Friday, January 29, 2016

Less Evil?

Corporate America doesn't care whether or not blacks get equal justice, nor whether or not women have access to abortion services. It is okay with current immigration law, but wouldn't mind if it got more or less welcoming.  It has made peace with Dodd-Frank, well aware that a law is only as good as its enforcement.

People who plan to "make do" with Hillary Clinton for fear of some ideologue from a dysfunctional Republican party winning the presidency are playing right into corporate America's hands.  If Clinton becomes president, the revolving door between the SEC and Wall Street will remain firmly in place.  Some petty criminals may serve five-year sentences instead of ten, but corporate executives guilty of enormous financial crimes will continue to avoid any threat of jail, paying impressive sounding but realistically negligible fines out of the pockets of stockholders.

Military contractors will continue profiteering as our new president continues to prove her figurative "balls" by encouraging military adventurism.  (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton overcame objections from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to take us on our ill-fated adventure in Libya, and is likely to take us back there again.)

If Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, I, personally, won't have to decide between her and, say, that little turd Rubio.  I live in New York, so I can keep my conscience clear by voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party (again.  My friends are familiar with my politically incorrect reference to Barack Obama as "Clinton in blackface."  Hillary will be "Obama in a pants suit," only more hawkish.)

In today's Times, Elizabeth Warren stopped short of endorsing Bernie Sanders, but discussed some of the political problems we would continue to face under President Hillary.  It's worth a read.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stock Markets

As the economists keep telling us, the market isn't the economy.  True, I suppose, but if you're a retiree living on a 401K or a 403B, it sure as hell is your economy.

Some are blaming recent market losses on China.  Some are blaming low oil prices.  Some are blaming the Fed's .25% increase in the Federal Funds Rate last month.  (It wasn't the Fed.  There's no way a quarter per cent above, essentially, zero, could have such an impact.)

Others are pointing to "volatility," suggesting that January's big dip in prices is just a temporary glitch.  We'll see.  On the other hand, there are things that can be done to reduce "volatility" and its impact in the future.

One surefire policy choice would be passing a Tobin Tax, sometimes called a "Robin Hood tax" — a very small tax on every financial transaction.  It would probably put the brakes on a lot of the high-frequency trading that exacerbates volatility.  Bernie says the proceeds would be enough to finance free college tuition for all.*

The other change would be policies to encourage a return to fixed-benefit pension systems, so retirees don't have to ride the market roller coaster.  Professional money managers would be in charge of their pension funds, just as they are with 401K funds, but pensioners would be freed of the stresses of market swings.  Needless to say, this would require that pension funds be fully funded, and not subject to raids by municipal and state governments nor corporate fat cats.

Any money manager who is a consistent winner in the markets either is preternaturally lucky or engaged in insider trading, so with proper regulation, fund incomes should average out over time.  Requiring contributions to an insurance fund that could bail out funds that are managed by the preternaturally unlucky would provide a safety net.

I know it all sounds highly unlikely, but most of it is feasible if the political will can be found.

*Those who claim we can't have free tuition because we don't want to subsidize rich people are talking out of their asses.  The rich will continue to send their kids to top-ranked private schools.  Donald Tr*mp's son will not be attending CUNY!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snowed in

The Saturday NYT crossword is supposed to be the hard one, but today's was easy.  Hence, some comments on things not usually subject to comment:

Sarah Palin
Yes, her speech plugging Tr*mp was mind boggling.  I spent some time today trying to figure out what language it passed through in transition from English to Google-translator-output English.  Maybe Telugu?  Igbo?

The Oscars
Clearly, the Academy is suffering from history — basically, too many old white men.  Of course, the same is true of just about every other institution that predates the internet.  Come to think of it, I'm kind of suffering from history myself.

Michael Bloomberg
The fact that Bloomberg thinks he might be able to mount a successful third-party candidacy is strongly indicative of the total bankruptcy of our political system.  Me, I'll stick with Bernie, even though he might never get a single idea past Congress.  Neither could anybody else.

That Ninth Planet
It makes me happy to think of some scientists spending years and vast amounts of intellectual effort on problems that have virtually no political nor economic impact.  Wouldn't it be nice if more of us could have that kind of fun?

The Litvinenko Inquiry

Monday, January 18, 2016

Demarcating Dems

Last night's debate might have had a real impact on undecided Democratic voters had any of them been watching it.  Somehow, though, I suspect the audience was comprised primarily of persons already committed to either Bernie or Hillary.  Might any of them been swayed towards the other side?  Maybe.  Probably not.

Partisan towards Bernie, I thought my candidate did an excellent job of casting Hillary in the role of toady to the rich, with special emphasis on big banks and big pharma.  Hillary did well portraying Bernie as soft on the NRA; but gun control is far down the list of important issues to most Democrats.  Martin O'Malley (whom I do not believe is angling for a vice-presidential spot) joined in on both attacks, and will be a man to watch in 2020 or 2024.

Is Hillary being honest when she says Bernie wants to "destroy Obamacare?"  No.  He'd like to replace it with a far superior single payer system, but nobody in her right mind could think he wants to first cancel the Affordable Care Act and only then work towards "Medicare for all."  Would Bernie be able to get his ideal single payer system if he were elected?  No, but if nobody even is willing to talk about single payer, it will never become a real possibility.

Bernie stands against kleptocratic plutocracy, which pulls the strings of our alleged "government by the people," and has been with us roughly forever.  Okay, maybe it is inevitable, but that doesn't mean we have to like it, nor just roll over and accept it.

Hillary is a better option than some others — pick any of the Republicans — but she should not go into the election thinking of herself as the ideal Democrat.  (O'Malley is working hard to win that title.  Yes, definitely keep him in mind for the future.)  Personally, I think Bernie actually could win the presidency if matched against many of the Republican contenders.  Maybe he would have a very frustrating one-term presidency, but it would signal an historic shift in American consciousness.

Now that the Republicans are tearing themselves apart, why should the Democrats step in to take on the role of defenders of corporate dominion?  (Answer: so Democratic politicians can dig their hands deeper into the corporate goody bag.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Short takes

State of the Union
I had hoped for a little less subtlety in the president's critique of Republicans, given the density of many of those critiqued, but at least he's finally figured out that seven years of calling for bipartisan cooperation was a waste of time.

"Navigational Error"
Of course those naval patrol boats detained by the Iranians inside their territorial waters were "snooping."  Everybody "snoops" on everybody.  You could tell the Iranians were not especially surprised nor upset because they called it "snooping" rather than "spying," and their prompt release of the ten sailors demonstrates that the nuclear agreement is having a positive impact on relations.

Latest Republican Debate
I didn't watch, but I gather from the coverage that Cruz is trying to contrast himself with Tr*mp in an effort to gain "establishment" support.  I hope he succeeds, because that would be likely to hasten the demise of the Republican party.

Attacks in Cologne
Apparently sharia law has no great hold over young Muslim men in Germany, since the lads out groping German lasses were dead drunk.  Yes, they're pigs.  No, they're not terrorists.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association
If the Court overturns its 1977 decision which allowed public sector unions to collect agency fees for legally required representation of non-members, it will be an entirely political decision by the conservative majority.  As far as activism goes, the Roberts court makes the Warren court look feeble by comparison.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Malheur "standoff"

The gunmen currently occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon are not a joke.  They are persons in rebellion against the government of the USofA in violation of US Code Chapter 115, covering treason, sedition, and subversive activities, specifically:
     §2381 Treason
     §2383 Rebellion or Insurrection
     §2384 Seditious Conspiracy

No, they are not a bunch of "good ol' boys" playing soldier.  No, they should not be ignored until they "go away." The Bundys and the "sovereign citizens" and neo-nazis and anti-government militiamen who have been supporting them since the "stand-off" at the Bundy ranch last year, despite the pocket-size Constitutions they carry in their camo, are not "patriots."  They are criminals.

The current problem is a direct consequence of government failure to appropriately deal with Cliven Bundy's refusal to pay the roughly one million dollars in heavily discounted grazing fees he owes the United States government.  Fearful that another "Ruby Ridge" would encourage and enlarge the anti-government groups that have proliferated, especially in the western USofA, the Obama Justice Department did nothing.  I'm willing to bet the AG hasn't even garnished Cliven Bundy's Social Security checks, which I'm also willing to bet he collects and cashes every month.  Maybe while his sons and their fascist followers are busy in Oregon, Obama should send some FBI agents to arrest old Cliven and put his ass in jail.

Those who point out that blacks or Muslims or even Native Americans would not get away with such shit are entirely correct.  Also, unlike the situation with the Branch Davidians or the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, there are no children involved — only bearded men with beer guts.  They are unlikely to arouse much sympathy among those who are not paranoid schizophrenic.  Properly equipped FBI agents should be able to subdue and capture them in short order.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mideast somehow manages to get worse

The Saudis are at it again, and the USofA, as usual, is letting them get away with murder. Literally.  Murder.

The beheading of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr (along with sixteen others who apparently don't matter to anyone) has sent any hope of diplomacy to solve regional problems into a tailspin.  The best known spokesperson for the Shi'a minority in eastern Saudi Arabia as well as for the Shi'a majority in Bahrain was exactly the wrong person to kill at this juncture if there is to be any hope of something resembling peace in Syria or Yemen, an effective coalition against IS, or a little more stability in Lebanon.

So the USofA sent a "naughty-naughty" message to King Salman the Senile, which will have no impact whatsoever on the likely instigator of the crisis, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud.  My heavens!  But what more can we do?

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Stop providing logistic support to the Saudis in Yemen.  It hasn't done anything to limit Saudi aerial massacres of civilians; and without it, they just might lose and go home.
  • Stop selling the Saudis advanced weapons systems.  Yes, the military contractors will whine about it, but there are plenty of other autocrats to arm around the world.
  • Invite President Hassan Rouhani of Iran to meet privately with Obama.  Hint that they're close to relaxing the sanctions against Iranian oil.
  • In diplomatic cables, refer to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young dipshit behind the current mess, as "the young dipshit." Leak the cables to Wikileaks.
There no longer is any real need to suck up to Saudi Arabia.  Their control over oil prices has been sharply reduced by American fracking, and now that the USofA is exporting oil again, higher oil prices might even help the American economy.  Using the Saudis as a foil against Iran also no longer is necessary now that there's been at least a little thaw with the Iranians; but also because Saudi financed Salafists have done us a lot more damage than Iranian backed terrorists in recent years.  We wouldn't be inclined, nor encouraged, to build any sort of alliance with Iran, but there's no reason to take sides any more.  If we think "getting tough" works, let's get tough with both.