Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Crisis in Education

No, this isn't about public schools, it's about another kind of education entirely — the training of foreign military and police forces by the US military and the CIA.  Even when compared to the success rate of your typical inner-city high school, it's a failure.

How many billions of dollars has the USofA spent "training" the Iraqi army and police forces who promptly abandoned their positions, leaving their US supplied weapons behind, when IS took over Ramadi?  How about the half billion or so spent recruiting, training, and arming Syrian "moderates" — 51 of them by best estimates, of whom roughly five still are in the field?  Then, just last week, American trained forces in Afghanistan abandoned Kirkuz to Taliban invaders, despite outnumbering their enemy and being better armed.  To add insult to injury, military spokespersons have persistently reported glowing success for the training programs, even as graduates turn tail and run away.

Some blame the inadequacy of Iraqi and Afghan officer corps, but it's probably just as well that the USofA can't take responsibility for officer training.  Our Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly called the US Army School of the Americas, has been training Latin American military leaders for many years.  Its graduates are best known for leading military coups against elected governments and some of the worst human rights abuses on record.

So why do we continue to throw good money after bad in the Middle East?  Because "training" seems like a reasonable substitute for boots on the ground.  Given that a reprise of the Bush invasions that got us into the mess in the first place would be understandably unpopular, and that just taking what remains of our marbles and going home is not an option, we seem to be trapped in what economists call the "sunk cost fallacy."  We'll continue to invest more and more into a losing proposition.

Friday, September 25, 2015

People in the News

John Boehner

I could never find it within myself to actively dislike John Boehner, even though I've disagreed with him on almost everything ever since he became Speaker.  Honestly, I've felt pity for him, stuck as he has been in such an untenable position as nominal leader of his divided party.  Maybe it's his inability to control his tear ducts in situations others might not consider all that emotional that appeals to me.  I'm like that too.

Like everybody else, I suppose, I was very surprised when he announced his retirement from the House as of the end of October, but all I can say is, "Congratulations, Mr. Speaker.  You're well out of it."  I wonder if his decision was influenced by his audience with...

Pope Francis

The bloated, bloviating turd who goes by the name of Rush Limbaugh says Francis is a "Marxist."  Was Jesus a "Marxist?"  If so, I guess Francis qualifies as well.  Francis, more than any Pope in my memory (including John XXIII) does his best to emulate the human incarnation of his God.

Yes, Francis is a political force in that we have not yet succeeded, even in "the land of the free [market]," in divorcing politics from morality.  We still want our leaders to do what is good, not just what is best for certain interests with extra millions to spend on election campaigns.  I wonder who gets money from...

Martin Shkreli

Shkreli is the whiz-kid who started managing his own hedge fund straight out of college, but later decided there was more money to be made buying the right to produce lifesaving generic pharmaceuticals and jacking up their prices by vast amounts.  His company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, is best known for increasing the price of one pyrimethamine tablet, a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, from $12.50 to $750.  A closed distribution system for the drug keeps other producers of generics from offering any competition.

"I can see how it looks greedy," he said, "but I think there's a lot of altruistic properties to it."  Really?  To me, Shkreli embodies exactly the kind of capitalist evil Pope Francis wants us to end.  Well, at least we all can wave bye-bye to...

Scott Walker

Walker was planning his run for president while he still was in college, and he dropped out early to more quickly pursue his untrammeled ambition. With a lot of help from anti-union fat cats like Kathleen Hendricks and the Koch brothers, he managed to win and retain the governorship of Wisconsin by playing on the envy and resentment many private sector workers feel towards public employees.

Walker's hurry to rise to the top of the heap left him singularly unprepared to compete in presidential politics.  Combined with his mediocre intellect, his unpreparedness made his exit from the Republican primary contest pretty much inevitable.  The donors lost interest, and he was gone.  Hopefully, now, Wisconsin will come to its senses, remember its history of progressivism, and undo the damage he and his cadre have done.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Donald, Carly, and Ben

Given the quality of their politicians, it is understandable that Republicans would want a non-politician as their presidential candidate.  Sadly for them, the three they have on offer are unlikely to be any better than the rest of the incompetents crowding their field.

Government is not a business.  We don't allow it to be a business, because as soon as any government enterprise threatens to make some money, it gets privatized.  Even if it were a business, we still wouldn't want anybody as incompetent as Donald or Carly running it.

Donald inherited $60 million from his father, and now he claims to be worth eight billion, albeit Forbes estimates that four billion probably is more like it.  Had he invested his inheritance in a fund indexed to the S&P 500, he'd be worth twelve billion today.  Actively managing his money, apparently, was a costly mistake.  As for his Atlantic City bankruptcies, he probably should have noticed all the casinos opening in neighboring states because Grover Norquist wouldn't allow them to raise taxes.

As became clear during her Senate run against Barbara Boxer, Carly really did screw up at HP, and her prior efforts at Lucent were not much better.  Her self-declared "successes," like the merger with COMPAQ, had to be undone by her successors to avoid financial disaster.  One successful put-down of Donald Trump does not a presidential candidate make, or the field would be filled with late-night comedians.

As for Ben Carson, a brain surgeon does not have to be a "rocket scientist."  Brain surgery is a manual skill, rather like a higher level of auto mechanics.  Just the fact that a person can separate conjoined twins while believing the universe is 6000 years old should tell us something.

Whoever the Republicans are left with in the end is likely to be more than a little shopworn,  On the Democratic side, though, Hillary also has been subject to more than a little wear and tear.  It's beginning to look like record low voter turnout in 2016.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The second Republican "debate"

If you purchased ad time during CNN's Republican gabfest, one hopes it was during the first hour.  I haven't seen any figures, but I'm pretty sure viewership must have dropped off significantly by hour two, and that only the die-hards stuck around for hour three.  Speaking of ads, it was interesting to note the 501C(3)s that bought time.

Having made her way to the grown-up table, Carly Fiorina must have done herself some good.  She came over as bright and assertive, and her questionable corporate history was largely ignored.  Paul and Kasich may have done themselves some harm by suggesting that the Glorious Republic needs allies to be effective in world affairs.  Others, like Walker and Rubio, were more adept at pandering to the Republican base by asserting, in essence, that the USofA is so "exceptional" it can charge off with drawn saber and win all global conflicts on its own.

I don't think Jeb! made any noteworthy gains last night, but he probably didn't do himself any harm either; and the same probably is true of Ben Carson, who didn't have much to say.  Nevertheless, I suspect whatever gains Fiorina makes will be at the expense of Bush and Carson.

Nobody likes those bad baby butchers over at Planned Parenthood, and nobody much likes John Roberts either, who betrayed right-wing ideology by saving Obamacare.  Huckabee and Cruz wouldn't mind circumventing the Supreme Court so that Kim Davis and various bakers and florists can legitimately discriminate against gays.  (By this point, the discussion was getting really tiresome.)

Trump, the man most of America tuned in to watch, seemed more red-faced than usual.  He may have tried to exercise some self-restraint early on, but unable to defend his "policies" (because he really doesn't have any), he got back to snarkiness in short order.  Will he start to fall behind in polling data?  Maybe, but I don't think this debate was the turning point the Republican establishment hoped to see.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kim Davis

It occasionally happens that I agree with Lindsey Graham, and this is one of those times.  He says that if Kim Davis feels she cannot carry out the responsibilities of County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, she should resign.  (Personally, I don't mind if she uses up her vacation days while she's in jail — it's the kind of thing vacation days are for.)

Her mother was county clerk for thirty-seven years, and Kim Davis worked under her mother.  Her son works in the office now, and probably expects to be elected to his mother's job when she's ready to retire.  That's small town politics.  It's extremely likely she ran unopposed, or against some token Republican candidate.  (Yes, Kim Davis is a Democrat.)

Some states are enacting legislation which would allow public officials to refuse to perform their duties when those duties conflict with their religious convictions.  We can be quite certain that such laws will be invalidated by Federal courts, but the process is likely to drag on and on, and get pretty boring before it's over.

Catholic judges can't refuse to issue divorce decrees, and Muslim postal workers can't refuse to deliver copies of Playboy because the centerfold isn't wearing a hijab.  As Donald Trump says, this is a nation of laws.  I hope Ms. Davis enjoys her moment of celebrity, but the chief significance of this particular instance of conscientious objection is that it is further splitting the Republican party.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


The Fed
Face it: the potential increase in the Federal Funds Rate of one quarter of one per cent is purely symbolic.  While it may "roil" the markets, it will have virtually no impact on the real economy.  Assuming you're not a hedge fund manager, you really shouldn't give a damn.

The Iran Deal
Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany made it perfectly clear that they would not maintain sanctions on Iran if the USofA failed to approve the deal, so all the opposition came down to Republicans determined to foil every Obama initiative and Democrats sucking up to AIPAC.  Thank you Barbara Mikulsky for finally dampening the bullshit, and screw you both, Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez.

"Female Viagra"
Flibanserin, aka AddyĆ­™, is not "female Viagra."  Viagra is just a boner pill, which allows older men with declining sex drive to fake it.  Flibanserin actually increases libido in some women willing to risk a long list of possible side effects.  Women don't need a Viagra-like drug because they already are quite capable of faking it without medical assistance.  If Valeant actually intends to pay Sprout Pharma a billion bucks for the rights to flibanserin, I'd sell my Valeant stock ASAP. 

Trump v. Sanders
Now wouldn't that be amusing, in a scary sort of way!