Archive for the ‘Bits and Pieces’ Category.

WTF!

Shooting in Las Vegas? Could this be domestic terrorism? They found at least 10 guns in the alleged shooter’s room. Can we connect the dots yet? But the Dotard in Charge (DIC) is showing his empathy and labeled this an act of evil so I already feel better. I can’t figure whether to outlaw outside gatherings or multi-story hotels. Then again could guns be the problem? Oh shut my mouth! Nevada has legalized silencers! Apparently what happens in Las Vegas does not stay there anymore.

Meanwhile things are still fairly desperate in many parts of Puerto Rico although the relief effort is beginning to crank up. Of course once again the DIC is telling us the response has just been amazing. “We have it under great control.” That was after someone finally explained to him where Puerto Rico was and that they were actually American citizens (I don’t know that, but the big water statement and other comments indicates he did not). So if you want to find leadership, this is not it. His enablers are showing how empathetic he is and I just want to laugh. Empathy is not water, food, power, medical support, or a dry place to sleep. “Hey, get out there and fix it yourselves!” Really, that is leadership? He should have been on top of this from day one. Speaking of one, that was the first hole of his golf course he was on yesterday expressing his sympathy. Right on top of it.

Then we have the North Korean snafu (situation normal, all fucked up). Rex, doesn’t need a staff, Tillerson tells us we are talking to the North Koreans through back channels, and the DIC tells Rex he is wasting his time talking to Rocket Man. Of course enter the enablers who try to spin this as great strategy, good cop/bad cop approach when we all know there is no grand strategy. I expect Rex to quit pretty soon.

Then there is the story that the DIC can only respond to and hear good news or he lashes out so that is all he hears. On the immigration issue he is only told what they cost us, not what they add so he does not have to deal with complex thoughts or get confused by complex issues which might counter his policy ideas. Stephen Miller is probably the architect of that approach. He has no real intellectual curiosity and has decided what he believes, so telling him different is a good way to be unemployed. Remember the crowd size at inauguration? I am a normal person and I like to hear good stuff about me, but I also want to hear the bad so I can fix it. That is how I stay married. The DIC just reinvents reality so there is nothing to fix.

There was the vote and violence in Catalonia.  WTF.  People do not have a right to vote?  Spain’s reaction just reinforced the need to separate.  Oh, I understand that a nation, like ours in the Civil War, may have to go to war in a secession, but they were participating in a non-binding vote. There is a problem there Huston and it is not solved by a police riot and brutality.  And while I am at it, why is the United States against the vote for and secession of the Kurds?  Vice President Bidden even proposed that solution to Iraq years ago.  Why do we not understand the need for freedom and independence from a state that has repressed them?  We are really good at being on the wrong side of an issue.

Finally, I have been reading some snarky reviews of Burns’ and Novick’s The Vietnam War. Snarky because they said we should not be too quick to draw lessons learned, and some complexities were too simplified. Hmm. I wonder if these people lived through it? There were all kinds of complexities and all kinds of contradictions, but the big lessons are fairly simple. Here they are if you missed them:

  1. War is an atrocity. Entering into a war can only be done when our very survival is at stake. The wanton loss of life is never justified and what it does to us can never be repaired. It damn well better be worth it. See #2.  Oh and it wasn’t here.  Neither was Iraq.
  2. We humans find out things about ourselves in war, our savagery, that we did not want to know and that is what damages us the most because we find we actually enjoy it. And to be effective at it, we devalue the lives of the enemy through racism and hate.  That reduces our humanity.
  3. Our government will lie to us for political ends, and transparency and a vigorous free press is necessary so we the people can decide if we want to pay the price for war, or if the reasons are made up.  See both Voetnam and Iraq.
  4. As noted above about the DIC, generals/leaders are on top of an organization that needs to feed them what they want to hear.  Real leaders dig deep to find the truth, report it, and act on it.  There are not many of them in the real world.
  5. Governments glorify war to get us to fight them.  Medals, hero-worship ceremonies, and the lie that most wars are about protecting freedom, democracy, and the Constitution are the ways they do it.  Sure there are real heroes and we should admire them.  But because you wear a uniform does not make you a hero.  The guy who stopped the killing at My Lai was the real hero.  Somehow he maintained his humanity.  The idea of the fog of war and that this is understandable (only Calley was convicted and then had his sentence reduced to nothing) is nonsense.  Maybe it is in the sense that we lose our humanity, but it should never be tolerated.  It is the best argument against war itself.

Those are fairly simple. There might be all kinds of lessons about how to fight a war, who should be our friends, tactics in the field, yada, yada, yada, but really, they are minor players to the big ones above.  So Monday morning and another WTF wakeup.

A Ken Burns Vietnam Update

Notice the distinct shape of the nose area where the cameras are.

In the third installment, there is a description of the battle near the Viet Cong stronghold of Chu Pong Massif in the La Drang Valley.  It is the story of Lt. Col Hal Moore and the debacle at Landing Zone X-Ray, made famous in the movie, We Were Soldiers.  Just before the scene where the Napalm canister comes down on our own troops, there is an RF-4C going by at about 100′, trying to identify enemy positions with their cameras.  It just a flash, they were trucking to stay out of ground fire, but you get the idea of the job.

After the brave fight by the Americans and South Vietnamese, Burns uses journalist Neil Sheehan to bring home this thought I always thought but never said, “I saw them fight at La Drang. It always galls me when I read or hear about the WWII generation as “The Greatest Generation”. These kids were just as gallant and courageous as anybody who fought WWII.”  Amen to that and that was my experience also.  I was against the war, but I worked with amazing people who gave everything to the mission.  In many ways it is the closest you will ever be to a true brotherhood of purpose.  We did our jobs as best we could under difficult circumstances to say the least.

By the way, Neil wrote what I consider the best book on the war, “A Bright and Shinning Lie“.  It is the best book because it got you into the psychology of how the war became a never ending nightmare.  Burns has already introduced John Paul Vann, who was an officer in the field who realized the way we were fighting the war was counterproductive.  But over the many years his ego overtook the reality of the futility of the war and he became compromised to the military mission. According to The New York Times Book Review: “If there is one book that captures the Vietnam war in the sheer Homeric scale of its passion and folly, this book is it. Neil Sheehan orchestrates a great fugue evoking all the elements of the war”.

From a guy who watched every moment of it and finally was in it, this book told a story that resonated with my experience.  Oh, and yes, the tears rolled as I watched this.

Oh Good Lord!

The Village Idiot in Charge (VIIC) is running amok in Europe and pissing everyone off.  Does the man understand the history of World War I and II?  Rhetorical.  He does not and neither do most of his supporters.  Nationalism is the road to war and empowering Russia.  When the VIIC failed to overtly say he stands behind Article 5 of NATO (an attack on one is an attack on all), it was a Russian wet dream. It undermines NATO.  Then he goes and offends just about everyone.  The video of him pushing aside (ala Diana Ross of the Supremes) a European leader to get up front tells you exactly who he is.

He is stupid, arrogant, and a grave danger to the country.  How do you apologize to the citizens of the world for this abomination or the ignorant fools who voted for him?  I don’t know but I am not proud to be an American under this kind of leadership.

Hillary came out swinging today at the commencement speech at her alma mater, Wellesley.

I think Hillary killed it “…a full fledged assault on truth and reason.”  put a face on what the VIIC is doing to this country.  My thought as I watched this is where is Barack?  These are not normal times and all I can say is all hands on deck, tradition be damned.

In the Russia news, the follow the money strategy is focusing in on Jared Kushner.  That was no surprise as last week it was a close advisor of the VIIC who was a person of interest.  Who else?  For the VIIC you are starting to see what he is really about (himself).  Nationalism to him is me first, I got mine, screw you.  We see that in his approach to Europe and his short-sighted profit motive to be friends with the Russians.  What do we care if Vlad takes over Eastern Europe again?  Where is the profit and loss?  In Saudi, the message was do what you want with women or minority rights, we don’t care as long as it does not impact the bottom line.  That is not the America where I am a citizen.

Meantime in the country we have the same thing going on.  We are going to run the government like a business and what that means is the business of tax cuts for the wealthy and cuts for everyone else. Did you see this morning that VIIC minions wants to transfer student loans($1 Trillion) from the agency that cares (or is supposed to) about educating our nation, to the Treasury Department as a revenue stream on the backs of our kids.  That is the new America we live in.

Finally in healthcare we have a disaster for a “repeal and replace.”  It won’t pass and what they will do is not do the things that will fix the problems with Obamacare, but continue to sabotage it to make the medical markets smaller and more costly so they can blame the failure of Obamacare on a bad idea (death spiral) instead of their hand in its demise and failure to take the steps necessary to fix it.  Middle America doesn’t get it yet, but they will.

In the meantime we had Montana morons cheering the attack on a journalist and believe me,  listening to and seeing the journalist, no one will believe he attack the candidate.  While the Republicans poored money into this campaign, the Democratic Party was once again very late to the party.  That is the new America we live in and I want to move.  No actually I want to move all the morons who reject science, knowledge, data, our fundamental beliefs to Montana or South Carolina where they can all simmer together in their stupidity and see what percolates up.  Happy Memorial Day Weekend.  Memories may be all we have left.

Follow Ons and Miscellanious

First up is an article in the NYT about President Obama being worried about being seen as politicizing intelligence if he released any of the information regarding the hacking by the Russians and their obvious slant toward Donald Trump.

The Obama administration spent months deliberating whether to blame Russia for a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee, with action delayed in part because President Obama did not want to be blamed for politicizing intelligence, the White House said on Wednesday.

Do you think the Republicans would have hesitated?  In the end, it may have cost Hillary the election because you want to be fair to the boys and girls who are never fair?  Do you understand we are losing big time because we won’t play hardball.  This is not a game, it is our country and where is the leadership that understands that?  There may be interference by a foreign country and I am going to take the high road because…?  The Donald has already politicized the intelligence community so once again you are trying to prevent something that is already in play.

On the same subject, I am sadly appalled at the ho-hum attitude about Aleppo.  We are witnessing a genocide and we as a world community do nothing.  Our press keeps normalizing Trump will the butcher Putin is helping Assad murder thousands.  Again, President Obama, while show restraint that is well praised and well earned on many subjects, failed miserably here.  This is an example of where you have to lead from the heart.  Trying to find a solution to an almost impossible problem just left the administration flailing.

The no fly zone called for by many would have been a messy thing to try to achieve, but as I have argued before, and so did Hillary, it is the only humanitarian solution.  Apparently neither Europe or the United States has the moral courage to do the right thing here.  The shinning city on the hill is now a slum where all people care about is what new trinket they can afford.  Oh, and yes Americans would probably fight and die to establish it.  Can you think of a better reason than to stand for our very basic values and the dignity of life?

Meanwhile in North Carolina (oh why did we not let them secede?) the GOP legislature is moving to strip the new Democratic governor of his powers.  It would seem that those powers are fine if wielded by a Republican, but too much power (like selecting his cabinet posts) for a Democrat.  Yes, Virginia, Republicans are evil.

After calling a surprise special session, Republican lawmakers who control the General Assembly introduced measures to end the governor’s control over election boards, to require State Senate approval of the new governor’s cabinet members and to strip his power to appoint University of North Carolina trustees.

Meanwhile in economic La La Land, the Fed is raising the interest rate.  Watch things crash around June of next year and the Fed have to backtrack.  Just a reminder:  The Fed’s job is to ensure full employment and keep inflation at bay.  For you non-economics nerds, the theory is that at full employment is that pressure on wages as expanding businesses compete for employees rises, and this cause inflation across the board.  Some inflation is good and 2% is the state objective.  So you can see in a perfect world there is a balance between employment and inflation.  But let’s enter the real world.

The stated employment rate is 4.9% which is considered full employment, but where is the inflation?  In fact where is the increase in wages due to productivity increases? Also one might question the inflation rate of 2% when business are hanging on to their money.  Economic nerds think there is a “natural” interest rate and the current rate is way off that.  So there is the pressure to raise it.  But the reality is demand is meager, wages have not grown with increased profits, and the employment rate is probably not reflecting all those who left the job seeking market. The jobs created are not paying as well as they used to.

So I and others would argue that right now things are fragile and the Fed is managing according to their father’s economy, not the one we live in today.  I think things are going to go downhill with Trump and his conservative flow down ideas and the disruption in the world economy with both meddling by the Russians and illogical foreign policy by Trump and company.

So how is your day going?

The Lull, Medicaid/Medicare for All, and Free Speech

It’s the lull, that period between Christmas and New Year when news organization’s scramble for news so we get one of two genre of articles, the year in review, and real analysis.  The year in review drives a news junkie like my self batty.  I was there and I was awake.  We talked these things to death.  We need to be looking forward.  Now this is totally egocentric because most of the nation was not there or awake, and some of these stories might even wake them up, but I hate them.

The other one is real analysis, where reporters look at issues and really draw conclusions or at least logically evaluate them.  This is what should have been going on all year, but these stories get pushed off the page/screen for something outrageous that gets our attention but doesn’t really tell us very much.

In the spirit of the second case, analysis, I came across two stories that make me, and I would hope you, want to stop and think for a moment. The first was about the friction between Republican governors and Republican congress members on expanding Medicaid for members of their states. Here is a gem from one state governor:

“I know many South Dakotans are skeptical about expanding Medicaid, and I share some of those sentiments,” Mr. Daugaard said. “It bothers me that some people who can work will become more dependent on government.”

“But,” Mr. Daugaard said, “we also have to remember those who would benefit, such as the single mother of three who simply cannot work enough hours to exceed the poverty line for her family.”

Now there are two thing here to think about.  The first is that it bothers him “that some people who can work will become more dependent on government.”  It is the Republican mindset that government somehow hobbles you and turns you into a panting dog, waiting for your next treat.  We are all dependent of government.  That is the point of having government.  It solves problems we can’t individually.

I guess when you are living out there on that South Dakota prairie, government is just a hinderance until you fall off your horse and the nearest doctor is 500 miles away.  Then it becomes a life line.  Or what happens when that water from your well becomes contaminated because your neighbor is fracking?  Who comes to your aid during a severe weather event?  Who educates your kids or provides a university for them to go to? Oh, and that 3-day trip to get supplies becomes a couple of hour ride on that new highway because who invested in transportation?  But we don’t want to get too dependent on government do we?

The second part (the mother of three) is a tacit recognition that we are not all equal, that working hard is not the route to wealth for a lot of us, that life is not fair.  Some people need help.  And again, who provides that help?  That would be that stink’in gov’ment.  This violates the basic conservative idea that the playing field is level and if you work hard, you will succeed.  Therefore, if you are poor, you are lazy and just looking for a government hammock.  Oh my, no wonder conservatives in Congress who can deny reality so well are all up in arms.

The other article was about maybe how we ought to rethink our definition of free speech since ISIS seems to be so successful at recruiting through the Internet, and maybe this is a classic example of shouting fire in a crowded theater and should be censored.  Oh my.  We have heard calls to censor the Internet (the Donald) of ISIS propaganda and there is even serious talks among some scholars about maybe revisiting the definition of free speech in the digital age.  Again, oh my.  Think this through people.

From a legal point of view we have the standard now that speech cannot be censored unless it incites imminent lawless action. Screaming fire in the crowded theater is certainly that.  But what of religious propaganda?  If ISIS can be censored for their ideas, what of Christian abortion protestors?  Which speech do you dislike more?  And that is the crux of the issue.  It is only a simple change of perspective to then see another point of view than yours as imminently threatening.  Would “Give me liberty or give me death” be censored from the English point of view?   It is almost funny that the Donald wants this censorship while he rails against political correctness.  If this kind of censorship were allowed, would we not censor the Donald?

In my mind there is a whole other standard and revolves around imminently.  Does ISIS propaganda make me grab a rifle and go out and shoot someone?  No. It affects a very few people on the margins and it takes a while to work its affect.  There is plenty of time to counter it with alternate propaganda but we really haven’t tried.  So it is a major failure of the “Fire!” test.  Most of us will hear it and write it off as nonsense where as in the fire test, we all are heading for the exits.  It is just a question of whose crazy and dangerous point of view.  Now we get into real trouble when we try to decide who the crazy ones are because by definition, that is anyone who disagrees with us.

I will leave you with this from the article where the legal professionals were discussing what are the limits of free speech which makes my point about from whose perspective:

Geoffrey R. Stone, an expert on constitutional law at the University of Chicago, said in an interview that Mr. Posner and Mr. Sunstein “have been provocative, which is what academics do.”

“But I think they are wrong,” he added.

“We’ve learned over 200 years of history that what seems like a sensible approach in the heat of the moment, in terms of restricting speech, is highly likely to be a bad judgment, Mr. Stone said.

The Sedition Act of 1798, he noted, which outlawed false statements about the government, was used by the Federalists to persecute their opponents, the supporters of Thomas Jefferson.

Bits and Pieces

Just little odds and ends on a Friday that popped into my head listening to the news before going out in the Vineyard to work:

Nigeria – It was noted that the name of the terrorist group that abducted the 297 teenage girls translates into “Western education is sin.” It was noted that many extremist groups oppose education. I wonder if they included the Republican Party that wants to cut funding for education, hates the common core*, and is trying to cut funding for research and development? Oh and did I mention their assault on science?

Stupidity and a Southern Accent – She who must never be mentioned here (and a good friend from Tennessee) often berate me when I either use a southern accent or write derogatively about the South when depicting ignorance. And of course I know many brilliant people from the South. But when you turn on the TV and some moron is spouting about Obamacare failing, global warming doesn’t exist, Benghazi and the IRS are Obama plots, or why women shouldn’t be paid the same as men, it always comes from someone with a Southern accent. I would think Southerners would want to do something about that.

Intellectualism Republican Style – Last week according to Jonathan Chait, Charles Krauthammer and George Will were on a “Fox All Star Panel” and they were discussing how the latest findings by American scientists on global warming is all wrong. Now here is the really sad thing. If these are truly Republican intellectuals, their dogma no longer allows them to think. Or as Jonathan put it:

To watch Will and Krauthammer grasp for rationales to cast doubt on an established scientific field merely because its findings pose a challenge to their ideological priors is a depressing, and even harrowing, study in the poisonous effects of dogma upon a once-healthy brain. They have amassed an impressive array of sound bites and factoids, and can render them with convincing gravitas, and yet their underlying reasoning is absolutely bonkers.

You have to wonder what else they are blind to because of their dogma. David Brooks is another one that falls into this trap.

Obama on Energy at Walmart – President Obama was at Walmart today lauding the company for their strides in energy efficiency. Some have suggested that a better topic if you are going to Walmart would be economic inequality. But then he told the crowd that housing is recovering. Once again he is listening to elites. According to a great report on housing by Peter Dreier (What Housing Recovery):

More than 10 million Americans, spread across 23 states, live in ZIP codes where between 43 percent and 76 percent of homeowners are under water. The biggest concentrations are in Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. The cities in the worst shape are Las Vegas, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Orlando and Chicago. Places with so many underwater homes are toxic; they depress the value of surrounding homes and undermine local governments’ fiscal health.

Just another example where things are getting better for the 1% and in cities where people can afford to move into gentrified neighborhoods, but the rest of us are ignored and President Obama is listening to those fresh water economists who get their funding from the .1%. No we don’t have no stinking oligarchy.

Egan on the Kochs – Probably the best thing I read today was Timothy Egan on the Koch brothers trying to hold back the march of time by denying global warming. But here are some of my favorite quotes about the Koch brothers and the Tea Party:

They have used a big part of this fortune to attack the indisputable science on climate change, to buy junk scholars, to promote harmful legislation at the state level, to go after clean, renewable energy like solar, and to try to kill the greatest expansion of health care in decades. Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can cause a lot of havoc.

According to one study, the Kochs have already spent $61 million on various front groups dedicated to the flat-earth proposition that the globe is not warming. But so far, the only return on that investment is a cohort of people flopping around in the waters of stupidity … About 44 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Tea Party-leaning voters believe there is no solid evidence that the earth is getting warmer, according to the Pew Research Center. …

Well just another Friday where the big news is whether the Democrats will participate in the Benghazi hearings. Didn’t John Boehner ask, Where are the jobs?

*The common core is a wonderful idea, but its implementation is faulty, failing to prepare teachers and too much testing too soon. But having a standard set for what our kids should learn and focusing on more critical thinking may be antithetical to the Tea Party because then people could actually see through their nonsense.

Bits and Pieces

I see where two past Popes (John XXIII & John Paul III) are to be canonized. No not fired out of a canon, but made saints. Get the old jersey number painted on the stadium wall so to speak. I am surprised Ronald Reagan wasn’t also considered. I wonder if it kind of waters down sainthood when too many get the nod when most of us know the miracle thing is wishful thinking. I wonder where I can get a John XXIII jersey? Could it be worn at Easter Mass?

In the world of inequality I see where Walmart Owners (Waltons) are giving millions to charter schools. Isn’t that wonderful that they are trying to help kids? Or is it horrible that they are trying to undermine public schools since public schools have to subsidize charter schools and charter schools can scoop the cream off the top? Oh, and they don’t have to follow the rules public schools have to. How long before you see the Walton’s right leaning ideas influencing curriculum of schools they paid for? Where do you think this is all going?

As a project manager, I am just intrigued by Oregon’s failed Obamacare website. Here is a state that is bluer than blue, with a great tech company, Oracle, as their prime contractor, and they never got the thing to work. What is falling out is that the state took on the role of program integrator (to coordinate all the activities of the various players and required interfaces) and it is one of the only states to not hire professionals to do this. Then when problems were identified they were quashed by this state agency as being alarmist. At least that is what is coming out before the major investigations start. I think this is going to one of those great examples of how to ignore project management 101. Let the lawsuits begin.

As a final shot across your weekend bow, let me show you how fiction is more real that reality. I am a great fan of the British World War II mystery drama on PBS, Foyle’s War. Foyle is a civilian detective in wartime England. One of the stories (War Games) describe how a murder was an attempt to cover up wartime business dealings that went on with the Nazis even when they were at war with them. As one of the anti-heros spouts, “Wars will come and go, but business always goes on.” Well here is from the NYT this morning:

Russia and its allies in the European private sector are conducting a separate campaign to ensure that they can maintain their deep and longstanding economic ties even if the Kremlin orders further military action.

Making money and maximizing shareholder profits is way more important than enslaving people of Eastern Europe, right?

Enjoy your weekend.

Bits and Pieces

There is an interesting piece about how Putin used sophisticated thuggery to take Crimea,

For its intervention in Crimea, the Russians used a so-called snap military exercise to distract attention and hide their preparations. Then specially trained troops, without identifying patches, moved quickly to secure key installations. Once the operation was underway, the Russian force cut telephone cables, jammed communications and used cyberwarfare to cut off the Ukrainian military forces on the peninsula.

What ought to worry the Crimean people is that this same sophistication will be employed to govern and control them. Be careful what you wish for.

I find it interesting how quickly Thomas Piketty’s book and the Gilens and Page study has hit the mainstream media (with the usual deniers from the conservative side). For my part, I think they hit on something we already knew at some basic level and this just brought it out into the open. Now the question is what do we do about it? From my vantage point, voting out conservatives is the first step because they represent no change, desperately hanging on to the status quo. Then we have to watch Democrats very closely.

In kind of an confirmation of these studies, you wonder how President Obama could pivot from the economy and jobs to debt, maintain the level of secrecy that is antithetical to democracy (drones, torture, surveillance), missed the mark on stimulus, and not really reformed the financial sector. The answer is that economic elites surround him and that is the echo chamber he lives in.

Being a user of Airbnb, HomeAway, and other sites that advertise rentals directly between property owners and people needing a place to stay on a vacation, I was intrigued to read that “regulators as well as some elected officials across the country are increasingly questioning the presumptions and tactics of these start-ups, especially the notion that laws do not apply to them.” For example in NYC, it is against the law to rent a place for less than 30 days and it is estimated that 60% of the rentals on these sites are violating this rule.

I guess my thought here is that we are living in a new sharing economy where this is both a way to find an affordable place to stay and be able to afford the property you own. Welcome to economic inequality and one of its affects. One home owner that rents out part of her home put it this way:

“Kimberly is an Airbnb host on the Lower East Side,” the memo says. “She has a chronic illness that prevents her from working.” Kimberly is quoted directly: “My husband and I spent countless nights wondering if and when we would lose our home, or if we would have to stop treatment to keep a roof over our heads.” She concludes, “Airbnb saved us.”

My thought would be that the economy is changing for many of us and the old rules can’t just be applied without killing the new way of doing things. Maybe there is a need for control in terms of safety, but I have not seen it. Maybe hotels are pressuring the regulatory agencies because of the competition. I think what we are seeing are businesses being created out of the necessity of the new economy. It would be patently stupid to apply old economy rules to innovation and change without thinking very carefully about what we are doing and not just protecting vested interests.

So Many Things and Yet Nothing Ever Changes

Where to start? Apparently President Obama has yet to seize the initiative on appointing justices after the reform of the filibuster and the people most upset about his appointments are Democrats. This is probably another example of the center has moved so far to the right that President Obama thinks he is being moderate when he is actually playing the Republican’s game (NYT). It is also another example of how out of touch with reality people who live within the Beltway are.

Thailand continues to amaze me and should worry everyone (NYT). The haves are upset with the have-nots because they control the polls and are preventing elections to prevent an outcome they can’t live with. Oh those crazy Asians. But then if you step back and think about Republicans, terrified of losing their fat white man edge, they are doing exactly the same thing in trying to disenfranchise voters through voter ID laws and limiting access to the polls. To a lot of people (those that got theirs and don’t want to share) democracy and the will of the majority of people is a very scary thing.

The Republicans have actually released a plan to revise the tax code that according to many knowledgable pundits, is workable, with fixes (Dean Baker). So I tried to work my way through it and what I found was that it was a simplification, but it is still tinkering with our overly complex income based tax system (and the amazing accounting system required to track all our income). What I can’t understand is why we are trying to fix a broken system and not just throw it away in favor of a system that taxes consumption like most other countries with a simple income tax to adjust for disparities (the poor spend more of their income than the rich so their tax rate would be unfair).

Meanwhile in irrational land (Idaho) apparently the state legislature is about to pass a bill to allow students to carry weapons. Now one could launch on the insaneness of this, but thanks to Greg Hampikian, a professor of biology and criminal justice at Boise State University, it was all said in one of the funniest ironic pieces I have ever read: When May I Shoot a Student? I guess there are two points here. One about the inane stupidity of more guns somehow making us safer, and the other, that humor best demonstrates our follies.

One last thing from the Roosevelt Institute, with the deficit coming down, will the economy go with it? The conservatives have sold us the policy that the deficit is causing all our economic problems, yet the usual suspects, high interest rates and inflation haven’t happened. So the confidence fairy was invented that said that businesses simply won’t expand because they lack confidence in the economy. This is a supply argument. If businesses make more things, people will buy them. It also is lacking any data to support it. When businesses are surveyed (as opposed to anecdotal conversations) they report that demand is weak. Simply stated, people don’t have expendable income to buy things.

But we got sold on the austerity thing and it is holding us back. And while the deficit is coming down, there are no jobs. Many of us argue that the real way out of the deficit is growth, not austerity. With an expanding economy, tax revenues increase and as a percent of GDP, the deficit becomes less. That is how we reduced our debt after WWII. Will anyone listen? I doubt it. The Beltway is stuck in 1990’s groupthink and that includes our present administration. On the other hand, we have tried austerity and it didn’t work, why don’t we try investing in our future? Oh, I forgot. Republicans and an overly timid President.

Thursday Morning

I am wondering if Jan Brewer did the “right ” thing by vetoing the gay discrimination bill that could have been used to discriminate against anyone. By right, I mean did she recognize that the bill was fundamentally against everything we Americans stand for in the name of religious freedom, or was she and the Chamber of Commerce just afraid they would lose business, and it really is all about the money? They will just wait for another day when we aren’t looking.

The other day I got a great email (The Baseline Scenario from James Kwak on savings. Apparently, several think tanks supported by financial institutions are trying to get Americans to save more (so they can use your money to make money). And as James points out, savings isn’t bad, but we fail to recognize reality:

I’m all for living within your means and saving for retirement and all that. But it’s a myth to say, as America Saves does on its home page, “Once you start saving, it gets easier and easier and before you know it, you’re on your way to making your dreams a reality.” The underlying problems are stagnant real incomes for most people, rising costs (in real terms) for education and health care, increasing financial risk due to the withdrawal of the safety net, and increased longevity (good in some ways, but bad if incomes aren’t rising and you want to retire at 65). That’s why households are showing up at age 64 with less in retirement savings than they had just last decade. And why, if you feel like you’re not saving enough, it’s probably not your fault.

It is also why increasing social security is so important because the other two legs of the retirement stool, savings and pensions, are going away. Sooner or later you would think people could connect the dots on why good paying jobs are so important instead of rushing to the bottom like in Tennessee.

Paul Krugman made a really good point about why we have all this data to show us what we ought to be doing and why it is useless on the echo chamber that is Washington utilizing an article by Dan Drezner in Politico:

One of the Beltway tribe’s greatest strengths is also one of its greatest weaknesses: groupthink. As I noted before, a Beltway consensus actually counts for something in the world of international policymaking. That does not mean that this consensus emerges from any solid analysis, however. For example, a hidden cause of the enthusiasm for austerity in Washington that crested in 2010 was the consensus among foreign policy pundits that U.S. debt was spiraling out of control, rendering Washington vulnerable to foreign holders of U.S. Treasuries. This groupthink formed at the same time that the budget deficit as a percentage of output was shrinking at the fastest rate in American history. By the time the consensus had emerged, however, the change in the facts didn’t matter. Since the principal activity of Beltway folk is to talk to each other, the result is a feedback loop of confirmation bias that eventually leads to epistemic closure.

And that also explains why everyone where I live is conservative and believes in nonsense. The don’t read and spend their lives talking to others will the same nonsense masquerading as facts.

Finally, there is an article in the NYT that says that a survey shows that even with the rift in the Republican Party, they have the edge in 2014 among independents. I wonder who they are surveying and if the world is changing so fast, that the movement away from the failed ideas of the Republican Party has not been sensed by the Beltway media. James Blow, in an editorial, makes the case that millennials (those ages 18 to 33) are totally turned off by the latest anti-gay bashing of the Republican Party and that may speak to a shift in political loyalty. All I can say is I hope so. But they still have to vote and real question is will they.