Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best of 2011

What a great year for music, film and television. There were so many great entries in each category that it was very hard for me to choose this year. But I still managed to do it so here are my picks


Both the track of the year and the album of the year are from the same group this year. Pala, by Friendly Fires is an absolute corker of a record. The soundtrack to my summer and, indeed, the entire year. I think I have played this disc at least 200 times start to finish since it came out and I still find layers to it previously unheard. Pala sets a mood that is sorely lacking today, not just in music, but in our culture in general. I'm not entirely certain I can describe it in words but it's reminiscent of what the most gorgeous flower would sound like as it a club at 1:30am with piles of sweaty bodies writhing around to massive and thumping beats. And if it could tell Robert Browning-esque love stories. Like their self titled first release, Pala deserves to be forever enshrined in any Hall of Fame.

And "Blue Cassette" is not simply the best track of 2011, but one of the best of all time. Friendly Fires really outdid themselves with this stunning song that waxes nostalgic about cassette tapes and lost love. My heart melts every single time I listen to it.

I had the toughest time with this one. Three films came out at the beginning of the year that made my inner geek howl with delight. The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless, and Source Code were all amazing and for several months, I was toggling back and forth between these three as my pick for Best Film of 2011.

But then the Woodman released Midnight in Paris and it was all over. This film crushed me on a number of levels and I think it is one of the most romantic films of all time...right up there with Casablanca. Plus, any film that describes the Tea Party as "crypto-fascist zombie airheads" is going to get my nod!

Most of you know that I am big sci-fi, comic book, fantasy geek and for the past three years I have watched Fox's Fringe develop into a truly magnificent show. The third season saw the series really hit its stride. Alternate realities...time travel...ancient machines of doom...creepy, weird and fucked up shit...romance and love...and Walter (wonderfully played by John Noble) being Walter. If you haven't seen this show, start watching it immediately.

Those are my picks for 2011. How about you?

Friday, December 30, 2011

How it All Ends

Among the columnists I usually read, Charles Krauthammer is the one who most reliably galls me. But the other day he wrote a thoughtful column in the Washington Post about why we haven't discovered other intelligent life in the universe.

In the article Krauthammer discusses the Drake equation. The most troublesome term in the equation is the lifetime of a civilization. Krauthammer raises the concern that we don't find other civilizations because they quickly destroy themselves after reaching a high level of technology, when fanatical nut-jobs create plagues, or worse:
And forget the psychopaths: Why, a mere 17 years after Homo sapiens — born 200,000 years ago — discovered atomic power, those most stable and sober states, America and the Soviet Union, came within inches of mutual annihilation.
I finished the article pleasantly surprised that Krauthammer had written it. But the first reader comment was a snide snipe at President Obama and that spoiled my mood immediately. But it got me thinking.

The paragraph above mentions that Homo sapiens emerged 200,000 years ago. The time can't be exact, though the fossil evidence and genetic analysis give us similar numbers coming at the question from different directions.

But the irony is that the Republican candidates for president -- save Jon Huntsman, who has no chance of winning the nomination -- have just fallen all over themselves to assure Republican caucus-goers in Iowa that they don't believe in evolution. Which means they don't believe that Homo sapiens arrived on the scene hundreds of thousands of years ago as Krauthammer stated.

Now, it's obvious that Krauthammer will support any one of these candidates over Obama in the next election. Yet he knows that they have all just rejected one of the most basic tenets of modern science in favor of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian creation myth. How can you trust someone to be president who will make critical environmental and foreign policy decisions based on fairy tales?

Well, because they won't. I'm sure Krauthammer, like all of us, knows that most of these candidates don't really believe that the earth was created by God in six days 6,000 years ago. We all know they're lying when they say they don't believe evolution is true. We know they're just saying it to please bible-thumping fundamentalists, who vote in large numbers. And the candidates know intelligent people will know they're just lying to curry favor. Just like we all know they're lying when they say that humans have no role in global warming. And we all know they're lying when they say that lowering taxes raises government revenues.

And that's what galls me most about guys like Krauthammer. They know better, but they go along with the lie for temporary political advantage. They're smart, well-read, educated people. Yet when their candidates stand there and lie about basic facts to sharpen the political divide  —  often reversing positions they themselves took only a few months or years ago — the Krauthammers go along with them.

Which leads me to the sad conclusion that civilizations actually meet their doom when otherwise intelligent people go along with the lies that demagogues tell to spur their populations into action against their enemies, foreign and domestic, causing them to unleash the universally destructive forces of fratricide.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where is the Republican Outrage?

A sign posted outside a row of temples tells women they cannot walk on the sidewalk outside their doors. An eight-year-old girl who dared walk there is spat on by adult men who call her a whore. Members of this ultra-conservative sect throw rocks and eggs at police. More than 60% of the male members of this sect live on welfare, spending all their time studying holy books, whose restrictive laws they wish to impose on the whole country.

Are these temples madrasahs? Is this country Pakistan or Saudi Arabia? Are these men Muslims? Do they want to impose Sharia law? No, no, no and no.

The temples are synagogues in Beit Shemesh, Israel. The eight-year-old girl is Naama Margolese, who wears glasses, long sleeves and a skirt as she walks by the synagogues on her way to her religious school. The men are haredim, ultra-conservative Orthodox Jews, who spend all their time studying the Torah.

The haredim make up about 10% of the Israeli population, but they have much bigger families on average, made possible by welfare benefits and child allowances. Many in Israel are concerned:
“We have a few years to get our act together,” warned Dan Ben-David, an economist and director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, an independent research institute. 
“If not, there will be a point of no return.” 
Several months ago the center issued a report that caused widespread alarm: If current trends continue, it said, 78 percent of primary school children in Israel by 2040 will be either ultra-Orthodox or Arab.
In short, Israel is in danger of becoming like Saudi Arabia, only with the Torah replacing the Koran.

One would think such stories would raise concerns among Republican candidates for president. The United States sends billions of dollars in foreign aid to Israel. I'd expect Rick Perry and Ron Paul to be asking, "Why should my tax dollars help finance all these Torah-reading, high-birth-rate, silly-hat-wearing welfare bums?" But the current field of Republicans have been falling over each other trying to curry favor with Israel and bash President Obama's Middle East policies. Newt Gingrich went so far as to call the Palestinians an "invented people" in his attempts to undermine their push for statehood.

Israel is an important ally in the Middle East, a reliable democratic partner. But after winning an the unprovoked war launched against them, they are still occupying territories they seized more than 40 years ago and are in the process of permanently taking land away from people who have lived on it for centuries. Whether those original inhabitants call themselves Palestinians or Arabs or Philistines is irrelevant. Israel has legitimate security needs, but their sometimes indiscriminate use of force and collective punishments of the people in Gaza and the West Bank have at times been as oppressive as any totalitarian regime in the region. The small, ultra-conservative religious parties in Israel have made it impossible for Israel to resolve the issue, keeping Palestinians prisoners in their own homes. All these things are corroding the soul of Israel.

It would be wrong to condemn all of Israel for the actions of the haredim and the settlers stealing Palestinian land. Just as it's wrong to condemn all Muslims for the actions of Al Qaeda and Iran. Or to blame all of American Christianity for the actions of militias who plot to kill judges, police officers and IRS employees.

I was at a party a couple of months ago where a man recalled fellow Jews welcoming the support of American fundamentalist Christians. He cautioned them against believing Christian Zionists are true allies of Israel. The impetus for their support of Israel does not arise from their love of the Jews, he said, but from their wish to fulfill their interpretations of prophecies in the Bible.

They say they believe these prophecies foretell that when Jerusalem is restored as the capital of Israel Jesus will return and the battle of Armageddon will be joined. That is, these fundamentalist Christians wish to see Jerusalem restored only to be destroyed in the fiery end of the world.

But once Jerusalem becomes the capital of Israel, and the world does not end, will these false friends of Israel become impatient for the Rapture? Will they point to the above stories and turn on the Jews, casting them in exactly the same light that they cast Muslims today: fanatical, intolerant, wishing to impose their laws on others? And will they once again heap upon Jews the scurrilous epithets they freely used not so long ago? And, one wonders, have they ever stopped thinking them?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is Lying Protected Speech?

Next month buying airline tickets should become less misleading:
Beginning Jan. 24, the Transportation Department will enforce a rule requiring that any advertised price for air travel include all government taxes and fees. For the last 25 years, the department has allowed airlines and travel agencies to list government-imposed fees separately, resulting in a paragraph of fine print disclaimers about charges that can add 20 percent or more to a ticket’s price.
It seems reasonable to have a more uniform way of advertising ticket prices, since the fees and taxes on air travel aren't as well-known as things like sales tax.

And before anyone gets on their high horse about "government fees," those fees pay for the airport, FAA flight controllers, TSA inspectors, and all the infrastructure that makes it possible for the airlines to do business. Fees on people using government services are preferable to funding them from general revenues, aren't they?

But the fact is, the government fees are actually small potatoes compared to the other fees airlines charge:
Spirit has built its business around advertising $9 fares, then charging additional fees for checked and carry-on bags, advance seat assignments and now a “passenger usage fee” of up to $17 each way for tickets booked online.
Since no one will ever pay $9 to fly on Spirit, advertising a $9 fare is a bald-faced lie. But several airlines are suing to stop the new regulations:
"We think it’s unnecessary and violates the First Amendment," said David Berg, general counsel at Airlines for America. “The D.O.T. simply has not been able to justify that the current advertising is misleading in any way to support a restriction on free speech.”
Does the First Amendment really guarantee companies the right to lie in their advertisements? And now the airlines are saying that the new rule restricts their right to political speech. Are the airlines really saying that "political speech" is lying, and therefore all lies are protected speech?

Spirit has trotted out the hoary old "burdensome consumer protection regulations" argument:
[I]n its S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Spirit cited “burdensome consumer protection regulations” as a risk factor for its business model, saying, “We are evaluating the actions we will be required to take to implement these rules, and we believe it is unlikely that we will be able to meet the 2012 compliance deadline in every respect.”
Apparently, since everyone "knows" that Spirit's $9-fare business model is based on lying, somehow that makes it acceptable. What does that say about business ethics in this country?

A lot of people are outraged by these sorts of government regulations. Their anger would be better directed at the liars and cheats who make these regulations necessary in the first place.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Recently I had this link sent to me (from one of Kevin Baker's followers) which contained the following quote.

I know that Obummer is taking yet another multi-million dollar vacation with First Wookie to Hawaii on the tax-payer tab.

Is referring to the First Lady as a hairy, giant ape-like creature racist? Again, just checking my gauge to make sure I'm not race baiting.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Federal Deficit Through The Years

Eight Days Away

We are now eight days away from the Iowa caucuses and I predict that Ron Paul is going to win that election with Mitt Romney coming in second. Paul's ground troops are well positioned in many key counties and his supporters are fervent. I also think that we'll see a couple of the lower tier candidates drop out although Michele might stick around and make things interesting from an emotionally hysterical drama angle.

What are your thoughts? Who wins Iowa?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Night

"Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang "Cherry Ripe," and another uncle sang "Drake's Drum." It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird's Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept. " (taken from A Child's Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Eve's Reminder

"One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six." (taken from A Child's Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas)

Friday, December 23, 2011

In the Zeitgeist

Making folks on the right blow a bowel is a pretty easy thing these days. But, boy oh boy, did a big one explode after this came out.

Time's Person of the Year was The Protester.

They spent most of the last few months trying to shift the narrative away from what is clearly a losing battle for them (inequality). It's a real stinker largely because it's true.

And it's obviously resonated with people. There is very little doubt in my mind that this will be the center issue of the election next year and is now part of the zeitgeist.

But if you read the article more closely you will see that it's not just the 99 percenters that are highlighted. This is an international movement of people with various concerns that have realized that they still have a voice. A Facebook page literally changed the government in Egypt. Libya has a new government. Syria won't be far behind.

All in all, this is a good thing. Change is tough for folks on the right and they don't like to bend much. Yet, as the tide turns, I think many of them are going to realize that if our country is going to remain significant in the world, we are going to have to address the issue of inequality. I'm not a huge fan of Larry Summers and it's fairly clear he had a hand in the Economic Collapse of 2008 but his recent piece in the Washington Post is an excellent primer on how to combat our rising inequality.I'll be talking more about this in the coming weeks as I break out each point and discuss whether or not it's feasible.

In the meantime, well done, people of the Earth. You shouted and now our leaders have to listen.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Elite Sense of Entitlement

Like many first-tier airlines, Delta has clubs at airports where members can find a quiet place to plug in their laptops and get free wi-fi, a safe and convenient place to stash their luggage while waiting for their flights, and a comfortable place to rest and get drinks and snacks. It was nice: my wife and I used it a couple of times when she worked for a company that had memberships for their execs.

Recently the airline has discounted the cost of entry through various promotions. Normally it costs $450/year or $50/day to gain entry, but Delta has recently made it cheaper to visit  the exclusive lounge by making half-off and $89 five-visit passes available on Groupon.

This has not gone over well with many of Delta's most-frequent fliers:
"The cheaper they make it for somebody to go in, the more it's like the regular concourse," said Rick King, a technology executive at Thomson Reuters. "If it's like the regular concourse, the benefits for me go down." 
King, who gets in the lounges free with his Diamond Medallion status, worries that more visitors could make it harder to grab seats with his colleagues before his flights. Some fliers have complained that it's already too packed during peak flying times, with passengers having to wait in line for orange juice in the morning. 
"It's like a Greyhound Bus depot. Way too crowded," said Edward Bertsch, a Minnesota IT security consultant. "The club to a certain extent should be a club. It shouldn't be a profit center for the rest of Delta."
Why is Delta doing this?
[The airline] said the expansion into Groupon aims to attract the website's loyal clientele of younger female shoppers. Delta said 54 percent of the Groupon buyers were women and 70 percent were ages 26 to 50.
Like my wife, the majority of the mostly older, mostly male execs in the club probably have their memberships paid for by their employers. The majority of the Groupon customers are probably paying for these one-off memberships with their own money. Why are old men on the corporate dole more deserving of a nice quiet place to wait for their flight than young women who pay their own way?

Airlines are having a tough time of it, charging extra for checking bags, extra carry-on luggage and seat assignments away from the lavatories, ditching food service in coach, and so on. Yet these pampered execs don't think the airline should try to make money from club rooms that stand empty most of the day.

Conservatives have long criticized "liberal elites" for being snobbish and disconnected from the concerns of real Americans. But corporate elites are even richer, more snobbish, and more disconnected from the realities of every-day life. When they fly they go business class, with wide seats, ample leg room and sometimes even beds. They board first, get special check-in lines with no invasive TSA security checks, have private lounges, and get fed decent food. Yes, it costs more. But they're not actually paying for it, their companies are. And since the companies deduct travel from their taxes as a business expense, the rest of us are really paying for all these fabulous perqs.

Now that their cushy private airport hangouts are being forcibly stripped from them by penny-pinching airlines, the trials and tribulations of dealing with the unwashed masses are just too much for these high-flying execs. But the airlines will be sorry: these titans of industry won't take this lying down. They'll go back to flying their own private corporate jets to avoid waiting in line for their orange juice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Did They Get The Memo?

Well, it looks like the new saviors of the Republic in the US House of Representatives didn't get the memo on how to govern. 

Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he's spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.

Yes, it should. I've been watching with mouth agape as the House does the exact same fucking thing they did in 1995 which resulted in President Clinton winning a second term in 1996. I mean, when you piss of the Wall Street Journal...well...your butt is seriously in a satchel now!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This Is Going To Be Really Tough

If Mitt Romney is the nominee, it's going to be very difficult for me to go after him because I like him so much personally. Granted, I only know him by his media personality but I can't help but find him endearing on a number of levels. The video below is a great example of why I feel this way.

Number 9 just about made me wet my pants.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The "Dear Leader" is Dead

Lots to talk about today but I thought I would start out with the passing of Kim Jong Il. I find it remarkable that this year has seen three truly despicable men (bin Laden, Gaddafi, Kim) depart this plane of existence. The world is most definitely better off without them.

The question now is will North Korea change? My initial thoughts are skeptical. Kim's son, Kim Jong Un, seems more of a puppet of the military so in the short run we won't see much in the way of new policy. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to flex their military muscle a bit just for show. It's going to be interesting to see what China does in the next few weeks.

Regardless, North Korea can't last much longer the way they are going. With Cuba now selling private property in the hopes of not being left out of the global market, it's only a matter of time before we see serious change in the Korean peninsula. Sadly, it will more than likely be messy.

What are your thoughts?

Oh, Joe, Say Ain't So...

Speaking of Kim Jong Il, our very own version of him, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is having all sorts of problems these days. For those of you who don't know, Sheriff Joe became quite popular several years ago when this email went viral.

Shierff Joe - Re-elected TO THOSE OF YOU NOT FAMILIAR WITH JOE ARPAIO - HE IS THE MARICOPA COUNTY SHERIFF AND HE KEEPS GETTING ELECTED OVER AND OVER. THIS IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY: Sheriff Joe Arpaio (in Arizona) who created the "tent city jail": He has jail meals down to 40 cents a serving and charges the inmates for them. He stopped smoking and porno magazines in the jails. Took away their weights. Cut off all but "G" movies. He started chain gangs so the inmates could do free work on county and city projects. Then he started chain gangs for women so he wouldn't get sued for discrimination. He took away cable TV until he found out there was a federal court order that required cable TV for jails. So he hooked up the cable TV again only let in the Disney channel and the weather channel. When asked why the weather channel he replied, so they will know how hot it's gonna be while they are working on my chain gangs. He cut off coffee since it has zero nutritional value. When the inmates complained, he told them, "This isn't the Ritz/Carlton. If you don't like it, don't come back." He bought Newt Gingrich' lecture series on videotape that he pipes into the jails. When asked by a reporter if he had any lecture series by a Democrat, he replied that a democratic lecture series might explain why a lot of the inmates were in his jails in the first place.

More than likely, you got this email from that right wing relative or friend who sits up, sticks out their tongue, and pants when hearing such dog whistles.

Problem is, though, Sheriff Joe isn't doing his fucking job and hasn't for awhile now.

In El Mirage alone, where Arpaio's office was providing contract police services, officials discovered at least 32 reported child molestations — with victims as young as 2 years old — where the sheriff's office failed to follow through, even though suspects were known in all but six cases.

I guess he was too busy being a tough guy and proving Democrats wrong to prevent actual crimes from being committed. But here's the kicker.

Many of the victims, said a retired El Mirage police official who reviewed the files, were children of illegal immigrants.

Well, that explains it. Their here illegally...fuck 'em.

Poor Joe, though, because it gets worse.

The report outlines how Arpaio's office has committed a wide range of civil rights violations against Latinos, including a pattern of racial profiling and discrimination and carrying out heavy-handed immigration patrols based on racially charged citizen complaints.

Ah, but that's nothing. Who cares about civil rights? Certainly not 40 percent of this country. How about some real old school stuff?

Apart from the civil rights probe, a federal grand jury also has been investigating Arpaio's office on criminal abuse-of-power allegations since at least December 2009 and is specifically examining the investigative work of the sheriff's anti-public corruption squad.

Abuse of power? Nah, it can't be. The email above says that Joe is cleaning up our country and getting rid of the bad guys. This must all be some sort of liberal plot. I bet Barney Frank is behind all of it!

Also Too Far?

Apparently, there's a Tea Party guy out in California named Jules Manson who has made quiet a stir on Facebook recently. On his page, he posted his displeasure with the president's signing of the Defense Authorization Bill (he's a Ron Paul supporter) and in a later comment he wrote

“Assassinate the fucking nigger and his monkey children”

Here's the image below that has since been removed.

I guess what I'm wondering is am I playing the race card for calling him out in this? Just wonderin'....

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Are Conservatives Sabotaging Marriage?

I heard an interesting discussion on NPR this morning. The bad economy is hurting both the institutions of marriage and divorce. The marriage rate is down 5% from last year, probably in large part because of bad economic times. Paradoxically, the divorce rate is also down. Researchers have found that as unemployment goes up, divorce rates go down. Opinions are divided: it may be because getting divorced is expensive (who wants to waste thousands of dollars on lawyers?), or it may be because troubled couples are coming closer together and sticking it out.

But one key statistic stands out: the divorce rate among the college-educated
is only 11%, much lower than the approximately 50% national average. It's easy to see why: the biggest causes of divorce are money, sex and kids. And since well-educated couples have fewer kids, and kids = money, and more kids = less sex, it's really about the money.

Furthermore, out-of-wedlock childbirth
, which used to be considered a "black problem," is becoming common among all low-income Americans. This suggests that poverty was always the reason that many black Americans had kids outside marriage, and now that white America is on the skids the same problems are hitting them.

How much of an effect are the massive disparities between upper- and lower-income Americans having on marriage? Conservatives like to say that income inequality is simply the fault of those people who are too lazy to work. But the fact is that millions of Americans have been losing well-paying jobs for 30 years as American industry has shipped production to other countries in a very successful attempt to destroy unions. That's had the effect of drastically lowering average incomes in the United States. And the recent downturn has hit millions of solid middle-class non-union white-collar workers who toiled hard every day till they lost their jobs because of Wall Street's malfeasance.

As I've noted before, divorce rates are higher in "red" states than "blue" states. Are Republican states less moral than Democratic states? I doubt it; it really has to do with money and education. Blue states have higher incomes and education levels, as a result of blue-state policies and priorities.

One of the reasons marriage rates are down, according to the story, is that many young people, especially men, are deferring marriage. They want to get a good job and build up a nest egg first. But the truth is, two people really can live more cheaply together than they can apart. Working together as a team, couples can do better for themselves than they can alone: they can get a house sooner, build up their savings more quickly, all because there's much less waste and overhead maintaining a single domicile. That's why so many couples cohabitate. How many of them don't get married because they're worried about divorce and all the pain and trouble it brings?

But the conservative sabotage of marriage started in earnest these last few years. To fight gay marriage, conservatives now insist that the only purpose of marriage is procreation. So if you're not having kids right away, you obviously shouldn't get married. The opposition to birth control and abortion by Catholics and many conservatives present further obstacles to getting married. Having kids presents a double whammy: you lose a wage earner and drastically ramp up expenses. Not to mention the stress and tension children cause with their incessant crying and whining...

These conditions force many young people to stay home for years longer than their parents and grandparents did. What effect does this extended childhood have on the quality of mates? Does Mom nagging a 30-year-old man to stop playing video games and make his bed irreparably damage his self-image? Getting married at a younger age has its problems, but it also means you aren't already set in your ways, which means you and your spouse live and grow together before your personalities are set in stone. Are people who get married at 30 less mutable for their mates, and more self-centered and self-absorbed than people who get married at 25?

And then there's the whole notion that gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage. It's like saying that you can't support the New York Yankees because gays can wear Yankees caps. Or you can't have children because lesbians can have children.
Or you can't believe in Christ because the socialist Poles and Germans who've been running the Catholic Church for the last 30 years believe in Christ.

How can gays getting married possibly affect anyone else's marriage? The only effect it can have is the effect you let it have on you. If your faith in your marriage is so weak that it can be destroyed by the fact that a gay person can get hitched, you never really had any faith to begin with.

One could much more convincingly argue that gays aren't destroying marriage, it's conservative opinion leaders like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, Ronald Reagan, Mark Sanford, John Ensign, and David Vitter who are destroying marriage by constantly making a mockery of their vows, who then turn around and mouth platitudes about the sanctity of marriage. Their hypocritical examples do far more damage to the institution than the prospect of monogamous gays.

onogamous marriage has been an economic, social and political union in most cultures regardless of religion: Judeo-Christianity, Hinduism, Shinto, ancient Roman and Greek paganism, Chinese Taoism, and most nativist religions in the Americas, Asia and Africa. Children were necessary to supply workers and heirs, for very functional non-religious reasons. Religion, love and romance had nothing to do with marriage. Parents and matchmakers and privy councilors arranged marriages and it was simply assumed that you would come to love your spouse in time.

If conservatives really want to improve the marriage rate and reduce the divorce rate, they should stop ranting about gays, birth control and abortion, stop encouraging large families in bad economic times, stop trying to legislate morality, and instead work to create new jobs, increase the quality of education, and reduce the huge income inequalities that are eating away at this country like a cancer.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Another Republican Adulterer Bites the Dust

Markadelphia has long said that he thinks it's foolish to call politicians out for having affairs. I can see the point: if your spouse can live with you banging the babysitter, what's the big deal? Newt Gingrich's recent rise in the polls indicates that even evangelicals are giving politicians who cheat on their wives a pass. As long as they admit their error and then sign a pledge not to do what they've already done twice...

But there are some times when marital infidelity says something about candidate's fitness to hold office. In Herman Cain's case there were charges of sexual harassment, which he denied, and when it was came to light that Cain was having an affair until very recently those charges gained a lot more credibility. His reaction to those charges told us more about his character than the charges themselves. In hindsight, Cain must realize that he should have acknowledged his harassment of those women, and publicly apologized to them, finessing the issue by calling his advances honest misunderstandings instead of demonizing the women publicly. Had he done that, it's entirely possible his paramour would have kept quiet and he'd still be in the race. But he ticked her off with his rank hypocrisy.

The reason extramarital affairs are bad has nothing to do with the immorality of them, but more to do with how vulnerable they make you to blackmail. One summer in college I obtained an application for the CIA. One of the questions asked about using heroin. That's nuts, I thought. Who would ever admit to using heroin? But answering yes doesn't immediately disqualify you. By answering such a question truthfully you can't be blackmailed by future revelations, and you show a certain ... flexibility that can actually be very useful in CIA operations. The CIA doesn't need angels.

Last Thursday Amy Koch, the Republican Minnesota Senate majority leader, resigned without any credible explanation. Friday the news broke that she was having an affair with a male staffer, and four high-ranking Republicans had demanded she step down immediately. Koch is married and has one child.

Why is this relevant?

In 2010 Republicans won a majority in both the Minnesota House and Senate. They immediately set to shoving their agenda through the legislature, making big cuts to programs, including huge cuts to cities, counties and schools, and making a bunch of gimmicky short-term accounting changes instead of actually solving the problem. Democratic governor Mark Dayton shut down the government to try to force them to give him a decent budget, but the Republicans wouldn't budge.

Another big push was to put an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage on next year's ballot. It's the same old thing about a union of one man and one woman, the sanctity of marriage, blah blah blah.

The question then becomes: if Republicans constantly violate their marital vows, how can they possibly be serious about the sanctity of marriage? To avoid making the argument next year about Amy Koch's violation of her marriage vows, the Republicans had to jettison her as fast as possible. This, along with tidbits like Republicans getting divorced more often than Democrats, Herman Cain's harassment and infidelity, Mark Sanford's Appalachian hike, John Ensign's payoffs, and thrice-married Newt Gingrich potentially winning the Republican nomination, puts the lie to the idea that the Republican Party is the party fighting to preserve the sanctity of marriage.

Instead, they look like the party that won't stick it out when the going gets tough, breasts start to sag, or hubby can't get it up. How can people like this claim the moral high ground if gays want to declare their eternal love for each other? It makes the marriage amendment look a small-minded attempt to stop people Republicans don't like from getting a benefit that the majority of people enjoy. So their answer is to boot Amy Koch out the door and hope everyone forgets her before next November.

The right answer is for us all to cut each other some slack and stop telling people who aren't hurting anyone how to live our lives. How can you preach about freedom when you want to take away the most basic freedom to be with the person you love?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stopping the Big One

Last month a 400-yard wide asteroid came within 200,000 miles of earth, inside the orbit of the moon. NASA had been tracking it, so there wasn't any real concern that it would hit us.

But the close approach prompted Edward Lu, a former astronaut, to renew his call for the United States to improve our capabilities for predicting and preventing asteroid collisions. Such a collision is widely believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs by drastically changing the climate in the aftermath of the collision (the Alvarez Hypothesis).

Movies like Deep Impact and Armageddon popularized the threat the earth faces from comets and asteroids. An asteroid the size of 2005 YU55 wouldn't destroy the planet, but it would have the force of small nuclear bomb and could wipe out a city, or inundate several coastal cities with a tsunami if it hit the ocean.

We don't know of any big asteroids or comets that pose an immediate threat, but we aren't tracking many of the smaller objects. Also, the gravity of the outer planets, especially Jupiter, changes the orbits of asteroids and comets in the outer solar system, causing them to drop in on us unpredictably.

The chance of a collision is small, but the sheer magnitude of the calamity has prompted many people to  take the issue seriously. Though people like Mitt Romney derided Newt Gingrich's idea of mining the moon for its minerals, there are many conservatives who believe that the United States should take the lead in space with asteroid collision detection and prevention projects, as well as space exploration in general. Not only would it potentially save humanity, but it would help the United States regain the initiative in space by allowing us to develop the technology to do big projects in space. Own the high ground!

Conservatives harshly criticized President Obama for canceling Bush's botched Constellation moon program, and Obama's decision to have NASA do less and private companies do more in space. As recently as last month Herman Cain blasted Obama's space initiatives and blamed Obama for canceling the shuttle program, even though it was Bush who canceled the shuttle in 2004, forcing us to rely on the Russians to get our astronauts to the space station.

But Obama's strategy appears to be bearing fruit: recently NASA announced that the first private launch to dock with the International Space Station was authorized: SpaceX will launch its Dragon spacecraft in February, 2011. Paul Allen and Burt Rutan are building a successor to SpaceShipOne that will have an operational launch in 2016.

Bottom line: NASA scientists predict there's a small but real chance that an asteroid will strike the earth and wreck the earth's climate. So why are conservatives so resistant to NASA scientists who predict that human activity will drastically affect on the earth's climate?

The bigger, more immediate threat to is human-caused climate change, not an asteroid.

Even though Newt Gingrich now says admitting that global warming is real was his biggest mistake, some Republicans like Jon Huntsman are brave enough to acknowledge the truth. (There was a big noise when Huntsman appeared to recant his stand on global warming, but when he reiterated his support for climate science he was roundly ignored.)

The real issue with conservatives and climate change doesn't seem to about the science. As the Gingrich example shows, they know it's real: anyone who's 50-plus years old has seen the changes for themselves and knows it's happening. Their real concern seems to be that the United States will get stiffed in any kind of international agreement and countries like China will cheat, and we'll be stuck paying for it with lower economic growth. That's a legitimate issue. But it's a lousy excuse for inaction, like a ten-year-old saying he shouldn't have to brush his teeth because his baby brother didn't have to.

Climate change won't cause the extinction of mankind. But it will raise sea levels and increase the incidence of extreme weather like hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, as well as cause drought, disease, famine, mass migration and war. Those things will destabilize markets, international trade and our economy far worse than our current troubles have.

If only there were some flashy way to stop global warming by having Bruce Willis nuke something...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is This Too Far?

We had a rather lengthy discussion about racism in a recent post and when I came across this story, I found myself wondering if this was, in fact, racist.

Teammates would hold hands before their games, say a prayer together, then yell "One, two, three [N-word]!" before running out onto the court, according to offended students.

So, is this racist? I just want to be sure because I've been told that my barometer on this is way off. I guess I'm wondering where exactly the line in the sand has been drawn.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fucking. Brilliant.

Clearly, this young man has had good mentors in his life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Tis The Season

Recently, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry said the following.

"Our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."

Just like Black Friday, Frosty, Santa, and Rudolph, holiday programming for the right also includes the always classic "War on Christmas." 'Tis the season to be jolly and...paranoid about the commies that are forcing our kids to celebrate Kwanzza and hate Jesus. Sadly, it's already December 13th and I have not yet had one conservative (sweaty and foaming at the mouth) take me aside and explain to me in hushed tones that Kwanzaa was started by some evil guy named...well, actually, I don't remember. One of you want to enlighten me?

Perry's claim above, like the War on Christmas, is pure hogwash. He made such a claim in a recent campaign ad in Iowa. Being that my in laws are from that state, I can say with certainty that Perry is doing #1 of Boaz's 14 points: Panic Mongering. 

Because Iowa schoolchildren may both pray and openly celebrate Christmas, according to Carol Greta, general counsel of the Iowa Department of Education. Greta said Iowa school children have never been prohibited from praying at school but she said, school employees may not coerce students into praying or celebrating Christmas in keeping with the First Amendment, which bars Congress from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech." Yeah, that pesky Constitution. Funny the people who claim to want to strictly adhere to it ignore that part of it. But what about Texas?

Texas law provides an opportunity for students pray, if they choose, every school day, according to DeEtta Culbertson, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. The law states that each school board shall provide a minute of silence at each school during which "each student may, as the student chooses, reflect, pray, meditate or engage in any other silent activity that is not likely to interfere with or distract another student." Culbertson also said each Texas district is left to resolve how its individual schools handle Christmas. Further, in an interview, researcher David Masci of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life said that children may both pray and celebrate Christmas in school if their actions are self-directed -- not guided by teachers or administrators. Masci said that if Perry said school-directed prayer and Christmas celebrations are restricted, he’d be right.

This is, in fact, the policy at my school as well as my children's school which are in different districts in Minnesota. Kids wear Christmas stuff, talk about Jesus, going to church, and say "Merry Christmas" all the time. This image of children being forced to hide this stuff like they are being persecuted is ridiculous. But, hey, The War On Christmas sells, right?

Far be it from me to interfere with holiday shopkeepers peddling what they know many people want to buy.

Monday, December 12, 2011


My main source of news, The Christian Science Monitor, recently posted a wonderful summation of the EuroZone economic crisis. As is often the case with the CSM, their analysis is thoughtful and well balanced. Let's take a look at the five graphics they provided. First we have the shadow economy graphic.
When nearly a quarter of your economy is untaxed (as is the case with Greece and Italy), you're going to have problems. Couple this with all the tax evasion that goes on in Greece, for example, and it's both a revenue and spending problem. Next up we have the export issue.

Germany is obviously the behemoth here. Greece is the lowest which is another explanation as to why they are in so much trouble. They aren't selling anything in the global marketplace. To put it simply, they aren't competing. Of course, we also have the issue of public sector size.

And the issue of deficit spending as a percentage of GDP.

Note here the stability of Germany. Finally, we have the main thing that the right in this country focuses on nearly to a fault.

My main point in showing all of these graphics is to stress that it is the summation of all five of these issues (plus interest rates, of course) that is causing the problem. To say that it's simply an issue of spending is ridiculous. Germany, for example has fairly high debt as percentage of GDP but their deficit spending is low and their exports are high. Their shadow economy is much lower as well.

So, it's the whole meal and not just the salad.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The .1 Percent

"...uncertainty. As a small business owner..."

were the first words I heard when I flipped on NPR the other day. The caller was a guy named Steve and my ears waited for the inevitable rip on the president. Instead, this is is what I heard.

"The federal government, and I mean all of them but most specifically Congress, needs to let me know what they are going to do. See, I'm part of the 1 percent who they are calling the job creators and I have no problem if they raise my taxes. I can afford it. But where I am uncertain is if I hire more people, will I get a tax break? If they came to me and said, "Hire more people and we will give you a tax break," then I would at least be able to adjust and calculate what I'm going to need if they do raise taxes."

We then found out that Steve had three small businesses and made millions a year. So, the uncertainty for him was simply a matter of figuring out his balance sheet which, quite honestly, is all the rest of us do. It made me wonder how many of the 1 percent who were uncertain would also be willing to pay more in taxes.

Then Steve said something that the 99 percenters and occupiers should understand.

"It's not the 1 percent that are the problem. It's the .1 percent. People that are with me in the other 9/10ths of 1 percent are doctors, lawyers, and wealthy small business owners. We have the same issues that most Americans have with money. We just have more of it. What we do adds to our society in the way of jobs and economic growth. But the .1 percent? That's the people on Wall Street with whom I invest my money. All they do is move money around. They add no value to society whatsoever. "

And there it is. It's not the one percent. It's the .1 percent. They are the ones that are really the problem right now and they always have been. These are the folks that nearly ruined our economy 3 years ago and that have, more or less, created a Wall Street government. People like Steve got fucked over by them just like we did.

In a recent column, Paul Krugman echoed this sentiment with some interesting numbers.

The recent Congressional Budget Office report on inequality didn’t look inside the top 1 percent, but an earlier report, which only went up to 2005, did. According to that report, between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted, after-tax income of Americans in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. The equivalent number for the richest 0.1 percent rose 400 percent.

For the most part, these huge gains reflected a dramatic rise in the super-elite’s share of pretax income. But there were also large tax cuts favoring the wealthy. In particular, taxes on capital gains are much lower than they were in 1979 — and the richest one-thousandth of Americans account for half of all income from capital gains.

Clearly, there's gross inequality within the 1 percent as well. So is Steve right about who makes up the .1 percent?

For who are the 0.1 percent? Very few of them are Steve Jobs-type innovators; most of them are corporate bigwigs and financial wheeler-dealers. One recent analysis found that 43 percent of the super-elite are executives at nonfinancial companies, 18 percent are in finance and another 12 percent are lawyers or in real estate. And these are not, to put it mildly, professions in which there is a clear relationship between someone’s income and his economic contribution.

Not all in the financial sector but certainly not the "job creators" that we hear about all the time.

I took a lot away from Steve's call. I think it was important to hear from someone who is indeed a job creator and would happily pay more in taxes if the federal government would get its shit together. Based on the poll numbers and Steve's call, it appears as if most of the blame is being laid at the feet of Congress.

Will the American people let them know what they think next November?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Potpourri

Here's a piece from a few weeks ago on voter rage.

Even newcomers swept into office in 2010 on an antigovernment tide worry that they could be just as easily swept out after only a two-year stay since they have become part of the government that much of the public seems to abhor.

I agree. The myth that the Tea Party is immune to voter outrage is effectively over with Congress's approval rating below 10 percent. In fact, one could argue that it's gotten worse. Will voters make them aware of this?

Here's one big reason why conservatives don't like Mitt Romney.

I use Mankiw quite a bit on here as sound source for fundamental economics. The fact that the Mittser is using him is one of a few reasons why I don't think he'd be a bad president. Yet the fact that he is using Glenn Hubbard certainly gives me pause. Hubbard (along with Tim Geithner) should not be allowed anywhere near our economy as they (along with many others) were responsible for the collapse of 2008. If you want to know what Hubbard's all about, check out this clip from Inside Job.

Here's something I found a while back that I thought was interesting.

Fareed Zakira has been saying the same thing on CNN for the past couple of years. I'm not sure if I agree given the issue of consumer spending and demand. If those tax cuts go away for most Americans, I think that will affect our growth without a doubt. So, Colbert's logic is a little off. But I do like this line!

America does not have a national debt problem, instead, the U.S. has a negative revenue problem.

Sing it, brother!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Newt is Not the One

I read an interesting post over on Slate, asking whether Newt Gingrich is nuts:
We’re quick to describe politicians whose views we find extreme or whose behavior seems odd as “crazy,” and perhaps anyone who runs for president in some sense is. But I’ve long wondered whether Newt Gingrich merits that designation in a more clinical sense. I’m not a psychiatrist, of course, and it’s impossible to diagnose someone at a distance. Without medical records that he hasn’t released, we can’t know whether Gingrich may have inherited his mother’s manic depression. Nevertheless, one observes in the former House Speaker certain symptoms—bouts of grandiosity, megalomania, irritability, racing thoughts, spending sprees—that go beyond the ordinary politician’s normal narcissism.
But it's not just Newt: all of the Republican candidates for president have some degree of weirdness or craziness.

Michele Bachmann has the crazy eyes, the crazy conspiratorial ideas that constantly well up in her mind, a willingness to believe any unsubstantiated rumor, and the whole mission from God thing about being a tax accountant.

Herman Cain is a sex addict, a nonaphile, apparently unable to read, and terminally confused about everything except how great he is.

Rick Santorum is a religious fanatic who believes his win in the Senate was granted to him personally by God, but somehow doesn't think his subsequent loss means anything. His preoccupation with gays seems to be his way of stifling hidden urges.

Rick Perry has some kind of deteriorating dementia that prevents him from forming lucid and coherent thoughts and remembering what the hell he's talking about, from secession to abolishing federal agencies. You get the idea he'd just rather be out shooting coyotes.

Ron Paul is just a nice, batty 76-year-old man who thinks prostitution and drugs should be legal and corporations should be able to screw us any way they like.

And the two "normal" guys in the race, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, are members of what many mainstream Christian denominations consider to be a cult that espouses ideas that most Americans consider to be weird and wacky, not to mention heretical.

And don't even get me started about Trump and Palin...

One begins to wonder whether there's something inherently unstable about Republicans who run for president. Many people considered George W. Bush to be suffering from a range of psychological problems, from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, to sociopathy or psychopathy. Reagan was suffering from symptoms of Alzheimers as early as his first term, and probably even during the 1980 election campaign. And Richard Nixon was paranoid criminal mastermind. But George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole were normal enough, so there have been bouts of normalcy in recent Republican presidents and candidates.

Yet now the constant roller coaster of the polls in the Republican primary race indicates that the Republican electorate shares these same concerns about the candidates at some level. First Bachmann is up, then Perry, then Cain, then Paul, then Gingrich.

Where are the regular Republicans, the fiscal conservatives that don't have daddy issues or aren't hell-bent on some wacky crusade? What happened to all the guys like George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole? The "normal" guys, like Mark Sanford and John Ensign. These men were once considered major contenders for 2012, but were put out of the running by their propensity for crazy extra-marital affairs, the same thing that just shot down Herman Cain. Somehow this hasn't stopped Gingrich's recent rise in the polls, though he's a serial philanderer and cad for ditching his wives as soon as they become ill.

One can only assume that Newt's past will catch up with him again in the next month and reverse his bump in the polls. That past includes flip-flopping on numerous issues like global warming and health care mandates, his history as a (not-)lobbyist, his divorces, his cynical conversion to Catholicism, his treasonous embrace of amnesty for illegal aliens who've lived in the US for decades, and the sheer hypocrisy of his pushing through Clinton's impeachment while banging his aide. Not to mention his shutdown of the federal government because Clinton made him sit in the back of Air Force One.

Sure, some Democratic candidates have been wacky: Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton. Jimmy Carter wasn't a very inspirational leader, and said some silly things about lust in his heart. But he wasn't nuts. Though Bill Clinton was apparently a terrible horn dog, he was still competent in other arenas. Al Gore and John Kerry suffered mostly from lack of charisma, though despite that both only barely missed being elected president by a single state. And I would be remiss if I omitted mention of Gary Hart's foolish challenge to the press and John Edwards, who nearly matched Gingrich's caddishness when he impregnated Ariel Hunter while his wife was ill with cancer, and then tried to deny it. But the last two Democratic front runners, Hilary and Obama, are completely normal.

What is it about the GOP these days that makes it impossible for rational men and women to run for president under the Republican banner?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Mea Culpa

Check this out.

The application was short, the premiums are affordable, and I have found the people who work in the administration office to be quite compassionate (nothing like the people I have dealt with over the years at other insurance companies.) It's not perfect, of course, and it still leaves many people in need out in the cold. But it's a start, and for me it's been a lifesaver — perhaps literally.

So this is my public apology. I'm sorry I didn't do enough of my own research to find out what promises the president has made good on. I'm sorry I didn't realize that he really has stood up for me and my family, and for so many others like us. I'm getting a new bumper sticker to cover the one that says "Got nope." It will say "ObamaCares."

I wonder how many more of these stories we are going to here over the next few months and years.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

And It Continues...

The last few days have seen some remarkable statements and calls to action by the so called 1 percent. James Theckston, a regional vice president for Chase Home Finance in southern Florida, recently detailed exactly how the financial industry led us into such a disaster.

“You’ve got somebody making $20,000 buying a $500,000 home, thinking that she’d flip it,” he said. “That was crazy, but the banks put programs together to make those kinds of loans.”

Theckston, who has a shelf full of awards that he won from Chase, such as “sales manager of the year,” showed me his 2006 performance review. It indicates that 60 percent of his evaluation depended on him increasing high-risk loans.

“The bigwigs of the corporations knew this, but they figured we’re going to make billions out of it, so who cares? The government is going to bail us out. And the problem loans will be out of here, maybe even overseas.”

Kristoff also does a great job of explaining why the Occupy movement is resonating so much with the American public and, as a result, the tide continues to turn in some very interesting places.

Ruth Porat, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Morgan Stanley, had this to say at the Economist's World in 2012 summit.

"The wealthiest can afford to pay more in taxes. That's a part of the deal. That makes sense. I don't know anyone that doesn't agree with that," Porat said. "The wealth disparity between the lowest and the highest continues to expand, and that's inappropriate."

"We cannot cut our way to greatness,
" she added.

Right. People need to sit back, breathe, and think about what government spending less will do to our economy. Even though it does need to happen, they really aren't thinking right now.

Perhaps the best illustration of the turning tide can be read in Nick Hanauer's recent article for Bloomberg titled, "Raise Taxes on Rich to Reward True Job Creators." Folks, this is the best piece I have read since Jim Manzi's "Keeping America's Edge." He starts off by introducing himself.

I’m a very rich person. As an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I’ve started or helped get off the ground dozens of companies in industries including manufacturing, retail, medical services, the Internet and software. I founded the Internet media company aQuantive Inc., which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) in 2007 for $6.4 billion. I was also the first non-family investor in Inc. (AMZN)

So, he is one of these "job creators," right? Nope.

Even so, I’ve never been a “job creator.” I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate.

That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is the feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion a virtuous cycle that allows companies to survive and thrive and business owners to hire. An ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than I ever have been or ever will be.

No shit. This is exactly what I have been saying all along. The simple fact that Hanauer and others like him are now saying this means we can finally obliterate this ridiculous myth and start working on our problems. The first thing that needs to be fixed?

When the American middle class defends a tax system in which the lion’s share of benefits accrues to the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.And that’s what has been happening in the U.S. for the last 30 years.

Since 1980, the share of the nation’s income for fat cats like me in the top 0.1 percent has increased a shocking 400 percent, while the share for the bottom 50 percent of Americans has declined 33 percent. At the same time, effective tax rates on the superwealthy fell to 16.6 percent in 2007, from 42 percent at the peak of U.S. productivity in the early 1960s, and about 30 percent during the expansion of the 1990s. In my case, that means that this year, I paid an 11 percent rate on an eight-figure income.

And why exactly is this a problem?

One reason this policy is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the average American, but we don’t buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. Like everyone else, I go out to eat with friends and family only occasionally.

I can’t buy enough of anything to make up for the fact that millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans can’t buy any new clothes or enjoy any meals out. Or to make up for the decreasing consumption of the tens of millions of middle-class families that are barely squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or declining wages.

So, it's simply a matter of numbers. When you have an economy that is 70 percent based on consumer spending and consumers that aren't spending, you...have what we have now. So what does Hanauer recommend we do?

Significant tax increases on the about $1.5 trillion in collective income of those of us in the top 1 percent could create hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in our economy, rather than letting it pile up in a few bank accounts like a huge clot in our nation’s economic circulatory system.

Finally, someone actually admits it. They don't really invest in anything.

Consider, for example, that a puny 3 percent surtax on incomes above $1 million would be enough to maintain and expand the current payroll tax cut beyond December, preventing a $1,000 increase on the average worker’s taxes at the worst possible time for the economy. With a few more pennies on the dollar, we could invest in rebuilding schools and infrastructure. And even if we imposed a millionaires’ surtax and rolled back the Bush- era tax cuts for those at the top, the taxes on the richest Americans would still be historically low, and their incomes would still be astronomically high.

Why some folks can't understand this is completely beyond me. Obviously it has a lot to do with hubris and admission of error but perhaps it's more than that. When the central purpose of your life is being threatened with change, what meaning does your existence have?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Post Office Blues

Facing bankruptcy, the US Postal Service is considering closing hundreds of distribution centers and eliminating next-day delivery. The Post Office cites declining first-class mail volume as the main cause, partly due to people turning to electronic media for communication.

The Post Office does not receive any tax money, but it still answers to Congress. USPS can close offices and fire employees on its own, but it has to get approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission to increase rates, and approval from Congress for something as drastic as ending Saturday delivery. The cost of a first-class stamp will go up to 45 cents in 2012, which many have complained is an unreasonably high cost indicative of how inefficient and wasteful the Post Office is.

Actually, 44 cents is not at all unreasonable. When I was a kid in 1965, a stamp was a nickel. Now it's 44 cents. Back then gas cost 31 cents a gallon. Now it's $3.20, and has been as high as $4.00. The price of a stamp has gone up 8.8 times, while the price of gas has gone up 10.3 to 13 times. Considering that a large part of the cost of a stamp is transportation, first class mail delivery is a totally amazing deal.

For the sake of comparison, I went to the UPS website to see how much UPS charges to deliver a "letter" from Minneapolis to a residence in the 12008 zip code in New York. The cost ranged from $21 to $71, depending on time. FedEx wanted between $42 and $151 if they picked the envelope up from a residence. Sending a similar 9x10 envelope via first class mail costs $1.08 (the 44 cents is for a regular number 10 envelope). But the mailman will pick it up from my house at no extra charge.

To be fair, it must be noted that the Post Office will also charge between $5 to $21 for other delivery modes, such as next day express delivery. And the Post Office, which was set up to deliver light-weight first-class mail, won't deliver packages that weigh more than a certain maximum. So obviously UPS and FedEx have their place.

But the first-class mail service that the Post Office currently delivers is, well, first class. And ridiculously cheap. When I subscribed to NetFlix the Post Office delivered the discs between the NetFlix processing center and me in one day. Every time. Direct to my door. For $8 a month I could easily watch 6 to 8 DVDs a month. I can't send even one disc via UPS or FedEx for $8 with one-day delivery.

A lot of newspapers and magazines depend on the Post Office to deliver their periodicals in a timely manner. Without a reliable, cost-effective postal service, those publications are in even greater danger of extinction. Many direct-mail businesses and catalog outlets depend on the Post Office for their very existence. And even FedEx and UPS hand off packages to the Post Office for many rural destinations.

The Post Office has several intrinsic problems that hamstring them:

  • The Post Office can't make the simplest business decisions without the approval of the Postal Regulatory Commission. The Commission is heavily lobbied by companies who use the mails. In essence, those companies make their profits off the Post Office's losses. UPS and FedEx can simply raise rates when they need to.
  • The Post Office is required to deliver first class mail to everyone in the country for one low price, even people who live in Hawaii, Alaska or rural Montana. UPS and FedEx aren't required to deliver to anyone, and can charge any price they like.
  • The Post Office has a large workforce that makes a decent living wage, between $38K to $60K. Its labor and pension costs are a big part of its financial problems. But they need congressional approval to make necessary changes for the way they do business, including the way they pre-fund pensions to make sure they don't go bust (like the pensions that many airlines defaulted on in the past several years).
Some people are calling for the abolishment of the Post Office, and selling it off to UPS or FedEx or Walmart. Sure, these companies could make more money delivering the mail. First, they'd raise the price of a first class letter to several dollars, and charge variable rates based on destination. Then they'd stop delivering mail to places like rural Alaska and Montana. And then they'd hire a bunch of part-time "contractors" to deliver the mail at minimum wage, making them use their own cars (which the Post Office has sometimes already done in rural areas).

Heck, the best candidate for buying the Post Office's business is Domino's Pizza -- they already have the delivery network in place. Pizza, a large Coke and your mail for only $9.99.

And this is no idle speculation. FedEx and UPS already franchise their delivery routes, and people bid competitively for ground routes. Since these subcontractors are stuck with FedEx, they have little negotiating room. They pretty much have to accept whatever FedEx decides to pay them when their contract is renewed. If the subcontractors can't cut their costs, they lose the routes. Then FedEx gets some other suckers to bid for it.

Another thing to consider is the monopoly positions of the delivery companies. There used to be three: UPS, FedEx and DHL. DHL stopped express deliveries in the US in 2008. Giving the Post Office's business to UPS or FedEx would make one of them an effective monopoly, which would make them an expensive and grossly inefficient bureaucracy that answered to no one.

But the worst thing about ending the Post Office would be the transfer of wealth from the employees to the corporate bottom line. The Post Office employs half a million workers, who make a living wage. The first thing a private company would do would pull a Walmart and hire only part-time non-union workers, cutting wages and eliminating health care and pensions. Instead of paying 500,000 full-time workers $50,000 a year plus benefits, a private company would hire a million half-time workers and pay them $10,000 or $15,000 a year with no benefits. The company would brag about hiring half a million new workers! It would also save billions in wages alone. But the economy as a whole would fare much more poorly, as local businesses saw a drastic decline in spending by postal employees. And what would the company do with the extra profits, after giving themselves hefty bonuses? Like many American businesses, it would use the extra billions they save on wages to expand into growing markets like China and Latin America. Sending our money to a foreign country. And the profits they make there go into off-shore accounts, and are exempt from US taxes.

The Post Office is in a lot of trouble, but getting rid of it would make the majority of the country much poorer, and a very few rich people a whole lot richer.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A Matter of Personal Preference

Some of my high school friends and I used to have the classic "Beatles v. Stones" debate. Some were Beatles fans and some were Stones fans. Often the debates became quiet heated as each side was passionate that they were right and the other was wrong.

Obviously, there was no right and wrong because it was simply a matter of personal preference. To me, this is exactly what is going with President Obama. For most folks, it's a matter of personal preference and they really don't spend the amount of time someone like me does in researching the various issues.

This is particularly true of the people that don't like the president. In general, there's nothing rational about it. He could fix everything wrong in the world while personally saving their families from drowning and these folks would still not admit that he has been a good president. There are several reasons for this. First, he won and they just can't accept that. Second, he's doing a better job than George W. Bush, the man they pinned all their hopes and dreams on only to watch him fail in several key areas (nearly ruining our country), and they just can't accept that. Third, he's black (side note: don't even try to wriggle out of it, reverse race card players, and do your little schitck) and they just can't accept that.

So, one can indeed look at these reasons and see that they are purely emotional. So why don't they just admit it? Is it so hard for them to say, "I just don't like him and it's not based on anything factual" ? Honestly, it's like pulling teeth but that's the pride and seemingly infinite hubris of the right.

It's not that difficult for me. I like Dennis Kucinich but know that there is no fucking way on earth that he should be president. I like Mitt Romney but wouldn't vote for him because I ideologically disagree with him on a number of issues. I dislike the Bushes but have to admit that the elder Bush was partly responsible for the economic boom of the 90s. And the younger, for all of his colossal fuck ups, literally shifted the tide in Africa regarding health and human services.

My confusion is best illustrated by the issue of taxes. Take a look at these figures, courtesy of Politifact and the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center.

Second-lowest 20 percent

2008 tax burden: $1,715
2011 tax burden: $1,396
Decline of $319

2008 tax rate: 6.7 percent
2011 tax rate: 5.7 percent
Decline of 1 percentage point

Middle 20 percent

2008 tax burden: $6,290
2011 tax burden: $5,535
Decline of $775

2008 tax rate: 13.6 percent
2011 tax rate: 12.4 percent
Decline of 1.2 percentage points

Second-highest 20 percent

2008 tax burden: $13,749
2011 tax burden: $13,078
Decline of $671

2008 tax rate: 17.4 percent
2011 tax rate: 16.5 percent
Decline of 0.9 percentage points

So for each of the three middle quintiles, both the amount of tax paid and the effective tax rate paid declined. A significant portion of these three groups are: a) conservative and b) complain about their taxes being raised. Yet here is a president who lowered their taxes. Does he get credit?



Because of personal preference.

What a craptacular way to run a country. Imagine where would be if people took the time to educate themselves on the facts and voted without feeling...without their pride. Now imagine if, instead of 55 percent of us voting, 95 percent of us voted.

What sort of country do you think we would have?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Blessed Are The Poor

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me.' (Matthew 25:41-45)

The above is but one example of the many instructions in the Bible on how God wants us to serve the poor. It's not just the New Testament either. Deuteronomy 24:14 tells us: "Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns." Psalm 12:5 says: "Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise, says the LORD, I will protect them from those who malign them."

And Psalm 41:1-2 states: "Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble. The LORD will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes."

In looking at all of these teachings, I'm wondering if Newt Gingrich has picked up a Bible recently or, quite frankly, has ever read one. Take a look at this.

Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and one around them who works? Are you fucking kidding me? I can't believe that we are still on this crap. What is it about this country and disdain for poor people? They're all lazy, I guess, and they don't teach their kids good values. They're poor for a reason, dammit, and how dare they stink up our country with their poor BO.

Some have suggested that Newt's comment was a dog whistle for bigots (the lazy blacks who don't work). Based on this line from a recent comment, they may be right.

What I am suggesting is that culture matters. And black culture, at this point in history, does not celebrate academic achievement.

I will never understand this mindset. I'd like to try to give folks like this the benefit of the doubt and simply say that they are massively tone deaf but perhaps I'm being too kind. This view, illustrated quite well by Newt Gingrich, is so antiquated that it makes me physically ill. What fucking country do these people live in? They claim to be Christian but what goes through their minds when they read this passage?

If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Are you KIDDING me??!!???!!????!!???

Some party officials were surprised by both the size of the debt and the ongoing spending.

Any Minnesotan who continues to support the GOP in my home state has just reached 11 on the hypocrisy dial and infinity on the moron scale.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Friday Funnies

These two caught my eye today.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Occupy! Trifecta

Three stories today about the OWS movement that I found interesting...

First, apparently someone in the OWS movement is reading this blog. Both Nikto and I agree that the time to stand around a park is over. It seems they are transitioning away from this and into a legitimate social movement. Good deal!

Sadly, though, this article illustrates my chief criticism of the movement.

Despite the strategizing under way in the Occupy Wall Street office space, no one in the movement can say where it will be in six months.

As for a clear set of goals, Goldberg said, “It would be wonderful if the media stopped looking for demands because I think you will be unsatisfied."

He added, "Many of us in the movement don’t want a list of demands because that is empowering someone else to create a change for us.”

Goldberg said he and the others are creating change from the bottom up in their leaderless movement.

“It’s the core of who we are, which is a decentralized, people-driven process," Carey added.

Funny, that sounds almost (gasp!) libertarian, right?

To me, though, they still lack a focus and thankfully, I'm not the only one.

Asking Occupy protesters what, exactly, they would do to reform government and the financial system is a loaded question and a source of internal conflict. Collinge, 41, of Tacoma, Wash., said he has unsuccessfully lobbied Occupy's general assembly meetings in New York to develop a strong platform.

"They should come up with a short-term list of no-brainer agenda items," said Collinge, wearing a huge sign in the rain at New York's Zuccotti Park calling for student loan reforms.

Collinge has his list ready. Return bankruptcy protection to student loans. Bring back banking reform regulations that were removed from the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act. End corporate personhood.

Absofuckinglutely. The Occupy movement has entered the zeitgeist of the world now and is not going away. For the first time, the political left is driving the conversation and the right is being forced to respond (more on that in a moment). They've successfully been able to create a populist movement around concepts such as the "99 percent" and the "1 percent." People from all areas of life are responding to this positively because...well...they are the 99 percent!

But the ambiguity sans action won't be enough to bring about any real change. This is where I agree with Collinge and it's not surprising really considering he is in my age cohort. There needs to be a focus around the three issues he lists above and each needs to be followed up with action. I'm not sure how this is going to happen considering the OWS folks trust the government about as much as the Tea Party does.

For a group that has "lost the narrative," they sure are making the right nervous. Why all the fuss if that is indeed the case? Here are a few of my favorites from Luntz.

1. Don't say 'capitalism.' "I'm trying to get that word removed and we're replacing it with either 'economic freedom' or 'free market,' " Luntz said. "The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral.And if we're seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we've got a problem."

Yeah, you do. Because the American public knows who caused our economic problems. Of course, capitalism isn't immoral...what has been done to it, however, IS.

6. Don't ever say you're willing to 'compromise.' "If you talk about 'compromise,' they'll say you're selling out. Your side doesn't want you to 'compromise.' What you use in that to replace it with is 'cooperation.' It means the same thing. But cooperation means you stick to your principles but still get the job done. Compromise says that you're selling out those principles."

Like I needed a pollster to tell me that!

7. The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: 'I get it.'"First off, here are three words for you all: 'I get it.' . . . 'I get that you're angry. I get that you've seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system." Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem.

Let's see if any of them can actually do this because it involves being empathetic. I doubt it.

The simple fact that they are getting this involved in how they talk about this movement tells me that: a) the talk of the narrative being lost is ridiculously wrong and b) they're nervous.