Friday, June 19, 2009

Nobody Asked Me, But....

1) On the one hand, you have an aging pilot base. On the other, you pay pilots way below their value in an attempt to cut costs, and planes drop out of the sky. Do you think there's, say, ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, a connection here????
2) Ladies and gentlemen, I give you this generation's Christoper Reeve. Poor kid is going to be stuck with fanged teeth until his own fall out.
3) Quietly, swine flu is not going away. This should be the dormant time. It's summer. Fewer people stuck indoors together, schools are letting out, kids are getting healthy sunshine and air.
4) As unhappy as this proposal makes me, it's a baby step towards universal coverage.
5) Why is it every time the market crashes, there's a set of people indicted for fraud? As I mentioned yesterday, it's clear markets are not rational, and this is precisely why.
6) We had SCOTUS. They have their own supreme. We went quietly into that not-good night. I don't suspect Iran will.
7) I do marvel at the United States. In the name of freedom and living under the rule of law, we allowed ourselves to put up with the Bush administration, His Fraudulence, for eight years, rather than opt for the easy way out and riot. While it's a tribute to our idiocy, it's also a tribute to our commitment to the Constitution. Pity the (s)elected didn't show the same respect.
8) This is just wrong. According to the Constitution, you are entitled to confront your accusers. You ought to have access to every single means of exonerating yourself. Admittedly, in his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts did not ban the use of DNA testing, but said it was up to the legislatures. In states, like Texas, where segregation-through-sentencing is enforced, what are the odds the Texas state legislature will pass a law allowing a black man to show that his DNA doesn't match the crime?
9) Drivers in Massachussetts are soooooooo bad, they threaten air traffic.
10) Goatse in action. (If you don't know what "goatse" is...well, I'd tell you to Google it, but I'm not sure your stomach can stand it)
Aw, what the hell...I'm feeling generous today...a bonus item...

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Former President George W. Bush fired a salvo at President Obama on Wednesday, asserting his administration's interrogation policies were within the law, declaring the private sector not government will fix the economy and rejecting the nationalization of health care. "I know it's going to be the private sector that leads this country out of the current economic times we're in," the former president said to applause from members of a local business group.

"You can spend your money better than the government can spend your money." Repeatedly in his hour-long speech and question-and-answer session, Mr. Bush said he would not directly criticize the new president, who has moved to take over financial institutions and several large corporations. Several times, however, he took direct aim at Obama policies as he defended his own during eight years in office. - Washington Times (ed. note. I purposely pulled this from a right-wing website that filtered the Times' story, so you could see that I'm not far off base, even if I come to different conclusions.)

Couple of points before I dive headlong into the fray here:
- It was private enterprise that got us into the mess, and (bear with me for a moment here) you take the toys out of the child's hand after he's broken it.
- Former President Who, now?
- Under the Bush administration, we went from a half-trillion dollar budget surplus to a half-trillion budget deficit (before TARP and ignoring the costs of two wars) in 2008. Bush added $5 trillion dollars to our national debt.
But I digress. Let me get to the main course.
The free markets are powerful engines that take an unlikely concept, the greatest social good can come from the self-interest of enlightened individuals, and puts it into action.
For the most part, it does a pretty good job of this. For instance, no one can argue that deregulating the airline industry kept the price of flying from coming down, although the ancillary problems cannot be ignored: more late flights, unsafer planes, all due to staffing cuts to maximize profits, as just one set of examples.
Here's the thing about free markets and what even Adam Smith, the founder of laissez-faire capitalism, warned against.
People are children, essentially. See, the key concept of capitalism is that whole "enlightened self-interest" thing, emphasis on the enlightened bit. The key to efficient markets is all information is readily available to anyone and everyone. This is the enlightenment. When you shop for a new car, generally you go out and compare different models and scout out for the best information on each, compare prices and make your decision based on that. You want the best value for your hard-earned money.
In many cases, particularly as the stakes get higher, the self-interest part kicks in. People get greedy. Knowing that full disclosure will provide for rational decision-making, manufacturers and vendors will withhold information. Whle this creates a temporary (sometimes long-term) profit ubermaximization for the seller, it is unhealthy and inefficient for the market in general.
We've seen this time and time again within the last year: banks in particular got greedy. The subprime mortgage crisis, for all the conservatives want to point fingers at the poor and at Democrats for forcing mortgages on people who didn't need them, created a monster profit for companies like Countrywide and Ditech. You can't blame that on the poor or the Democrats.
By dicing interest rates as teasers, and making current money on fees and mortgage churnings and repackagings into instruments that shed their risk without creating wealth, banks neglected to think through to an obvious conclusion: when those mortgages reset, the economy, particularly wage growth, had better have kept pace.
Under the Bush administration...well, let's just say that if you made $40,000 in 2000, it took until 2005 before you actually saw an increase in real income. If you made $400,000 in 2000, you went swimmingly along. If you made $400,000, you didn't have to worry about a subprime mortgage, tho.
So when the mortgage resets occured, people simply hadn't been able to keep their incomes apace, and they got hammered.
Justin Fox of Time Magazine has an intriguing article about how greed and free markets have worked during the last 100 years. Entitled The Myth Of The Rational Market, Fox points out that trouble occurs in the economy when people forget the lessons of the Great Depression: economics is not rational because it is based on human beings, and human beings are not rational all the time. In other words, prices (particularly of stocks), which nominally should reflect all available information and be "reasonable reflections of economic reality," don't and aren't.
Thus the concept of "irrational exuberance," credited to Alan Greenspan but in truth coined by economist Robert Shiller years earlier, is born.
This is, in part, one reason why I firmly support single-payer health coverage. 75% of the monies spent on healthcare in this country are post facto to cover preventible chronic conditions: diabetes, obesity, diseases from smoking, high blood pressure, heart disease, hypertension.
Why? Two factors: one, the free market system of healthcare is more interested in focusing on profit than on the health of the patient and thus ignores the dictum, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Healthcare in this country is now about diseasecare. Two, also related to free markets, as insurance premiums rise and companies are forced to shop around for lower prices, the insured (e.g. employees) are put into a situation where they may have a good doctor, but are forced to give him or her up because that doctor is not listed on the insurance plan. A long term relationship with a doctor, one who knows you literally inside and out, can create a sense of rapport and a sense of, for want of a better term, ownership on the part of the patient of his own body.
Rather than be viewed as a profit center, the patient is humanized when he can see the same doctor, year in and year out. So the five minutes or so the doctor spends talking about dieting can morph into fifteen minutes or so trying to get to the underlying cause of why the person is overeating (with an appropriate referral to a diet clinic or a psychologist, if needed). Yes. Imagine. A doctor who can actually see you for fifteen minutes on top of an examination and writing out prescriptions! If he's not worried about churning his portfolio to see the most patients he can because he's already assured of a salary, a large, comfortable salary like the doctors in England, he's not going to mutter a few sentences and shove you out the door.
Ironically, conservatives mouth off about "the government choosing your doctor," and the "depersonalization into an ID number of the patient" when they whine about "socialized medicine," ignoring these very basic tenets of healthcare.
The point of this column is to keep all this in mind as you listen to the debate over healthcare, banking reform, and any number of the programs that Obama and the Democrats are going to push thru Congress.
When children break their toys, those toys need to be taken away from them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Not that there's a formal clock for this sort of events tend to lie in the mud until they explode like an IED...but the sense I get from the news is that we're heading for a big, big conflict.
1) Iran protests: Regime cracks down on opposition as further unrest looms -- In itself, this would not be troubling me, beyond my concern about Iran in general, both as a harbor for terrorism as well as a genuine hope for democracy at some point. Iranians are highly intelligent and educated people. But add to this...
2) Carter challenges Gaza blockade as he meets Hamas leaders -- ...and you have the makings of a regional crisis. See, Bibi Netanyahu, the troubled and troubling Israeli prime minister, is on a two-pronged dilemma. On the one hand, he has to assure his supporters with respect to the Palestinians. On the other, he has a credible threat to Israel's very existence with Iran's budding nuclear development program.
It is likely that Netanyahu will compromise on the Jewish settlements question at Obama's behest, in exchange for the very real possibilty of an airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Which would then get the attention of...
3) Russia, China urge talks on North Korea -- ...which now brings Putin and Hu into the fray, since both have expressed support in the past for Iran for different reasons, and neither of whom is particularly friendly to either Israel nor its existence. By forcing them to divide their attentions between Iran and North Korea, we have a very real threat from...
4) North Korea threatens merciless attack if it is provoked -- ...which is responding to the Obama statement about their nuclear program being very troubling. Now, North Korea has been sharing technology and resources with...
5) EU to pledge humanitarian aid for Pakistan -- ...which is fighting on three separate fronts, all in or near its borders: the Swat valley, the Indian border and of course, against...
6) Several dead in Pakistan bombing -- ...internal terrorism, the same scourge that killed Benazhir Bhutto. These attacks grow out of the panic and fear of radical Islamists that...
7) Skirmishing ahead of new Pakistan offensive -- ...Pakistan is getting serious about assisting in rooting out the Taliban and short-circuiting their attempts to not only reclaim Afghanistan but to annex the territories of northwest Pakistan, all while...
8) Pakistan sought time to act against militants: India -- ...trying to coax yet another nuclear power, India, into a regional conflict. 
Talk about your basic clusterfuck! You have all the elements of a world war right there: radicalism, armaments, regionalism, and three superpowers who seem to be eyeing each other with a mixture of contempt and confusion. And that's before we consider the residual effects of American involvement in Iraq (weakened fighting forces, exhausted materiel, resentment on the part of Iraqis) and the world economic crisis, which is only now filtering down to the very poorest of nations
And then there's Africa, my pick for the single biggest story this year...hell, even Europe and America are not immune from the vagaries of hate!
All this occurs against the backdrop of the single biggest crisis to confront man in millenia.
And man does not handle crises well.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Oh brudder!

OK, this one might just be the stupidest piece of dreck I'll read all week:

Pejman Yousefzadeh, Attorney and blogger:

Events of the past few days appear to have done nothing to curb the Obama Administration's fetish for negotiations with Iran -- this despite the fact that Iran is currently in turmoil, and that if the Administration holds off on pressing for negotiations with the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it might--might--get a government in Iran more amenable to making a deal with the United States that assists both sides and improves the international security situation.

As a side note of sorts, one might add that while the Obama Administration is right to believe that an excessive degree of interventionism from the United States would likely backfire, hanging back too much would lead to deleterious results. When Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi visited the United States during the Carter Administration, anti-Shah demonstrators organized near the White House while an outdoor welcoming ceremony was being conducted. Things got out of hand, the police responded with tear gas, and unfavorable winds ensured that the tear gas drifted over to the White House--turning the entire event to a disaster. Iranians who learned about this believed that the United States could have stopped any anti-Shah demonstration if the Shah was still in the good graces of the United States. Since the demonstration went forward, they concluded that the Carter Administration had lost confidence in the Shah--allowing the revolution to go forward without fear that the United States would do anything significant to back the Shah. And indeed, the Carter Administration did nothing to save him, thus reinforcing the impression in Iran that they wanted him gone.

First, as Sadly, No! points out,  I would sincerely doubt that a demonstration in DC had any bearing whatsoever on events in Iran. Maybe on the lunatic fringe of the most hardcore Islamist fundamentalist ranks, but unless you're going to make the claim that fractal theory would hold that the two or three people who might buy this load of crap could topple a government...
Second, I want to focus on the rather bizarre disconnect between that first sentence and the phrase "hanging back too much would lead to deleterious results." You can't both be talking and not talking at the same time. As Bristol Palin will tell you, there's no such thing as "almost pregnant."
(Go ahead, Sarah. Sue me...)
Is it so hard for the folks on the right wing to accept that maybe, just maybe, the administration is working behind the scenes to try to find an equitable solution that gives Iran a fair election result while respecting its sovereignty? After all, given who is supporting Ahmadinejad (namely, Putin and Hu, neither of whom exactly has a spotless record on human rights when it comes to dissidents), it's a little hard for Obama to come out and make bold statements regarding the results of an election that appears to have been polluted, if not outright stolen.
Too, it's a little hard for America to point fingers about pilfered votes when we've just survived eight years of The Pretender.
This is not the Bush administration. Obama and his staff are not wearing sidearms and marching into the saloon to clean things up, and we ought to get behind his efforts to find a fruitful, peaceful negotiation. Bringing the Shah's name up at this point is truly not helpful, either, even in a sidenote. You have basically just equated Pahlavi with Mousavi. If you're dumb enough to buy into the fact that Iran has it's finger on America's pulse so gingerly as to pick up on tear gas, then surely the ruling Council will trot that equation out in a heartbeat.
Let's let the adults do the adult stuff.

Monday, June 15, 2009

How To Shut Up A Clown

I think Leon Panetta may be onto something here:

CIA Director Leon Panetta's remarks on former Vice President Dick Cheney made in a nearly 7,600-word interview with The New Yorker generated some media attention last night and this morning. Calling them "tough words," ABC World News reported briefly that Panetta said of Cheney, who "has repeatedly, of course, criticized the Obama Administration's approach to terrorism," that "it's almost as if he is wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point.'" Panetta, the New Yorker (6/22, Mayer) reports, was responding to a speech the former vice president made at the American Enterprise Institute, where he accused the Administration of making "the American people less safe" by banning brutal CIA interrogations of terrorism suspects that had been sanctioned by the Bush Administration. With "surprising candor," the magazine reports Panetta said, "I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue. It's almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it's almost as if he's wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that's dangerous politics."

Thus, in one stroke, Leon Panetta has made the case that, should the United States be attacked in the next eight years, the blame can be traced directly back to the highest levels of the Bush administration.
It's intriguing how, under Bush, any criticism of the President's strategery for combatting terrorism, from the Iraq war to the constant terror alerts anytime the President was trying to usurp power to the strange rash of terror alerts during the 2004 re-election campaign (and nothing much since) to the justifications for torturing innocent Muslim citizens of foreign lands, was greeted with "Why aren't you goosestepping behind Bush?"
Remember this gem?
The April 26, 2004, Washington Post reported that "Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that Sen. John Kerry 'has given us ample grounds to doubt' his judgment on national security, but at the same time the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (Terry McAuliffe) in Washington urged the White House to stop such criticism."
Yea, well, not so much, it turns out:

On April 26, 2004, addressed "More Bush Distortions of Kerry Defense Record" stating that the "Latest barrage of ads repeats misleading claims that Kerry 'repeatedly opposed' mainstream weapons."

FactCheck says that Bush's April 26 ads "recycle some distortions of Kerry's voting record on military hardware" and FactCheck has "de-bunked these half-truths before but the Bush campaign persists.
"The ads -- many targeted to specific states -- repeat the claim that Kerry opposed a list of mainstream weapons including Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Apache helicopters, and also repeat the claim that he voted against body armor for frontline troops in Iraq. In fact, Kerry voted against a few large Pentagon money bills, of which Bradleys, Apaches and body armor were small parts, but not against those items specifically."
What is good for the goose should be for the gander, of course, but that's not how Republican politics works. Republican politics works on the assumption that the average American is a NASCAR, beer-swilling moron who believes history began this week.
Sadly, for much of the electorate, and in many cases, just enough of the electorate, they are correct. What Panetta is doing is using that assumption against them. Is Panetta's case accurate? Is Cheney practically inviting an Al Qaeda attack?
I'm going to assume not. I don't think even a cold-blooded, literally heartless man like Dick Cheney would want to turn on his TeeVee to see DC smolder.
But I do think he is capable of wishful thinking, and by calling Cheney out in the extreme, Panetta is putting him on notice about Cheney's own record on terror (spotty, at best, as the strong case can be made that Al Qaeda didn't attack after 9/11 because they simply shot their wad, and other terrorists like the Anthrax killer stepped in, and Cheney and his kind did nothing to find those terrorists).
That presumable bluff should be enough to shut the old man down.