Contributors

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

An Engineering Solution

Last year Richard Muller, the Berkeley scientist who headed the Koch-funded global warming study, announced that global warming was actually occurring. Now he has completed another study that acknowledges that the warming measured is completely due to carbon dioxide emitted by humans.

Muller was immediately attacked by climate change deniers like Anthony Watts, who released a dueling study claiming that NOAA artificially doubled temperature increases. Note that Watts isn't saying that there's no temperature increase, he's just quibbling over the amount.

We can now see conservatives starting to pivot on climate change. They can't simply deny it any more: climate change is obviously happening, what with the increasingly weird weather we've been having (more tornadoes, more drought), measurably higher sea levels on the east coast, demonstrably earlier springs and later winters, migrating species (resulting in dying forests and rampant wildfires in the west), and the melting of the polar ice caps.

In June Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, admitted that climate change was happening. He blithely stated that it was "just an engineering problem" and we'll just adapt. Yes, it's true: rebuilding your house after it's destroyed by a hurricane or a tornado is "just a construction problem." Moving millions of people out of Miami and Manhattan after sea levels rise is "just a relocation problem." Rising temperatures and climate shifts that turn America's breadbasket into a dustbowl are "just an agriculture problem."

As we continue to burn so much oil and coal, there will be climate winners and losers. Tillerson's "engineering problems" will cost some people trillions of dollars to fix and displace millions of people. The economies of some states and countries that just happen to be in the wrong end of the climate stick may be completely destroyed. Some island countries will simply cease to exist.

Rex Tillerson profits from the thing that causes climate change, and he wants to stick the rest of us with the bill for fixing the problems that his product causes. This attitude makes him, in engineering parlance, a "dick."

But if we're going to blithely talk about engineering solutions to climate change, the most obvious one is to stop using so much coal and oil and start generating more electricity with wind, solar and other technologies. After all, there's only a finite amount of oil left in the ground, which we will nearly deplete in my lifetime. We'll never really run out because it'll get so expensive no one will ever bother to drill the last drop.

From an engineering perspective, the internal combustion engine is a dying technology, soon to be made obsolete by a lack of fuel. Best to switch sooner than later, since it's got so many other downsides to it. And if we Americans do it, we'll get in on the ground floor and become the providers for the rest of the world. In addition to being an engineering solution, it's also a business opportunity!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hmm....

They're All above Average

Ever notice that while everyone else's pay is going down, CEO pay is going up? There's a reason for that: they cheat.

When compensation committees (typically made up of other CEOs and their buddies) figure out how much execs should get paid, they typically create a "peer group" of similar companies, and use that information to determine how much their CEO should get paid.

The problem is the compensation committees cherry-pick the companies in the peer group, selecting companies like 3M that pay their execs more:
Indeed, 3M Co. was the most popular "peer group'' company in corporate America in 2011. It was included in the compensation analysis of 62 U.S. firms -- more than any other company, according to Equilar, an executive compensation data firm. 
Although companies use a variety of factors in selecting peers, high CEO pay plays a factor. 
"Why is the company so popular?" asks Carol Bowie, head researcher for the Americas group at Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), a proxy advisory firm. "There could be a variety of reasons, but it is certainly notable that [former CEO George Buckley's] pay was high relative to other peers.
 I guess CEOs, like the children in Lake Webegon, are all above average.

Indeed

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody Analytics, once and for all has settled (with the help of the CBO) the 500+ comments thread from a while back over at TSM.

Some supporters thought the lower tax rates would spur much stronger economic growth, and a few even hoped there would be so many new, high-paying jobs that tax revenues would actually increase, despite the lower rates. There is no evidence that this happened, however. 

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the Bush-era tax cuts cost the U.S. Treasury $1.6 trillion during the 2000s. Combined with the $1.2 trillion spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the $1.8 trillion needed to fight the Great Recession, this put the federal government deeply into the red. The nation's debt load today is as heavy as it has been since the 1940s and getting heavier.

To put it simply, they didn't generate growth nor revenue. Now that that is settled (although I'm nearly certain that the financial wizards at TSM, with their vast experience and day to day work with economics, will disagree:)), how do we solve the problem of the deficit? Well, exactly like I have been saying...one third tax cuts, two thirds spending cuts.

Extend the tax cuts for everyone except high-income taxpayers. The economy isn't great, but it is strong enough to handle higher tax rates on the wealthy. And we need the extra revenue, which under reasonable assumptions would reduce the federal deficit by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade.

Raising tax rates on wealthier households is necessary, but so, too, are more cuts in government spending. Washington last summer agreed to cut $1 trillion over 10 years as part of the deal to raise the Treasury's debt ceiling. Even with $1 trillion in additional tax revenues from affluent households, it will take an additional $2 trillion in cuts, under reasonable assumptions, to get our fiscal house in order. Given how politically difficult this will be, any agreement to raise taxes on the wealthy should also include more cuts in government spending.

And what will the result of all this be?

If policymakers follow this script, federal tax revenues will eventually rise to equal just over 19 percent of the nation's GDP, and government spending will fall to the equivalent of 21.5 percent of GDP. These are roughly the average ratios seen since 1980. In other words, government's role in our economy and our lives will be about what it has been for the last three decades. The deficit will still equal 2.5 percent of GDP (21.5 percent minus 19 percent); while more than ideal, this will be manageable, given the economy's expected growth.

That's right, folks, it's just that simple. Anyone think it will happen?

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Saturday, July 28, 2012

No Apologies Anywhere

As Mitt Romney travels abroad, it's important to point out his standard line about President Obama apologizing too much for the United States is one gigantic load of bullshit.

The Washington Post has an article detailing where this lie (see: Breaking the 8th Commandment)  originated. More importantly,.the Fact Checker illustrates, in a very complete way,  how this is lie is a four Pinocchio whopper. Example:

The Heritage Foundation list is also a stretch. Again, nothing akin to the word "apology" is ever used by Obama. In most of these cases, Obama is trying to make a clear distinction with his predecessor, much as Ronald Reagan did with Jimmy Carter, or George W. Bush with Clinton. Guantanamo or the war on terrorism figures in four of the so-called apologies -- and it is noteworthy during the 2000 campaign that Obama's GOP opponent, Sen. John McCain, also had said he would close the facility. Obama's comments express a disagreement over policy, not a distaste for the nation.

If one actually pays attention to what the president said as opposed to listening to the greatest propaganda experts since Goebbels, there is nothing close to an apology in any of his speeches.

Of course, he is Barack X, so there's no way that he can possibly be tougher than a Republican so...

I Love My Wife

Unless you live on a desert island and are completely self sufficient, you are part of our society which is, in fact, a collective. Grow the fuck up.
----Mrs. Markadelphia, last week.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Romney Didn't Build That

Last week President Obama gave a speech in which he said:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Republicans have gone wild over the speech, intentionally misrepresenting what Obama said. "That" is a collective demonstrative pronoun relating to "roads and bridges." Yes, he could have said "those" or "that infrastructure" to be clearer. If Obama's intention was to say that business owners didn't build their own businesses, he would have said, "If you've got a business -- you didn't build it."

But if Republicans are going to carp about this niggling detail in Obama's speech, it's only fair to look at the niggling details of the business that W. Mitt Romney claims makes him qualified to lead this country, Bain Capital. Did he really build that?

I draw upon information on Romney's biography from this Wikipedia entry.

Romney went to public primary school, then attended a prestigious prep school paid for by his wealthy parents. He went to prestigious Stanford for a year, paid for by his wealthy parents. At age 19, during the height of the Vietnam War when men of the same age were volunteering for service or being drafted, Romney went to France for 30 months, presumably at the expense of his wealthy parents and/or the Mormon Church. Romney used four student deferments and a ministerial deferment to avoid serving in Vietnam (in 1969 his high number in the draft lottery kept him safe).

To be fair, being a missionary isn't necessarily draft dodging: all Mormons are expected to go on a mission. The Mormons I've known personally went on missions long after Vietnam was over. To be equally fair, however, the Mormons I know didn't go to France to live in a castle, eat brie and convert Protestants and Catholics to Mormonism. They went to third-world countries to build houses and feed starving kids.

Romney returned to the US and attended BYU, again presumably on his parents' dime. He then went to Harvard Business School. By all accounts Romney wasn't a stellar student (I have to wonder why all those pundits on Fox News aren't after Romney for his college transcripts).


Afterwards Romney went into management consulting. He was eventually hired by Bill Bain at Bain & Company. When Bain wanted to start a new venture in private equity and asked Romney to run it, Romney initially refused. After Bain restructured the deal so there would be no professional or financial risk to Romney, Mitt took the job. That was Bain Capital, Romney's baby.


Romney then went around trying to convince wealthy people to invest in the company. As detailed on this blog, he got about a third of the capital to start Bain from foreign sources, including many investors who eventually wound up in jail or were associated with Salvadoran death squads. I don't believe in guilt by association myself, but it's something that Republicans apparently value highly, because they constantly bring up Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, two men with whom Obama has only passing association.


Bain Capital's basic business model was explicitly to never do anything on their own: they talked other people into giving them money to perform corporate surgery on troubled companies. Bain bought businesses with borrowed money in highly leveraged buyouts. He then tried to turn them around by changing management practices, reorganizing, firing employees, etc. On several occasions the companies Bain bought went bankrupt after Bain forced them to take out loans in order to pay Bain lots of cash.

Romney never created anything in business from nothing, with his own money, his own ideas and his own initiative. The path for him was always paved by someone else: parents, teachers, professors, the Mormon Church, Bill Bain, wealthy investors, original company founders.

Are there people who do create something from nothing, people who got no help from parents, who got where they are solely through hard work and individual initiative? Yes, but they're extremely rare, and many Republicans would rather these people not be in this country. Take, for example, Harold Fernandez who is now a cardiac surgeon. Originally from Colombia, he entered this country illegally at age 13 on a leaky boat filled with illegal immigrants. He graduated valedictorian of his class and enrolled at Princeton with a fake green card and a stolen Social Security number. But even so, Fernandez didn't do it all alone: he got scholarships that were endowed by wealthy donors who were giving back to Princeton for all that Princeton gave them. Through their generosity, a person of meager means can enjoy the same advantages that Mitt Romney did.

I don't pretend I did it all myself: my parents were borderline poor, so I qualified for about $3,600 dollars in Pell grants over four years. That was almost enough to pay for tuition at a public university at the time. I also had a job and lived at home. My dad often asked to "borrow" a hundred bucks here or there to make ends meet. That small investment the government made in my education resulted in me paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal taxes, a fabulous return on the investment.

My dad, a rabid Tea Partyer, tried 50 years ago to create a business from nothing, but eventually gave up as larger companies squashed him in both building maintenance and real estate. Why? Because to succeed while going truly alone is almost impossible. My dad would hire other guys, but would never partner with them. That doomed him to always staying small. He ultimately went to to work as a bus driver and is now retired on Social Security and a pension from a municipal bus company.


And even the star of Mitt Romney's "You Didn't Build That" ad, Jack Gilchrist, received more than a million dollars worth of government contracts, tax-exempt revenue bonds, and federal Small Business Administration loans.

And, of course, Gilchrist didn't really build that company. His dad did.

The Ebb and Flow of Jobs

The other day my colleague on this blog said that jobs lost in 2008 will never come back. While some jobs may not be coming back in the next few years, he's wrong in the long term: we have seen this kind of job exodus in the past, and lot of jobs have actually returned. But it won't make Americans happy, because when those jobs do come back there may not be as many of them, they may not be in the same place and they will probably pay a lot less.

First, the article Mark referenced about the rising middle class across the world is correct: people in the developing world have been enjoying greater prosperity, in large part because American and European companies have been shipping jobs there for decades. As more people are employed in those countries the demand for their labor goes up, so their wages goes up, so more people are enjoying middle class incomes.

But as a result of these jobs being exported to other countries, competition for workers has decreased in the United States. This, combined with the destruction of labor unions, has resulted in stagnant and/or falling wages for the majority of Americans. American tax policies tilted in favor of multinational corporations have expedited job losses. Not only do Americans lose income when jobs are offshored, they wind up having to pay more taxes (or suffer larger deficits and government interest payments) because companies get a tax break for firing Americans.

Now, there are significant costs with offshoring jobs: relocating manufacturing to China has large transportation costs. For example, the United States exports iron ore to China and imports finished steel back from China. Over time transportation, energy and Chinese labor costs will continue to rise. At some point the cost of the energy required for transportation will exceed the labor cost differential between the US and China, the Chinese government will no longer be able to subsidize production, and it will no longer be cheaper to import Chinese steel. Steel production could then move back to the United States. (It could move somewhere else in the meantime, like Africa, if they have the raw materials and build the infrastructure to make exploiting low-wage workers profitable.)


How do I know this will happen? It already did in the automobile industry.

After WWII a lot of manufacturing was relocated to Japan there because labor was so cheap. "Japanese" became synonymous with "cheap," and not in a good way. Over time Japanese corporations began to expand their operations from the simple to the complex. Honda, for example, started out making motorcycles. Then they started making tiny cars for the Japanese market. In the 70s those cars were small and flimsy, but they were fuel efficient. During the energy crisis a market developed in the United States for those cars. Over time the quality of Japanese cars improved, and their exports grew. Then the Japanese made bigger and fancier cars specifically for the American and European markets. Over time time the Japanese standard of living rose to equal or exceed that of America, which meant that wages increased. Japanese auto manufacturers responded by building robots that reduced the number of employees required.

But Japan is an island with almost no resources: no coal, no iron ore, no oil. They have to import almost everything required for the production of automobiles, and then they have to ship all those heavy cars overseas. It became more and more difficult to make cars profitably in Japan, even with robots.

So Japanese car manufacturers started building factories in the United States. Production of cars used to be located primarily in Detroit at unionized factories, but the new Japanese factories were built in the non-union southern states. Toyota and Honda will build 15 million cars in the United States in 2012. Some German car makers also have plants in the USA. Even Ikea has an American factory.

At some point the same thing will happen with other industries that are currently located in China and India. Certain jobs will return to the United States as the rising price of energy drives up transportation costs. As wages in India rise and wages fall in the United States, even jobs like call center techs may move back here because the wage differential is too small to make up for deficiencies of offshoring customer service jobs: time zone differences, language differences, cultural differences, and the difficulties of managing off-site employees. Anyone whose ever called an offshore tech support line knows what I'm talking about...

In the long haul, sources of energy, the location of raw materials and the attendant costs of moving those raw materials and finished products will ultimately determine where jobs go.

There are, however, some jobs that will never come back due to changes in technology: the need for ferriers and harness makers all but disappeared when cars displaced horse-drawn carriages. The need for typists and typesetters has all but disappeared as computers entered the workplace. In the future, as oil supplies dwindle millions of people will lose their jobs in refineries and oil fields.

New jobs will be created as new sources of energy are developed. Because established business is only concerned about next quarter's profit numbers, they are terrible at investing in revolutionary new technologies.

At the same time Republicans are excoriating President Obama for loan guarantees for Solyndra (guarantees which the Bush administration was pushing for as well), the Chinese government is subsidizing renewable energy technologies, positioning themselves to dominate our energy future.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Well, At Least He Admits It


Not a single case of voter fraud in the state of Pennsylvania which makes me wonder...isn't this one of those needless laws that an over reaching government passes?

Oh well, at least GOP State House leader Mike Turzai admits what the real purpose of the law. All I have to do is let them speak:)

Yeah, seriously, WTF??!??

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Be A Man...SUE!

I've always been amused when the right froths at the mouth of about trial lawyers and tort reform....and then turns around and engages in exactly that sort of behavior. 

The former top Senate staffer and key GOP strategist, who was fired after having an affair with Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, filed a wrongful termination suit Monday against his former employer that could bring allegations of discrimination, sexual affairs and backroom politics into open court. 

His complaint alleges that "similarly situated female legislative employees, from both political parties, were not terminated from their employment positions despite intimate relationships with male legislators."

Oh really? Hee hee hee....

A Severe Disconnect From Reality

This video below demonstrates how truly disconnected the right is from reality.

 
Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

He's the "Obamamateur, Campaigner in Chief who hates America!"

They simply can't take yes for an answer so they have to invent a fictional person in place of the real one. Correct me if I'm wrong on this one but doesn't that break the 8th Commandment?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Problem With Racism is Matt Drudge

I know several people that read the Drudge Report every day. This is dedicated to you.



A Wish That Will Likely Never Be Filled

As we draw nearer to election day this year, I want to reiterate one of my main complaint about the president. He (and Mitt Romney) need to be honest about the jobs that were lost in 2008. In short, they aren't coming back.

Why?

Well, here's a very good explanation. 

The middle class in the developing world is rising. The only question is how high it will go and how fast it will get there. About 85 percent of the world's people live in developing countries, yet they accounted for only 18 percent of global consumer spending just a decade ago; today, they account for nearly 30 percent. Consumer spending in developing countries has been increasing at about three times the rate in advanced countries, and we're not just seeing a growing demand for necessities, but also for middle-class staples such as meat, toothpaste, cell phones, and air-conditioners.

When you spend nearly 70 years spreading the word of free markets and capitalism, you get....free markets and capitalism. 

So when politicians complain about jobs being shipped overseas (and this is a case where both sides really are the same), it's basically a lie. If you want freedom and prosperity around the world, then you have to be able to put up with the increase in the labor pool which will result in unemployment at home.

The good news for our country is that we are providing much of the world with these products. Granted, the labor is coming from places like China and India but the higher end roles in private organizations are being filled by Americans. Bottom line...if you are unemployed, you need to continue your education so you can be more marketable in the world.

As Thomas Friedman noted last January, it's Made in The World now.

Monday, July 23, 2012

And So It Begins...

The second-guessing and accusations have begun in the shootings in Aurora. But Russell Pearce is blaming the victims, accusing them of cowardice.


Pearce is the former Arizona state senator who authored the controversial Arizona immigration law. He was recently booted out of office in a recall election. He posted the following on Facebook in response to the shootings in Colorado:
Had someone been prepared and armed they could have stopped this "bad" man from most of this tragedy. He was two and three feet away from folks, I understand he had to stop and reload. Where were the men of flight 93???? Someone should have stopped this man. Someone could have stopped this man. Lives were lost because of a bad man, not because he had a weapon, but because noone was prepared to stop it. Had they been prepared to save their lives or lives of others, lives would have been saved.
It is a delusion that someone armed with a concealed handgun could have stopped James Holmes. The events in Aurora were nothing like Flight 93, and more closely resemble the North Hollywood Shootout. In that incident two bank robbers in body armor and armed with AR-15s modified for full automatic fire held off police for half an hour. The cops had to wait for SWAT teams with rifles to show up because their handguns couldn't penetrate the robbers' armor.

Like the North Hollywood robbers, Holmes had a plan. He entered the darkened theater from an exit door he had propped open after scouting out the theater and the people inside. According to reports, he was wearing body armor, including a ballistic helmet, groin protection, and a gas mask. He announced himself as the Joker, making many think it was some sort of pre-arranged stunt. (He had even died his hair orange, though as all true Batman fans know, the Joker's hair is green.)

Holmes threw gas canisters into the audience and fired an assault rifle that had a 100-round drum. He shot babies and their mothers, children, teenaged girls, young men, even members of the military. When the AR-15 jammed he switched to .40 caliber Glocks. Anyone who got up to flee was shot.

After 90 seconds it was over. Holmes left the theater. He was apprehended because one of the officers on the scene noticed that Holmes' armor didn't match theirs.

Now look at the difficulties facing the audience. First, it was dark. Then there was the gas, obscuring their vision and making them tear up. Before charging off after Holmes, people had to make sure their children and girlfriends were safe. Then there were rows and rows of seats between them and Holmes, filled with screaming men, women and children ducking for cover. The floor was slick with blood. 

Now let's say that some of those in the audience had concealed weapons. Hitting Holmes in the dark, smoke-filled auditorium while blinking back tears would be next to impossible. Most of the shots fired at Holmes would miss. Where would those rounds go?

It would literally be a circular firing squad. If 10 people had 17-round clips in their Glock 9 mm pistols, that would be 170 more bullets flying around that movie theater. There would have been dozens more casualties.

Even if their aim were true, Holmes was wearing body armor. Like the cops facing the North Hollywood robbers, Holmes' armor would have stopped their handgun bullets. But after shooting at Holmes they would have his attention. He would return fire, hitting either them or their friends around them.

On Flight 93 things were nothing like Aurora. The heroes of 9/11 had plenty of time, in comparison to the 90 seconds the theater patrons had. The hijackers took over the cockpit at 9:31, leaving the passengers free in the cabin. Many of them made phone calls and they learned that planes had already been flown into the World Trade Center. Unlike the audience in the theater, the passengers on Flight 93 knew exactly what the terrorists had in mind. They even took a vote about whether they should storm the cabin, which they did at 9:57. The plane crashed at 10:03.

Aurora is the perfect example of why concealed handguns offer no protection. Trained cops armed with handguns were helpless against armored robbers during the North Hollywood shootout in broad daylight. What hope could the audience in the dark, gas-filled theater have against the similarly armored Holmes?

The bad guys will always have the upper hand. They have all the time in the world to plan their attack, stockpile their weapons, prepare their defenses, pick their location, find the holes in security, surveil their victims. To question the bravery of the victims in the theater and to claim that handguns would have stopped anything is the height of foolishness.

As a result of a few attacks by foreign terrorists millions of travelers must suffer long lines at airports, waste billions of hours at airports, take our shoes off, face restrictions on bringing liquids on planes, submit to intrusive body searches and repeated exposure to X-ray scans, and on and on. Republicans like Pearce are willing to disenfranchise millions of voters by requiring photo IDs to stop a few instances of voter fraud. Republicans like Pearce want to empower the police to stop anyone on the street and harass them for their papers.

Is it so unreasonable to ask gun owners to accept the same sorts of minor inconveniences that everyone else has to endure to reduce the number of people killed by our own domestic terrorists?

The Hammer Falls

Today the NCAA put the hammer down on Penn State: all victories from 1998 to 2011 will be vacated, the school must pay a $60 million dollar fine (equal to one year of profit from the football program), a loss of some scholarships, and the football program will be banned from post-season play for four years. It's a harsh penalty, but it's not the death penalty.


A lot of people, especially rabid sports fans, think this is totally unfair. They don't think the NCAA has jurisdiction, there was a rush to judgment, they didn't give PSU due process, they didn't wait until the case played out in the courts and all the appeals were exhausted. Somehow Sandusky's conviction doesn't matter to these folks.


But that's all irrelevant, because the NCAA isn't a government organization. It's a club that universities are invited to join. As such, it has the right to pick and choose its members. If one of its members does something that it perceives as corrupt, or has the appearance of corruption, it has the right to punish such behavior to discourage other schools from making the same mistakes.


The fact that Paterno wasn't convicted in a court of law is irrelevant. It's not a crime for boosters to give athletes cars or for students to play professionally before participating in an NCAA program. But such infractions will get your football program banned and its victories vacated in a heartbeat. If giving an athlete cash so he can pay his mom's rent is an infraction, letting former coaches use the shower to molest children should be an infraction as well.

The NCAA has a lot of problems. Many of its rules seem pointless and ridiculous, especially for "non-revenue" programs. The question of unpaid student athletes playing in college football and basketball programs that are essentially farm teams for the NFL and the NBA is particularly vexing. Hundreds of football players suffer permanent injuries from multiple ACL tears, to concussions, to broken necks. Some even die on the field. It makes you question why unpaid student athletes are the backbone of a multibillion dollar sports franchise, and why we even have football programs at universities. But that's a question for another day.

Yes, this punishment will hurt more than a hundred athletes and coaches who had nothing to do with Paterno's disgrace. It will hamstring the Penn State program for a decade. It will disappoint thousands, if not millions, of football fans. But maybe the next coach who finds himself in the same situation will do the right thing. Maybe the next university president will have the guts to stand up to a coach whose fans think he's the right hand of God.

The problem is, this entire fiasco was self-inflicted. If Paterno had turned in Sandusky way back when, he would have been the hero for doing the right thing, the hard thing, the sort of thing that he was famous for. Why didn't he? Why didn't he stay true to what he was?

That question is the most disturbing. Because it makes us wonder whether Joe Paterno ever really was that guy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Statue Comes Down

Last week someone flew a plane over Penn State trailing a banner that read, "Take the statue down or we will." Fearing violence between students standing watch over the statue and those who planned a Saddam-statue takedown, Penn State has removed the statue of Joe Paterno.

Paterno had taken on the stature of a demigod at Penn State. The Freeh report, released last week, determined that Paterno knew a lot more about Jerry Sandusky's crimes than he pretended to, and was involved in the decision to do the "humane" thing and cover up Sandusky's child abuse, allowing him to continue molesting children.

A typical reaction from Penn State was that of the statue's sculptor, Angelo Di Maria:
"When things quiet down, if they do quiet down, I hope they don't remove it permanently or destroy it," he said. "His legacy should not be completely obliterated and thrown out. ... He was a good man. It wasn't that he was an evil person. He made a mistake."
But this truly mischaracterizes what happened. In the beginning there were only vague suspicions about Sandusky, and Joe Paterno could stand by and silently acquiesce to Sandusky's evil, having no clear knowledge of it. But when Mike McQueary saw Sandusky sodomizing a child in the shower, the issue was forced. At that point Paterno could have continued to stand by and let justice follow its course. Instead, he actively intervened and prevented the incident from being reported to the police.

When you come right down to it, there is no one worthy of the sort of adulation we heap upon people like Joe Paterno, or Tiger Woods, or Barry Bonds, or Charlie Sheen, or Mel Gibson. They are all fallible people with their own blind spots and deficiencies. These guys are not heroes. They are not all that brilliant or moral. They are just like us. They are just doing a job that happens to be entertaining us.

The irony of this sorry story is that Joe Paterno was famous for being the exception to the corrupting influence of celebrity. He seemed to be a normal, moral, modest person who had not succumbed to the adulation of millions.

The people who are still trying to hang on to the Joe Paterno myth don't get it, but they share some of the blame for his fate. They put Paterno on that incredibly high pedestal and set him up for the big fall. If his fans had not built up his ego so high, had not made a college football program into the Second Coming, then perhaps Paterno would have stayed the modest and moral man he was when he started out.

A Hard Sunday Lesson Learned

Caught this headline the other day and laughed my pants off

Republican Horrified to Discover that Christianity is Not the Only Religion


But one Louisiana Republican is learning the hard way that religious school vouchers can be used to fund education at all sorts of religious schools, even Muslim ones. And while she's totally in favor of taxpayer money being used to pay for kids to go to Christian schools, she's willing to put a stop to the entire program if Muslim schools are going to be involved.

Well, that has to suck for her.

I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America's Founding Fathers' religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools. I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.

Uh, there's only one problem there, Ms. Hodges.

As The Friendly Atheist points out, the brand of Christianity currently espoused by many in the religious right wing would be pretty unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers, who were pretty high on Deism and pretty low on Christian rock concerts/ talking about The Children's collective virginity/ having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But whatever. Facts are immaterial at this point.

The Founding Fathers came from many different religious backgrounds and were products of the Age of Enlightenment. Many viewed Christianity as I do...that Christs's moral teachings are just as important as his holiness.

And didn't Thomas Jefferson have a copy of the Koran?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Good Point


Friday, July 20, 2012

Wait For It

My initial thoughts on the Aurora, Colorado shooting...

Let's all remember that violence continues to decline in this country even as we see media reporting of violent crime rising at ridiculous rates. As we see the media beat this story to death, bear in mind that this sort of incident is an outlier.

More importantly, within a week we will discover that Mr. Holmes was taking an SSRI. It won't come out right away so wait for it to be buried in a deep background story that won't be at the top of any news page.

I'm happy that these drugs have brought relief from depression to most people but the downside is that we have to deal with this sort of thing every once in awhile. Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"FUCK YOU, DAD!!!"

(stomp....stomp...stomp down the hall)

(SLAM!)

(muffled, from inside the teenager's bedroom)

"I'm old enough to do whatever I want. I don't have to live by your rules!!!"

Bain Birth Pain

When W. Mitt Romney started Bain Capital in 1984 he had trouble raising money from old-money American families. So he had to look further afield. An article in the LA Times identifies some of the international investors who helped Mitt Romney get off the ground. They provided a third of the capital used to start Bain. These include:

  • Sir Jack Lyons, a Briton who used a Panamanian shell company and a Swiss money manager to hide his identity. Lyons was convicted of stock fraud, had his knighthood stripped and only escaped prison because of his poor health.
  • Salvadoran expatriots living in Miami. In one family, the de Solas, one brother was connected to right-wing death squads in El Salvador, while another is serving a prison sentence for fraud.
  • Robert Maxwell, a British publishing baron, who after his drowning was discovered to have stolen hundreds of millions from his company's pension funds.
Some of Bain's initial investors were not so notorious: a Monsanto exec, a guy who started the Panamanian stock exchange and an ambassador.

These offshore investors used Panamanian shell corporations and secret bank accounts. These were notorious havens for tax evasion and drug money laundering scams during in the 1980s, when Romney was starting Bain. It was so bad that the United States invaded Panama in 1989 and captured its dictator, Manual Noriega, who had been on the CIA payroll since the 1950s. Noriega was jailed and convicted on drug charges. After serving a prison term in the US, he was extradited to France and then Panama where he's still in prison.

Republicans love to play the guilt by association game with President Obama, constantly linking him to Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers just because he had met them. But Mitt Romney's claim to fame, Bain Capital, was started in that shady underworld of secret foreign bank accounts and shell corporations. These people gave him millions of dollars. They got him off the ground.

What kind of influence will people like this have over Romney? Do they have information, which if released, would discredit him? Could they then use such information to blackmail him? These are exactly the kind of questions the FBI asks when people are considered for security clearances. When the FBI asks, you don't have a choice about answering. Has the FBI asked these questions?

Maybe this is another reason Romney he doesn't want to release his tax returns.

Go Start A Business in Pakistan or Russia

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together" ---President Barack Obama 13 July 2012


The above quote from last Friday sent the right into a fit of adolescent hysterics. Cries of "Nanny State" were heard all over the right wing blogsphere as conservative pundits rebelled against "Dad" and screamed, "No fair! I can do whatever I want on my own!! I don't need anyone's help. ANYONE!!!" (stomp...stomp...stomp...door slams to teenager's room).

The president is correct, of course, and Sally Kohn's recent piece over at Fox News illustrates just how accurate the president is on the role of government in our lives.

My grandfather was a small business entrepreneur. He owned a clothing store in Penns Grove, New Jersey, and families came from across the southern part of the state to get slacks and blouses and jumpers for their kids. My grandfather employed two people who earned decent, middle class wages and made a good living for himself, probably upper middle class for that region. And good for him. He worked hard and earned it. 

But there were things that helped my grandfather’s business that he didn’t have to pay for. The roads trucks drove on to bring him products to sell. The court system that incorporated his business and protected the patents of what he sold. The police force that made it safe for people to shop there. The public schools that taught his employees how to read and do math, so my grandfather didn’t have to teach them. Make no mistake about it — my grandfather succeeded because of his hard work and initiative. But government played a supporting role.

Yeah, that's exactly right. For all their talk of "nanny states," the right count on government support just as much as anyone else. Ridiculous as these adolescent ravings are, this is even worse.

Today, hedge fund managers and big business CEOs pay lower tax rates than middle class families. In fact, the tax rate for the very wealthy is the lowest it’s been in over 60 years.

That’s right: We’re not even debating whether the wealthy should pay more than middle class workers. President Obama wants the very rich to pay the same rate as the rest of us. Those who have succeeded in our country, in part with the help of our public infrastructure, should just bury their money in off-shore accounts and loopholes? That’s un-American. Those who do well in America should do well by America — and pay their fair share of taxes so others have the same opportunity to succeed.

Can we at least start with the same rate? Conservatives used to champion the flat tax but now any talk of "paying their fair share" results in howls of socialism and nanny state waste. Kohn's right. This whole conversation is completely ridiculous.

We succeed because of our individual initiative but also because of the public investments that help springboard that success. Don’t believe me? Then go start a business in Pakistan or Russia. American entrepreneurs succeed in part because they’re in America. And in America, we don’t get ours and then yank away the ladder of opportunity for the next generation. 

We can slash Medicare and Social Security and public schools and college grants and all of the stepping stones that poor and middle class families have historically relied on to help climb the ladder of prosperity. Or millionaires and billionaires can pay the same tax rate as the middle class.

One of the greatest lies that has been perpetuated by the right (and sadly believe by far too many) is that we have to gut government to save the middle class from socialism. In truth, this lie is told to further protect the wealth of people that wouldn't have it without the support of the federal government.

Perhaps the federal government should stop giving them handouts if they are going to continue to bite the hand that feeds even them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cracked?

Found this old piece from two years ago that I never shared. I think I had planned on it right around the time Andrew Brietbart passed suddenly and thought it might be in poor taste at the time since Klinghoffer makes a  dig at him.

Yet now that the late Mr. Brietbart has been "cultified" with the "Brietbart is Here" photos, I think it's just fine to highlight two or three of Klinghoffer's points.

But more characteristic of conservative leadership are figures on TV, radio and the Internet who make their money by stirring fears and resentments. With its descent to baiting blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, its accommodation of conspiracy theories and an increasing nastiness and vulgarity, the conservative movement has undergone a shift toward demagoguery and hucksterism. 

Once the talk was of "neocons" vs. "paleocons." Now we observe the rule of the crazy-cons.

Pretty much a daily occurrence on all the right wing blogs. No doubt it is profitable and has become a very large industry, but can it influence elections on a consistent basis? I don't think so.

When I became a conservative, that is what I signed up for: a profound vision granting transcendent significance to public life and hope in private life. The goal wasn't to defeat Democratic officeholders or humiliate left-wing activists. It was, and still is (among those who remember) to save civilization.

Now, the goal is to destroy it even if they are ignorant to this plain and simple fact.

Why Romney Might Not Want to Reveal His Tax Returns


Because Romney was Bain, the release of his tax records will expose most of Bain's activities, as well as the activities of other Bain execs.

I have relatives who own a private company like Bain, so I know a bit about how privately held corporations work. My brother-in-law's company runs absolutely everything through the business. They have "stockholder meetings" in Utah during ski season. The company leases "company cars" for teenage children of execs. They have a company-owned chalet in Utah. The company has luxury boxes at pro football and hockey games. They have subsidiaries in Arizona and Florida that they visit during the winter. Flying to and staying in all these vacation destinations is a tax-deductible "business expense."

Many wealthy people freely intermingle personal and business expenses to maximize their tax savings. I don't know exactly what Bain did along these lines, but the potential for savings is astronomical. Depending on how they incorporated, the entire Bain management staff could wind up paying next-to-no personal taxes at all, as well as having the company foot the bill for everything from their cars, houses, clothes, kids' braces and mistresses' apartments. Things that mere mortals have to pay for by themselves.

So even if Romney didn't do anything illegal, releasing his tax records will expose to the world the sweetheart deals that execs get. It will name names and will give investigators thousands of leads to follow up on. Every day after the records are released until the election there will be a non-stop litany about this foreign account, that dummy corporation, this sports car for Tagg leased by Bain, that deduction for Ann Romney's sewing circle.

And it's not just protection from Democratic attacks. Romney's tax records could well reveal many embarrassing facts that will outrage Republicans: he may have donated to worthy social causes that they cannot abide, such as Planned Parenthood.

One commentator I read said a Romney aide intimated that Mitt would quit the campaign before releasing these records. If his tax returns reveal him to be a closet liberal, that would be the smoking gun his conservative enemies could use to deny him the nomination and choose a real conservative instead.

The Pressure Builds

First, the Christian Science Monitor...now, these guys...

 “The cost of not releasing the returns are clear,” said conservative columnist George Will, on ABC’s “This Week.” “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

“There’s obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it,’” GOP strategist and ex-Bush aide Matthew Dowd said. “So there’s obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past about something.”

“Many of these politicians think, ‘I can do this. I can get away with this. I don’t need to do this, because I’m going to say something and I don’t have to do this,’” Dowd said. “If he had 20 years of ‘great, clean, everything’s fine,’ it’d all be out there, but it’s arrogance.”


On “Fox News Sunday,” the Weekly Standard’s editor Bill Kristol added his voice to the list as well, calling for Romney to “release the tax returns tomorrow” and “take the hit for a day or two.”

Add in Governors Barbour, Bentley, and former RNC Chair Michael Steele and Mitt Romney has a really big problem now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Again the Victim Card

Why is it every time when Republicans come out on the short end of the stick in a public debate they bemoan the meanness and pettiness of polarized partisan politics? Our latest entrant in the "we're the victim" derby is one Michael Gerson, former speech writer for George W. Bush. His piece in the Washington Post whines about how mean President Obama is being to poor defenseless W. Mitt Romney for picking on Romney's record at Bain and questioning Romney's connections to the company after he gallantly galloped off to run the 2002 Olympics.

Romney can't figure out exactly when he quit the company. He won't release tax returns that would clarify the issue. He's being roundly ridiculed for claiming he "retroactively" resigned from Bain in 2002 effective in 1999. 

Gerson worked for Bush from 2000 until 2006. In case Gerson forgot, there was a presidential campaign in 2004 in which his boss's cronies spewed the coarsest lies about John Kerry's record in Viet Nam. Lies that were far worse than any of the partisan snipes the Obama campaign has leveled against Romney. The whole Swiftboating incident was especially vile because while Kerry was dodging bullets in Viet Nam Bush was lounging on an air base in Texas  (or was it Alabama?), or snorting coke, or AWOL—it's all kind of hazy.

Also, in case Gerson forgot, the current line of attack against Romney and Bain was begun by fellow Republican Newt Gingrich. Remember the slick 28-minute video "When Mitt Romney Came to Town"? In it Gingrich's campaign slammed Romney and Bain for their heartless firings of workers in companies that Bain gutted, milked for "fees" and then forced into bankruptcy (and there were lots of them).

The video that savaged Romney was financed by Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who's now promised to spend a hundred million bucks to get Romney elected. I suppose that's Adelson's way of apologizing for the hack job.

In 2008 Republicans launched a similar attack on Barack Obama with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. They tried to link Obama to Wright and cast him as an angry black man. It didn't work because Obama's connection to Wright was tenuous, and Obama just isn't an angry black man.

But with Bain it's much different. Romney claims his Bain experience is what qualifies him to be president (his experience as governor of Massachusetts is far more relevant, but totally alienates The Base). Bain is Romney's baby: after 1999 he still owned 100% of its stock, was still listed as CEO and had complete control. Bain operated same way before and after 1999: milking other companies for cash and sticking it in their own pockets. And Romney did still have well-documented business dealings with certain Bain interests.

The stupid thing is, by Republican lights Mitt Romney did nothing wrong at Bain. All he did was fire people from struggling companies, help companies send jobs to foreign countries to maximize their profit, and take advantage of the corporate bankruptcy system. Why hide from it? Why try to weasel out of his connection with Bain for the three years that also include Bain's biggest success stories?

After all, throwing people out on the street and outsourcing jobs to China is just business. Nothing personal.

Not A Shock, Really







































Why is it again that people with money support the Republican Party? I wonder what the folks at Bain would say about this...hmm....

Monday, July 16, 2012

John McCain Warned You About This...

It sounds like a plot from a spy thriller: a wealthy American casino magnate trying to buy the American election is caught paying a Macau influence peddler and funneling profits through the Hong Kong Triads, infamous for running the Chinese opium trade.

Sheldon Adelson, the man who has publicly pledged to spend a hundred million dollars to get W. Mitt Romney elected, is under investigation for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Both Nevada and the feds are looking into Adelson's dealings in Macau with a man named Leonel Alves, a Chinese-Portuguese lawmaker who has hooks in several different levels of Macau's government.

Adelson's company, Las Vegas Sands, paid Alves almost three-quarters of million dollars in "legal fees" for his help in getting casinos and other luxury properties built in Macau.

In addition:
Nevada officials are now poring over records of transactions between junkets [money-laundering organizations used to circumvent mainland China's laws against large money transfers to Macau], Las Vegas Sands and other casinos licensed by the state, people familiar with the inquiry say. Among the junket companies under scrutiny is a concern that records show was financed by Cheung Chi Tai, a Hong Kong businessman. 
Cheung was named in a 1992 U.S. Senate report as a leader of a Chinese organized crime gang, or triad. A casino in Macau owned by Las Vegas Sands granted tens of millions of dollars in credit to a junket backed by Cheung, documents show.
I have been on Adelson's case for a long time because of his connections to foreign countries. He seems more concerned about the welfare of Israel and Macau than he does about the people in his home state of Nevada, which has been particularly hard hit by the recession.

Just a month ago John McCain predicted that a scandal would erupt from Adelson's unlimited contributions and his foreign connections. Because of the secrecy inherent in the corporate world,  the nature of multinational corporations, and the lack of disclosure requirements after Citizens United, it's impossible to guarantee that foreign money isn't being used to influence American elections.

So, if profits from Adelson's casinos in Macau are being funneled through Chinese Triads, into Sheldon Adelson's pockets, then into Super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, don't say John McCain didn't warn you.

You Know It's Trouble...

...when The Christian Science Monitor starts talking about it.

When did Romney leave Bain?


The documents, filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, place Romney in charge of Bain from 1999 to 2001, a period in which the company outsourced jobs and ran companies that fell into bankruptcy.

But at least three times since then, Bain listed Romney as the company's "controlling person," as well as its "sole shareholder, sole director, chief executive officer and president." And one of those documents — as late as February 2001 — lists Romney's "principal occupation" as Bain's managing director. The Obama campaign called the SEC documents detailing Romney's role post-1999 a "big Bain lie." 

And Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said the presumptive GOP nominee may have even engaged in illegal activity. "Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony," Cutter said, "or he is misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments."

Mitt could mitigate this problem by releasing all of his tax returns but he as refused to do so thus far.
Why?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Romney Doctrine

In the last few days there's been a lot of arguing about exactly what W. Mitt Romney did at Bain, and when he stopped doing it. The essence of the story, as reported in the Boston Globe, is this:
[A] Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney’s state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain “executive” in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.

There are reports of much closer ties between Bain and Romney during this period, but they're coming from the Huffington Post, and I trust them little more than I trust Fox News.


Usually people have to wait until they're elected president to have a doctrine named after them. Mitt Romney already has one teed up: "I wasn't directly responsible." He sounds like a concentration camp guard, using the CEO version of "I was just taking orders."


According to the Romney Doctrine, he wasn't running Bain after 1999 and therefore wasn't "technically" responsible for whatever it did. Yet the company was his baby—his legacy, he owned it, he received a salary twice as large as the average American and he still claims credit for Bain's success stories, like Staples, during that period.

Time for an analogy. Let's say there was a wealthy Massachusetts businessman who owned a really expensive sports car. Before he set off to Utah on a skiing trip he gave his teenaged sons the keys to that car. He didn't transfer the registration or the car insurance, saying he might do so when he got back from vacation.

When the sons used the car to drive old ladies to the grocery store, the businessman  bragged about what great sons he had raised. But when they got speeding tickets, then drove drunk, and finally crashed the car into a line of people outside a popular Boston club and killed three girls, the businessman said that he had disowned those rotten kids the instant he handed over the keys to the car.


Technically, the businessman wouldn't be criminally liable for those girls' deaths. He couldn't go to jail. But his insurance company would have to pay up, and the parents of those girls would sue him for millions. And probably win.

When Romney rode off to rescue the Olympics, he gave the keys to the corporation to his Bain underlings. But unlike the sons who drove recklessly, the underlings operated Bain no differently after 1999: they made money for Romney and themselves, damning the consequences to American jobs. "Technically" Romney didn't fire the people who lost their jobs due to Bain's machinations, but he set the pattern, still received a salary and still had complete ownership of the company.

Romney wants to have it both ways. He takes credit for the positive things Bain did during his absence, and disavows the bad things. By trying to weasel out of his association with Bain after 1999, Romney has conceded that Bain destroyed American jobs and hurt America.

While "technically" winning this argument about his direct involvement, morally and ethically Romney has lost.

Don't Tell Me What To Do!!!

Andy over at Electoral-Vote.com echoed me the other day about mandates.


Congressional Mandates Go Back over 200 Years 


Although it is almost 3 months old now, an article by a Harvard Law professor, Einer Elhauge, about early congressional mandates may be of interest to people who missed it. In 1790, the first Congress mandated that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. (The idea was revived by Richard Nixon in the form of a general employer mandate to provide health insurance for employees, but it didn't pass.) Then in 1792, Congress, with 17 framers of the Constitution as members, passed a mandate requiring that all able-bodied men buy a gun. President Washington signed the bill. In 1798, Congress realized that its 1790 employer mandate didn't cover hospital stays, so it mandated that individual seamen buy their own hospital insurance. The bill was signed by President John Adams. 

 If Congress can order seamen to buy hospital insurance, can it not order teachers or short-order cooks or undertakers to do so? Arguments that the framers of the Constitution were against individual mandates are clearly untrue: some of them actually voted for one or more and specifically for a health insurance mandate. Furthermore, Presidents Washington and Adams signed bills with mandates that they could have vetoed. It is surprising that although independent authorities have verified Elhauge's story, it has gotten so little publicity although it was mentioned on the Smithsonian Institution's Website last week.

Yep.

Folks, the federal government has been telling us what to do from Day One. Falling back on the Founding Fathers isn't going to cut it anymore. They did the same thing that our leaders today are doing because they recognized that there was a greater good served by these sorts of laws.

We live in a culture with other people and we can't simply do what we want all the time...a phrase I find myself saying quite a bit these days with a junior high school kid in my house. Hmm....

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Another Myth Torpedoed

Conservatives in this country are under the impression that they can tap into their adolescent rage, make a statement, and then it's reality. Take, for example, the one that states that "the president is destroying free enterprise." This comes from a general notion that the president and his fellow Democrats are over-regulating business.

Yet a recent article in Politico says otherwise.

Even though that’s not official policy, the administration has been increasingly frugal in issuing regulations, according to a POLITICO review of government data and more than two dozen interviews with current and former administration officials, lawmakers in both parties, business leaders and liberal activists. The analysis of the federal rule-making database shows Obama as of Tuesday had issued 1,004 final regulations since arriving in office. That’s fewer than his two immediate predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. This year, Obama is also on pace to put out the fewest “economically significant” regulations of any year in his presidency. 

Oh really? How exactly does this happen?

Republicans “just assert stuff and the facts have never encumbered them. I think there’s a sense that Democrats are regulation-bound or regulation-minded and so the assertion sticks. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that,” said Harold Ickes, who served as deputy chief of staff to Clinton and then counted delegates for Hillary Clinton when she ran against Obama. 

No shit.

Well, there goes another myth torpedoed.

Friday, July 13, 2012

They've voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (or parts of it) how many timesAh well, as long as they aren't childish or anything about losing...

They sure are hard at work on that one issue they ran on...what was it again?...Oh, yes, JOBS. 

Masters of the Universe? Not So Much...

In the last month or so we've had a never-ending litany of financial misconduct from the same folks who brought us the meltdown in 2008:

And the beat goes on...

Most of these losses are due to lax regulation: i.e., these guys can't be trusted any further than Robert Reich could throw them.

Yet Mitt Romney is campaigning hard for even less regulation of Wall Street. Not surprisingly, these guys are opening the sluice gates to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into Super PACs and anonymous non-profits to get Romney elected. It really makes you wonder how they got all that money they're spending so freely on Romney.

These so-called financial wizards are no masters of the universe. They can't even master simple arithmetic.

Can Global Warming Cause an Ice Age?

Though some parts of the country have been hammered by powerful storms and roasted by hellish heat waves, climate change skeptics insist that this is just normal variation and not proof of global warming. But a year and a half ago many of those same skeptics were saying that the extensive snowfalls that hit the northeast "proved" that climate change was a hoax, and that we were really on the brink of an ice age. Why is one snowy winter sufficient to disprove climate change, while a 100-year trend of ever-increasing average temperatures no proof at all?

Other articles, like this one from Pravda, claim that theories of Anthropegenic Global Warming ignore long-term historical trends and that we're really entering another ice age. The article insists that humans aren't generating the increased CO2 levels, but rather natural warming is causing CO2 levels to rise. The mechanism they propose is potentially reasonable for previous ice age cycles, but this time it's different: this time seven billion people are pumping megatons of CO2 into the air every day. CO2 levels are increasing much faster than the historical norms they're referencing.

It's interesting that the Koch brothers and the Communist propaganda organ Pravda are on the same side of the climate debate. Could it have anything to do with the fact that Russia is one of the world's biggest oil exporters?

Forecasting climate change is complex and difficult science. But predictions that NASA scientist James Hansen made 20 years ago in an article in Science are proving to be true. From the article's abstract:
Summary. The global temperature rose by 0.20C between the middle 1960's and 1980, yielding a warming of 0.4°C in the past century. This temperature increase is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect due to measured increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Variations of volcanic aerosols and possibly solar luminosity appear to be primary causes of observed fluctuations about the mean trend of increasing temperature. It is shown that the anthropogenic carbon dioxide warming should emerge from the noise level of natural climate variability by the end of the century, and there is a high probability of warming in the 1980's. Potential effects on climate in the 21st century include the creation of drought-prone regions in North America and central Asia as part of a shifting of climatic zones, erosion of the West Antarctic ice sheet with a consequent worldwide rise in sea level, and opening of the fabled Northwest Passage.
We are seeing all of these effects, just 20 years on.

The funny thing about the climate change skeptics' claims that we're entering an ice age is that scientists have long feared global warming could cause an ice age. The reason is that a current along the American east cost, the Atlantic Conveyor, brings warm water up from the south Atlantic to Europe: this is why western Europe has much warmer winters than land-locked Russia.

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet could bring a flood of fresh water into the north Atlantic, deflecting the Atlantic Conveyor away from Europe. A colder Europe would have more snow cover, reflecting more light back into space, cooling the planet, allowing more snow to fall in North America, which would cool the planet even more and potentially cause an ice age.

I have to admit the Atlantic Conveyor seems rather esoteric. Hansen's paper, however, brings up a different scenario when he mentions volcanic aerosols. It's well known that massive volcanic eruptions can cause world-wide cold snaps. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa cooled temperatures globally by 1.2 C for five years. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 cooled the earth by one-half to one degree Celsius. The Little Ice Age may have been caused by volcanoes. And the Bubonic Plague may have been caused by volcanic eruption in 535.

Now there's a lot of water locked up safely in the polar ice caps. When they melt that water will go into the sea, causing sea levels to rise, and into the air, as water vapor.

If a large volcanic eruption such as Krakotoa were to occur during the Northern Hemisphere winter, temperatures would cool drastically. The water that global warming had freed from the ice caps at the poles could then precipitate out as snow over the entire Northern Hemisphere. This would reflect sunlight back into space, cooling the earth and amplifying the effects of the volcanic aerosols. This could mean years with no summer and no growing season.

Each year of the cold snap caused by the volcano more and more of the snow would stay, and the earth would grow cooler. After the the effects of the volcano wore off it would be too late: the northern hemisphere would be locked in permanent winter, for thousands of years.

If all that water had still been locked in the poles, the area of the volcano-caused snow cover would be inherently limited, and an ice age would be less likely. But since global warming allowed the water in polar ice to migrate across the planet, all that ice could reform further south as snow, cooling the planet significantly.


Of course, a sufficiently large volcanic eruption could cause an ice age by itself. But with so much water freed from the poles by global warming, much smaller eruptionswhich happen every few yearscould have the same effect, raising the likelihood of an ice age.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

U.S. Olympic Uniforms Made in China

So it turns out some of the uniforms for the US Olympic teams were made in China. And members of Congress are not pleased.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said simply of the USOC, "You'd think they'd know better."
Really? The uniforms were provided by a sponsor, Ralph Lauren, who uses China to manufacture everything at lower cost than they can in the United States. That's because as recently as two years ago Chinese textile workers got paid 65 cents an hour, even less than the more highly skilled workers who manufacture iPads.

This is the natural outcome of the way the American business and sports sponsorships operate. Boehner should be the first one to congratulate Ralph Lauren for putting profit first and country last by shifting production to low-cost China, instead of America where workers live in actual houses and apartments instead of dorms.

You can't really blame Ralph Lauren. It wouldn't make any sense for them to set up a special production line in the United States for the limited number of uniforms they'd make for the Olympic team.

But it puts the lie to the jingoistic pride that Republicans spew whenever they shout that we're number one. Unless number one in offshoring and outsourcing jobs is something to be proud of.

It's embarrassing that American Olympic uniforms are being made in China. But what the politicians should be hopping mad about is the huge security risk this country is running: nearly all the cell phones, computers and electronic components we use in business, government and are manufactured in China and Asia.

The Price of Inequality


I highly recommend reading Professor Stiglitz's book which you can purchase here.

Don't Super Size Me!

Last month New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a big splash when he banned the sale of sugary sodas larger than 16 ounces. Late-night hosts like Jon Stewart went ballistic with their outrage, lampooning the decision incessantly.

Bloomberg's action is one of several he has taken to address a problem that has been well known for years, and made notorious by the documentary Super Size Me, in which director Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month. (It took him 14 months to lose the 20 pounds he gained in that single month.)

There are solid reasons for people to cut back on their consumption of soda (including diet soda), as I've noted on this blog before. Americans are becoming severely—even morbidly—obese, resulting in rampant diabetes and the attendant miseries of amputation, blindness, heart disease and stroke. Pervasive diabetes is a major contributor to skyrocketing health care costs.

The problem with oversized drink containers is that they cause people to consume far greater quantities of soda than they would otherwise, in large part because once they've drunk their fill no one wants to let the extra "go to waste." Instead it goes to fat.

A common trick for dieting is to use smaller plates and glasses. People eating a meal from a small full-looking plate feel like they're getting more food than if they eat the same amount from a large empty-looking plate. If you've ever gone to a fancy restaurant and said, "I paid how much for that?" when they brought out gigantic plates with apparently tiny portions you know exactly what I mean.

Because of this quirk of human cognition, limiting your choices at the theater concession stand to 8-, 12- and 16-ounce cups, you will never feel deprived by the absence of 32-ounce sperm-whale size. You will drink a more modest 16 ounces and feel completely sated and a little less bloated. And you won't have to visit the rest room half way through the movie.

What's more, the capacity of an average human stomach is 900 mL, or 30.4 ounces. Since no one likes flat, warm, watery soda the 32-ounce size is overkill for anyone except gigantic NFL linebackers who burn 5,000 calories a day by just breathing.

It's ironic that people are screaming bloody murder when Bloomberg reduces the maximum size of soda containers, but when the companies that sell food cut down on the size of the containers and charge the same price no one utters a peep. That's because the companies know the plate-size trick and use it to fool us into thinking we're getting the same amount of food.

For example, the standard size of "family-sized" ice cream containers used to be half a gallon. Several years ago most dairies cut the size of half-gallon containers to 1.5 quarts. They changed the dimensions of the container to make them look bigger, usually making them taller and thinner and putting a half-inch empty space at the bottom of 4.5-inch tall containers. Some dairies then upped the size to 1.75 quarters, to give "almost 20% more!"

Ninety-six-ounce bottles of orange juice have been redesigned with different shapes, bigger spouts and 89-ounce capacities. Half-gallon cartons of lemonade have been reduced to 59 ounces. These companies aren't doing this for our health: they're selling us less food for the same money while using deceptive packaging to hide the fact that they're ripping us off.


And when you're in the juice aisles in the grocery store you have to be extremely careful to make sure that you're actually getting juice: most of the products sold these days contain only a small percentage of real juice. They consist mainly of filtered water and high-fructose corn syrup. To deceive us into thinking these contain real juice, the bottles are often emblazoned with a huge "100%" over a tiny "of daily vitamin C from ascorbic acid," which is typically a chemically produced nutrient.

No matter how you slice it, Bloomberg isn't tromping on anyone's freedom. He's not stopping anyone from buying 32 ounces of soda: just buy two 16-ouncers if your gullet is really that big.

There's nothing wrong with occasionally drinking moderate amounts of soda, or eating ice cream and baked goods if you're physically active enough to burn off the excess calories. But having a Big Gulp every day will put you on the Type 2 train to an early death. And cost the rest of us billions of dollars in extra health care costs and lost productivity.


Who's the real villain here? Bloomberg, for trying to deal with a serious problem like obesity that's killing millions of people and costing us hundreds of billions of dollars each year in medical costs?


Or companies that use deceptive packaging to mislead us and charge us more? Companies like McDonalds, whose share holders demand that profits spiral ever upward, which can only occur if Americans eat more junk food and gain more weight? Companies like PepsiCo (which owns juice bottlers in addition to its soft drink concerns) who have been silently weaning us off pure, nutritious juice to more profitable watered-down "juice drinks" and sodas filled with empty calories from corn syrup?