Archive for May 2013

Two Things

First: She who must never be mentioned in this blog suggested a fix for the Middle East that I think has real potential: Arm only the women.

Second: The President gives us some half assed student loan proposal that is at least better than what the Republicans are offering on interest rates, but falls way short. I believe Elizabeth Warren wants to pass a bill that says investment in our kid’s futures is worth the same as the cut rate loans we are giving the banks. Why can’t he get behind that with a full court press? I think it is called leadership.

Who Said it Best Today: Arvind Mahankali

When 13-year old Arvind Mahankali won the Scripps National Spelling Bee he was asked by a reporter, “What is the significance of this kind of accomplishment this year” , he said:

“It  means I am retiring on a good note”

This 13-year old is going to go a long, long way.

Overly Critical and Impatient Baseball Fan

I am a huge (I would have said giant, but I hate the Giants) Oakland A’s fan. I caught it from my son when he was 8 and we have followed them ever since. Oh and he will be 32 on Saturday so it has been a while. I was at the last game of the season last year when they won the American League West so I know every game is important. But both my son and she who must not be mentioned ever in my blog feel I watch the games being overly critical and forgetting that it is a long season. They are probably right. Certainly I have no knowledge of the game at the level these guys play, or what it takes to do that. But baseball, and the reason I love the game so much, is because it is very much like life itself and as I near the latter part of mine, I think I have an insight maybe they are missing.

Continue reading ‘Overly Critical and Impatient Baseball Fan’ »

Friday Follies

Well, what is there to say? The News can’t get any stranger:

  • Michele Bachmann is retiring and when one of her advisors was confronted with her many wild ass claims, he said that sometimes she got things wrong, but she spoke and stood up for many people. Sadly those people she spoke for didn’t need a spokesperson, but probably a therapist
  • In the vein of can people think, Animal Planet has aired two shows on Mermaids which claim evidence to finding Mermaids, both of which were hoaxes, but netted their largest audiences. Quick, get them to a voting booth so the Republicans can win a national election
  • Unemployment hit an all time high this week in the Eurozone. That austerity thing working out for you? Just need to hang in there a little longer because the good times are just around the corner? What does it take to finally admit you were wrong and change course? Well the people who need to make that decision are not suffering the brunt of austerity so it will be a long time coming. Meanwhile back here in the good old USA, we have, (drum roll), austerity. Anybody seen a jobs plan?
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Some Thoughts on Religion

I usually only do this when I am prodded and T.M. Luhrmann and her op-ed(s) on religion always get me going. Maybe I ought to do more self examination as to why this kind of stuff drives me crazy. Maybe one of the reasons I am an atheist is that I really have a problem with authority. If there was a god, I would hold him so accountable… Anyway, here is her closing remarks:

And that was not really what I saw after my years spending time in evangelical churches. I saw that people went to church to experience joy and to learn how to have more of it. These days I find that it is more helpful to think about faith as the questions people choose to focus on, rather than the propositions observers think they must hold.

If you can sidestep the problem of belief — and the related politics, which can be so distracting — it is easier to see that the evangelical view of the world is full of joy. God is good. The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now. That’s what draws people to church. It is understandably hard for secular observers to sidestep the problem of belief. But it is worth appreciating that in belief is the reach for joy, and the reason many people go to church in the first place.

Now do you see why Lenin said religion is the opiate of the people? People in their suffering also reach for drugs. Neither is a solution if both offer false hope. Then there is that little issue of sidestepping the issue of belief. In her words:

One devout woman said in a prayer group one evening: “I don’t believe it, but I’m sticking to it. That’s my definition of faith.”

It was a flippant, off-the-cuff remark, but also a modern-day version of Pascal’s wager: in the face of her uncertainty about God’s existence, she decided that she was better off behaving as if God were real. She chose to foreground the practical issue of how to experience the world as if she was loved by a loving God and to put to one side her intellectual puzzling over whether and in what way the invisible agent was really there.

I guess I am better off believing that global warming and flow down work and put to one side my intellectual puzzling over the data that says I am wrong and better take another course. I guess that is my biggest complaint about faith based belief. We now live in a time when ideology has become more important that reality and this type of religious faith based belief or wishful thinking if you prefer, is commonplace in our political and secular life. It has no place there, but if we tolerate it in one sphere of our lives, it bleeds into the other. Oh, and in case you are wondering, you do not need God to find the good in people or see the wonder and joy of life. It is all around you.

Three Critical Insights

I was watching Now with Alex Wagner and I heard three quotes that might give you real insight into our problems and why we can’t solve them. They relate to Republican obstructionism, not understanding our entitlement issues and their costs, and what we should do about Syria.

First was a quote from none other than Rush Limbaugh who got to the heart of everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. He was bloviating about Bob Dole’s comments over the weekend about how the Republican Party needs to put a sign on their door saying closed for repairs:

Striking deals with the Democrats is what got us in this mess today. Too many of those deals were struck by old line Republicans who believed that when the Democrats put something forward we must have an alternative…again folks I rear my head and say people, this is what happens when people do not look at things ideologically.

There you have it. Let’s approach everything like the religious nuts in al Qaeda and not let rational thought inform our policies, but let’s have an ideological (religious) test on what are the facts regardless of reality. What works is not important, only that what we say works is never questioned. That says that compromise is never acceptable, and those people who voted for Republicans to make Washington work are idiots. Their job is to make sure it doesn’t work.

The second issue was voiced by Andrew Ross Sorkin, CNBC co-host of the Squawk Box, in a discussion about obstructionism of the Republicans as their only policy choice. He made a point (wrongly) that there were things the Democrats could bend on:

…their whole goal is to say no, I think that is be obstructionist, having said that I…just to make things interesting I would also suggest that part of the problem, I completely believe that the the Republican Party has been the party of obstructionist. Having said that there are places where the Democrats probably could have gone, the President could have gone on some issues around entitlements and other things that thoughtful people think should be touched upon and yet Democrats don’t go there either.

Now first of all the statement is incorrect as Richard Wolfe, who was also on the panel, pointed out. The President did go there with chained CPI and other offers that were rejected (thankfully). But the bigger issue is the “thoughtful people” comment. That is Paul Krugman’s VSP (Very Serious People) who gave us the song and dance on austerity and the shift from jobs to the deficit when it was the exactly the wrong thing to do. But in this case the logic is easily demonstrated to be false.

The implicit assumption is that down the road entitlement costs are a problem for our deficit. True. The explicit claim is that the solution is to reduce benefits. False. Just ask yourself this: Why do other industrialized nations provide more benefits at less than half the cost of what we provide, and why are we are looking at cutting those benefits instead of their costs? Maybe the issue is not cutting benefits, but looking at the way we pay for them and reforming that. But that is not what thoughtful people think. It is a conventional wisdom that leads us down the wrong path and makes our problems worse.

The last great insight was a discussion about where we should be going in Syria and the guest was Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign relations. This is tough one because there are no easy answers. If we provide a free fly zone, the Russians start an arms war with anti aircraft weapons. If we support the revolutionaries, we are supporting al Qaeda based rebels. There does not seem to either be an end game or any real positive outcomes other than incremental escalation that the nation has no appetite for. But here is where Mr. Hass gave what I think is some very important advice:

In the business literature there is a lot of writing about the urgent versus the important (7 Habits of highly Effective People that I know of) The Middle East right now is coming at us with a great sense of urgency, but in the long run of history I would actually argue that Asia is more important. That is where the great powers are. That is where the bulk of the world economy is. If we fail to keep countries like Japan, China, Korea, essentially at peace,t he 21st century could begin to resemble the 20th century. So in some ways we have to figure out how to do more in Asia and also to do more at home so we have the resources to do more there.

So as Syria devolves and may cause more conflict in the Middle East, can we really do anything to resolve 3rd century cultures and their infighting? Or should we be more strategic and think about where we can bring resources to bear that will really make a difference for our long term success. Maybe as Mr. Haass recommended, we certainly should help with the humanitarian issue and arm those groups whose agenda we can stomach, but beyond that, it is really a bottomless pit for our resources when there are more important and bigger fish to fry. These people are going to be fighting for a long time. There religion and their culture has kept them in the dark ages and it is not something we can easily resolve in the next 50 years. I guess you decide.

So there you have it. Republicanism today is based on faith based beliefs that cannot be challenged by science, data, or outcomes. They are out to destroy government and reasoned debate is a waste of time. Very Serious People or as Andrew Ross Sorkin calls them, thoughtful people are thoughtful because they select the solution that will cause the most pain, not the one that is really called for. We have sinned and we should suffer. Finally, the sun breaks through and Richard Haass tells us what we need to hear, that Syria is urgent, but not as important as other priorities including getting ourselves back on our feet which in the long run is more important. Think anybody was listening?

Who Said it Best Today: Dean Baker

It always amazes me that people think that because a person is successful in business, they would be great leaders and understand the problems of government. In fact, in many cases they are the most ill suited for that role and their fixation on profit is not what government or society is even remotely about. Well instead of me blovating, Dean Baker responded to an Op-Ed in the NYT about Silicon Valley and their lack of understanding or interest in our real problems. Here is his piece in full (Why Would Anyone Expect Silicon Valley to Give a Damn):

I have had several people send me this George Packer article in the New Yorker on the political and social attitudes of the Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires. While the piece makes for entertaining reading, it is difficult to see it as any great expose.

The piece basically shows the that Silicon Valley fast lane is filled with self-absorbed twits who don’t have a clue about what the rest of the country looks like. So?

Seriously, who did we think was making big bucks in high tech, great philanthropists? As a general rule it is reasonable to assume that people who make lots of money in any industry, whether it finance, manufacturing, entertainment, or anything else, are primarily concerned with making money in that industry. I don’t know whether we should blame them for that fact, but we certainly should blame policy types who then imagine that these people’s success at money making gives them great insight into how we should run society.

Bill Gates got incredibly rich because he has sharp elbows and perhaps was willing to bend the law more than his competitors. The same applies to Mark Zuckerberg. That doesn’t mean that both are not smart and hard working people, but it does mean that they may not be the best people to determine our education policy or how best to lift the world’s poor out of poverty. Their money may give them considerable voice in these areas, but there is no reason to assume that their insights are any better than those of the latest Powerball winner.

Classic and to the point. Thank you Dean

To Enter the Fray

One of the things that I have criticized President Obama for his his failure to lead us. In that I mean to take the Republicans head on. I was reading Jonathan Chait this morning and he wrote about Obama apparently finally challenging the Senate Republicans by nominating three court justice to the DC Court of Appeals and forcing the issue of their use of the filibuster (Obama to Senate: Obstruct This. After all these years maybe he is understanding that unless he challenges them head on, their obstructionism remains hidden in the machinery of the Senate.

I don’t know if it is in President Obama to go into full battle mode, but that is what we need. I get frustrated when he seems all over the map. Yes we have a lot of problems, but we can prioritize them, and as Bill Clinton once told us, it is the economy stupid. So where is the all out offensive on the economy. Well, the Jobs Bill failed and we know the Republicans won’t pass anything so let’s harass reporters for leaks. Okay, maybe hyperbole, but really where is the push on jobs? Once in a while I visit a plant and talk about the importance of jobs and whine about how Republicans won’t play?

If you want to change the course of Washington, then pick your high ground and start defending. From my perspective that high ground would be a real jobs bill that addressed both jobs and our crumbling infrastructure. We have this wonderful moment where we have had two bridge collapses, the interest rate at basically zero, and a ton of people who need jobs. So the leader I envision would get with Democrats and craft the message and the bill, and then do a frontal assault on Republicans, hammering away and reintroducing the bill each time they filibuster it. When it fails take them to task, educate the country, and re-attack relentlessly over and over again.

That is how the Republicans have taken charge of the country (and tried to make Obamacare fail) even if they are a minority and left many false messages out there. This isn’t about a calm collected cerebral message about how a macro economy operates, but a plan forward and a full frontal assault on pushing it. It is about 2014 and getting people to vote for candidates who support such action. It is the lesson of how prohibition got passed in single issue elections and we need to use it now to get the country moving again and wrest power out of the hands of those that are holding us back. One of those is our President, unless he can rise to the occasion and lead the charge. It has to be Team Democratic that fights this battle on all fronts and I just don’t know if he has the ability to pull that team together.

I’ve Got Your Back

President Obama was in New Jersey today giving a speech about how the Federal government will be there for you, but somehow I wondered with his “we have your back and we will be there for you” talking down to us.  I don’t think I want to be talked to like I have a Tea Party mentality, but an intelligent citizen who knows the limits of government to function with obstruction by Republicans.  Maybe it is just me, but I don’t like to be call folks.  Oh and while we are talking about having our backs, do you have my back on:

  • The sequester and lack of government investment in our future?
  • The growing permanent unemployment?
  • Doing something substantial on global warming?
  • Making sure banks and financial institutions are not really too big to fail?
  • Leveling the playing field for the 99%
  • Making sure our kids can get affordable education loans and are not gouged by the banks?
  • The higher education is available to all qualifying kids?
  • That the Press will have access to whistle blowers so we know what our government is doing?
  • That we have a tax system that is fair and doesn’t allow corporations to offshore profits and invests in America?
  • Making sure that illegal aliens are treated fairly and humanly instead of separated from their familes and children?

I guess I don’t need a pep rally or talked to like I am a high school kid who needs to be psyched up for the big game, but an adult that knows we face serious problems and I want to know how you are seriously engaging the Republicans who have prevented progress on all issues.

WMD or Today, the Republican Party

I heard something interesting in the discussion of the immigration bill and the “compromise” by Democrats to defeat the amendment to recognize spouses of gays and lesbians. That there was really no give and take. The way Washington works today, the Republicans set the basic parameters and if anything is going to happen, it will be on their terms. That is the mess we are in today. The United States and its policies whether we had a Democratic Congress and President or not, has been controlled by Republicans. Our votes don’t count.

Think back to the passage of Obamacare when the Democrats had the House, Senate, and Presidency, and what you saw was pandering to a few Republicans in the Senate to overcome the filibuster. Majority rule is a joke. The “great accomplishments” of the Obama Administration must get the seal of approval of the Republicans or nothing happens. Now in a normal world that might not be a problem, normal defined as while both parties have different philosophies, both want to see America succeed. But we don’t live in normal times.

Mitch McConnell told us what Republicans stand for, making Obama a one term President. So they are on a search and destroy mission. Immigration, which I doubt will pass, at least in any form that really does any good, only has a chance because the political survival of Republicans may hang in the balance, at least nationally. But in general, all they care about is making the President look bad. That can be accomplished by making sure nothing he tries, even their recycled ideas do not work. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. “He will destroy the country and we will block any attempt by him to fix things so the country will be destroyed,” under the guise of different points of view.

The prime example is Obamacare. It has flaws like all programs and needs to be tweaked to make it work effectively. But as recent articles in the NYT has shown, the Republicans simply want to repeal it. If they can’t get that, then they will damage it by blocking implementation in some states, by denying implementation funding, and not fixing the minor problems that will be discovered as it is implemented. And for sure Obamacare is not perfect, but what is their option? They have none other than the market place operating unimpeded. Bring back denial of insurance for pre-existing conditions and all the other abuses we have seen in the for-profit medical insurance industry.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. President Obama cannot get a functioning government because the Republicans won’t allow him to appoint people to carry out the business of the people. They packed the courts with their conservative lackeys and now they want to deny him recess appointments so he can’t get the government functioning. Meanwhile Harry Reid and the clueless Democrats, thinking there is still a semblance of decorum in Washington, will not reform the filibuster. Republicans continue their gerrymandering to control the country with a minority, and implement ways to deny the vote to those who will not vote for them.

So today what you see is a government that does not work, which is exactly what the Tea Party is all about, a Republican Party with no interest in fixing our problems, just making sure the other guy can’t, and Democrats who just simply cannot get the fact that they are in a battle for the soul of government where their opponent is ruthless. What we are crying out for is leadership that will lead the fight against these forces, and President Obama has proven over and over he is not that man.

I think when historians look back on the history of the United States from Ronald Reagan on, what they will see is a Republican Party that turned us into a two class society, the haves, and the have nots, and destroyed the great experiment in Constitutional Democracy, while claiming they were restoring our Constitution. Yes Virginia, Republicans are evil, and the means do not justify the ends. Republicans may through these tactics fool most of the people some of the time, but when they are in charge and have no workable ideas about fixing our problems, will find that they cannot fool all of the people all of the time. They may be sorry for what they wished for.