Friday, September 23, 2011

Hey, Ron Paul

How’s that whole gold standard idea looking right now?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Underpants School of Economics

The Beloved Spouse has reminded me of one of our favorite South Park episodes. In it, the boys’ friend Tweak is unable to sleep at night because of the Underpants Gnomes, who creep into his drawers and steal his, well, drawers.

Stan and Kyle and Cartman follow the Underpants Gnomes to their secret lair. (I forget whether Kenny was dead yet.) After a brief discussion, the head gnome shares his plan for wealth with the boys:

1. Underpants

2. ???

3. Profit

This is eerily like how the Republicans want to get the economy running again:

1. Austerity

2. ???

3. Prosperity (at least for some)

The Beloved Spouse wondered what George Carlin would think of this. (What other blog delivers such a wealth of cultural references?) She thinks it might go something like this:


The Worker

Out-of-work man.

Unskilled, no formal training. Construction. Warehouse work.

Married. Four kids. Wife works at low end department store.

Does odd jobs to keep the family afloat.

Rents a house.

Our Government

Is in charge of big projects that benefit the entire country.

Has lots of infrastructure that needs repair or replacement.

Has lots of new projects that need doing.

The Idea

Government hires this man to work on a project.

Government pays him a decent wage.

The man now has money to pay his bills, and  can now afford to buy more things for his family.

The family can go to the dentist, buy new shoes, have a vacation, buy a better car, buy a washing machine and dryer, go to the movies, etc.

Every time a dollar goes into this man's pocket, he probably spends all of it.

Every dollar that he spends goes to buy stuff or services.

That creates demand for stuff and services

Manufacturers make more stuff when there's demand for more stuff.

Service industries expand their services when there's more demand for services.

That means more jobs for folks in manufacturing, sales, services, etc.

Bonus! Our country now has safer roads, bridges, schools, etc.

The Outcome


This is such an elegant and obvious solution it’s hard to see how it can be argued with, except on the grounds of intellectual dishonesty (Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor) or severe mental impairment (Rick Perry, Michele Bachman). Trickle-Down economics hasn’t worked, and it’s not going to. Reagan’s economic Rasputin, David Stockman, knew it wouldn’t work when he implemented it, and admitted as much after he was safely out of government service. Trickle-Down economics is like standing a pyramid on its head; inherently unstable and unreliable.

What we need is Percolate Up economics. Give the above construction worker with four kids some money and he’ll spend it right now, on food or housing or car repairs. Give that money to someone in the highest earning one percent and he’ll either bank it, or, if he does buy something like a car, it will be a BMW. I’m all for free trade, but Germans have their economy better under control than we do. They’ll be fine.

Instead of giving a few people a lot of money through tax cuts, give a little money to each of a lot of people. Every dollar you give them will bring between 1.5 and two dollars back as it works its way through the economy after he buys a washing machine that allows Sears to order more, which allows whoever makes Kenmores (it’s not Sears, you know) to hire more washing machine builders n who can then fix their leaky roofs and basements, thus putting some construction guys to work. And on and on.

As for the alleged deficit hawks who think only government spending adds to the debt and tax cuts are somehow revenue neutral, look at your own finances. A dollar spent is no more damaging to the bottom line than a dollar not taken in.

I’ll talk about job creators another day.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Home Office Hath No Fury…

The Beloved Spouse was an early Obama adopter. Got on the bandwagon early and stuck with him through the first two years of his alleged presidency. So it was no surprise when she received a email from him yesterday.

Friend --
I'm writing to invite you to dinner.

Personally, I only invite people whose names I know to dinner, but this is politics. Maybe it’s different.

If that sounds familiar, it's because we've done this before. I've asked the campaign to organize small, five-person dinners with supporters like you as a regular thing.
These dinners are important to me. Not just because they help me stay connected to supporters like you who are doing the hard work of building this campaign, but because they set us apart.
No matter what our opponents do over the next 14 months, we have chosen to put people at the heart of our campaign -- and we're focused on building it one grassroots donation at a time.
I'm asking you to make one today.

Now I understand. He’s inviting her to buy dinner. If that’s not a politician, I don’t know what is.

Our focus on everyday Americans and their stories has always made our organization more than just a political campaign.
From the very beginning, we've set out to practice a different kind of politics -- proving that we don't need checks from Washington lobbyists or unlimited special-interest money to win an election.

He keeps talking about a different brand of politics. I never realized “different” is a synonym for “ineffective.”

This is all pretty lame, Barry doing his Audacity of Hope bit for Democrats who haven’t been paying attention. Well, The Beloved Spouse has been paying attention to him since before he won his first primary. Here is her reply (Used with her permission, of course):


I might donate later, after I see how long this fire in your belly for the American Jobs Act lasts. You're back on the campaign trail, so you're all fired up and ready to go. Where the heck have you been?

You, Barack, have disappointed me beyond words. You have shown no leadership, no spine, no determination, and no flippin' insight into what you are up against. You have underestimated your opponents time and time again. I am not a very happy Democrat at the moment.

You are going to get my vote. I'm pretty much resigned to that. But, honestly, if there was a viable Democratic challenger, I'd have to at least look at a choice.

Choice. Change. Pffft. Words.

Get serious, Barack. I don't want to live in the kind of world invisioned by Perry, Paul, Bachmann and Cain. I might be able to tolerate Romney or Huntsman, but only because they seem as weak-willed and spineless as you turned out to be.

Sorry. I had such high hopes for you, too.

Catch me later.

The Democrats had better get a handle on who their friends are damn quick. If they’ve lost TBS, they’re in big trouble.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

There He Goes Again

Barack Obama hit the campaign trail last week. He convened a joint session of Congress for an alleged speech about a jobs creation bill and used it as his kick-off speech. Symbolically, he gave it on the night the NFL season kicked off as well, though even his handlers knew he lacked the juice to compete with the game and moved an supposedly critical speech out of prime time to avoid getting trounced. (Green Bay beat New Orleans 42-34.)

Then Barry hit the campaign trail with a vengeance, traveling to three states (including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s home district) to taunt Republicans with his newly-discovered populist message. “Pass this bill!” is the sound bite. It will be about as effective as “Whip Inflation Now,” and “Just Say No,” but it sure did get the crowds fired up.

Where was this level of presidential involvement and emotion during the health care debate, when Tea Party savants taunted congressional town hall meetings with shouts of death squads? Barry spent most of that debate hunkered into the White House like Hitler in the Fuhrerbunker, making token appearances so people would know he was still alive. Same with financial reform. Pick any program he’d pledged to support and he was nowhere to be found.

Until now. Is it because people are hurting and jobs are still hard to come by? People were hurting and jobs were hard to come by during the stimulus debate, too. You didn’t see Air Force One zipping around the country so Barry could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people who could no longer make their mortgage payments.

The difference now has no more to do with unemployment or foreclosures than the fact unemployed and foreclosed people vote, and the Republican debates are grabbing all the political headlines. He also needs to look presidential enough to forestall any primary challenges from his left. He’s running for office again, which is the only job he appears to be suited for, since his record after winning elections is sparse.

It will probably work. The Republican candidates are racing to see who can stake out the most untenable positions for the general election, with the exception of Mitt Romney, who doesn’t believe in anything except that he wants Mitt Romney to be president. The 2012 campaign is shaping up early as the epitome of a South Park election: a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Our political race to the bottom will be complete.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Perfect End to the Perfect Week

The holiday was nice. I extended my weekend into Tuesday. That was nice.

Remember it. It won’t happen again.

Wednesday we had fourteen hours of more or less continuous violent thunderstorms. The power went out at 2:30 in the afternoon. Water started coming accumulating in the basement as 2:45. Your correspondent tried to hold back the tide with a sponge mop until I noticed whitecaps in the water. I gave up and waited for the power to come back on so the wet-vac would work.

At 7:30 our utility’s service line said our power would be restored by 9:00. By 9:15 the message had been changed to, “as soon as possible.” I dozed in a chair, ready to spring into action the instant the power came back on. At 12:15 I moved to the couch. The lights came on at 2:30. (Note the classical symmetry.)

By 2:32 I had the wet-vac humming. Done at 5:15, the only chore remaining to set up a floor fan that is usually kept upstairs to blow air across the mop-dry floor. Took off my Crocs (yes, I’m a 55-year-old man who wears Crocs in water-related emergencies) so I wouldn’t track wet footprints through the house. Slipped as I reached the bottom and drove my left big toe into a rack of shelves. Stomped around the basement doing my impersonation of George Carlin’s cat. (You get that joke or you don’t. ) Dragged the bloody stump upstairs to find the nail hanging on by individual atoms. All thoughts of a nap before work dead because, no matter how tired I was with ten functioning phalanges, I’m wide fucking awake with nine, so I signed in to work at 6:00. Worked until 4:30, when one of the broken toothpicks I’d been using to prop open my eyes slipped and embedded itself in my cheek. (This is the only exaggeration in the entire story. Swear to God.) Got something to eat and crashed on the couch until 8:00 this morning.

Today. Friday. Time to mellow out and ease into a weekend. A night of rest and elevation makes the toe look like it belongs to a human being, though not necessarily the human being it is attached to. Time for a little treat. I don’t drink worth mentioning. Don’t do drugs. Yo quiero Taco Bell.

One problem: they have a strict no zapatas, no camisa, no servicio policy. I slide a sock over the toe. Not too bad. Loosen the shoelaces as far as I can and it fits into a sneaker. Not happily, but it fits. I’m out the door.

I never realized how much your big toe is involved in working the clutch. (Note to aging people who remain clumsy: automatic transmissions are the way to go.) I coast through stop signs and never go above second gear all the way to the parking lot, where the pinnacle of my week awaits.

Taco Bell is on fire.

I shit you not. Nothing too dramatic. No flames shooting out of windows and telescoping ladders. At first all I saw was the emergency rescue vehicle and thought, “It’s Taco Bell. Maybe someone just got sick. No reason not to go in myself. The lines are probably non-existent.” Then I saw the five fire trucks from various jurisdictions, and people wearing Taco Bell jerseys walking away and figured maybe I should eat elsewhere.

Saturday can’t come soon enough.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Relative Value of Labor

Here’s a quote the Party of Lincoln might want to consider, since it was Lincoln who said it:
"Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."
(Credit to E.J. Dionne, via Carola Dunn.)

The Patriot Act: Keeping America Safe From Terrorism

There's an interesting chart in New York Magazine that shows what the Patriot Act is used for.

Delayed-notice search warrants issued under the expanded powers of the Patriot Act, 2006–2009:
For drugs: 1,618
For fraud: 122
For Terrorism: 15

(Thanks to Peter Moskos’s excellent blog, Cop in the Hood.)

A Peek Behind the Republican Curtain

This is a tad long, but Mike Lofgren, who worked as a Republican congressional staffer for thirty years, steps outside the tent and gives the inside scoop on Republican goals, motives, and strategy better than any fifty blog posts that could be written from the outside. Well worth the read.

(Thanks to Jon Loomis for pointing this out on Facebook.)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Death of the Honest Businessman | Articles | Bill James Online

Bill James made his bones as a pioneer in the field of sabremetrics, the analysis of baseball statistics that threatens to drown us all. James's gift was not in his analysis of the stats--which was, and is, formidable--but in how he wrote up the analysis. Always entertaining, James broke ground where no one has really followed, detailed analysis described by exceptional writing. Those who may be better number crunchers can't write half as well; those who can write at his level can't handle the level of statistical detail.

He has his own website now, full of baseball analysis, but with other stuff, too. He's written a true crime book that focuses on crimes that caught popular attention, that has been well received. (Full disclosure: I haven't got to it yet, but I will.) He also goes off on tangents, sometimes political, that are always worth reading. Today he posted an article on "The Death of the Honest Businessman" that shows the same logic that makes his baseball analysis worth reading.

The article also touches on a few political hot buttons, notably red light camera and closing small post office. All can be read at the link below, but what interests me most here is his juxtaposition of common rhetoric versus what actually happens.

James writes:

Also as many of you know, I’m prone to rant about red-light cameras. Here’s a link to an extremely good article on the subject:

Having endorsed the article enthusiastically—I think this may be the first time I have used this platform to link to somebody else’s article—I now need to back away from it a little bit in several directions. The article says that "governments initially justified them under the rubric of public safety—the cameras were supposed to make intersections safer. . .but the fig leaf of safety frittered away as study after study showed that the cameras made little difference and in some cases actually made intersections less safe. Drivers, knowing cameras were watching, tended to jam on their brakes suddenly at yellow lights, causing accidents." I would prefer to believe that that’s true, and intuitively I have known from the first moment I heard of a red light camera that businessmen would promote them by doing specious studies that heroically overstated the safety value of their product, but by the same rough skepticism, I know that people who write polemics very often say things like "study after study has shown" no matter how muddled the evidence actually is.

The more serious issue is that parts of the article are stated in right-wing cant that is likely to drive a wedge between Red-Light camera opponents and those who should be our strongest allies. The article talks about Red Light cameras as a further intrusion of the Nanny State into our daily lives, which is code to portray Red-Light cameras as being foisted on the population from the left. The reality is that it isbusinessmen who are selling these things, in league with avaricious local politicians. In the 1980s, when businesses got a toehold running private prisons on contract from the government, who was it that took the lead in opposing that? It was, of course, the left.

Well, this is the same thing, isn’t it? It’s turning over a police function to private business—and it should be opposed on those grounds; police powers cannot be delegated to people who could misuse them to generate income. There is too much opportunity for abuse, and businessmen are not universally ethical. The real problem with Red Light cameras is not that they don’t promote safety—for all I actually know, they may promote safety—it is that they create a profound confusion between the goals of public safety and the pursuit of wealth.

Also in the 1980s, there was a period in which it was a popular idea that police should seize items used in a crime and sell them to raise money for police departments. A more terrifying concept would be difficult to come up with—and who was it that took the lead in opposing this? It was, again, the left—and these policies were in due course prohibited by the courts as a threat to civil liberties.

Well, this is the same thing, isn’t it? It creates the same terrifying confusion between what is being done in the broad interests of the public and what is being done in the financial interests of the state, thus allowing the government to shake money out of your pockets on the pretense that they are legitimately punishing you for violating laws that you never had the slightest intention of violating.

Governments should be fanatically careful as to when they punish and who they punish. A wise father does not indiscriminately punish his children. Educated and sophisticated people know that punishments backfire frequently and at a high cost. This is careless and indiscriminate punishment. It is both stupid and immoral, and we need to put a definite stop to it.

Read the entire article here, or by using the link below. It's worth your time, no matter which side of the political fence you're on.

The Death of the Honest Businessman | Articles | Bill James Online

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Deferring to my Betters

I was going to write about Obama’s latest disappointment, but Paul Krugman has done it better that I could in his NYT Blog:

I’ve actually been avoiding thinking about the latest Obama cave-in, on ozone regulation; these repeated retreats are getting painful to watch. For what it’s worth, I think it’s bad politics. The Obama political people seem to think that their route to victory is to avoid doing anything that the GOP might attack — but the GOP will call Obama a socialist job-killer no matter what they do. Meanwhile, they just keep reinforcing the perception of mush from the wimp, of a president who doesn’t stand for anything.