Monday, December 19, 2011

A buddy of mine works in a niche retail market. The store he runs is quite profitable. Almost all the other stores make decent money. Yet the corporation as a whole loses money because all the stores have to support this vast corporate superstructure that has built up over the years (way to many VPs, all with their own secretaries and expense accounts, etc). I worked years ago for a restaurant that lost money for the same reason.

This made me wonder how many other American companies actually make money from operations yet somehow end up as net losers. I'm not sure, for instance, how well it's known that American auto and steel companies are absolutely crippled by the cost of their employees healthcare plans (since every single one of their major competitors have government paid healthcare).

A lot of companies out there have profitable little niches without a reasonable way to scale up. Unfortunately, management often wants to scale u anyway. This is primarily because the people running a giant company barely breaking even get paid a lot more than people running a tiny very profitable company. So you get stores built in so many places they manage to compete with each other (as in Borders and Walgreens) or management buying unrelated or tangentially related new businesses. Or you get "vertical integration" for no good economic reason (when becoming your own supplier or own distributor actually costs more than outsourcing).

Just seems a shame that profitable small businesses so often become unprofitable big ones. This is especially true when the big corporation doesn't add any value other than perhaps a name brand (Starbucks, et al).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Newt? Really? Well, I guess so. I mean, he isn't batshit crazy and he isn't an utter idiot. But is that really the best you can do? Newt is so transparently amoral and so thoroughly unlikeable. It seems that a party with roughly 55 millions registered voters could do better than a guy who's main appeal lies in not being so openly incompetent that he provokes public weeping.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Whatever happened to I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

When did it get replaced by "I don't agree with you, so I'm fine with you getting pepper-sprayed by the police for no reason"?

I've got to assume if it was middle-aged Tea Party people getting pepper-sprayed without cause, that right-wingers would be going crazy over the Jack-Booted Thugs (remember that phrase?) of the New World Order. And they'd be right. The police are given a legal monopoly on the use of force in situations like this, but that should never translate into a green-light to use it however the hell you feel. Lethal force (and that includes things like pepper-spray and tasers) should only be used in cases of real danger. It should never be used just to force compliance. 

Just as importantly, we all need to understand that people have the right to disagree with us. They may be the Occupy Wall Street people, they may be the Tea Party; they may even be White Supremacists or UT fans. They still have the right to their opinions, just as we have the right to ours. We have the absolute right to point out when someone is full of crap, but we should never celebrate they're being forcibly muzzled.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Penn St (and their enablers in the media) still don't get the point. They talk about "letting the healing begin" as if the real victims here are Penn St football fans and that the damage that needs to be healed was done in the last few weeks. They clearly still see the destruction of a topflight football program to be worse than the molestation of some kids. They still don't get that their "football matters most" mentality is exactly what led to Sandusky being allowed to run amok. If those in charge had cared about kids more than they did about football, Sandusky would have been arrested years ago.

The Penn St community seems to have no idea how dangerously close they are to becoming an utter joke. The behavior of their athletic department has diminished the value of every Penn St degree. Now they've hired Louis Freeh to do their internal investigation. Freeh is unethical political hack who was known for twisting investigations to fit his own agenda while running the FBI. It's like hiring Jack Abramoff to investigate your own recruiting violations. This makes it obvious that protecting their football program is more important than justice and more importnat than the school as a whole.

University of San Francisco voluntarily eliminated their basketball program after a scandal that was nowhere near as big as this is. SMU did the same in football. They both understood that an out of control athletic department can make the entire school look bad and hurts every single grad. No one wants their degree to be associated solely with cheating in sports, and no one should want their degree to be associated in the public mind with covering up for pedophiles. Penn St needs to send the message that their school is not defined by their athletics, and the only way to do it at this late date is to turn down any bowl game offered,  forfeit all games from this year, and eliminate their football program. I'm sure the Big10 would work out a deal to allow them to sit out a few years then bring it back. If not, having no program at all would be preferable to having an out of control program bring dishonor to everything you stand for.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Penn St alum writes on the scandal

 The amount of negligence is hard to believe to begin with, and almost impossible to believe from an institution held in such high regard by so many.
If the allegations are true, every Penn State alum who has walked the campus over the past 15 years will have to come to terms with the fact that they were lied to every single day of their enrollment. Their tuition dollars helped bankroll the lie. The university, seeking to avoid scandal, addressed the matter only in whispers audible only to them. By not acting, school officials were complicit in Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes. Their silence allowed a pattern of abuse to develop and flourish. They chose the reputation of a school legend over the children whose lives he was ruining.
In putting the football program over right and wrong, the university was badly missing the point. But so too is the current student body, many of who have taken to the streets of State College to riot (or rally or whatever you want to call it, it’s the same stupid mob they form every time they’re emotional about anything) even as I type. They are protesting what looks to be the imminent departure of Joe Paterno, not wanting the school’s greatest icon to meet disgrace. In the process they are destroying the last vestiges of Penn State’s integrity, valuing the reputation of a school legend over any and all else. It doesn’t matter to them that Paterno’s judgment, informing school officials and letting it go at that, put more children in harm’s way.

It's got to be rough for someone who was so clearly proud of the school they attended. Nice that he has the perspective to realize that the school's reputation and its football program got in the way of protecting kids and that can't be allowed to happen.
Anyone worrying about the effect of this child molestation scandal* on the Penn St football program is like someone watching a neighbor's house burn down with the entire family inside then complaining that an ambulance parked on his lawn. How this affects the team or the rest of this season is completely irrelevant. It doesn't matter in the slightest. It should not be taken into account at all.

Just saw that Joe Paterno has announced he'll retire at the end of the year and has essentially ordered the Board of Trustees not to waste any time discussing his status. That's not his call to make, nor should he be allowed to finish out the season or retire on his own terms. Paterno should be fired, his statue should be pulled down, and he should be considered an utter disgrace forever.

*Some idiot anchor on SportsCenter referred to this as a "sex scandal". It needs to get called what it actually was, a "child molestation" scandal or even a "child rape" scandal. What happened doesn't have any connection to what normal people think of as "sex". Please call it what it was.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Well, Michael Jackson's Dr just got convicted. That's a relief. I wouldn't want us to forget that the lives of famous people are far more important than the lives of non-famous people.

 I have paid absolutely no attention to the trial, so have no opinion to his guilt. I do, however, seriously doubt that he'd have been charged with anything if the corpse in question was that of a nobody.  I also doubt he could get a fair trial in the zoo-like atmosphere at the courthouse. My favorite was the giant "We Miss Michael" sign, which had nothing to do with the Dr's guilt but everything to do with why he was on trial.

Same Old Same Old

The more I think about the Paterno/Penn St thing, the more it reminds me of Cardinal Law, Archbishop of the Boston diocese. in both cases we have men who utterly dominated the institutions they were part of, who were more concerned with protecting their reputations than protecting kids. Neither is in any danger of spending one day in jail, nor will either ever be charged with a crime.

Both Law and Paterno, however, are morally culpable for what they allowed to happen, what they covered up, and the fact that they could have protected children and chose not to.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Joe Paterno should go to jail. A graduate assistant walked in on former Paterno assistant coach Jerry Sandusky anally penetrating a 10 year old. The graduate assistant went to his Dad and they together went to Paterno. He told the athletic director who apparently did nothing. Every single adult who knew about this sexual abuse had a duty to go to the police. Reporting it to your boss is not what is required. Calling the police is. But Paterno was worried about his reputation and that of Penn State football. He was certainly more worried about them than he was about the kids getting molested. So he didn't go to the police, and Sandusky was free to keep molesting kids (using as cover a charity he'd founded and to which his association with Penn St football had given prestige).

Paterno, the graduate assistant, his dad, the athletic director, and anyone else who knew about this and did nothing should go to jail. They won't, because famous people like Paterno aren't held to the same laws as everyone else. They won't, because some cowards in the DA's office are afraid that charging JoePa would trainwreck their careers. They won't, because we excuse not making waves and passing the buck if it keeps us winning (regardless of the cost). But make no excuses, Joe Paterno should go to jail.

Friday, November 04, 2011

How Cutting Pentagon Spending Will Fix U.S. Defense Strategy
The Pentagon's boosters are right that big cuts will limit military capabilities. But that would actually be a good thing for the United States. Shrinking the U.S. military would not only save a fortune but also encourage policymakers to employ the armed services less promiscuously, keeping American troops -- and the country at large -- out of needless trouble. Especially for the last two decades, the United States' considerable wealth and fortunate geography have made global adventurism seem largely costless. The 2011 U.S. military budget of nearly $700 billion is higher in real terms than at any point during the Cold War.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

People who are still hung up on the "liberal media" angle are totally missing the point. First, we need to establish what we mean by "the media". While someone on the police beat for the Sacramento Bee or writing movie reviews for the Dayton Daily News is technically just as much of "the media" as is Anderson Cooper or Shepard Smith, they're not who we're talking about. We're talking about the fairly limited number of people, almost all of them working for big media conglomerates, who actually have power to drive the narrative or frame the national debate.

These opinion makers are, at the core, financially well off people working for corporations in big cities. Guess the opinion of a well off corporate city dweller on an issue and that's likely what the media consensus will be. It's basically liberal on social issues and corporate conservative on fiscal ones, but with some twists.

The media tends to be reflexively patriotic and pro-troops; not because they've ever served in the military but because they haven't. They're afraid enough of being seen against the troops (as the media was seen during Vietnam) that they'd rather just abdicate the power to hold nuanced positions on any military issues. They're not very religious, but feel kinda guilty about it. So extremely religious people make them uncomfortable but so does openly making fun of people who are. They're pro choice, pro gay rights, and think guns are bad things (these things make them look liberal). Sexual harassment or discrimination is a big deal to them, but employees getting screwed out of overtime or getting their jobs outsourced overseas really isn't.

They work for big corporations, have generous healthcare packages, have no real financial problems, and likely have big investment portfolios. The unemployment rate could shoot to 20% and it would only affect them indirectly. They pay lip service to things that don't affect them like public education (their kids all go to private schools) and universal healthcare, but they won't lose sleep over them.  So for them the health of the economy is based on how the stock market is doing and maybe the price of gas. If the market is booming while everything else stagnates, they'd see the economy as doing nicely. If the market cratered while real wages went up and unemployment went down, they'd think everything was going to hell.

 So when you see the talking heads going on about something (or ignoring something else), think about where they're coming from.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Like most people, I assumed the big runup in oil prices in the middle of last decade was due to increased worldwide demand and the ongoing instability in the middle east. Only recently have I learned that those causes which can actually be attributed to cause and effect were secondary to one which was entirely not. As it turns out, a huge part of the increase in commodity prices during those years had nothing to do with supply and demand. If it did, then it's not likely that every single major traded commodity would have a big price runup during those years; but that's what happened.

What caused a massive price runup in all the big traded commodities (including oil) was the influx into the market of truly massive amount of money from speculators. Since speculators in commodities are almost always taking the "long" position, this influx of money caused a massive spike in commodity prices as the money poured in. Since, unfortunately, we as consumers are at the mercy of those same commodity prices; we ended up paying massively more for energy and for everything else. Of course, the oil companies and various dictatorships selling the oil ended up with way way more money than they should have gotten.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

When talking about the bailouts, it's often mentioned that almost everyone involved had a banking background; but it's not mentioned how that really changed things. The authors of  Bailout Nation, with New Post-Crisis Update: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy mentioned that the problem was that they focused on saving the individual banks rather than saving the banking system.

To save the banking system, you need certain things:
1) Guarantees to deposits and enough depositor confidence to stop runs on the banks
2) Enough liquidity to make sure the short term loans that so many businesses rely on keep getting made
3) Some mechanism for making the long term loans like mortgages and business expansion loans

We really just needed to prevent a run on the banks and to make sure enough lending still took place to keep the economy from grinding to a halt. We didn't actually need any of the troubled banks to survive. Every single one of those banks could have gone under while the "banking system" itself kept going. The surviving banks would have expanded to fill the void in retail services.

Once the banks' assets and outstanding loans had been sold off (at their discounted actual value, not at the amounts they'd originally been booked for), there likely would have been enough to keep the FDIC from shelling out too much to guarantee deposits. The bondholders would've ended up with pennies on the dollar and the owners of stock would've gotten nothing at all, but those are the risks of the free market. If you invest money in companies with shaky business practices, you're likely to lose out. The government would have been on the hook for some cash through the FDIC, but it wouldn't have needed to guarantee hundreds of billions of dollars in crappy loans.

But to a banker, the idea of letting Bank of America, Citibank, and so many others just go under is just intolerable. They lost sight of the goal of saving the banking system and made the goal the saving of the banks themselves. Thus we end up with our current system of "capitalism" when things are going good and "socialism" the minute things go to hell. If you want the big rewards that come with risk, you need to pay the price of those risks if they blow up in your face. Otherwise, there's never an incentive not to take crazier and crazier risks.
Stumbled across a book that almost read as a parody of the melding of Islamophobia and Obamaphobia, which then lead me to some googling and searching to see what else was out there. Apparently, there are people legitimately worried about Sharia law being imposed in the US. Like, so worried that they're willing to write books on the subject or read books written by others. Of course, there are some that are written as straight up propaganda with a political bent (like How Obama Embraces Islam's Sharia Agenda (Encounter Broadsides) ); but some appear to be written by people who are really really worried about something that will so clearly never happen.

America is completely dominated by Christianity, yet it's illegal to use state funds for a Nativity Scene. Do people legitimately think a small minority religion with almost no power is somehow going to impose Sharia on the rest of us? Or do people not even think about it deeply enough to realize how ridiculous their fears are?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This should give us pause as we contemplate life on a warmer planet. Extremes in weather are almost always a bad thing, and the prospect on those extremes getting even wilder is not happy.

Climate Change and the End of Australia

What is likely to vanish – or be transformed beyond recognition – are many of the things we think of when we think of Australia: the barrier reef, the koalas, the sense of the country as a land of almost limitless natural resources. Instead, Australia is likely to become hotter, drier and poorer, fractured by increasing tensions over access to water, food and energy as its major cities are engulfed by the rising seas.
To climate scientists, it's no surprise that Australia would feel the effects of climate change so strongly, in part because it has one of the world's most variable climates. "One effect of increasing greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere is to amplify existing climate signals," says Karoly. "Regions that are dry get drier, and regions that are wet get wetter. If you have a place like Australia that is already extreme, those extremes just get more pronounced."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Matt Taibbi's  Wall St Isn't Winning, It's Cheating

These inequities are what drive the OWS protests. People don't want handouts. It's not a class uprising and they don't want civil war -- they want just the opposite. They want everyone to live in the same country, and live by the same rules. It's amazing that some people think that that's asking a lot.

Been thinking about Steve Jobs and his place in the tech ecosphere. The products he's best known for (Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad) were not great leaps in technology. Apple didn't invent the mouse, and the Mac wasn't even the first Apple computer to feature one. Apple didn't invent the smartphone, the portable music player, or the touchscreen tablet.

What Steve Jobs did was make these innovations into something that people really wanted to use, and he did it through perfecting the interface. He understood that most people didn't want to learn all about the machines they were using. Jobs made it so people didn't about to think about the computer while using it and people loved him for it. What people loved about the Mac was the mouse and the way it interacted with the desktop (something which no popular computer even had before the Mac came along). What people love about the iPad is the touchscreen. They don't even have to know about what's going on underneath, and most of them didn't even remember a time when it would have been expected. And that's the beauty of what Steve Jobs wrought.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Turns out that Rubio in Florida lied about his family fleeing communism in Cuba (they actually left before Castro even returned from Mexico). Easy way to score some street cred with the still-powerful exile community, I guess. It's not as romantic to say your family moved here for economic opportunity just like most immigrants (awkward too, with all the hate directed towards immigrants by todays GOP).

I don't really see this as that big a deal. It's pretty standard  for politicians to stretch their own accomplishments and outright lie about their ancestors'. Of course, Gore got crucified by the media for a lot less.
Just saw some idiot on CNBC insisting that for-profit schools were focused on the "educational experience" and comparing them favorably to normal colleges because they don't have basketball teams. At first I thought he was joking.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The AIG bailout (now up to about $182 billion) is the perfect case of what should never have happened. AIG was essentially two companies under one roof: a giant boring insurance company that was quite solvent and a giant speculative hedge fund that lost hundreds of billions. The two should never have been allowed to coexist (we regulate insurance companies to make sure they don't blow all the premiums they're paid on stupid gambles) and once AIG became insolvent it was not necessary to bail out the hedge fund operation to keep the insurer going.

Being the biggest insurance company in the world, AIG collapsing would likely have caused a mass panic and set off a bad chain of events. The collapse of the hedge fund which made giant bets with other hedge funds and financial entities wouldn't have done so. It would have screwed over the fund's counterparties (a "counterparty" in this instance being who the hedge fund was making bets with), but it wouldn't have caused a massive chain reaction.

A lot of this is due to the kind of bets AIG's hedge fund was making. In many instances, it was taking relatively small amounts of money on the chance that very very large CDOs (collateralized debt obligations, the massive bundles of mortgages that set of the entire debt crisis) would stop paying off. In some cases this was billed as "insuring" the CDOs, but they were pretty much straight up bets since the people buying the "insurance" weren't the owners of those CDOs, they were just betting on them failing (kind of like taking out fire insurance on someone else's property then cheering for the arsonists). Being willing to take these giant bets with a huge downside was mostly due to the way the hedge fund people were compensated. If they made a risky bet that was calculated to make money over an extended period of time (like taking huge bets on the health of poorly understood CDOs), the hedge fund people got paid for the entire estimated profit right away. They didn't have to wait until the deal had run its course. They didn't even have to wait until the deal had made any money at all. They got paid right away. This obviously created a massive conflict of interest, giving the hedge fund guys incentive to make any deal they could "estimate" would make money regardless of the risk.

When the CDOs started going under and AIG suddenly didn't have the money to pay off their bets; the Federal government didn't need to step in and start shoveling money into the furnace. The could have forced AIG into chapter 11, fired all the management, then spun off the giant insurance company we'd decided was essential to the global economy. The insolvent hedge fund could then have been wound down. There would not have been enough money to pay off all the bets AIG had lost, but so what? It's not the taxpayers' responsibility to bail out every company that makes bad bets and goes under. And, as stated, in many cases the counterparties had only paid out relatively small amounts of money getting some truly sick odds on their bets (up to 100:1). However, between the money they did have, the bets they'd made that didn't actually lose, and any money they could've clawed back from what was paid to hedge fund guys based on phantom profits; there likely would have been enough to pay back the money the counterparties had put up to make those bets. The counterparties wouldn't have been happy, but that's what happens when you make giants bets with a company that'll never be able to pay them off if they lose.

So, in the end, no one would have been out of pocket any money and the incompetents running AIG would have been out on the streets. Instead, we spent billions bailing out not the insurance side (which was not insolvent) but the hedge fund side which never should have been bailed out.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just finished reading Bailout Nation, with New Post-Crisis Update: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy and it made me feel ill. Sure, the author overstated a few things to make his point. But even the raw numbers are pretty brutal, and I learned a few things I hadn't known. Draws a pretty bleak picture of how deregulation, lack of oversight, distorted reward structures, and historically low interest rates combined to melt the entire financial system. His emphasis in on the Fed and how normally sedate banks and insurance companies went wild with speculative greed.

I liked Michael Lewis'  The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine a lot better for an inside look at how the mess got started and how it played out. For obvious reasons, the guys who made a killing betting against the real estate market could be candid with Lewis in a way the guys who lost billions of their investors' money never will be.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Found this Glenn Greenwald article from a couple years ago about the root of the Tea Party anger and how it was misdirected towards minorities instead of the truly rich and powerful rigging the system. He ties it into the anger misdirected towards Clinton by Gingrich's Contract with America crowd.

Just as was true for the 1994 crime bill, the right-wing fury over health care reform is motivated by the fear that middle-class Americans will have their money taken away by Obama while — all together now, euphemistically — “having someone else benefit.”  And this “someone else” are, as always, the poor minorities and other undeserving deadbeats who, in right-wing lore, somehow (despite their sorry state) exert immensely powerful influence over the U.S. Government and are thus the beneficiaries of endless, undeserved largesse:  people too lazy to work, illegal immigrants, those living below the poverty line.....

 .....The premise of these citizen protests is not wrong:  Washington politicians are in thrall to special interests and are, in essence, corruptly stealing the country’s economic security in order to provide increasing benefits to a small and undeserving minority.  But the “minority” here isn’t what Fox News means by that term, but is the tiny sliver of corporate power which literally writes our laws and, in every case, ends up benefiting.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Just ran across this. McCain sucking up to a dictator.
Watching Republicans on TV the last two days talking about Libya and Iraq has been downright embarrassing. They've gone into 24/7 election mode and refuse to say anything good about the US under Obama. Not only are they clearly hoping the economy doesn't recover until after the election, they just as clearly are upset when the US scores any foreign policy victories. Wouldn't be surprised to find out some of them secretly wish Osama bin Laden were still alive.

McCain congratulated the French and British yesterday on victory in Libya without mentioning the American contribution, then churlishly claimed that the war would have been over much sooner if Obama had done things differently. Today, Romney was talking about our orderly and planned well in advance withdrawal from Iraq as if it were the panicked evacuation of the last personnel from the embassy roof a la Saigon.

Need I point out the obvious. Libya is an example of using our power in a limited but very effective way to help people free themselves. Iraq is an example of using overwhelming force to create a total mess. The Republicans find it quite inconvenient that they were in charge of the amazingly expensive mess while someone they dislike was in charge of the inexpensive success.

This is Mitt's quote on Iraq:
President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women. The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government. The American people deserve to hear the recommendations that were made by our military commanders in Iraq.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Koch bros

If you want background on the most powerful men in American politics whom you've likely heard of, you should read this New Yorker article on the Koch brothers, billionaire right-wingers who fund an entire web on organizations, media fronts, and other assorted attempts to move American politics as far to the right as possible.

the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

Oddly, as I was typing this; Rachel Maddow (who I would totally hit on if she were straight, as I just love smart tomboyish chicks) started talking about the Kock brothers somehow going after one of her producers by name.
Here's the video (but it's not very exciting, TBH)

Apparently, it is now illegal to take cash for used goods in Louisiana.
It's a law that was passed during this year's busy legislative session.....
.....[House bill 195] states those who buy or sell second hand goods are prohibited from using cash. State representative Rickey Hardy co-authored the bill. Hardy says, "they give a check or a cashiers money order, or electronic one of those three mechanisms is used.".....
.....Besides non-profit resellers like Goodwill, and garage sales, the language of the bill encompasses stores like the Pioneer Trading Post and flea markets.
 So much for limited government. I guess you can get right wingers to go along with almost anything as long as it's in the name of "law and order" (in this case, keeping people from selling stolen goods). Obviously, this bill was so poorly written that it'll likely be repealed (can't take cash at yard sales, brilliant). But the urge to control more and more of our lives is genuine. If something can't be monitored by the government, best not to allow it to take place at all.

Just look at our famously successful War on Drugs (so successful that no one can get drugs anywhere in the US). All we've had to do is spend hundreds of billions of dollars, lock up millions of people, sacrifice our 4th & 5th Amendment rights, enrich murderous gangsters at home and despots around the world; and we've made drugs slightly harder to get hold of. Terrific. I can't wait to see what's next on the agenda.
Word out of Tripoli is that Gadhafi is dead. To me, Libya is an almost perfect example of how American military power should be used. There was a popular uprising against a brutal dictator, which was being violently suppressed. We and our allies provided support for the rebels, including airpower; but never committed ground troops. The dictator eventually gets defeated, mostly due to opposition by his own people. Post-war Libya will be rebuilt by Libyans for the benefit of Libyans. That's the way to do things. Hard to do anything but pat Obama on the back on foreign policy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I really don't understand the hostility to alternative energy on the part of the right wing. OK, I understand hostility on the part of those in the oil or coal industries as pure short-sighted self interest. That's pretty standard. What I don't understand is the hostility emanating from right wing bloggers, talking heads, or even commenters on message boards. It's as if anything the damn hippies like absolutely must be opposed regardless of what it is.

If we really want "energy independence", is it better to hope unicorns discover a massive overlooked source of oil deep in the American heartland, or to come up with alternatives to the oil we now import from dictatorships in the Middle East? Is it better to burn through our limited fossil fuels as fast as we possibly can, or to adopt methods to stretch how long they last.

The easiest is solar energy. By far our biggest demand for electricity is during the day. It's when we run A/C the most. It's when our factories are running. It's when our offices, schools, and stores are open. We have to build an overcapacity of electrical plants just to deal with the big spikes in demand we experience in the day. Luckily enough, that's also when the sun is shining. We have tens of millions of single family homes with empty roofs, just waiting for electrical panels. We have entire office and industrial parks with rooftops just as empty. Filling these rooftops with generating capacity would drastically reduce the demand for electricity and suffer almost no transmission loss. Fossil fuels combine for 2/3 of our electrical generation, and as demand increases they account for almost all the new generating capacity that comes online.

The Freakonomics site has a post that manages to completely miss the point. It disparages rooftop solar in places like San Francisco because there are sunnier parts of the state; treating it as an either/or proposition as if putting rooftop solar in San Francisco meant it couldn't go in Bakersfield or Fresno. It also completely ignores the energy lost in transmission which is saved by generating it where it's consumed and indulges in some hippie-punching by speculating that San Franciscans only want solar panels to make themselves look good.

The article goes on to praise San Diego for having just over 2000 residential solar installations. In a city of over 1.3 million people which gets only 42 rainy days a year, 2000 roofs with solar is a friggin joke. San Diego is absolutely perfect for solar and should have it on almost every roof. We should be putting rooftop solar pretty much everywhere practical, especially in places that never have snow and to which power transmission is lossy and can't be easily expanded.
Charles Pierce on David Brooks

It's Tuesday, and David Brooks is happy — nay, ecstatic — that all of you out there are using your encroaching poverty to rediscover your moral compass. He calls it — and I am not kidding here — The Great Restoration, and he's awfully proud of each and every one of you peasants..... Brooks, "Quietly but decisively, Americans are trying to restore the moral norms that undergird our economic system."
Jesus H. Christ in a fking Volvo, no, it doesn't. It means people are broke. People are broke because the end product of 30 years of economic theorizing and political action that you supported has resulted in a shattered middle-class. People are broke because the Wall Street casino that your politics created and celebrated and enabled finally broke the entire country and took the rest of us down with it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bloomberg's Editorial Board
writes on the same basic idea as my "tax to cause the least pain" concept, but is also worried about people getting pissed off and just wanting to "punish" Wall Street.

We support Obama’s stance that people who earn more than $200,000 (or $250,000 for a couple) ought to contribute more to the public weal. Critics call this “class warfare,” but it needn’t be. The intention isn’t to punish the rich, nor to suggest that people with high incomes are bad. The intention is to raise the money necessary to finance the amount of government we want, and to do so as fairly as possible. Those who have been luckiest in the lottery of life -- whether by talent or trust fund -- have also, in recent years, been luckiest in rates of taxation

Monday, October 17, 2011

Goldman Sachs must really, really be sweating its public image, as I just ran across a full page they ran in "Popular Science" touting their role in building a big arena in Louisville. I can't imagine that the readership has a big crossover with investment banking customers, so I'm guessing they're just trying to tell the world: "See, we sometimes actually help get funding for stuff you like. We're not just blood-sucking vampires."

I Liked Ike

Where has the Republican Party of Eisenhower, of Ford, even of Nixon gone?

There is space for a political party that is in favor of a small yet efficient government that intrudes into the market and personal lives only when necessary, strong cost-effective defense, low taxes that cause the least pain and market distortion, and balanced budgets except in emergencies. We just don't have one of those parties.

Small, efficient governments don't spend hundreds of billions in corporate welfare. Cost-effective defense doesn't waste billions on unneeded big-ticket items nor does it get involved in military adventurism overseas. A sound government would raise enough money to pay for its operations, not borrow hundreds of billions to avoid raising taxes while shifting as much of the tax burden as possible onto the backs of those who can least afford it.

I really think that a lean government that only operates where it is really needed could be an electoral winner, mainly through keeping tax rates really low without borrowing our kids into the grave. So it depresses me to see the party that pays lip service to low taxes and small government make corporate welfare its biggest priority.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress. By attempting to gratify their desires we have in the results of our legislation arrayed section against section, interest against interest, and man against man, in a fearful commotion which threatens to shake the foundations of our Union. It is time to pause in our career to review our principles, and if possible revive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise which distinguished the sages of the Revolution and the fathers of our Union.
- Andrew Jackson, Veto of the Second Bank of the United States, 1832.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult

Both parties are rotten - how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats' health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats' rank capitulation to corporate interests - no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.
But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

Causing the Least Pain

I've noticed that opponents of the so-called "Buffett Rule" (that millionaires shouldn't pay lower tax rates than the less well off) throw out phrases like "class warfare" and "jealousy" as if the point were just to punish rich people for the hell of it.

The fact is, government operations need to be paid for. Doing this requires taxes and taxes on anyone cause at least some pain. So we should try to find  the source of taxes that cause the least pain and the least distortion of the market. Charging millionaires like Warren Buffett the same tax rates that others pay as a way to narrow the budget deficit seems about as painless as we can get.

The same holds true for Inheritance Taxes. Sure, it would be nice to inherit millions without paying any taxes, but it would be nice for a janitor to pay less tax on his paycheck too. Which do you think causes more pain, inheritance taxes on estates over $1 million or income taxes + state taxes + payroll taxes on the average pay stub?

I've read articles that explain away the lower taxes Buffett pays based on the fact that payroll taxes have a cap and capital gains are taxed at a lower rate as if this were just the way things are and there's nothing we can do about it. Those tax rates weren't set by edict from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They were set by political decisions and can be changed by political decisions. Payroll taxes skyrocketed under Reagan as a way to disguise the size of the deficits he was running and no President since has done a thing to lower them; even as upper income tax rates, inheritance taxes, and capital gains taxes have been slashed or entirely eliminated.

The tax burden has been trending in the direction of most pain, as taxes on those who can least afford it (mainly payroll and sales taxes) have gone up while taxes on those who aren't struggling have gone down. If we need to do something about the deficits (and we do), then I'm simply asking that we go in the other direction and look at taxes that cause the least pain.
"There is always an easy solution to every human problem--neat,
plausible, and wrong."  
H.L Mencken
Herman Cain

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Politics is not a game. It effects real people in very real ways. It decides what taxes we pay, if we go to war, and how your kids are educated. So I can't hope for someone batshit crazy like Bachmann to win the Republican nomination just because she'd be easier to beat. Whoever gets the nomination could easily end up the next President, and I'd prefer that not be someone batshit crazy. So definitely pulling for a moderate, preferably someone with enough spine to stand up to the wingnuts in his own party. Unfortunately, that's not the moderate we're stuck with. Romney is the only non-wingnut to gain any traction, so I guess he's the man. Not that he'd be a terrible President if he was working with a Democratic Congress (he wouldn't be); just that he's not the man to stand up to a Republican Congress and tell them to slow down.

This definitely appears to be the race Romney wants. He's the only moderate the press acknowledges (sorry, Huntsman) and there are 3 conservatives to split the far more numerous rightwing vote. He's just got to hope they don't coalesce around one candidate because if they do Romney is toast. His only path in a year dominated by wingnut anger is to win with a moderate plurality. He'll be helped by the press and Republican establishment, who are scared of a loose cannon and really don't give a damn about social issues.
Not going to dive into a complex explanation of where I've been. Just figure it's enough to say I saw a lot, did a lot, and had a hell of a lot of fun. Definitely should have kept writing, but I didn't. Always missed it, so now I'm back.
So, umm, how ya been?