is done.  Anyway, the Constitutional amendments needed to achieve something closer to "One person, one vote" would require a new constitutional convention, and convert the USofA to a parliamentary system.  That, as they say, ain't gonna happen.

In the meanwhile, my local House seat is hotly contested — New York is a safe state, but Congressional districts are less so — so, as always, I'll vote.  As for the office of president, I'll probably pick some very very dark horse.  Will Buddy Roehmer or Roseann Barr make it onto my state's ballot?  It would be nice.

Those of you whose political opinions tend to be anti-government, and who live in "safe" states, might want to vote libertarian.  Maybe you'll have a chance to vote for Tom Stevens, candidate of the Objectivist Party.  Make a statement!  What the hell!

A lot of journalists have been quoting (and misquoting) Mark Hanna (1837-1908), onetime Republican senator from Ohio.  As close as we can get it, what he said was, “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”

This time around, we'll find out if he nailed it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Romney and Ryan

I don't know how many they were, but I suspect there were a fair number of voters who convinced themselves that Romney's recent right wing extremism was just for the sake of placating Tea Party activists and winning the Republican nomination.  They comforted themselves by predicting that, if he became president, he would drift back to the moderate to liberal Republicanism of his gubernatorial days.

His selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate dashes whatever tiny chance there was of that happening.  The billionaires who dictate contemporary Republican radicalism had their way.  True, I don't believe Romney is an ideologue like his new running mate.  He's just a weaselly opportunist, totally willing to take whatever orders the plutocrats care to issue if that's what it takes to win.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Short Subjects for August

Just a few thoughts on some recent items in the news:
  • Sheldon Adelson — Shelly was in the front row while Mitt compared Israeli and Palestinian "culture," which doubtless inspired even more tens of millions in campaign contributions.  The money, of course, comes from Shelly's gambling empire (which may or may not include tolerance for prostitution at the hotel/casino in Macao.)  Didn't somebody tell me Mormons are morally opposed to gambling?  Didn't somebody tell Mitt?
  • High Frequency Trading — Program traders have rapidly pushed ordinary retail investors out of the market.  How can a human being compete with a machine?  To bring back the kinds of investors who buy and hold, and make the markets less senselessly volatile, we truly need a Tobin tax— a tiny tax on transactions that would eliminate the profit margin when software, in microseconds, buys and sells stock to profit on miniscule changes in price.
  • Bloomberg and the Big Gulp —  Most of us were taught to eat whatever was put in front of us, whether or not we really wanted it.  Put less in front of us, and we consume less, with no loss of liberty but maybe a little loss of weight.  If you really need 48 ounces, you can always buy three 16s.
  • Welfare Reform — Sometimes a state has special circumstances, or maybe just a better idea on how to administer welfare.  Giving it an exemption from the letter of the law provided it can put 20% more people in jobs cannot possibly be construed as removing the work requirement from the Clinton welfare reforms... unless, of course, you can't, won't, or just don't read.  Republicans, of course, like non-readers.  Non-readers are much easier to fool.
  • Monoculture — It's pretty clear by now that this year's drought is doing a lot more damage because corn has short roots, and because it's pretty much all we grow anymore.  What the hell.  Most of it goes to feed lots and ethanol anyway, so you won't have to pass up that enormous bucket of grease soaked popcorn when you go to the movies.  (HeyBloomberg!)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mitt's Taxes

Harry Reid has been pissing off Willard M. Romney in a big way by suggesting he did not pay any taxes at all in some or all of those years for which he won't release his returns.  Harry was selected to make the effort, of course, because he's a fellow Mormon.  Nobody can claim religious discrimination.

Romney says he obeyed all the laws, etc., and I'm sure he did.  Probably he did pay some taxes in some of those years.  It's not Romney's personal taxes that cannot be revealed, however.  More generally, it's just what the taxes the super-rich tend to look like.  You can't have your ordinary American getting a gander at that, after all.

Somebody might notice how the rest of us are being screwed.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Too Big to Fail, Again...

A few days ago, Sandy Weill, the architect of the Citi explosion into TBTF status, came out in favor of Glass-Steagle.  Then former Obama adviser Steven Rattner (in the Times) told him he was, shall we say, wrong?

Personally, I wouldn't trust either of them as far as I could throw Bernie Madoff, but you have to admit: a return to Glass-Steagle would sharply reduce the likelihood of certain risk-addicted psychopaths gambling with federally insured deposits.  On the other hand, straightforward investment banks, as Goldman-Sachs was before it became a "holding company" to take advantage of government bailouts funds, were "too big to fail" even without government guarantees.  (Also, let us not forget AIG.)

Rattner is right when he says that Glass-Steagle would not have prevented the recent banking crisis and the current economic malaise — but he is wrong when he suggests more and better regulation could keep the banking industry under control.  The only regulation that might work would be to put strict limits on the sizes of all banks, both commercial and investment.  No commercial bank should be so large that it cannot be efficiently unwound by the FDIC, and no investment bank should be so large that allowing it and its investors to go broke would have a major impact on the whole economy.

So, how do you get from here to there?  Beats me.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney in Israel

Demonstrating his usual absence of anything resembling sensitivity, Mitt Romney kissed Binyamin Netanyahu's ass a couple of days ago, noting how Israeli "culture" must be superior to the Palestinian "culture next door" because the Israelis have more money.  A lot of journalists and others have pointed out that it's hard to attain economic success while under occupation — but why belabor the obvious?

What I heard was the old stereotype of the "shrewd" Jewish businessman.  Okay, that "shrewd" label, in the case of Jews, tends to include "cheap," "cutthroat," "greedy," "selfish," and "corrupt."  Hey!  No wonder Romney admires them so much!  I wonder if anyone from AIPAC noticed.

Israelis and Palestinians, however, are not the only "neighbors" Romney cited with regard to one being economically superior to the other.  Another comparison, of course, was the USofA v. Mexico; yet another was Chile v. Ecuador.  For those accusing Romney of racism, those comparisons offer only more ammunition.

The USofA, as Sheriff Joe Arpaio clearly has observed, is a hell of a lot whiter than the predominantly mestizo Mexico.  Chile, where the indigenous population was pretty much wiped out by the Conquistadores, had its "white" population greatly "enhanced" by emigrant Germans and Italians.  Ecuador still is pretty much mestizo and Indio.

Nice examples, Mitt.  As I recall, your quasi-Christian cult first allowed black members to be admitted to your priesthood way back in 1978, when you were in your early thirties.  Given all of the above, it just might be reasonable to wonder if you might be a racist.

Whatever.  Clearly, you want to attract many more big big bucks from Sheldon Adeldon — who accompanied you to Israel — and also from as many other right-wing corporatist Jews as you can suck into your bottomless maw.  Most Jews, however — those who are not millionaires — remain pretty strong for Obama

Friday, July 27, 2012

Job Creators

Let's begin with the obvious: no firm hires more workers unless it needs more workers.  Businesses hire when there is enough additional demand for the firm's product to justify a larger workforce.  Needless to say, stagnant wages and high unemployment do not create much additional demand for most products.

Second, there must be no way management can squeeze more work out of the existing workforce.  In times of job insecurity, squeezing more work out of an employee is easy.  Workers will push themselves beyond all limits rather than risk being replaced by somebody more "productive."  Insecure workers will be more productive, whatever the impact on their physical and emotional health.

Yes, entrepreneurs create jobs.  A successful start-up needs workers, so new jobs are, indeed, "created."  Aside from workers, entrepreneurs need capital — and those who produce the most jobs require a lot of capital.  That's where venture capital firms come in.  Venture capitalists take real risks when they bankroll new, unproven businesses.  Sometimes they get good returns on their investments, and sometimes they just lose their money.

We should not confuse private equity firms with venture capital firms.  Private equity firms find existing businesses that appear to be undervalued, buy them up, and look for ways to make profits for the private equity partners.

Occasionally they might change some failed business practices, and improve efficiency.  Sometimes they can improve the "productivity" of the workforce — meaning that some workers become redundant.  Sometimes, it makes sense to dissolve a business because its assets, sold separately, are worth more than what the private equity firm paid for it.

Sometimes it's easiest just to load up a business with debt, declare bankruptcy, and collect large "management" fees for doing so.  The workers lose jobs, benefits, and pensions; lenders lose their investments;  private equity partners shrug their shoulders and fatten their offshore bank accounts.

It doesn't matter when Mitt Romney stopped actively managing Bain Capital.  The firm's objective never was to grow new business, much less "create" jobs.  Its objective was to further enrich its already rich principals — and it did that very well.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Penn State and Joe Paterno

Penn State has removed the Joe Paterno statue, most likely to erase memories of the Sandusky scandal with all due dispatch.  The goal, of course, was to minimize damage to Penn State's cash cow — its football program.

Mind you, I couldn't care less about football — college or professional — or any other pursuit where muscled young men, according to various arcane rules, move spherical or ovoid objects around a circumscribed area.  I do care about economics — and college football, of course, is about money a hell of a lot more than it's about sport.

Personally, I think they should have left the Paterno statue in place — forever — but they should have changed the message by mounting the proverbial three monkeys on Joepa's back.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tax Policy

I've been trying to figure out what kinds of tax policy are endorsed, respectively, by Obama and Romney.  It's not easy.  Yes, we know Obama wants the two top income tax brackets and the capital gains tax back where they were under Clinton, but those ideas are not policy — they're talking points.  They have as much chance of making it through Congress as a squirrel fart has of making it through a hurricane.  We also can look back to some Obama proposals when he and Boehner were trying to strike a "grand bargain," but those ideas were contingent on Boehner accepting some elements that he had no way of getting past the House he allegedly leads.

Romney is even harder to nail down.  He maintains he can lower everybody's taxes by plugging "tax loopholes," but he refuses to identify any of those "loopholes"  — better known as subsidies, tax credits, and tax deductions.  Personally, I think we would be better off if all the credits and deductions in our convoluted tax code were eliminated, and subsidies limited to R&D — albeit I think a lot of it has to be done gradually.

The biggest "loophole" of all is the mortgage interest deduction.  At this time, it applies to interest on loans of up to one million dollars, which means it is regressive.  The greatest advantages go to those who finance the most expensive homes — which means that people like you and me, who don't live in $125 million dollar homes, get a lot less out of the deduction than our more affluent non-neighbors do.  Renters get nothing.

Eliminating the mortgage interest deduction would depress property values, because without that deduction, home buyers could not afford the payments on more expensive homes.  Even homes sold out of foreclosure would cost their buyers more.  The solution is to drop the cap on mortgage interest deductions gradually, so that property values could adjust gradually.  Needless to say, this won't happen.

Representative democracy in conjunction with capitalism doesn't work too well.  The people who want to lead us feed us bullshit.  The plutocrats control the flow of money, power, and ideas.  I don't suppose it bothers too many of us with consistent sources of income and decent health insurance all that much, but it bothers me.

The current Republican credo is "leave every child (except mine) behind, so long as I get to hang onto my current comfort level."  It just might work this November, but it still makes me sick.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Corporatists

Did Mitt Romney actively participate in shipping American jobs overseas, or did he just profit from it?  And, really, does it matter?  After all, we know for certain that Romney will do whatever he must to continue currying favor from his fellow corporatists, especially in the finance sector.

The real shame, though, is that we can't expect a great deal more from Barack Obama.  The popular press has had practically nothing to say about the top-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations currently being conducted by the administration's trade representatives — even after the leak of a section of the proposed agreement which would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States, in foreign tribunals, for "damages" they might suffer as a result of our enforcement of our own legal regulations controlling labor, health, and environmental standards.

Six hundred corporate "advisers" have access to the working texts of the agreement.  Before the leak, no members or Congress had access to any part of them — not even the proposals put forth by the United States representatives to the negotiations.  Follow the link above for more details.

I'm not saying there would be no difference between a Romney administration and an Obama administration — there probably would be significant differences for the various classes of Americans.  What I am saying, though, is that the corporate coup d'etat against what most of us once liked to think of as our form of governance has been a complete success, and that neither party will do anything to change that.

The corporations rule.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Regarding Inequality

Inequality in the USofA has been getting more than a little press lately.  That makes sense, of course, since we haven't been less equal in these parts since before the Great Depression.  Needless to say, it doesn't really matter how much inequality there really is, only how much inequality the public perceives there is.  Anyway, here's the Pew Research Center's latest polling data.

I guess I just don't understand Republicans.  The largest number of them, by far, are middle class — and a good many of those are lower middle class.  It's widely said that ideology trumps reality, albeit we have to assume that's just as true of Democrats as it is of Republicans (and, perhaps, even moi.)  Nevertheless, it would be illogical to assume that reality lies somewhere in between Republican and Democratic perceptions.

How much power is too much power?  Here's something both parties might agree to: too much is however much it takes to disable or demolish our democratic institutions.  Personally, I'm of the opinion that democracy and finance capitalism are incompatible.  Are there some among the wealthiest who will refrain from corrupting the political system?  I hope so.  Are there some who are irredeemably corrupt?  Read the news.

What is fair, economically speaking?  Warren Buffet apparently thinks it's unfair that he pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary does.  I think it's unfair that my 2011 tax rate was higher than Mitt Romney's.  On the other hand, I'm sure Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell can point out reasons why Buffet's and my interpretations of "fairness" are off the mark.

As for Wall Street, more evidence for its corrupt practices is reported every day — but how much corruption is too much corruption?  Could our economy survive without it, for example?

Your perception may be as good as mine — but I'll never admit it!  ;-)

Friday, July 6, 2012

The "Other" Economics

I have been doing my best to escape the "echo chamber" effect.  In my case, of course, it means seeking out non-Keynesian perspectives, and while David Brooks may be enough to satisfy most Times readers, he's not enough for me.  Hence, I listen regularly to Econtalk, a fascinating podcast hosted by Russ Roberts of George Mason University.  Roberts, who is keen on Hayek, interviews other economists, most of whom share many of his views.  (I haven't heard him go up against a real Keynesian yet, but I think it would be great fun to hear him converse with Robert Skidelsky.)

In his most recent podcast, Roberts interviewed Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago (as in "Chicago school of economics.")  Like Roberts, Zingales believes in the power of markets to achieve the greatest efficiency — but he also is concerned about the widening disparities of wealth and income in the United States.  I won't try to distill the entire interview into a single blog post, but I want to mention a couple of points that perked up my ears.

First, Zingales asserts that government intervention in the economy is necessary to keep the free market functioning correctly.  Roberts agrees, citing no less an authority than Adam Smith.  The impact of wealth on politics, it seems, can lead to market failure.  Zingales points to a little noticed feature of our most recent bankruptcy legislation, which requires that the first to be paid when a company fails are the holders of derivatives.  Guess who lobbied for that provision.

Another idea that jumped out at me was that being pro-free market is not the same as being pro-business.  Businesses are far less interested in free markets than in gaming the system in their favor.  Makes sense, no?

Anyway, getting out of the echo chamber informs us that real economists (which excludes that asshole and Romney adviser Arthur Laffer) are not lined up with the Republican Party or Fox News.  Needless to say, neither Roberts nor Zingales mentioned that specifically, but the message comes through.

Download the full interview and listen to it.  It goes a bit over an hour, so maybe you'll want to listen on a long drive or during an insomniac night.  Still, it's much more interesting than those vampire and/or self-help audiobooks.  Then, subscribe to Econtalk on iTunes or whatever.

Get out of the bubble.

***
Update: after this post originally went online, Roberts interviewed neo-Keynsian Joseph Stiglitz. It was a fascinating conversation — nothing. Russ Roberts argues for the Austrian School in a way that helps us to understand why Keynes and Hayek, in their personal lives, got along so well.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bankers Behaving Badly

Is anybody surprised?  No.  We know they behave badly. In the past week, though, we have learned of some previously unrevealed varieties of misbehavior.

In my day to day life, any time I've mentioned the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), I've watched the eyes of my friends and acquaintances glaze over.  In brief, though, it is the average interest rate at which major banks borrow from each other.  Other rates for consumer and business borrowing are derived from Libor.

To compute Libor, banks report their own borrowing rates.  Barclays' Bank, we now know, was reporting  lower rates than it actually paid back in 2008, because being forced to pay higher rates would have been seen as a sign of financial weakness.  As a result, Barclays' has paid a $450 million fine for fibbing (amounting to little more than a rounding error for a major international bank) and its CEO, COO, and board chairman have resigned.

Barclays' excuse?  "All the other kids were doing it!"

Indeed, that seems to be the case.  British and US regulators are investigating ten other large banks, including (needless to say) Citigroup and JPM.  A bit more distressing, though, is Barclays' claim that its regulators knew what was happening, and gave tacit consent.  Among those regulators was the New York Fed, at that time under the leadership of Tim Geithner.

"Well," I can hear the regulators saying should they ever be called upon to explain themselves, "we thought it would be better for market confidence if people didn't know just how fucked we really were back then."

Krugman's confidence fairy strikes again.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Big Surprise

We've become so accustomed to Justice Kennedy being the swing vote on the Supreme Court that just about everybody waiting for the ruling on Obamacare (ACA) was going crazy trying to figure out what he might do.  Personally, I didn't have much confidence that he would uphold the individual mandate — and I turned out to be right.  He didn't.

The real surprise was that the swing vote, this time, came from Chief Justice Roberts.  Mind you, he didn't uphold the mandate based on the Commerce Clause, as the four liberal justices did.  Roberts construed the mandate as a form of a tax, and hence within the powers of Congress to enact.

Actually, it seems only reasonable that one of the conservative justices, at least, would find it possible to approve a plan designed by the Heritage Foundation.  It may be that Roberts, while ideologically conservative, is less political than Thomas, Alito, and Scalia.  It may also be that he wanted to find a way to approve the ACA for the sake of the nation's health.

We know that the Republicans in Congress will try to overturn the law, but as long as there are 41 Democrats in the Senate, it won't happen.  In the meanwhile, some states my try experimenting with public options, which have to bring down insurance costs because they would be non-profit and require no advertising.  We'll see.