Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Those Guantanameros, Again

I guess the hunger strike makes it a lot harder for Obama to ignore what's going on in George W.'s jail.  Well, dealing with it will not be that hard.  If every last one of the 166 inmates (most of whom probably wound up in Cuba because somebody in Afghanistan thought it would be nice to collect a bounty) becomes a violent terrorist, it will not make a big difference.

Another 166 terrorists (and those who have not been radicalized surely ought to have been by now) will not especially shift the world balance of terrorists to non-terrorists.  It will be statistically insignificant.  Pretty clearly, they won't get into the United States, nor Europe.  Iraq and Afghanistan already are totally fucked up, so, really, who cares?

Lindsay Graham and John McCain will jump up and down, and the Heritage Foundation and similar groups will spurt diarrhea all over the talk radio stations, but really, who cares?  That's what they do, so we ought to be used to it by now.

Let's just put an end to it.  Maybe some of us will regain a little respect for Our President.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Short Subjects for Later April

Guantanamo is a military installation.  Our President is Commander in Chief.  He can Command the military to transport the remaining inmates elsewhere, and all Congress can do is jump up and down and fart loudly, as usual.  At the very least, the Yemenis should be sent back to Yemen, where we seem to have a puppet president in charge.

As for the "dangerous" ones we cannot bring to trial because all the evidence we have against them is circumstantial or confessions elicited by torture, we can just drop them off in Iraq or Afghanistan.  They'll just get involved in the inevitable civil wars, and we won't have to think about them anymore.  It's time for Obama to make good on his promise.

Reinhart and Rogoff were on the Times editorial page today, doing a "homina-homina" on their Excel error, and backing away from all the right-wingers who used their "research" to demand more and more austerity.  Meanwhile, in Europe, pretty much everybody except Angela Merkel was suggesting that, perhaps, there had been just a little too much.

After the German elections, I suspect even Merkel will come around, especially after Germany follows the rest of Europe into recession.  As for the UK, I think it could be doing at least as anemically well as the USofA were it not for the Cameron government.  Well, perhaps that might change.

I'm pretty sure, at this point, that the younger Tsarnaev kid just followed along after his big brother.  If I had to make a prediction, which I don't do anymore, I'd predict Dzhokar will wind up in a SuperMax forever and forever.  Maybe he's too cute to execute.  (Hey, rap artists! 2cute 2execute!  Go for it!)  If it were me, I might prefer to be executed — kind of like Ted Kaczynski, who still is sitting in that supermax in Colorado.  How in the hell do you sort these guys out?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Tsarnaev Brothers

All the media are blah-blahing about how the two young ethnic Chechens were "radicalized."  One of the memes I've been hearing is "self-radicalization," which is how they discuss Muslims who behave badly but never received indoctrination or training from an organization of religious radicals, an FBI informer, or the Pakistani ISI.  We're meant to think they just find it on the internet, and soon a haze of blood drifts across their eyes.

It's true that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was back in Dagestan for six months in 2012 but, as best we can tell, all he did there was mope around his aunt and uncle's house.  Tamerlan arrived in the United States at the age of 15.  His little brother Dzhokar was eight when he arrived, and never visited Chechnya or Dagestan afterwards.  If they genuinely were "radicalized," it didn't happen in the Caucasus, or over the internet.  It happened in the United States.

Tamerlan arrived dealing with a very different culture, a new language, conflict between his parents, and what often is the very worst year of adolescence.  He was an outsider, and the Islamophobia so soon after 9-11 almost certainly made him feel even more of a stranger.  Encouraged by his mother, he joined a mosque, but eventually denounced the imam for being too secular.  The imam thought it was okay for American Muslims to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Isolation is hell, and people in hell do desperate things to escape.  I'm pretty sure Tamerlan committed "suicide by cop."  I guess he thought he was accomplishing the will of Allah, but I can't see him as a religious radical.  I see only a fucked-up, overgrown boy.

Dzhokar made a better adjustment to the United States, as one might expect because of his age and his good looks.  He did well in what, for him, was the very accepting and nurturing community of the Cambridge schools.  When he went on to college, though, he was tossed out of the nest.  He was flunking out, and I guess he was spending more time with his brother.  Maybe we'll learn more as he recovers.

I feel for those boys — and, really, they were just boys, trying to be men.  This does not in any way detract from my grief for the victims of their crime — and, yes, it was a crime, not a political statement — but sometimes everybody involved is a victim.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were victims too, and maybe even Ted Kacynski.  They were tortured souls.

Call me crazy.  Call me a bleeding heart liberal.  I don't care.  I think we do it to ourselves.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Cap on FICA Contributions

One December in the earlier 1990s — while I still was getting paper paychecks instead of direct deposits — I looked at my paper paycheck and discovered my net salary was higher than expected.  When I received my second December paycheck, my net was even higher.  I pulled out some earlier pay stubs, and discovered the difference resulted from reduced FICA contributions.  Thanks to a good union, years on the job, and earning enough extra post-graduate credits, I'd gone past the cap on Social Security contributions.

January came around, and my net pay went down again.  I remember thinking, back then, that if my pay hadn't gone up in December, I wouldn't have noticed.  So why was there a cap on FICA contributions?  Frankly, it didn't seem fair.  It was a regressive tax.

Right now, the FICA cap is a bit over $114,000.  To me, that sounds like a pretty high income for one worker, and I doubt that if those making $120,000 didn't get their December "bonus," nor if those making over $250,000 didn't get their October through December bonuses, they really would have paid much attention.  I guess those making seven million would notice because the $434,000 they owed all would come out of their first paychecks of the year, so they'd get only about 150 grand for January, and to which I say, tough shit.

Eliminating the cap would make Social Security solvent, with no "chained CPI" needed.  Even if we increased maximum Social Security payments to those who paid more, it would work.  A "sliding scale" for the super-rich would make it work even better.  If Jaimie Dimon collected five or six grand a month in Social Security payments, it wouldn't make a hell of a lot of difference to the rest of us — nor to Jamie Dimon.

Will somebody please slap Obama upside the head and knock a little sense into him?  Michelle?

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Chained CPI

Here's an excerpt from a fax I sent to my Congressman, Tim Bishop (D-NY), on April 3.  I never get any answers, so I'm beginning to think he never loads any paper in his fax machine.

I write to enlist your opposition to use of the chained consumer price index for calculating Social Security and Veterans' benefits.  I taught economics for many years, so I understand the substitution effect, but for many of our older and disabled citizens, there is not a lot of substitution left to be done.
The beef industry is suffering because so many already have substituted pork and poultry for beef, to keep grocery bills down.  I suppose we could substitute further, for a while, but I suspect some seniors and veterans already are substituting white rice for green vegetables, and cat food for chicken.
Since you represent the foreskin of Long Island, I don't suppose you have a lot of access to Our President, but perhaps you still might pass along this message.  You also might pass it along to Chuck Schumer, with a note that Wall Street is doing just fine, and he might get back to representing the rest of New York one of these days.
Since I wrote that, of course, Our President presented his budget proposal, and that proposal included chained CPI.  I sincerely hope it was just a political ploy on his part, working on the assumption that Republicans never would accept the revenue increases he wants.

Another idea out there is means testing Social Security benefits.  Pretty clearly, that would be the end of Social Security, because large numbers of the more affluent — most notably, those currently paying into the system — would think it not worth their while to keep Granny living in a shack rather than a ditch.

(Okay, I couldn't resist that "foreskin of Long Island" line, but I'm really tired of not getting any answers to my communications.  I think, maybe, that gives me a right to be a bit offensive.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Maggie Thatcher is (finally) gone

Two famous women died yesterday.  I'll discuss the other one on my other blog.  On this one, though, I'll just share my memories of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  She made it to 87, but her intellect departed years ago.  Dementia did her in.  She lived too long.  (So did her partner in crime, Ronald Reagan.)

I think Thatcher might have had more native intelligence than Reagan, but they were equals when it came to working a crowd.  Both were heroes to the narrow minded, anal retentive types who resented anybody except themselves getting a hand up.

Along with Reagan, she was a major contributor to the deregulation boom that led to "too big to fail" financial entities.  It's conceivable that, fifty years from now, both Reagan and Thatcher will be remembered as the monumental failures they truly were.  I'm sorry I'll have to miss that.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Short Subjects for Early April

The National School Shield
The NRA's idea for putting armed guards into every school is, of course, absurd.  The organization, sponsored by gun manufacturers, had to come up with something — and, needless to say, their solution had to involve more guns.  The NRA has offered to "train volunteers," but the cost of just insuring against the risks of some yahoo with a semi-automatic wandering around a school building probably would have to be offset by firing two teachers.

Marriage Equality
While we wait for the Supremes to act, here's a thought: I've always been in favor of Civil Unions.  If you want your marriage recognized by the state, go to a judge or a JP or some other state official.  If you want to get married by a religious personage, well, go do it — but don't expect the state to recognize that personage's authority.  On the other hand, if you think religious leaders should have the right to approve marriages, just let them decide who can get married — gay, straight, or interspecies.  As an ordained minister, I would hesitate to marry a man to a sheep, but if it looked like they really were in love...

North Korea
Well, it looks like Kim Jong Un is striving to outdo both his daddy and his granddaddy in the craziness category, but I suspect his real problem is nobody takes the North Koreans all that seriously these days.  The boy king with the bad haircut can beat his chest like Kim Kong, and nobody pays much attention.  "Okay," say the Americans, the South Koreans, the Japanese and, increasingly, the Chinese, "let him rant.  If the need arises, we can blow his ass right off the peninsula, and we're pretty sure he knows that."  On the other hand, I think we have kind of a moral obligation to keep some of those undernourished kids alive.

Atlanta Cheaters
Okay, the bail seemed kind of high to me for a batch of school administrators — I mean, where in hell are they supposed to go?  Will they join the Colombian rebels, or the Taliban?  Can they drain the "vast" profits from their administrator bonuses to flee?  I don't think so.  It is no secret that I'm not at all a fan of school administrators, but I suspect the main failure of the cheating assholes was less cheating skill and a little more hubris than other cheating assholes who are doing it in the white neighborhoods.