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.