Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pundits Are A Sorry Lot These Days

Like Bill Clinton before him, Barack Obama seems to be blessed with critics who want to make him look good in comparison to themselves. Via Glenn Greenwald, here's a snippet from the Washington Post:

President Obama wants us all to know he’s taking seriously the attempted terrorist attack of Christmas Day and that his administration is doing all it can to ensure our safety. But his words would be a lot more convincing if not delivered during time snatched between rounds of golf, swimming and sunbathing.

The president of the United States is never really on vacation. The responsibilities of the nation's highest office can’t be shed and, as the world’s most powerful leader, Obama can surely summon whatever resources he needs no matter his location. Nonetheless, there’s something unsettling about the president not wanting to interrupt his plans to deal with what appears to be the most serious threat to the nation’s safety since 9/11.

Why is Obama still in Hawaii?

Yes, this person writes an opinion column for a major national newspaper. Is it any wonder they're in decline?. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Yes, this individual has apparently forgotten that since 9/11 we've had several major hurricanes hit the coast, the odd airplane crash for reasons not having to do with terrorism, and a few train crashes. Not to mention that there are 20,000 to 45,000 of us dying prematurely each year due to lack of medical care, and tens of thousands who are murdered or die in auto accidents. All of these things have killed as many or more people as would have died if the underwear bomber had managed to set off his bomb.

The nation seems to have weathered these storms.

And unless I've been even more out of touch with things than I think I've been, there hasn't been a rash of airliner hijackings. What can Obama not do in Hawaii that he would be doing about this in DC?

When we're sitting on the precipice of economic disaster, this WaPo clown is worried by nothing more than the idea that there might be another fool somewhere who wants to immolate himself inside an airliner. When I read things like that I really have to wonder if there's anyone left in the Fourth Estate who has a sense of perspective.

Speaking of frothing idiots in the news business, apparently Barack Obama is more popular among Republicans than at least one of them:

A USA Today/Gallup poll finds that President Barack Obama is the country's most admired man, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the most admired woman.

Among Republicans, Obama came in second to George W. Bush, but still beat out Glenn Beck in the poll.

Poll: Obama The Most Admired Figure -- And GOPers Still Prefer Him To Glenn Beck

There may be hope for us yet. I'm not an admirer of any of these people, but at least Obama can hold a thought in his head long enough to express it. He also seems to be a bit less eager to shoot first and ask questions later when dealing with foreign governments. He doesn't seem to have a desire to pee in his drawers when a new security problem presents itself. Instead, he seems to favor examining what happened and then deciding what to do. That puts him head and shoulders above Bush and Beck, not to mention most WaPo columnists.

What's more, when the folks who probably would vote against Obama can tell he has more on the ball than one of their most prominent pundits, that could be taken as a sign there's a clear lack of credibility among the latter.

I certainly do.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Interplanetary Distances Are Not To Scale

This is why we like xkcd:

I don't know what possessed the artist to draw it, but it sure is cool. Click on the image above to see it full size, which is quite a bit larger.

Ms. Vanden Heuvel Would Like To Introduce ...

Caption: Arrgh. The Stupid. It's Paineful. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

As Jane Hamsher noted, there's been a bit of nonsense floated around by the Washington, DC elite recently. It's written by some anonymous blogger who calls himself "Arrgh Paine". He appears to be someone connected with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). At least, his opinions read like their press releases. (Late note: He claims to be "not involved in any political campaign" or paid to write what he does, and I have seen no proof to the contrary. Let's just postulate that he's had a diet rich in David Broder and too light on reality.)

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation, has been flogging this bit of nonsense today as if it were the Sermon On The Mount or the Gettysburg Address. Yes, that's the same Katrina VDH who writes plaintive e-mails to me every few days begging me to buy her magazine so it won't go out of business. Let's just say that her support of this nonsense is an example of why The Nation deserves to go out of business - it seems to feel like its principal role these days is to front for the DLC and any other so-called "moderates" who are willing to sell us out for a little campaign cash. Sorry, Katrina, no sale here. You see, I've been victimized by your buddies Rahm and Barack enough that I can't afford you anymore.

I'll print the text of that bit of doggerel in a moment with my comments, but I also want to remark, once again, about the utter lack of response on the part of people who disagree with the concerns I've expressed here and here about this bill. It's as though they don't exist. The only problem is that if this bill isn't passed, these people seem to believe, we'll lose "momentum", that magical thing that football teams blame for their losing games. No one has yet answered the question I posed, which is what in the world makes you think this bill won't be worse for our momentum? So for every one of you who comes up with that lame ass argument, I have only this to say:

Why are you trying to kill the Democratic Party? Why are you trying to make progressives look bad by passing a bill that will make things worse, and giving the Republicans an excuse to say that health care reform can't work here?

See, I can do it, too. And, it actually makes as much sense. So please, take your lame, self-serving intuitive argument elsewhere, or answer the fracking questions.

Now, to the concern troll in question:

Ms. Hamsher;

It is with deep respect for the passion that you have for the progressive movement that I am writing. I understand the frustration that disappointment can foster and honor your commitment to pushing the progressive agenda.

An Open Letter To Jane Hamsher

I honor them, that is, except for making condescending and baseless accusations for the rest of this letter, that is:

I do not doubt that you genuinely feel that your very vocal opposition to the Senate health care bill is in the absolute interests of the American populace and progressive politics. I honestly believe that you feel that the administration has let you and other progressives down by not publically pushing harder for elements in the bill that we all hoped would survive the legislative process.

What I doubt is that your actions will ultimately serve the advancement of the progressive agenda that you obviously care so much about. I believe in fact, that quite the opposite will be the result. Pushing for the very best bill that we can get through this congress is laudable, attacking the administration for dealing with the reality that is congress is not.

An Open Letter To Jane Hamsher

OK, let's stop right here. What in the world do you think the progressive agenda is? Because, so far none of my progressive agenda has been achieved. We're no closer to achieving universally available health care than we were when Bush was in office, and at this point I don't think that many of us will live long enough to see it. You're going to talk about what Congress is willing to do? Who the hell do you think they work for? Who do you think got a great many of them elected? It wasn't Barack Obama. If all they had to count on was him and Rahm Emanuel, half those ungrateful bastards would still be at home screwing up someone else's lives. Instead, the got to go to Washington and do it to us. Maybe they ought to consider that before they decide what they're not willing to do.

The idiocy continues:

The 2000 presidential election graphically demonstrates what I mean. Ralph Nader had no chance of winning, and yet he remained in the race. Mr. Nader quite correctly pointed out that in order to keep his agenda in the debate he needed to remain even if it meant Gore would lose votes to a lost cause.

Mr. Nader was absolutely right to stand up for his principals and stay in the election to make sure that his message was getting out. The point is this, if Mr. Nader had dropped out of the race that election would never have been close enough for the Supreme Court to hand to George Bush. Al Gore would have been the 43rd president of the United States and Ralph Nader would have come a lot closer to having the things he cared about realized. Mr. Nader was right, but how far back did he set his own agenda?

An Open Letter To Jane Hamsher

Having voted for Nader, I remember why I did it. It was because I didn't think Nader's agenda, or mine for that matter, had a hope in hell of being implemented by either of the people running for President from the major parties. Having lived through the Clinton Administration and the first year of the Obama Administration, I think that feeling was justified. It still isn't happening.

In the meantime, Al Gore has become his own man, thanks to his not needing to run for President. Maybe in the future he'd be worth voting for. He wasn't back then, though. Nader's candidacy resulted from Nader's belief that neither Gore nor George W. Bush would work to help Americans at the expense of the corporations that were, and still are, running things here. If Gore had been such a candidate, Nader would not have been in the race. Gore started out with a substantial lead in the race, and gradually triangulated away support. He lost the race. Nader didn't lose it for him. It's still fashionable to say otherwise, but the reason I and other people voted for Nader is because it was clear that he was right.

In short, Nader's candidacy and what resulted is proof that this letter is not only wrong, but it's so wrong that it could be the prize winner in the next International Wrongness Festival.

At the end of the day it comes down to results you don’t win by being right. It is possible to be completely right and yet damage the cause that you are advocating. As a progressive that is acutely sensitive to the extraordinary damage that was done to this country by the Bush administration I see the need for many democratic terms in which we constantly push the country towards more progressive ideals. Change does not come overnight, we don’t have the luxury of eviscerating our fragile majority for not moving quickly enough. The United States will not survive many more administrations like the last one.

An Open Letter To Jane Hamsher

It's not going to survive many like this one, either. In just about every way that matters, the Obama Administration has shown that it is no different than the Bush Administration. It refuses to renounce kidnapping or killing people without trial. It refuses to prosecute the people who carried out torture. It hasn't really closed Guantanamo Bay - it just moved it to Illinois. It just dropped the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who had been nominated for the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which is the office that is responsible for setting standards for DoJ conduct. She is a fierce advocate for reforming the torture and kidnapping practices the U.S. government engaged in during the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration did nothing to try to get her nomination through the Senate. Why? Perhaps that has something to do with Obama's taste in foreign policy advisors.

"Eviscerating our fragile majority?" What in the world has this "fragile majority" gotten us but a bailout of the banks at our expense, a stimulus bill that was at most a quarter the size it needed to be to do any lasting good, and a health care "reform" bill that principally serves to transfer more government wealth to insurance companies? As an American, why do I care if that "fragile majority" is eviscerated? Why do I care if it exists at all? Don't tell me that Republicans would have done worse, because so far, you're wrong. Even the bank bailout, which supposedly "saved" us from a depression, was largely the Bush Administration's.

Please consider the progressive agenda as a whole while in the heat of each individual battle, your voice is respected and desperately needed on our side.

An Open Letter To Jane Hamsher

The progressive agenda as a whole is not being served at all. Neither Obama nor the Senate want it, and I doubt the House is all that interested, either.

Frankly, people like this Arrgh Paine strike me as so out of touch with what we in the land of "Outside DC" are going through that I have to wonder if he knows anyone who is either in the lower middle class or poor. My guess is that he doesn't. Whether that's true or not, until he can answer my questions intelligently, he doesn't have an opinion that's worth the light it's written on.

I don't care whether Democrats are running things or Republicans. I don't have a bet going on who will win the next election. I want the country run well enough that at least the next couple of generations can have a standard of living roughly equal to what we have, or that they at least are free, not starving, and have decent health care. If the Democrats don't want to deliver that, and it's abundantly clear they don't, then they don't deserve power, and there's absolutely no reason that we should give it to them.

If Arrgh Paine wants to see that "fragile majority" stay in place, here's what I suggest he do: Go back to whatever Democratic politicians he's so enamored of, and tell them that they and their other DLC and Blue Dog pals had better start working for ordinary Americans for a change. Otherwise, they can kiss their majority goodbye, and I, for one, won't be the least bit sad to see it go.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Photo

This is what I saw as I was driving north yesterday on Highway 99:

Image credit: Cujo359

Off in the distance are the Olympic Mountains. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, it's unusual to see them this time of year. After teasing you with a little glimpse, I was hoping for an opportunity to show what they really look like. I was lucky to catch this view so soon after.

To the far right is Vashon Island, and in front of it is Maury Island. I took this picture from a parking lot near South 288th in Des Moines, Washington. There's an Italian restaurant close by, with a view very similar to this one. On a warm, clear day it's worth a drive across town.

Click on the photo to enlarge. Even reduced, this photo is a rather large file. Still, I think there's enough detail to justify the extra time downloading.

Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Just Hold It Until You Land

After yesterday's attempt by a young Nigerian to ignite an incendiary device on board a Northwest Airlines aircraft, I knew the other shoe was going to drop. Now it has:

Some airlines were telling passengers on Saturday that new government security regulations prohibit them from leaving their seats beginning an hour before landing.
Air Canada said in a statement that new rules imposed by the Transportation Security Administration limit on-board activities by passengers and crew in U.S. airspace. The airline said that during the final hour of flight passengers must remain seated. They won't be allowed access to carryon baggage or to have any items on their laps.

Airlines: New Rules Keep Passengers In Seats

Because, apparently, terrorists will only try to blow up the plane in the last hour of flight. Let's hope there's not another attempt in the next few months, or passengers won't be able to go to the john for the entire trip.

They're also, according to the article, going to restrict even further how much carry-on luggage you can bring with you. This won't prevent them from losing your checked luggage, of course, and I'm pretty sure they won't stop charging passengers for that second piece of checked luggage.

You really have to wonder how many screws are lose inside the heads of the people who come up with this stuff. For my part, I'm going to look into alternative means of travel before I go anywhere in an airliner.

(h/t Earth Bound Misfit)

More Stupidity In The Health Care Bill

There are many reasons that the health care "reform" bill passed by the Senate is not just a lousy bill, but will be an unmitigated disaster for the middle class and the working poor. Among them are:

  • A low that's too low - The minimum insurance required is almost no insurance at all, yet we will be required to buy it, or face fines of up to 2 percent of our income.

  • No provision for enforcement - Even given the ridiculously low standard that the Senate wants to hold health insurance companies to, they deliberately removed the enforcement mechanism in the House health care bill. Without an enforcement mechanism that includes the accountants, economists, and lawyers needed to evaluate insurance company policies, and the investigators needed to find violations, these regulations mean nothing.

  • No competition - The Senate bill does neither of the things generally assumed to be needed to provide competition among insurance plans. It neither removes the insurance companies' anti-trust exemption, nor does it provide a publicly financed alternative.

  • Drug prices unchanged - Despite the length of this bill, it does virtually nothing to make drug prices more reasonable, despite attempts to amend it by Sen. Byron Dorgan, among others.

But there is another thing about the bill that is even more deceptive than pretending to regulate insurance without providing regulation, as the New York Times reports:

The bill passed by the Senate on Thursday would move toward universal health insurance coverage in large part by expanding Medicaid, a program whose costs have traditionally been shared by the states and the federal government.

But the roughly 20 states that have already expanded coverage in some form will pay a greater proportion of their new Medicaid costs under the bill than those states, largely in the South, that until now have covered relatively few of their poorest residents.

States With Expanded Health Coverage Fight Bill

The bill mandates that anyone who earns up to 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) should be covered by Medicaid. Some states are already doing this, but others are not anywhere near it. The latter will get more support. Two states, Nebraska and Vermont, will get the entire amount subsidized by the Federal government.

To say that the states that have had more progressive programs in place are upset about this would be an understatement:

Wendy Saunders, New York’s deputy secretary for health, Medicaid and oversight, estimated that it would cost about $30 billion over 10 years to adjust the financing formula so that the Senate bill matches the more generous provisions of the House bill.

“Because it’s not a huge cost in the context of what is happening, we’re optimistic that it can be worked out,” Ms. Saunders said.

Massachusetts and Vermont, the states providing the broadest coverage, have already received some relief for the anticipated Medicaid costs in the negotiations that led to the passage of the Senate bill.

To secure the crucial 60th vote from Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, Senate leaders permanently exempted his state from paying to expand Medicaid. But other states, many of them strong supporters of an overhaul, have been left in the lurch.

States With Expanded Health Coverage Fight Bill

The third largest state in the country, which is having budget problems just like every other state, is left on its own.

I'd ask just what would make supporters of this ridiculous bill reconsider passing it, but we're way past where that should have occurred to them already.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Raise The Alert Level To Burnt Umber

I'm so glad I'm not traveling today:

Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23 year old suspect, who is a Nigerian national, reportedly attends University College London where he studies -- or probably better to say -- studied engineering. He has also reportedly told investigators that he went to Yemen to pick up the device he used on the plane. The Post reports: "Officials described the device as incendiary rather than explosive, pending tests by forensics experts at the FBI. Incendiary devices generally deliver less of an impact than explosive devices." I'm curious what the precise distinction is since, presumably, the device would have to have some substantial explosive impact to have any hope of bringing down the plane. Needless to say, I have no expertise in these matters. But this part of the story struck me as curious. No doubt we'll hear more about this soon.

Latest On Airline Incident, Pt. 2

Oh, no doubt we will. They'll raise the terror alert (done), Crazy Pete Hoekstra will pontificate about the great Islamofascosocialist threat represented by random Muslims living among us, and then we'll be hearing from all the "serious" people about what we need to do about terrorism this time.

Incendiary devices, incidentally, are ordinance that's designed to burn things. Sometimes they just sets things on fire, and sometimes they will burn right through them. They range in seriousness from firecrackers through white phosphorous. Without knowing what sort of incendiary it was, it's impossible to say how much danger the plane or the passengers might have been in. At the very least, nearby passengers could have suffered burns had the thing gone off.

The Associated Press reports that one passenger was treated at a hospital. I don't see any indication of what this person was treated for. One witness reported that a passenger who tried to restrain the terrorist may have been burned. Apparently, there were no other injuries.

As always, there will almost certainly be updates and corrections to this story in the days ahead. It would be nice if people remained calm and waited for the facts to be revealed, but as Crazy Pete has already demonstrated, that won't happen.

The Department of Homeland (In)Security has announced there will be new screening procedures in place for the weekend. If you're traveling, you might want to check the Transportation Security Administrations traveler's page for information.

It's That Time Of Year

If it's December 25th and there are wreaths on the parking lot pillars it must be Christmas in Redondo Beach:

Image credit: Cujo359

While I was photographing the wreaths I came across this guy, who seemed to be enjoying the sea air, too:

Image credit: Cujo359

This is a panorama of the arch. The arch is made up of chunks of granite tied together with stainless steel cables. Off in the distance, just barely visible behind the island, are the Olympic Mountains. Seeing the Olympics from here is a rare thing this time of year.

Image credit: Cujo359

If you're celebrating Christmas today, have a good one. If you're not, have a good Friday.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Economy Is Bad, But ...

This is one part time job I intend never to try:

funny pictures of cats with captions
Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

I like animals. But doing something like this means that you are at the mercy of any fools who want to bring their foul-tempered ("Oh, he never does that at home!"), incontinent, or otherwise unpleasant hell beasts from the one place these creatures feel secure so they can photograph them on Santa's lap.

I don't know if being a Santa for humans would be any better, but at least I wouldn't feel badly if they took offense when I responded.

Roll Over And Beg Award: The Entire U.S. Senate

Oh, please, spare me. The huzzahs have already started for Harry Reid, triumphal parliamentarian of the Senate:

Whether one sees the Democratic health care proposal as the greatest progressive policy accomplishment in a generation or a bitter disappointment worthy of defeat, it's hard to deny that the Senate Majority Leader did what he set out to do. There were plenty of times this year when it seemed the reform proposal simply wouldn't survive, but Harry Reid kept working, and managed to find -- and hold onto -- 60 votes.

Harry Reid

Reid may have done some virtuoso maneuvering to pass the health care "reform" bill , but that's utterly beside the point to those of us who will be paying with our lives and our remaining cash for this worthless piece of crap. There is, I repeat for all the fools who have utterly ignored this point, no mechanism for enforcement of these provisions. Essentially, they've left the enforcement of federal insurance guidelines to the states, who, if they'd been up to the task, would have fixed health insurance already. Of course, there's little to enforce anyway. In the end, the main difference is that now people will be forced to buy health insurance. It will still be lousy insurance that is administered solely to maintain the insurance companies' bottom line.

No one has acquitted himself well here. The Republicans played politics, trying to make the Democrats look bad. They succeeded, except in how the Democrats look in comparison to Republicans, at least from where I sit. They stayed utterly out of the fray. Here's an illustration, an AFP/Getty screenshot of the vote:

Image credit: AFP/Getty

Not a single Republican voted for this bill, in spite of the bill being one big giveaway to insurance and other medical corporations, and a huge "screw you" to the middle class. You'd think they would have loved it.

The progressives refused to stop the bill, even though they could have. Ben Nelson threatened to filibuster until women weren't allowed to pay for abortions with insurance money. Joe Lieberman threatened to filibuster because it made him important. But not one of the supposed progressives filibustered to stop a disaster for the middle class. As for the remaining Democratic Leadership Committee and Blue Dog caucus members, they were their usual, feckless selves.

Never has the Senate better demonstrated how thoroughly corrupt and dysfunctional it is. Now they're all slithering out of town so they can be home by Christmas.

Well, not so fast, Senators. I have a present for you. In honor of your triumph, I'm bestowing on you the most fitting award this blog has to offer - the Roll Over And Beg Award. In the history of the Beggie this particular award is unprecedented - never before has it been awarded unanimously to one body. But then, it has never been more well deserved. If ever there was a body that rolled over and begged for their big campaign contributors more faithfully, I haven't had the misfortune of witnessing it.

As always, the prize consists of one dog biscuit per winner, the purchase and consumption of which is the responsibility of the winner. I only wish I could make it mandatory - just like the crap insurance they're making us buy. That would be fitting, but sadly karma doesn't seem to work at this time of year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Where Do They Get These People?, Pt. 2

Jeebus H. Crispies:

Think Progress makes a great catch on C-SPAN this morning: Someone calls in while Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) is answering the lines, practically in tears because Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) missed this morning's procedural vote on health care.

He was apparently concerned that -- after following Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) instructions to pray that someone couldn't make a manager's amendment vote Sunday night -- his prayers for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to die struck the wrong senator.

Tea Partier Calls C-SPAN, Worried His Prayers For Byrd To Die Got Inhofe Instead

I'm going to give this individual the benefit of the doubt and assume that wasn't hoping that a U.S. Senator would die so he couldn't vote for cloture on a bill. I wouldn't be shocked to be wrong about that, but I will.

We're still being treated to the spectacle of someone who earnestly believes not only that there is a being that is responsible for the creation of the universe, and at the same time will act on his behalf for some comparatively petty political concern, but that this being will get the message wrong and actually make someone else miss the vote.

People say that science and mathematics are complicated, but it's child's play compared to the rationalizations of religious nutcases.

Ahmedinijad On Nuclear Weapons

ABC News announced their transcript of the interview of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Diane Sawyer with this lede:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declined to give a yes-or-no answer on whether he could assure the West that Iran would never weaponize its nuclear material and turn it into a bomb.

Exclusive: Iran Prez Won't Say Yes-or-No to Nuclear Bomb

Here's what I believe is the relevant part of the transcript:

SAWYER: May I try a yes or no question?

AHMADINEJAD: To what question?

SAWYER: Many journalists have tried to get a yes or no answer and I'm going to try one more time. Will you say to the American people, tonight, that Iran will never weaponize nuclear material? There will be no nuclear weapon in Iran, ever?

AHMADINEJAD: We have got a saying in Iran which says, "How many times shall I repeat the same thing?" You should say thing only once. We have said once that we don't want nuclear bomb.


AHMADINEJAD: We don't accept it -- finish. You see, the Iranian government and the Iranian people are brave people. And we are frank people, too. Whatever they want to say, they say it with clarity. We said we wanted the fuel production cycle, that was it. And we created it. We said we industrialize it and we did it. Now we announced that we are going to bring in new centrifuges and we will do it. We announced that we were not afraid of resolutions and sanctions and we didn't fear from them. If we had been looking for bombs, we would have had the courage to announce it either. We are not afraid of anyone. We have said it time and again that we don't accept bombs. But now we have got claims and we are saying that America and all those who possess bombs should be disarmed. We will follow this up. They ought to be disarmed. They do not have the right to comment on the nuclear issue until they are disarmed. After they are disarmed, then they will have the right to intervene in the nuclear issue. The reason they are unable to control proliferation in countries in the East of Asia is they have got bombs themselves. If someone has got bombs how can they prevent others from making bombs? But we can, because we don't want bombs and we don't have any. We can disarm [others] and we can also stop proliferation. This is why we have proposed to the agency and to the U.N. to form an independent body for disarmament and proliferation, not those people have got bombs themselves and are sitting there and saying they want to stop proliferation. This is funny. All people of the world are laughing at this.

If the American government is worried about bombs, it should disarm itself first so that the world understands that they are honest. It is very clear this is dishonest.

Diane Sawyer Interviews Iranian President Ahmadinejad (page 3)

Now, I'll grant you that my Persian isn't all that good, but that reads to me like he said that Iran doesn't want nuclear weapons, and has no plans to build them. That could be a lie, it might be a prevarication, but it's as much of a statement as you'll ever get out of an honest politician in that situation. Iran may see the need to develop nuclear weapons someday. Ahmadinejad could answer Sawyer's question no more than President Obama could answer "Will the United States always have nuclear weapons?" In neither case can the leader speak for future generations. He can only speak for his and his contemporaries' own intentions, assuming he really understands the latter.

Yet that lede will be the headline. You know it will. I don't know whether we can trust Ahmadinejad's word or not, but I have little trust in the veracity or the judgment of our own news these days.

I Told You So

Back in June, I wrote this:

Here's the bottom line - the Congress and the President have sold us out to the insurance companies. There will be no government-funded insurance like medicare. There will be no single-payer system. The President expressed "interest" in such a provision, but realistically that's not going to happen without some cuts to Medicare. That's only going to happen over the AARP's corpse. They have sold us out to the insurance industry for more campaign contributions. They will make it so the only way Americans will be able to receive health care is if they pay off an insurance company.


There will be no meaningful cost controls, nor will any of the restrictions that might be placed on insurance companies' ability to refuse to cover people or refuse to pay for their treatments actually mean anything. The insurance companies will control that process just as they control the states' regulation of no-fault auto insurance.

What The Whores In DC Are Doing While I'm On Vacation

Today, Josh Marshall put us on notice that I was correct:

[E]verybody is on notice that the House is not going to be able to make any major changes to the senate bill. Nelson and Lieberman hold an effective veto on anything coming out of the House. By and large, everyone seems to get that. But there's a broader fissure that needs to be addressed between the two chambers and that's in many ways actually a proxy for the deeper ideological fracture within the Democratic party. Since the House is being forced to basically give way entirely to the senate, they need at least a fig leaf, something to preserve institutional and intra-party self-respect.

How Does This All Play Out

Now, I'll make another prediction. That fig leaf will be so small that only a Democratic communications director will be able to see it clearly. Maybe they'll expand Medicaid coverage to 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, instead of the 133 percent in the Senate bill. Whatever it is, it will be no more consequential, and quite probably less.

Then the House progressives will fold like a cheap card table, because that's what they always do.

Meanwhile, I have this to say to all the folks who have been writing nonsense about how this was all going to be fixed in committee, and why am I trying to ruin the Democrats' chances in 2010? I have just this to say - I saw this coming. If you did, too, you have business lecturing me. Send me a link from June or earlier proving you did. If you didn't, take your hand off your hip and explain to me why you think this is less politically devastating to Democrats than not passing a bill at all. And by that, I mean explain it, don't just do the written equivalent of rolling your eyes and saying it's obvious. Plus, you'd better be able to answer these questions, or else you have no idea how bad it's going to get.

If you can't do that, either shut the hell up or learn to ask questions when you don't know something, because you really have no business lecturing anyone. Politics is one of those subjects everyone thinks he's an expert on, because no matter how little someone knows he can always spin it so someone takes him seriously. You have no business calling anyone crazy, selfish, naive, or drug addled for holding a position contrary to your own.

Because at least around here, knowledge and analysis count for more than attitude.

UPDATE: On the cheap card table front, things are already proceeding according to plan, according to Steve Benen:

Rep Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has been fighting constantly all year to keep as many liberal provisions in the health care reform bill as possible. He'd made some veiled threats (and some not-so-veiled threats) about opposing any bill without a public option, though he's now signaling his support for the watered-down legislation.

Grijalva's is, however, looking for another concession -- one that need not alienate any center-right members of the Senate Democratic caucus. He talked to Greg Sargent today, and said he's eyeing the implementation schedule[.]

Grijalva Eyes Implementation Schedule

What that means is that he's trying to get some bits of the program implemented earlier. Recall that many of the provisions of both the House and Senate bills do not start until 2014. What bits might be accelerated, and by how much, is what they're hashing out, it would seem.

Of all the predictions I've discussed in this article, this was the easiest to foresee. In fact, if you didn't see this coming, and you've been following Congress for the last few years, you may consider yourself an honorary drooling idiot.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Another Petition

Over at FireDogLake, Jane Hamsher and the other principal writers who cover health care have come up with a top ten list of reasons to kill the Senate health care reform bill that's now being considered:

  1. Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations — whether you want to or not.

  2. If you refuse to buy the insurance, you’ll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.

  3. Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can’t afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums.

  4. Massive restriction on a woman’s right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

  5. Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.

  6. Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won’t see any benefits — like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions — until 2014 when the program begins.

  7. Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.

  8. Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.

  9. No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.

  10. The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year — meaning in 10 years, your family’s insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.

10 Reasons to Kill the Senate Bill

To that list, I'll add the elephant in the room: How are the new regulations, inadequate as they are, going to be enforced? Passing a law doesn't make people obey the law. Enforcement does. How will that work? I suspect it will work badly, if it can work at all.

The article goes on to provide a list of articles explaining each point, and then points to on online petition to sign asking the Senate to kill this bill.

Like Jane, I think the idea that this bill could be improved after it's passed is absurd. Look how much time and effort this one has taken. Is Congress going to sign up for another round? How would we expect it to go any better next time? Once they've passed a bill, they are going to think they have political cover. That's been one of the consistent themes of the people who advocate its passage. Plus, to be fair, there are other matters Congress needs to work on.

This action on FDL's part represents a change in their position on the bill. Initially, they supported passage, despite what I thought were fatal flaws. As the bill got worse, they changed their minds. Despite some criticism that's been both petty and off the mark, they have come to this position from a different one, and they have good reasons for the one they now have taken.

Once laws and bureaucracies are put in place, they tend to take on a life of their own. If the Senate version of the bill passes, the starting point for any future version of health care reform will be the Frankenstein monster of a bill that emerges from the House-Senate conference committee. At least starting with the House bill makes that prospect a little less frightening.

So, read the article, and if you agree, sign the petition.

It's still our country, so they keep telling me.

UPDATE: By inadvertently hitting the "Publish Post" button, I published this article at 11:09 before it was complete.

Happy Solstice

Caption: Newgrange, a prehistoric passage tomb in Ireland. Each winter solstice, a narrow beam of light illuminates a particular passageway for a short time.

Image credit: Shira/Wikimedia

Today is the 2009 Winter solstice. From now until the Summer solstice, the days will be getting longer. If you live in a place like the Pacific Northwest, that's welcome news, because the days are about eight hours long this time of year.

Wherever you are, have a good one.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Photo(s)

Ah, winter in the Pacific Northwest! Last year, as you may recall we were worried about all the snow and ice that was on the ground, and whether we'd be able to drive to the shopping centers or the airport. This year is more typical - the principal danger is that we may drown:
Image credit: Cujo359

These are pictures of Saltwater State Park that I took yesterday. As you can see, it was not just rainy and overcast, but also foggy. Around here, that's a wintertime trifecta.
Image credit: Cujo359

As always, click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

We're Not So Exceptional After All

Maybe we aren't so uniquely cursed with narcissistic politicians:

Tony Blair has hit back defiantly at his British critics, insisting that he is appreciated overseas much more than at home. He also defended his money-making activities.

“If I did what these people who criticise me here wanted, I’d end up just sitting in a corner, but that is never going to be me,” he said.

Interviewed for today’s News Review, the former prime minister said: “You get to a position where the criticism you get, you just have to live with. It’s the way it is. When you are someone like me, you create a lot of controversy one way or another. You just decide to do what you are going to do and let that speak for itself.”

It’s Only You Brits Who Don’t Appreciate Me, Insists Tony Blair

Speaking mostly from experience with our own politicians, I think there's a more logical explanation for this than that somehow the rest of the world's press are less surly and nit-picky than one's own. I think it's just might be because Tony Blair wasn't as much of a problem for the rest of us as he was for his own people.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Healthcare: How Much Are You Giving Up?

Caption: You'll get this one by the end of the article.

Image credit: The Dawg Blog by Dawgdad (Click to see the whole picture - it's cute.)

There are times when Prof. Paul Krugman shows up at his blog to write erudite and informative articles about how our economy is doing, and how it could be doing better. Other times, some condescending twit shows up who writes things like this:

What’s going on with health care is very different. Those who grudgingly say “pass the thing” — a camp I have reluctantly joined — aren’t naive: by and large they’re wonks who have looked at the legislation quite carefully, understand both its virtues and its flaws, and have decided that it’s a lot better than nothing. And there isn’t much careerism involved: if you’re a progressive pundit or wonk, the risks of alienating the people to your left are at least a match for the risks of alienating people to your right.

Now, the pass-the-thing people could be wrong. Maybe hopes of improving the new health care system over time, the way Social Security has been improved, will prove to have been fantasies; or maybe rejecting this bill and trying again, a strategy that has failed many times in the past, would work this time. But it’s a carefully thought-out, honest position. And arriving at that position has, in my case at least, required a lot of agonized soul-searching.

And maybe I’m being unfair, but I don’t seem to see the same degree of soul-searching on the other side.

Health care and Iraq

Nate Silver, who also ought to be smart enough to know better, wrote this:

I know Markos and consider him a friend; I don't know Jon but always find him level-headed. So, this is not meant to implicate them. Nor am I going to go about trying to illustrate for you exactly which arguments against the bill were or weren't made out of spite.

But I've never seen things get quite so personal -- I've gotten as many nasty comments and e-mails from Democrats on this issue as I have in the past six months from conservatives (on all issues). That emotion is a factor in this debate seems self-evident to me. I do somewhat regret egging things on with a deliberately provocative headline on Tuesday.

20 Questions, 20 Responses

I could go on, but I think you catch my drift. People who oppose this bill, or the nearly equally bad House version, are ideologues, need to grow up, are ready to hand Republicans a stirring victory, or should tell them which progressive congressmen we should ask to change their votes and do what they said they would originally. Worse still, Ezra Klein had the temerity to suggest that we worry about policy over the lives of all those people who will be so much better off.

Well, while some of the other people who oppose this bill and I were running around throwing feces at each and trying to avoid getting our tails stuck in the fan, a thought occurred to me - have these people ever in their lives been poor?

There's certainly nothing in Paul Krugman's bio to suggest that he has. I don't know about some of the other folks on that list after the Nate Silver quote, but I think it's unlikely. Why do I say that? I say that, because once you've been poor, or if you know people who are, then you remember.

Being poor means doing without. You do without a lot of things. Much of what you need, like bank services and car insurance, is more expensive. Since Nate's so fond of numbers, let's just run a few to illustrate, shall we?

If you're earning minimum wage in this country and working 40 hour weeks, you're earning about $20,000 ($20K) a year. If you're trying to support two dependents on that wage, here's where your money goes:

  • You'll spend at least $800 a month for a place to live. Try finding a two bedroom apartment for significantly less than that. $9.6K.

  • You'll spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 a week for food. If you can get food stamps, or know a lot of folks who will give you food, then you might be able to do with less. We'll say $5K, with some qualification.

  • You have to pay utilities, electricity at a minimum. Since we're being a bit spendthrifty on food, let's say that's another $0.5K.

  • You have a car? Then you need car insurance. Where I live, that's at least $1K a year for the poor, because the poor generally have poor credit, and insurance companies are allowed to charge them more if they do. $1K.

Now, forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but $20K - $9.6K - $5K - $0.5K - $1K is $3.9K. That $3,900 dollars has to cover all the other stuff - clothing, car (and gas), medical expenses, glasses, household goods that need to be replaced. That's $400 a month and change. Try saving for a college education on that. Try going to night school yourself. Try buying a computer that will run Windows 7.

As Nate Silver pointed out in an earlier part of that article, these people would be required to spend up to $1,600 (8 percent of income) on health insurance. Now, our family only has $200 a month for all those other things. They'd better hope they don't have to drive very far to get to work.

Being in this financial condition, which more of us are falling into all the time, means that you have to save up for a new set of tires. It means that a four dollar coffee drink is a luxury, not something you pick up every day on the way to work because you're in a hurry. It means having to decide if you go without car insurance or get the kid braces.

I've been poor and I've been well off. Sometimes, it's hard to remember what it was like to be poor. Thankfully, I still know other people who are in that situation. When I mention to one of them that all they need to make their computer work better is more RAM or a new hard disk for $100, the inrush of breath reminds me what it's like.

It's like you can barely get from one paycheck to the next.

What's more, as Keith Olbermann pointed out recently, if you take home twice as much money, things don't look a whole lot better.

Most of us who have spent careers as professionals find it hard to remember this, if we ever knew. Travel in the right circles, and you might never meet someone who has to save up for a refrigerator or to take a vacation to the shore.

That's why I'm so ideological. That's why I don't search my soul, and stay immature. It's why I'm so unreasonable as to expect comfortable people to screw up a little courage and change their fucking minds when they should know they're wrong.

If you're one of the people I mentioned, and you think I am one or all of those things, or you don't understand why others are even less "reasonable", then I suggest you do one of the following:

A. Get to know people who have to live on the minimum wage, or not much more. Talk to them about things like whether their kids, who do well in school but not well enough to get by on scholarships, will go to college or not. Ask them why the landlord can't be bothered to fix the window that's been leaking air each winter.

Then tell me how you're going to explain to those people that buying insurance that, in all likelihood, won't do them any good when they really need it is going to make the country a better place, and how we just all need to pull together and make this work.


B. Kiss my furry ass.

Really, it's up to you. Except for Ezra Klein. He, and anyone else who has suggested that I and others who oppose what's come out of Congress are only concerned with policy or future considerations, don't have a choice. As someone who would "benefit" from these bills, I invite you all to go straight to alternative B. You're already worthless.

But if you opt for "A.", let me tell you that you'd better have some other explanations:

  • How either the House or the Senate bill will enforce the even the limited, new restrictions they place on the insurance industry. In particular, I want to know: Will it be done by an existing agency, or a new one? Will it be empowered to look for violations, or only able to resolve complaints? What will its budget be? How many people, including how many people directly responsible for investigation and enforcement, will this agency (or these agencies) employ?

  • How will this work so that people who are sick, and thus unable to properly fight for the money that insurance companies now routinely deny them or pay late, are not victimized after they've paid their hard-earned cash for that insurance?

  • Why do you think that progressive chances will be worse if the current bills are killed than if 30 million Americans are forced to buy insurance that they can't afford and that won't do them any good?

  • Just how much time and effort do I have to go through to show that I can't afford any of the health insurance offered? Someone who works full time and has a family, or even a life not related to work, might find this requirement pretty onerous, too.

If you don't have solid answers to those questions, you have no business claiming that you've studied this really hard, or that I or anyone else who objects is being too ideological, unreasonable, selfish, or pro-Republican. Because these questions are exactly what anyone with any sense should ask, and so far I haven't encountered any intelligent answers.

If you don't have intelligent answers, proceed to alternative B. Or you could consider talking to us like we were adults, and realize that a lot of times how alternatives look depends on how much you have to give up for them.

UPDATE: Added the Windows 7 link, and corrected my arithmetic (our family actually has $1K less per year of "discretionary" income than I thought.)

UPDATE 2: Over at FireDogLake David Dayen (A.K.A. "DDay") has a good article on the implications of how the proposed regulations would be enforced. I'd just add that the basic question of how well financed the new enforcement regime will be is another important point. No one among all the people who are telling me and folks like me that we are being immature, or whatever, has even mentioned these concerns, let alone dealt with them.

That should give you some idea why I don't take their opinions seriously.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lieberman Socks

Yes, that's just what I was thinking - Lieberman s..., what?:

This was sponsored somehow by, but I love it anyway.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What's On My Computer

This is a still from a celestial animation program called Celestia:

It's a model of the International Space Station, of course. I can't identify which coastline it's flying over at the moment, but it's a very realistic view of Earth from this distance.

Celestia won't do this right out of the box, but if you select the right textures and models from the Celestia Motherlode, you can have similarly realistic scenes of Earth or other planets on you screen when it's not doing anything else.

Yes, it's all free, as in libre and beer.

Ian Welsh Schools The Morons

Dec. 17 - Updated with new links

Those among the depressingly large number of liberals who write things like "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" and "we don't want to encourage the Republicans by giving them a victory" about the current health care bills need to read Ian Welsh's thoughts on the subject:

30 million more people will be FORCED to buy insurance, which many of them can’t afford. If they could afford insurance, many of them would already have it. What part of FORCED don’t these idiots understand? Let me repeat: Forced, Forced, Forced.

Yes, Jonny [Cohn of The New Republic], it is worse than nothing, because it will push many of these people over the edge financially in order to give them insurance which is capped, and which, therefore when they get really sick, will not save their life anyway. Not just a moron, but a moral imbecile.


There's more of course. Sadly, there's not that much more for every other moron or imbecile, but you get the idea. Yes, he's being more offensive than is probably wise if one wants to persuade, but deservedly so. Anyone who thinks that buying shit insurance so that the government doesn't fine us constitutes "coverage" really is a moron.

There comes a time when the losses outweigh the benefits. When that time comes, it's time to walk away. The only way the bill is moving is in a way that will ultimately leave us both bankrupt and without health care. As a nation, we're better off without it.

If that's our choice, it's time we got a new Congress.

UPDATE: Sort of related...

I just found another of those e-mails from the Obama "campaign" asking me to call my Senators to ask them to vote for this ridiculous bill. My response:

It's too late in the day, but tomorrow I'll gladly call my Senators and ask them to vote against this atrocious bill. Do you think that being forced to pay for crap insurance just so the government won't fine us constitutes being "covered"? I really wonder at the mental discipline it must take to compartmentalize that fact and then write something like this to millions of people.

The Obama Administration has bargained away nearly every feature of this bill that could have made it worth the cost. The public option, expanded Medicare, reimportation of drugs, the possibility of competition or anti-trust action, all gone. As it is, it's just turning the people and the people's treasury into a couple more ATMs for the health insurance and drug industries.

I'd just like to say that your guy really, really sucks at his job.

I'm sure that will get all the attention my other replies have gotten, but somehow I feel better.

UPDATE 2: Definitely related ...

Jon Walker at FireDogLake schools Nate Silver about why this is a lousy bill, and why killing the Senate bill doesn't mean there's no bill. I won't even try to quote it, because Nate's original article goes on at some length, as does Jon's response.

UPDATE 3 (Dec. 17): Ian takes a crack at Nate's twenty questions. Also worth a read, as is some of the discussion in the comments.

Health Care: Something We Can Do

Caption: A petition started by Thomas Edison requesting that the World's Fair be open on Sunday. Note the subtitle: Religious Toleration Is Christian Civilization. Some today might disagree.

Image credit: National Archives

Lately, it seems like all we can do about the health care debate is complain and talk about how much of a turd Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is. Today, though, a couple of e-mails arrived for a couple more online petitions.

The first one is pretty conventional. It's from CREDO Action, and it requests that some of the more progressive members in the Senate demand that there is a public option:

Don't let Joe Lieberman win! Americans need you to stand strong and block any 'compromise' without a strong public option. If necessary, demand that Sen. Harry Reid and President Obama support budget reconciliation and pass a bill with just 51 votes -- at which point, Joe Lieberman will be irrelevant and the public option can be made even stronger.

CREDO Action Petition For Public Health Insurance Option

The second petition, sponsored by The Peace Team, A.K.A. "The Pen", is the one I find more interesting. Its purpose is to declare to your Senators, Representative, and the President that you would sign up for Medicare if it were offered. While this does not apply to nearly as many people as a more general desire for a public option and effective health care reform, those who actually would sign up may find that this is something that their Senators and Representative pay attention to. To me, it represents an earnest individual appeal that says that you are ready to put your money where your mouth is.

Here's the petition in its entirety:

Last week there was a serious proposal in the Senate to extend to people 55-64 the opportunity to buy into Medicare. It gave the people of the United States a glimmer of hope that meaningful health care reform might actually happen. So why is the U.S. Congress in full panic reverse, trying to dash that hope, trying to kill the idea before the CBO even has a chance to score it?

Well I, for one, DECLARE that I too want to sign up for Medicare. And why should I not have that right as a citizen of the United States of ANY age, if I am willing to pay for it? Does not Medicare have the lowest overhead of any health care system in the country? If I were to pay a fair price, why couldn't Medicare take my money, and cover me when I need to see a doctor, just like everyone else who is covered right now?

I am not asking for anyone else to be forced to participate in Medicare. That is just another phony argument to try to scare people with words like "government takeover." But the fact is that our medical care is now in the hands of greedy corporations hostile to the public interest, and we the people need to take it BACK.

Petition: I Want To Sign Up For Medicare, Too

If you actually would sign up for Medicare, I urge you to sign this petition, as well as the CREDO one. If the people who really would sign up for Medicare made that known, that could be a powerful incentive for some congresspeople to make it available. They should know how many people their decisions are affecting, and this is a wonderfully specific way to illustrate that point.

On the other hand, if you wouldn't sign up for Medicare, at least sign the CREDO petition. It's probably not going to be as effective, but it's a way of speaking your mind.

An Open Letter to Senator Dodd

I didn't write this one. Over at My Left Nutmeg, Met00 has put into words what I've been thinking lately in an open letter to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). It starts out like this:

Senator Ted Kennedy considered health care reform "the cause" of his life. In his 47 years in the Senate, Senator Ted Kennedy fought for universal comprehensive coverage some 15 different times. Working closely with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee to create a fair and just bill and pass health care reform bill this year, even while undergoing cancer treatments in Massachusetts.

But the bill before the Senate today does not look at all like the reform that Senator Ted Kennedy fought for.

There is no universal coverage. There is no "public option." The only thing that there is, is a mandate that every American buy health coverage from the same jackoffs that have been ripping off the American people for years.

This is not Senator Kennedy's dream. It is not a progressive vision.

Open Letter to Senator Dodd

The other thing I keep thinking, actually what I keep wondering, is how many indignities the Senate's progressives will suffer just to pass any bill they can call "health care reform". This thing sucks, and it's not going to do anyone a damn bit of good besides the people who are doing fine already.

If you're into sadomasochism, you're probably better suited to watching how this process concludes than I am.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

England Still Giving Away Money

[Pound notes, plus a few dollars, at the donations box of the British Museum. Image credit: Lawrence OP.]

These folks are insistent - in the last week I've received at least four copies of this message, with the only difference being the Internet Protocol (IP) address the e-mail was sent from. It must be genuine, then, right?

From: HANS <>
Date: Oct 14, 2009 12:14 PM

I am a Diplomat named James Hans, mandated to deliver your inheritance to you in your country of residence.

The funds total US$7.5 Million and you were made the beneficiary of these funds by a benefactor whose details will be revealed to you after handing over the funds to you in accordance with the Agreement I signed with thebenefactor when he enlisted my assistance in delivering the funds to you.

I am presently in United Kingdom and before I can deliver the funds to you, you have to reconfirm the followinginformation so as to ensure that I am dealing with the right person.

1. Full Name
2. Residential Address
3. Age
4. Occupation
5. Direct Telephone Numbers

After verification of the information with what I have on file, I shall contact you so that we can make arrangements on the exact time I will be bringing your package to your residential address. Send the requested information so that we can proceed.


James Hans

Unfortunately, I'm way behind in my financial dealings. All these wonderful inheritances and international money deals, not to mention lotteries I win without even entering, are keeping me jumping.

It's on my to-do list though, really.

[NOTE for the uninitiated: As always, this e-mail came (multiple times) to my Cujo359 e-mail account. It's a scam. I've disguised the real e-mail address, but left the country domain intact, and I replaced the IP address with X's.

Maybe it would be a good idea to publish the IP addresses, since they appear to be e-mail servers that allow unverified relays. I assume everything else in this e-mail is fictitious, as should you.]

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Congratulations, Houston!

Image credit: Annise Parker for Houston

This year brought us another first:

Houston Saturday became the first major U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor, Annise Parker, after a hotly contested run-off election that gave gay and lesbian supporters a symbolic victory following defeats over legalizing same-sex marriages in California and Maine.

"The voters of Houston have opened the door to history," Parker told supporters at a convention center in Houston. "I know what this win means to many of us who never thought we could achieve high office."

Houston Elects Openly Gay Mayor

If there had been a pool going as to which of the ten largest American cities would first elect a gay mayor, I wouldn't have taken "Houston" without some serious odds. I think that in itself says something about how far we've come on this issue. With the start of this year seeing our first black President inaugurated, this seems like a good way to end it.

There's still a long way to go. Gay marriage isn't recognized as a right in most places in America. There are still unexamined prejudices regarding religious preferences. But this country is getting better about these issues, albeit more slowly than just about any of us would wish.

Congratulations to Annise Parker and to Houston.

A Bit Of Sunday Reading

Jesus' General, a site I don't visit nearly enough, put a faux obituary up on Friday:

The Opinion "To be a Christian necessarily means that the individual seeks philosophical, moral and spiritual harmony with the ineffable source of the manifested Universe" has died after a brief, two thousand year illness. The Opinion leaves behind millions of judgmental, stone-throwing, mote-in-their-enemy's-eye-seeking, homophobic, self-righteous, hypocritical, fear-based, dualistic followers without benefit of a high-horse to sit upon. Pity, that.

The Opinuary Column

If only that were true. As it is, we'll have to deal with Opinion's survivors for quite some time. Click on the blue type and read the rest.

In a somewhat related vein, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship think they've figured out how President Obama can earn that Nobel Peace Prize he just received:

The United States has not actively used land mines since the first Gulf War in 1991, but we still possess some 10-15 million of them, making us the third-largest stockpiler in the world, behind China and Russia. Like those two countries, we have refused to sign an international agreement banning the manufacture, stockpiling and use of land mines. Since 1987, 156 other nations have signed it, including every country in NATO. Among that 156, more than 40 million mines have been destroyed.

Just days before Obama flew to Oslo to make his Nobel Peace Prize speech, an international summit conference was held in Cartagena, Colombia, to review the progress of the treaty. The United States sent representatives and the State Department says our government has begun a comprehensive review of its current policy.

One way Obama can earn his Nobel Peace Prize

We depend on land mines to help us defend South Korea, among other places. If you've never been to the Demilitarized Zone, then it's hard to imagine why. When my coworkers and I drove up there back in the late 1980's, we passed miles of barbed wire, dragon's teeth, and other defenses. Over any road that was going roughly north-south, there were huge concrete blocks suspended. The supports were to be detonated to make the roads impassable in case of invasion from the North. It was hard to travel more than a few miles without passing some sort of military base.

Land mines are another form of barrier. Like mountains and dragon's teeth, they make it more difficult for an army to pass over a particular bit of land. Often as not, armies can deal with them. The people who can't deal with them are the civilians who must use the land after a war.

While I recognize the tactical advantage of mines, at this point the U.S. and South Korea both have effective means of slowing down enemy advances. Cluster bombs are very effective against massed armies that are out in the open, and we have quite a few of them (they, too, have their hazards, as do all munitions). There seems to be no lack of concrete in South Korea, so fixed defenses of various sorts can be built there. It seems to me that the relatively small advantage land mines bring isn't worth the cost in civilian lives and unusable land.

Anyway, click on the blue type and read.

Have a good Sunday.

Sunday Photo(s)

Here are two more panoramas from Redondo Beach, Washington. The first was taken near the west end of the boardwalk, looking west:
Image credit: Cujo359

The place I took that from is barely visible in this photo.

The second is of a restaurant that sits on a pier at the other end of the boardwalk. It's called Salty's, and believe it or not, you can order seafood there. In fact, they have a little take out window where you can order an espresso and salmon patties, or some such:
Image credit: Cujo359

As always, click on the images to enlarge. Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Big, Gigantic Thought For The Day

Caption: Goldman Sachs and President Obama. He didn't run for office to hire their ex-executives as his economic advisors, make them rich, and screw the rest of us, but somehow it happened anyway.

Via Eli, this quote from Barack Obama:

“I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street.”

Obama: I Didn't Run For Office To Help 'Fat Cat Bankers'

Eli seems skeptical. I, on the other hand, believe him. I just think he left the most important part of the truth unspoken:

I didn’t run for office to help out the rest of you, either, and Wall Street came up with more campaign cash, so they won.

Turns out, the Huffington Post article this quote came from explains why:

Efforts by the banking industry to avoid reform may have paid off (financial-services interests spent $344 million on lobbying in the first three quarters of 2009). While the version of the major financial reform bill passed by the House on Friday does create a consumer financial protection agency and limits on derivatives trading, some say that it also includes loopholes. The bill does not include measures that would break up big banks or address the mixing of commercial and investment banking by giant firms like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.

Obama: I Didn't Run For Office To Help 'Fat Cat Bankers'

The best cons have a smidgen of truth in them, but only a smidgen. You're left to fill in the rest.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cool Graph Of The Day

From the GraphJam site, a graph about book requests:

funny graphs and charts
Image credit: GraphJam

Having worked at a bookstore, and having heard stories of friends and relatives who have worked in bookstores and libraries, I can attest to the accuracy of this graph, particularly the green portion.

Everyone else either knows what they're looking for or can use a card catalog.

More Misplaced Priorities

Image credit: afagen

While we're at it, let's look at what Paul Krugman had to say about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke today:

Mr. Bernanke has received a great deal of credit, and rightly so, for his use of unorthodox strategies to contain the damage after Lehman Brothers failed. But both the Fed’s actions, as measured by its expansion of credit, and Mr. Bernanke’s words suggest that the urgency of late 2008 and early 2009 has given way to a curious mix of complacency and fatalism — a sense that the Fed has done enough now that the financial system has stepped back from the brink, even though its own forecasts predict that unemployment will remain punishingly high for at least the next three years.

The most specific, persuasive case I’ve seen for more Fed action comes from Joseph Gagnon, a former Fed staffer now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Basing his analysis on the prior work of none other than Mr. Bernanke himself, in his previous incarnation as an economic researcher, Mr. Gagnon urges the Fed to expand credit by buying a further $2 trillion in assets. Such a program could do a lot to promote faster growth, while having hardly any downside.

Bernanke’s Unfinished Mission

I don't know enough about banks to know whether this is a good idea or not, but it's for sure that something must be done soon. The banks aren't lending money at anywhere near the rate needed to increase growth. The Fed can't lower the interest rates any more. They're already at zero percent interest for all practical purposes. Yet, as Krugman observes, Bernanke has so far refused to do this. Krugman speculates as to why here:

[T]here’s also, I believe, a question of priorities. The Fed sprang into action when faced with the prospect of wrecked banks; it doesn’t seem equally concerned about the prospect of wrecked lives.

And that is what we’re talking about here. The kind of sustained high unemployment envisaged in the Fed’s own forecasts is a recipe for immense human suffering — millions of families losing their savings and their homes, millions of young Americans never getting their working lives properly started because there are no jobs available when they graduate. If we don’t get unemployment down soon, we’ll be paying the price for a generation.

Bernanke’s Unfinished Mission

As I've noted before, Krugman has refrained from criticizing Bernanke even when it seemed like there was grounds for criticism. Yet now, as in an earlier blog column, it appears he's begun to lose patience.

We'll see if this is a trend or just a couple of anomalous instances. If it's the former, I'd take it as a sign of how bad things are getting. It certainly would have no political implications - it's patently obvious that the Obama Administration don't listen to Krugman. But it shows that the government isn't even doing the things that it could do without Congressional approval.

In that column, Krugman estimated that the economy needs to add eighteen million jobs to gain back what we've lost the last couple of years. To me, that's just the tip of the iceberg, since many of the old jobs were, if recent trends hold true, higher-paying than the ones that will replace them. There are also significant numbers of long-term unemployed - people who have just given up looking for work. All in all, the middle class in this country is in a world of hurt, and it's not getting any better.

And that's why I think Prof. Krugman is losing patience with Mr. Bernanke.